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Luke's Gospel
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After studying this section you should know:

  • the key events of Jesus’ life as told by Luke
  • Jesus’ miracles in Luke
  • Jesus’ message about discipleship in Luke
  • the institution of the Eucharist in Luke
Gospel events from Luke

Candidates must study the section on Mark in conjunction with the section on Luke. The Mark section has the basic details; the differences in Luke are given here.

Luke was a Gentile and wrote his Gospel in a way that emphasised that Jesus was the saviour of all, Jews and Gentiles alike. It seems that Luke travelled with Paul and spoke to many people who had known Jesus although he had not known him. It is believed the Gospel was written in Rome in about AD 80–90.

The Infancy Narrative

  • An old man called Zechariah is promised by the Angel Gabriel that his wife Elizabeth will have a child whom she will name John.
  • Zechariah is struck dumb until the birth because he has difficulty believing what the angel has to say (Luke 1:11–20). Elizabeth had been thought to be barren (unable to bear children).

The Annunciation

  • The Angel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary and tells her she will conceive a son and give him the name Jesus.
  • Mary is deeply troubled, but the angel tells her not to be afraid and says he will be called ‘Son of the Most High’.
  • Mary asks, ‘How can this be, I am still a virgin?’
  • he is told the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the child will be called ‘Son of God’.
  • Mary says, ‘Here am I. I am the Lord’s servant; as you have spoken so be it’ (Luke 1:26–38).

It is very important in Christian understanding that a young, vulnerable virginal girl accepted what she believed to be the will of the Lord in such a trusting way, despite the fear and uncertainty that the pregnancy would bring to her.

The Visitation

  • Mary visits Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s child moves in her womb.
  • Elizabeth says, ‘Who am I that the mother of my Lord should visit me?’ and ‘How happy is she who has had faith that the Lord’s promise would be fulfilled.’
  • Luke then writes the ‘Magnificat’ (Luke 1:46–56), which is Mary’s song of praise for the work of the Lord and is an important prayer and a hymn of praise for Christians. It is used more often in Roman Catholic worship.
  • The birth of John the Baptist. Elizabeth’s son is a boy and Zechariah’s speech returns and he praises the Lord in prophecy (Luke 1:68–79).

Remember to link these episodes with questions on the celebration of Christian festivals.

The Nativity

  • Luke tells how Mary and Joseph have to travel to Bethlehem for the census, which has been ordered by Caesar Augustus. (Luke is noted for his historical accuracy as a census did take place at about this time.)
  • Mary gave birth to Jesus, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them to lodge in the inn (Luke 2:6–7).

The shepherds

  • Some shepherds are visited by angels who tell them a Messiah has been born and he is in a manger.
  • The shepherds hurry to Bethlehem to see the baby and tell Mary and Joseph what they have been told.
  • Mary stores up this news in her heart while other listeners are astonished (Luke 2:8–19).

The presentation of Jesus

  • Jesus is taken to be circumcised on the eighth day according to Jewish custom.
  • Simeon visits him at the Temple.
  • Simeon has been told by the Holy Spirit that he will not die until he has seen the Messiah.
  • Simeon tells Mary that the child is destined to be a sign rejected by men and that Mary herself will be pierced to the heart.
  • A woman, Anna, who prays every day in the Temple, tells Mary and Joseph that the child is the one to whom all are looking for the liberation of Jerusalem.

Jesus in the temple

  • When Jesus is twelve years old, Mary and Joseph make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. After they have left the city they cannot find Jesus and have to return.
  • Eventually they find him teaching in the temple, talking and answering questions.
  • When Mary chastises him, Jesus answers that she should expect to find him in his Father’s house (Luke 2:41–50).

Luke is very clear from the start that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of the Most High, and that Mary treasures her knowledge about Jesus.

John the Baptist

  • Luke gives more emphasis to John the Baptist than Mark. Both Gospel writers tell how John says he baptises with water but that the one who will come after him will baptise with the Holy Spirit.
  • John also warns people to share their shirts and food, and live good lives.
  • John baptises Jesus and the Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove. A voice from heaven is heard, saying, ‘Thou art my Son, my Beloved, on thee my favour rests’ (Luke 3:21,22; also Mark 1:10,11).

The temptations of Jesus (Luke 4:1–13)

  • Luke tells his readers about the temptations.
  • The devil tempts Jesus to turn stone to bread, but Jesus replies, ‘Scripture says, “Man cannot live on bread alone.”’
  • The devil tempts Jesus to become master of all the Kingdoms of the world by doing homage to him (the devil), but Jesus tells him, ‘Scripture says, “You shall do homage to the Lord your God and worship him alone.”’
  • The devil tempts Jesus to throw himself off the parapet of the temple and the angels of God will save him, but Jesus replies, ‘It has been said, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”’

Christians recall the temptations and the wilderness during a time of fasting and abstinence in Lent. At this time they pray and reflect, trying to make spiritual ideas the focus of life and grow closer to Christ.

