An Orderly Account

November 6, 2022

Book: Luke

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Scripture: Luke 1:1-4

This book has been written so you can have certainty about the gospel you have received.

So, fun story. Two years ago, I decided that I was going to preach through the Gospel of Luke. So I lined it up so that all the Christmas passages would happen right over Christmas. It was perfect. It’s perfect. And then in the spring of 2021, I was happily preparing my next sermon in the Gospel of Luke. On a lovely day, sitting on my front porch when I got a call from a man named Dan Werthman who just wanted to talk to me and then, yada, yada, yada – here I am. But following God’s call to come to Calvary meant that I had to set down my study of the Gospel of Luke. I wasn’t even halfway through the book. I don’t even know how it ends.

And so, and so here’s what I’m thinking. Why don’t we study the Book of Luke together? Would that be okay? Yeah. All right. We’re going to study this together. Here’s a little secret about me. I love the Gospel of Luke. I love this gospel. It’s probably my favorite of all the gospels. You would think that my favorite would be Matthew because of all the Old Testament references. And I’m kind of an Old Testament guy, but it’s not. Some people like Mark because it’s the shortest and they can read it the fastest. Some people like the Gospel of John because it’s different than the Synoptic Gospels and it includes a lot of sayings and teachings of Jesus that aren’t included in the other ones. All the gospels are great. But I think I like the Gospel of Luke the most. Let me give you a few reasons I love this book, which will also give you a little overview of what to expect as we explore it.

First of all, I love this because it’s the Gospel that has the most complete birth narrative. The Gospel of Matthew also has a birth narrative to it, but Luke’s is longer. It’s much more detailed. Second reason I love this book is that it focuses in a unique way on the poverty community. Luke shows Jesus’ care for poor and marginalized people in a way that the other Gospels don’t emphasize. When I was doing my doctoral work as an outreach pastor several years ago, I found the Gospel of Luke to be a great source of encouragement and challenge because I was working with the poverty community, and I was simultaneously training the people in my church to engage cross-culturally with those who were in that community in our town. If the church is going to do good Christ-centered ‘missions work’ together, if we’re going to do that work together, we need to listen and think and learn like cross-cultural missionaries. We must do this. And this includes ministry not only across ethnic lines, but across socioeconomic lines.

Church, would you agree with me that in this more volatile societal situation that we find ourselves in, where people are dividing from each other at a pretty great rate, that it’s important for the church to become better at listening and thinking and learning like cross-cultural missionaries. Would you agree with me on that? It really is. It really, really is. Luke is going to give us a tremendous opportunity for training in engagement with people who are different from us. And I’m excited. I’m excited for that. I’m also excited because this book self-identifies as an orderly, eyewitness informed account of what took place with Jesus. This is the point that we’re going to start with today. So I won’t say much here, but I will say this book is extraordinarily helpful when you’re talking to people who either don’t know what the Bible is, or whether it can be trusted. They’re feeling like they can’t trust the Bible, or they don’t know what’s contained in the Bible. And that’s a lot of people today. There’s a lot of people today, maybe there’s never been a time in our history, where our country has been filled with more people who don’t understand what the Bible actually purports to be, what it actually is. And so when I talk to people about the question of the Bible, I take them to Luke, specifically to the passage that we’re going to look at this morning. So more on that soon. But the thing that I think I’m most excited to see in this book is the emphasis that Luke places on the coming of God’s salvation in Christ, and the assurance of the gospel plan in the face of adversity.

