A Christian Guide to Luke by R. David Pogge

Chapter 1

Jesus' Birth and Childhood

Luke 1 - 3

Section 1.1 - Prophecies

Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing
    without revealing his plan
    to his servants the prophets. [Amos 3:7]

Prophecies are not given to us so that we can change the future. The purpose of prophecy is to show us God is in control. We can have confidence in the Holy Scriptures because they reliably predict the future.

Jesus didn’t just burst onto the scene unannounced. God set up the circumstances in such a way that we could be sure that Jesus is the Messiah (or, if you prefer Greek to Hebrew, Jesus is the Christ). God foretold the miraculous births of Jesus and his cousin, John the Baptist.

One of the main prophecies about the Messiah is that the Messiah is a descendent of David. 1 The Bible contains two different genealogies of Jesus. One is in Luke, the other is in Matthew. It would have been easier to compare them if both had gone the same direction, but Matthew goes forward and ends with Jesus, and Luke starts with Jesus and goes backward. The table below lists the significant parts of both genealogies in Luke’s order to make the comparison easier.

Luke 3:23-38Matthew 1:1-17
ObedObed
JesseJesse
DavidDavid
NathanSolomon
MattathaRehoboam
LeviEleazar
MatthanMatthan
Heli (or Eli)Jacob
MaryJoseph
JesusJesus

David had several wives. The most famous was Bathsheba, with whom he had five sons. The first was conceived when she was married to Uriah, and died when he was seven days old. 2 The second son born to David and Bathsheba was Solomon, who was “Loved by the Lord.” 3 They had three other sons, Nathan, Shobab, and Shammua. 4 Nathan was presumably (surprisingly) named after Nathan the Prophet, who had exposed and condemned David’s illicit affair with Bathsheba. 5 Luke follows the genealogy through Nathan. Matthew follows the genealogy through Solomon, which is why the genealogies diverge.

The genealogy gets confusing again near the end because Levi had a son named Matthan, and Eleazar also had a son named Matthan. That’s an unfortunate coincidence. So Matthan the father of Heli is not the same person as Matthan the father of Jacob.

Luke ends his genealogy by saying,

Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, [Luke 3:23]

Luke says people thought that Joseph was Jesus’ biological father. Luke knew Joseph had nothing to do with it, so Luke traces Jesus’ blood heritage through Nathan to Mary instead because Gentiles don’t care that much about official genealogy. Matthew was writing to Jews, who do care about official genealogy, so he traced Joseph’s heritage back to David through Solomon, who was also a great king. No matter how you look at it, Jesus was a descendant of David, which the scriptures say is one of the identifying characteristics of the Messiah.

Section 1.2 - John's Birth

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. [Luke 1:5-7]

You may have heard it said that, “there is none righteous, no, not one.” 6 That’s true. There isn’t just one righteous, there are MANY righteous! The quoted phrase is often taken out of context to excuse sin. The rationalization is, “Since nobody can be righteous, why should I try to be righteous? It can’t be done. What I do doesn’t matter. Jesus’ righteousness is all that counts.”

If you read the phrase in context you will see David said in Psalms 14:3 that none of the fools who don’t believe in God is righteous. Paul said in Romans 3:10 that none of the Jews and Gentiles who are “under the power of sin” is righteous. The Bible is full of examples of righteous people. Zechariah and Elizabeth were two of them.

Some of their friends and neighbors might have wondered if Zechariah and Elizabeth really were righteous because they were childless. Children are a blessing from the Lord. Every couple wanted children. The more—the better! As old as they were, Zechariah was still praying for a child. Their neighbors might have thought they had no children because they were cursed as punishment for a secret sin.

The truth is that God had closed Elizabeth’s womb for so long because He wanted to make it clear that John’s birth was miraculous because she was too old to have children. God was setting the stage so there would be no doubt that John the Baptist and Jesus weren’t just any babies.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him [Zechariah], standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” [Luke 1:11-17]

As was previously noted, Amos said, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants.” Unfortunately, sometimes it is hard for the servants to understand the plan.

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” [Luke 1:18]

Even the righteous can have trouble believing in miracles. Sometimes they have to be convinced.

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.  And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple.  When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. [Luke 1:19-22]

If you wanted to pretend you could not speak, how long could you do it? Kids can’t play the “Be Quiet Game” in the back seat of a car for more than a few minutes. Zechariah was mute for nine months. That isn’t humanly possible. God must have done it.

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”

Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him. [Luke 1:57-66]

All the neighbors were surprised that Zechariah and Elizabeth named their baby “John” because it was customary to name children after relatives they wished to honor. Why choose the name, “John?”

As we have already read, Gabriel told them to give him that name. Presumably Gabriel had a reason, or he would not have specified that particular name.

“John” means “God is Gracious” in Hebrew. 7 Zechariah and Elizabeth must have agreed because it certainly was gracious of God finally to give them the child they had wanted for so many years, after all hope seemed gone. To those of us living today, we should realize that John the Baptist’s mission was to "go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah" and proclaim the coming of the Savior because God is gracious.

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors
    and to remember his holy covenant,
    the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
    and to enable us to serve him without fear
    in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel. [Luke 1:67-80]

Section 1.3 - Jesus' Birth

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. [Luke 1:26-27] 

Again, as Amos said, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants.”

