We are embarking upon a new series in the gospel of Luke
written by Luke a Gentile and a Doctor
written to someone called Theophilus.. who may have been
- a Roman Official hence his title Most Excellent who was interested in Christianity.
- a lawyer who was defending Christians on trial - Paul? - Luke writes his gospel and his subsequent book, Acts, as a legal brief for a defence Lawyer. This is what’s been happening.
- the name could be a catch all term for anyone reading this book and coming to faith in Jesus because the name is a compound of two greek words Theos - God and Philos - Love. Theophilus means loved by God or lover of God.
and that’s one of the big purposes of Luke’s gospel you see. the book is all about the love of God on display in the life, the death, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Saviour of the world. God loves you.. and he wants you to love him in return. Love him back. Theophilus.
Well let’s have a look at Luke’s opening words with which he introduces his gospel
vv1-4 luke tells us straight up his aim in writing his gospel
v4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Certainty - that’s Luke’s aim
and that’s immediately difficult
certainty is a bit of a dirty word isn’t it in our culture. More so than anywhere i would say in Dalston, in Hackney. Certainty - at it’s best is arrogance - a kind of i’m right and everybody is wrong dogmatism. At it’s worst certainty is to blame for the terrible things that we have seen in Paris this weekend.
There’s no place for certainty.
And yet there’s a kind of certainty that we all embrace; engage in every day of our lives that i think is closer to the certainty that Luke is talking about here. We’re all certain about some things: that strawberries fresh in summertime taste wonderful; that a swim in the sea is exhilharating; that our babies in church are beautiful and worth fighting for. Lots of things that we’re certain about. they are self evident to us, to our hearts..
And that’s the certainty of faith that Luke I think is talking about when it comes to the person of Jesus and the truth of God and the love of God.
he wants us to grow in that because it will make us people of love.
and so 3 things from just these opening verese
be certain about jesus
be certain it’s true
be certain about salvation
1. Be certain about Jesus
Strange phrase 1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us. The reports that Luke is ordering are reports of historical events but historical events of a special character: these are not merelythings that have happened but ‘things that have been fulfilled[a] among us,’
London Acquatic centre yesterday. Reminded me of the London Olympics. gold rush. sports you’ve never heard of - clay pigeon shooting and tai kwondo and dominos. our gold medalists - virtual unknowns come from nowhere and become household names (for a few weeks anyway) for them of course the gold medal didn’t just happen from nowhere. it is the fulfilment of years and years of dreaming and training and competing. it’s only when you know something of that background that you understand the true significance of what they’ve fulfilled - what it really means.
well luke here in his gospel describes the life of Jesus Christ as a fulfilment. Actually THE fulfilment. the fulfilment of human history. JCs life and death and resn, luke tells us, is the proof and climax of God’s working in the world for centuries before it occurred.
and this is really important
our salvation, the salvation of our world - is rooted in ancient somehwat events - a man dying on a cross 2000 years ago, 2000 miles away. in the concrete streets of modern life it feels precisely that - very distant. how can these 1st Cobscure events make a difference to my life in the 21st C? make a difference to the future of this planet???
But you see these events were not just isolated occurences somewhere in distant history. they didn’t just happen. they were filfilment. Jesus didn’t just appear from nowhere; out of the blue. Luke will show us even as we read his gospel over the next few weeks how Jesus’ coming was the climax and fulfilment of the plan of GOD which itself stretches back 1000s of years before him.
so luke’s gospel will bring us face to face with JC in all his meaning and significance
and we all need that no matter where we are in our believing. we all need that if we are to establish any kind of certainty. we need to encounter JC as he truly is.
