You may read an introduction and find an outline for the Gospel of Luke here.
A prayer from the Book of Common Worship:
O Lord our God, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, that we may be obedient to your will and live always for your glory; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
I. Prologue 1:1-4 Luke’s prologue is a Greek style preface, unique among the gospels but common in the Greco-Roman world. “Theophilus” may be a real person or may be a symbolic reader as the name translates “Friend of God”.
II. The Birth and Childhood of Jesus 1:5-2:52 Notice how Luke tells both the story of John the Baptist’s birth and Jesus’ birth. He tells their stories in alternating scenes. Remember that the gospel writers place stories together for a purpose. Luke wants to compare and contrast Jesus and John. John is a great man, but Jesus is always presented as greater. Also notice Luke’s allusions to the Old Testament. and his use of songs/poetry to help make his point. Notice how angels and the Holy Spirit figure into Luke’s story. Consider also how prominent the roles of Mary and Elizabeth are. While we may not consider telling their story, it was notable in the patriarchal society of the first century.
A. 1:5-25 The Announcement of John’s birth: Childlessness was a sign of God’s disfavor. Remember other stories of barren women, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Hannah, whom God showed favor to via the birth of their special sons.
Angelic visitations have a standard format. The reader knows what to expect and also then notes the significance of a missing part of the format. Angelic appearances contain the appearance, a response of fear, the divine message, an objection, and a sign. Also notice how Luke introduces several of his themes. (See Introduction to the Gospel of Luke
for the themes.) Luke’s gospel begins in the Temple with a story about a Priest, locating us promptly into the Jewish world. Elijah (verse 17) was considered to be the forerunner of the messiah.
B. 1:26-38 The Announcement of Jesus’ birth: John’s birth is announced in the Temple and involves a pious priestly couple. Jesus birth is more astounding, announced in little Nazareth, not to a priest but to a young girl. The birth of sons to barren married women is a mighty act of God. The birth of a son to a virgin is an even greater act. John, will be like Elijah, but Jesus role will be greater still.
C. 1:39-56 Marry’s visit with Elizabeth In this scene there are no angels but the Spirit is active. Elizabeth and John know who Mary and Jesus are by the action of the Spirit. Scholars believe that Mary’s song (the Magnificat) was added by Luke to reinforce his point about who Jesus is and Luke’s themes in the gospel. The song is modeled after Hannah’s song in 1 Sam 2:1-10. The Magnificat echos the words of the Old Testament prophets and also foreshadows Jesus’ words.
D. 1:57-80 The Birth of John the Baptist: Verse 59, this is an observant Jewish family. Notice that in verse 65 everyone is talking about John’s birth. Zechariah is also filled with the Holy Spirit ( as Mary and Elizabeth have been) and sings the “Benedictus”. Like the Magnificat, Zechariah’s song is filled with Old Testament imagery and also speaks of God’s work (via John) in the present.
E. 2:1-20 The Birth of Jesus: Again, notice the similarities between the story of John’s birth and Jesus’. And again, Jesus is greater than John. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth are humble, especially considering all that has been sung and prophesied about him in the previous chapter. There is another angelic visitation, not to the powerful but to shepherds. Shepherding was not an esteemed profession, they were considered by some to be of questionable character.
The angels use Roman imperial language to announce Jesus’ birth. Here is what the provincial assembly wrote about their decision to honor Augustus.
Whereas the providence which divinely ordered our lives created with zeal and munificence the most prefect good for our lives by producing Augustus and filling him with cirture [sic] for the benefaction of mankind, sending us and those after us a saviour who put an end to war and established all things; and whereas Caesar [sc. Augustus] when he appeared exceeded the hopes of all who had anticipated good tidings…; and whereas the birthday of the god marked for the world the beginning of good tidings through his coming… . ( Green, 133)
To Luke’s audience, the angelic announcement signaled that another ruler has been born, directly countering the claims of the empire. In addition Luke’s language echos Isaiah 40-66. “Savior” and “Lord” are terms used both about God and about the emperor.
Mary and Zechariah encounter one angel. To announce Jesus’ birth the shepherds encounter an army of angels. The shepherds believe and go find Jesus. Then (verse 17) they “spread the word”. They are the first evangelists.
F. 2:21-40 The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple: Jesus and his family are pious observant Jews. And again Luke moves the story back to the Temple. Reliable people, a pious observant man and woman ( similar to Zechariah and Elizabeth at the start of the birth narrative) Simeon and Anna, recognize and affirm Jesus role as God’s agent. Again the Holy Spirit is active. Also notice the similarities between the way this story is told and the story of Samuel ( I Samuel 1:24-28;2:20-22). Simeon’s blessing ( Nunc Dimittis) echos Isaiah, 40- 66.
In what ways are Elizabeth’s, Mary’s and Simeon’s songs similar? What do they tell us about Jesus and about God?
G. 2:41-52 The Growth of Jesus: Once again the Holy Family is presented as pious, observant Jews and the Temple is once again, the location for this story. This is the only story about Jesus childhood and youth in the gospels. What is Luke telling us about Jesus? Notice how verses 40 and 52 echo and reinforce each other.
In these two chapters, Luke is doing much more than simply telling us about the birth of Jesus. The birth narrative is often referred to as telling the gospel in miniature. What has Luke proclaimed the gospel to be by telling us this story of Jesus birth?
Read More About It:
Craddock, Fred B., “Luke”, in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, rev. ed.James L Mays, ed. (New York: Society of Bible Literature) 2000.
Culpepper, R. Alan, “The Gospel of Luke Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX, Leander E. Keck,ed. (Nashville, Abingdon Press)1995.
Green, Joel B., The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans) 1997.
Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed. (Minneapolis:Fortress Press) 1999. Chapter 9 “Luke-Acts”.
Tilden, Elwyn E., Bruce M. Metzger, “Luke” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Bruce M. Metzger, Roland E. Murphy eds. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.