Introductory Sermon to Luke
The Certainty of Instruction - September 12, 2021We begin a great journey today.
And to make you feel old, I might be 50 years old by the time we finish this journey, Lord willing.
Luke’s gospel is the longest book in the NT. By itself it is about 14% of the NT.
Combined with Acts, Luke wrote almost 28% of the NT by total word count.
In my preparations for preaching Luke, I noted that Pastor John MacArthur preached 298 sermons over 10 years on Luke.
R. C. Sproul according to his commentary, preached 109 sermons on Luke.
Searching for the longest sermon series on Luke, I found Grace Covenant Baptist Church, where Pastor Alan Dunn preached 415 sermons on Luke from 2002 to 2019.
As I mentioned, I hope to finish this series by the time I am 50, not 80.
Today, we will look at some introductory matters, but focus will be on Luke 1:1-4.
There are many things about this gospel we don’t know, but here is what we do know without any doubt. Luke wrote this gospel so that you would have certainty.
We may have many questions about a lot of aspects of the Christian faith, some of which cannot be answered. But most importantly God has given you His Word so that you might have certainty concerning the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Praise God for the certainty we have in His Word and His work of salvation.
1] Introduction to Luke the person
2] Introduction to Luke the Gospel
3] Focus on Luke 1:1-4
1] INTRODUCTION TO LUKE THE PERSON
We call the third gospel in our Bibles the Gospel according to Luke.
The very early tradition or external evidence is that Luke is the author of this book.
This early tradition fits very well with what we know from the NT.
Here is some of what we have in terms of external evidence. Let me share several points.
The heretic Marcion in the middle of the second century identified Luke as the author of Luke and Acts.
Justin Martyr also in the second century speaks of Luke writing a “memoir of Jesus” and that he was a companion of Paul.
One of the earliest lists we have of the books of the NT, the Muratorian Canon (late 2nd century) also identifies Luke as the author.
Another important early church figure, Tertullian, said the third gospel is a summary of Paul’s gospel.
The earliest manuscript we have in existence of Luke, the Bodmer Papyrus (175-225) ascribes the book to Luke.
Listen to a short section from Carson and Moo’s NT Introduction.
No one in the early church disputes the identification of Luke as the author. Both Irenaeus and Tertullian write as though there was no doubt about the Lukan authorship of these books. And third, it is hard to understand why Luke’s name would have been attached to the gospel if it had not been there from the beginning. The manifest tendency in the early church was to associate apostles with the books of the New Testament. The universal identification of a non-apostle as the author of almost one-quarter of the New Testament speaks strongly for the authenticity of the tradition.
What do we know of Luke directly from the NT?
Let’s consider the three passages where he is mentioned by name.
Col. 4:14 Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you.
What is significant about this passage from Colossians is that Paul in an earlier verse talks about those who labored with him who were of the circumcision, that is Jewish believers.
Luke is not part of that group.
So, we can say that Luke was a Gentile believer.
And here we learn also that Luke was a physician.
There are elements of Luke’s medical background that commentators point out you can find in Luke’s gospel.
Two other passages where Luke is mentioned.
The end of Philemon gives greetings from Epaphras and:
Philem. 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers.
And then in the last chapter of 2 Timothy we have a very poignant passage.
2Tim. 4:11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.
This last passage where Luke is mentioned is significant. By this time, Luke and Paul had served together for nearly 15 years.
Luke and Paul together in a dreadful, dank prison.
Together these two faithful servants wrote about ½ of the NT. The importance of their friendship and service together is incalculable.
The other thing that must be mentioned concerning Luke comes from the book of Acts.
It is very clear that Luke and Acts are written by the same person as you can see comparing Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-3.
What we call Paul’s Second Missionary Journey is summarized starting at the end of Acts 15 but given further detail starting in Acts 16.
At the start of Acts 16, Timothy joins Paul and Silas. Then in Acts 16:6 we have a description of what is called the Macedonian Call, a vision where Paul was called to come to Macedonia and help us.
Look at Acts 16:10.
Acts 16:10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.
What stands out in this verse?
It is the use of the first-person plural preposition we and then also the preposition us.
