Gospel of Luke
These Babies Aren't Just Cute
You have to be one ugly Grinch not to just love little babies. Even the most hardened among us will find ourselves oozing forth some gooey emotions around these cuties. That's basically how the Gospel of Luke opens, with a whole lot of hubbub over two babies—John and Jesus—who are cousins.
In this case, the excitement is higher than usual because of some cool and supernatural circumstances surrounding their conceptions and births. An otherworldly messenger named Gabriel announces to Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth will bear a son in spite of her old age and barrenness. Then, just to outdo himself, Gabriel tells Mary that she'll become the mother of the Son of God, whose "power" will "overshadow" her (1:35).
Both before and after the babies are born, Elizabeth, Mary, and Zechariah, and some shepherds, Simeon and Anna, make highly poetic forecasts about the futures of these baby boys (1:42-43, 46-55, 68-79; 2:10-17, 28-38). It turns out that they're both destined to become major figures in Israel's history. Actually, they'll be helping God fulfill Israel's hopes for redemption.
So yeah, God is visiting earth, and these two babies, who are still spitting up and wearing diapers, are about to lead history into a completely different era. This takes cooing over newborns to a whole new level.
Life Ain't Easy for John
Apart from one story detailing what a smarty pants Jesus was (1:41-52; he's a regular Sho Yanu), Luke fast forwards through the adolescence and teen years and resumes the story of John and Jesus's lives once they're more mature.
John offers his fellow Jews a kind of ritual cleansing in the Jordan River, which is supposed to give people a new lease on life as their past mistakes are erased. People actually start to think that John's the Messiah, who's supposed to fix a lot of the things that are wrong with the world. But John makes it very clear that the Messiah's still to come, and that guy will be a lot more impressive. It's John's main job to get everyone ready for the next phase, when the Messiah does come (3:4-6, 15-17).
John's certainly living up to all of the fanfare surrounding his birth, but being chosen to alter the cosmic make-up of things for Israel and the entire world is never easy. Complications arise for him when Herod the tetrarch arrests John for being a critic of the administration (3:19-20). They didn't have free speech back then, and it ends up costing John his life (9:7-9). But not before he's achieved his vital purpose of "preparing the way" for Jesus who is the true Messiah (7:18-28; 1:17 and 3:4-6).
Or for Jesus
Jesus also starts his career with a bang. When John baptizes him, the Holy Spirit descends, and a heavenly voice declares him "my Son, the Beloved" (3:22 NRSV). Fancy. Then Jesus puts even the best of the comic book superheroes to shame. He proceeds to heal the sick, raise the dead, and exorcize demons (4:33-41; 5:12-26; 7:1-17; 8:26-33). All the while, Jesus travels around saying some pretty provocative things.
This impressive résumé earns Jesus a large following—some people are even willing to drop everything they're doing to follow him (5:11, 27-28). Eventually, Jesus chooses twelve of them who will serve as his inner-circle. These guys are also given the power to heal the sick and exorcize demons in imitation of their master (6:12-15; 9:1-6).
But things get really hairy really quickly. At Jesus's birth, Simeon predicted the conflicts Jesus would encounter (2:34-35), and boy was he right. He goes toe to toe with the demons' head honcho, who tries to cajole Jesus into worshiping him (4:1-13). And after Jesus's first speech, the inhabitants of Nazareth are so mad that they're ready to throw him off a cliff (4:16-30). Jesus, of course, beats the devil and escapes from the clutches of his hometown, but only to get into a bunch of fights with the religious leaders who don't like the looks of him.
None of this bodes well at all for Jesus's future, and we may start to wonder whether Jesus really will accomplish what they said he would at his birth. Jesus himself starts to speak spookily about his suffering and eventual resurrection (9:22, 31, and 44). Meanwhile, Jesus affirms that he is the Messiah (9:20-21), and he continues to heal, exorcize, and teach like it's his job. (It is.) A few disciples even witness him speaking with none other than Moses and Elijah as another heavenly voice declares Jesus "my Son, my Chosen" (9:35).
As things heat up for Jesus, he decides to take everyone following him on a long road trip from Galilee to Jerusalem (9:51, 53; 31:22; 17:11; 18:31; 19:28). A large chunk of Luke's gospel (9:51-19:28) is a play-by-play account of what Jesus says and does during this journey.
