An Introduction to Luke – Luke 1:1-7
“An Introduction to Luke” Luke 1:1-7 Senior Pastor, Robert Dennison, preached this message on January 14, 2024.
Thank you for braving the weather today. Just so you’re prepared for next week, if you’re a parent, we’re going to have communion earlier in the service, so that we’ll have that before the children go down. So you may want to prepare your kids for that. It’s up to you as a parent to decide whether your children are ready to partake in communion or not. I don’t want to let you know about that, you may want to talk to them about that in advance.
Today we’re going to be reading from Luke chapter 1, verses 1 through 7, as we begin a series going through the book of Luke, and then through the book of Acts, since they’re actually a two-part series that Luke wrote before Jesus was born, up until the time of the missionary journeys of Paul. Let’s begin reading Luke chapter 1, verses 1 through 7. Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the Word handed them down to us. So it also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed. In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of a byges division named Zechariah.
His wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame, according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years. May we pray. Heavenly Father, as we begin this delve into the book of Luke, as we once again look at the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ, not only his life, but his death and his resurrection, let us come with humble hearts, looking today for what you have to say to us to encourage us or to spur us on toward better love and good deeds, that we might represent your Son well in this world.
In his name we pray, amen. Kind of an introduction to the book today. So we’re going to be looking at four points, a basic introduction of the book, then we’re going to look at Satan’s retinue, I needed an R word, and that’s the people that follow a leader. We’re going to be looking at God’s remnant, and we’re going to be looking at God’s remedy. Kelly Jo mentioned about, if you have a personal burden here today, that Jesus is the answer.
And what we’re going to see here in this text is not only is there a personal burden that Elizabeth and Zachariah had, but there was a national burden going along, and there was a worldwide burden that was going on. And just as in our times today, we have concerns about where we’re headed personally in our lives and difficulties and problems, we’re concerned about where our country is heading and we look at things worldwide. We’re concerned about what’s going on there, and the answer today as it was in Luke’s day, as it was in the Old Testament, is always God, that He is going to provide a remedy. Let’s go back to verse 1 and read again. Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us.
So it looks like a lot of people had written down what they had seen and heard about Jesus because there were original eyewitnesses, and there were those who were servants of the word that had handed all this information down to people. But Luke felt like it was good for him to take all this information together and then also to go and investigate himself so he could write an orderly gospel for us. Therefore, in verse 3 we read, so it also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus. And here’s his purpose, so that you may know with certainty of the things about which you have been instructed. The Gospel of Luke is the longest book in the New Testament, but it’s only the first part of two parts because Acts finishes the story.
The book itself never says, I, Luke, am writing this, but we believe that it was written by Luke from information in Acts, areas of the author’s interest that show up in both books, other observations, and the earliest Christian writers all attributed that the book was written by Luke. It has material that’s unique that we would otherwise not know. He’s got a special concern for marginalized groups, so we hear a lot about women, about Samaritans that were the outcasts, and about the poor. We wouldn’t know about the Good Samaritan, we wouldn’t know about the Prodigal Son, we wouldn’t know Jesus’ first sermon if Luke had not recorded these things.
And there are interesting people that he introduces to us that no other gospel does, such as today we hear about Zechariah and Elizabeth, and the weeks ahead about Simeon and Anna. We also wouldn’t know about the road to Emmaus experience where Jesus appeared and walked with some of his disciples. What do we know about Luke? We don’t know when he came to know the Lord, but we know that he was a very close friend of the Apostle Paul. He even traveled for Paul for a while.
He was a physician, and Luke stayed with Paul all the way to his second imprisonment, right to the very end, because shortly before Paul was martyred, he wrote to Timothy, only Luke is still here with me. Now I’ve put four words there on your outline for you. Let me tell you what the blanks are. They are autopsy, commands, exactly, and side by side. These words are used here to show us how carefully Luke was doing what he had set out to do.
