Luke begins the Gospel with a formal introduction in the style of the historical works in Greek literature. The narrative in this section consists of two parallel accounts—the announcement of John’s coming and the announcement of Jesus’ coming. These two separate announcements lead up to the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth and finally to the climactic song of Mary.
Did You Know...?
1. Herod, the king of Judea (1:5): Herod the Great reigned 37-4 B.C., and his kingdom included Samaria, Galilee, much of Perea and Coele-Syria.
2. The “division” (v.8; cf. v.5) was one of twenty-four groups of priests divided by families and structured after the pattern of 1 Chronicles 23 and 24…Each of the twenty-four divisions served in the temple for one week, twice a year, as well as at the major festivals (J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the time of Jesus [London: SCM, 1969], pp. 198-207). an individual priest, however, could offer the incense at the daily sacrifice only once in his lifetime (v.9), since there were so many priests. [ref]
3. Elijah (1:17): The OT prophet who turned the hearts of the Israelites back to God (1Kgs 18:2-40). The prophet Malachi prophesied that Elijah would come before the day of the Lord (Mal 4:5, 6). The angel’s words to Zacharias clearly alluded to this prophecy.
4. Nazareth (1:26): Nazareth means “sanctified.” It is a small, obscure town atop a hill (Lk 4:29~30) in the southern part of the region of Galilee. It was Jesus’ hometown where he grew up (Mt 2:23). However, it was never mentioned in the Old Testament.
5. Betrothed (1:27): The pledge to be married was legally binding. Only a divorce writ could break it, and infidelity at that stage was considered adultery (cf. Deut 22:23-24; Moore, Judaism, 2:121-22). The marriage itself took place when the groom (already called “husband,” 1:19) ceremoniously took the bride home. [ref]
6. “Jesus” (1:31) is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” which means “The Lord is salvation.”
7. For Mary to visit Elizabeth, she had to travel 80~100 miles (130~160 km) over the hill country from Nazareth to a city of Judah. It probably took her 3 to 4 days to arrive.
8. Mary’s song of praise in 46-55 is known as the Magnificat because in the Latin Vulgate translation the hymn begins with the word Magnificat, which means “glorifies.”
Pick out places in this passage that either mention about joy or convey a feeling of great joy.
What does the introduction of this Gospel tell us about a. Its recipient? b. The manner in which it is written? c. Its purpose?
What was Zacharias’ and Elizabeth’s family background?
What was their lifestyle like?
Zacharias and Elizabeth could not have a child even though they were both upright before God. Do you sometimes feel that God is letting you down despite your devotion to Him? What lessons can you learn from this story?
Where did the story in this narrative take place?
What was the occasion?Hide Answer
It was the hour of incense. Zacharias was burning incense before the Lord while the people were praying outside.
How was this occasion the height of Zacharias’ career as priest?Hide Answer
Although each division served in the temple twice a year, an individual priest could burn incense only once in his lifetime. Since there were so many priests, not everyone had the chance to carry out this duty.
Why is this setting and occasion significant for the announcement of John’s birth?Hide Answer
The temple was a place of God’s presence and the center of worship. The prominence of Jerusalem and the temple in Luke helps the reader establish a direct connection between Christ and the Messianic expectations in the OT. Here in the opening event, God’s word came to Zachariah while he was offering incense in the temple and while the people were praying outside the temple. This setting and timing clearly suggest that the coming of John and Christ were the saving act of God in fulfillment of His promise to the people.
What did the angel Gabriel prophesy about a. What John would be? b. John’s mission?
Explain John’s mission.Hide Answer
John is to preach a message of repentance so that the hearts of the people will be ready for the coming of the Lord Jesus. Like Elijah, who turned the hearts of the Israelites back to God through his faithful perseverance and divine power, John will also carry out a powerful ministry. The phrase ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children’ is taken from Malachi 4:6, which prophesied about restored harmony in the family. A family that submits to God will have peace and harmony. This phrase may also mean that the forefathers of Israel would, if they knew of it, be pleased with the people’s repentance.
How is our mission today similar to John’s?
How did Zacharias show his unbelief?Hide Answer
His question, “How shall I know this?” was probably a demand for a sign from God to confirm His words. In other words, he could not trust God’s promise. The words “For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years” show that he did not believe that God could do the impossible.
Zacharias did not believe that God answered his prayer (cf. 13). What does his doubt tell you about his prayers?Hide Answer
Even though he had been praying to God for a son (or for the redemption of Israel), he had already lost hope. He did not believe that God would actually answer his prayer and make the impossible happen.
