Preparations for Jesus’ Ministry

Discovery for Teachers

Preparations for Jesus’ Ministry

OVERVIEW
DAYBREAK

SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS
Luke 1:1 through 4:13

KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

BACKGROUND

The Book of Luke was written to Theophilus, a Gentile who is believed to have been interested in the teachings of the Christian faith; his name means “one who loves God.” Luke, the author of this Gospel, was a skilled writer and historian as well as an educated physician. He was also a Greek — the only Gentile among the writers of the Gospels — so he could identify with the perspectives of Gentile readers. His writings helped Christians in the Gentile churches to better understand Jesus, His life, and His mission on earth.

As a friend and traveling companion of Paul the Apostle, Luke had access to the Apostles and close friends of Jesus, and no doubt their firsthand reports and recollections were the basis for much of his writings. Luke gives more detail than any other Gospel writer concerning the birth and early life of Christ.

The universal scope of Christ’s message is brought out in the Gospel of Luke in a variety of ways. For example, Luke’s genealogy of Jesus in chapter 3 goes back to Adam (the father of all mankind), rather than only to Abraham (the father of the Jewish nation), as Matthew’s did. Heli, mentioned at the beginning of the genealogical list, was likely Joseph’s father-in-law, so this ancestral record traces the family line of Mary, and may have been received personally from her.

The Book of Luke highlights Jesus’ compassion toward those considered unimportant in Jewish society, such as women, children, those in poverty, and social outcasts. In these first chapters, Luke detailed how Christ’s birth took place in lowly circumstances — in an area housing animals. It was to humble shepherds that the angels proclaimed their joyous message, and those shepherds had the privilege of meeting in person the tiny Babe who came as the Savior of the whole world.

Another notable feature of Luke’s Gospel is the emphasis on the humanity of Jesus. In chapters 1 and 2, Luke gave a detailed account of Jesus’ birth by an earthly woman, and provided the only glimpse in Scripture of Jesus’ boyhood. In chapter 4, Luke recounted how Jesus experienced hunger after fasting for forty days, and then was subjected to temptation from Satan. In addition, he gave details about how Jesus overcame temptation, providing an example for His followers throughout the ages since.

Luke alluded frequently to the Holy Spirit. For example, he explained Jesus’ conception by relating the angel’s assertion to Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee” (Luke 1:35). At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit appeared as a dove while the Father spoke from Heaven, beautifully depicting the Holy Trinity.

The text of this lesson includes words that have been woven into some of the greatest songs of all Christendom: Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, often called the Magnificat (the first word of the Latin translation of this passage); the Benedictus or Song of Zacharias in Luke 1:68-79, and Gloria in Excelsis, which begins with the words the angels sang when Jesus’ birth was announced to shepherds in Luke 2:14.

SUGGESTED RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS

  1. After four hundred years without a message from God’s prophets, the Jewish people were expecting their Messiah to come, heralded by the forerunner prophesied in Malachi 4:5-6. In Luke 1:11-17 the angel Gabriel announced the advent of that forerunner, John the Baptist. What miraculous circumstance surrounded John’s birth as noted in Luke 1:7,18?

    According to Luke 1:7, Elisabeth was barren, and both Elisabeth and Zacharias were “well stricken in years,” or very old. The fact that Elisabeth was beyond the natural age of childbearing is also made clear by Zacharias’ disbelief, expressed in verse 18.

    You could amplify the miraculous aspect by alluding to other miraculous events surrounding John’s birth: the angelic declaration, Zacharias’ loss of speech, and the restoration of his speech at the naming of the child. Class discussion should bring out that even devout individuals can sometimes rely on natural assumptions or their own reasoning rather than on the promises of God. Though Elisabeth and Zacharias had prayed for a child (see verse 13), he doubted when the angel appeared and made the amazing proclamation that his wife would have a son. The point should be made that when we are tempted to view a situation as impossible, we should focus on examples of God’s miracle-working power throughout history. God is not constrained by human limitations. A good practice when facing seeming impossibilities is to focus on the One for whom nothing is impossible, rather than on the circumstances.

    As we begin this study of the Gospel of Luke, it is heartening to realize that in spite of man’s weakness and frailties, God’s plan will transpire according to His divine dictates. Though Zacharias wavered in his faith, the infant John was born and assumed his role as the forerunner to the Savior of the world.

  2. In Luke 1:30-33, Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she would conceive and bear the Son of the Highest — an event that would bring difficult and life-altering circumstances into her life. What might some of those circumstances have been? Why do you think Mary surrendered to God’s plan for her life with so little hesitation?

