Reading for Monday, March 5: Luke 1
Luke’s Gospel is a Gospel for the underdog: the downtrodden, the poor, Gentiles, women…all were considered second class citizens in the ancient world and each of them are recipients of the Good News in Luke’s Gospel. As we’ll also see in Luke’s writings, he emphasizes repentance and forgiveness more than any other NT writer. The Holy Spirit also emerges as a thematic emphasis in Luke / Acts. Just a few things to keep in mind as we read.
Luke begins his Gospel in a unique fashion: he begins by stating his intentions. He sets out to write an orderly account of the life of Jesus, addressed to Theophilus, “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught,” (v4). In v5, Luke mentions the reign of Herod, although it will soon become clear that Luke understands these experiences as occurring under the sovereign rule of God.
In chapter 1, two pregnancies are contrasted: the old barren woman and the young virgin girl, both impossibly pregnant. The old woman’s son will bring an end to the old covenant; the young woman’s son will usher in a new covenant era. But this is the power of God at work. With the birth of John, we have the priestly couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth (a daughter of Aaron). As the text says, Elizabeth was barren and advanced in years (v7). But an angel appears to Zechariah and says, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard,” (v13). A child is promised to this righteous couple, a child who “will be great before the Lord” (v15), one who will “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,” (v16). This prophetic figure calls to mind OT prophecies from Malachi (3.1, “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me,”; 4.5, “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.”).
But even an angel telling us our prayers have been heard does not necessarily result in faith. Zechariah questions Gabriel and is punished by a season of silence. But Elizabeth responds appropriately when she says, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people,” (v25).
Gabriel appears to Mary six months later and gives her news that radically alters the course of her life, not to mention human history: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of hte Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (v31-33). Mary questions how this could be possible, given her status as a virgin. And Gabriel answers by affirming the power of God: “For nothing will be impossible with God,” (v37).
Zechariah, a priest / preacher, is the first to hear Gabriel’s good news in Luke’s Gospel. But it is Mary, the poor girl, who is the first to praise God with a hymn, extolling his goodness (v46-55). One of the major themes of Mary’s song is the reversal of fortunes that only God can bring, which foreshadows the Gospel message of salvation for the outcast.
One interesting note: the early church fathers associated Mary’s conception with the burning bush in Exodus 3. Mary and the burning bush both contained God, yet neither were consumed — even though God is a consuming fire (Deut. 4.24).
Points of application:
Sometimes righteous people suffer disappointment: see Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Sometimes righteous people deal with doubt: see Zechariah.
But the response God seeks most is the response of praise: see Mary.