Tonight I’ll start a series here that I’ve been running with my youth for a number of weeks for Bible study. For those of you who have heard these before, I’m sure you’ll be edified through hearing it again; and also because they’ll run a little differently I hope by God’s grace you’ll learn a lot.
When I asked our young people what they’d like to learn about in Bible study, one of the responses was that they would like to learn about the life of Jesus. So I began to go through the book of Luke with them. I entitled the series ‘Luking at Jesus’. I thought it was quite punny, but some who didn’t hear the background to it thought it was bad English. So now that you’re on the inside scoop, I can tell you that this series will be called, informally, Luking at Jesus.
For the most part, these messages will have a simple format we’ll follow each week. For the first part of the message I’ll go through the text, explain some important and interesting aspects of it, and then I’ll focus on one or two points to preach about.
Now that we’re all together, I want to start by giving you a little background into the gospel of Luke. Let me give you a bit of a pop-quiz. I’ll ask a series of true or false questions. If you think that the statement is true, please raise your hand. If you think it is false, you can leave your hand down. Everyone together?
One of the twelve disciples…(F)
An eyewitness of Jesus’ life…(F)
Luke was a Gentile – that means he wasn’t a Jew – who probably came to know about Jesus and became a follower of the Way sometime after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Purpose of Writing
So why did this Gentile Christian begin to write this letter? And how did it come to be one of the four books of our gospels? Surely it would make more sense to have a gospel of James, a gospel of Peter, a gospel of Andrew, rather than a gospel of Luke.
Well Luke is peculiar, because Luke wrote as a thoroughly capable journalist. Luke was a doctor, and probably had some well-to-do clients and friends, including this one called Theophilus. When Luke heard about all that Jesus had done and taught, he became a Christian. Theophilus too had heard about all that Jesus had done and taught, and he too became a Christian.
But Luke wasn’t content with hearing round-about-stories about Jesus. Luke was determined to know the true and complete story of who Jesus was – as we should be!
So led by both a hunger to know more about the Lord as well as led by the Holy Spirit, he decided to find out for himself all about who Jesus was.
And aren’t we grateful that he did! He lived in a time when the apostles were still alive and around, as well as Jesus’ mother and siblings, maybe uncles and aunts, old classmates, people that Luke could go to and get first-hand accounts of Jesus.
This is why we have some of the most personal and intimate details of Jesus’ life in this gospel. Luke even writes a number of times that what happened to Jesus around the early part of his life, Mary ‘stored all these things in her heart’. That shows that Luke must have spoken even to Mary.
So while Luke was on one hand inspired supernaturally by the Holy Spirit to write, he was also on the other hand vigilant in his research that what he would write was true.
Not only was Luke determined to know the true and complete story of who Jesus was, but he was also determined to share that knowledge with others.
So while he was doing a lifetime of researching, Theophilus was probably one of his benefactors, a man who sponsored his travels and living. And to this Theophilus Luke wrote this letter to give his account. Luke would later write again to Theophilus and tell the story of the birth and growth of the Church. The book of Luke ends where the book of Acts picks up, and Acts begins saying, “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven...”
Some of the other things I want to speak to you about before we begin are the themes of the book, and then its structure.
There are four main ideas which come up again and again in the book of Luke. These are:
God is working out His plan (‘It is necessary’ – that Jesus be in his Father’s house, that he preach the good news of the kingdom to many cities, that he perish in Jerusalem, that he stay in Zacchaeus’s house, and, especially, that he die on the cross)
Jesus came to save people (key thematic verse is Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”)
God’s salvation is for the Gentiles too (but by no means ignoring the Jews; Luke’s genealogy traces back to Adam rather than Abraham; Jesus teaches the Nazareth synagogue that God’s grace came to the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian, etc)
Jesus cares for the outcasts (Luke shows Jesus concern for the women, the children, the poor, the ‘sinners’ like tax-collectors and shepherds. So he shows us that Jesus loved and cared for the weak, the sick, the hurting, the small, the poor, and called his followers to do the same. If that ever describes any part of you, this book is going to speak to you)
One last point as we prepare to go into the book of Luke, let’s take a glance at its structure so you know where we’re going:
Chap 1-3 describes Jesus’ birth, boyhood, baptism, genealogical descent
Chap 4-9 tells about Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing in Galilee (Book’s turning point is Ch 9 with these words: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem”; Luke emphasises movement towards Jerusalem, while Acts emphasises movement out to the rest of the world)
Chap 10-19 follows Jesus’ course toward Jerusalem (Here Luke also recounts Jesus’ teachings about being a disciple and about what he was going to do in 1Jerusalem)
Chap 19-21 recounts Jesus’ teachings in Jerusalem
Chap 22 recounts Jesus’ arrest
Chap 23 recounts Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and burial
Chap 24 recounts Jesus’ resurrection, appearances, and ascension
Right, all of that was introduction to the message, now let me share with you the one point from the first few verses of Luke that really I felt impressed on my heart. If you haven’t yet turned there, please turn with me to Luke 1. We’re going to be looking at the first four verses tonight.
1Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
I want to focus on that last phrase: so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
There is a place in the Christian walk, and I don’t know if you’ve reached this place yet, there is a place in the Christian walk that you reach where you can no longer tip-toe around life and faith trying not to offend either God or the world, a place where you need to take a stand for either one or the other.
Think about these times. You’ve been working for a company for 5 years, and you’ve risen through the ranks. Now the boss calls you into the office and gives you the good news that he has in mind to promote you to a high position. Great! And then he asks you to do some shady dealing. You know that if you compromise just a little you’ll double your salary; and if you don’t you’ll lose your job, maybe even lose your home, kids will have to move to a cheaper school, and you don’t know where you’ll find another job as good as this one. What do you do?
Maybe you’ve had a friend for many years, and she’s your best friend. You’ve come to faith in Jesus, and she hasn’t really but she’s a good person and cares so much about you. She starts messing around with a guy she’s not married to and suddenly you’re faced with this dilemma. You know that if you compromise just a little and leave her to do her own thing you won’t lose your friendship; and if you tell her that what she’s doing is wrong she might never speak to you again. What do you do?
Theophilus also had some difficult decisions to face as he’s got to reconcile his faith with his position. He’s a wealthy and powerful man in a corrupt and wicked society, and he follows Jesus. As he looks ahead to the future he is facing times when he will be required by law or by society to compromise on Jesus’ commands if he wants to maintain his position. What will he do when a political partner requires him to meet to offer sacrifices to the local deity? What will he do when a business partner wants to do some shady dealings?
It would seem from this passage that Theophilus had heard some of the things of Jesus and had come to a saving faith in Him. Now when someone begins his or her journey with the Lord, knowing a little about Jesus is sufficient. But as God shows us more and more of our sinfulness, and requires us to abandon our comfortable past – that is, if we choose to continue in obedience – it requires more than a little bit of ‘Christianese’ to go on.
In a time like this you can’t sit on the fence. You have to take a stand either for God or for the world. What will you do? It’s at times like these that we need to be certain that God’s word is true, or else we’ll have nothing to stand on. There have been times in my life where every part of me wanted to do something sinful, and other times in my life where every part of me didn’t want to do something I knew God wanted me to do, and at those times I had really had to stand by saying, ‘This is what God’s word says, and I am absolutely convinced that it is true and will hold me up in this storm.’ And I tell you what – it has! Every single time.
You see, it’s important to know that God’s word is true.
Let me give you another illustration.
Let’s say that you’ve been out of contact with your granddad for many years, and one day he falls sick rapidly. About to die, he posts you some documents. You are sad to hear that he’s passed away, and you hear the news of his passing before the documents arrive. Old friends come forward and say that he’s left all of his vast estate to them. But when you open the envelope you discover that it’s his last will and testament – written and signed in the presence of his lawyer – and in the will he leaves all his vast fortune to you.
Now these friends come forward, they talk to you privately and they declare it publicly, even having it published in newspapers that this huge fortune has gone to them.
So what do you do? Do you sit back and allow them to take what they want, live on your Granddad’s old estate, wasting his fortune on round-the-world tours and gambling?
No of course not, that would be ridiculous. You know that the document in your hand is legal and binding, so you go to the judge and step confidently into your inheritance. You don’t need to fight, you don’t need to whine, you don’t need to have newspapers report it, you simply need to stand assuredly in the confidence that what is written will certainly come to you.
We need that in this life. We need that certainty anchored in our hearts regarding the word of God, that what we have been taught about Jesus is certainly true. That’s why Luke wrote this gospel to Theophilus, and to us, that we might know with certainty that what is written in this book IS TRUE.
One last story to close off. It wasn’t that long ago, a couple of months maybe, when I was tested with this. I was going through Luke and I read that God sent Jesus to “rescue us from the hand of our enemies and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days”. At the time I was really going through a tough spiritual battle, one of those times when my old self and my new self were warring and my life was the battlefield. I can’t tell you how close my old self was to winning. And I read those verses, and cried out to God saying, ‘This is what You promised, and I need You to keep this promise in me right now. If You don’t enable me to serve you righteously, then I will fall. But keep Your promise to me.” I stood on God’s Word, and He came through for me thoroughly and immediately.
In our day-to-day lives we need to know the certainty of what we’ve been taught so that we can stand confidently on God’s word. If we don’t, we’ll fall. But if we do, God won’t let us fall.