Luke: So You May Know With Certainty (Luke 1:1-4; 24:36-53)
Message #3 of "NT70 -- 70 Days through the New Testament" by Pastor Jeff MacLurg; Our Savior's Baptist Church (www.oursaviorsbaptist.org), Federal Way, Wash.; Sunday, July 17, 2011 (My notes from the 9:45 and 11 am services, I pray they will be useful to you.)
--- Can you be sure? ---
- Did it really happen? (historical)
- Does it satisfy my intellectual needs? (personal)
- Do I want to follow it? (will)
--- Luke, the book of "certainty" (1:1-4) ---
Luke was written 2,000 years ago to answer that same question. They were asking back then, just as they are today. The book was commissioned to address nagging doubts.
* The book - a book of certainty, a book that shows the certainty of what Christianity is about. Luke is longest Gospel, written almost entirely in chronological order. Matthew - emphasizes what Jesus said; Mark - emphasizes what Jesus did; Luke - who Jesus is; John - written later to address questions people still had.
* The writer - Luke. Never mentioned by name, but it's clear that Acts and Luke were written by the same person and Luke is named several times in Acts. Luke was a Gentile (not a jew). He hadn't been looking for a Messiah, he came with a little more of a blank slate. Luke was a doctor. Like today, being a doctor required training. It's clear from the focus of his writing, that he's not writing to put an emphasis on himself, but on Jesus. Luke never knew Jesus, he was a follower of Paul and knew Peter, John, James. Paul wrote more books, but Luke wrote more overall. Luke later travelled with Paul and supported Paul's ministry. Luke is still described today as an excellent historian for his research, investigation and writing.
* The recipient - Theophilus - "most excellent" = Roman official. (The designation was repeated several times at the end of Acts referring to other Roman officials.) Theophilus - a greek name. (A gentile.) Probably wealthy, almost certainly of great influence. Theophilus means "one who loves God" - probably a recent convert. Might have put his job (and live) at risk to be identified as a follower of Jesus. It appears that Theophilus commissioned Luke to write an accurate description, so that Theophilus could be sure of what he believed (or learn if it was untrue). Luke was probably a prominent, learned, esteemed doctor. Theophilus probably also commissioned Luke to write about Acts later after reading the book of Luke, which also suggests that Theophilus was satisfied with the work Luke had done in the book now referred to as the book of Luke.
* The method - Luke was not an eyewitness to the life and acts of Jesus. So he had to research. First, he consulted other writings (including Matthew, Mark and some of Paul's early letters; probably also other letters and writings by eyewitnesses and recipients of miracles, other claims people had made that were ultimately untrue), next, he interviews eyewitnesses (and cynics and critics) and third, he consulted with the oral traditions. (Before the bombardment of media, oral tradition was quite reliable and the most common way to retain knowledge from generation to generation.)
--- Why you can be certain ---
Why does Luke do all this? Why does he go to all this trouble? "...so you may know the CERTAINTY..." The Jesus of history that you've heard of really did claim to be God, truly did live, really was killed, really was seen again after his death. Luke writes so that you can be absolutely certain that Jesus is real.
How can we be so certain today?
1. The reliability of the person who wrote the book. (He didn't start predisposed to believe. He came to believe after looking into it for himself. He was an intellectual man who knew how to look for answers.)
2. The reliability of what he wrote. (His assignment was to find the truth. If he got it wrong -- for Theophilus was also a wise man -- then Luke wouldn't get paid. Luke wrote so that Theophilus could know the truth. He took the time to sort through things and write down what he was certain was truth after he did his research.)
3. The person for whom he wrote. (Written for the one who was asking questions. For someone who has questions and wants to be certain. Luke wrote this book for us.)
Luke comes back to the same theme at the end of the book. Even after the death and resurrection, the disciples still wondered what the truth was.
4. Luke 24:39-43 - The doubting witnesses to Jesus' resurrection. They didn't expect to see Jesus again. So now here he is and they're confused. To prove it, Jesus showed them, the very hands and feet that were pierced by the Roman nails. Still, doubtful - perhaps this was a ghost? By his eating and sitting and talking with them, Jesus showed them he was physically alive, he was real. (He is real.)
5. Luke 24:44-48 - Jesus fulfills all God's prophecies. Jesus points out all the places in scripture (what we now call the "Old Testament") where Jesus was fulfilling ALL of God's promises - ways Jesus could not have engineered and manipulated in his short human life, about his birth, his life, his death. (This is the part that's exciting to me as someone who works in marketing and media - either this was the most amazing con of all times, a marketing message the likes of which has never been seen before or since - despite how much more savvy we are today at selling hair care products and cars - that this must be true. It's too well executed to be the thoughts of people living 2,000 years ago. And it would have had to be the biggest conspiracy of all times.)
6. Luke 24:49-53 - the Holy Spirit confirms it. Faith is not based on a feeling is Christianity is real. Christianity is based on the fact that Jesus did exist, that he did live and that he is everything he claimed to be (including that he claimed to be God and to be our savior). Luke's account is a solid and reliable description of the account of Jesus' life and Jesus' promise of those who believe in him. Luke wrote this book so that we would understand the reliability, the historicity and the intellectual examination that bears out Jesus' promise.
Christianity challenges us to look to see if it's real, if it's reliable. Christianity promises that once you're convinced, that your belief will be strengthened. Christianity doesn't ask you to just respond to a feeling - Christianity says you must determine for yourself if it's true.
Now... we could say similar things about a man named Plato. Or that there was a French ruler named Napoleon, spending an hour proving he existed. But at the end, we'd walk out saying "So what? What does it matter that this guy or that guy lived and did and said certain things?" Whether or not they lived has no impact on your life today.
Jesus is different. It matters if Jesus lived. Because if he did, Jesus makes some bold claims (that makes him a liar or makes him God). Jesus makes a request of you. And he says that your answer has eternal implications. If you are researching reasonably, intellectually, without a bias or without a predetermined answer in mind that you are seeking to prove, then you will intellectually arrive at the existence of Jesus. Then and only then the Holy Spirit will affirm and confirm and strengthen what you understand.
And then you must decide - will you accept Jesus or violate your own intellect and choose to willfully deny Jesus?