Would you say you have a confident Christian faith? Do you have confidence that what you believe about Jesus is really true? For example, do you have enough confidence in the Christian faith to be willing to share it with non-Christian family and friends? And are you confident enough in Jesus to let him guide you through life – and even through death?
If your answer to any of those questions is ‘no’, ‘not sure’ or ‘sometimes’ – then Luke’s Gospel is for you. You see, Luke was written 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. As Luke puts it in verse 4 this morning, he 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 this Gospel will do ‘exactly what it says on the tin’. May God use it to give us a more certain faith, a more confident trust in Christ.
Luke’s background – a physician and friend of Paul
As we look at the first four verses of Luke this morning, I want us to think about Luke’s background, Luke’s sources, and Luke’s message.
So let me begin with a some background to Luke’s Gospel – this Gospel we have open in our hands. It was probably written around the mid-60s AD, approximately thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
This Gospel is actually the first part of a two-volume work that Luke wrote. The second volume is the book of Acts. Taken together, Luke’s Gospel and Acts fill over a quarter of the New Testament and provide us with a detailed account of the first three decades of Christianity – from the birth of Christ to the spread of the Church across the Roman Empire.
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. We know this because in his letter to the Colossians Paul calls Luke his “dear friend, the doctor”. There are several passages in Acts when Luke writes of “we” or “us” doing this or that. It seems Luke was with Paul for some of the highlights, and lowlights of his missionary career – including his arrest in Jerusalem, his shipwreck on Malta and his final journey to Rome.
If you look at verse 3 of our reading this morning, you’ll see that Luke addresses his Gospel to a man he calls “most excellent Theophilus”. The book of Acts is also dedicated to Theophilus as well. 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. That impression is reinforced by the fact that verse 4 says Theophilus has already been “taught” things about Jesus.
Its interesting that Luke describes Theophilus as “most excellent”. This title may be a sign that he was someone of high rank and social status. He may have been Luke’s patron or sponsor – a wealthy man who paid for the publication of Luke’s writings.
Whoever he was, it seems that Theophilus was a man looking for reassurance that the 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!
Luke’s sources – eyewitness evidence and careful research
Anyone who has ever looked at President Trump’s twitter feed will be familiar with the expression ‘Fake News’. As the internet has expanded, fake news, falsehoods and misinformation have become widespread. At college, for example, we have to tell our students to be very careful what sources they use for their essays – even Wikipedia entries can’t always be trusted!
When forming our opinions and making decisions we need to make sure we are using reliable sources. And so Luke begins his Gospel today by reassuring Theophilus that his sources are impeccable. In verse 2 Luke reassures Theophilus that what he has been taught about Jesus comes from the best possible sources. Luke reminds us that the Christian faith rests on the testimony of “eyewitnesses and servants of the word”.
Who were these eyewitnesses and servants of the word? Well, they were the apostles – the first twelve disciples of Jesus, minus Judas. 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. As Luke puts in in verse 2 – they “handed down” their message to the early Church.
So when Matthew, Mark, Luke and John came to write their four Gospels, they were putting on paper what the eye-witness apostles had been preaching and teaching for some time before. In fact its likely that Mark was a companion of the apostle Peter, while Matthew and John’s Gospel’s were probably written by the apostles of the same name.
As for Luke, he says in our passage today that he has consulted these early sources and supplemented them with his own research. In verse 3 he tells us that he has “carefully investigated everything from the beginning.” As a companion of Paul, Luke would have had privileged access to all the leading figures in the early church, including many of the surviving apostles. (Its also interesting that Luke provides lots of information about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and its just possible he had the opportunity to interview her during her lifetime.)
Luke, you see, was a careful historian, a responsible scholar. He wants us to trust what we are about to read. He wants us to know that he has cross-checked the core facts about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. They are reliable reports, not fake news!
Luke’s message – Jesus, saviour of the world!
So we’ve looked at Luke’s background and we’ve thought about his sources. But what about Luke’s message? What are the big themes, the central convictions, that Luke wants us to believe?
Well there’s a key word that appears in verse 1 today, and that word is “fulfilled”. Luke is convinced that the coming of Jesus marked the fulfilment of God’s past promises to the world. Promises to send a Saviour for sin, to send a just and perfect king, and to send a conqueror of the grave. Time after time as we go through his Gospel, we will see Luke show us how Jesus fulfils all the God-given promises of the Old Testament.
At the very end of Luke’s Gospel, in chapter 24, he actually records the risen Jesus’ words on the first Easter Sunday – words he spoke to his frightened first disciples. He said: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
With those words Jesus confirmed that he was indeed the fulfilment of the Old Testament. He also confirmed that those frightened disciples would now be his bold apostles to the world. They would be eyewitnesses to his resurrection, and their words would be the foundation of the Church’s creed.
As I finish, you may know that today is the feast of Christ the King in the church calendar. It’s the day when we traditionally celebrate Christ’s worldwide rule – the day when we remember that Jesus is the rightful ruler of every nation, tribe and tongue. The day when we acknowledge Christ to be the glorious ‘Son of Man’ described in Daniel chapter 7 – a heaven-sent king with a never-ending kingdom.
And that conviction is certainly central to the message of Luke. In his Gospel and in Acts, Luke is passionate to present Jesus as the Saviour of the World, as someone every nation needs to hear about. As we read through Luke’s writings we see the good news of the Gospel ‘go global’. We see the Church spread from Jerusalem to Judea – then through Samaria to the ends of the earth.
So Luke leaves us with a challenge today as Christians in Ashton and Mouldsworth. Do we personally believe Christ is our Saviour, Lord and King? Because its Gospel truth, not fake news. And will we make personal sacrifices to share our faith and grow our congregation? Because, as Luke explains, that’s the task of the church in every generation.
Let’s pray: Lord Jesus, thank you that our faith in you rests on secure foundations. Help us to be confident Christians and confident to share it with others. In your name we pray, Amen.