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The Gospel of Luke—The Son of Man
Although written anonymously, Bible scholars agree that the third gospel was penned by Luke, a companion and personal physician of the Apostle Paul. Luke’s stated purpose in compiling his gospel was to provide “an orderly account” of the life of Christ to a believer named Theophilus and others who had heard about the Lord. Although not a contemporary of Jesus, the doctor seems to have carefully researched his topic and set about to present a chronological order of events—complete with the names of regional rulers who were in power at the time of Christ. He frequently used the phrase, “After these things,” to set the stage for each successive incident.
Most likely a Gentile, Dr. Luke portrayed Jesus as the Son of Man and Savior of all humanity—not just the Jews. His gospel includes many medical terms and observations and emphasizes Jesus’ compassion for people mostly forgotten by His contemporaries—including the poor, outcasts and women. While Luke incorporated details also found in Matthew and Mark’s Gospels, about half of his material is found nowhere else.
According to Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts, “Biblical evidence points to A.D. 58-63 as the most likely time of writing.” Scholars base this assumption on the fact that Luke’s Gospel appears to have been written before the book of Acts—which concludes with Paul’s imprisonment in Rome (c. A.D. 63). Luke may have interviewed eyewitnesses during Paul’s two-year incarceration in Caesarea, where he would have been in close proximity to both the Jewish believers and his patient. [© 1996, by Thomas Nelson, Inc., pp. 334 & 336]
Luke Chapter 1
With the first four verses of his gospel, Luke introduced the purpose of his manuscript. He said it was intended to further instruct a man by the name of Theophilus—which is Greek for “lover of God”—“about the things which have been fulfilled among us” (Lk. 1:1-2). He acknowledged the testimonies and writings of various eyewitnesses and indicated his history was an attempt to put everything together in an orderly fashion, “that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (vv. 3-4). So apparently, Luke’s Gospel was a careful history intended to confirm what a believer had already heard about Christ.
Luke then went immediately into his account, beginning with the circumstances surrounding the birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. He set the time by noting that it was “in the days of Herod, the king of Judea,” and then introduced the principle characters in this first story: a priest, named Zecharias [some English versions say Zechariah], and his wife Elizabeth—both of whom were descendants of Aaron, the first Levitical priest (5). Although this couple was blameless before God, they had no children—nor much hope of gaining any—since they were old and Elizabeth was barren (6-7). Nowadays, that is no big deal; but to devout Jews, childlessness bore the stigma that perhaps one was cursed by God.
It is significant that Luke informed us that Zecharias was “of the division of Abijah” (5), as this tells us he would have been eighth in the weekly rotation of temple service, according to 1 Chronicles 24:7-19. According to Exodus 12, the sacred Jewish calendar began in the spring of each year, just before Passover (around March or April). Abijah’s division was slated to serve eight weeks after the beginning of the Jewish calendar—about the time of Pentecost (the Feast of Weeks referred to in Exodus 23:16). That means when he was chosen by lot to burn incense in the holy place of the temple (Lk. 1:8-9), according to the schedule set by King David, Zecharias would have served sometime around May.
While the priest was inside performing the ritual of burning the morning incense, as required in Exodus 30:7, everyone else was outside praying (Lk. 1:9-10). All of a sudden, an angel appeared to the priest and scared him half to death (vv. 11-12). As they always do, the angel told Zecharias to calm down, and declared that his prayers had been answered: His wife was going to have a baby boy, and they were to name their son John [which means “God has been gracious”] (13).
Moreover, the angel added, not only would Zecharias and his wife be overjoyed at the child’s birth, but others would have reason to rejoice, “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and…be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (14-15). The child was to have no alcohol of any kind—indicating the boy was to be a Nazarite (c.f.—Numbers 6:1-21 & Judges 13:3-5). Then he referenced the prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6 that said God would send Elijah the prophet “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” and vice-versa, to prepare them for the coming of Messiah (Lk. 1:16-17).
Rather than celebrate the fact that God was giving him a son, and that the lad would be a forerunner to the Christ, Zecharias was skeptical, pointing out that he and his wife were too old to have children (v. 18). Miffed that the priest did not believe him, the angel identified himself as “Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God” (19). This was the same messenger who appeared to the prophet in Daniel 8:16 and 9:21.