Have you prayed for something for a long time, but God doesn’t seem to answer? What can we learn from this story about our prayers?Hide Answer
It’s easy to give up when our prayers don’t seem to be answered. We often only focus on our immediate circumstance. When God doesn’t act in a way that we expect Him to, we begin to doubt whether God is listening or whether He is able to do what we ask. We need to wait patiently without losing faith. God looks at a bigger picture, and He will carry out His will in His time (cf. Isa 55:8-9). He hears every prayer, even though He may not respond immediately. We must trust that God will do what is right and best for us even if He doesn’t do according to what we ask(Rom 8:28, 32).
Where was Mary’s hometown?
How did the angel Gabriel greet Mary?
What was Mary’s response?
Explain Gabriel’s prediction about Jesus (32-33).Hide Answer
Gabriel’s words are a clear reference to God’s promise to David that He will establish the throne of his kingdom forever (2Sam 7:12-13). When the Messiah comes, he will sit on David’s throne and rule. According to Gabriel, Jesus, the Son of God and descendant of David (Rom 1:34), will fulfill the Messianic prophecy and establish a spiritual kingdom. Through the redemption of Christ, God has brought his people into His everlasting kingdom (Col 1:12-14).
How can Gabriel’s words in 37 help you in your life?
If you were Mary and you were told that you would be with child even though you are a virgin, how would you accept this announcement?
Study Mary’s three stages of responses to the angel’s words. What can we learn from her in our attitude toward God’s word?Hide Answer
Mary was at first troubled at the angel’s words (29). When the angel announced that she would conceive, she didn’t understand how this could happen, since she was only a virgin (34). After the angel explained to her that God would accomplish His purpose through a miracle, Mary accepted the mission and submitted to the Lord’s will (38). There are times when we do not fully understand how God’s word can possibly come true in our lives. But we need to trust that “with God nothing will be impossible” (37). We must humbly submit to the Lord’s will even when God’s word seems to defy our logic.
How are Mary’s words in 38 a beautiful model for us in our relationship with God?Hide Answer
Just as Mary acknowledged her role as the Lord’s maidservant, we should also understand that we are the Lord’s instruments and that God has complete sovereignty over our bodies and lives. If we surrender ourselves to Him for His use, He will accomplish His work through us.
What led Mary to visit her relative Elizabeth with such haste?Hide Answer
The angel had told Mary that Elizabeth had also conceived a son (36). Her haste may be due to joy for Elizabeth, and amazement, and the hope to learn more about the mission that God has entrusted to her.
How was Mary’s meeting with Elizabeth a highlight in the narrative?Hide Answer
This part of the narrative establishes the relationship between John the forerunner and Jesus the Messiah (cf. Jn 3:26-29). The joy of the Holy Spirit that led the babe to leap in his mother’s womb indicates that the coming of Jesus will be a good tiding to the world and John will be the one to prepare for His coming.
How did it reinforce Mary’s faith?Hide Answer
Elizabeth’s experience and words led Mary to the conviction that God has indeed shown her favor. In response, Mary sang praise to the Lord.
How is Mary’s song the climax to this part of Luke’s story?Hide Answer
The song rightly concludes this part of the narrative with praise to God for His mercy and deliverance. The coming of Jesus the Savior are the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel (54-55). Thus the song exalts and glorifies God’s name.
List the themes in the song.Hide Answer
Joyful exaltation of God. God’s might, holiness, and mercy in His acts of deliverance. God’s justice in opposing the proud but giving grace to the humble. God’s faithfulness in keeping His covenant.
How is this song an encouragement to you?
Consider Mary’s social status and spiritual qualities. What does this tell us about the way God chooses people to be His instruments?Hide Answer
Mary came from a humble background (cf. Jn 1:46). But from the story we know that she was a woman of faith and piety. She knew God’s will through the Scriptures and humbly surrendered herself to the Lord. God has no regard for the “mighty” or the “rich”—those who exalt themselves—but bestows His favor on those who fear Him.
What does Mary’s song teach us about the way we should respond to God’s work in our lives?Hide Answer
Praise and joy are the highest expressions of our faith and trust in God. Although what were about to happen to Mary would bring her trouble and heartache (cf. 2:35), she rejoiced at God’s wonderful deeds for Israel. We should learn to understand God’s larger purpose and carry out God’s will joyfully even if doing God’s word leads to personal difficulties and sacrifices. In fact, we ought to consider it a blessing and honor to be His instrument.