This morning we are beginning a fresh study in the Gospel of Luke. It has long been my desire to study our Lord Jesus’ life and only now has God’s leading taken me in this direction, and I am excited. I’ve been steeping myself increasingly in the third gospel with pleasure, allowing it’s words and accounts to wash over me in it’s ebb and flow. This morning I invite you into a fantastic faith building journey through the gospel of Luke.
Begin at the Beginning
Let’s begin with the first four verses of Luke, which in some respects is nothing more than an introduction but it also serves as an important statement of purpose.
Imagine receiving a scroll of some considerable length, fortunately it’s all rolled up so you begin by unraveling the first few inches just to see what’s in it. In fact you would be hoping that you’ll be able to figure it out in the first few inches or else it becomes a massive undertaking to unroll and re-roll the scroll to peruse the whole thing just to figure out what it was about. Not many would pick up a featureless book and read through several chapters to figure out it’s purpose. Fortunately for us, books have dust jackets, and scrolls like the one that Dr. Luke wrote begin with a quick introduction telling you what you can expect as you go through it.
Luke’s singular purpose is to reassure his reader of the exact truth of what he had been taught.
The Source of the gospel message
For starters, Luke sets his writing up against the many different accounts that were available in that day. Pay attention to what he lists here because it points to the trustworthiness of the gospel message.
He mentions three distinct sources, First he says that there are many compiled accounts out there – lots of people were writing up stories about Jesus. And pay careful attention to where he says these compiled accounts were coming from. People were compiling them from what had been handed down to them from none other than the eyewitnesses.
That’s the second source Luke is going to use, the eyewitness accounts from the apostles themselves. We know he’s talking about the apostles because he says the eyewitnesses and the servants of the word. It was the disciples as well as others like the Apostle Paul and others who were eyewitnesses of Jesus, his works and his death, burial and resurrection.
Don’t miss the value of these eyewitnesses – and don’t miss that Luke counts himself very close to them when he mentions that these things were accomplished among them – remember that the events Luke is writing about are all contemporary to him.
He’s not writing as an historian looking back over history. This is nothing like the accounts of Church reformer, Martin Luther’s life – of which there are perhaps hundreds of books. This is far more like the multiplied biographies of Ronald Reagan in the sense that there are still loads of people alive today who personally knew president Reagan, they heard him talk – ate dinner with him and discussed politics with him. That means they are alive today to verify or dispute what shows up in his biographies.
When Luke wrote his gospel loads of people who had heard Jesus, ate with Jesus and been rebuked by Jesus were still around. Just as you would expect a modern biography of Ronald Reagan to be full of more verifiable facts than a biography of Martin Luther. Because Luke was writing as a contemporary to contemporaries of Jesus we know that this account of Jesus’ life is dead on accurate.
I think Luke had one more source of information though that he doesn’t specifically mention – though he alludes to it: Interviews. Luke’s gospel is stuffed full of personal notations, such as Mary Treasuring things up in her heart. I believe that clearly points to Luke sitting down with Mary and listening to her. I’m convinced that when Luke says he has researched everything thoroughly that he is using all three of these sources.
He has a collection of writings from other Christians, most likely that included Matthew and Mark’s gospels since they were written earlier. Indeed there is much overlap between the first three gospels. He also had the personal experience and the interviews of the apostles and other eyewitnesses.
All of this points to the reliability of Luke’s gospel. Indeed we do find as we investigate Luke’s style that everything from his excellent grammar to his multiplied chronological references consistently demonstrate that the gospel of Luke is a reliable document regarding the life of Jesus, God’s plan of salvation and the birth and with the addition of Acts, the growth of the church.
The Purpose of the Gospel A Focus on God’s work
The gospel of Luke has a singular purpose described in verse 4: (Luke 1:4) that we may know the certainty of what we’ve been taught. The reason for that is for our assurance. But what are we being assured of? Not merely facts about the life of Jesus, although the gospel of Luke is full of them.
In verse 1, the NIV get’s the translation right when it describes Luke’s purpose as describing “the things that have been fulfilled among us.” The word “fulfilled” points very specifically to the work of God coming to completion. For Luke, the events he is about to write are not merely history and not merely biography – they are a factual representation of what God has accomplished in history through and by Jesus of Nazareth.