    Class response to the first question should bring out that Mary could have suffered shame, disgrace, and rejection by her peers and society as a whole. A woman being found pregnant before marriage could be stoned or forced into a life of begging or worse. It could have meant rejection by Mary’s fiancé and the loss of any possibility of marriage. Carrying the child and giving birth would bring its own hardship and pain. And although Mary did not know it, she would later have to endure the agony of seeing Jesus suffer and die for the sins of mankind.

    In response to the second question, the fact that Mary was “highly favored” of God indicates that she was a godly and consecrated young woman. No doubt Mary was walking close to God on a daily basis. It would also be good to bring out that the felt presence of God brings wonderful assurance. Mary’s words demonstrate this: in that sacred moment when the angel appeared and made such a startling announcement, she acquiesced to God’s plan immediately, even though she did not comprehend the magnitude of it or the pain it would bring.

    This might be an opportunity to point out to your group that when we have surrendered fully to the Lord, God always will provide direction for our lives. That direction may not come in the manner or time we expect it, and we will not always know where the road will take us, but that is not important. What is important is that we are willing to follow. The more willing one is, the less he or she needs to know the details.

  3. In Luke 2:1, Caesar Augustus ordered his subjects to return to their home cities to be taxed. That decree meant Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem, even though the birth of her Child was imminent. Old Testament prophets had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judea (see Micah 5:2), and God’s perfect plan was fulfilled when Jesus was born. What conclusion can we draw from the fact that this prophecy (and many others) was fulfilled in minute detail?

    Your class should conclude that we can trust God’s Word to be absolutely true. When He says something is going to happen, it will indeed take place. Your group may also note that God uses the actions of men — in this case the ruler of the whole known world — to accomplish His purposes.

    To further substantiate the veracity of Scripture, it might be interesting to compile a list of other Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus, and their fulfillment. Examples could include:

    •   The Messiah would be born of a virgin. This was prophesied in Isaiah 7:14 and fulfilled in Luke 1:26-31.

    •   The Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah. This was foretold in Genesis 49:10 and fulfilled in Luke 3:33.

    •   A messenger would prepare the way for the Messiah. This was prophesied in Isaiah 40:3-5, and fulfilled in Luke 3:3-6.

    These three examples relate to circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, and their fulfillment is recorded in Luke chapters 1-3. Many other Old Testament prophecies relate to Christ’s life on earth, and His death, burial, and resurrection. They were written by different men, in different eras, and in different cultures, but each one came to pass. Some Bible scholars suggest there are more than three hundred prophetic references that were fulfilled in Jesus.

  4. The message of the angel to the shepherds was one of great joy, for a Savior had been born to Israel. Many of the Jews expected that when their Messiah came, He would deliver them from Roman tyranny — their focus was on their temporal needs. However, the angels proclaimed a deliverance that was much greater than freedom from political oppression. What was the deliverance Jesus came to bring? (Luke 2:10-11)

    Jesus came to deliver all people from the captivity and power of sin. This was His sole purpose in coming to earth. Through His sacrificial death, men and women who surrender their hearts to Him receive deliverance! Though outward circumstances may not change, inwardly there is a transformation so great that it is described elsewhere in Scripture as being “born again.” This is the very foundation of the Gospel message.

    If there are those in your class who might not fully understand God’s plan of salvation, this would be a good opportunity to review it. The Bible clearly teaches that every individual is born with a sinful nature and at some point chooses to commit sin. Thus, each person is condemned before God. God’s perfect righteousness and absolute justice demand that a penalty be paid for sin, and according to Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death” — physical death, spiritual death (separation from God), and eternal death (eternal separation from God with no hope of ever experiencing His saving grace).

    God’s plan from the beginning was to send His sinless Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for sin. Jesus willingly gave His life on the Cross so that we could be saved from sin and its consequences. The angels on the hillside of Judea proclaimed the coming of a Savior, and that Baby grew to manhood and eventually died in our place that we might obtain forgiveness through His shed Blood. When a repentant sinner confesses his sins, believing that Jesus is the Son of God who died for all mankind, and surrenders his life to God, he will experience salvation.

  5. When Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus into the Temple to be presented to the Lord, an elderly man named Simeon was greatly blessed to hold the Baby in his arms (see Luke 2:25-32). This just and devout man had waited patiently for many years to see the “consolation” of Israel. What do we, as the people of God, wait for today?

    Class discussion should bring out that the people of God may need to wait at times for answers to prayer, for divine guidance, or for the supply of material needs or spiritual blessings. However, the primary event we are waiting for is the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. As we see violence, heartache, bloodshed, and rejection of Jesus and His teachings escalating around the world, we long more and more for our Messiah to come and set up His Kingdom. It is that hope which gives us comfort and strength through difficult times.

