Luke 1-2

Luke 1‑2  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 7
I may consider these chapters together.
And, in the very opening, I observe something which is strikingly characteristic. Luke addresses his friend Theophilus. No doubt he was his friend in a divine sense, his beloved in the Lord, his fellow in the love of God, and he addresses him in the hope that, through this Gospel which he was about to publish, his Christian friend and brother might be established and advanced in all that which had bound him and Luke together. But this was all in a style peculiar to Luke. It was according to the grace of human affection; for he would thus draw Theophilus with the hands of a man. And, moreover, he tells him of his own personal acquaintance with the things he was about to write, which none of the other evangelists do, thus bringing something of the human style into his holy task. He appears himself before us, as having the faculties and affections of a man exercised about the things which were engaging him, and addressing another upon them in the same strain.
But though his words take this tone, and seem to flow in this channel, as the communications of one friend to another, yet the Holy Spirit is just as simply and fully in every thought and word of our evangelist as though he had been giving out what he had no personal knowledge of whatever. David knew that God had promised to raise up Christ to sit on his throne, yet he spoke of the resurrection by inspiration as a prophet (Acts 2). The Lord Himself delivered commandments to His apostles, yet we are told He did so through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:22Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: (Acts 1:2)). And all this helps to assure us of the equal and full inspiration of the whole Scripture of God. Whether it be the Lord commanding His apostles, or Luke communicating with his friend, the one is not done merely in the personal knowledge of the Lord, nor the other in the personal knowledge of Luke, but does come to us under the seal of the Holy Spirit.
After this address to his friend, by way of introduction, Luke enters on his subject, great and blessed as it is, with all possible simplicity. Nothing can be more perfect in its season. The elevated tone in which John, begins his holy task of delineating the Son of God, is quite in character with so high a purpose. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It gives notice at once of what manner of revelation was coming. But here we have something different altogether in style, but just as perfect in its place. “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest.” It is like a simple tale-telling, a tale of other days, when truth was wont to be plain and unvarnished. The mind is held for the moment, charmed with the artlessness of this, and yet with the skill of the divine hand which thus leads the thoughts, though into the deepest and most wondrous scenes, yet so gently, by those cords the strength of which the human heart knows so well. Little might we judge to what this is to lead, but the Spirit of revelation has us firmly by the hand, to take us where His grace and wisdom may please.
And the immediate scene is much of this character also, being laid in the midst of human sympathies and domestic affections. We are told of the circumstances attendant on the birth of the Baptist and his parentage. But, simple as all this is, there are secrets in it.
Zacharias and Elisabeth appear before us as do the Abraham and Sarah, the Isaac and Rebecca, the Elkanah and Hannah, of other days. They were in the place of righteousness, but they were childless. They were in the very place where the last prophet of Israel had put the righteous remnant, remembering the law of Moses, and walking in the ordinances of the Lord blameless (Mal. 4). But withal, they were childless, and thus witnesses to themselves that all their strength must be found in God, who, by the same prophet, had promised a Restorer. And all this righteousness in ordinances was as much a preparation for the promised messenger, as the acceptance of the messenger afterwards would have been a preparation for the Lord of the temple. To such, accordingly, is the Elijah, the promised messenger, now given; and his birth leads, as we find here, to the birth of the promised Lord of the temple (Mal. 3), before whose face he was to go as the dawn precedes the full light of day.
And we notice, in the manner of these two births, a difference which is according to this. John comes forth, a child of promise, born by a special gift of God renewing in the mother a natural faculty. But Jesus comes forth, Son of God, born, not through any endowment of nature, but by the Holy Spirit, beyond nature altogether. The one is the child of a barren wife, the other of a virgin. But this was a wondrous difference. Elisabeth was the mother of the saved, Mary of the Saviour. Elisabeth’s child was the sanctified, Mary’s the Sanctifier. This was a mighty distance. A child of a barren wife has always been a symbol of the saved, or of the family of God; for it tells us of the grace and gift of God to those who had been found impotent and wanting (Isa. 54:11Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. (Isaiah 54:1); John 1:1313Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:13); Rom. 9:88That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. (Romans 9:8)). But He was the first and only Child of a virgin; and this tells us that, though partaking of flesh and blood because of the children, in the fullness of His person He was altogether above nature.
Such is the dawn, and such the full day, here. These are the prophet of the Highest, and the Highest Himself; the messenger, and the God, of Israel. Until now all had been but darkness. The dispensation of the law (as a covenant of works) had but proved man to be darkness, and had left him such; and (as a witness of good things to come) it had but dispensed the shadows of them, which, while they acted as stars in the night, told that night was still overhanging the earth. But another season is now approaching—a season in which God was to appear, and “God is light.”