As a consequence for his unbelief, Zecharias would not be allowed to speak until the angel’s words came true (Lk. 1:20). So, when the priest finally emerged from the holy place—much to the relief of those anxiously waiting outside—he could not tell them what had happened (vv. 21-22). They could only surmise from his frantic gestures that he had seen a vision of some sort—the first since the days of Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets.
After his month in Jerusalem was up, Zecharias went home to his wife, and she conceived a child as promised (23-24a). For five months she would not come out of the house—likely wanting to make sure the pregnancy was real before revealing her condition to others. When she was certain the pregnancy had taken, Elizabeth praised God for removing the reproach of her barrenness (25)—using the same words Rachel had in Genesis 30:23.
When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, probably sometime in November, Gabriel paid a visit to a young lady of Nazareth in Galilee (Lk. 1:26). Mary was engaged to Joseph, a descendant of the royal line of King David; but they had not yet come together in marriage, and she was still a virgin (v. 27).
When the angel said, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” poor Mary had no idea what he was talking about (28-29). As with everyone who encounters a heavenly being, he told her, “Do not be afraid,” and assured the girl she had found favor with God (30). Then he told her she would have a Son, whom she was to name Jesus [Greek for “salvation” and the equivalent of the Hebrew name Joshua] (31). The Child would be great, he said, being the Offspring of God, and the Son of David Scripture foretold would “reign over the house of Jacob forever” (Lk. 1:32-33; c.f.—2 Samuel 7:12-14, Psalm 132:11, Isaiah 9:6-7 & Dan. 7:13-14).
Mary wasn’t sure how this was possible, since she had not yet been with a man, so the angel explained her Child would be conceived by the Holy Spirit, which would make Him divine (Lk. 1:34-35). Without even waiting for her to ask, Gabriel gave Mary a sign: He told her about her relative Elizabeth’s pregnancy, adding, “For with God, nothing will be impossible” (vv. 36-37). [Interestingly enough, since Mary was related to Elizabeth, this would mean she—and consequently her Son Jesus—were both of the Kingly line of David and the priestly line of Aaron.]
Unlike Zecharias, Mary accepted the news without hesitation. “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (38). Thus, she embraced by faith the supreme honor of bearing the Messiah [something every good Jewish girl longed for] and the hardship of carrying the virgin-born Son of God [something few would imagine or believe possible, since few understood the significance of Isaiah 7:14].
When the angel left, Mary soon went to the hill country of Judah to see Elizabeth (Lk. 1:38-40). No sooner had her relative heard Mary’s greeting, than Elizabeth felt her baby leap in her womb. She herself was filled with the Holy Spirit and declared a loud blessing over Mary (vv. 41-42), from which Catholics have taken the opening lines of the rosary. Elizabeth felt privileged to be visited by “the mother of my Lord,” and told Mary what had prompted her outburst (43-44). Then she added, “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (45).
With this amazing confirmation, Mary burst into a song of praise not unlike what Hannah said when she brought her miracle baby to the temple (See 1 Sam. 2:1-10). She began, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (Lk. 1:46-47). These words from Mary’s own mouth refute the Catholic belief in her “immaculate conception”—were the mother of Jesus born sinless, she would not need a Savior. It also echoes the words of Habakkuk 3:18. In the next line of her psalm, Mary expressed gratitude for God’s regard for “the lowly state of His maidservant,” in that everyone would consider her blessed for having been chosen to bear the Christ Child (Lk. 1:48).
Incorporating statements from the Psalms and prophets in verses 49-53, Mary told how great God is, how merciful to those who fear Him, and how He puts down the proud and mighty to lift up the meek. “He…has done great things,” repeats the words of Psalm 71:19 and 126:2-3. “His name is holy,” quotes Psalm 99:3 & 111:9, as well as Isaiah 57:15. From Psalm 89:10 she utters, “…with His arm; He has scattered the proud,” and from Psalm 107:9 declares, “He has satisfied the hungry with good things.” Mary closed by mentioning God’s covenant-keeping nature and His help of Israel, alluding to Psalm 98:3. I think this shows the young lady was intelligent and well-versed in Scripture for the Holy Spirit to be able to bring so many sacred thoughts bubbling to the surface of her mind.
Evidently, Mary stayed with her relative until it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born [Lk. 1:56 says three months]. Perhaps she was witness to the delivery of the son and the joy it brought Elizabeth, Zecharias, and all their family and friends (vv. 57-58).
