Summary: Luke's Gospel is 1) Reliable, 2) Universal, 3) Spiritual, 4) Radical
• On 2 or 3 occasions, Liz and I have taken our boys to an art museum. And we always hit the same problem. I am trying to take my time looking at the exhibits, and reading the background details of every painting. But the kids are running ahead looking for something to entertain them.
During those museum trips, I often look with envy at those who stand in front of paintings for ages, examining every detail. The real art connoisseur meditates over a painting. If it’s a really good painting, they will revisit it again and again.
Why do they do that? Well art connoisseurs will tell you they see something different every time. They see the painting from different angles and discover something new.
And I think that’s why there are 4 Gospels in the Bible. 4 biographies of Jesus – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. There are several stories repeated across these 4 Gospels, but each writer uses these stories in different ways, to cast a fresh light on who Jesus is and why he matters so much. It’s like one giant painting that has 4 different angles on the life of Christ.
And this morning we are beginning a series on Luke’s Gospel. So we need to ask ‘what particular light does Luke shed on the message of Jesus? When you place Luke alongside the other 3 Gospels – what does Luke say in particular about the Jesus story, that we don’t find so much in the other Gospels?
That way we’ll discover what Luke is all about. And that’s important because Luke wrote more of the New Testament that any other writer – more even than Paul. 28% of the NT is written by Luke, if you combine Luke’s Gospel with the book of Acts, which he also wrote.
So Luke is the most prolific author in the whole of the New Testament. Why is he so important? What is he saying about Jesus that we really need to hear?
Well I want to point to 4 major themes of Luke’s Gospel this morning. 4 emphases that present a unique angle on the life and message of Jesus.
Firstly Luke shows us that the message of Jesus is
• It’s real history. A lot of people today think that the Gospels are just a load of invented stories. Some religious zealots, thousands of years ago, made up some fantastic miracle stories and built a religion round it that has managed to fool weak minded people ever since.
o But that view comes from people who simply have not looked at the evidence. There is nothing fanciful about how Luke writes this biography of Jesus. Quite the opposite.
? Luke was a doctor by profession. A man of science, and also a historian. He wasn’t from Israel. He was a European like us, probably from a non Christian background.
• This is not the hysterical account of a religious extremist. The Greek text of Luke is sophisticated and precise. Luke is a highly educated man. If he was around today, he would be writing for the Times, not the Daily Star!
And he’s writing to another highly educated European called Theophilus, who was probably a recent convert to Christianity. He calls him ‘most excellent Theophilus’, a title that was reserved for political leaders. And this is how Luke opens his biography of Jesus,
He writes, (v.1) ‘Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word.
Therefore, 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.’
Luke tells us he has spoken to the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and carefully gathered their testimonies together to form this Gospel of Luke.
And we have every reason to believe that this Gospel is reliable.
For one thing, Luke regularly gives specific dates and times for the life of Christ. When he introduces John the Baptist, he gives no fewer than 6 time references. ‘In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being Tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Traconitis, Lysinias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the Word of God came to John the Baptist.’
It is extremely impressive that Luke is so accurate about these time frames, not only for who the Roman emperor was, but for the exact political power structure in Israel of Jesus’ day. And scholars have confirmed that Luke is accurate in every detail.
You may remember the account of Jesus’ birth begins, ‘In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be taxed. This tax took place when Qurinius was governor of Syria.’