Key Text: 19:41
The opening four verses of Luke’s Gospel contain one sentence, which is essentially Luke’s introduction to his account of Christ’s life. This sentence is recognised by scholars as being the work of a educated writer well versed in the Greek language. It informs us that Luke was much more than a medical doctor. He was a also an author and an accomplished historian.
In v3 he writes about “having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first”. The words “perfect understanding” refer to “accurate investigations” or a “close following of the facts”. Afterwards he writes about writing in order. This refers to an orderly setting forth of the facts.
Luke was not an eye witness of the life of Christ. From the outset Luke records that he received testimonies from those who knew Christ face to face throughout his earthly ministry. This sets him apart from Matthew, Mark and John who lived in Galilee and Judea at the same time when Jesus taught and performed his many miracles. Luke, however, set himself the task of touring the area we today call Israel, talking to those who saw and heard Jesus. He compiled his notes and subsequently authored the Gospel which bears his name. Church historians believe there is evidence which points to Luke being present in Judea and Galilee for two years from 58 AD during which period he conducted his research.
Luke presents himself as a credible and accurate historian, more than any of the other evangelists. This was because he was writing as a Greek scholar for the Greek world. It was important that he presented the facts of the Christ’s life in a convincing manner. He fixed the time of Christ’s birth, according to the calendar of the times (2:1-3) and stated when John the Baptist began his ministry in a Roman and Jewish time frame. He went to pains to present the story of Christ as authentic.
A Immediate Purpose – To present a friend, by the name of Theophilus (“Loved by God”), with the narrative of Christ’s life. If Theophilus was a Christian Luke was seeking to strengthen his faith. If Theophilus was not a Christian Luke was endeavouring to win him over to Christianity.
B Intermediate Purpose – It is clear that Luke’s writing was aimed at a much wider readership. All that he intended for Theophilus he intended for all who read his account. Indeed the name Theophilus, “Loved by God”, reminds us of our standing with the Lord as we learn the facts of his life, death and resurrection.
C Debated Purpose – There are other ideas as to the reason for Luke’s narrative, which while not substantiated are interesting to Bible students and church historians.
The theory that Theophilus was a rich benefactor who was sympathetic to Christianity. Luke dedicated his work to this man in order that it might receive widespread circulation. He may have used his work as a defence of the Christian Church in the Greek speaking world. Some argue that Paul was in prison when Luke conducted his research and that the narrative was a defence of Paul and his beliefs.
D Ultimate Purpose – That all nations might know of Christ. As the only Gentile author in the Bible this was Luke’s consuming vision. The parable of the Good Samaritan (10:25-37)and the cleansing of the ten lepers ( 17:11-19) highlights this truth as does 2:32, 3:6, 4:25-27, 9:51-56 and 24:47.
As a physician, greatly loved by Paul especially, Luke was a man with a spirit of deep compassion. While this attitude was probably already part of his nature prior to embracing Christ, the Gospel gave him not only a Christian interest in the lives of others but in the tender compassion of Jesus Christ. Two parables, unique to Luke emphasise this feature of Luke’s character; “The Good Samaritan” and “The Prodigal Son”. Both are among the most famous parables related by Christ. In The Good Samaritan the importance of kindness and grace are stressed. It is a practical outworking of “The Sermon on the Mount” where we are taught such virtues as turning the other cheek, of going the second mile, of praying for our enemies and forgiving because our Father in heaven has forgiven us. Gresham Machen’s words have special relevance where Luke’s interest in this parable is concerned: “As a physician Luke was interested in the relief of suffering; as a philanthropist he had sympathy for poverty and all kinds of distress.” In The Prodigal Son the principle of unconditional love is set forth by way of illustration.
