Luke 1:1-10

Study Date -

Study Type - Adult Lesson

Fellowship - Friday Night Salt and Light

Series - Luke 2015-16

Book - Luke

Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Luke and Paul, Luke author, Theophilus, Zacharias

Luke 1:1-4
1Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, 2just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, 3it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, 4that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.

Luke begins his gospel with a short statement about why he took on the task of writing it, and why he was qualified to do so. The Greek word translated in the NKJV as “have been fulfilled” here in verse 1 is – πληροφορέω plērophoreō. It means
        I.        to bear or bring full, to make full
1.    to cause a thing to be shown to the full
a.    to fulfill the ministry in every part
2.    to carry through to the end, accomplish
a.    things that have been accomplished
3.    to fill one with any thought, conviction, or inclination
a.    to make one certain, to persuade, convince one
b.    to be persuaded, persuaded, fully convinced or assured
c.    to render inclined or bent on
πληροφορέω plērophoreō is also translated as “be fully persuaded,” “be most surely believed,” “be fully known,” and “make full proof.” In order to get a fuller appreciation of this verse, it is helpful to look at how πληροφορέω plērophoreō is translated in various English language translations.

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us [King James Version]

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us [New Living Translation]

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us [New International Version]

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us[English Standard Version]

Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us [Holman Christian Standard Bible]

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us [New American Standard Bible]

Seeing that many did take in hand to set in order a narration of the matters that have been fully assured among us [Young’s Literal Translation]

Forasmuch as many have undertaken to draw up a relation concerning the matters fully believed among us[Darby Translation]

The point is that this word – πληροφορέω plērophoreō – implies not only a tacit understanding by Luke (and hopefully his readers) of the facts reported by the eyewitnesses concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but also a belief, or persuasion, that all the things Jesus said about Himself are true. Disbelief in His deity among many of those to whom He preached, was – of course – the reason that they conspired to have Him crucified.

Luke was obviously aware that other gospel accounts had been written. He says as much right here in verse 1. Yet he was called by the Holy Spirit to put together an account himself of the things he had heard and believed from Paul and the other apostles. This is perfectly understandable. Persecution against the church was commonplace and growing. Paul and the other apostles from whom Luke heard the story were old men. Praise God that He burdened Luke and the other gospel writers to sit down and preserve in writing the accounts of these men while they were still alive, so that we might have them today. Of course, the corollary implication is that we must also be about this business of proclaiming this Gospel among our communities while we still can.

Luke continues in verse 2 defending his own credibility in writing such an account, affirming that he had heard it all directly from those who were eyewitnesses, and that therefore he had the “perfect understanding” needed to set forth the account in an orderly manner. Since Luke claims to have heard the Gospel message directly from those who witnessed the events firsthand, the obvious conclusion is that Luke must have been alive at that time, and that the gospel of Luke, and its sequel – Acts – must have been written in the latter half of the 1st century AD, not 100 years or more later as many modern theologians have claimed.

Finally, Luke identifies his audience as “Theophilus.” I’m sure that this is a name that won’t be making the top ten list of most popular baby names anytime soon. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful name meaning “Lover of God.” I guess it’s no surprise that folks in our society aren’t calling their babies Theophilus. After all, as Paul wrote to Timothy…

2 Timothy 3:1-5
1But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

Nothing is known of Luke’s Theophilus except that it is a man’s name. He may very well have been a member of one of the congregations Luke visited in his travels with Paul, or may have been one of their traveling companions. Some have also speculated that Theophilus may have been Luke’s patient. In ancient times, it was common for physicians like Luke to be bound as servants or even slaves to one particular patient’s family. I personally believe that Theophilus wasn’t an individual person at all, but a literary device used by Luke to refer to all his readers who love God. That is to say that Luke was actually writing to us, and uses the phrase “most excellent Theophilus” just as some modern writer might say “dear reader.” I’m open to hear whatever anybody might say on the subject, but I think that’s just going to be one of those questions we’ll have to defer until we finally meet Luke face-to-face in Heaven unless someone digs up some ancient reference to Theophilus in the meantime.

