To Know The Truth
Scripture: Luke 1:1–4
To Know The TruthLuke 1:1-4
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Pastor Randy Smith
The date has arrived! As I've mentioned over the past few months, I've been looking forward to beginning a new Gospel with you. The entire Bible is inspired and all of it is profitable, but there is always something special to carefully study the actual words and life of Jesus Christ.
In 2002 we began the Gospel of John. In 2007 we began the Gospel of Matthew. Needless to say we are overdue. So today in 2017 we begin the Gospel of Luke. And today I would like to cover the prologue (we could say the introduction), chapter 1, verses 1-4.
I have divided this sermon into two parts. The first part will be some simple background information regarding this Gospel that will help us understand things better as we go forward. The second part will be an exposition of verses 1-4.
Let's begin with the first part which I am calling, "The Examination." Get your sermon notes out (if you have yet to do so) because we are going to take an examination. Let's see how much background you know about the Gospel of Luke. All the questions are True/False. I know it's been a while, but T for True and F for False.
- Most likely, the author of the Gospel was a man named Luke (T).
- Luke's parents came up with the name because of their admiration for Star Wars, Luke Skywalker (F).
- Luke was Jewish (F - he was a Gentile).
- Luke was one of the twelve disciples (F).
- Luke is third Gospel contained in our Bibles (T).
- Luke is broken down into 28 chapters (F - 24).
- Luke is the second longest of the four Gospels (F - it's the longest).
- Luke by trade was a carpenter (F - he was a doctor).
- Luke was not a direct eyewitness of the life of Jesus (T).
- The Gospel of Luke was written immediately after the death of Christ, around AD 35 (F - most believe around AD 60).
- Luke also wrote the book of Acts (T).
- Luke's name is not mentioned anywhere in Luke or Acts (T).
- Luke's Gospel contains the Christmas narrative regarding the Wise Men (F - Shepherds/Angels).
- Luke's name appears elsewhere in the New Testament (T - Col. 4:14; 2 Ti. 4:11; Ph. 24).
- After Paul, Luke makes the greatest contribution to the total composition of the New Testament (F - Luke has the most, 28%).
- The Prodigal Son parable is found only in Luke (T).
- The rich man and Lazarus parable is found only in Luke (T).
- The two disciples on the road to Emmaus is found only in Luke (T).
- Luke puts a great emphasis on people, especially those disenfranchised by the current culture (T - women, children, foreigners, poor).
- Most likely, Luke was written to a Gentile audience (T).
How did you do? Knowing these facts are more than just fun trivia. Knowing a little about the author and the world in which he lived will help us better interpret the book.
The Bible presents Luke as a good man. He was a faithful traveling companion of Paul on his missionary journeys. Probably the most honoring statement toward the man came in Paul's final epistle. As Paul was preparing to make his defense before the governing authorities confined to a germ-infested hole in the ground awaiting his imminent execution, He said, "For Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me" (2 Tim. 4:10-11). Luke was an educated man, but also we see here a faithful man. He was a doctor, historian and theologian.
Let's turn to the second point, "The Explanation" and look at what we call "The Prologue," verses 1-4.
Of the four Gospels, only Luke writes a preface to his work. The reason being I believe is because his work is unique as compared to the other three Gospel writers. Luke was not an eyewitness and his writing is very orderly and well-presented, lending itself to an official introduction.
Of the Prologue, one author said, "The opening paragraph is one sentence in good Greek style, with classic vocabulary, rhythm and balance" (Morris, Luke, p. 72).
Take a look at verse 1. "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us."
Back then, many ancient writers began criticizing their predecessors. Not much different than today. When we produce something that others have produced in the past, there is the tendency is to make ours the best by knocking all the work that went before us. Not Luke. He was a humble guy. The man will prove his humility by not even mentioning himself in his entire work. It's only through the so-called "we sections" in Acts that we can have any confidence that Luke is the author.
Luke knows there have been (as he says in verse 1) "many" attempts to put in writing the life and ministry of Jesus (usually only preserved in oral form). Luke acknowledges their work and according to many scholars uses the Gospel of Mark as a primary source for his information. From the very first verse, Luke lays a foundation of what he is trying to do. His goal is to (verse 1) as it pertains to the life of Jesus Christ "compile an account of the things accomplished among us."
It will be an historical work, but it will mainly be theological in nature. We must always keep that in the forefront of our minds that Luke was writing primarily Scripture. As Luke is guided by the Holy Spirit, his goal will be to show the purpose behind the person and work of Jesus Christ. More than any of the other Gospel writers, he mentions the salvation that can be found in our Lord's name.
As we will see in a moment, his immediate goal is to persuade a man named, "Theophilus." However his overall goal is to persuade all who read his work that we can be absolutely certain about the truths taught by Jesus Christ and have confidence that salvation is found by trusting in in who He is and what He has done for sinners through His life, death and resurrection.