Miracles in Luke

Those shown in bold are unique to Luke.

Mental illness

  • The man with an evil spirit in the temple (Luke 4:31–37).
  • Man at Gerasa (Gerasene Demoniac) (Luke 8:26–39).
  • The epileptic boy (Luke 9:37–43).
  • Jesus heals a crippled woman (Luke 1.3:10–17). A woman had been possessed by a spirit, which had caused her to be crippled for 18 years. When Jesus saw her he simply said, ‘You are rid of your trouble’ and the woman was cured. When he was criticised for doing this on the Sabbath he replied that the woman had been bound by Satan so it was appropriate to release her on the Sabbath.

Physical illness

  • Simon’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:38–39).
  • Many people (Luke 4:40–41).
  • A leper (Luke 4:12–16).
  • The paralysed man (Luke 5:17–26).
  • The man with the withered arm (Luke 6:6–11).
  • The centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1–10). A centurion’s servant is ill so he sends some elders to ask Jesus to cure the servant. Jesus goes to the house but the centurion sends a message that he is not worthy to have Jesus in his house and asks Jesus only to cure the servant. Jesus admires the man’s faith and the servant is cured.
  • The haemorrhagic woman (Luke 8:43–48).
  • Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:49–56).
  • A man with dropsy (Luke 14:1–6). Jesus uses this episode to cure a man of dropsy on the Sabbath and at the same time challenge the Jewish Sabbath laws about work. He says to the Pharisees, ‘Who among you would hesitate to haul his ox or ass to its feet if it fell on the Sabbath?’
  • The blind man of Jericho (Luke 18:35–43). As Jesus passes by, the blind man calls out, ‘Son of David, have pity on me!’ and Jesus asks the man what he wants. The man replies that he wants his sight and Jesus cures him because of the faith he has shown. (This is the story of Bartimaeus given in Mark.)
  • The thankful leper (Luke 17:11–19). Jesus cures ten lepers, telling them to go and show themselves to the priests. One, realising he is cured on the way to the priests, turns round and goes back to thank Jesus. Jesus tells him, ‘Go, your faith has cured you.’

Nature miracles

  • Jesus calms the storm (Luke 8:22–25).
  • Jesus feeds the five thousand (Luke 9:10–17).

The many miracles in Luke where Jesus cures Jews and Gentiles and especially outcasts teach that Jesus was especially concerned for the poorest, least exalted people in society.

Parables in Luke

Parables that are equivalent to those in Mark:

  • The patches and the wineskins (Luke 5:36–39).
  • The sower (Luke 8:4–8).
  • The lamp under the bed – no one hides a lamp under a bed; it is put out for all to see (Luke 8:16–18).
  • The mustard seed (Luke 13:18–19).
  • The tenants in the vineyard (Luke 20:9–18).

Parables that do not appear in Mark and may be from Luke’s source L or Q:

  • The Good Samaritan (told in response to the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’; Luke 10:25–37). A man is attacked, beaten, robbed and left for dead. A priest and a Levite pass him by, but a Samaritan (regarded by the Jews as an enemy) stops, tends his wounds and takes the man to an inn, leaving money for him to be looked after until he has recovered. The neighbour is thus shown to be the one who showed the man kindness.
  • The rich fool (Luke 12:13–21). A rich man grew many crops and decided to store them in a barn and then take life easy; but that night God said to him, ‘You fool, this very night you must surrender your life; you have made your money – who will get it now?’ (This is how it is for a man who amasses wealth for himself but remains a pauper in the eyes of God.) Jesus teaches that God clothes even the lilies in the fields and how much more will he look after his little ones. ‘Set your mind upon His Kingdom and all the rest will come to you as well.’
  • The watchful servants (Luke 12:35–40). Jesus teaches that servants should be alert for the master can return at any time. He says if the Master comes and finds his servants ready he will seat them and wait on them. He reinforces his point by saying that if the householder had known about the burglar, he would not have left his house. (From this story Christians understand that death comes like a thief in the night, stealing up on the unprepared.) This is a message to the Jews who compare the coming of the Messiah to a banquet. Jesus says all must be careful of their power. A servant without a master must not be too severe on others. From he who has much, much will be expected. Thus rights bring responsibility (Luke 12:41–48). Candidates should be able to transfer the teaching of the lost sheep to their understanding of what justification a Christian might give for working with a caring agency such as ‘Shelter’ or ‘Crisis at Christmas’.
  • The Great Feast (Luke 14:7–24). A man prepares a feast (verse 16) and invites his friends; they do not come, pleading business, possessions and relationships as excuses. The man sends his servants to find the poor and the beggars to sit at his table. He says, ‘Not one of those who were invited shall taste my banquet.’ This parable is about the messianic banquet to which many are called and should respond.
  • The lost sheep (Luke 15:1–7). A farmer loses one sheep and leaves the other 99 to search for it; on finding it he rejoices. There is more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over 99 righteous people who do not need to repent. Jesus emphasises his call to sinners, the weak in every way, the outcasts of society.
  • The lost coin (Luke 15:8–10). This parable has a message similar to that of the lost sheep (above).
  • The prodigal (lost) son (Luke 15:11–32). A younger son asks for his inheritance, takes it and spends it having a good time and winning many friends. When he has no money he has no friends and gets a job tending pigs and eating their swill. He decides his father’s servants are better off so he returns home. When his father sees him he kills the best calf and has a big party. The elder son, who has stayed at home, says, ‘Why do you never have a party for me?’ His father tells him, ‘Everything I have is yours but how can I help welcoming my son who was lost and is found?’ This parable teaches about the constant forgiveness of the Father, God’s unconditional love.
  • The shrewd manager (unjust steward) (Luke 16:1–17). The shrewd manager uses his master’s debts to win friends for himself. Jesus teaches that money can be put to good purpose but that someone untrustworthy in small things is untrustworthy in great things. He also says you cannot serve God and money.
  • The rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31). This is the story of a rich man who is separated from Abraham after his death. He sees Lazarus, once a beggar, sitting with Abraham at a feast in heaven. The rich man begs that Lazarus might bring him water, but Abraham tells him that no one can cross the chasm between heaven and Hades (hell). On earth the rich man had everything and Lazarus nothing – now it is for Lazarus to have consolation. The rich man asks that someone be sent to warn his brothers of what will befall them, but Abraham says, ‘If they pay no heed to Moses and the prophets, they will pay no heed to someone who rises from the dead.’
  • The gold coins (Luke 19:11–27). A master goes away giving each of his ten servants one pound to trade with. One of them makes ten pounds from one, another makes five pounds, while a third makes none and only has the one pound to return to his master. His pound is taken from him to be given to the one with ten, and the master says, ‘The man who has will be given more and the man who has nothing, even what he has will be taken from him.’ This difficult teaching is part of the justification for ‘liberation theology’, the means of using the teachings of Jesus to work for justice for the poor in the developing world especially.

The purpose of the parables in Luke is to demonstrate Jesus’ commitment to the poorest of the poor, to the outcasts, to sinners and the marginalised in society. They emphasise that Jesus was the Saviour of all.

Discipleship in Luke

Much of Luke’s Gospel indicates what is necessary for true disciples of Jesus. It is important to be humble, giving of self, forgiving of others, and to spend time with the poor and outcasts of society.

Jesus sends out twelve disciples (Luke 9:1–6). The disciples were told to go out and spread the Good News, heal people and drive out demons. (As Mark.)

In Luke’s Gospel the following qualities are seen to be necessary in a disciple:

  • To be prepared to take up the cross day after day (Luke 9:23–27).
  • To be prepared for homelessness (Luke 9:58).
  • To be prepared even to put aside family responsibilities (unlike the man who wants to bury his dead father, Luke 9:59,60).
  • Not always to look back to the family. (Jesus fears that the man who wants to say goodbye to his family will be persuaded to change his mind, Luke 9:61,62)
  • Not to stop or be deterred from a task (Jesus sends out the 72, Luke 10:1–24).
  • To put listening to the Word of God before all things (Mary listens to Jesus while Martha fusses and works, Luke 10:38–42).
  • To consider the implications of being a disciple carefully. As an owner counts the cost of constructing a tower over his vineyard, and a soldier weighs up the implications of mustering his armies, so must a would-be disciple make sure he is prepared to give with total commitment (Luke 14:25–33).
  • To sell all and give it to the poor (Luke 18:18–30 as Mark 10:17–31).
  • Being prepared to give willingly, as in the case of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10).
  • Being a servant of all, including children (Luke 9:46–48).
  • Always being prepared to forgive – even up to seventy times seven (Luke 17:1–4).
  • To pray as Jesus taught (Luke 11:1–13).
Episodes of Conflict

Luke does not put too much emphasis on conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders or between Jesus and the Roman authorities since he is anxious to show that Jesus had a message for all people. He does, however, include conflict over the Sabbath.

  • Disciples picking corn on the Sabbath (Luke 6:1–5).
  • Healing the man with the withered arm (Luke 6:6–11).
  • Jesus and Beelzebub (Luke 11:14–20).
  • The parable of the mustard seed and the yeast (13:18–21).
Stewardship in Luke

Stewardship of possessions is emphasised in Luke. Jesus’ parables in Luke have particular relevance to life in the late 20th century. People are aware today of a world stripped of its natural resources, and many are also aware of the futility and worthlessness of material possessions.