This so-called "travel narrative" is more than a story about the route Jesus and company took to Jerusalem. It also presents (figuratively) the route the disciples should follow as they live their lives. The instructions Jesus issues here are so many and so demanding that we readers will feel a sort of discipleship jet lag once we finally reach Jerusalem's suburbs in 19:29. The oh-so-many parables just add to the head spinning.
A Few Flat Tires Along the Way
Even as Jesus dishes out all of his classic lessons, he continues to offend the religious highbrows, and they keep getting into fights. Twice during this journey, Jesus and the Pharisees try to dine together, but the dinners always end badly (11:37-52; 14:2-24). Jesus's idea of pleasant table-talk is essentially "Woe to all you twits! Now, what's for dessert?"
It's no wonder threats against Jesus's life grow as he makes his way to Jerusalem. The scribes and Pharisees begin to be "very hostile toward him" and attempt repeatedly "to catch him" in a gaffe, which they can use as a basis for a charge against him (11:53-54 NRSV). Jesus is also warned that Herod the tetrarch wants to execute him just like he executed John (13:31-33). Things aren't looking good.
SmackDown In Jerusalem
Jesus arrives in Jerusalem with the same type of fanfare that welcomes Hollywood stars to the red carpet. But this guy isn't there to entertain. He is there to fulfill his fate as Israel's Messiah in Jerusalem. Same difference.
When he gets there, Jesus starts to cry. He knows that Jerusalem will one day be destroyed because the city will reject him (19:41-44). To help matters, he goes right to the precinct of the temple, where he drives out the merchants and criticizes temple-management for making it a "den of robbers" rather than a "house of prayer" (19:45-46). Who does this upstart think he is? The only thing protecting Jesus at this point is his popularity with the crowd.
Things get even uglier as Jesus takes all of Jerusalem's highbrows to school. He responds to their questions with remarkable insight and dodges their attempts to trap him into saying something that will get him into trouble with authorities (20:1-21:4).
Jesus really never stops obsessing about Jerusalem's fate. He really is a big party-pooper. While people are admiring the remarkable architecture of the temple, he foretells its future destruction by the Romans in the year 70 (21:5-6, 20-24). Jesus explains the whole destruction-to-come fiasco when he goes apocalyptic on us in a speech known as "The Little Apocalypse" or "The Synoptic Apocalypse" (21:5-38).
Summary: after Jerusalem's destruction there comes "the times of the Gentiles" (a.k.a. non-Jews) (21:24), and after terrible suffering and astronomical upheavals, the Son of Man will return to earth. But where does Luke think his contemporaries are in all of this? And how near is the end for Luke? Those are million-dollar questions, that's for sure.
Everything comes to a head when Judas, one of Jesus's twelve disciples (6:12-16), rats Jesus out to Jerusalem's leaders. They arrest Jesus on the sly, away from the crowds. He finds himself on trial, and he's finally condemned to execution by Pontius Pilate, who thinks that he is innocent, but gives in to the pressure of the Jewish leaders and crowd.
Joseph of Arimathea takes the initiative to bury Jesus, and some of his female disciples spy out where his tomb is in order to prepare his body for burial.
The female disciples get to the tomb early on the first day of the week only to discover that—wait for it—it's empty. Well, except for two otherworldly beings whose clothes are flashing forth lightning bolts. No big deal. Their message is simple, "He is not here, but has risen" (24:6). The messengers remind the women that Jesus told them that it was necessary for him to suffer and then be raised. It was all planned ahead of time—sneaky. The women inform the disciples, who think they are talking nonsense, but Peter checks the tomb out for himself.
Jesus—alive again, if you'd forgotten—then joins a man named Cleopas and another unnamed companion as they're traveling from Jerusalem to a near-by town called Emmaus. Sly guy that he is, Jesus keeps his identity hidden and explains to them how scripture foretold that the Messiah must suffer just as Jesus had. While they're eating, Cleopas and his companion suddenly recognize that it's Jesus, but just like that, Jesus disappears. Like the women, these guys rush back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples.
Meanwhile, Peter had also witnessed the resurrected Jesus, who finally appears to all of them. Before he ascends to heaven, he explains again how the scriptures themselves predicted that the Messiah must suffer and be raised. Turns out it was all meant to go down this way. The expectations set up in the birth narrative were entirely accurate, but they are fulfilled in this very strange, even backwards sort of way, just as the scriptures say.
The resurrected Jesus then orders his disciples to go to all of the nations. They should carry forth his message of forgiveness and repentance, starting from Jerusalem, where very soon they will be endowed with "power from on high" (24:49). Cut to black.