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. [Luke 1:28-38]

Mary expressed curiosity, but not disbelief. She wondered, “How will this be?” but did not doubt that it would happen. Gabriel did not need to give her any supernatural proof. Besides, it was best not to attract any attention to Mary’s situation before it became obvious.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” [Luke 1:39-45]

Three months before he was born, John the Baptist recognized Mary and Jesus. Christmas plays generally portray the Holy Spirit as coming upon Mary as soon as Gabriel leaves; but it isn’t clear from Luke’s account how long it was before Mary was with child. Regardless whether or not Mary had even been impregnated yet, Mary and Elizabeth both believed that Mary would have a son because the Holy Spirit had filled them both.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. [Luke 1:56]

So, Mary apparently left just before Elizabeth gave birth to John. But before she left, she praised God.

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.” [Luke 1:46-55]

Even before Jesus was born, Mary recognized that Jesus would fulfill Old Testament prophecies. The promised deliverance would come.

No doubt, you know the next part of the story.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. [Luke 2:1-20]

Section 1.4 - The Shepherds

In those days, being a shepherd was a lousy job. It usually got foisted off on the youngest son as soon as he was old enough to do it. The shepherds who heard the angels and saw the baby were just kids, perhaps as young as 10, and most of them were probably about 20 years old. “All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them;” but since the shepherds were just kids, amazement was probably as far as it went. Clearly, they had been out in the field alone too long!

Most of these shepherds would have been about 50 years old (give or take 10 years) when Jesus began His public ministry. Some of them might have died before John baptized Jesus, and there weren’t that many of them to begin with. The Bible says some of Jesus’ followers were fishermen and tax collectors—but no retired shepherds are mentioned. Maybe some of Jesus’ followers were the shepherds who had visited Jesus when he was born, and the Bible just doesn’t mention them; but hearing angels singing in the clouds would be such a life-changing event that one could not forget it. Why, when Jesus began his public ministry, doesn’t the Bible tell of shepherds who came forth to testify about what they had seen in Bethlehem 30 years earlier?

No doubt the shepherds had been ridiculed for the first few years after they claimed to have seen the Messiah at His birth. Why hadn’t He been celebrated by the priests? Why wasn’t He living in a palace? Thirty years is a long time to wait. Maybe they thought they were wrong. It is easy to get discouraged. It is hard to get undiscouraged.

Christians have been told for 2,000 years that “Jesus is coming soon!” It is easy to get discouraged while waiting. But His Second Coming is a major doctrine emphasized in both the Old and New Testaments. As improbable as some of the prophecies have seemed, all except a few dealing with the short period of time just before Jesus returns have been perfectly fulfilled. We should be encouraged by the fulfillment of so many prophecies, and not be discouraged by the time it has taken for the last, most important prophecies to be fulfilled.

Section 1.5 - Simeon and Anna

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” 8, and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” 9

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.” [Luke 2:21-32]

Simeon “was righteous and devout.” Despite what some people would like to believe, it is possible to be righteous and devout. Because Simeon was righteous and devout, the Holy Spirit gave him insight (and comfort). He had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. So, when Jesus was brought to the temple to be circumcised and dedicated, the Holy Spirit inspired him to go to see the baby.

The Old Testament had prophesied that someday the Gospel would go to the Gentiles. The Holy Spirit told Simeon that Jesus would make this possible, so Simeon said Jesus would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” This should have been orthodox Jewish belief—but when Paul said Jesus was sending him to preach to the Gentiles, it nearly cost him his life.

“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”

The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!” [Acts 22:21-22]

Simeon knew that, like Paul, Jesus would be hated, and killed, because of the message He preached. He warned Mary,

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” [Luke 2:33-35]

When someone preaches the Gosple Jesus preached (instead of the smooth words that many want to believe that Jesus said) it stirs up trouble. Jesus said,

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” [John 15:18-19]

This raises the unsettling question, “Does the world hate you?” If not, is it because you belong to the world rather than to Jesus?

Simeon wasn’t the only one who recognized the infant Jesus as the fulfillment of the promised Messiah.

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. [Luke 2:36-38]

Why did the Holy Spirit need a second prophet to confirm Jesus’ mission of redemption? Because it takes two witnesses to prove anything.

“But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ ” 10 [Matthew 18:16]

Section 1.6 - Jesus' Childhood

Luke tells us practically nothing about Jesus’ childhood.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him. [Luke 2:39-40]

Luke apparently didn’t know about the wise men and the escape to Egypt. 11 He just knew about one instance when Jesus was 12 years old.

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. [Luke 2:41-52]

This gives a rather ambiguous answer to the musical question, “Mary, did you know [that Jesus is the Son of God]?” She should have known because Gabriel told her—but the temple was the last place they looked for Him, and “they did not understand what he was saying to them.” The statement that she “treasured all these things in her heart” seems to indicate that she at least wanted to believe; but it is hard to know what was really in her heart and mind.

Back to the Introduction Table of Contents On to Chapter 2

Footnotes:

1 Isaiah 9:6-7
2 2 Samuel 12:18
3 2 Samuel 12:25. God told Nathan the prophet to call Solomon, Jedidiah, because "Jedidiah" means "Loved by the Lord" in Hebrew.
4 1 Chronicles 3:5
5 2 Samuel 12:1-14
6 Psalms 14:3, Romans 3:10
7 https://www.behindthename.com/name/john
8 Exodus 13:2,12
9 Leviticus 12:8
10 Deuteronomy 19:15
11 Matthew 2:1-23