Teaching series from Luke

Introduction & Overview

Luke 1:1-4

Teaching t20250

Introduction

Read 1:1-4. Before we dive into the details of this work, let’s ask some important general questions.

Who wrote it?

The author does not identify himself; the title was added much later. The author also wrote Acts as a 2-volume work for “Theophilus” (see also Acts 1:1). In Acts, the “we” sections identify him as a companion of Paul who was with him during his Jerusalem and Roman imprisonments. By process of elimination (the author mentions most of Paul’s imprisonment companions in the third person), the best candidate is Luke the physician (Col. 4:14) and only Gentile author in the New Testament. Additional corroboration:

Early church writings are unanimous that Luke authored these two books. Irenaeus (around 180 AD) says, “ . . . Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by his teacher . . . ”[1]

The author’s description of physical conditions is more detailed than the other gospel authors, and uses medical terminology that was current among first-century physicians (EXAMPLE: “great fever” in Lk. 4:38 vs. “fever” in Mark 1:30)

Since Acts ends with Paul imprisoned in Rome about 60 AD, it was probably written then, which would make Luke a little earlier.

To whom was it written?

Luke wrote his account to “most excellent Theophilus.” “Theophilus” means “lover of God” and is a fairly common name. “Most excellent” indicates that Theophilus is a man of official rank in the Roman world. Some speculate that he was Paul’s defense attorney, and that Luke was helping him prepare his defense brief for Paul’s trial as an insurrectionist. Or he may have been a wealthy Christian convert who served as Luke’s patron, subsidizing the research, writing and copying of his work. It was common for an author to dedicate such a work to his literary patron.

For what purpose was it written?

He says in 1:3-4 it was to write a carefully researched life of Jesus so that Theophilus (and probably other Gentile/Greek Christians and seekers) could be assured of the historical accuracy of what he (they) had been taught.

Luke is aware of the oral instruction of the apostles (v. 2) and of certain written accounts of Jesus’ life (v. 1), and evidently incorporated some of them into his own work. Of the 1149 verses in Luke, 350 verses come from MARK and 235 verses seem to come from a source that MATTHEW also used (“Q;” Logia).

He also did his own investigation (vs 3), which accounts for the 564 verses of unique material. Much of this information seems to have come from eye-witnesses (MARY: 2:19, 51; ELIZABETH; etc.).

Why does historical accuracy have to do with spirituality?

This raises an important issue: the relationship between spirituality and history. Most people today see little or no connection between these two things—history is dry academia, totally separate from spiritual truth and experience. But Luke thinks it is very important that what Theophilus believes about spiritual things (Jesus in this case) is connected to historical events that actually happened. Why is this so important?

Because God bestows spiritual blessing through historical events. The goal of other religions is to escape from or get beyond history, but the God of the Bible acts in history to save his people. He acted through Moses to deliver his people from Egypt, and he acted through Jesus to deliver us from the guilt of our sins. This is one of his beefs with Israel for worshipping the other gods of Canaan—they don’t actually do anything in history. Likewise, the Greek and Roman gods were not involved in history, as is the case with Eastern religions. Something similar is popular today in the NEW AGE/POSTMODERN notion that our beliefs create reality.

According to the Bible, spiritual blessings are tied to and flow from what God did in history through Jesus. If it didn't happen in history, there are no benefits to be had!! Faith in Christ is only as good as what Jesus has actually done in history.

Imagine going to the bank and trying to draw $50,000 from your account when you have only deposited $500. When you insist that you should be allowed to draw $50,000, the teller asks you to document your deposits of that much money. How would the bank officer respond if you said it doesn't really matter whether you actually deposited it or not, as long as you believe you have?

A counselor (or liberal theologian) may say, ‘"What does it matter whether Jesus actually rose from the dead? If believing in him gives you relief from your guilt feelings, then Christianity works for you."

Compare this to what Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:14-19 (read). Do you see his point? Unless Jesus was actually resurrected in history, God’s forgiveness for our sins is not available and our faith is useless. In other words, our faith doesn’t create spiritual blessing; it can only appropriate spiritual blessing that God has granted through historical events. This is why Old Covenant believers didn’t go to heaven (Lk. 16:22; 1 Pet. 4:6) or have the Holy Spirit (Jn. 7:39).

