Today we begin the Jesus Journey. We are going to take a trip with Luke as our tour guide as he shows us what Jesus did and taught. The gospel of Luke is the longest of the four gospels. Further, it is the only gospel with a sequel, as Luke writes with the intent to continue the story in the book called Acts. Luke not only introduces Jesus and his ministry, bur also shows how this ministry relates to the early church era. Despite the separation of the two books, Luke lays the foundation for many issues that are answered in Acts. Most believe that both the gospel from Luke and Acts were written in 62 AD, since this is when the Acts narrative concludes. There is not much information recorded about Luke, but the few lines we do have give us great insight into who Luke was. First, Luke is a Greek name, so Luke is not a Jew. Further, Luke writes in proper Greek with the formality of a historian. The first four verses of this gospel is one long, careful constructed sentence in the tradition of the finest historical works in Greek literature (Expositor’s Bible Commentary). Scholars of Greek consider Luke’s writings to be superb in style and in structure. Second, we know that Luke was a traveling companion with the apostle Paul. There are many places in the Acts narrative where Luke slips into writing about what “we” had done rather than Paul. Luke is including himself in part of the action of the story. Third, the apostle Paul calls Luke a doctor in Colossians 4:14. It becomes clear that Luke is a very educated and knowledgeable.
The Gospel’s Purpose
Before we dive into the Jesus Journey with Luke as our guide, it is important to frame the purpose and direction of this gospel. Before going on a trip it is useful to know where we are going and where our destination is. The purpose of Luke’s gospel can be framed in four general questions that Luke is going to answer in his narratives of this gospel and Acts.
- How could Gentiles be included as God’s people on an equal basis with Jews, extending even to matters like table fellowship and the exclusion of circumcision? This is essentially a question of salvation. Does a Gentile really belong in this new community and are recipients of God’s blessings?
- How could it be said that God’s plan was at work when the Jews, the most natural recipients, largely responded negatively? The Jews persecuted Christians who preached God’s hope to them. How could it be that Jesus be the Messiah and yet the nation of Israel reject Jesus? Why was God’s plan meeting so much hostility? How could God’s plan and God’s messengers meet so much hostility? Can God really be behind a community that faces so much hostility and rejection?
- What was the person of Jesus and his teaching all about? How could Jesus be the hope of God if he was crucified? How could Jesus, despite his physical absence, continue to exercise a presence and represent the hope of God? How could a crucified person bring the fulfillment of God’s promises?
- What does it mean to respond to Jesus? What is required, what can one expect in making such a commitment, and how should one live until the day Jesus returns and the hope is realized? What are believers and the new community to be? Chapters 9-19 especially deal with these concerns. The gospel of Luke spends most of its time addressing this fourth question, while touching on the other three questions. The book of Acts deals with the first three questions primarily, while also touching on the fourth question. (Baker Exegetical Commentary)
I hope that we can see that these are critical questions that our world today also has in mind about Jesus. These are answers that we need to give to people as we teach. Who is this Jesus and why is he important? How is Jesus the fulfillment of God’s plan? What does it mean to respond to Jesus? How does a crucified Jesus do anything for me in my life? This is the journey that we are about to embark upon with Luke as our guide.
Luke is going to record for us a number of statements and stories showing us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the hope of Israel, which is most highlighted in the first four chapters. God has been faithful to his promises to the nation of Israel and to the world. Thus, the overarching theme of Luke and Acts is this: Since Jesus is Lord of all (proven in the book of Luke), salvation and the gospel message can go to all (proven in the book of Acts).
Unique Nature of Luke’s Gospel
Luke follows a unique geographical pattern. While Matthew and Mark spend almost all of their writing describing Jesus’ Galilean ministry, Luke devotes only five chapters to Galilee. The major portion of Luke covers Jesus’ travels toward Jerusalem (nearly 10 lengthy chapters). Matthew and Mark only devote one chapter each to this part of Jesus’ ministry. Luke is divided into four major sections:
1:1 – 4:13 The Early Life. Comparative stories of the birth, infancy, and early adult life of John and Jesus – with the purpose of showing the superiority of Jesus.
4:14 – 9:50 The Galilean Ministry. This section predominately displays the miracles of Jesus and answers the fundamental issue of who is Jesus? If we are going to follow Him, we want to know Him. The section is a great picture of the true character of the Lord.
9:51 – 19:27 The Jerusalem Journey. This is often called the Perean Ministry though it is not all on the east side of Jordan. Almost 50% of this section is unique to Luke. Luke records 17 parables, 15 of which are unique to his account. Most of this section concerns the question of what it means to live as a disciple of Christ. Trust in God and love of the sinner is presented in contrast to trust in wealth and despising the outcast.
19:28 – 24:53 The Final Victory. Luke presents the crucified Jesus as the victor. He defeats the challenges of His enemies, foretells the removal of the kingdom from the hands of the Jews because of their rejection and unworthiness, and the giving of the kingdom to the Gentiles. Luke ultimately presents Him as the victor over death and the King reigning eternally in heaven.
One other key point to help us see Luke’s purpose. In contrast to the other gospel accounts, Luke has key themes that would have both appealed to and challenged the Gentile world.
- Jesus acceptance of outcasts, women, and those who were generally on the fringe of society.
- The dangers of wealth and the foolishness of trusting in it.
