- Day 15. Luke 1-3
- Day 16. Luke 4-6
- Day 17. Luke 7-9
- Day 18. Luke 10-12
- Day 19. Luke 13-15
- Day 20. Luke 16-18
- Day 21. Luke 19-21
Welcome to Week 3 of our Summer Reading Program. We are now into the third and final synoptic Gospel* in the New Testament, and here we read of Luke’s account of Jesus’ life. You’ve probably heard it frequently said that Luke was a medical doctor, and for good reason because that is how the Apostle Paul referred to him in Colossians 4:14. Consequently, readers and commentators have noticed that Luke’s style of writing is distinct to the other synoptic Gospels. For example, a number of scholars have noted that Luke had a keen interest in history, and this has resulted in a number of modern academic research accompanied by publications with titles such as ‘Luke as Historian’. Everyone is a bit curious to test Luke’s assertion that ‘I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught’ (1:3-4).
To be sure, there is little doubt that Luke’s training as a physician shaped his writing. Is there any surprise that his Gospel is the longest of the four (Matthew’s Gospel may have more chapters, but Luke is actually the longest)? And this does not even take into account that Luke wrote the Book of Acts too! Here is a fun fact, we often think that the Apostle Paul was the biggest contributor to the collected books of the New Testament. Now while there is truth that Paul exerted significant theological influence, it is actually Luke who wrote the most chapters, verses, and words in the New Testament! In any case, in Luke’s Gospel, we also observe great attention to detail – detail that is sometimes either missed or neglected by other Gospel writers, but detail that actually shed very precious insight. As you read through this Gospel, I want to encourage you to spot out some of the details and nuances that Luke highlights and then ask yourself: what significance does this have on our understanding of Jesus and the Gospel?
But as we come to first few chapters of Luke, we notice striking similarities to Mark’s Gospel. John the Baptist is spoken of as one who would prepare the way for the Lord and the birth of Jesus Christ is also predicted. Yet, unlike Mark, Luke does not jump straight into the ministry and life of Jesus right away. At this point, Luke is more similar to Matthew who in the opening chapters gives space to write about the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. But Luke goes into greater detail still, and this is how we have the Magnificat, also known as Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-56). And I think this is so appropriate because this song of praise here is not only written as worship unto God; significantly, it is also very sound soteriology (doctrine of salvation).
Firstly, we observe that songs are always a biblical response to God’s great acts in history. We see this in the life of the Israelites who you could call a singing nation, which is why we can find at least 185 songs in the Bible, 150 of which are located in the Book of Psalms. These songs were written in times of despair and desperation as a cry out to God, as expressions of hope and anticipation for deliverance, and also as heartfelt praise for all that God has done. This is why Christians are also people who sing! Because the same God who delivered them then is the same God who continues to sustain all things today. Written songs can sometimes be such a helpful aid to our spiritual journeys because they help articulate our thoughts and desires in ways that we often fail to by our own. Recently, I’ve really been enjoying How Long, O Lord by Sovereign Grace, because it contains truth that I believe in but sometimes fail to recall. As you read through Mary’s Song, think about some hymns or songs that resonate with you – especially songs that proclaim the glory of the Gospel, and sing it frequently as a means of preaching the Gospel to yourself.
But secondly, as we examine Mary’s Song, we notice how appropriate it is that Mary acknowledges her humble state. She recognizes her unworthiness to be chosen to bear the Saviour of the world (and really, who is?), and so she celebrates that the Lord of the Universe was nevertheless mindful and chose her. As a result, what we see here is God’s amazing grace – Mary did nothing to be considered worthy or qualified, yet God chose her anyway because of His great mercy. She is counted blessed (v 48) because of God. What we observe here in a micro way through Mary’s life is what God has done in a macro way for the elect. For indeed, those who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord have done nothing to warrant their salvation or God’s mercy. In fact, the state of their hearts and the stain of their sin make them worthy only for the judgment and condemnation that the righteous God will deliver on all who have rebelled against Him. And yet, it is because of God’s mercy (v 50) that he ‘performed mighty deeds with his arm’ (v 51). But one of the interesting things about verse 51 is that while our English translations express it in a past tense (ie: he has performed might deeds…) the original language can be rendered both as past and future tense. In other words, we can conclude that Mary is not only pointing to past events that God has done, and indeed, it is because God has performed mighty deeds that there is good news to tell; significantly, there is also a prophetic element to verse 51 because Mary is also speaking about the future things that God will accomplish through Jesus Christ. But, these things are so certain that it can be spoken of as good as done (hence, the English rendering in the past tense). Christ does everything and we do nothing.
