The Gospel of Luke 1:1-4

I’m not sure what the best way to approach this is going to be. Verse by verse exposition or taking larger sections and giving the overall force of the passage? I guess in a real commentary doing both is ideal. I think what I’ll do is make an attempt at summaries of sections with some comments about specific things in the text where I think helpful.

Ok, let’s dive in.

Luke 1:1-4

The overall intent of these verses is plain enough. Luke has taken up the task of writing his gospel after surveying what others have done (possibly including Mark and Matthew) and determining that there may be need for an “orderly account” of Jesus’ life, ministry, teaching, death, and resurrection. “Orderly account” doesn’t have to mean that his is more factually correct than other gospel accounts. Naturally, this taps into a much larger and complicated discussion of what is “correct.” In what sense does Christian biography (which the gospels seem to be a form of) need to be factually true in order to be “the truth.”

Luke does seem to have a tendency to include more information than the other gospels (it is the longest of the four). However, I tend to view the “orderly account” as being an explanation for how the Jesus movement went from a Jewish thing to a Jewish-plus-Gentile thing.

We also learn from these opening words (v.2) that Luke wasn’t an eyewitness of Jesus’ life and ministry. During his work with Paul (also not technically an eyewitness of Jesus’ earthly life), he likely had interactions with various early church leaders, and feasibly a fair number of Jesus’ original disciples. Whether he did or not, he affirms that he has “investigated” the traditions handed down by those earliest followers.

The letter is addressed to “Theophilus,” which could be an individual with that name. My own opinion is that Theophilus is any of us. And by that I mean any of us who would seek to be a “lover of God,” which is what the name itself means. Either way, Luke’s intent is clear. He wants to provide people with some sense of assurance about things they have been told about Jesus.

Dang. We are going to be moving pretty slow if I take this long to explain stuff. I’m going to need to keep this moving right along.

The Gospel of Luke… Intro

Before we jump into the text proper, a few introductory words might prove helpful. Let’s do this in a question/answer format.

Who wrote The Gospel According to Luke?

Seems easy enough, right? Church tradition has identified Luke as the author, so in my mind it would take some conclusive evidence to demonstrate otherwise. One argument for Luke’s authorship of the gospel goes something like this. It is pretty much universally accepted that whoever wrote Luke also wrote Acts. The “we/us” passage of Acts indicate that whoever wrote Luke/Acts was one of Paul’s partners in ministry who travelled with him. According to Colossians, 2 Timothy, and Philemon, Luke was someone who was known to Paul and co-labored with him on a regular basis. So while neither church tradition nor the textual evidence is strong enough on their own to establish Luke as the author, both pieces taken together make a fairly strong case.

When was The Gospel of Luke written?

If Luke is the author, then the latest the gospel could have been written is the early 80’s when it is believed that Luke died. A fairly even-handed guess would be sometime between the mid-60’s (after the final events recorded in Acts) and before the early-80’s. The question that drives some of the speculation is whether the destruction of Jerusalem is predicted by Jesus in Luke or is it a Lucan literary device to refer to something that has already happened. Confusing, I know. Don’t lose sleep over it.

Why was this gospel written?

This may be the most important thing to understand as we follow Jesus through the pages of Luke. If Luke did co-labor with Paul in his missionary endeavors, presumably that would have taken them well beyond the borders of the Jewish world and deep into Gentile territory. As they presented Jesus the Messiah as the rightful Lord and Savior of every tribe, tongue, and nation, questions along the following lines were sure to follow… “How has it come to pass that a failed Jewish revolutionary has come to be revered as the universal Lord over all the world?” It is a fair enough question, and one that Luke takes a stab at answering. As we go through the gospel, we’ll be sure to stop along the way and see how Luke seeks to answer this question.

I’m also going to throw in a map. I like maps. I think they are helpful. One of the things a map does is to serve as a reminder that the events that Luke records aren’t just stories that sort of float around out in space. No, the story Luke tells happened in a real time and a real place.