There are three “we” sections in Acts: 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16.
2] INTRODUCTION TO LUKE THE GOSPEL
As we will see in the opening verses, Luke does not identify himself as an eyewitness to Jesus from the beginning.
But he does describe that he had a firm grasp of everything from the beginning.
Luke was a careful historian.
What do historians do? They research things and interview people if possible.
That is what Luke did.
He took sources already written.
It is estimated that material from Mark accounts for about 40% of Luke’s gospel. Luke may have directly borrowed from the gospel of Mark, as many believe.
And Luke also spoke with eyewitnesses.
It is almost certain that Luke would have spoken directly with Mary the mother of Jesus.
We know we are not to exalt Mary as many do to the detriment of the gospel, but imagine having a conversation with Mary and learning first-hand the incredible story of the coming and birth of Jesus!
That is what Luke was privileged to do as an historian.
Luke 2:19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
A popular theory that cannot be completely proven is that both Luke and Matthew together may have used a source called “Q” after the German word Quelle meaning source.
This is what would account for the similarity between Matthew and Luke it is suggested.
Another key source for Luke is the OT.
Luke cites 25 OT passages.
And it is not simply that Luke used some OT passages throughout his long gospel, but the entire gospel is shaped by OT imagery, language, themes, and structure.
And Luke according to one author seems to use the model of Moses as a key for this Gospel.
Let me share four things in Luke that are given special emphasis.
1] A central theme in Luke and Acts is God’s plan.
2] This great plan of God is focused on salvation.
Luke uses the verb save more than any other book in the NT, in part because of its length.
A great summary verse of Luke is from Luke 19:10.
Luke 19:10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
3] God’s plan to save sinners includes both Jews and Gentiles. We see this broad emphasis in that Luke goes back to Adam in his genealogy.
4] Luke emphasizes Jesus’ concern for the outcasts of society – “sinners,” the poor, and women.
And then finally under this point, what is the basic outline or flow of this book?
1] A significant prologue (1:1-4)
2] Births of John and Jesus (1:5-2:52)
3] Preparation for the Ministry (3:1-4:13)
4] Jesus' Ministry in Galilee (4:14-9:50)
5] Jesus' Journey to Jerusalem (9:51-19:44)
6] Jesus in Jerusalem (19:45-21:38)
7] Jesus' Crucifixion and Resurrection (22:1-24:53)
3] A SIGNIFICANT PROLOGUE, LUKE 1:1-4
Luke’s gospel begins with a prologue, an introduction unlike any other gospel.
It is one beautiful sentence written in the style of classical Greek, unlike the rest of the book.
Luke uses at least four words in this opening found nowhere else in the NT, but words that would be used in official documents or histories of the first century.
Luke begins by acknowledging the obvious. He is not the first to write about the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Leon Morris states that many ancient writers start their work by criticizing their predecessors.
Luke certainly does not do that, but rather emphasizes through mention of the many how important this subject is.
Luke is joining with others who sought to write an orderly account of all that took place in the ministry of Jesus and then later through the work of the apostles.
While Luke was not there from the very beginning, he knew those who were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.
Is the beginning the birth of Jesus or the baptism of Jesus by John?
Though Luke describes the birth of Jesus, the reference here to eyewitness and ministers means the beginning is the baptism of Jesus as we see in Acts.
This is how Peter describes the one who would replace Judas as an apostle.
Acts 1:21 “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
We use the term eyewitness today in terms of history and in legal matters.
Our lawyer friend, John Mauck, argues that Luke not only was an historian and medical doctor but also could have served as Paul’s lawyer.
With verse 3 we now get to Luke’s reason and purpose for writing Luke and later the book of Acts.
Commentators like to discuss whether we should consider Luke and Acts as one book or two separate books.
I think Luke gives us the best answer in Acts 1.
Acts 1:1 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,
Luke and Acts are two separate books but they have much in common and are both written to the same person Theophilus.
Luke says in verse 3 he had perfect understanding.
It is worth noting that the word perfect was a word frequently used by historians and medical professionals.
Luke did his homework we can say.
He paid careful attention. He knew the OT Scriptures. He knew eyewitnesses. He used sources that were already written.