On the eighth day, according to Jewish custom, the infant son of Zecharias and Elizabeth was circumcised (Lk. 1:59a; c.f.—Gen. 17:12 & Leviticus 12:2-3). The witnesses to the ceremony would have named the boy after his father, but his mother insisted on the name the angel had given (Lk. 1:59b-60). The others couldn’t see why she would give the lad a name not used for anyone in the family, so they checked with his father (vv. 61-62). It’s interesting that they communicated with Zecharias by signs, and he wrote his answer—thereby indicating that the man may have been struck deaf, as well as mute, because of his unbelief (62-63). As soon as he wrote on a tablet, “His name is John,” the matter was settled, and God enabled Zecharias to speak again—to the utter astonishment and fear of the onlookers and all who were later informed of the miracle (63-65).
In addition to praising the Lord for fulfilling His word, “Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied” that God had “visited and redeemed His people,” providing them salvation from the royal line of David, as foretold by the prophets (64 & 67-70). Like Mary, he quoted phrases from the Psalms (18:12, 41:13 & 132:17), and alluded to Ezekiel 34:23-24 and 37:24-25. In verses 72-73, he repeated thoughts from Psalm 105:8-10 & 42. By delivering them from their enemies, he said God had enabled His people to “serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness” (Lk. 1:71-75).
Concerning his own son, Zecharias said,
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins” (vv. 76-77).
This was a reference to Malachi 3:1, regarding the coming Messiah. He referenced Isaiah 9:2, 58:18 & 60:1-3, saying the Dayspring would “give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk. 1:78-79).
Luke 1:80 concludes the doctor’s account of the conception and birth of John by telling us that the boy “grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.”
Luke Chapter 2
Next, we learn that God used a civil decree through Caesar Augusts to move the holy family from Nazareth to Judah. Joseph, being of the family of David, went with his wife to Bethlehem—David’s ancestral town—for the census while Mary was still pregnant (Lk. 2:1-5).
Luke’s citation of this census as occurring “while Quirinius was governor of Syria” (v. 2), has caused no small amount of controversy—particularly among those who dispute the inerrancy of Scripture. However, the Bible Knowledge Commentary resolves the issue quite nicely, through an explanation of the possible translation of a Greek word:
Jesus’ birth was dated by Luke as falling in the reign of Caesar Augustus, who was officially made the ruler of the Roman Empire in 27 B.C. and ruled to A.D. 14…. Because Herod the Great’s reign ended in 4 B.C., Jesus was born before that time. …[Quirinius] was governor in A.D. 6-7, much too late for Jesus’ birth. Therefore does the word first (prote) refer, as in the NIV, to a first, that is, an earlier, census by Quirinius? If so, one would have to posit a previous governorship for Quirinius at about 4 B.C. Perhaps a better solution is to take “first” to mean “before,” as it does, for example, in John 15:18. Luke 2:2 would then read, “this was the census that took place before Quirinius was governor of Syria” (i.e., before A.D. 6).
Luke was a careful historian who wanted his readers to understand that Jesus was a real Person with a distinct place in time and space. Thus, his reference to the Syrian governor—when properly translated—does not confuse, but clarifies when Jesus was born.
Contrary to the traditional observance of Christ’s birth in December, both Luke’s Gospel and John make it clear that Jesus was born in September or October. How do I know this?
Scripture tells us that Jesus was conceived when Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, was six months pregnant with John (See notes above regarding Luke 1:26-36). A careful reading of Luke 1:5-25 tells when that was. John’s father, Zecharias, “who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah” (Luke 1:5), was serving at the temple when the angel foretold the birth of his son. According to the schedule of the priests’ rotation recorded in 1 Chronicles 24:1-10, Abijah’s division was slated to serve eight weeks after the beginning of the Jewish calendar—about the time of Pentecost (the Feast of Weeks referred to in Exodus 23:16). After his week of service, the priest went home and his wife conceived, as promised. Six months after Pentecost (which takes place about May or June each year) would have been Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights (which occurs in December).
So Jesus, referred to by John’s Gospel as “the Light” (John 1:3-9), was conceived during the Festival of Lights at roughly the time we celebrate Christmas. But He was not born at that time.
