By Andrew E. Courtis
The Gospel According to Luke is the third and the longest of the four Gospel accounts. In addition to being the longest of the four Gospels, it is also the longest book in the New Testament. Like the other gospel accounts, Luke tells the story of Jesus Christ. But one of its unique features is that is first of two volumes, with the second being the book of Acts. Luke-Acts tell the story of the life and ministry of Christ and His ongoing work through His church. These two works combined make up over a quarter of the New Testament making Luke responsible for writing most of the New Testament with Paul coming a close second.
Why do a sermon series on the Gospel of Luke? Firstly it is a part of the Scriptures so therefore it is of great significance and importance (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16). Secondly, the fact that there are four gospel accounts reveals to us how important it is to consider Christ. We ought to gaze often at the magnificence of His glory. We ought to be familiar with His attitudes and actions. Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, and He is the Head of the Church. One day every knee will bow before Him, so it is always to our benefit to study the Gospels.
Before we consider the opening verses of this book, it is important to provide some comments on the author of this volume and its major themes. As the title suggests, Luke is the author of this book. This title is not a part of the original text of Scripture, but it was a title given very early on as a result of early church tradition. The overwhelming consensus of the early church is that Luke wrote this along with the book of Acts.
Luke was a Gentile believer (cf. Col. 4:11, 14) who accompanied the apostle Paul during his second and third missionary journeys as indicated by the “we” sections in Acts (16:10-17; 20:6-16; 21; 27; 28). In Paul’s letter to the Colossians we learn that he was a doctor. Paul calls him “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14). With this in mind, it is interesting how this is reflected in some of the things he writes. For example, when Jesus entered Peter’s house and saw his mother-in-law sick, both Matthew and Mark describe her as being sick with a “fever” (Matt. 8:14; Mark 1:30). Whereas Luke adds that it was a “high fever” (Luke 4:38). An interesting account is difference between Mark and Luke when describing the situation of the woman with the discharge of blood for twelve years. Mark said that she “had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had” (Mark 5:26). Whereas Luke (according to some manuscripts) omitted the reference to physicians.
We also hear of Luke at the end of Paul’s ministry during his final Roman imprisonment. After many had departed from him, Paul wrote “only Luke is with me” (2 Tim. 4:11a). Luke stayed with Paul through thick and thin and he evidently was a loyal and beloved man.
Luke the man is an example of someone who uses his trade or skill to the glory of God and for His service. Sometimes people make a distinction between secular work and spiritual work. The reality is, there is no distinction. For the Christian, all work ought to be spiritual. Our vocation is a calling of God. Whatever task of work God has given you, use it to the glory of God.
There are many themes in the Gospel of Luke, and we will consider them closely in the relevant exposition. But for the purpose of this introduction, the Gospel of Luke can be summarised as follows: The Lord Jesus Christ is the Sovereign Seeking Saviour of Sinners. By this statement we learn that Jesus is in full control of all that is going on around Him. He is on a Divine mission that was determined before the foundation of the world. This mission involves Him entering into this world as a man, as He seeks out people to save and to be a part of His kingdom. Jesus lives a perfect life fulling all the law we broke. He dies a substitutionary death providing the forgiveness of sins for all who believe in Him. As the Sovereign Seeking Saviour, Jesus alone reaches out with the only hope for lost sinners.
In the opening verses of this book, Luke provides an introduction to this great volume. In these four verses we learn compelling reasons why this Gospel account is a reliable report.
1. THE DIVINE PLAN (1:1)
Luke begins, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us” (1:1). He acknowledges that many had already compiled various accounts of the life of Christ. This possibly included Matthew and Mark’s Gospel accounts, along with some other writings that are now lost. These accounts record “the things accomplished among us”. The word “accomplished” carries the idea of fulfilment. This means the events in the life of Christ were all a part of the Divine plan. The life and ministry of Jesus was the fulfilment of the grand plan. Promises and prophecies were fulfilled in the life of Jesus, and as a result of His ministry recored in Luke, God continues to accomplish His great plan. This great ongoing accomplishment is recorded in the book of Acts. We need to know that there is something far bigger going on than what is happening in our lives.