Whether or not he wrote to a specific person named Theophilus, Luke states his purpose explicitly in the last half of verse 4 – “that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.” Luke’s target audience is clearly someone who has already heard the Gospel preached, whether or not they believed it. Luke’s intent is to reiterate, clarify, and fulfill the message previously preached to Theophilus. Thus, Luke’s gospel is also particularly useful to modern believers who have heard and believed the glorious Gospel Truth, and now need discipleship and edification in faith. This is true for both the new believer, and the seasoned Christ follower.

As we shall see, Luke made some assumptions about his readers’ knowledge of and experience with Judaism of his day. So, as we make our way through his gospel, we will find it helpful at times to review the Old Testament Law and Prophets in order that we might more fully grasp the benefit of our studies in Luke and Acts.

Before we move on, let’s take a moment to try to put ourselves in the place of the Theophilus (or theophili) of Luke’s time. Apart from the priests, very few people had access to physical copies of the written Word of God (the Old Testament, the previously written gospels, or the letters of the apostles). The average person of the time was illiterate, and would not have been able to read them even if they had them. Traditions such as the Judaic Law, and the fundamental doctrines of the newborn Christian church were largely taught orally.

Consequently, there was a danger that the principles of godly life in Christ would quickly become distorted, as details of His teachings faded in the new believers’ memories. Indeed we know from studying the letters of the apostles, and from church history that various heresies had already crept into the church by the second half of the 1st century. In his travels with Paul, Luke would have heard first-hand of the various errors that were creeping into the churches in Asia Minor and in Greece. He would have also heard the various questions brought to Paul by messengers from those churches, and read Paul’s answers. Therefore, he thought it was critically important to preserve the teachings in an immutable written form which would remain useful for instructing the believers after Paul and the other apostles (and Luke himself) had passed on.

By the time he wrote his gospel some thirty years after Jesus’ ascension, it must have become apparent to Luke and the other writers that it might be many years before Jesus’ return. Thus God placed the burden on Luke’s heart to write the accounts down in an orderly collection to preserve them for the edification of his own contemporaries and those (like us) who would come long afterward.