- Repentance – not just the mental decision, but the actions necessary to fulfill it.
- Prayer. There are repeated pictures of Jesus praying, more than any other account, and three parables unique to Luke the offer instruction on how to pray.
- Commitment. More than any other gospel, Luke describes commitment – all out, full, unreserved commitment and condemnation of anyone who “turns back” or will not count the cost.
1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:1-4; NRSV)
Recording the Story (1:1)
Luke begins his writing by saying that there are others who had written about Jesus. Luke was not the only writer about Jesus and this shows that there were many who thought Jesus was important and worthy of writing about. Luke also writes these words because this matches the way ancient historians wrote. Ancient writers loved to show what they were doing had precedent. Luke is writing about the things that, “have been fulfilled among us.” This gospel is about the fulfillment and accomplishment of God’s plan. The gospel is about events fulfilled right there before the very eyes of the disciples and people who lived then. In Luke’s book of Acts, Luke records Paul’s words in which he speaks to King Agrippa and Festus about Jesus,
For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. (Acts 26:26; ESV)
People had heard about Jesus and what he did. The information about Jesus did not remain in Jerusalem. The events that took place did not happen in a corner so that no one knew about him. Quite the contrary. People are writing about Jesus and Luke decides to do the same.
Careful Investigation (1:2-3)
Luke also says that he made a careful investigation of the events that occurred. Notice the qualifications of his writing: (1) He investigated. (2) He investigated everything. (3) He investigated carefully. (4) He investigated from the very first. Luke is not some gullible person who wanted to believe in a Jesus. Luke is a professional. He is a doctor. He makes a careful investigation of those who were there at the very beginning. Luke has examined the eyewitnesses and the servant of the word of God. This writing is the fruit of Luke’s investigation. Mark’s gospel starts with the events of Jesus’ adult life. Luke, however, went to the very beginning, and this is reflected in his writing. The gospel of Luke gives us the most information about the early life of Jesus and the birth of John the Baptist. Luke goes to the very beginning and starts with a detailed account about John the Baptist. Luke then moves on the infancy of Jesus. Luke speaks about the childhood of Jesus. The birth of John the Baptist is the beginning of the fulfillment of the things spoken by the prophets. Luke is going to show us that Jesus and the events that surround him are the fulfillment of the hope of Israel.
Luke not only investigated the accounts and went back to the beginning, but he also examined everything. Verse 3 says that Luke “investigated everything.” Luke says that he put in the time and effort in his investigation of Jesus. He knew the stories and interviewed the eyewitnesses. Luke says that this was a carefully performed investigation. This work was not done haphazardly to make a publishing deadline. This is not a work with some shoddy references or fanciful stories.
Luke further states that he has constructed “an orderly account.” This can mean that Luke wrote this narrative in chronological order or in thematic order. I believe that Luke’s account is in chronological sequence for the most part, with only minor deviations, to keep to his particular purpose and theme. The point is that this book is not a random collection of Jesus’ teachings and deeds.
We also learn in verse 3 that Luke wrote to Theophilus. His name means “loved by God,” which has caused some to think that Luke did not write to a person named Theophilus but wrote to believers in Jesus. The reason we should understand Theophilus to be a person is because of the use of the title in front of his name. Luke calls him, “Most Excellent Theophilus.” “Most Excellent” was a title used as a reference to Roman officials. Notice that Luke uses the same title of Felix and Festus in Acts.
“Claudius Lysias, to the most excellent governor Felix, greetings. (Acts 23:26; NASB)
…we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness. (Acts 24:3; NASB)
But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. (Acts 26:25; NASB)
Luke’s Purpose (1:4)
In verse 4 Luke explicitly states his purpose for writing this narrative. Luke writes so that Theophilus (and by implication also all who read this narrative) would have certainty of the truth about everything that was taught about Jesus. The certainty of the truth proclaimed is guaranteed by Luke. Luke writes so that you can know the truth about Jesus. We live in a world of relativism, where there is no truth or certainty, especially about Jesus and the word of God. However, Luke made a careful investigation of the facts, interviewing the eyewitnesses and servants of the word of God. Through the orderliness of the narrative and the careful, systematic presentation, Luke hoped to reassure Theophilus and those like him about the certainty of what the apostles taught about Jesus (Baker Exegetical Commentary). Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise and the fulfillment of salvation, which is now available directly to all nations. You can know all you need to know about Jesus because the gospel accounts about him are accurate, based upon personal research and knowledge by trustworthy writers.
I challenge you to check out Jesus for yourself. God never calls people to blind faith, but a careful investigation of the facts. We need to do the same. We need to make a careful investigation of Jesus. Too often we allow others to tell us things about Jesus. The History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and Dan Brown have given us the total amount of knowledge we have about Jesus. Most of the movies and information on television about Jesus is wrong and not based upon the scriptures. Most people do not want to do the work to know the truth about Jesus. So people just guess and assume that they know. This decision about who Jesus is too important to be lazy and careless. You need to know Jesus for yourself. You need to investigate him for yourself. Don’t rely on your past knowledge. Don’t rely on what the media says about Jesus. Don’t assume you know all that you need to know. You must make the investigation about Jesus.
I challenge you to join us on this Jesus Journey. Make a commitment to come every Sunday and investigate Jesus together. Let Luke be your tour guide and lead you to your own conclusions.