Many people say something like this: ‘in order for me to believe in God i would require a watertight argument.’ Well God hasn’t given us a watertight argument. Actually he’s given us something far better. he has given us a person. JC- there are no holes on him, there’s no escaping him. He’s the watertight person against whom there ultimately can be no argument. And Millions have found that to be true. Just by looking at the life of JC they have found HIM intellectually inescapable and certain. …
what will we see as we look at JC as Luke portrays him?
on the one hand we will see his welcome. his inclusion of people who, in that culture, were total outsiders. we see him time and again reaching out to the poor, women, children, prostitutes, lepers, to colaborators with the enemy, to gentiles. He brings the outsider in. and we modern people we love that kind of thing. we love that openness. especially if we’re from hackney ‘isn’t this remarkable?’ we say.
but you know it’s way more remarkable with Jesus. because this was utterly unheard of in his day. there was no 1stC children in need. Charity was seen as weakness. No, Jesus was utterly unique in this, in reaching out to the outcast. jesus literally turned his world upside down and his welcome it could be argued has shaped the kind of just society that we benefit from today..
so that’s the one hand - his welcome.
but on the other hand - a seeming contrast - his claims. you are gonna see Jesus on every page making the most self centred claims. Claims about himself.. which go beyond megalomania. Routinely Jesus says that He is going to judge the world at the end of human history; he says that he is the giver of life; that He alone has authority to forgive sins; that he is equal with God the Father! Now we kind of get used to jesus saying these things, that’s what he does. but face it as it is. His claims go way beyond all of the megalomaniacs of history outside of mental instititions. Beyond the Hitlers, beyond the Stalins and yet of course the reason why we don’t lump Jesus in with these lunatics is because combined with his self centred claims is the moral beauty that we have just mentioned. Jesus is kind, Jesus is tender. He lays down his life in love.
How do you explain him?
How do you explain claims like that and a life like that?
You see over the years millions of people have looked and looked and looked and come to the conclusion that this is inescapable. he must be who he said he is.
So you see in a way it’s a dangerous thing to look at JC in Luke’s gospel because he himself engenders certainty.
When the sun comes up in the morning (if it does! this is the summer or somewhere with decent weather) and it’s on your face you don’t need me to say let me prove to you that the sun is bright and hot. It’s self evident. Well in the same way how do you know that there is a glorious God? Not an infallible argument but a person.
As the apostle Paul writes ‘we are given the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
So are you still waiting for a water tight argument? Well look, doesn’t God have the right to send you a water tight person instead? It is as we look at Jesus Christ that our certainty is deepened.
Are you struggling to grow in joy and assurance and confidence as a Christian? Well It is as we look at Jesus Christ that our certainty is deepened.
be certain about Jesus - the fulfilment
2. Be certain that it’s true
Face to Faith - Guardian. David Bradnack retd. teacher
“My salvation finally came when well into adulthood i found that there was at least one intellectually acceptable way of explaining that whatever happened about AD33 was not a resurrection as understood by the pious and that the gospels are not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” And he finishes by saying “The creed makes christianity the religion of deception. Either you deceive yourself into believing in the virgin birth and the resn as literal fact and you know they’re metaphor or you mouth the words to deceive the gullible that they must believe them.”
I think he’s capturing, perhaps in a bit of an extreme way, the prevailing mood in 21st C London about the gospels. These events really happened? Come on! These are legends. Wonderful legends. Metaphors of new life and love. Not something that we’re literally supposed to accept.
The problem with that is that such an idea is completely foreign to Luke here in his first 4 verses. See Luke explains his method in composing his and it blasts this kind of call to uncertainty out of the water.
When it comes to the writing of his gospel, Luke tells us that he is acting as a journalist. He’s done careful research in order to give us an orderly account. In v1 he tells us about the existence of many accounts of the life of Jesus that he has studied and compared and used. Luke without doubt had the gospel of Mark open infront of him. Well over half of Mark is quoted verbatim in Luke’s gospel. So Luke has open on his desk all the other accounts.. But more than that v2 Luke says i not only checked on everything that has been written i also went and interviewed the eyewitnesses; people who were there, to check and see if what is written in these accounts matches what these people really saw. Yes or no?