Because historical accuracy provides a rational basis for belief in Christianity’s spiritual truth claims. “Jesus loves me, this I know—for the Bible tells me so.” But why should trust what the Bible says? Biblical faith is not choosing to believe in spite of the evidence (gullibility); it is choosing to believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior because of the evidence. And the main kind of evidence is historical. There are two such kinds of historical evidence.

Luke interweaves his claims about Jesus with references to people, places, times and events that we can verify or falsify from historical study.

For example, he tells us in Lk. 3:1-2 when John the Baptist began his ministry (read). This is a statement that can be tested. If we find that these people held different offices and/or never ruled concurrently, how confident can we be about Luke’s claims about Jesus? But it turns out that he is correct, after all. Every one of these people (except for Zacharias) are mentioned in extra-biblical sources, and their terms of office harmonize to date this at 26-29 AD.

During the late 1800’s, a renowned archeologist—Sir William Ramsay—was convinced that Luke was fundamentally untrustworthy because of (among other things) his assertion that Sergius Paulus had been proconsul of Cyprus (Acts 13:7). He excavated the Roman government building and discovered Sergius Paulus’ name on the cornerstone! This discovery began a systematic archeological investigation of Luke’s historical references. Here was his verdict at the end of his research: “Luke’s historicity is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness . . . Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy . . . this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”[2]

Ramsay didn’t stop there—he became a Christian as a result of this research. Why? Because if Luke was accurate in things he could be tested on, he can probably be trusted in the things he can’t be tested on.

Biblical prophecy provides even greater evidence for the validity of its spiritual truth-claims. These are historical predictions of key people and events, with sufficient detail and time between the prediction and its fulfillment to test. The point is obvious: if this book can predict the future with this kind of accuracy, this evidence of its divine authorship provides an adequate basis for us to trust what it says about God, Jesus Christ, salvation, etc.

As we go through Luke, you will see him referring to specific Old Testament predictions fulfilled by Jesus and others. For example, in Lk. 1:55, 73, he refers to Jesus’ coming as the fulfillment of a promise God made to Abraham 2100 years earlier. This Messianic promise became incredibly detailed, including his detailed ancestry, place of birth, time and manner of death, etc.

This study goes way beyond our scope and time here—but if you’re interested in taking a closer look, pick up Christianity, The Faith That Makes Sense.

It is a striking and well-concealed fact that the other so-called “scriptures” are completely lacking in this area. They either don’t deal with history at all (EASTERN RELIGIONS), or they are clearly falsifiable, [3] or their predictions are false or hopelessly vague.

Because historical evaluation exposes many counterfeit versions of Christianity. Jesus himself predicted that falsehood about him would abound between his first and second comings. V. 4 hints at the presence of bogus information about Jesus even during this early time. And even today, books like the so-called “Gospel of Thomas” present a NEW AGE-type Jesus that many say is the truth about him. How can we know the difference between authentic and perverted accounts of Jesus’ life and mission?

Many of these works were composed much later and are obviously legendary in their “historical” material.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas dates from the middle of the third century. It records various alleged incidents in Jesus' early childhood. For example, Jesus molds clay pigeons on the Sabbath. When people object to this, he claps his hands and the pigeons fly away. When another child disperses a pool of water Jesus made, Jesus calls him an insolent, godless dunderhead and paralyzes him. When another child bumps into his shoulder, Jesus becomes exasperated and kills the child by cursing him. When his parents complain about this to Joseph, Jesus smites them blind.Introduction

This morning we are going to begin a study of the third book in the New Testament—the gospel of Luke.  Before beginning his narrative, the author gives us a prologue.  Let’s read it and answer some general questions this week that will help us get the most out of this wonderful book.  Read 1:1-4 (NIV).

What kind of writing is this book?  It is obviously a historical narrative—an account of certain noteworthy events (1:1).  In fact, though it’s not apparent from 1:1-4, this book is the first half of a 2-part work composed by this author for the same person (read Acts 1:1).  The first half (Luke) is about the life and ministry of Jesus (“all that Jesus began to do and teach”); the second half (Acts) is about the beginning of the early Christian movement—how the resurrected Jesus continued to work through his followers to spread the message.

In fact, when you read these 2 accounts together, it becomes clear how carefully the author has crafted them.  Luke begins with the birth of Jesus in the context of Roman rule. He then follows Jesus as he travels from Galilee through Samaria to Judea and finally Jerusalem—where the decisive events of Jesus’ death and resurrection are recorded.  Acts begins in Jerusalem with Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and then traces the growth of the early Christian movement outward from Jerusalem through Judea and Samaria, and throughout the Gentile world—ending with Paul proclaiming Jesus in Rome.

