Easter II: Luke 1:1-4
[Note: the audio for this sermon is available here.]
Today we begin the gospel of Luke, and we begin by considering who Luke was, how he came to write his gospel account, and the purpose for his writing.
Who Was Luke?
Luke is the author of two books of the Bible: Luke & Acts. He was a doctor, referred to by Paul as “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14). He was a close companion and fellow missionary with Paul, referenced in Paul’s letter to Philemon (Philem. 24), and Luke’s closeness to Paul is attested by the fact that he is the only companion left with Paul at the very end of his ministry (2 Tim. 4:11). Piecing things together, it seems likely that Peter and Paul were some of the principle contributors to Luke’s gospel (cf. Lk. 1:2). Likewise, Peter was likely the primary source of Acts 1-7, 10-12, while Paul seems to have been the primary source of Acts 8-9, 13-15. Luke seems to have personally joined Paul and Timothy just before they crossed the Aegean Sea into Macedonia (Acts 16:9-10).
A Word About Apostles & Scripture
Christians do not believe that just anybody can write or speak for God. And God does not leave us guessing as to who is authorized to write and speak for Him. Since the days of Moses, God assured His people that a true prophet who could speak in the name of God would be accompanied with signs (Dt. 18:20-22, Mk. 16:17-18). Apostles and prophets are two special offices/gifts that were given as the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20, Rev. 21:14). The extraordinary signs and wonders they performed were specifically the proof that Jesus had given them the authority to speak for Him directly. Many people wonder why people are not constantly witnessing extraordinary miracles today, and one of the simple answers is because the Bible is complete. If we wonder why God did not make miracles an ordinary part of the witness of the Church, it should be pointed out that miracles did not exempt the apostles from persecution and have never been a guarantee of faith (e.g. Lk. 16:29-31). In God’s wisdom, He laid the foundation of His Church through the apostles and prophets: their words were the exact instructions the Church needs and they are preserved for all time in the Bible (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Here, Luke is not writing on his own authority; he is writing on the authority of at least two apostles (Peter and Paul) who were both eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus and who performed miracles validating the quality of their testimony (cf. Acts 1:22).
A Word About Inspiration
Another thing to note about how the Bible was actually composed and compiled is revealed in how Luke explains his method: He has reliable sources who were eye witnesses and ministers of the word (cf. Acts 1:21-22), he is acquainted with other narratives of the gospel, he has followed everything personally for a while, and now he is writing down an orderly account (Lk. 1:2-3). In other words, the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture need not be accompanied with a vision, a mystical trance, babbling in strange tongues, or scrolls falling out of heaven. Though some of these things sometimes occurred, the Spirit frequently worked through and with the ordinary human practices and careful, thoughtful processes of a good historian or journalist. We might note that this is why New Testament scholarship has been greatly blessed by a better understanding of first century letter writing practices which included group authorship, secretaries, and a lengthier and more thoughtful writing process than we might ordinarily think. It’s likely that some analogous practices would have been part of Luke’s writing process as well.
A Word About Certainty For Theophilus
Theophilus was probably a really person, but the meaning of his name “lover of God” and his circumstances as a newer disciple of Jesus, put him in the place of all of Luke’s readers for all time. In the ancient church a person who was studying Christianity and considering whether it was true and whether to be baptized was called a “catechumen,” and this comes from the word used here to describe Theophilus having been “instructed.” A “catechism” is the basic teachings of the Christian faith. Luke says that he is writing so that Theophilus (and all other students of Jesus) may know the truth with certainty. The Bible does not teach that human beings may have absolute certainty. As human beings, our knowledge is finite and limited, but this does not mean that we cannot have true certainty. To have certainty as a human being is to have true knowledge without having exhaustive knowledge. What Luke introduces here is the biblical doctrine of coherence and rationality. Christianity is not an irrational religion nor is it rationalistic. Luke is setting out to “set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled” (Lk. 1:1). The “order” is the coherence, but the “narrative” and the “fulfillment” indicate the kind of coherence Luke is seeking to demonstrate. This coherence is the coherence of a good story, and like every good story there is foreshadowing, types, and fulfillment. This is not a story where absolutely anything can happen, but given the creativity of God and the major themes, there is a great deal of tension in the plot. Obviously, Luke is also indicating that the gospel is the kind of story that can both be understood and explained in an orderly way (Lk. 1:3).
As we begin the gospel of Luke, we come as students. Luke himself was a student, and he in turn shared what he learned with another student named Theophilus. But we must not pretend that we come as a blank slate, from a place of neutrality. You are being catechized from the moment of conception, and you continue to choose to be taught by certain teachers for your entire life. And you become like your teachers (Lk. 6:40). Who are you being taught by? Who are you becoming like?
Christianity is not a sectarian religion that requires you check your brain at the door and only ever read the Bible for the rest of your life. But many Christians have bought the lie that they use their brains at work and school and in the “the real world” and that the truth of Jesus is not really meant to be thoughtfully engaged. This can even happen in so-called academic communities, where certain assumptions are taken for granted but not really examined, questioned, or understood. Sometimes people grow up in the church are afraid to ask the big, challenging, or difficult questions about the faith. But be assured: Jesus is calling disciples, thoughtful students, to study the Word and the world so that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.