Nine months from this holiday commemorating the dedication of the temple, the Jews observe another festival called Sukkot. Falling on a week in September or October, this harvest festival was mandatory for all Jews. They were required to build temporary shelters of branches and live in these booths, or tabernacles, for a full week. According to Leviticus 23:39-43 this commemorated the forty years that the children of Israel lived in tents in the wilderness with God Himself dwelling among them. John apparently alluded to this, when he said the Word (Jesus), “tabernacled” among us [this is the literal meaning of the Greek word, skenoo, in John 1:14, which our English Bibles translate as “dwelt”].
Because this was one of three national holidays requiring the attendance of every Jewish male, Jerusalem and its surrounding villages were packed at this time of year. So not only was the population of Bethlehem swelled beyond normal capacity, thanks to the decree from Caesar; but probably every available bed was taken due to this important festival, as well. No wonder Mary and Joseph (who must’ve traveled more slowly than most because of her delicate condition) couldn’t find any room at an inn! It may be that the compassionate innkeeper allowed the expectant couple to take shelter in his very own festival booth—which might explain why Jesus was laid in a manger, or stall, as we’re told in Luke 2:6-7.
Messianic Jewish friends have told me that the Greek word, phatne, may also refer to the bread box in which Hebrew celebrants placed their food during the Feast of Booths. The very name of the city where Jesus was born—Bethlehem—means literally “house of bread.” Jesus referred to Himself in John chapter 6 as “the Bread of life.” So perhaps the infant Savior was placed within one of these bread boxes, symbolizing this important role!
Another clue that Jesus was born during this fall Feast of Ingathering, rather than in the dead of winter, is found in Luke’s gospel: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Luke 2:8). In Israel, it is too cold for shepherds to bed down in the open with their sheep in December. Rather, they take them out to pasture and return to a warm stable before dark. But in September and October, it is still warm enough to camp out in the hills and valleys—where angels found the shepherds and declared Christ’s birth to them.
A single angel appeared to these simple men in so much shining glory that they were terrified (v. 9). These were stalwart outdoorsmen—who had likely faced wolves, lions, bears, bandits and other frightening things during their years out in the open, protecting their sheep. Yet this heavenly messenger had them shaking in their sandals to such an extent that he had to reassure them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10, HCSB).
What was his good news? I love how the New Century Version says it: “Today your Savior was born in the town of David. He is Christ, the Lord. This is how you will know him: You will find a baby wrapped in pieces of cloth and lying in a feeding box.” (Luke 2:11-12). The angel disclosed a remarkable amount of information with this simple statement:
- Their Savior was born—Jesus came as an infant.
- His birthplace was Bethlehem, the city where David, their great king had been born.
- He was their long hoped-for Messiah, or Christ—both of which mean “anointed one.”
- He was Lord. No doubt, in Hebrew the angel said, YHWH, Adonai, or some other title that made Jesus’ deity very clear.
- In order to distinguish Him from the other infants in that same village, the angel said Jesus would be wrapped in sparganoô—Greek for strips of cloth—and laid in a feed box, or manger.
It was not uncommon for infants of those days to be wrapped in strips of cloth. No doubt, these were the equivalent of diapers or bunting, like what was used on our own children not-so-long ago. But it was unusual to place a child in a feed box or bread box, rather than a proper crib or cradle.
No sooner were these words spoken by the angel than he was joined by a multitude of other angelic beings (v. 13). In the Greek, the word is plethos, from which we get the noun plethora—which means “a large or excessive amount.” Every member of the heavenly band was saying [NOT singing] these famous words of praise to the Lord and blessing to mankind: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (14).
It’s wonderful that the shepherds wasted no time after the angels left, waiting to check the information out. I think the New Living Translation best captures the shepherds’ excitement, as they huddled together and decided what to do next: “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (15). The next verse says they hurried to find Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus, just as the angel had told them (16). Not only that, but the shepherds were the first evangelists—sharing with everyone they met what they had been told and seen, so that all those who heard it marveled concerning the news—before returning with joy and praise to their job (17-18 & 20).
What a stir they must have caused! After hundreds of years without a peep from the Lord, all of a sudden shepherds report the appearance of angels, who told them the Messiah had come and was at that very moment in Bethlehem.
When people report alien abductions and UFOs, folks today get excited. Some scoff; some comb the scene for evidence; others just think they are crazy.
Imagine some cowboys telling you a bunch of angels showed up while they were camping out in the hills one night. What would you think? How would you react?