Luke 1:5-7
5There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.
The man called “Herod, the king of Judea” here is very likely Herod the Great. He ruled as king of Roman-occupied Judea from around 37 BC until his death in 4 BC. During this time, he completely re-built the magnificent temple in Jerusalem of which Jesus would later prophesy that no stone would be left standing on another, and which was utterly destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Although Herod was a practicing Jew, he was of Arab descent, and ruled in Jerusalem only by assent of the Roman emperor. It is important to distinguish Herod the Great from his son, Herod Antipas. After Herod the Great died, his kingdom in Judea was divided into four sections which were ruled by his sons. Of these so-called tetrarchs (rulers of fourths), Herod Antipas is the one who the Word speaks of the most. It was Antipas who imprisoned and beheaded John the Baptist, and handed Jesus back to Pilate to be condemned.
Before we move on, let me state emphatically that we will not be spending a great deal of time trying to pin down the exact dates of Jesus’ and John the Baptist’s birth by comparing the Biblical accounts with known dates in secular history. More than enough words have already been written on this subject, and we are all free (for the time being) to spend as much or as little time as we see fit mining the Internet for those “gems.” We will discuss some of the issues that have arisen in the course of studying the text, but we won’t make this our focus. We will readily stipulate up front that Jesus was not born on December 25th of the year zero or 1 BC or 1AD, but we won’t spend any significant time or energy trying to determine exactly when He was born apart from that, we will restrict our focus to just what we can glean from God’s Word. We may occasionally touch on other sources, but our focus will remain on the revealed Word of God. For the time being, it’s important only to note that Luke 1:5 states simply that John the Baptist’s parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth, lived “in the days of Herod” without any precise connection to the actual date of either John’s birth or Jesus’ birth.
The name Zacharias (the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew Zechariah) means “The Lord Remembers.” Elizabeth is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Elisheba, meaning “oath of God,” or “God is satisfaction.” The “division of Abijah” of which Zacharias was a member was a group of priests which ministered as a unit in the scheduled rotation of duties set forth for the services in the temple. There were 24 such divisions set up by King David. The house of Abijah, from which Zacharias descended was the eighth division drawn by lot…
1 Chronicles 24:1-19
1Now these are the divisions of the sons of Aaron. The sons of Aaron were Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 2And Nadab and Abihu died before their father, and had no children; therefore Eleazar and Ithamar ministered as priests. 3Then David with Zadok of the sons of Eleazar, and Ahimelech of the sons of Ithamar, divided them according to the schedule of their service.
4There were more leaders found of the sons of Eleazar than of the sons of Ithamar, and thus they were divided. Among the sons of Eleazar were sixteen heads of their fathers’ houses, and eight heads of their fathers’ houses among the sons of Ithamar. 5Thus they were divided by lot, one group as another, for there were officials of the sanctuary and officials of the house of God, from the sons of Eleazar and from the sons of Ithamar. 6And the scribe, Shemaiah the son of Nethanel, one of the Levites, wrote them down before the king, the leaders, Zadok the priest, Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the priests and Levites, one father’s house taken for Eleazar and one for Ithamar.
7Now the first lot fell to Jehoiarib, the second to Jedaiah, 8the third to Harim, the fourth to Seorim, 9the fifth to Malchijah, the sixth to Mijamin, 10the seventh to Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah, 11the ninth to Jeshua, the tenth to Shecaniah, 12the eleventh to Eliashib, the twelfth to Jakim, 13the thirteenth to Huppah, the fourteenth to Jeshebeab, 14the fifteenth to Bilgah, the sixteenth to Immer, 15the seventeenth to Hezir, the eighteenth to Happizzez, 16the nineteenth to Pethahiah, the twentieth to Jehezekel, 17the twenty-first to Jachin, the twenty-second to Gamul, 18the twenty-third to Delaiah, the twenty-fourth to Maaziah.
19This was the schedule of their service for coming into the house of the LORD according to their ordinance by the hand of Aaron their father, as the LORD God of Israel had commanded him.
I find it very intriguing that the Word here says here in Luke 1:6 that John the Baptist’s parents were “both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” The Word tells us that…
Psalm 53:2
2God looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
3Every one of them has turned aside;
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.
God tells us in His Word that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” which is why Jesus had to come to dwell among us – God in the flesh – being utterly perfect so that He could become the needed sacrifice in atonement for sin. How can we reconcile all that with the statement here that Zacharias and Elizabeth were “blameless?” This touches on the idea of the sin nature of all mankind. We’ll delve much more deeply into this when we take a closer look at the virgin birth of Jesus, and why it is essential to our faith. For now, we take it that although Zacharias and Elizabeth were blameless, and God richly blessed them, they were by birth both sinners in need of a savior, just like Mary – the mother of Jesus – and just like all of us! Much more on this later, because there’s a lot of false teaching out there regarding worship of “saints.”
Elizabeth – being childless into her later years – joins a respectable line of women chosen of God to become mothers late in life. In cultures throughout the ancient world, and even into modern American culture, childlessness bore a significant stigma. Women who were unable to have children – particularly sons – were considered stricken by God, and were shunned and ridiculed even by their own families. Biologically, of course, childlessness may be just as much due to the husband as the wife, but in ancient middle-eastern cultures it was always the wife who took the brunt of the perceived disability. Yet God returns to this theme again and again as a model for His power of redemption.
Genesis 11:29-30
29Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah. 30But Sarai was barren; she had no child.