Who wrote this book?  The author does not identify himself, which was not unusual for ancient historians.  But we can be almost positive that the title in your Bibles correct—that the author of this 2-part history is Luke, who was a physician and co-worker with the apostle Paul.  The writings of very early Christian leaders are unanimous in this regard. This statement from Irenaeus (around 180 AD) is typical: “...Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by his teacher...”   In addition to this unanimous external evidence, there is also internal evidence corroborating Luke as the author (“we” sections in Acts; more technical about medical conditions).

Where did he get his information?  Luke is up front that he was not one of the original followers of Jesus, but he wants to assure us that his information is accurate.  The substance of his account comes from eye-witnesses (1:2)—the very best source of information about historical events—especially when many of these eye-witnesses suffered persecution and even death for their testimony.  Luke also implies that he drew from other written accounts (1:1).  This becomes clear when you study Luke carefully and compare it to Matthew and Mark.  Of the 1149 verses in Luke, 350 verses come from MARK and 235 verses seem to come from a source that MATTHEW also used (“Q;” Logia).  The remaining 564 verses contain material unique to Luke’s gospel (e.g., birth account; parables)—the result of his own additional research and interviews with other eye-witness (e.g., Mary & Elizabeth?).  The result is a work that is full of historical references (historical figures; chronological references; places; references to other historical events) that have been scrutinized by skeptical scholars and verified as reliable history.

Why did he write this book?  Although Luke’s work is a masterpiece of historical research, he was not writing as a detached scholar.  Rather, he wrote as committed follower of Jesus to help another person become an informed follower of Jesus.  “Theophilus” means literally “lover of God,” and “most excellent” probably means that he was a Roman official.  1:4 also says that Theophilus had already received some oral instruction about Jesus.  The best guess is that Theophilus was a Roman seeker or new Christian who served as Luke’s literary patron, financing this work so that he and many others could have a reliable written account of Jesus’ life and the rapidly growing movement of his followers.  Even then (as today) there were inaccurate versions of Jesus being circulated (EXAMPLES)—and this is why Luke and the other three gospels are so important.  They provide a first-century, eye-witness account of the real Jesus—unlike the other so-called “gospels” of Thomas, Judas, etc. (2nd-4th century forgeries).

Jesus is the true Savior of humanity

Now that we know why Luke can be trusted in his account of Jesus, what kind of portrait of Jesus does he draw?  Like the other three gospel authors, Luke selected his material to highlight different aspects of the same Jesus (e.g., Matthew – Israel’s predicted Messiah; Mark – the Suffering Servant; John – God-Incarnate).  Luke focuses on Jesus as the true Savior of all humanity.  As a Roman official, Theophilus would have been taught that Caesar Augustus was the savior of the world—but Luke tells him that Jesus, not Caesar, is the true Savior of humanity.

“Savior” is Luke’s distinctive title for Jesus.  The Greek words for “savior” and “save” and “salvation” occur 8 times in Luke and 9 times in Acts—compared to none for the synoptic gospels. 

The angel Gabriel tells Mary to name her son “Jesus,” which means “God’s salvation” (1:31).  Mary responds by “exulting in God my Savior” (1:47).  Zacharias prophesies that he will “give his people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God” (1:77,78).  The angel announces to the shepherds: “Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (2:11).  When Simeon holds the baby Jesus, he prays: “My eyes have seen your salvation” (2:30).

19:10 arguably provides a one-verse summary of this entire work: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which is lost.”

Luke insists that Jesus is not merely a prophet who speaks God’s message, nor merely a moral model for us to imitate.  And he is certainly not a guru who shows us how to discover the divinity within us!  Saviors rescue dying people, and Jesus is God’s one and only Savior—the One sent to rescue a humanity that is so lost, broken and guilty that it is doomed without him.  God loves us so much that he initiated the ultimate rescue operation.  He entered the human race through Jesus and solved the core problem by dying on the cross for our sins.  The key question, according to Luke, is: Are you willing to humble yourself to admit that you need a Savior, or will you in your pride reject the Savior who loves you?

