Sabbath School Lesson for March 28-April 3, 2015
For the next three months we’ll be exploring the Gospel of Luke, which might be considered the most authoritative biography ever written. Think about it–through the Holy Spirit’s prompting, this amazing historical account of Jesus’ life has become part of the New Testament canon of the Holy Bible. How can we not trust the authenticity of the facts that the physician Luke so meticulously researched and compiled when inspiration has led to its inclusion in our Holy Scriptures?
- This study of Luke’s Gospel, which is the longest of the Gospels, is Part One of his two-volume work which might be titled “Origin and History of the Christian Church”.
- Part Two, which chronicled the events after Christ’s ascension, is found in the book which has come to be known as Acts of the Apostles.
Most people assume that the four Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, were written by Jesus’ disciples and are therefore firsthand records of His amazing life on earth. But the inclusion of Luke’s account points to the universality of the gospel message.
Luke was not an eyewitness to Jesus’ life. Nor was he even a Jew! He was a Gentile convert of the early church. Therefore the thrust of his writing points to Jesus, the Savior of the world, the Son of man, and a Friend of sinners. The genealogy, he is in no rush to present til chapter 3, traces Jesus’ lineage all the way to Adam, and even to God Himself.
The Gospel of Luke is the one most read at Christmas time when retelling the story of Jesus’ birth. Its appeal to all nationalities and cultures is further evidence of its focus on Jesus as the Son of man, the Savior of mankind.
Here’s how the other gospels compare to Luke’s story:
- Matthew wrote to the Jews–he emphasized Jesus as the Messiah
- Mark wrote to the Romans–he portrayed Jesus as a man of action, leading us to His kingdom
- John proclaimed Jesus as the Word, the Creator, the Son of God, focusing on His divinity
Luke appeals to all mankind, including sinners. Jesus came to save Jews and Gentiles alike. Luke, one of those saved Gentiles, felt compelled to preserve the memory of the events that pertained to the early Christian church. In order to do that he had to start with the story of Jesus’ birth, which we will focus on this first week.
Key Text: ” ‘For with God nothing will be impossible’ “ Luke 1:37 NKJV
This is a quote from the angel Gabriel who came to Mary. After she questioned how these things could be, the angel simply said, “For with God nothing will be impossible.”
How many times we would be spared worry and deep concern over events in our life if we just remembered those words, “with God nothing is impossible.” It certainly had a calming effect on Mary.
Sunday: “An Orderly Account”
Luke tries to preserve the story of his faith and church in terms of its historical setting in an orderly way. See Luke 1:1-3. He wants his readers to understand that God is not a myth, but an actual Being who came to us under miraculous circumstances.
We know from Acts 1:1 that his primary reader of the account is another Gentile convert named Theophilus. The first three verses in Acts give the scope of his first account.
“The former account I made [the Gospel of Luke], O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:1-3 NKJV
Discussion Questions: Read Luke 1:2, 3 and then II Timothy 3:16. What phrases from Luke’s claim here reveal that his writing might also be inspired by the Spirit?
Who might have been some of the “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” mentioned by Luke in verse 2?
Although Luke was not an eyewitness to the things he wrote about, what made him qualified to be an accurate biographer? Compare him to Moses, who likewise wrote about Creation, the story of the Flood, and many events prior to his lifetime.
What advantage is there for a biography to be written some time past the events happening, but not too long past?
Monday: “Call His Name John”
There had been four hundred years from the time of the prophet Malachi to the angel Gabriel’s announcements. Four hundred years of prophetic drought, so to speak. This brings to mind the four hundred years that the Hebrews spent in Egyptian slavery and makes us wonder why God allows these gaps in divine involvement. Perhaps He allows His Spirit to work in us in a less intrusive way to build up our courage for mightier tasks He has on His agenda.
Lest we forget, there were two miracle babies born 2,000 years ago. Not only was the Messiah born to the virgin Mary, but Zacharias and Elizabeth, who was barren, also received a message from the angel Gabriel about the birth of their son John, who would prepare the way for the Messiah.
Both of these births, and others recorded in the Old Testament, should inform us that we humans are incapable of doing good on our own. It is through faith and submission to God’s will that truly great and wonderful things happen. We must realize that without God, our lives of bondage would go on seemingly forever.
Discussion Questions: What other parallels might there be in the stories of Moses and Jesus? For instance, how might Moses be regarded as a “miracle baby”? Who might have filled John the Baptist’s role for Moses?
Why do you think God sent a forerunner to prepare the way for Jesus’ birth? How necessary is it for God to have His church prepare the world for His Second Coming?
Read Luke 1: 15-17. In what ways should God’s people today be living a life like John the Baptist? How can we better fulfill our responsibility as God’s partners in this preparation work?
Read Luke 1:5, 6 and notice that Zacharias is said to be both righteous and blameless. How did his lack of faith, which brought a rebuke from the angel, affect the mission? How does this help us understand the concept of righteousness?
Tuesday: “Call His Name Jesus”
Scattered throughout the Old Testament, we see prophetic glimpses of the coming Messiah. All the way from Genesis 3:15 (“…I will put enmity between…between your seed and her Seed…”) to Malachi 4:2 (“The Sun of Righteousness shall arise…”).