    It might be interesting to point out that the Greek word translated
    waiting in this verse means more than just enduring. It portrays waiting with an attitude of confidence and assurance. In context, Simeon was waiting with this attitude regarding the coming of the Messiah and the complete fulfillment of the Messianic promises of the Old Testament.
  6. John the Baptist’s father, Zacharias, had been told by the angel Gabriel that John would prepare the way for the Messiah (Luke 1:17). When John began preaching throughout the region near the Jordan River, he declared that he was only a voice in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Lord by making His paths straight. In what way did John prepare the Messiah’s path? Luke 3:7-18.

    John preached repentance. For hundreds of years prior to John coming on the scene, God’s prophets had pled with the people of Israel to turn from their wicked ways, but generation after generation had continued in idolatry. John pointed out the sins of various classes of people and proclaimed the need for all to repent and turn away from their sins.

    Make sure your class understands that true repentance goes far beyond regret or even sincere remorse. It is a godly sorrow for sin accompanied by a renunciation of all wrongdoing. The Greek word translated
    repentance in the New Testament means “compunction for guilt,” and by implication, “reversal.” It indicates a change of mind that results in a change of actions or direction. Repentance prepares the heart for God’s forgiveness, so John’s message was readying hearts to receive what Jesus Christ came to offer: deliverance from sin.

    Verses 4-5 compare the work that needed to be done in hearts to the preparations done before a king traveled to a distant location. Messengers went before the king, proclaiming that royalty would visit and the roads must be made ready. The people leveled and smoothed the way so the king could come without hindrance. Hills or mountains literally would be brought down to grade level, and ditches or canyons would be filled up. When preparations were complete, the king could come. Using this analogy, John let the people know that they had to prepare their hearts for the coming of the Messiah.

    As a follow-up to the question, discuss with your class some ways that we can prepare the way of the Lord in contemporary society. Answers should include ideas such as living a godly life before others, speaking a word for the Lord when we have opportunity, inviting acquaintances to church services, etc.

  7. The Holy Trinity (also referred to as the Divine Trinity, Godhead, or Triune God) consists of three Persons in one who are equally and eternally the one true God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These are separate and distinct persons, possessing recognizable personalities and qualities, perfectly united in one. How does Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River reveal the distinction of Persons in the Godhead? Luke 3:21-22

    Jesus (God the Son) was baptized in the river by John; God the Father spoke saying, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased,” and the Holy Ghost descended in the bodily shape of a dove. This question provides an opportunity to reinforce a cardinal doctrine of Scripture, the Trinity. Make sure your group understands that despite the individual roles of the members of the Godhead, they are in perfect and complete unity as to nature, relationship, cooperation, and authority; there is only one God. No Person in the Godhead exists or operates independently of the others.
  8. In Luke 4 we read that as part of Jesus’ spiritual preparation for ministry, He was “led by the Spirit” to a wilderness region where He fasted and prayed for a forty-day period. During that time, Jesus was “tempted of the devil,” yet He refused to yield. Based on Luke 4:3-13, how can we withstand temptation using Jesus as our example?

    Jesus used Scripture to counter Satan’s attempts, and that is an effective weapon for us as well. It should be brought out that being able to use Scripture presupposes that we both know Scripture and believe Scripture. We should also be able to understand and use Scripture correctly. This points to the necessity of regular study of God’s Word, and of nurturing and building up our faith in God’s promises.

    There are many aspects of withstanding temptation that could be helpful to develop with your class, depending upon their age and spiritual maturity. Some points that could be addressed are:

    •   Satan often attacks when we are at a low point physically, mentally, or spiritually.

    •   We never advance to the point spiritually where we are beyond being tempted. If Satan attacked the Son of God, we can be sure he will attack us as well.

    •   It was necessary for Jesus to experience and triumph over temptation because temptation is a part of the human experience. Knowing He went through it, we can have assurance that He fully understands us and what we face.

    •   Satan does not hesitate to raise questions about what God has said. If we begin to question God’s commands, we have moved into the danger zone where we are much more vulnerable to succumbing to Satan’s tactics.

    •   There may be times when we are tempted to do something that is not necessarily wrong in itself, but the timing is wrong; it is not God’s will for us at that moment. Satan often tries to persuade us to take action at the wrong time or for the wrong reason.

    Wrap up the class discussion of this question by pointing out the danger of trusting in our own power or ability to withstand Satan’s attacks. It is best to realize that God has provided us with the tools to withstand temptation, and be quick to use them when we feel the beginning of an assault by the enemy of our souls.

CONCLUSION

Luke’s description of John’s prophetic role, his baptism of Jesus, and Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, help us understand that these events were all part of the divine preparation for Jesus’ ministry and His role as Savior of the world.