Autoptus, the word we get autopsy from, is a word that he uses here, and in the Greek it means someone who sees himself, someone who is an eyewitness. But once again, we get our word autopsy from that. Mary and I like to watch NCIS, it’s a crime investigation scene, and there’s always that geeky, nerdy woman or man that does a what? An autopsy, you know? And they’re the ones that usually solve the crime, and it’s because they found a little piece of dust under the fingernail, you know?
Or there was something between the little toe and the toe next to it, because they are doing what? Very carefully observing everything. That’s what Luke is telling us here, I was very careful, I was doing an autopsy to find everything that was important. An autopsy is a thorough and careful examination that is looking for the most relevant information needed to come to a helpful and definitive conclusion, and that’s what he was bringing to his friend Theophilus. You know, on that day, there had been thousands that had heard Jesus and seen his miracles that were still alive.
Scripture tells us that there were more than 500 people all at one time that saw him at his resurrection. And all of these were still alive to share with Luke and to share with others their experience. John emphasized this in 1 John, where he said, what was from the beginning?
We have heard, they have heard Jesus. We have seen with our eyes, they physically saw him. We observed him, meaning that they didn’t just watch him, but they really watched him closely through all this, and they even touched him with their hands.
People with this type of testimony were there to share with Luke exactly what had happened. The other word there is that there were the servants that were there to accomplish the commands of their superiors, so all of these people that are sharing what they had seen and heard and touched and observed, they wanted to do it to promote what the Lord Jesus Christ desired from them. The other word there is that he did this exactly. He did it accurately. He did it diligently.
Again, he’s just emphasizing over and over, you have to know, I was so careful in putting this all together. And finally, he did this side by side, meaning that he was going right next to these eyewitnesses.
He wasn’t just reading letters, he was going and talking to them, and then they and themselves had been side by side with others and with Jesus Christ so that they could give a careful account of what had happened in his life with the purpose that we can know today with certainty that these words are true, and that Jesus Christ did live. He did die on the cross. He was buried, and he was resurrected. That’s the introduction. Let’s look now at Satan’s retinue.
The retinue are the ones that follow the king everywhere, or they’re the guards that follow someone that’s important. And during this day and time, as always, Satan has his followers. And what we find here in verse 5 is this really big description of what the days were like. It says, in the days of King Herod of Judea. All the readers in that time, they remember, oh, King Herod, we remember those days.
Be like me talking to Hunter and say, Hunter, do you remember what the 1960s are like? I grew up there, and I can tell you all about it, and Hunter’s going to just have a what? A blank stare on his face.
But I remember, some of us remember what happened yesterday, maybe some of us don’t, okay? But the point is, when he said, in the days of King Herod of Judea, he wasn’t trying to give a short introduction. He was giving all that was needed to be said to bring up all these thoughts of what was it like when Herod was king of Judea. So since most of us today were not living during that time, let me tell you what it was like, okay?
It was an evil time. Leaders and leaders were corrupt. People were suffering. The Roman world had most of the people in slavery serving them. All of these were Satan’s retinue, his followers, and they were the ones that were in control of the world.
It was not King David in control of the world. Does it not sound a little bit like today? Do we have corrupt leaders? Do we have corruption at all levels in line? I mean, this past week, one of our news stations, we find out they had submitted to the Emmys false names, and those pseudonym false names were given awards, people that don’t even exist, and then they took the Emmy awards and they put new plaques on them with the names of their newscasters so that they could present them with Emmy awards.
I mean, that’s disgusting, but it’s kind of low-level. Now for those of you that read Cosmopolitan, if you got it out this last week, and I don’t read it, I’m going to tell you what I read, but there was an article in there about how to have a Satanic abortion, and not only how to have a Satanic abortion and what to say while you’re having it, but where you can go and have one. Now they tell me Cosmopolitan magazine is in a hundred countries.
This is well-read, but you don’t hear any outcry about it much that, well, this is awful that somebody would not only have an abortion, which is bad enough, but to do it as a ritual to Satan, and this is what is becoming mainstream because our world is an evil time, and it was an evil time in Herod’s day. Herod was appointed by Rome to be the king of the Jews. It wasn’t a special favor for several reasons. The Jews were always looking for a king that came from the line of David. Well, Herod didn’t come from the line of David.