Luke through the direction, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote a little over ¼ of the NT.
Theophilus as you might guess is a name that means lover of God.
Is he a real person or just a name that could be used for every Christian?
The evidence would suggest because of the title most excellent that Theophilus was a real person of the first century.
Later in Acts, three times, we have the title most excellent used for Felix and Festus in Acts 23, 24, and 26.
Theophilus could have been a Roman official.
John Mauck suggests further that Theophilus was part of the Roman legal system, an investigator, connected with the trial of Paul.
This fascinating hypothesis cannot be absolutely proven, but it does give a reason why Luke wrote two very long, detailed accounts that do give great interest to historical, theological, and legal matters.
Having a different understanding, John Calvin commented on the fact that Luke wrote to a specific person rather than a general audience.
Why would Luke write to a specific person?
Calvin commented that Luke was writing in a time where there were tyrants on every hand who were seeking to stop the progress of sound doctrine. This gave occasion to Satan and his ministers to spread error. God, therefore, chose key people to be those who would receive and hold God’s truth.
Just as Paul gave specific instruction to Timothy in terms of holding sound doctrine and maintaining the true faith, so Luke could have written in a similar way to Theophilus.
Certainly, we can say that writing to Theophilus in no way restricts the meaning and application of Luke’s gospel.
Verse 4 gives the purpose statement for this book.
He wrote so that Theophilus and by extension every other reader would know with certainty the things in which you were instructed.
The verb to know is used seven times in Luke. Towards the end of the book, we find this verb used for the two disciples who walked with Jesus to Emmaus.
Luke 24:31 Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
Luke wrote that you might have absolute confidence in the person and work of Jesus Christ who came to seek and save that which is lost.
The word instructed is also an interesting word. We get our word catechized from this Greek word.
Catechized would not be a good translation here, but in terms of our situation, it does take on an appropriate meaning.
Theophilus has already been instructed or has been taught things related to what Luke will share.
His book has been specifically written so that Theophilus will know the absolute certainty of all these things.
Praise God for the certainty we have in His Word and His work of salvation.
Three great reasons for us to read, study, and delight in the Gospel of Luke.
1] To be assured
R. C. Sproul discusses briefly the story of the one time atheist and classical historian William Ramsay.
Ramsay hoped to show that the NT was filled with rubbish and historical nonsense.
He decided to follow in what he thought were the “alleged” steps of Paul as described by Luke.
By God’s sovereign grace, Ramsay was converted to Christianity in the course of his travels and study. He witnessed first-hand the historical reliability of what Luke wrote.
Ramsay and other historians have identified that Luke was the most accurate historian of the entire ancient world.
I think Luke beautifully describes the Christian faith.
You must be saved from your sin.
The message of salvation is not just based on feeling or vain speculation. It is the historical truth of all that Jesus did.
2] To be conformed
There is no absolutely no contradiction in any part of Scripture.
Some have tried to draw a distinction between the theology of Luke vs. the theology that we find in Paul’s writings.
This is nonsense.
Rom. 8:29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
God’s great work of salvation is deliverance from our sin and rebellion and then further is to be made like the Son of God.
It is good to consider and give much thought to the person and work of Jesus Christ as described especially in the gospels.
3] To be challenged and called
I don’t agree with all the theology of the book, The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman.
But Colemen does make a beautiful statement concerning our Lord.
As I mentioned earlier, a great summary statement for Luke’s gospel is found in Luke 19:10.
10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Coleman writes of this great plan of Jesus.
His life was ordered by His objective. Everything he did and said was part of the whole pattern. It had significance because it contributed to the ultimate purpose of his life in redeeming the world for God. This was the motivating vision governing his behavior. His steps were ordered by it. Mark it well. Not for one moment did Jesus lose sight of his goal…. There was nothing haphazard about his life – no wasted energy, not an idle word. He was on business for God. He lived, he died, he rose again according to schedule. Like a general plotting his course of battle, the Son of God calculated to win.
As we are conformed into the image of our Lord, may our lives also be directed to the great purpose of seeing the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His kingdom!
Amen and amen.