Thirdly, Mary’s Song reveals to us a bit of what this salvation in Christ will look like. In effect, it is a reversal of sin, and this is illustrated in a number of ways in the song. For example, the proud will be scattered (v 51). Those with a bit of background knowledge may be thinking: ‘Aha! Babel!’ And those familiar with the New Testament will say: ‘Aha! Those who rebel against God and seek to live autonomously over and against God.’ Our text tells us that the proud will be humbled. This is seen through the rulers who will be dethroned (v 52). This forces us to rethink our ideas of power, might, and authority. What we see here is that they were be lowered and overthrown by the true Messiah, and their arrogance will not spread any further. But what follows is absolutely beautiful, because verse 53 says that the hungry will be filled. Now is this literal? Namely, will Christ physically feed us of our hunger? Perhaps – he certainly did so for the 4000 and 5000, he certainly asked us to pray for our daily bread. But it is more, isn’t it? We recall passages like Matthew 5:6 which says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled and will be blessed. Those who yearn for God’s righteousness and long for His ultimate righting of wrongs will be satisfied in Christ. This is exciting and we can feel this, can’t we? Because I’m sure there have been moments in your life where you have felt hunger. And when we’re hungry for food, we know that only food will satisfy. Our passage tells us that those who hunger will be filled – in other words, all of our needs: physical, spiritual, and emotional will all be met by Christ. In contrast, the rich will be sent away empty. Of course, we know this doesn’t mean that wealth is a sin. But dependence upon wealth over and against God is. Wealth is not to be squandered for our own pleasure, but stewarded for God’s purposes.
Fourthly, why does he do all this? God did not choose to send His Son as a propitiation for sin suddenly. No – God made a covenantal promise to Abraham and his descendants. God said that He would save his own, and this act of redemption climaxes in the sending of His Son. Mary’s Song reveals that God has remained true to His Word.
So as you read over the next few days, see if you can observe some of these themes spelled out in greater detail. Savour the sweet truths that you’ll read (some of which are not present in the other 2 prior Gospels), and maybe even think of a contemporary song that may go well with the truths presented in the chapters!
- What details and nuances does Luke highlight in his Gospel writing, and what significance does this have on our understanding of Jesus and the Gospel?
- What are the key themes in the first 21 chapters of Luke?
- What is a biblical song which reflects Gospel truth that I can constantly hang on my lips this week as a vivid reminder of God’s grace and love?
- If I were to write a personal song (like Mary) about God’s work in my life, what would it be?
- How does God’s faithfulness to His promises shape the way I deal with anxiety, fear, and uncertainty?
Gracious God, I echo Mary’s praise which sings ‘my soul glories the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant’. Lord, help me to continue to see myself through your lens; one who is humble and of nothing, a mere speck relative to the rest of creation, yet a speck who is loved and redeemed through your son Jesus Christ. Help me to not think less of myself but think of myself less, and enable me to spend my entire life glorifying and rejoicing in you. May your Word in Luke’s Gospel penetrate the depths of my heart, and may the truths of the Gospel taste like fresh spring water once again. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
*Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the synoptic Gospels because they include a lot of similar stories and sequences. The best way to understand how they’re written is like 3 people witnessing a singular event, yet recounting it in different ways. The Gospel of John is the fourth Gospel, but it is not considered as one of the synoptic Gospels because the way his material is presented is different.