Luke: Part 1
In Luke: Part 1, watch Jesus up close as he begins to reveal to his disciples, the crowds, and us the astonishing upside-down kingdom of God. Luke: Part 1 is a combination of Chris’s ability to unpack Scripture in deep, practical ways and Hope’s ability to create questions that guide the reader and apply God’s Word. Each study is nourishing, time efficient, and useful for individuals and groups.
Read Luke 1:1-38
1. Who wrote this account and why?
2. Who was Zechariah, and what happened to him?
3. Who was the angel that communicated to both Zechariah and Mary? How are the communications with each of them similar? How are they different?
Thousands would have known the story of Jesus’s life and ministry. Luke had multiple written, eyewitness accounts. But the love and respect of a friend prompted him as he began to write what he calls “an orderly account.” Theophilus, which means “lover of God,” was probably not this friend’s real name. The way Luke addresses him indicates that he was a person of rank, maybe a Roman officer. He may have even financed Luke’s writing of the book. He had clearly been taught the faith, but he may or may not have been a believer. Luke, the systematic, careful doctor wanted to give his friend a methodically investigated narrative so that Theophilus might have certainty. Ultimately, Luke wanted his friend to be certain about who Jesus was. Of course, he was inspired and led by the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit used the particular personality, place, and proclivities of Luke to capture this story both for Theophilus and for the billions that would read it after him. Through the meticulous work and loving intention of Luke the doctor, we enter the story of Jesus’s life.
It was as if the stage had gone dark for a long, long time. In the drama of God revealing himself and his plan through the history of Israel, there was a drawn-out, silent intermission. No one heard from the God who had promised to rescue his people. There were no visions, no prophets, no word from Yahweh for over four hundred years. The ritual of offering sacrifices to God had continued. The temple still stood. The feasts of Israel, the Sabbaths, the telling of the stories of the Exodus went on. But it must have felt like the stories were all about the God of the past, not of the present. It must have felt like God had forgotten.
Enter Zechariah. Having been born in a line of priests, Zechariah would have had the responsibility of going to the temple in Jerusalem twice per year to perform whatever duty was chosen by lot. Because there were a limited number of tasks for the priests to carry out, burning the incense was an immense honor that a priest would perform only once in his life. For Zechariah, this would have been the high point of his existence. For just a few moments this man of God was to be as close to God as any human at the time could get. Burning incense symbolized the prayers of Israel going up to God. He and all of the worshippers waiting for him would have been praying for the salvation of Israel. Their prayers must have felt quite futile.
But our God is not a God who forgets. Zechariah may have given up praying for a child, but Zechariah’s name means “the Lord has remembered.” God had not forgotten his promise to bring a Messiah out of Israel. And in the darkness of the holy place, as Zechariah smelled the incense and waited before the Lord, he learned that God’s remembering of Israel would include an individual remembrance of him. This is how our God works. He uses our stories, our losses, our longings, our voices, and our prayers to further his kingdom. When Zechariah voiced his doubt, the angel rebuked him. It is as if Zechariah was saying, “But I’m old,” and the angel was saying, “But he’s God.” God is not limited by our limitations.
This is the first of countless glimpses of the upside-down kingdom in the Book of Luke. A barren woman was to have a child who would be a prophet like Elijah, the first in four hundred years. In Elizabeth’s culture, not having any children meant extreme shame. God was about to take away her shame. Not only that, but in a crazy plot twist, God’s first words to the world after centuries involved an infertile couple having a baby who would prepare the way for the savior of the world.
 Liefeld and Pao, “Luke,” 54.
The scene changes from inside Jerusalem’s temple to the countryside and a little town called Nazareth. Unlike today, where the majority of people are engaged to be married in their twenties and thirties, betrothal usually happened soon after puberty. Mary was probably in her early teens. Notice in verse 28 how the angel greets Mary. “Favored one” here is not a status Mary had earned. In Ephesians 1:6 this same Greek word is translated “blessed” or “freely given.” Mary was not chosen because she did something right. God gave her this honor in the same way he gives all believers honor—“apart from any merit of their own.” Unlike Zechariah’s question of unbelief, Mary simply wanted to know how this amazing thing would happen.
Here again is the upside-downness of the kingdom of God. Mary was probably thirteen or fourteen years old, physically small, voiceless as a girl in her culture, powerless to change her status in life. The God of the universe who made billions of stars and called them out by name chose to house himself in the fragile confines of a teenage girl’s delicate womb. Oh, the humility, the mind-boggling plans of the Lord. He will not act according to our expectations or be restricted by our imaginations. His kingdom cannot be stopped. And far from forgetting his people, he would invade the quiet waiting of Israel in a flash of power and light next to the incense table in the temple. The silence had been broken. The Messiah of God’s upside-down kingdom was coming.
 Ibid., 60.
4. What does God’s use of Luke, and of all of who Luke is as a person, to tell this story communicate about how God intends to use us?
5. Reflect on the the thought that “there were no visions, no prophets, no word from Yahweh for over four hundred years,” only rituals and routines to maintain a connection to the Lord. How must those four hundred years have felt? How does it make you view the spiritual habits we use on a regular basis in a different light?
6. Zechariah, the childless priest, bore the name that spoke the final truth over his personal story and the story of God’s people, “the Lord has remembered.” But in the years leading up to this moment, how do you think Zechariah viewed his story? Where are you currently in your view of your own personal story?
7. The angel had two different responses to the question that both Zechariah and Mary asked him. Speculate as to why that could be.
8. Mary was greeted with the phrase “O favored one,” which in the Greek communicates that this is something that has been freely given, not earned. How does this affect your view of Mary? How do you see this phrase “O favored one” set upon you as well?
9. What does God using a doubting, childless priest and an unmarried teenager at this pivotal point in the history of his people tell us about who he is? What does it begin to reveal to us about the upside-down kingdom?
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:37-38)