He didn’t even come further back because he was a descendant of Esau, and we have to remember that Esau and Jacob were twins. God chose the godly line, David’s line, the line of the Messiah to go through Jacob, but here Rome is putting somebody that was the inferior Esau’s descendant on the throne. They didn’t call other people kings back in this day, but they gave him that special designation just to almost to stick a knife in the Jews, say, look, we’re giving you a king, but it’s not the king that you would want or desire.
He was appointed in 37 B.C., he died in March or April of 4 B.C., and Herod was known for two things.
He was known for his buildings, and he was known for his brutality. Buildings and brutality. He built lots of huge buildings everywhere. I was watching a video about the Temple Mountain. There are two stones there, single rocks that are cut out, and nobody can even figure out how today we would be able to move rocks that size.
But they were making these magnanimous buildings during that time, and one of the main things he did was he took the Temple Mount or the Temple Complex in Jerusalem, he rebuilt it, and he doubled the size of what Solomon had built. By the time Herod had completed it, this whole structure up here covered 36 acres. If you want to know what 36 acres is, imagine 27 football fields in one area, and that was the size of this religious complex.
We got some big churches in America, but I don’t think we have any with buildings that are that large. He was known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and other parts of the world, including rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Not only was it big, but it was spectacular.
The historian Josephus described how incredible it looked. He said, viewed from without, the sanctuary had everything that could amaze either mind or eyes, overlaid all round with stout plates of gold. The first rays of the sun it reflected were so fierce a blaze of fire that those who endeavored to look at it were forced to turn away as if they had looked straight at the sun, as if much of the building was covered in mirrors, and when the sun shone on it, it would hurt your eyes to look at it.
And even strangers, as they approached it, it seemed from a distance like a mountain covered with snow, for any part not covered with gold was dazzling white. But Herod, a retinue of Satan, he built the temple, but he had to honor Rome, because at the main gate he put a huge Roman eagle, which infuriated the Jews, and there was a group of students of the law, of the Torah, of the books of Moses, that went in and smashed this emblem of idolatry and oppression. So Herod, in fury, had them hunted down. They were dragged in chains all the way to his home in Jericho, where he watched them burned alive. He had great buildings, but he was very brutal.
Herod at this time had made his brother-in-law, Aristobulus, the high priest at the age of 17. He wasn’t content with the one that the Jews had chosen, but he made his brother-in-law the priest. But then he watched with trepidation, because his brother-in-law began to become very popular, and Herod didn’t like that, so he had him drowned. He had executed 46 leading members of the Sanhedrin. That would be like our Senate today.
All the leaders murdered 46 of them. He drowned his brother-in-law. He burned alive a group of students. He murdered one of his 10 wives. He murdered several of his sons.
He executed wealthy citizens to confiscate their money and their properties when he didn’t have enough, and anyone that he deemed a threat was either stabbed, drowned, strangled, poisoned, or burned alive. And then it comes to the birth of Jesus Christ, and we all know the story afterwards. He had all of the infants, two and under, murdered. So when Luke is telling us in the days of Herod, he didn’t have to say much. This is what’s in everybody’s mind.
This was an awful time. This was our leader that was behaving this way. Rod Mattoon describes it with these words, I think, very well. As you can see, the conditions in the time of John’s birth were dire, difficult, and dangerous, yet in these dark times, God brings John and Jesus on the scene. The Lord has a way of showing his greatness and power in the most desperate circumstances because our Lord is not limited by our difficulties and desperation.
He loves to show us that he can do anything when life seems at its worst. And in this way, his power and glory are clearly evident, and our responsibility is to trust and wait on him. I just want to bring up another two pictures here just to show a little bit more of what he had built. This is the 0N. We can see closer the exact temple complex there.