Galatians 4:4 spoke about the fullness of time: “…when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son…” NKJV Let’s review some predictions about the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ:
- time of His birth
- Daniel 9:25 ” ‘…from the going forth of the command To restore and build Jerusalem Until Messiah the Prince, There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks;…’ “
- manner of His birth
- Isaiah 7:14 ” ‘Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.’ “ NKJV
- place of His birth
- Micah 5:2 ” ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.’ “ NKJV
All the Messianic prophecies, numbering in the hundreds, culminating in that one little Bethlehem Baby just seems too awesome for our finite minds to comprehend. The odds of it all happening as predicted are virtually impossible. But then so is a virgin giving birth to the Son of God. Humanity and divinity miraculously and mysteriously blended to create the “Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Jesus is truly the only One born in this fashion. In this way He is obviously God’s first and only-begotten Son (John 1:18 and Colossians 1:15). We can say with confidence like Peter that He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)
Discussion Questions: Read Luke 1:11-20 (Zacharias’ reaction and response to the angel) and v. 29-38 (how Mary reacted and responded to Gabriel). Why do you think the angel rebuked Zacharias and not Mary? Was he able to read their thoughts?
Considering all the workings of God, such as Creation, the Incarnation and Resurrection, the outpouring of manna in the desert or the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, how is the will of God dependent on our human acceptance and surrender?
What do you think of this quote by Thomas Aquinas: “In order that the body of Christ might be shown to be a real body, he was born of a woman; but in order that his Godhead might be made clear he was born of a virgin.”?
Wednesday: The Manger of Bethlehem
Luke, after his many interviews with eyewitnesses, felt compelled to give us details about Jesus’ birth that would have been lost without his preserving them for us. Only the Gospel of Luke tells about His birth in a stable and the shepherds’ visit by angels and how they found the infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, just as the angel told them.
Think of it. The first visitors received by Joseph and Mary after the birth of their precious Son were not rich and powerful men, but ordinary, humble working men, often despised by their city counterparts.
Jesus, no doubt, heard this shepherd story growing up. He must have felt some kinship with this class of workers. He didn’t hesitate to refer to Himself as the Good Shepherd on many occasions.
One can’t help but imagine that Luke’s favorite expression in the angel’s announcement was that the “good tidings of great joy” was “for ALL people.” Luke, himself a Gentile, took comfort in knowing that this miraculous story of Jesus’ birth wasn’t meant for Jews only, but for people of all nations and cultures.
Luke, with no embarrassment, relates the humble surroundings and circumstances of His birth. Heaven’s most precious gift was wrapped in a simple package. Knowing these details confirms and reinforces the great humility on the part of God in coming to this world. It wasn’t with a great splash and showy fanfare, but with quiet dignity and grace.
Discussion Questions: Read Philippians 2:5-8. Why do you think it was proper for Jesus to be born in such a poor setting? Wouldn’t He have been able to accomplish more with a “better start in life”? Why was it necessary and what does it reveal about this King of kings?
Read Genesis 1:26 and 2:7 and II Corinthians 4:4. Compare the beginning of man with the beginning of Jesus’ life. In what ways were they both made in His image?
Thursday: The Witnesses to the Savior
Even though Luke wasn’t a Jew, he didn’t hesitate to speak of Jesus’ circumcision and first visit to the Temple to be dedicated as the firstborn son. He knew that Christ’s parents would faithfully fulfill their parental duties according to God’s law as written down by His servant Moses.
Luke was the only Gospel writer to include the story of Simeon and Anna, two devout elders who were looking diligently for the Messiah to come and were given the privilege of recognizing Him when His parents brought Him to the Temple.
How this must have impressed Mary and Joseph and comforted them in the knowledge that their Son was truly the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Read about their experience in Luke 2:25-38.
Discussion Questions: Read Luke 2:34, 35, Simeon’s parting words to Mary. How was the prophecy fulfilled about the sword piercing her heart also? (See John 19:33-37 to see how this was fulfilled at the Cross. Several Old Testament verses talk about His bones not being broken, but only Zechariah 12:10 mentions piercing.)
Read Luke 2:22-24 about the reason for bringing an offering to the Temple. Why did God allow women to bring a something besides a lamb? See Leviticus 12:8. What does this reveal about the loving, merciful, forgiving character of God?
Why wasn’t Cain’s substitute offering accepted in the Genesis account that ended with the death of his brother? How exact is God in our following His directions? How can He be exact AND merciful?
Luke’s Gospel account of Jesus’ life and ministry should help us to:
- see Jesus as a real, historical Person who is interested in the salvation of the world
- believe that His miraculous birth is evidence that with God all things are possible
- be motivated to know all we can about the Messiah and why He came to this planet
- be assured that He was sent that all men might be saved, not just the Jews
The birth of Jesus points to His being the Messiah prophesied so often in the Old Testament. Luke includes many details, not chronicled in the other Gospel accounts, but assures us his findings are based on accurate interviews with eyewitnesses to the events.
Pertaining to His birth, Luke is the only one who tells us about:
- the birth announcements to Zacharias and Elizabeth, and Mary and Joseph
- the proclamation to the shepherds in the fields and their rush to go see the Babe
- the visit to the Temple where Simeon and Anna acknowledged Him as the Messiah
On Your Own
Think about who Luke might have interviewed in order to tell us about the birth announcements, the shepherds who came to see Jesus, and Simeon and Anna recognizing Him at the Temple.
Make a list of things you would ask Jesus if you had a personal opportunity to interview Him. Such as,
- Was your mother indeed a virgin when she gave birth?
- How could you sleep in a boat that was about to sink in a storm?
- Were you really thirsty when you met the Samaritan woman at the well?
Make a list of things in the natural world that scientists and other experts have no answer for. Such as,
- why do we sleep,
- how does gravity work,
- how do animals migrate, etc.
God is not limited by the laws of nature, however, so how feasible is it for the miracles recorded in the Bible to have actually happened? Obviously, our not understanding them does not mean they couldn’t or didn’t happen.
Next Week: Baptism and the Temptations
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