Here are two of many examples of the great Divine plan unfolding in Luke. There was a time when Joseph and Mary has made their annual trip to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. As they began travelling back with a large groups of friends and family, they assumed the twelve year old Jesus was with them. After a days journey they began to search for Him but they couldn’t find Him. They returned to Jerusalem and after three days they finally found Him. Jesus was in the temple grounds with the religious teachers listening, asking and answering questions. Mary asked Him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (2:48). To this Jesus replies with an answer that reveals the unfolding of the Divine plan. He said, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:49). He Jesus revealed the necessity of His Divine mission.
The second example is the time Jesus went up on the mountain to pray with Peter, James and John. As Jesus was praying, His appearance was transformed. The disciples saw a glimpse of the future glory that will be revealed at His Second Coming. Then He was seen talking with Moses and Elijah. Luke writes, “who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9:31). This reveals that His future death was a significant part of His mission and the Divine plan. There is no surprise then that in 9:51 Luke writes, “he set his face to go to Jerusalem”. From that point on the focus in the Gospel of Luke is on Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem where He will be crucified.
These two examples demonstrate how the events in the life of Jesus are accomplishing the great Divine plan.
2. THE DETAILED PROCEDURE (1:2-3)
How did Luke go about writing this work? He makes it clear that it came as the result of a detailed procedure. He writes,
“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” (1:2-3).
Though Luke was not an eyewitness, he did consult with those that were. These eyewitnesses were also individuals who had been impacted and gripped by what they saw. They became “ministers of the word” (1:2). So after investigating what we heard and read, Luke wrote these things down as “an orderly account” (1:3). I take this to refer to his deliberate style and logic used to portray Jesus as the Sovereign Seeking Saviour of Sinners. A striking emphasis in this Gospel is the fact the this message of salvation is for all kinds of people. Luke particularly emphasises the fact that Jesus reached out to outsiders, outcasts, and the oppressed. For example emphasis and attention is showntowards women, children, the poor, tax collectors, Samaritans, and Gentiles.
This teaches us that the gospel is a global message and it is not just for the elite. Rich and poor, male and female, known and unknown, all need this message of salvation. As Christians, we are not to to give preference or priority to one group over another. We are to desire to see people from all these categories come to Christ. Some have taken this emphasis and they view Jesus to be some kind of moral guru or a social revolutionary. But such an understanding misses the whole point of His mission. The great mission of Jesus can simply be summarised by the familiar words, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). The Gospel of Luke presents Jesus as the Sovereign Seeking Saviour of Sinners. This great emphasis of His saving mission is throughout the Gospel, but is highlighted in the three parables of Luke 15. The Lost Sheep (15:4-7), the Lost Coin (15:8-10), and the Prodigal Son (15:11-32). Each of these parables emphasise Jesus as the seeking Saviour of sinners.
Luke then addresses this to the “most excellent Theophilus” (1:3). This is the title of an offical with high social position. This again highlights that salvation is for all. Though Luke places an emphasis on those of low standing, he addresses this book to a man of high social standing.
3. THE DECLARED PURPOSE (1:4)
In verse 4 Luke makes his purpose clear. He wrote, “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (1:4). Theophilus had been taught things about Christ, but Luke desires for him to have the truths anchored in certainty and conviction. It is important to know that as we come under the clarity of the Word of God, there is a certainty and assurance that is ours for the taking. It is with this purpose in view that Luke writes this masterpiece.
As we work our way through this great gospel account, we will see example after example of Jesus Christ, the Sovereign Seeking Saviour of Sinners. As we see this, let us pray that our hearts will be filled with such awe and amazement, that we respond with adoption toward our glorious King.