If you are looking for a theme you will be able to trace through this Gospel it might go something like this: "The perfect Son or Man who came to seek and save that which was lost."
Let's move to the second and part of the third verse. "Just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning."
Here we are reminded that Luke was not a direct eyewitness. He clearly says that there were people, maybe even a generation of Christians that went before him. They are described as direct "eyewitnesses." These were the countless people who directly heard "from the beginning" the teachings of Jesus and observed His miracles. In the formal sense they were the Apostles and some others who witnessed his death, burial and resurrection.
Back then, very little was put in written form. Much depended on oral tradition "handed down" (verse 2) and personal eyewitnesses. Luke wants us to know that this movement called Christianity did not occur amongst a few conspirators in some hidden dusty corner of Israel. There were many eyewitnesses and as the verse says, many "servants of the Word" proclaiming to the world what God had done in Christ. Even the secular sources of the day often confirmed what the Christians taught. Luke's goal was now to put all of this in writing.
So then, how then does a man who did not witness these events himself do that? As verse 3 says, "[He] investigated everything carefully from the beginning."
This is the role of a good historian. This is also so unlike many historians today that revise history to simply further their own ideology. Luke "investigated" everything carefully going back to the very beginning. Luke wanted to present an accurate account. Thorough research. Unbiased opinion. Double checking your sources. First-hand eye-witnesses. Cross-examination. Reliable testimonies. Detailed precision.
I can only imagine the good doctor, like a surgeon, at work. Interviewing the Apostles. Tracking down Mary. Following through on repeated leads. Speaking to the citizens. Talking to believers and unbelievers to get to the point when he could be certain that the stories squared and the facts were straight.
And his goal after all this extensive research? Verse 3, "To write it [all] out for you in consecutive order."
This does not mean chronological order. Much of Luke is chronological, but not all of it. The word is best translated "orderly." In other words, Luke's goal was not to just present a sequential listing of facts. Good authors do not work that way. Using the truth, their goal is often to persuade. And to do that effectively they get systematic and arrange their work around grouped themes for the greatest emphasis and impact. Like a good story they state the problem, allow their action to reach a climax, reveal the conflict and then present the solution. The intent is a logical exposition, not distorting the facts, but using an artistic touch in arranging the facts in a convincing, creative and coherent way to best pierce the reader's heart.
According to verse 3, that work is addressed to a man referred to as "most excellent Theophilus."
So these verses are rather simple to interpret, that is until we come across this mysterious man. Gallons upon gallons of ink have been spilt over the centuries in trying to figure out who this guy is.
The word Theophilus means "loved by God" so some have suggested that Theophilus is just a generic name that applies to all Christians. In other words, the primary audience of the Gospel is all who are loved by God. Sounds nice, but when you study both Luke and Acts it appears that Luke is writing to an historical personal.
Significant is the fact that Theophilus is addressed as "most excellent." That title was at times used for courtesy (like "sir"), but often was there to refer to someone of honor or rank. Was Theophilus a high-ranking official in the Roman government?
Along these lines, my belief or a long time went something like this. Luke wrote Luke and Acts to a Roman official. Why? Because Acts ends with Paul in prison under house arrest - a strange way to end his work! There is definitely something peculiar as to how things fly along in these two books, but then almost tend to go into slow-motion when you get to the end of Acts (around chapter 21). There the author provides incredible detail of Paul's life - specifically his trials before Agrippa, Felix and Festus. Was Luke's goal to convince a high-ranking Roman official of Christianity's credibility and Paul's innocence? In other words, Paul was not guilty of the charges of insurrection and Christianity was not to be viewed as an illegal anti-Roman religion.
For a few reasons, most scholars seem to disagree with me. And after further research this week I do tend to believe they disagree appropriately.
Probably the best theory is that Theophilus was a wealthy and influential man. It is assumed that this man supported Paul and Luke, but needed more details as it pertained to the truth of Christianity. So whether Theophilus (and here are your most plausible options) was a wealthy relative of Caesar, an influential government official, a wealthy benefactor who supported Paul or Paul's Roman lawyer does not matter. Who really cares! Luke's goal is clearly stated in verse 4. "So that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught." That is what matters!
That is the reason for Luke's writing. To share with Theophilus "the exact truth about the things [he has] been taught." If I can put Luke's purpose for writing in a formal statement it would be to confirm the faith of Theophilus and reach the Gentiles by arranging an accurate and comprehensive account on the life of Jesus and the acts of the Holy Spirit following our Lord's ascension.
What ultimately matters is understanding that this book was written to us. Will we believe the Word of God that it is the "exact truth" (as Luke says) regarding the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. And if so, how will it influence us to love Christ and see our lives empowered through Him to transform us from the inside out.
I am confident that we will all learn a lot and spiritually grow a lot as we work our way, verse-by-verse, through this glorious Gospel.