Jesus is a radically inclusive & subversive Savior

Luke lived in a world (much like our own) in which people of privilege used their power to marginalize those who were different from them.  Roman society was dominated by wealthy Greco-Roman men, and Jewish society was dominated by wealthy and religious Jewish men.  Those outside the normal power structures—the racially/ethnically different, the poor, the women and the irreligious—were tolerated at best and exploited and rejected at worst.  Against this backdrop of human wickedness, Luke portrays Jesus as a radically inclusive, even subversive Savior.  Jesus reaches out to everyone (after all, Theophilus is a male Roman official!), Jesus is able to save all who take his hand—but he reaches out especially to those who are marginalized by the powerful.  So Luke arranges his material to highlight Jesus’ radical, subversive inclusiveness.  FOR EXAMPLE:

Luke records Jesus’ love for his fellow-Jews, but he emphasizes Jesus’ love for ethnic/racial outcasts by focusing on Samaritans—the half-breeds that most Jews hated.

Everyone is familiar with the phrase “Good Samaritan”—and many know that it refers to Jesus’ parable that is recorded only in Lk.10:23-37.  What most people don’t know is that by making the Samaritan the good-neighbor hero of his story, he was saying that Samaritans who follow him in serving the needy were more godly than Jewish priest who didn’t.  This was super radical and subversive—like making an African-American the hero to a KKK audience.

Or how about the fact that only Luke records Jesus’ healing of ten lepers (17:11-19), in which only one of the ten (a Samaritan) turned back to thank Jesus, while the other nine (presumably Jews) went their ways? 

Luke records Jesus’ love for men, but he emphasizes Jesus’ for women in many ways.

The birth of Jesus is told from the perspectives of Elizabeth and Mary.  Luke focuses on the great honor and privilege these two women had by bearing John and Jesus, he highlights their heroic faith and the joy they experienced in being agents of God’s redemptive plan.

He emphasizes the essential equality of women with men in God’s kingdom by reporting the prophetess Anna along with her male counterpart Simeon as they greet the baby Jesus (2:25-38), and by narrating how Jesus healed both a man and a woman of their crippling diseases on different Sabbaths (13:10-17; 14:1-6).

Only Luke tells us that Jesus’ ministry was funded in-part by several wealthy women who also traveled with him as disciples (8:1-3).

Against the cultural norms of his day, Luke reports that Jesus defends his welcome of a harlot who thanked him for forgiving her (7:36-50), and that he defends Mary’s right to seat at his feet as a student/disciple instead of “taking her place in the kitchen” (10:38-42).

Luke records Jesus’ love for the rich (e.g., Zaccheus), but he emphasizes Jesus’ love for the poor

Only Luke records Jesus’ claim in Nazareth that he is the Messiah who has “come to preach the gospel to the poor” (4:18).

Only Luke records the parables in that emphasize God’s special concern for the sick and dispossessed who are unable to help themselves or return favors done to them (14:7-24).

Only Luke tells the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (16:19-31), in which the poor and destitute Lazarus winds up in heaven, which the rich and self-sufficient rich man winds up in hell.

Finally, while Luke records Jesus’ love for religiously observant “good” people, he delights in emphasizing Jesus’ love for notorious sinners.

The parable of the prodigal son (15:11-32) shows God’s outrageous welcome of repentant people who have violated major religious norms (parental disrespect; sexual immorality; swine-herding)—while hinting that loyal, “good” are often far from God’s heart.

Luke highlights Jesus’ love for tax-collectors—even though Romans called them “wild beasts in human form” and Jewish rabbis taught that it was impossible for them to repent or that if they did, the proof would be that that drooped dead on the spot!  But Luke reports Jesus going to their parties, accepting their dinner-invitations, and welcoming them as they come out in droves to hear him teach.  He also makes the heroes of two of his unique stories (18:9-14; 19:1-10).

Luke’s point is that no one is a lost cause to Jesus.  No matter how hated or rejected or sinful or irreligious you have been, Jesus loves you, he is willing to forgive you, and he can give you a significant life in his service.  He welcomes the “nobodies” of this world just as much as the “somebodies”—and he calls on his followers to have the same attitude.  If you follow Jesus, he will expose your prejudices and lead you to initiate involvement with people that you would never have associated with!  That’s what he’s doing with this church—thrusting us out from our middle-class suburban backgrounds to share Jesus’ love with people from very different racial and socio-economic and religious and moral backgrounds.  Are you willing to share Jesus’ love with those who are different than you?

1 Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), p. 143.

2 Adversus haereses,  III. 1

3 “Luke’s historicity is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness . . . Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy . . . this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”  Sir William Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953). p. 222.

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