This book, as we will see today and throughout our study of it, is a testimony of the coming salvation that we have in Jesus. It’s designed to build up our confidence for those of us who will put our trust in him. This book is the careful, detailed presentation of Jesus and His gospel to the world. It’s the story of the arrival of Christ, the beginning of the Kingdom of God, and the salvation that is provided through Jesus’ death and resurrection that allows us to enter into that kingdom. And more than any of the other gospels, Luke focuses on Jesus as the Savior. That’s his metaphor for all of Jesus work, that Jesus is the one who has come to save, the saving work of Christ is the theme that binds the entire book together. And while this book is for everyone, and it absolutely is, this gospel is for everyone, it is specifically for those who are struggling. Who are doubtful, who are hurting, who are living faithfully, but who are also seeking to understand their faith and have confidence in Christ day to day. And I think this book is for our times. Now, I know that all Scripture is God breathed and all of it is useful for everything that we need, and trains us up in everything that we need. But this book, kind of like Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, speaks to our culture in a unique way. The Gospel of Luke speaks to our culture in a unique way. Luke is the account I believe that Jesus has for our time. So if you are wrestling with certainty, if you are feeling faint in your faithfulness, if your confidence is waning, or if you’re just feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, Luke wants us to have absolute joy in our confidence that salvation has come. This book was written so that you can have certainty about the gospel that you’ve received.

So if you would, you can open your Bibles today to the Luke chapter 1. I will also have it on the screen, but you might want to have it open in front of you. As I said before, the four verses here at the beginning of this book are the place that I go when I want to help someone understand the nature of the book that they’re holding. Now, I don’t mean the content of the Bible, not the content, but the nature of the content. When someone is trying to help, when I’m trying to help someone understand what this is as God’s word. Biblical inspiration, the doctrine that says that the Holy Spirit has moved and breathed out through the writers to write down God’s words, that’s a very, very important doctrine. But inspiration is a doctrine that only those who have embraced Jesus and have been transformed by the Spirit. We are the ones who would acknowledge God’s inspiration. Before that transformation, the question of whether the Bible can be trusted has to do with the reliability of the documents themselves. And I love these first four verses of Luke because in them Luke tells us exactly what his book is and why he wrote it. And that’s what we’re going to do today. We’re going to look at what this book is and why he wrote it, beginning in verse 1. “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