Mary’s response is precious. Luke recorded that the mother of Jesus, “treasured” the shepherds’ words in her heart and considered them often (19). This is why our careful historian was able to paint the scene so vividly, because Mary kept that night fresh in her mind through frequent reminiscence.
Again, we see the devotion of the family of Jesus to God. Eight days after His birth, the Child was circumcised according to God’s covenant with Abraham and the Law of Moses (Lk. 2:21a, Gen. 17:12 & Lev. 12:3). Just as the angel had instructed both Joseph and Mary, the Child was named Jesus (Mt. 1:21, Lk. 1:31 & 2:21b). Approximately one month later, both mother and Child were taken to the temple in Jerusalem, so that Jesus could be dedicated and Mary could offer the sacrifice required for purification from childbirth (Lk. 2:22). Luke quoted Exodus 13:2 & 12, which says, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” (Luke 2:23, NIV). Then the doctor made reference to the sacrifice required of a poor woman to cleanse her from the flow of blood after childbirth: “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” (Lk. 2:24; c.f.—Leviticus 12, especially verse 8).
While the holy family worshiped at the temple, they were intercepted by two special devotees of YHWH. One male and one female.
The first was a man by the name of Simeon, who had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die without seeing the promised Messiah (Lk. 2:25-26). That very day, the Spirit directed him to the temple, where he met Jesus and His family (v. 27). Simeon took the Baby in his arms and praised God for fulfilling His word by letting him see the One who had come to save all people—not only Israel, but the Gentiles also (29-32). When the old man said, Jesus would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles [an alternate rendering could be “nations”], and glory to your people Israel” in verse 32, he was quite likely thinking of Isaiah 42:6, 46:13 and 49:6—all of which foretold something very similar.
Joseph and Mary, even after all that God had told them, were amazed at what the old prophet said about their Son (33). But he shocked them even more after he blessed the Child, and then turned to Jesus’ mother, saying,
“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 2:34-35, NIV).
What was a joyous occasion was suddenly sobered by the pronouncement that the Baby Jesus would grow up to be opposed by the leaders of Israel. Their response to Him would reveal the character of many people. And something terrible would happen that would wound His mother’s heart.
I doubt the couple had much chance to think about it, as they were soon joined by a second visitor—the prophetess Anna, who practically lived at the temple complex, according to verses 36-37. This lady from the tribe of Asher had been widowed after just seven years of marriage. From that time until well into her eighties, the woman had been “serving God night and day with fasting and prayers” (v. 37, HCSB). As soon as she saw Jesus, Anna also began praising God and told everyone she knew who was watching for the Messiah that He had come (38). What a day that must have been!
Luke skipped over the part about wise men coming to visit and Joseph taking his family to Egypt to escape the murderous intentions of Herod the Great, recorded in Matthew 2:1-23. Instead, he wrote, “So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth” (Luke 2:39, NKJV). In words similar to 1 Samuel 3:19, the gospel writer said, “the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (Lk. 2:40).
As evidence of this fact, Luke describes one incident from Jesus’ youth. As dedicated Jews, Mary and Joseph annually traveled to Jerusalem to observe the feast of Passover, as commanded in Exodus 23:14-17 and Deuteronomy 16:1-8 (Lk. 2:41). According to Jewish tradition, a boy entered manhood at age twelve and was obligated to observe the Law and the festivals at that time. Therefore, Jesus accompanied His parents to the holy city that year (v. 42).
When it was time to leave, Jesus was nowhere to be found. Nevertheless, Mary and Joseph assumed he was with friends or family somewhere in the caravan heading north (43-44). When they camped for the night and didn’t find Him, the couple turned back to Jerusalem and searched three days for their Son (45-46)! All along, Jesus had been safe, dialoguing with the Jewish leaders and astounding them with wisdom beyond His years (43 & 46-47).
When his frantic parents finally found Him in the temple, Mary asked Jesus how He could have been so inconsiderate. Jesus answered, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know I must be about My Father’s business?” (48-49). They had no idea what He was talking about, but took Jesus back home, where He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men,” while His mother continued to cherish every incident in her heart (51-52).
Luke Chapter 4
Within the first twelve verses of this chapter, Luke resumed his narrative about Christ. He said, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (Lk. 4:1-2a; c.f.—Mt. 4:1 & Mk. 1:14).
