The introduction in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 1, is an example of the uniqueness of the story Luke is about to recount to us about the birth of Christ. We have heard it told many times in Sunday school as we grew up, saw it presented visually in plays, movies and books. What about before the birth, before the manger and the visit of the Three wise Men? All good stories don’t always have a good beginning. It is interesting to note that Luke steps out from behind the words as we read the insertion of the pronoun “I” at the beginning of verse 3.
Luke 1 verse 3-With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.
Like many preceding historians Luke has done his homework so to speak, gathering information, talking to people who were there, he himself having walked with the Master. Luke knows he is writing the greatest story ever told, and only his best effort is good enough. We also take note that Luke, not satisfied with anyone else’s story of Christ, wanted to tell his own. Compare it to our faith which was arrived at first hand through our own actions. In his introduction Luke makes known that these writings are the product a most careful and extensive search. Luke’s actions show his is not a secondhand faith or religion, it is his own. It also shows us that to be inspired of God , truly inspired, we must seek, reach out and covet the revealing Spirit of God. During the Advent Season as we prepare for the birth of Christ great detail is given to the four candles and what they represent.Then comes the lighting of the Christ candle and celebration of the birth itself. I want this week to step back and look at the people and the circumstances that brought us to this ‘night of nights’.
We will began with Theophilus who is mentioned in the third verse.
Luke 1:3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Two things of note are in this introduction to this letter in these first few verses. One begs a question the other the reason for the letter. Who is Theophilus? After reading several theories as to who this might be, I found that gotquestions.org had several concurring opinions about this. Here is their answer to the question.
The truth is no one really knows who he was. Got Questions’ answer…
–Theophilus was a wealthy and influential man in the city of Antioch. There are second-century references to a man named Theophilus who was “a great lord” and a leader in the city of Antioch during the time of Luke. Such a man would fit the description, as many scholars believe that Theophilus could have been a wealthy benefactor who supported Paul and Luke on their missionary journeys. That would account for Luke’s wanting to provide an orderly and detailed account of what had happened. https://www.gotquestions.org/Theophilus-Luke-Acts.html
Look at verse four…There is also the possibility that Luke had been spending time with this person and sharing the gospel of Christ with him, even perhaps his family and servants and this letter is to confirm and strengthen those things that were taught. Now we have some idea of why and to whom the letter was written. One of the central figures in the Christmas story was Herod Antipas, (born 21 bc—died ad 39), son of Herod I the Great who became tetrarch of Galilee which meant under Roman rule he was the governor of one of four divisions of a country or province and ruled throughout Jesus of Nazareth’s ministry. Next Luke introduces us to the birth of John the Baptist and a priest named Zechariah. Zechariah is a figure in the New Testament part of the Christian Bible and the Quran, hence venerated in Christianity and Islam. In the Bible, he is the father of John the Baptist, a priest of the sons of Aaron in the Gospel of Luke, and the husband of Elizabeth who is a relative of the Virgin Mary. We also meet Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah who is unable to conceive a child. Zechariah, as every descendant of Aaron became a priest automatically. That being the case for the ordinary everyday duties of priests, there were far too many priests. Because of their large numbers they were divided into twenty-four sections for service. Priests who loved their work looked forward to their week of service, it was the highlight of their lives. The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth is the first step in our journey to the birth of Christ.
Before the morning sacrifice and after the evening sacrifice incense was burned on the Altar of Sacrifice. This was done so that there was a sweet smelling envelope so to speak enclosing the sacrifice as it went up to God. Because of the large number of priests lots were drawn for this duty. Many a priest would never have the privilege of burning incense in his entire life. On this day the lot fell on Zechariah and it would be the greatest day of his life. Jewish Rabbis said seven people were excommunicated from God and at the beginning of that list was a Jew that had no wife or who has a wife but no child. There was that tragedy in his life that he and Elizabeth had no child, she was barren. This might be a stretch but it could be possible that on this day, being this close to God, that he prayed about this. Then that wonderful vision came to him at that moment standing there while the incense burned, that a son would be born to him! Even when we can’t speak God speaks for us. The offering is made in the innermost court of the Temple, the Court of the Priests. At the evening service it was the privilege of the Priest to come to the railing between the courts after the incense had been burned and bless the people. They had been waiting a long time for him to come and bless them and when he did appear he could not speak…they knew he had seen a vision. His was a wordless daze of joy and when his weeks duties were done he went home, there to find that Elizabeth knew she was going to have a child. Before we move on it is necessary to make the point that it was in God’s house that the voice of God came to Zechariah as he waited but we can take that a bit farther…God’s voice comes to those who listen for it…are you listening for it? Staying with Luke’s writing we next are introduced to the angel Gabriel and his visit to Nazareth a town in Galilee. He had been sent by God to speak to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. Mary is betrothed to Joseph at the time she is visited by Gabriel. A Betrothal lasts a year and is considered as binding as marriage. This passage brings us face to face with one of the great controversial doctrines of the Christian faith, that of course being the virgin birth. Mary is yet a young girl but the scripture makes it plain she is of great faith…we read in Luke 1:38…“I am the Lord’s servant, May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Mary is chosen of God to give birth to the Son of God and I am sure that her heart was filled joy unspeakable at so great a privilege. Many people who have been chosen by God soon realize that it is both a crown of joy and a cross of sorrow. In Mary’s case, she would see her son die on the cross. Barclay writes… “God chooses us to use us.” A paradox indeed, Mary is blessed beyond words and yet at this time of great joy she also has a task ahead of her as the mother of the only Son of God… she shall bring into being God’s salvation among the people of this world.
We cannot leave our time with Mary without her visit to Elizabeth and Mary’s song of praise. In Luke’s Gospel it is contained in verses 39-56. In verses 46-56 we find that song of praise…one of the great hymns of the Church…The Magnificat. It is well worth the read. Luke then introduces us to John, who would come to be known to us as John the Baptist. Soon Elizabeth’s time came and she gave birth to a baby boy. There was a great celebration as was the Jewish custom with family and friends gathered about the house. On the eight day they took him to be circumcised. He was not to be named Zechariah after his father upon the objection of his mother. There was quite a ruckus about this and someone suggested a writing tablet be given to Zechariah because he had not spoken since his vision in the Temple. He writes thw John and immediately his tongue is freed and he speaks praising God. The prophecy of Zechariah is in verses 67-80, Luke 1.
I hope you will read the verses I listed so that you may have a full picture of Luke’s writing. Thank you for joining us in the Pew. May you and your family be blessed in this Advent season.
Life is Good