All right. So let’s start with what is this book? What is this book? This sounds like a letter between Luke and Theophilus, doesn’t it? And I’m not going to get into all the questions about where Luke was when he wrote this or when he wrote it, and I’m not really going to get into who Theophilus is beyond what is said here. Some people think that Theophilus isn’t just one guy, because his name means one who loves God. And so some have thought, well, maybe this is just intended for all people who love God. Well, I actually do think there was somebody named Theophilus. I do think this was one guy. But of course, the book is written for all people who love God. So it’s kind of both. Theophilus is a Greek name, so he’s probably either a God-fearing Greek person or he’s a Jewish person who has converted to Christianity. That’s possible. More on this when we get to the reason for the book here in just a bit. Luke starts with this interesting fact. It’s kind of an interesting way to start. He says his book is not the first effort to write down what Jesus actually said and did. In fact, he says to us, there are many people who have been doing this, many people who have been compiling a narrative of Jesus, to record the things that were accomplished in and among the disciples. And that makes sense to us, right? That makes perfect sense. You know, sometimes when you watch a video of something that happened in real life, like some big thing, some momentous thing, and you’re watching somebody’s camera phone video recording of that. What do you see sometimes in the background? Other people with their phones also recording the same thing, right from a different angle, because this big thing that’s happening. Everybody feels the need to capture it. If something’s important and dramatic and it’s going on, everyone is thinking, we’ve got to get this down. The story we’re about to read and study is the epic three-year ministry of Jesus that changed the world. So it’s not surprising that right from the beginning that there were lots of people compiling reports, developing traditions, trying to understand exactly what happened, writing things down. And so Luke places his book squarely within that compilation work. He’s not doing something new. He’s building on something that came before him. This is why if you read Mark and Matthew, you’re going to find a lot of word-for-word overlap. You ever notice that you see that there’s lots of word-for-word overlap between these three books. In fact, there’s so much of it that there are some who question which came first, and whether or not these different authors used each other’s work in creating their own work. Now, again, I’m not going to get into all that, but I will summarize by saying, if you’re interested in my view, that Luke and Matthew probably wrote their different books independently of each other, but both of them used Mark and another common resource that we don’t know what it is, so they just call it Q. It’s just we don’t, we don’t have it. So they just assigned it a letter. You are letter Q. I don’t know why exactly, but the fact is, according to Luke, there were lots of sources. There were lots of sources that were being compiled at that time, lots of people telling and recording what they saw and what they experienced. Sometimes these people get named in Scripture. Have you ever been reading a Bible story? And then you see that there’s one person in the story that’s named and everybody else goes unnamed. You’re like, why do that, why did that one person, that one random person, get named? It’s probably because that one person is the source for that story. And this was their chance to get in the Bible, Right? Who wouldn’t want that? So they write it in there so that this person is the reference for everything that you’re reading. So who are all these people compiling narratives and creating sources? Well Luke says that they are, quote, ‘those who from the beginning are eyewitnesses and ministers of the word’. So what you have here is not some document written by church authorities, many decades, maybe a century after that time to try to get their own authority. I’ve heard that story before. I’m trying to solidify their own authority, and so they write it later. There are indications throughout the gospel that it was written very early, probably before the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70. And Luke says he is uniquely positioned because he has been following all things that have been happening in the church from early on. And he has access to the eyewitness testimony of people who are right there with Jesus. He can go and talk to the people who actually spent time with Jesus and have been documenting what happened. He says he talked to the eyewitnesses and to the servants. So he got his information from people who could tell the story of what happened to them. They are not retelling the story of something their cousin told them. They’re not saying I know some people who went through this. They’re saying, I went through this, I did this. I experienced this with Jesus. Documents from the early church are unanimous in their testimony that this book was written by a doctor named Luke, who actually accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys. So this isn’t just some blogger somewhere who decided to create a story using information that he couldn’t possibly have access to. This is a person who’s right at the very heart of the action. He’s walking with the disciples. He’s listening to the testimonies of the people who were healed by Jesus, people who saw Jesus die on the cross and come back to life. People who may have been there on the hill watching this all take place. He was part of the missions team for Paul. So the guy that Jesus met on the Damascus Road and changed his life and he became a key missionary to all the Gentiles. You can really tell this when you go to the Book of Acts and you see all the details that we find there. Luke is saying, Look, look: what I’ve created for you here is a careful compilation of the testimony of the people who were on the ground experiencing the Ministry of Jesus. This is not the only book, but it is one of the books and it is trustworthy. Now, why is that important? Why is that important? Why do I go to this passage when I talk to skeptics and to non-Christians who would undermine the Bible and they would call it mythology, or if they’re especially antagonistic, fairy tales. You heard that before? Fairy tales? Well, it’s probably obvious why I would go to a passage like this, because, yes, the Bible is the inspired word of God. And by the way, just saying that to someone who doesn’t believe it more doesn’t help. Right. They say, I don’t know if I believe it, but they ‘go but it is’. That doesn’t really help them. What will help them is to say, yes, it is the inspired word of God. I believe that. But it is also an ancient document. It’s an ancient document. And whenever you study ancient documents, you have to take them for what they claim to be. If something presents itself as an historical account, you can either believe that it’s accurate or you can believe that it isn’t accurate. But what you can’t do is decide that it’s something other than what it claims to be. Not without rock solid proof. Luke is taking great pains to ensure that we understand that what he has written here is historically accurate. It’s based on multiple eyewitness testimonies. It’s recorded in an orderly way so that the reader will have no problem following the storyline. So if your nephew read a Bart Ehrman book and now thinks he’s an expert historiographer and wants to call the Bible a legend, akin to what happened with Paul Bunyan, well, the burden of proof is on him. The burden of proof is on him to explain why we should trust his view more than the view that Luke is proposing to us here and what he’s plainly telling us about the book that he wrote. Now, before we turn to why this book was written, it’s important to say why an orderly, eyewitness-based account of Jesus life is necessary at all. Because there’s another argument and it goes like this. It’s an increasingly popular argument that you’ll hear sometimes. And it says something like: the Bible’s accuracy actually doesn’t matter at all. It doesn’t matter at all. Let’s say the story of the resurrection of Jesus is just a fabrication, just a story that’s been made up. Let’s say that he was just a great man who taught people to love each other, and then he was killed for it. And then eventually he told the stories of Jesus, were told enough that it became popular to speak of Jesus coming alive again. It was almost like he was here with us again. And so. Then he became a legend in that way. That’s the that’s the argument that I just mentioned before, that legendary argument. Throughout history, the church has argued for the historicity and reliability of Scripture in the face of that argument. In the face of that, they’ve said that that, no, he’s not a legend. This is real. This is what actually happened. We have ancient documents that tell us this. But increasingly, there are people who say it actually doesn’t matter if the gospels are legends or not. They’ve moved past that, because all that matters, they will say, is what Jesus means to you. All it matters is what he means to you. They take the objective question of Jesus and they make it a subjective preference for Jesus. Well, here’s the problem. As popular as it is today to care only about what you personally think, truth isn’t found out by what any of us personally think. It’s not determined by what you personally think. Christianity hinges on historical events, the historicity of the birth of Jesus, his death, his resurrection, his ascension are all of critical importance to a Christian worldview. If any of those things didn’t happen, it doesn’t really matter what I think about them. See, hope in a false Christianity is a false hope. But if they happened. If these things actually took place, if Jesus really was sent by God to be born of Mary, to be born outside of the curse of sin so that he could live a sinless life and die on a cross to bear the weight of the sins of his people. And then he rose physically from the grave to triumph over death forever, then that is the hope for everyone. That’s not a localized hope just for you, or just your community, or just your culture. That would be worldwide hope for all people. The reason people make this odd argument about what Jesus means to you is that belief and faith have been placed into a different category of truth apart from other kinds of truth. And there’s reason for that. I won’t go into all of it; it has to do with the enlightenment and modernity. And then people get upset about modernity, and then they moved into something that’s so weird they can only call it postmodernity. It just happened afterward. Don’t really have a name for it. But Scripture isn’t playing any of those games. Scripture doesn’t care anything about that. Luke just says, Look, I wrote a book you can trust. I wrote a book you can trust. You may not think it’s accurate. It is accurate. It’s what actually happened. Deny it if you want. But that’s what you’re holding. That’s what he tells us here in the first four verses.

