A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path, and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up.
The final editors of the New Testament separated the Gospel According to Luke and Acts of the Apostles, which were originally written by the same author in a single two-volume work. The Gospel of Luke is the unit’s first half and narrates the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The second half, which contains Acts of the Apostles, is one of the first works to chronicle church history, tracing events from the resurrection of Jesus to the time when the apostle Paul is traveling and proclaiming the Gospel “with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31). Luke’s Gospel features an introductory prologue typical of a historian in antiquity. He writes, “I too, decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (1:3–4). Luke’s orderly account relies on eyewitnesses of Jesus and the earliest disciples, though he could not have been an eyewitness himself. The Gospel of Luke dates from between 75 and 85 a.d., around the same time as Matthew. The author relies most likely on the Gospel of Mark and other stories circulating orally during his lifetime. Luke’s Greek is the polished work of a gifted literary artist, indicating that Luke was a cultivated, well-educated man.
After his introduction, Luke lays out, in two chapters, the parallel miraculous births of Jesus of Nazareth and the man who becomes his prophet, John the Baptist. The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah, telling him that his wife Elizabeth, formerly barren, is pregnant. Soon afterward, Gabriel appears to Elizabeth’s relative, the virgin Mary, who is betrothed to Joseph, telling her that she too is going to give birth to a child by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Mary visits Elizabeth, and Elizabeth prophesies that Mary will be “the mother of my Lord” (1:43). Mary, rejoicing, utters the prayer now known as the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord” (1:46). John is born, and his father, Zechariah—who had been struck mute for the duration of the pregnancy as a punishment for his lack of belief in Gabriel’s prophecy—utters a prayer, the Benedictus: “Blessed be the Lord, God of Israel . . .” (1:68). Mary and Joseph travel from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem to partake in a census, and there, in a manger, Jesus is born. When Jesus is presented at the temple, where all firstborn males are brought, two Jewish prophets, Simeon and Anna, recognize the sanctity of the child. As yet, however, nobody realizes his true significance. When Mary finds the adolescent Jesus sitting in the temple among the sages, she does not understand his remark, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:49).
Jesus grows to maturity and is baptized in the desert of Judea by John the Baptist, who has begun his advocacy of baptismal repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and prophesies the advent of Jesus. John, however, is soon imprisoned by Herod Antipas, the ruler of the northern Galilee region. After Jesus’s baptism, Luke gives Jesus’s genealogy, stretching back to the first man, Adam, who is said to be “son of God” (3:38). We are told of Satan unsuccessfully testing Jesus for forty days in the wilderness. Returning from the wilderness, Jesus begins his ministry. He is rejected in his hometown of Nazareth and takes to wandering throughout Galilee, where he works many miracles, including the exorcism of a demoniac and many other cures. He works a miracle enabling Simon Peter, a fisherman, to catch many fish, and thereby attracts Simon Peter, as well as James and John, the sons of Zebedee, as his first apostles. Later, these three apostles are joined by nine others. In this first stage of his ministry, Jesus also begins to encounter opposition from the Pharisees, who question his adherence to traditional Jewish laws governing Sabbath observance, fasting, and consorting with sinners. Despite this opposition, his fame grows, and he attracts a great crowd to whom he delivers a shorter version of Matthew’s great Sermon on the Mount, telling his followers to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (6:27).
Jesus goes to Capernaum, where he cures the servant of a Roman centurion and restores the son of a widow to life. When John the Baptist, imprisoned, sends messengers to ask Jesus who he is, Jesus responds only by pointing out the many miracles he has worked. Jesus commends John the Baptist’s ministry and laments the fact that his contemporaries have refused to listen to John and to Jesus himself. Jesus’s travels continue as he preaches and works miracles. Accepting the ministrations of a wicked woman, Jesus shows that he forgives even the most wretched of sinners. He explains in a parable that the seed of the word of God will only sprout in noble and generous hearts, and that the true family of Jesus is not his mother and siblings, but those who hear the word of God. Among his miracles, he calms a storm; cures a man possessed by a demon, and a woman with a hemorrhage; and revives the daughter of Jairus. Jesus sends the Twelve Apostles out to preach the Gospel and to cure illness. On their return, Jesus is swarmed by people eager to hear his preaching. He works the miracle of the loaves and fish for them, multiplying scant food to feed 5,000 people. When he questions the faith of his apostles, asking, “Who do you say that I am?”, Peter replies, “The Messiah of God” (9:20). Immediately after this event, Jesus gives the first of his three prophecies of the Passion, during which he predicts that he will be executed and resurrected. A set of brief spiritual messages ensues: following Christ means a total abnegation of the self; the kingdom of God is imminent; and humility is crucial, as “the least among all of you is the greatest” (9:48).
Jesus begins to travel toward Jerusalem. His journey is punctuated by a number of brief episodes. He appoints seventy missionaries to spread his word among all the nations, reminds a lawyer that love toward God and one’s neighbors is the most important virtue, and explains that all those who act kindly, regardless of whether they are Jew or Gentile, are neighbors. He tells his disciples how they should pray, teaching them the Lord’s Prayer and telling them that any sincere request will be granted by God. Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given you” (11:9). He cautions extensively against ostentation and against the accumulation of wealth. Responding to attacks from the Pharisees, he accuses them of hypocrisy, for caring more about the letter of the law than about “justice and the love of God” (11:42). Perhaps anticipating further attacks by disbelievers, he tells his followers to be bold in asserting the Gospel’s truth, and to be prepared for the unexpected final judgment. He works his way toward Jerusalem, delivering parables and lessons whose morals center around faith in God: the importance of repentance; the virtues of humility and kindness; the dangers of riches; the reward of total renunciation of the worldly in favor of the divine; and the ruin that will come to those who fail to listen to God’s word.
Arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus foresees the destruction of the great city as a punishment for its failure to recognize him. Driving away the merchants, Jesus begins to preach in the temple and wins the allegiance of the common people. He refuses to justify his authority to the chief priests and elders who oppose him. Chastising them, he compares them to wicked tenants, who will be evicted and punished by the Lord, the true owner of the temple. The Jewish leaders attempt to entrap Jesus verbally, but he subverts them while asserting the importance of obedience to secular authority and belief in the resurrection of the dead. Jesus prophesies that the mighty temple will be destroyed and speaks of the great torment that will accompany the Apocalypse, preceding the End of Days and the return of the Son of man, one of Christ’s titles.