Genesis 15:1-6
1After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
2But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”
4And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” 5Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
6And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
Judges 13:2-5
2Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. 3And the Angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. 4Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. 5For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”
1 Samuel 1:1-2
1Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim Zophim, of the mountains of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2And he had two wives: the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
1 Samuel 1:10-11
10And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish. 11Then she made a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.”
1 Samuel 1:20
So it came to pass in the process of time that Hannah conceived and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked for him from the LORD.”
In each of these cases, the sons born to these formerly barren women became great leaders in Israel. Manoah’s son, Samson, was not exactly a sterling example of godly living, and Sarai’s son, Isaac, had some issues as well, but the failings of these men notwithstanding, God used each of these instances as a model for His plan of redemption that would be ultimately fulfilled in the coming of the Lord Jesus. Indeed, as we shall see, Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist, would be called the greatest of all the prophets by Jesus Himself. God is in the business of bringing joy and hope out of barrenness and despair. As we will soon see Jesus reading about Himself in the synagogue at Nazareth…
Isaiah 61:1-3
1The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
3To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”
Luke 1:8-10
8So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.
God gave specific commandments for this priestly duty, pertaining to the construction, placement, and movement of the altar of incense, and the formulation of the incense itself.
Exodus 30:1-10
1“You shall make an altar to burn incense on; you shall make it of acacia wood. 2A cubit shall be its length and a cubit its width—it shall be square—and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. 3And you shall overlay its top, its sides all around, and its horns with pure gold; and you shall make for it a molding of gold all around. 4Two gold rings you shall make for it, under the molding on both its sides. You shall place them on its two sides, and they will be holders for the poles with which to bear it. 5You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. 6And you shall put it before the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with you.
7“Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it. 8And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. 9You shall not offer strange incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering; nor shall you pour a drink offering on it. 10And Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonement; once a year he shall make atonement upon it throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.”
Exodus 30:34-38
34And the LORD said to Moses: “Take sweet spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, and pure frankincense with these sweet spices; there shall be equal amounts of each. 35You shall make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. 36And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put some of it before the Testimony in the tabernacle of meeting where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. 37But as for the incense which you shall make, you shall not make any for yourselves, according to its composition. It shall be to you holy for the LORD. 38Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people.”
God made the requirements for the burning of incense before Him very specific. Those who performed this service were to be of the sons of Aaron, and were to be consecrated and clothed in the manner spelled out in Exodus 28 & 29. He also gave stern warning about failure to follow these directions. Remember that God killed the sons of Aaron – Nadab and Abihu – when they burned incense before Him not in the prescribed way.
Leviticus 10:1-3
1Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. 2So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. 3And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying:
‘By those who come near Me
I must be regarded as holy;
And before all the people
I must be glorified.'”
Why is God so picky about this burning of incense? The burning of incense is symbolic of prayer. The altar of incense in the earthly tabernacle and temple were models of the heavenly temple we see in…
Revelation 8:3-4
3Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.
Just as the incense symbolic of our prayer was to be burned in a specified manner and place, so our prayers themselves should be offered with reverence, not casually. We are not called to make formal memorized prayers as prescribed in the traditions of so many Christian sects and other religions. As Pastor Steve might say, we need to be “real” with God in our prayers. Yet, our prayers are never to be casual or flippant. Jesus gives specific direction for how we are to pray.
Matthew 6:5-13
5And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. 7And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
8Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. 9In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
11Give us this day our daily bread.
12And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
13And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Furthermore, our prayers must be offered in a repentant spirit.
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Yet if we come to Him in our sin unrepentant, God says…
Isaiah 1:15-19
15When you spread out your hands,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Even though you make many prayers,
I will not hear.
Your hands are full of blood.
16“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
17Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.
18“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the LORD,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.
19If you are willing and obedient,
You shall eat the good of the land;
Furthermore, notice that the burning of incense before the Lord was to be continual – morning and evening. So it should be with our prayers.
1 Thessalonians 15:16-18
16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

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