Why the Spirit of God would choose to do this seems like a supreme mystery, until you consider what the Apostle Paul wrote about Jesus. In Romans 5:12-21, he tells us that Jesus was the last Adam sent to undo the curse brought upon humanity with the sin of the first Adam. In so doing, “He had to be made like His brothers in every way”—even experiencing temptation (Heb. 2:17-18). The serpent tempted Adam and Eve, and they failed miserably (Gen. 3:1-6). Jesus, on the other hand, “was tempted in every way that we are, but he did not sin” (Heb. 4:15, NCV). Our Lord faced off with the devil, just like Adam and Eve, yet He passed the test and set yet another example for those who follow Christ.
In keeping with the idea that Jesus went through the same kinds of testing we do, many Bible scholars reference 1 John 2:16. This passage classifies temptation under three main types:
- The lust/desire/longing of the flesh
- The lust/desire/longing of the eyes
- The boastful pride of life
With nothing to eat during His forty day fast, Jesus naturally became famished (Lk. 4:2b; c.f.—Mt. 4:2). So the devil tried to get to the Lord through His stomach. He challenged Jesus to prove He was the Son of God by commanding a stone to become bread (Lk. 4:3; Mt. 4:3). The devil’s first test appealed to Jesus’ flesh, tempting Him to misuse God’s power to satisfy His own physical need.
Jesus didn’t bite [pun intended ;-)]. He answered by quoting Scripture, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’” (Lk. 4:4 & Mt. 4:4). This was an excerpt from Deuteronomy 8:1-6, which talks about how God humbled, disciplined and tested Israel during their forty years in the desert, feeding them on manna instead of regular food. Jesus didn’t need to prove He was God’s Son. He knew it was true and was relying on His heavenly Father to strengthen Him. Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus answered the tempter by directly quoting what God had said (in proper context) and standing firm upon it without doubting.
Next, Satan tempted Jesus through His eyes. “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.” I don’t know of any one mountain from which a person can see ALL of the earth’s kingdoms. Nevertheless, boasting that they had all been given to him and were his to dispose of at will, Satan promised to give all the nations—along with the authority and splendor they had to offer—to Jesus, if He would worship him (Lk. 4:5-7 & Mt. 4:8-9). When Adam and Eve sinned, they handed the dominion God had given mankind (Gen. 1:28) over to Satan. Although he knew from Scripture that Jesus was destined to rule the world, the devil tried to get Him to take a shortcut to re-establish man’s dominion. If Jesus fell for this trap, He would mess up God’s entire plan by subordinating Himself to the one who wanted to be “like the Most High” (Isa. 14:12-14).
A second time, Jesus refused to take the bait. According to Luke 4:8 (and Mt. 4:10), He answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” This time Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:13 from a passage warning the Jews not to be too enamored with their stuff or worship anyone but YHWH. There was no way the Creator of the universe was going to bow to His creation!
For his third attempt, Satan appealed to Jesus’ pride and the human desire for attention. “The devil led [Jesus] to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple” (Lk. 4:9a; Mt. 4:5). This time, Satan challenged Christ to prove His deity by jumping off the pinnacle of the Jewish worship center (v. 9b). He even threw in a Scripture to try and justify this blatant display of power, saying, “…it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’” (Lk. 4:10-11 & Mt. 4:6), quoting Psalm 91:11-12.
I’m sure Jesus didn’t miss the irony in Satan’s quotation of these verses from a passage that talks about the people of God trusting Him only and trampling lions and snakes [both of which the devil has been compared to elsewhere in the Bible]. He came back with one final word from Deuteronomy 6:16. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Lk. 4:12; Mt. 4:7).
Soundly beaten, the devil “left him until an opportune time” (Lk. 4:13). Round one went to the Son of God. Round two would be staged at a later date.
Verses 14-15 tell us that “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.”
When He got to His home town of Nazareth, however; the response was different. He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah (Lk. 4:16-17). The reading for the day was Isaiah 61:1-2, where the prophet was talking about a time of rebuilding and restoration for Israel. Jesus read:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk. 4:18-19)
As was the custom of the day, Jesus rolled up the parchment, handed it back to the attendant, and then sat down to preach (v. 20). At first, when Jesus told them that that scripture was fulfilled—presumably in Him—everyone seemed impressed (21-22a). After all, this was a very positive message, and undoubtedly they had heard what Jesus had done elsewhere and were expecting some of the same miracles there, just as Isaiah had foretold.