And next week when we go into the story, we’re going to find Moriah walks into the holy place there where you see that altar of incense right before the Holy of Holies. Just kind of to put this all in context, what is going on, but we’ll talk more about that next week. So we have Satan’s retinue. Satan’s retinue is in charge. Satan’s retinue is evil on every level of their society.
But then Luke tells us God’s remnant here. He tells us that there were two. There was Zechariah and there was Elizabeth. They’re faithful to the Lord. There are still people that are following him.
So even though the Jews were depressed, they were down, they were upset that Romans was in control and many of them could not understand why God was not coming in and rescuing them. They felt that way then. We might feel that way today that God, where are you? The world is just going down quickly. Why don’t you step in and take control?
Well Paul tells us that this feeling that they were having then, it’s been characteristic throughout history and he takes us back to the Old Testament where the man of God felt the same way. God, where are you? I’m the only person here that’s following you. And this is what we read. I ask then, has God rejected his people?
Paul’s saying this is the question that people are asking. And Paul says, absolutely not. For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham from the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the scripture says in the passage about Elijah?
If you remember Elijah, he was the great prophet of God, obeying God, closer to God. God was speaking to him but he even feels like the world is collapsing around him and he’s all alone. Scripture says in the passage about Elijah how he pleads with God against Israel. And he says, Lord, they have killed your prophets and they’ve torn down your altars. And he’s not talking about it in invading enemies, he’s talking about the kings of Israel themselves have done this.
And in a pity party he says, I am the only one left and now they are trying to take my life. But what was God’s answer to him? Paul reminds us that this is what God said, Elijah, you’re not the only one. I have left 7,000 for myself who have not bowed down to Baal. And in the same way then there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace.
In the midst of great evil, God always has a remnant. When times were at their worst, when times are at their worst seemingly today, God still has a remnant. Think back to the days of Noah, it tells us that the thoughts of all the people, the deeds of all the people, everything that everyone did was evil, it was the worst of times but God still had a remnant in his servant Noah. The Israelites in the New Testament felt alone. The followers of God felt that they were a minority and possibly forgotten by God and they felt sorry for themselves and Paul is trying to encourage them that God is still in control and he still has people that are working here for him in this world.
What is this first remnant like? What is this ray of hope? We have two people in the midst of all this evil on Herod’s day. We have Zechariah and we have Elizabeth. And just saying their names says very, very much, Zechariah’s name means God remembers and Elizabeth’s name means his oath.
So together, when you’re saying Zechariah, Elizabeth, all of a sudden you’re saying God remembers his oath, his oath that he is going to send a savior. So in the midst of this dark time is this ray of hope that comes through these two members that are following the Lord. It tells us in the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of a by just division named Zechariah. His wife was from the daughters of Aaron and her name was Elizabeth and both were righteous in God’s sight. They were living without blame according to all the commands and the requirements of the Lord.
So here we have this remnant, Zechariah and Elizabeth, they’re perfect examples of what it means to serve the Lord. But we have a problem here that should come to mind. It says that they were completely righteous. You know, there are a lot of people today that are living righteous lives in God’s side and outwardly it looks like they’re obeying all the commands and requirements of the Lord. And there are people that even take that to say, you know, this is what determines whether I’m going to heaven someday or not.
If I’m this side of the scale, I’m living a righteous life and I’m doing everything I can. If that outweighs the evil in my life, I’m going to go to heaven. Now Elizabeth and Zechariah were living that type life. And anybody looking at them could have said, well, if anybody’s going to go to heaven, it’s going to be Zechariah and Elizabeth. But we find here that that was not sufficient.
Because if it had been sufficient for them to have salvation through their good living, there would be no need for the Messiah to come. And that’s what Luke is going to tell us about. That even though some were serving God, they still needed a savior that would save them from their sins and what was in their heart. Let’s go to Romans 3, verses 9 through 12, and we see the truth that comes out of this. Even though both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame, Paul still writes this in Romans, both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.
As it is written, there is no one righteous, not even one. And we say, well, wait a minute, Luke told us that they were righteous. We’re talking about a different type of righteousness here, one that is eternally important.