With all kinds of other information out there – Luke saw a world filled with verbal information, written information and eyewitnesses. It was no more difficult in those days as in ours for verbal communication to become corrupted, and if it’s written down for that corruption to prosper. I’ve seen too many books make reference to faulty information in other books without the authors checking into it. But looking there in verse 3 we find out that Luke is a researcher with integrity.
The apostle Peter talks about the inspired writers of scripture being “carried along” (2 Peter 1:21 NIV) by the Holy Spirit the way the wind moves a sailboat. He (God the Spirit) directed their lives and personalities so that the words which Isaiah, Moses, Paul, John, James and the rest wrote the words of God with the words of men. When you consider the vast breadth of how God inspired the writers of scripture it is intriguing. Moses wrote dictation, history, journals, and copied the work of others who had long since passed. Paul wrote letters responding to specific problems, King David drafted songs born out of his own heartbreak and passion for the things of God.
But Luke is fairly unique among them. Luke is a researcher, a scholar. As a doctor he is used to technical writing, he is accustomed to the scientific writing and histories (historiography) of his day as well as the biographies of famous men. His narrative here is not explicitly either – his narrative is a persuasive text born out of painstaking research.
When I first began to struggle and pray over the question of which of the four gospels to preach through first – Luke rose to the surface because in this, I see him as a kindred soul. I love the rigors of research and the multiple historical comments made throughout Luke placed him in the lead over John’s Theology, Matthew’s Biblicity (nice word eh?) and Mark’s fast paced gospel.
The Focus of the gospel: to assure
For Luke, an “orderly account” is concerned above all with persuasion. We tend to think of an orderly account as something that is purely chronological from beginning to end, but that’s part of the western mindset – saturated with wristwatches and atomic clocks. This isn’t to say that the actual order of events wasn’t important to Luke but that overall it takes a backseat to his goal of convincing Theophilus (and us) of the certainty of the message. If presenting events in a different order accomplishes that task better, than Luke does that. Because his whole goal is to reassure you of the truth, in uncertain times.
Each of the four gospels has it’s own particular flavor. Matthew emphasizes the Kingship of Christ, Mark the activity of Christ, John the Deity of Christ and some say Luke emphasizes the Humanity of Christ. Those are oversimplifications but they are more or less accurate.
Each author also writes for various audiences. Matthew appears to write more to Jews, Mark more to gentiles, John more or less to everyone – and Luke – he writes to Christians; more specifically Luke addresses his writings to someone simply called “Theophilus”.
Theophilus is simply a Greek word that means “friend of God” or “Lover of God” or perhaps taken objectively means “Loved by God”. Whatever it’s meaning it’s just a man’s name. But I want you to internalize it as a lover of God yourselves. And I want you to gain from what he says to Theophilus as something he is saying to you and to me.
He’s writing to Theophilus who Luke includes when he says the gospel was “handed down to …” He includes Theophilus as one who has already “been taught” about Christ. And his end goal for Theophilus is his end goal for us – that we might know the exact truth about the things we have been taught. Most of you have been brought up in church, you’ve heard the gospel while still wearing diapers. Even so there are times in our lives when we need to be reassured.
Luke’s gospel is a Christian’s gospel – it was written so that believers might believe. It was written to bolster your faith in a time when your faith is increasingly under attack. And more importantly it was written to clarify the truth for you. The gospel of Luke has a singular purpose: that we may know the certainty of what we’ve been taught.
We live in an age of great doubt, skepticism and cynicism. And we ourselves are prone to the same. In large measure, not much has changed. As Paul stood once in the Areopagus and proclaimed Christ to a group of men who loved nothing more than to listen to the latest ideas, so we too live in a world where everyone, including ourselves are often looking for something new to entertain us for awhile.
But this constant thirst for new entertainment or new information can leave us wanting for something that truly satisfies. Someone who is thirsty can drink a soda or yes even a cup of coffee; both are liquids but in order to truly satisfy the body – water does the job much better. With our constant thirst for something new, we can deaden the pangs by turning up the volume on the TV or we can open our hearts and minds to something that truly satisfies. Luke promises that amid a collection of competing histories of Jesus that his will satisfy our certainty and will build our faith.
Like Luke before me, I am desperate that you and I will be assured of all that we have heard concerning Jesus, and God’s work of salvation in us through Him.