(49) You will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus – Luke 1:31

Three of the gospel writers are Jewish, but Luke, the author of the third gospel, is Greek. Unlike the others he never met Jesus when he was on earth as a man but became a follower of Jesus through meeting other Christians in his local church. He later became a companion of Paul on some of his missionary journeys which are described in his second book, the Acts of the Apostles. Luke was a doctor and his gospel includes medical details as well as highlighting stories about women.

When Luke became a Christian many disciples of Jesus were still alive and their accounts of Jesus’ life were circulating verbally around the young churches. Some had started to write them down but Luke decides to undertake his own thorough investigation into the life of Jesus and sets out to interview many eyewitnesses who had seen Jesus and lived alongside him. The result is “an orderly account” that helps his readers “know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4).

Luke starts his account with the birth of John the Baptist, born to an old priest called Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah to tell him that they will have a son who will be the ‘Elijah’ that Malachi foretold (see Luke 1:17 and Malachi 4:5. Jesus says that John fulfils this prophecy in Matthew 11:11-14). Zechariah and Elizabeth had not been able to have children so Zechariah can’t believe the angel, but, shortly after this, Elizabeth conceives.

Gabriel’s next assignment is to go to Nazareth and tell a young woman called Mary some even more extraordinary news. She will have a son called Jesus who “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” and he will inherit the “throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever” (Luke 1:32-33). Mary has even more reason to doubt Gabriel than Zechariah as she is a virgin, engaged to a man called Joseph. She asks Gabriel how such a thing could happen and his answer is that “The Holy Spirit will come on you” and that “the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

Mary accepts his word, but as the pregnancy starts to become evident she risks being ostracised by her family and friends so she goes to stay with Elizabeth who is related to her. Not knowing what reception she will get she is greatly encouraged by Elizabeth’s response as she calls her “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43). After John was born, Mary returned home in great trepidation. Her parents and the village community would not have accepted her story about the baby being conceived by the Holy Spirit and would have been furious with her for bringing shame on the family name.

Her fiancé Joseph knew that he was not responsible for the pregnancy and was naturally deeply hurt that Mary had seemingly been unfaithful to him so he decided to break off the engagement to make his position quite clear. (Jewish engagements were legally binding so Matthew tells us that Joseph decided to “divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19).) Then Joseph had a dream where an angel appeared to him telling him that Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Matthew highlights this as the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy that “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son” (Matthew 1:23 quoting Isaiah 7:14). After the dream Joseph goes ahead and marries Mary, so allowing the village to believe that the child was his and sharing her shame, although Matthew tells us that they did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born.

Both gospel writers are clear that Jesus was ‘born of a virgin’ as it says in the Apostles Creed. Luke gives us a detailed account from Mary’s perspective, probably one of the eyewitnesses that he interviewed, while Matthew gives us the account from Joseph’s perspective. This is an important fact about Jesus as the only way the new covenant could come into operation was through the sacrifice of a sinless man as a substitute for each of us. If Jesus was just a man then he would not have been fit to be a perfect sacrifice; if he was just God then he would not have been an appropriate sacrifice. By being born fully human but also fully God, Jesus was the only acceptable sacrifice.

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