Paul says even in the midst of Jews and Greeks that may be serving the Lord, still there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one. Both Zechariah were righteous externally, but they still needed an internal cleansing of their heart. Here we have two good people, and once again, if salvation was based on our good outweighing our bad, these two would be saved.
But as part of God’s remnant, they realized that was not sufficient because they themselves were looking for a savior that would give them righteousness in their heart. Even the best people are evil in the presence of God, and they need salvation. But that salvation does not come through righteous living. It comes through God’s remedy, our next point. And it tells us in Galatians 4 that when the time came to completion, God sent his son born of a woman, born under the law, and Jesus came to redeem those under the law so that we might receive adoptions as sons.
In other words, the NLT tells us when the right time came. People were frustrated. They were bothered by God not having done anything up to this point. And when we talk about God’s timing like everything else, it’s completely beyond our understanding. I mean, we can’t even remember everything that happened a week or a month ago, but God not only knows all that, but he knows everything, eternity past, everything eternity future.
He doesn’t forget any of this. He has this great understanding, but still we get frustrated with his timing when he doesn’t do things the way that we think that he should. We pray to God and we ask him to take care of an illness in our life or to deal with the situation. And if he doesn’t answer right away, we might get perplexed by that. We might get aggravated with God, God, why aren’t you answering me?
Some people even get angry with God and turn against him because he doesn’t answer someone’s prayer or he doesn’t work things out in our time schedule. God had a very specific time frame for when his son Jesus would come. When the time came to completion at the very right moment, Jesus was sent. And his timing not only involves the world, but also he has perfect timing for our lives, what he’s going to accomplish. The Jews felt forgotten and they wondered why God delayed in sending the Messiah.
There was a national crisis. But also here in the text, not only is this timeline of the national crisis a problem, but there’s this problem on a very personal level with Elizabeth and Zechariah, because they didn’t have a what? What does the text say? They didn’t have a child. It had been their desire to have a child.
I don’t doubt that they had prayed, God, send us a child. They had searched their lives to figure out had they done something wrong while they weren’t having a child. And now they’ve gotten to the point in their old age, it’s no longer naturally possible for them to have a child.
They could have been perplexed by God’s not answering. They could have been aggravated. They even could have been angry at him.
But it doesn’t share that in the text. It says they continued to follow him faithfully. And we assume that they had come to grips with this was God’s plan for them.
But just as the right time came that God would send his son to be the savior of the world, he also comes to a time here in this individual, in this couple’s life that he will send them a child. It’s almost as if Luke is saying the bigger promise is proven to us by this small miracle here that they can have a child. You know, we live in a world that is ever increasing.
It’s more and more under the control of Satan. The evil and the corruption of the world is no less than it was in the days of King Herod. But God has a remnant now as he did then. That remnant should be living righteously as Zechariah and Elizabeth did. But we still have to, like them, realize that we have this deadly condition that’s passed down to us from Adam.
We need the savior, Jesus Christ. That’s why God sent him, so that he could live among us, that he could die on the cross, he’d be buried and raised from the dead, so that not only would we have external righteousness, but inwardly we can have the righteousness that counts. God provided the remedy for us. He provided the remedy for Elizabeth and Zechariah, and that’s what the book of Luke is about. This is the remedy that God is providing for us.
You know, you could be here today and you could be troubled by the state of Wisconsin. You could be troubled with what’s going on in your town. You could be troubled with what’s going on at the national level, and you could be troubled at all the war, communism, and all these evil things that are happening in the world. And in your prayers for all of this, you could be thinking that God isn’t hearing us, or that he’s not going to answer us when we pray about these things. It’s not wrong to have thoughts like that.
These thoughts and feelings are just normal for us as humans.