Now, why did he write it? Why did he write this book? Well, in a word, certainty. He wrote it for certainty. He wrote this book so that Theophilus could have certainty now. As I said before, we don’t know a lot about Theophilus. He’s only mentioned here and at the beginning of the second volume of the two-volume set that Luke wrote. Luke and Acts are both written by the by the Doctor, by Dr. Luke, and they were written together both for Theophilus. But we can actually gather a little bit about him about this Theophilus from these opening verses. And what we gather is actually pretty exciting for us because it gives us a posture for reading the book. It helps us to understand how we should read this book when we read it.

First of all, Theophilus is a man who knows the gospel already. Clearly. He’s been told the gospel. We know this because Luke says that he wants to give Theophilus certainty about the things that he’s been taught. And given the contents of the book, clearly Theophilus has been taught the gospel because that’s what’s in the book. He’s telling us about the certainty of the gospel. So probably most of you here this morning, or if you are listening later in the week on our YouTube channel, you have probably been taught the gospel before. That’s something that’s probably been told to you. Someone has explained to you that we are creatures made in God’s image and that we’ve rebelled against God, that we’re broken by our sin. Someone along the line probably has shared with you that Jesus has come to take the place of your punishment for your sins on the cross, so that you can have a restored relationship with the God who made you. If you put your trust in Jesus and you follow Him, you will have a relationship with your Creator. If you grew up in a church and you have drifted away from the church, you’ve kind of gone on your own way. You’ve gone off to find your own truth. Even then you are still like Theophilus in this way because you understand what it is that Christians believe. Maybe you’re not in that camp at all. Maybe. Maybe you actually don’t know what the gospel is; when somebody uses that word to talk about the good news of Scripture and you’re not sure what that is, and I’m so glad you’re here, if that’s you. Continue to walk with us, because you’re going to see in this gospel an incredible story of a God who loves you and came to save you. So learn the gospel with us.

