Today we begin a journey through Luke’s Gospel that will take us well into the New Year, so let me begin with a some background to Luke’s Gospel. It was probably written around the mid-60s AD, approximately thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Luke himself was a travelling companion of the apostle Paul, supporting Paul in his evangelistic missions around the eastern Mediterranean. Before becoming a Christian, it seems that Luke’s profession was as a physician – a doctor.
Introducing Luke’s Gospel
If you were to turn back to Luke chapter 1, you’ll see that Luke addresses his Gospel to a man called the “most excellent Theophilus”. Unfortunately we don’t know exactly who he was, although if we look carefully there are some clues!
For a start Theophilus’ name is Greek, suggesting he was a Gentile, not a Jew. His name also means “lover of God”, which might suggest that Theophilus was already a Christian believer even before Luke’s Gospel landed in his inbox. Its also interesting that Luke describes Theophilus as “most excellent”. This title may be a sign that he was someone of high rank and social status.
Whoever he was, it seems that Theophilus was a man looking for reassurance that his Christian faith had firm foundations. Like many of us, I suspect, he was someone who sometimes doubted – someone wanting greater certainty concerning the things he’d been taught about Christ. His faith was shaky and needed strengthening by Luke!
And so Luke begins his Gospel by reassuring Theophilus that his sources are impeccable. Luke says that the Christian faith rests on the testimony of “eyewitnesses and servants of the word”.
These eyewitness and servants were the first disciples of Jesus. They were the men who’d been with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry and had seen him after his resurrection. The Christian church began when these brave, Spirit-filled apostles began proclaiming all that Jesus had said and done.
And they ‘handed down’ their message to the early Church, to men like Luke. As a companion of Paul, Luke would have had particularly privileged access to all the leading figures in the early church, including many of the surviving apostles.
So as we read Luke’s Gospel in the weeks to come, we can be confident that Luke was a careful historian, a well-informed writer. We can trust what we’re about to read. Luke has cross-checked the core facts about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. They are reliable reports, not fake news!
The mission of John the Baptist
And so our journey through Luke begins today with an encounter with John the Baptist. Here was an eccentric man who lived in the wilderness, dressed in camel hair and ate wild honey and locusts. A man who came out of nowhere and captured his nation’s attention. He did so not because of his appearance but because he was armed with the Word of God (see verse 2). John the Baptist was a man on a Heaven-sent mission.
From his base beside the Jordan River, John called people to repent of their sins and seek God’s forgiveness. As a sign of their sincerity, he challenged people to submit to baptism in the waters of the Jordan.
Crowds flocked to hear John, and his ministry even came to the attention of the religious hierarchy. People speculated wildly as to his identity: Was he the Messiah? Was he Elijah? Was he a great prophet?
John the Baptist’s reply to all those questions was a firm “No!” He wasn’t a messiah or a prophet but a witness. John understood his mission to be a Witness to the ‘Word made flesh’. He has been sent by God the Father to proclaim the imminent arrival of his Son. John was the official announcer of the first ever Advent season.
As Luke puts it in verse 4 today, John had come as “a voice calling in the wilderness”, saying “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him”. John’s mission was one that the prophets Isaiah and Malachi had foreseen centuries beforehand – Luke actually quotes Isaiah in today’s passage.
Just as these two prophets had foretold, John offered a remarkable testimony to the identity of Jesus:
• Firstly ,John described Jesus as “the Lord” (v.4). Not merely a man or even simply the Messiah – but the Lord, the God of Israel himself, who has come to meet his people. The Creator of the cosmos was coming in the form of a human creature. John the Baptist said the baby born in Bethlehem should be identified as divine.
• And secondly, in verse 6, John says “all people will see God’s salvation”. In other words, the coming Messiah will bring God’s grace and mercy to his people. And not just to his people, but to men and women from every nation.
The forgiveness of sins that John spoke about would be secured by the death and resurrection of the coming Lord – and offered to all by faith. John came to herald the first Easter as well as the first Christmas. John’s mission was to explain the saving significance of the life of Christ.
As I finish this morning, would you say you have a confident Christian faith?
Do you have confidence that what John the Baptist said about Jesus Christ is really true?
Are you confident enough in the identity of the Lord Jesus to let him guide you through life – and even lead you through death?
If your answer to any of those questions is ‘no’, ‘not sure’ or ‘sometimes’ – then Luke’s Gospel is for you.
Luke wrote for people who are familiar with the Christian faith, but who crave greater certainty – for people who are seeking reassurance that their Christian faith is well-placed. Luke wants to give us “certainty” concerning the things we’ve been taught.
So as we journey together through Luke over the next few months, its my prayer that God will use this Gospel to give us a more certain faith – a more confident trust in the Christ whom John proclaimed.
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