Broadman & Holman
It’s a good thing you stopped by when you did, because we were just about to take off on a brand new Bible study, getting deep in the book of Luke and (much more importantly) getting way Up Close with Jesus.
So you couldn’t have come by at a better time.
When you’re studying Jesus’ life, you just absolutely know that your own life will never be the same. Whether you’re looking at His character and wanting to be more like Him, or you’re standing there with your mouth wide open, amazed at what He’s done for you—time spent with Jesus will leave you worshiping. His teaching will knock the legs out from under you one minute (“Whoever wants to save his life will lose it”) and dust you off the next (“I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail”).
That’s just the way He is. Incredible!
So while this book is a commentary—a chunk-by-chunk explanation of what the Bible says—it’s much more than that. It’s a way to deal honestly, regularly, repeatedly with the Word . . . and to let God change you from the inside out.
OK, let’s go!
Real quick, let us give you a few tips and pointers on what to expect and how to make the most of this trip.
1) Pack your Bible. This book won’t do you much good unless your Bible’s right next to it. We’re not going to be just retelling the stories and stuff. We’re going to be commenting on them, helping you think about them and sort things out. So you’ll need to know what the Bible says to make any sense of what we say.
2) Read ahead. You don’t have to, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if you’d go ahead and read the whole book of Luke first. That’ll take you a couple of hours probably, but it’ll be one of the best two hours you’ve ever spent. Reading a Bible book straight through really—really!—helps you understand it better. And even if you (hopefully) take time do that, still be sure to read each individual Bible passage first before you read the commentary notes on it.
3) Look back. One of the most important things to know about the Bible is that it proves itself true. Only God could take dozens of writers, space them over thousands of years, and unite all their writings into one book that is totally consistent the whole way through. It’s very important, then, to see what God was doing in all the different books of the Bible. So when you come to a place that asks you to look up a verse somewhere, be sure to do it. You’ll get a lot more out of the trip that way.
4) Be on the lookout. We’ve added several sidebars and other features to keep you from missing anything along the way. Here’s what they’ll look like. And here’s what they’ll do for you.
This will highlight key verses or topics that are foundational to Christian living and thinking. They’ll help you be able to defend your faith better, to understand what others believe, and to make sharing Christ a more confident, productive experience.
A lot of words used in the Bible—and the doctrinal terms that come from them—aren’t all that easy to understand. Check here to get your fuzzy areas cleared up.
• Bible Reference
As often as possible, we’ll dispatch you to another biblical location where you can see where an idea first shows up in the Scripture, or says something a different way, or gives you a better whole-Bible understanding. (Oh, and also, whenever you see a reference that just lists chapter and verse, like this—12:34, with no Bible book name—that means it’s another passage from Luke).
Part of what makes the Bible hard to interpret is that we don’t always know the historical settings it was written in. These little side-notes will give you an idea of things the original Bible audience understood as common knowledge—the same way we understand things in our current culture.
Every so often, we’ll drop in a map so you can see where you are.
Some Bible verses—even after you’ve read them, and reread them, and read them some more—still don’t seem to make any sense. Look for this in-text marker fairly often, where we’ll do our best to help you wrestle with—and hopefully start to untangle—the toughest, knottiest passages. Sometimes we’ll just have to leave it with a “we don’t know for sure,” but that’s okay: if God’s ways were always easy to understand, he wouldn’t be much of a God, would He?
• TruthQuest Questions
We’ve also sprinkled in some room for you to write, to deal with some of the day-to-day implications of what you’re reading in the Bible. Be sure not to skip over these or to settle for simple answers. These are important. The Bible is a living book.
5) Use this book as a devotional guide. You can do this fairly easily by going one-by-one to the TruthQuest questions, using the passage where the question is found for your daily Bible reading, then praying or journaling your way through the answers. If nothing else, it’ll give you something new to try—different from the usual devotional book or magazine—and it’ll hold you for a month or so until God leads you to something else. Want to try that?
• 24 chapters
• 1,151 verses
• around 24,000 words
• longest book in the New Testament
• first in a two-part story—Acts is the sequel
• contains references to 31 Old Testament books
• probably written in Rome around 60 a.d.