But then they remembered who He was. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” some skeptics whispered to the others (22b). They had known Jesus all their lives as one of them. He was the carpenter’s son. That’s all.
Anticipating both the desire of the hopeful and the disdain of the doubtful, Jesus gave the worshipers both barrels. He first quoted the saying, “Physician, heal yourself,” and vocalized their wishes for the same miracles that had been performed in Capernaum (23). Next, He asserted that “no prophet is accepted in his hometown” (24). He reminded His audience that there was no shortage of Hebrew widows in Elijah’s day, yet God sent him to a woman in Zarephath of Sidon during the drought in Israel (Lk. 4:25-26; c.f.—1 Kng. 17). Likewise, there were plenty of lepers in the Holy Land in Elisha’s day, yet only Naaman, a soldier from Syria, was healed (Lk. 4:27 & 2 Kng. 5).
This ticked the Jews off. Not only did the crowd drive Jesus out of the synagogue, they propelled Him to the edge of the hill on which the city was built, intending to throw Him off the cliff (Lk. 4:28-29). In all of His dignity and authority, the Lord coolly passed through the crowd and left town (v. 30).
According to both Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels, the next Saturday, the Lord showed up again in Capernaum of Galilee. This time, the people marveled at the authority with which Jesus spoke—like He really knew God’s word and understood it. They were even more amazed when Jesus cast out a demon that made a spectacle in the middle of the worship service! The evil spirit knew who Jesus was and demanded to know His intentions toward him. Jesus shushed the demon and commanded it to come out of the man. Although the spirit put up a fight, it left its host without harming him. The audience remarked at the authority of Jesus’ teaching and the way He was able to control the evil spirits. Before long, everyone in that vicinity had heard about what Jesus had done. (See Mk. 1:21-28 & Lk. 4:31-37)
Matthew, Mark and Luke agree that after the meeting, Jesus went over to Simon Peter’s house. Peter’s mother-in-law was in bed sick with a fever, and the family asked Jesus to help her. When Jesus bent over the woman and rebuked the fever, it left. Her recovery was so complete and so immediate that the woman “got up at once and began to wait on” the entire group of men. (c.f.—Mt. 8:14-15, Mk. 1:29-31 & Lk. 4:38-39)
By sunset, the house was surrounded by people bringing their sick and demon-possessed. Jesus laid hands on the sick and healed them. Those who were demonized, he set free. (Mt. 8:16; Mk. 1:32-34 & Lk. 4:40-41).
After this long night of ministry, Jesus went alone “to a solitary place” to refuel. Folks came looking for Him and tried to persuade Jesus to stay. But He replied, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” So he made His way throughout the territory of Judea, preaching in their synagogues (Mk. 1:35-39 & Lk. 4:42-44).
Luke Chapter 5
The first several verses of this chapter tell how Jesus called some of his leading disciples. While preaching at the Sea of Galilee, which Luke called “the Lake of Gennesaret,” Christ was surrounded by an especially large crowd (Luke 5:1). He spotted two boats near the water’s edge with the owners close by washing their fishing nets (v. 2). Jesus stepped into the one that belonged to Simon, “and asked him to put out a little from shore” (3a). From this vantage point, Jesus spoke to the crowd (3b), utilizing the natural amphitheater of the banks around the lake.
When He finished his sermon, Jesus said to His host, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” (4). Simon, seasoned fisherman, didn’t see much point. Moreover, he was tired from working hard all night without having caught anything. Nevertheless, he said, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (5).
Imagine the big fisherman’s surprise when he and his associates “caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break,” (6). Simon motioned to his partners in the other boat to come help, and soon both vessels began to sink (7)! And all of this was at entirely the wrong time of day to be catching fish.
This demonstration of power made poor Simon painfully aware of Christ’s divinity and his own inadequacy. As many men tend to do in the presence of God, Simon “fell at Jesus’ knees” and begged Him to leave, since he was “a sinful man” (8-9). Jesus disregarded the statement, told Simon not to be afraid, and invited him to join the Lord in a new line of work: “from now on you will catch men” (10). Without further ado, Simon and his partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, “pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him” (11). Matthew 4 and Mark 1 offer similar accounts of how Jesus came and recruited Simon and Andrew, James and John to join His ministry.