The Gospel of Luke… starting now

Today, at church, we started a new series on the Gospel of Luke. I got us started, and my enthusiasm for sharing all that I know and love about the gospels may have got the better of me. I’m not saying that’s a good thing. I pretty sure that people left today thinking, “that guy knows a lot about Jesus,” but not necessarily having tons of helpful things to grab hold of. Not that I think having “helpful things to grab hold of” was the intent of any of the gospel writers, which was in fact one of the points I was making. I think you get the idea.

So in my very limited ability, I tried to convey that there is so much to know and understand about who Jesus is in the gospels. The problem is that I may have tried to share all of that in one 30+ minute message. My text was mostly chapter 4 of Luke, and it really could should have been at least three different sermons.

Which brings me to why I’m here. I was pretty excited about everything that I had to say today, but sometimes EVERYTHING isn’t the best thing. You know… too much of a good thing.

So, instead of ambushing unsuspecting church-goers with more than they bargained for, I’m going to move a good bit of my discussion to here. I’m doing this for a few reasons.

First, as I’ve already said, I need an outlet. I’ll be studying Luke with the church and a couple different small groups. But I’ll enjoy having a place to say all that I’d like to say that, frankly, most people aren’t all that interested in.

Second, while looking for resources geared towards helping people study Luke on their own, I was fairly disappointed with the quality of what’s available for free online. I don’t want to denigrate the work that people have done to explain this gospel, but it just seems like they weren’t asking, “What is going to be helpful for people who are trying to make sense of Luke as they are sitting in front of their computer.” I’m absolutely certain that my efforts will suffer from the same deficiencies, but it won’t be from a lack of trying.

And third, I am hopeful that those who are studying Luke this summer and have questions will feel free to ask away. Church services generally don’t allow for that sort of interaction, nor would it be entirely helpful. Even if we made the opportunity available, people don’t ask the questions they have; either because they feel dumb asking or they think others will judge them for saying off-the-wall stuff. Hopefully, this can be a place where neither of these things get in the way of some good interaction.

So ideally, this will end up being a combination of commentary and online Bible study. We’ll see.

There are, however, a few obstacles with doing what I plan to do here.

1) While I know more than your average person about the Bible, I fall a far cry short of anything resembling a Biblical scholar. I’ll try to do decent research for what I put together, but please take it all with a grain of salt. I’m just a guy who loves studying the Bible, but probably gets it wrong about as often as I get it right.

2) I have a day job. It is called “being a pastor.” And while there should be more time for stuff like this, the days fill quickly. I’ll try to be fairly consistent, but we’ll see.

3) The first two obstacles pale in comparison with #3. I am about to be out of town for the better part of a month. And where I’m heading, internet access is going to be sketchy at best and more likely non-existent for long stretches of time. I’ll just need to get creative about how this gets done.

Ok, as you can see, this little project is going to require a lot of grace. However, with all that out on the table, I’m looking forward to diving in. My hope is that this really will be a resource for anyone who would study The Gospel of Luke (whether this summer or in the future). And be it known, the question that will drive the conversation day after day, at least for me, will be “What is it that Luke actually intended to communicate?”

I, for one, think this is an important question to ask. You might, as well.

Some of the truth? Or all of it?

So little time and sooo much that I’d like to talk about. I know that I still owe you, my faithful reader, a post or two on Food and the Bible. I plan to get around to it, because it is pretty much going to be the linchpin post for establishing the spirituality of food. So you have that to look forward to.

Then there is the whole Rob Bell controversy. My plan was to let it pass without comment. But it looks like people on either side are getting all hot and bothered over it/him, and that maybe it isn’t going to pass as quickly as I’d expected hoped. At this point, I’m pretty committed to reading the book. More out of a sense of pastoral responsibility than any real interest in what he has to say. Rob is a great communicator, but he isn’t really a first-rate theologian (p.s. I am neither a great communicator nor a first-rate theologian). Anyway, while I plan to read the book, I’m equally committed to not purchasing it. So as you can see, I have something of a problem.

My commitment to not buying the book doesn’t stem from a belief that it is heresy. I’d have to read the book to even begin to form an opinion. Rather, as I’ve shared in the past, I have an abnormal distaste for all things hyped. And brother Rob’s book certainly falls in that category. Who knows? Maybe I’ll stick with my ignore-it-until-it-goes-away plan.