Luke was probably a doctor (Colossians 4:14), but we know he was a traveling companion of Paul, whose life story is a big part of the book of Acts, which Luke also wrote. Neither of the two books comes out and says that Luke is the author, but just about everybody from the second century on has accepted without question that this is Luke’s Gospel—his account of Jesus’ life. He was also the only one of the four Gospel writers who wasn’t a Jew.
This is a biography—a good one—but it’s not intended to be complete, to track Jesus’ life every waking moment. So a lot of the details are left out in order to communicate the bigger themes of Jesus’ ministry and purpose. That’s why it sometimes seems to skip from one event to the other.
Luke explains in the first few verses that his book is written to a certain man named Theopholis (the-AHF-u-lus), who appears to have had some exposure to Christianity. Perhaps he was already a Gentile (non-Jewish) believer, struggling with a faith and movement that was deeply rooted in the Jewish life and experience.
Luke’s Big Outline
1:1–2:52 John the Baptist and Jesus
3:1–4:13 Jesus Gets Ready to Go
4:14–9:50 His Ministry in Galilee
9:51–19:44 His Journey to Jerusalem
19:45–24:53 His Final Days, His Parting Words
Luke’s Big Ideas
• Historical proof. He uses eyewitness accounts to show that Jesus was a real person who proved His claim that He was also the Son of God.
“Go and report to John the things you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news preached to them” (7:22).
• Israel’s bad leadership. Over and over again in his slices-of-life stories from Jesus’ everyday experiences, Luke shows how seriously the Jewish leaders had misunderstood God and misused his Word, turning His law into a weapon to control other people.
“Woe to you experts in the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge! You didn’t go in yourselves, and you hindered those who were going in” (11:52).
• One big tent. Luke reveals that God had sent Jesus with shocking news: those promises of His that were all about Israel? They’re really for all of those who are becoming a part of his people—Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) alike—through faith in the Son of God.
“Then the master told the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and lanes and make them come in, so that my house may be filled” (14:23).
• Rich and poor. Not just the ones you’d expect will be swept into God’s family. People from all walks of life—the good and the bad, the strong and the weak, the in-crowd and the unpopular—are all put on level ground in God’s way of thinking.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed” (4:18).
• The final end. Luke is also very clear that there is coming a day when the saved will be rescued from their troubles, and the unsaved will find their troubles just beginning. Big pieces of Luke’s Gospel are taken up with this life-and-death reality.
“You also be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect” (12:40).
• Less is more. Luke picks up on a lot of Jesus’ teaching that deals with the high cost of servanthood, being a slave of Christ, pouring ourselves out in his service.
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (14:11).
• Jesus saves. There’s basically one common thread that runs throughout the whole Bible: God will save His people. The four Gospels (the stories of Jesus’ life), of course, make this really clear—Luke included.
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (19:10).
There are a whole bunch of stories in Luke that you won’t find in any of the other Gospels—Matthew, Mark, or John. Here are some of them:
• The birth of John the Baptist (1:5–25, 57–80)
• Gabriel’s visit to Mary (1:26–38)
• Mary’s song (1:46–55)
• Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem (2:1–7)
• The shepherds (2:8–20)
• Jesus’ presentation in the temple as a baby (2:21–38)
• Jesus at 12—accidentally left behind in Jerusalem (2:41–50)
• Jesus’ childhood and growing up years (2:40, 52)
• Jesus reading the Scripture in His hometown church (4:16–30)
• Peter’s big catch of fish (5:1–10)
• A widow’s son raised from the dead (7:11–17)
• The 70-man (or 72-man) mission trip (10:1–3)
• The story of the good Samaritan (10:30–37)
• The story of the grouchy midnight neighbor (11:5–8)
• Teeing off on the Jewish leaders (11:37–53)
• The story of the “build bigger barns” rich fool (12:13–21)
• The story of the unproductive fig tree (13:6–9)
• Healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath (13:10–17)
• Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem’s fate (13:34–35; 19:41–44)
• The high cost of discipleship (14:28–33)
• The story of the lost sheep (15:1–7)
• The story of the lost coin (15:8–10)
• The story of the prodigal son (15:11–32)
• The story of the dishonest manager (16:1–11)
• The story of the rich man and Lazarus (16:19–31)
• Healing ten lepers—and only one said thanks (17:11–19)
• The story of the persistent widow (18:1–8)
• The story of the hypocrite and the humble pray-er (18:9–14)
• Zacchaeus—that wee little man (19:1–10)
• The second phase of Jesus’ trial—before Herod (23:6–12)
• The resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus (24:13–35)
The Gospel Writer’s Club (verses 1–2)
You might have thought Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the only four biographies ever written about Jesus. But, nope. There were others already in circulation when Luke put his together. Verse 1, in fact, comes right out and says that Luke wasn’t the first to write about who Jesus is and what he did during His earthly life. Most likely, though, many of these other writings weren’t complete accounts. A lot of them probably focused on just one or two aspects, like Jesus' crucifixion or His resurrection.