Another thing that we know about Theophilus is that he probably was a Christian already. Now I say probably because we don’t know for sure; it actually it doesn’t matter too much whether he was or not. But Luke wants Theophilus to have certainty about what he’s been taught, and so that implies he’s accepted what he’s been taught, and he’d just like to have more certainty about it. He’d like to have a stronger foundation. And that makes sense because if you’re trusting in the death and resurrection of a human being as the sole foundation for the forgiveness of your sins so that you can be right with God, you’re going to want to make sure that happens. You’re going to want to make sure that actually took place. And so it seems pretty clear Theophilus is a follower of Jesus, who’s been taught the gospel well, but would like a good, solid, clear, understandable account of exactly what Jesus taught and what he did to further ground his faith. Which leads us to the last thing we know for sure about Theophilus, which I think ironically is the most exciting part of it.

He had doubts. He had doubts. I don’t mean the kind of doubts that skeptics have today where they try to shoot holes into Christianity. I mean, the sort of doubt that Thomas Aquinas, that theologian, might have described as faith seeking understanding. He’s got faith in Jesus. He trusts in Jesus, but he wants to have a better understanding of that gospel. He wants to ground that faith better. He wants to make sure that his knowledge is accurate and it’s well placed, that that trust in Jesus is well placed trust. Luke probably wouldn’t have offered to give Theophilus certainty about the things that he’d been taught if Theophilus hadn’t expressed a desire for greater certainty. He needed to know. So I love what we get to do as we walk through this book together. We get to talk about Jesus in a way that reveals who He is to people who may be new in their faith, or who are only considering the gospel, but who have questions. Or those who are faithful, but they need a stronger ground of understanding. They need to be helped out in their understanding.

So let me close this introductory sermon with three ways this book will bolster your faith and will give you a deeper understanding. This is for everyone, but especially those of you who are newer to Christ, or who may sometimes be doubtful and would like greater certainty.

First of all, you can have confidence in the nature of scripture. You can have the confidence in the nature of scripture. When others try to say that the Bible is something other than the eyewitness testimony that the writers claim it to be, you can weigh that against what Luke himself is telling you. You can weigh that against what he said his book is all about. Luke is telling you, this is my book. This is what I did.

You can have confidence that Luke is presenting you with an orderly account. This is going to make sense. You don’t have to find some deeper or secret meaning in this book. Like, figure it out. Like what’s really going on here? You don’t have to do that. This was written plain. It was written so that you could just read it and know exactly what happened. You don’t have to find that secret, meaning there’s not some code you have to break; some weird thing you have to untangle. You can relax into the confidence that what is written is given to you in a straightforward manner, and it’s meant for you to understand it. This book is designed to clarify Jesus for you. Those who seek the Lord in this book are going to find him there. You’re going to find Jesus here.

Which leads to the last confidence. You can have confidence, certainty in the accuracy of the gospel that you’ve been taught. I know that there are people today, maybe even with us this morning, who are going through what is being described now as deconstructing their faith. So they’re looking at what they were taught to believe, and now they’re trying to figure out why they believe whatever they were taught. And they’re trying to look deep at the foundation. Why is it that I should continue to believe in this Jesus? Do I have reason to believe in this Jesus? Should I continue to put my faith and my trust in Jesus? And I understand that’s a process that’s happening a lot right now. And certainly in a room this size, there are those who have gone through that. I don’t know a Christian myself who has not at some point asked themselves, why is it that I believe what I believe? Why do I trust Jesus? That’s not a bad question to ask, but can I commend this to you? To look with fresh eyes once again and with the Bible says that it actually is. This is what happened. These are the people who saw it happen. This is the historicity. And consider this as you go on your journey in considering the foundation of your faith. I am excited for what the eyewitnesses have to tell us about Jesus and what that will do to the faith of those of you who come on this journey with us. Would you pray with me?

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