Luke 1:1–25: The Annunciation of John the Baptist
Christians believe that coming to a right understanding of the identity, nature, and mission of Jesus is the most important thing any person could do. What, then, should we make of Jesus? From one perspective, we are dealing with a man born in an insignificant town, to insignificant parents. This man’s own people fiercely rejected him, and the Romans executed him on the cross in the precisely the same manner that they executed thousands of other criminals, prisoners, and political enemies. Separated from this man by two thousand years, why should his life make any difference to the doubts, suffering, pain, and chaos of our lives? More than that, Jesus calls us to give up everything to follow him (e.g., Luke 9:23–26). If we take Jesus seriously, we have much to lose!
We know almost nothing about Theophilus, the man to whom Luke addresses his Gospel (Luke 1:3). Nevertheless, Theophilus clearly has some level of confusion, doubts, and concerns about Jesus—perhaps many of the same concerns that we share. To address these concerns, Luke writes an “orderly account” of the life of Jesus in order that Theophilus (and we) may gain “certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3, 4). For all those who feel drawn emotionally and spiritually to Jesus, but who struggle to understand his significance intellectually, Luke writes to give much-needed clarity, assurance, and certainty about Jesus’ importance. In Luke 1:1–25, Luke’s first goal is to impress upon us that because Jesus fulfills and exceeds the old covenant, we may believe in him with certainty.
1) How many elements does Luke identify to demonstrate the historical reliability of his Gospel? What would we lose if Christianity were not based on historical events? How does understanding that Luke seeks to give us “certainty” about what we have been “taught” shape our understanding of his Gospel (Luke 1:4)? Where do you most seek certainty in your faith?
2) How do the Old Testament stories of Abraham/Sarah, Hannah/Samuel, Gabriel, and the temple shape our reading of this passage? How does Luke contrast these old covenant elements against Jesus? Where does John the Baptist stand in relationship to the old covenant and the new covenant? How does Jesus’ greatness beyond the old covenant give our faith certainty?
3) Zechariah and Elizabeth are elderly and barren, but they faithfully pray for a son (Luke 1:13). More, God has been silent for 400 years, yet elderly Zechariah faithfully serves as a priest (Amos 8:11; Luke 1:8–9). What discouragements cause you to despair? What attractions distract you from Christ? How does the faith of Zechariah and Elizabeth give our faith certainty?
4) Why does God give signs to confirm his word, when his word should be enough (Luke 1:19–20)? How do Zechariah and Elizabeth become signs to Israel and to Mary? In what way does a sign confirm the truthfulness of God’s promises? What signs does God give us today? Can those signs alone convince skeptics? How, then, do signs give our faith certainty about Christ?