A Reason for Writing (verses 3–4)
Luke also was well aware that no one could ever cover all the things Jesus did and said. Like other Gospel writers, he had to be selective in what he recorded. Not everything he turned up in his reading, memories, and interviews would become part of his account, but only what met with his purpose: helping his reader know that what was being reported about Jesus was true . . . and could stand the test of authentic historical research.
John the Baptist Is Coming
Usually when you hear that someone's going to have a baby, it's a young married couple (not always so young, but) y'know—twenties, thirties, maybe forties. It's a really exciting time, as you'll probably get to find out one of these days.
The two birth announcements in this chapter, though, are NOT normal.
The first comes to a really old couple, Zachariah and Elizabeth, who were way past their family-raising days. But they were “righteous in God’s sight, living without blame”—which probably meant there were many people in Israel who weren't and didn't. It wasn’t unusual, then, to catch Zachariah in the very act of obedience—like he’s seen here, performing his priestly duty, burning incense in the temple. This practice dated back to the original giving of the law (see Exodus 30:1–10, 34–38) and was still being followed by those who—like Zachariah—were descendants of the early priests (1 Chronicles 24).
So the angel Gabriel announces that Zachariah and Elizabeth are going to become the parents of a prophet—wow—at their age! And the old priest responds with a question (wouldn't you?) much like his forefather Abram (later known as Abraham) had asked in similar circumstances (see Genesis 15:8). Yet Zachariah apparently lacked—on some level—the depth of genuine faith Abram possessed, for even though the two men’s words are almost identical (compare them yourself), God wasn't happy with Zachariah. He even made him unable to speak until the words of this prophecy came to pass.
Verse 17. How can God already declare what John will be like . . . before John is even born . . . before he’s taken his first step or made his first conscious decision? What if this guy doesn’t want to be a prophet when he grows up? Doesn’t he get to have any say at all? Yet somehow, in the mystery of God’s knowledge and wisdom, God’s plan for our lives can be set in stone without trampling on our own free will. It elevates Him without diminishing us.
Angels. Gabriel, one of the few angels whose name is ever told to us, appears four times in the Bible—twice to Daniel, and twice in this one chapter. Unlike the TV and movie myths, real angels are created beings who serve God and carry out His will, not dead people who come back to help people on earth.
Chosen by lot. Not sure what this ancient practice looked like exactly, but it amounted to a roll of the dice. The outcome was understood to be controlled by God and was used in determining His will (see Proverbs 16:33).
Jerusalem (Gabriel visits Zachariah)
Nazareth (Gabriel visits Mary)
Jesus’ Birth Is Announced
Fast forward six months, and Gabriel appears again to deliver the second birth announcement, this time to a young virgin girl named Mary. Can you imagine an angel showing up in your room one day—and then giving you a shocker like this? I mean, she was just an ordinary girl. Just . . . Mary. Never-done-anything-to-get-pregnant Mary.
Just like his prophecy to Zachariah had been, Gabriel’s whole idea seems impossible, and Mary’s response exposes her honest inability to understand. But rather than being reprimanded, she receives God’s patience and encouragement. Her “how can this be?” (verse 34) differs slightly yet significantly from Zachariah's “how can I know this?” (verse 18). Think about it.
The connection between these two accounts is further deepened by the fact that Elizabeth, the now-expecting mother of John the Baptist, is a relative of hers. This gives Mary someone to confide in.
Virgin birth. The basis for this central truth of Christian doctrine lies here, as well as in Matthew 1:18–25. Jesus was miraculously conceived, with no human father, in fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. It sounds impossible, but to believe otherwise is to doubt the Word of God.
Mary was “deeply troubled” by hearing Gabriel pay her the compliment of being favored by God (verses 28–29). You’d think she’d be happy about it. What could be “troubling” about God’s pleasure?