Luke 1:39-47 Monday 9 September 2013


This is one of those passages where it really helps to know 'thestory so far'. And the story in Luke's Gospel so far has been asmuch about John the Baptist as about Jesus. Indeed, John plays avery prominent part throughout the Gospel and is central to Luke'sunderstanding of Jesus. John is introduced as the son of a priest,Zechariah, and of Elizabeth, a descendent of Aaron, the founder ofthe priesthood (Luke 1:1-25). So John, who becomes a prophet,was a priest by birth. And this, following Jewish tradition,identified John with the most famous Hebrew prophet of all,Elijah.

Nine hundred years before Christ, Israel, under King Ahab andQueen Jezebel, had turned away from the worship of her God('Yahweh') and had reverted to idol worship. Elijah boldlychallenged Israel to return to Yahweh, and suffered badly at thehands of the king and queen. But he survived, and rather than dyingin old age, was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. And laterJews believed that Elijah would return from heaven to challengeIsrael once again and to prepare the people for the coming of theMessiah at the "great and terrible day of the Lord" (Malachi 4:5). This, for Luke's Gospel, was thetrue identity of John the Baptist: "With the spirit and power ofElijah he will go before him … to make ready a people prepared forthe Lord" (Luke 1:17).

Filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke1:15) the unborn baby John recognises the unborn baby Jesus asthe one for whose coming he was to prepare. So John begins hiswork, as 'Elijah returned to life', of proclaiming Jesus asMessiah, the saviour of Israel. And Mary's response to Elizabeth isin exactly the same vein. Mary's 'hymn of praise', which we know asthe 'Magnificat', is a very close paraphrase of Hannah's prayer in1Samuel 2:1-10, following the birth of her son, Samuel. AndSamuel was the priest/prophet who anointed David as king - thefirst great messiah and saviour of Israel.

To Ponder

  • This story reminds us of the essential 'Jewishness' of theoriginal gospel message - a 1st-century Jew would have had nodifficulty in understanding what Luke was saying, but how can we,in the 21st century, make sense of his central claim thatJesus is the Jewish Messiah?
  • Is it possible to understand the 'New' Testament without firstunderstanding the 'Old' Testament?
  • Do you think John the Baptist had the right idea about Jesus?Why?
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