Summary: An overview of Luke's account of the nativity


Luke 1:1-2:20

Luke writes in an exquisite, almost classical Greek style. However, the first two chapters of his Gospel are unashamedly Jewish, painting his message onto a graphic Old Testament background.

Here you will meet with angels; you will read of the barren bearing children; you will hear triumphant, almost martial, songs of victory.

Luke’s purpose in writing his Gospel is outlined in Luke 1:1-4. The Apostle Paul was in prison for two years in the holy land, before making his appeal to Caesar and moving on to his probable martyrdom in Rome. Luke, who had accompanied Paul to Jerusalem, used this waiting time to interview the witnesses of the things which Jesus had said and done, and to hear the early ministers of God’s Word. His intention is to lay out in order the material which he might have found in many accounts circulating at that time, so that his readers might be reassured that the Christian gospel in which they had been instructed is most certainly the truth of God.

The phrase “all things from the very first” (Luke 1:3) might also be rendered “from the beginning.” This is significant.

Each of the Gospel writers has his own purposes in writing; each has his own style; and each begins in a different way. Matthew begins with the genealogy and birth of Jesus; Mark with the ministry of John the Baptist; John with the eternal Word of God. Luke begins his Gospel with the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth.

In fact, when Zacharias remained incredulous to God’s message in the Temple, the angel told him: “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings” (Luke 1:19).

The word translated “glad tidings” is from the same root as the word which we often translate “good news” or “gospel”.

This leads me to suppose that the prayer which God was hearing and answering (Luke 1:13) was not just Zacharias’ private request for a son, but the united hopes and prayers of the entire believing remnant. We can no doubt place Zacharias and Elizabeth alongside Simeon, and Anna, as “just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25).

It is probable that Zacharias was elevated above purely personal petitions when he exercised his incense-burning office as priest in the Most Holy Place that day. The prayer which was answered was one which introduced John not as a son for the old couple, but as a messenger to go before the Lord.

This is why, for Luke, the beginning of the Gospel is wrapped up with the coming of John the Baptist.

Six months later the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she also was to bear a son. The angel uttered words of encouragement which resonate throughout the gospels: “with God nothing is impossible” (Luke 1:37).

Whereas the visitation to Zacharias had been marred by unbelief, Mary was found in a state of wondering belief. She could not understand how these things could be since she was a virgin, yet she submitted herself to the will of God.

Then Mary went to an unnamed city of Judah to visit her cousin. The babe in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy! Mary addressed her praises to God.

Another three months, and John was born. Zacharias, who had been struck dumb for disbelieving the angel, now had his tongue loosened as he named the child. More praises to God!

Six more months, and the oppressor marches through the land, proclaiming a census. A couple find there is no-one to welcome them for their Christmas homecoming, and no room in the inn. They spend the night in the discomfort of a stable. There, amongst the squalor of a place more suited to the comforts of animals than humans, the young woman gives birth to her firstborn son. She wraps Him in swaddling clothes, and lays Him in a manger. Hardly a dignified setting for the world to welcome the Son of God!

The pastoral scene is completed with shepherds in the field, watching their flocks by night. These were a class of people despised by their countrymen as being in a perpetual state of spiritual uncleanness, notorious for being light-fingered, and considered so unreliable that their testimony was not allowed in the law courts of the land. Yet these were the first to welcome the Saviour, and the first men to bear testimony concerning the birth of Israel’s Messiah.

The response of the shepherds to the angelic announcement moved from fear to wonder, from wonder to activity. They heard the songs of angels, and having seen Jesus for themselves, returned to their place glorifying the name of the God of Israel.

Let us join with the angels and shepherds in welcoming the Christ child this day, and live constantly in the expectation of His soon return. May the inn of our hearts be ever open to receive Him who is the hope and consolation of all His people. And to His name be all the praise, and all the glory, forever. Amen.

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