Sometime thereafter, Jesus encountered a man “covered with leprosy.” At the sight of Jesus, the fellow fell face-down and begged the Teacher, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Luke 5:12). What a statement of faith: “If you want, You can!” Jesus, of course, touched the man, said He was willing and gave the command that he be clean (v. 13a-c). Luke the physician wrote, “And immediately the leprosy left him” (13d).
Rather than bask in the moment, Jesus gave orders for the man to go directly to the priest without telling anyone what had happened (14). Instead, in accordance with Leviticus 14:1-32, he was instructed to have the priest verify his healing and then “offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Unlike most other men—including some modern-day televangelists—Jesus didn’t want to make a show of this miracle; He wasn’t interested in the applause of men. Instead, He did the exact opposite of what most PR people advise celebrities to do. Nevertheless, “news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses” (Luke 5:15).
He was so often surrounded by mobs of admirers that Jesus frequently had to withdraw to desolate places to get alone and pray (16). This shows the need for solitude. If even the Son of God needed down time alone with His heavenly Father, then so do you and I.
Next, Luke jumped to a day that Jesus was teaching, when some men came carrying a paralyzed man to be healed. Seeing that they couldn’t get close enough because of the crowd, they took him up to the roof, removed some of the tiles, and lowered the man down on his mat, “right in front of Jesus” (Luke 5:17-19; c.f.—Matt. 9:2a & Mark 2:1-4).
Impressed by the faith of the men who went to such lengths to help their friend, Jesus told the motionless man that his sins were forgiven (Lk. 5:20, Mt. 9:2b & Mk. 2:5). The religious leaders present thought Jesus was blaspheming. Why? Because they believed that God alone could forgive a person’s sins (Lk. 5:21, Mt. 9:3, Mk. 2:6-7).
Jesus knew exactly what was running through their minds, so He asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” (Lk. 5:22-23, Mt. 9:4-5 & Mk. 2:8-9). In order to demonstrate His authority on earth to forgive sins, Jesus ordered the paralyzed man to get up, take his own mat and go home (Lk. 5:24, Mt. 9:6 & Mk. 2:10-11) Instantly, the man was able to comply and went home carrying his rolled up bed, praising God all the way (Lk. 5:25, Mt. 9:7 & Mk. 2:12a). Those who witnessed this miracle also marveled, praised God and admitted that they had “seen remarkable things” that day (Lk. 5:26, Mt. 9:8 & Mk. 2:12b).
The calling of Matthew, referred to by Luke as Levi, is described in Luke 5:27-32 (See also Matt. 9:9-13 & Mark 2:14-17). Just as He went to where Simon and his friends were carrying out their occupations, Jesus found Levi at his booth collecting taxes. As soon as the Lord said, “Follow Me,” Levi got up, left all of the tools of his trade and went after Jesus.
When Levi hosted a party to celebrate this change in vocation, he naturally invited his closest associates—fellow tax collectors. This made the religious leaders, who deeply resented Rome’s influence over them, criticize Jesus and His disciples for hanging out with tax collectors and ‘sinners.’
In response, Jesus pointed out that it isn’t “the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” He added, that He hadn’t “come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Not done ragging on the Lord, the scribes and Pharisees asked why the disciples of John the Baptist and they fasted and prayed, while Jesus and His disciples feasted (Luke 5:33, Matt. 9:14 & Mark 2:18). Jesus compared Himself to a bridegroom, pointing out that His companions couldn’t help but enjoy themselves while He was present (Lk. 5:34, Mt. 9:15a & Mk. 2:19). But He also indicated a day was coming when He would be taken away from His friends, and then they would fast (Lk. 5:35, Mt. 9:15b & Mk. 2:20).
The chapter concludes with two parables about trying to associate old ways with something new. First, Jesus pointed out the folly of sewing a new piece of unshrunk cloth to an old garment—resulting in a mismatched and more badly damaged garment (Luke 5:36). In the second illustration, He said that people don’t pour new wine into old wineskins, lest they ruin the worn out skin as the wine ages and expands. If they don’t want to waste both the wine and skins, then new wine must be poured into new wineskins (vv. 37-38). Acknowledging the typical human aversion to change, He added, “no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’” Clearly, He realized that the old religious establishment was not ready for His fresh new ways of doing things.
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