In both parables the glory and beauty of the Gospel is presented. Christ is The Good Samaritan, despised and rejected, yet willing to rescue the wounded and weary. He is on a rescue mission to save the untouchables in society. He loves those who are treated with contempt by the world at large. In The Prodigal Son God is the Father who welcomes the sinner into his family and restores the backslider to his favour. There is a warmth and vibrancy in these beautiful stories which are timeless in their application.
It is Luke alone who depicts Christ weeping over Jerusalem (19:41-44), challenging us in relation to our sympathy for a perishing world.
Luke writes in the vein of The Synoptics, telling the story of Jesus from the perspective of his humanity and relating a narrative that takes the reader from the baptism of Jesus through his Great Galilean Ministry to the final days in Jerusalem, culminating with his death, resurrection and ascension. He does, however, weave considerable material into the narrative which is unique to him. Much of this unique material is characteristic of Luke’s approach to the life of Jesus. The following are a sample:
A The Nativity of Christ 1-2
Luke has a greater interest in the story of Christ’s birth than any of the evangelists. This was due to his desire to write a complete history. As a good biographer he began by looking at the ancestry of the subject, in his case Jesus Christ. The story of John’s conception, the conception of Jesus, the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth and the presentation of the baby in the temple are all vital ingredients of the story of our Lord. I believe, however, that we observe Luke’s interest in the conception of our Lord from the perspective of a medical doctor. Why would he not be intrigued? No other baby was ever conceived as this child. The question asked by Mary (1:34) is still asked today by the skeptics. The response by Gabriel is the best explanation of the miracle of the incarnation to found in the New Testament (1:35).
The raising of the son of the widow of Nain (7:11-17), the crippled woman (13:10-17), the man afflicted with dropsy (14:1-6) and ten lepers (17:11-19).
Mary’s song of praise or Magnificat (1:46-56) and Zechariah’s Prophecy of Benedictus (1:67-80). The elegance of language points to a man of letters who took an intense interest in the manner in which he composed his material.
Luke emphasises the roles of women in the life of our Lord. While his mother is not blessed above women she is certainly highly favoured among women (1:28). The close of the nativity record reveals a mother who watches her growing boy with love and discernment pondering all within her heart (2:51). It is he alone who introduces us to the saintly Elisabeth whose son was filled with the Holy Ghost from his birth (1:39-45). The godly Anna who waited long for the Messiah is alone identified by Luke (2:36-38). He tells us the history of Mary Magdalene and reveals the names of other ministering women (8:1-3). He related the parable of the widow who persevered despite the fact that the judge who heard her case was known for his lack of justice (18:1-8).
There are two incidents in Christ’s life which Luke alone relates. One concerns the conversion of Zacchaeus (19:1-10). This fits neatly in with Luke’s desire to portray Jesus as the compassionate one who embraced all men, even the chief of publicans. The second narrative which Luke tells beautifully is the road to Emmaus experience. The heartbroken disciples, the stranger drawing alongside, the stirring exposition of Christ in the Old Testament, the invitation to remain at their house and the sudden revelation of the resurrected Messiah will forever provide comfort and inspiration for God’s people everywhere.
Lessons from Luke
While the outline of Luke’s ministry is essentially similar to Matthew and Mark in that it follows a similar narrative, the lessons from the book for us today are significant. William Hendrickson summarised these lessons:
A A Book of Doctrine Showing us what to Believe. He emphasised the true humanity and deity of Christ and expounds the way of salvation (18:13).
B A Book of Ethics Telling us How to Live. The leper who returns teaches us gratitude and the Good Samaritan points the way to compassion.
C A Book of Comfort Teaching us Why to Rejoice. Luke’s Gospel begins with song (Mary’s Magnificat) and concludes with great praise (24:52-53). Christ is at the heart of this joy.
D A Book of Prophecy Informing us What to Expect. Prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus came (22:37, 23:34, 23:50) and Luke reveals immediate future prophecy in that Jerusalem will be besieged and destroyed (19:43-44). The credibility of the Word of God was especially emphasised to the disciples on the road to Emmaus.