This topic is adapted from the Bible Project YouTube channel.
Luke, one of the gospel writers and a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul (Colossians 4:14), was a medical doctor and historian who investigated the life of Jesus Christ. In the gospel account that bears his name, he writes to someone named Theophilus (which means “God’s friend” or “loved by God” depending on how you translate) and says he did his homework in writing Jesus’s story (Luke 1:1-4).
- Luke begins in Jerusalem, at the temple, where a Jewish priest named Zechariah had a vision from an angel and was promised that he and his wife would have a son, despite both of them being quite old and having no children to this point. Like Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament (OT), God was going to give an elderly couple a “promised child” who would change the world. This child was John the Baptist.
- John the Baptist was a prophet who came to “prepare the way” for the Messiah – Jesus Christ. John’s birth had been predicted centuries earlier by the Hebrew prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3). And now, to prove that John’s birth was definitely from God, God waited until his parents were far beyond childbearing age for him to be born. John was a miracle baby.
- At the time of Jesus’s birth, the people were waiting for the Messiah, who they believed would deliver them from the Roman Empire, which ruled the region but allowed a puppet king named Herod the Great (Matthew 2) to rule them. The Jews wanted nothing more than to be free from Rome, to govern their own land, and to worship God according to the OT law.
- The story then shifts to a young woman named Mary (Mariam). She was engaged to be married, and angel appeared to her as well, saying that she, too, would have a son who she was to call Jesus (“Yeshua;” ישוע) which in Hebrew means “the LORD saves.” He would be a king like King David, who would rule over God’s people forever.
- Mary asked how this was possible, since she was a virgin. The angel said that the Holy Spirit that brought light of darkness in Genesis 1 would generate life inside her womb. Like Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac and like Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son John the Baptist, the Messiah would be a miracle baby. Mary sings a song about how this “upheaval” of her lot in life – a poor girl from nowhere to the mother of the Messiah – represents a greater upheaval of all of our lots in life. Jesus the Messiah would turn the whole world order upside-down.
- When Mary was close to giving birth, the Roman Empire ordered everyone to return to their hometown to register for tax purposes. Mary went with her future husband Joseph to Bethlehem – the hometown of the ancient Israelite king, David. Because of the influx of people in the town, Joseph and Mary had to stay where the animals slept.
- Nearby, shepherds with their flocks were surprised when an angel appeared to announce that the Messiah was to be born. They were told to go and find this baby because they would find him in a feeding trough. They go and find Jesus as they are told and leave surprised. If God is coming to save the world, would anyone really expect him to arrive like this – as a baby, without anywhere to stay, laying in an animals’ feeding trough? What was God doing?
Everything in Luke’s story was backwards by human standards. God’s kingdom was first revealed in dirty places among the poor. Jesus came to turn our world order, our expectations of greatness, upside-down.
Written content for this topic by Daniel Martin.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- When you think of a “miracle,” what comes to mind? Have you ever seen something you would call “miraculous?” Explain.
- Luke said he did his homework before writing the gospel account. Why is it important that the gospel writers are credible?
- The Jews expected a certain kind of Messiah, but they got someone very different. Not all of them were happy about this. What are some of your expectations about God that weren’t realized?
- Why did God do things “backwards?” What is he saying to us?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.