Luke and the Birth of Jesus
Luke’s intent to “compile an account of the things accomplished among us” as handed down by eyewitnesses begins with the birth of John the Immerser. John’s role would be to “turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God” by going “as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16-17). When his father, Zachariah, prophesied, he associated John’s work with redemption and salvation (Luke 1:67-79). How? He would be the one who would “go on before the Lord to prepare His ways.” Prophecies were being fulfilled, and John would level out the rough places and make a path for the Messiah to do His work.
Luke reveals the announcement about the birth of Jesus to Mary, prior to John’s birth. Gabriel came to Mary to tell her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” She did not yet understand what that would mean. She was told, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 2: 30-33). Luke stresses the fact that Jesus would be the one who sits and rules on David’s throne with a kingdom that would never end (cf. 2 Sam 7:12-13). Mary’s response was one of acceptance, but far more than this. John’s mother, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, called her blessed.
Luke then records what is often called the Magnificat (Luke 2:46-55). Mary exalts God, rejoiced in “God my Savior,” and praises Him for His mighty deeds. She recognizes that she would be forever called “blessed” because of God’s favor upon her “humble state.” She praises God for His enduring mercy toward those who fear Him. What a glorious song of praise! God does indeed scatter the proud and exalt the humble. His mercy is from generation to generation, and this is best seen in the purposes of the coming of Jesus.
After John’s birth (highlighting that he is the forerunner), Luke moves to the birth of Jesus as the One who brings the redemption and salvation. Joseph and Mary had gone to Bethlehem where a full house lent itself to Jesus being placed in a feeding trough (note: mangers would be found in houses connected to a room for animals). These are humble beginnings for the Savior and Redeemer of humanity, but it fits His purposes in coming into this world to suffer, die, and rise again.
Also fitting is the fact that shepherds were told about Jesus’ birth. We might wonder why shepherds are an important part of the story, but we should not be surprised by this. Recall that God is the greatest Shepherd of all (cf. Gen 49:24), the One who led His people from slavery to the Promised Land. David was a shepherd, called to be a shepherd of the people as a king. All of this points to the “Good Shepherd,” Jesus Christ, who would lead the stray sheep from their sins into the abundant life (John 10). Since “all of us like sheep have gone astray” (Isa 53:6), we need the “Chief Shepherd,” the Guardian of our souls, to bring us back home (1 Pet 2:25; 5:4). The shepherds of the field foreshadow the work of Jesus, and they came to glorify the Shepherd of our souls.
The angelic message to the shepherds was about glory and peace: “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’” (Luke 2:13-14). The Lord’s coming into the world would be about the manifestation of God’s glory and the bringing of peace.
When Jesus was taken to the temple, he was put into the arms of Simeon who recognized Jesus as the salvation promised by God, “a light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). The Light of the world had come, and this was to the glory of God and HIs people. At the temple was also Anna, the prophetess, who came and began “giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38). Glory, peace, light, revelation, consolation, redemption, salvation — these are the terms Luke is associating with the birth of Jesus Christ. He is King, Savior, and Redeemer, fully deserving our worship and praise. Thank God for the incarnation!