I’d like you to turn to Psalm 43, and we’re going to see here the honesty of the psalmist, which God includes in his word about how he was feeling in his day, because it’s a universal thing for us to question what God is doing, but we’re going to see in the psalmist that even in his honesty of questioning God, he still comes back to, my answer is still in God. Psalm 43, vindicate me, God, and champion my cause against an unfaithful nation. He’s bothered by the unfaithfulness and the sinfulness of the nation of Israel that he lives in. And he’s saying, rescue me from the deceitful and unjust person, so not only is the nation being evil, but it’s affecting him at the local level that people themselves are deceitful and unjust. But then he says, God, you are still the God of my refuge.
I know you are the God of my refuge, but I’m having this feeling, and he asks this question, why have you rejected me? He knows God is his refuge, but he’s being honest to the Lord how he feels. He says, why must I go about in sorrow because of the enemy’s oppression? We could find ourselves here in this situation today that we’re just really sad. We might even be depressed about how awful things are in the world, and we should express that to God.
We read in verse 3 that the psalmist tells us what to do. In spite of our sorrow and oppression, his prayer to the Lord is, God, do for me what I can’t do for myself. Send your light. God, you send your light, and you send your truth. Let them lead me, not my feelings.
And when you do that, let them bring me to your holy mountain, to your dwelling place. In other words, don’t let my feelings of sadness and depression drive me away from worship and seeking the Lord, but instead, that’s where I need to run to. And when that happens, the psalmist says in verse 4 that I will come to the altar of God, to my God, who is my greatest joy. In the midst of his sadness and depression, he still found joy in the Lord. And there he says, I will praise you with the lyre, God, my God.
You know, we’re commanded to do what? To sing and to do music. So I don’t turn around and look, but I hope all of y’all are singing on Sunday mornings.
It’s not an option. We have 150 psalms that tell us that we’re supposed to be singing, correct, Kelly Jo? I won’t ask you who doesn’t sing, but you tell me if it improves next week. Verse 5, again he’s very honest, why my soul are you so dejected?
Why are you in such turmoil? Why are you depressed? Why are you so upset? And he says, this is the answer that he speaks to himself that God leads him to. Put your hope in God, not in yourself, not in your government, not in the world.
Put your hope in God, and when you do that, I will still praise him because God is my savior, and he is my God. We live in evil times, but there have been evil times in the past. Jesus sent his son the first time at the perfect time, and the hope that we have is that he will send Jesus again at the predetermined proper time, maybe not what we want and what we desire, but it will be the best time for him to come. And when he comes then, he’s not only going to complete the salvation that we have from sin, but he’s going to save us from the evil of the world and give us the new creation that we all look forward to. So we have that overarching hope that we have, but also in the text we see that maybe some of us today are like Zechariah and Elizabeth for some reason, God has not answered our prayer about a difficult circumstance.
Like the psalmist, it’s okay to admit that we’re sad and we’re questioning that, but we still need to come back to God, worship him, and trust him, and we’ll find that he has a perfect reason what he’s doing. It was a perfect time for John the Baptist to come, that he could tell about the coming Messiah. He was a cousin to Jesus, because he came at Elizabeth’s late age when Mary came to Elizabeth. Elizabeth said, see, I’m pregnant and I’m this old lady, it’s impossible for me to be this way. That was an encouragement to Mary that God was doing miracles in their midst.
And so it is, when God’s timing isn’t like ours, he’s working something special that he wants to do through our lives. And lastly, if you think you’re a good person like Elizabeth and Zechariah, and that your outward righteousness and good works are going to bring you into God’s presence, declared acceptable, just like Zechariah and Elizabeth, that is not enough. You have to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. If Zechariah and Elizabeth’s righteous living had been enough, we could have just stopped right here in the book of Luke. There would be no need for Jesus to come, there would have been no need for him to die on the cross for us.
May we pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you that you are an awesome, wonderful God, that you are knowledgeable of everything, and because of that, we trust you and your decisions of when things are going to happen, what things are going to happen, and how you are going to bring about a new creation. And Father, like the psalmist, even in the midst of our possible depression and hope and despair and doubting, we are going to continue to seek after you, to worship you, Father, and to come together, that we might continue to rejoice in the salvation that you provide for us. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.