Instead, I’d like to pursue the question posed in the title. Does one teach truth in small bites? Carefully measured out? Or do you turn on the fire hydrant and flood folks with it?

I was on deck yesterday to teach out of Luke 4:1-13 (The Temptation of Jesus), and I was faced with this very dilemma. Last night wasn’t an isolated event. I regularly wrestle with this question. Do I teach all the truth contained in the passage (or I should say “all the truth that I have access to,” because only a very arrogant person would say that they have a handle on all the truth) or do I just stick to one or two familiar points from which I can get some sturdy “applications” for my listener.

Usually, I err on the side of caution. I work with the “less is more” theory. Namely, that a person is more likely to get something good from what I share if I’ll focus on a main idea or two. That way, they can get get a pretty good handle on a few things rather than the deluge of information that I’d like to rain down on them. Well last night, for better or worse, I went with option B.

Luke 4:1-13 is a fascinating passage that can be read on at least two levels. There is the common reading in which we are to take Jesus’ example of resisting the devil’s schemes and apply that to our lives in like manner. Use God’s word to combat temptation. Don’t compromise your single-hearted worship of God… and so on. I hope I’m not sounding too dismissive. I really do think this is a valid reading. But approaching the passage in this way doesn’t get at all the truth that is there. And more importantly, I don’t think it gets at the main truth that I believe is fairly front and center.

Like a good movie, there is the storyline and there is the underlying message. Focusing on the storyline in this case misses the message. Most of us have repeatedly been taught to engage this passage in the manner I’ve just outlined above. But in doing so we run the risk of missing out on what was most certainly the message Luke/Jesus was trying to get across.

The underlying message surrounds issues of “son-ship.” Both the passage itself and the preceding verses are filled with “son” language. And so there are a series of questions lying just below the surface of the text. Who is Jesus? Who is God’s son? Who is Jesus the son of? What does it mean to be God’s son?

But those aren’t the only questions on the table either. What any Jewish reader would have recognized as blatantly obvious are the connections between Jesus’ story and their nation’s his-story. Obvious to them. Not so much to us. Largely because we are unfamiliar with their story. But a group of high school students were able to see it, so I have faith in you as well.

[Jesus] was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted.
Luke 4:1-3

Do the words “wilderness” and “forty” stand out in any way? Anyone remember a group of people who wandered around a wilderness for a forty length of time?

How about the temptations themselves? The first one was to change a stone to bread. Anyone remember a bread in the wilderness episode. I believe they called it manna back then.

Or temptation number 2… Worshiping someone other than God himself. That’s idolatry. And that’s also what was taking place when Moses came down from Mount Sinai and found Aaron and the lot acting a fool with a golden calf.

Then there is temptation number 3… not quite as clear cut, but as I read it, the devil is casting doubt on God’s goodness. He is tempting Jesus to believe that God wouldn’t come through for him if he were throw himself off the highpoint of the temple. The whole reason the Israelites found themselves wandering the wilderness for forty years was due to failure to believe the same thing about God at a crucial moment. Kadesh Barnea. Look it up.

And if some thick-headed young Jew was still missing the point, the two-by-four to the head would that all of Jesus scriptural responses to the devil were from Deuteronomy. And not just random proof-texts, but verses from a fairly isolated section (Deuteronomy 6-8). All verses that have the wilderness wandering as their backdrop.

“So what?” you ask. All fine and well, but what’s the point?

The point is that Jesus recapitulates the story of Israel. Or maybe more accurately, he is re-framing the story of Israel around himself. By re-enacting key elements of Israel’s history, claims are being made about who he is and what his mission is. Namely, while Israel failed at being “the son of God” (cf. Exodus 4:22 and Hosea 11:1), Jesus breaks onto the scene and he is and will be the faithful son.

Jesus… the faithful son. The faithful one. Sounds like a contemporary Christian song.

Now, if we could just find something that rhymes with “recapitulate” or “Deuteronomy.”