  • A man who is ready to sit back and enjoy the fortune he has amassed but could die that very night (Luke 12:13–21).
  • A steward who misuses the assets of his master (Luke 16:19–31). (People are misusing the assets God gave them when he created man to have dominion over the earth.) The stewardship aspect of gospel teaching is important for understanding Christian attitudes to the environment.
  • The parable of the rich young man (Luke 18:18–30) is another warning of the foolishness of treasuring the things of the world.
  • The parable of the servants with the master’s coins (Luke 19:11–27) teaches them to care for gifts that have been given and use them wisely. In the same way, Christians believe man is cautioned to use the earth and its resources wisely.
The Lord's Supper
  • Luke writes of Jesus instituting the Eucharist after giving out the cup of Passover. Luke adds a teaching from Jesus to his disciples about humble service leading to reward (22:24–30), which is a favourite theme for Luke.
  • Luke also adds to Mark’s account of Peter’s denial of Jesus by saying that Peter would have a leadership role (Luke 22:3).
  • Luke also adds a message from Jesus to the disciples that each must carry a sword on missionary work as they will be considered outlaws. This is a hint that their lives will be difficult and they might face death because of their work (Luke 22:35–38).
  • Christians see in this passage a call from God to follow Jesus’ way and accept the difficulties that come their way as a result.
The arrest, trial and death of Jesus

As in Mark’s Gospel, Luke shows that the religious leaders were plotting against Jesus who prophesied he would suffer and be crucified by them.

The Garden of Gethsemane - Luke’s version is shorter than Mark’s account, but includes an angel (Luke 22:43). Luke includes angels in the infancy narratives also.

Jesus is betrayed - Luke adds to Mark’s account the detail that the temple guards were among those who arrested Jesus and that Jesus healed the slave’s ear after it was cut off by a disciple.

Luke also adds the idea that this was a time of darkness. Luke has already mentioned that Judas was under Satan’s influence (Luke 22:3).

Trial before the Sanhedrin - Luke’s account is similar to that in Mark but the trial is held in the morning. The witnesses who contradict one another, mentioned in Mark, are missed out in Luke. Luke’s story of Peter’s denial is also similar to Mark’s, but Luke adds a personal touch by writing of Jesus looking at Peter who then broke down.

Trial before Pilate - Luke’s account is similar to Mark’s, but Luke notes the charges made by the Jews against Jesus. Luke emphasises that Pilate found Jesus to be innocent and harmless. Luke then writes of Pilate sending Jesus to Herod (Luke 23:6–12). Luke had written of Herod the fox wanting to kill Jesus (see Luke 13:31–45).

The death of Jesus - Luke seems to have additional information to that given by Mark. According to Luke, Jesus prophesies the violent destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 23:30–32).

Luke also includes Jesus’ words, ‘Father forgive them; they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34), and his final words are ‘...into your hands I commit my spirit’.

These differences show that Luke’s Gospel was written after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and that Luke was concerned with the idea of forgiveness.

Jesus’ first words according to Luke were about doing His Father’s work (Luke 2:50) and Jesus’ last words are about his Father.

The Resurrection -  Both Luke and Mark record the fact that women found that Jesus was alive, that the stone was rolled away and that the tomb was empty. Luke records that two men reminded the women of what Jesus had said about his death and resurrection. There is an inference that He has appeared to Simon, but it is vague. This is significant for Christians since women were not highly regarded by men at this time and Peter was being singled out for leadership of the disciples, despite his betrayal of Jesus.

  • Luke records more post-resurrection appearances by Jesus than Mark.
  • Mark writes that Jesus appeared to two disciples who were on the way to Emmaus but Luke tells the story in detail of how Jesus appeared to Cleopas and another disciple who did not recognise him.
  • The disciples explained how they were depressed by Jesus’ death since they had hoped he was the Messiah who would set Israel free.
  • Jesus told them that they were foolish not to believe the message of the Scriptures, that the Messiah had to suffer and die before entering the glory of resurrection.
  • Cleopas and the other disciple recognised Jesus when he broke and blessed bread with them and remembered that their ‘hearts burned within them’ when he spoke. They returned to Jerusalem to tell the others they had seen Jesus. The story showed that even after being with him for three years the disciples did not understand the sort of Messiah Jesus was.
  • Jesus then appeared to his disciples, telling them not to be afraid and showing them his stricken hands and side.
  • He ate fish with them to show he was not a ghost.

Luke was reminding the early Christians of their belief that Jesus was really alive.

Luke also records Jesus’ teaching that the events of his death and resurrection were a fulfilment of the Scriptures, and that the disciples had a mission to preach repentance and forgiveness to the whole world, starting in Jerusalem.

Jesus’ ascension into heaven took place outside Jerusalem and the disciples were filled with joy and went to the temple praising God. Luke’s Gospel therefore finishes where it began, in the temple.

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