Such a season is here introduced, and introduced too with all due solemnities—solemnities full of gladness and liberty. Such ever wait on the blessed God when He comes forth. The foundations of the first creation were laid with shouts of joy (Job 38:77When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:7)). And that was the pledge from heaven that it was God’s purpose to make His creatures happy. And this indeed is His necessary purpose, for “God is love.” And so in these chapters. The foundations of another creation are here laid in the Infant of Bethlehem, and again all is gladness, both in heaven and on earth. God is reappearing, and there must be joy, for sorrow cannot stay where He is. “Glory, and honor are in His presence; strength and gladness are in His place.” The bread of mourning must not be eaten in His sanctuary; for joy, as well as holiness, dwells there. So here, all is joy. Hosts of angels celebrate praise—the shepherds repeat the glad tidings of good things—the lips of Mary, Zacharias, and Elisabeth are unsealed to tell out wonders of grace—the expectation of old Simeon is answered—the widowhood of Anna is over—and the very babe in the womb leaps for joy. Old men and maidens, young men and children, all have their share in this moment of richer joy than when the morning stars sang together. The joy of creation, it is true, soon ceased, and groans were heard instead; for man quickly defiled God’s handiwork. But still, its foundations were laid with singing. So here, this joy may soon be hushed in this evil world, and the daughter of Zion prove herself unready for it; and we may have to learn that the songs of heaven fall on a heavy heart, and get no response from earth; nevertheless, the foundations of this, as of the former work of God, are laid in holy gladness.
How beautifully indeed do these chapters rise upon our view! A long and dreary season from the days of the return from Babylon had now passed; but here the morning breaks, the heavens are opened, and the wastes of Israel are revisited.
Who had counted on this a day before? The priest was at the accustomed altar; the virgin of Nazareth at home in the ordinary circumstances of human life; and the shepherds, as they were wont, were watching their flocks—when the glory of the Lord shines, and one fresh from the presence of God appears. And Gabriel can stand without reserve in the holy place with the priest, and without reluctance in the poor dwelling of the virgin. Such are the ease and grace of these heavenly visits—happy pledges of days still brighter, still to come! But Gabriel the messenger, though he stands at the altar, will not, like the Angel-Jehovah of old (Judges 13:2020For it came to pass, when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar. And Manoah and his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground. (Judges 13:20)), ascend in the flame of the altar; nor will he, though he stands in the temple, like Jesus-Jehovah afterwards, speak of himself as greater than the temple. For he fills his place as a servant, and takes no higher.
This is blessed. It is all blessed. But these days will have a brighter original in the days of the coming kingdom: this ease and graciousness and brilliancy and joy shall all be more than known again. The pledges will be more than made good. For this is the way of our God. He will interpret the doing of His hand, and make all plain; He will exceed the promises of His grace, and make all blessed.
I might observe also the magnificent utterances of the Spirit through His vessels and channels in these chapters. What an overflowing mind and affection bursts from the lips of Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon. (The Jews, we are told, frequently wrote of their Messiah under the name of “The Menachem,” or Comforter, as Simeon here is described to be waiting for the “consolation of Israel”; that is, for the Messiah. And it has been thought, that this leads the Lord Himself to use the expression (speaking of the Holy Spirit, “another Comforter”). And, oh, how happy, when our hearts can flow on somewhat in company with them, and be filled with even a little of this same spiritual affection! But the soul knows its heaviness too well.
Such then was the birth of these two children, and such the attending joy of heaven and earth, recorded in those strikingly beautiful chapters. In the progress of them we get other notices of these holy children. Their growth in stature and in wisdom, while they were yet young, is mentioned here, but here only. And this is quite according to that purpose of the Spirit in this Gospel which I have already noticed. For the man is thus kept before us. These glances at the childhood and youth of the Lord are all sweet and touching in themselves, and in character with our Gospel. He is the Child now, as He will be the Man by-and-by. In each season equally and perfectly well-pleasing to God, consecrating every period of human life. Here we see Him in subjection to His parents at Nazareth; in favor, too, with man as well as with God. For all this was fruit in season. He had not yet been called to witness for God against the world. When the season for that comes, we shall see Him in perfection then also, and getting the due hatred, as He now gets the due favor, of men (John 7:77The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil. (John 7:7)). But as yet He is only the perfect Child, at home in subjection to His parents, graced with every goodly ornament that suited such a One, and thus commending Himself to the hearts and consciences of all.
Holy diligence in attaining all godly wisdom also marks this dear and perfect Child. Every year brought duly with it just its proper increase. But God Himself was His study, His only study; for the temple, as we see here, was the scene for the display of what He had been acquiring in this season of holy, diligent pupilage. Many will run to and fro, and increase knowledge of various kinds, getting it in the busy schools of men. But all the knowledge which this holy Child sought or acquired, was knowledge that suited the sanctuary. He did not bring forth the fruit of His diligence in the schools, but in the temple of God.
Man, however, is but little prepared for this, and so we find it here. His kindred in the flesh do not understand this Child. They are pleased, perhaps, that He has attractions as a goodly Child; and they judge that He is in the company, detained there by the desire of others to see and observe Him. A mother’s vanity might suggest that. (See another striking instance of the same mind in Mary, in John 2:33And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. (John 2:3).) And when they miss Him, they look for Him where the flesh would have sought Him. But He was not there. And in all this, poor human nature is exposed. In the vanity, the misdirected search, the amazement and the ignorant rebuke of Mary, man is shown out. Jesus the Child can now begin to expose the corrupted nature. “Wist ye not?” He can say unto them. Surely this Child might say, “I have more understanding than all My teachers: for Thy testimonies are My meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Thy precepts.” And sweet is the comfort of all this to us. Blessed it is to know that our God has had one Object, a Son of Man too, on this earth of ours, in which His whole soul delighted. This is blessed. But of Jesus only is this so. As one of our own poets has said—
“There has one Object been disclosed on earth
That might commend the place;
But now ’tis gone—
Jesus is with the Father.”