You know one of the things that you occasionally get in Luke’s gospel is comment about how people felt about what they experienced about Jesus. In the next few weeks we’ll encounter Mary the mother of Jesus, receiving the news of her pregnancy, giving birth, bringing up her child - and we get a glimpse of her feelings, the internal working of her heart. How? Because Luke interviewed Mary. He asked her about these things. She told him.
the life of jesus has fantastical elements to it, yes. but they are never presented as myth, legend or metaphor but as fact, history, true events. God in this world! historians date luke’s gospel somewhere between the late 50s to early 70s AD - that’s 25-40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. I guess the reason why Luke wanted to get his gospel into the public domain so early was so that it couldn’t be passed off as legend. You could go and speak to the eyewitnesses yourself.
Now let me press on a little side bar here because there’s an obvious other problem for us.
The text of Luke’s gospel that we have translated in our english Bibles is not directly from what Luke wrote down. What I mean is we do not have, sitting in a museum somewhere Luke’s own original of his gospel. The earliest copy that we have of Luke’s gospel is a fragment of the Lord’s prayer, it’s called papyrus 75, it’s in the Vatican and it’s dated 200 AD - about 130 years after Luke wrote his original. the earliest full copies of Luke that we have are the codex vaticanus and the codex siniaticus. Both of those full copies date around 330 AD so some 300 years after Luke’s original.
And of course it’s that gap which introduces doubt in our minds isn’t it? Because the codex sinaiticus which lives in the British Library down the road, ancient as it is, is still only a copy of a copy or a copy of a copy of Luke’s original. And we have to wonder has there been some funny business going on with the copyists whereby somewhere along the line the story was changed. That’s an argument you hear. That the real Jesus of Luke was not the fantastical Jesus of the gospels we have. Couldn’t it have been that the legends grew up during that gap.
Well it’s a legitmate question..
However using the standards and science of historical scholarship the NT has strong credibility.
See, we want to believe that the writings that we have from antiquity are the actual writings of Plato, Tacitus, Homer, Aristotle whoever it is. And the way we build that credibility is by comparing the earliest tangible copies that we have of those documents..
For example Plato was writing in 400BC the earliest fragment copies that we have of his writings are from 900AD - a gap of 1200 years. And the number of ancient manuscripts we have of Plato? 10. BUt because they’re discovered in different places we can compare them and if they are alike we can conclude that the copies through the ages have been accurate.
Let’s do a better one Homer’s poem The Iliad - written 900BC, earliest fragment copy 400BC a gap of 500 years. Number of ancient manuscripts 643. We can be sure that the Iliad that we study at school is Homer’s
What about the NT? I love this. This builds my certainty..
Written in it’s entirety between 40-100AD - the earliest fragment we have is a fragment of John’s gospel in the John Ryland museum in Manchester. it dates to 125AD - only 50 years after the writing of John. We’ve already said that the earliest full copies we have are just 300 years after the original. But here’s the thing. Number of ancient manuscripts: Full copies in Greek 5,300; full copies in Latin:10,000 other early fragments of the NT 9, 300 of which more than a thousand are in languages other than Greek - Syrian, Coptic, Armenian, Gothic and Ethiopic. 24,000 manuscripts in total found all over the middle east representing hundreds of lines of passing down copy from copy from copy and when the manuscripts are compared to form the most uptodate versions of the greek NT from which our engish versions are translated. the differences in those far flung copies are minimal.
The NT has been remarkably preserved for us!
The scholar John Warwick Montgomery comments “To be sceptical of the resultant text of the NT is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the NT” That’s an understatement!
Be certain it’s true!
we’re almost out of time but very briefly as we end
3. be certain about salvation
It’s a book about salvation.
We all love stories don’t we. If you eat with friends or go for a walk in the country or a drink down the boozer. Conversation normally revolves around stories where you want others to know something and be affected by it to involve others in your experience.. And story follows story…
Luke here is not just a journalist, he’s a novelist
He tells us right from the outset that while he’s not writing legend, he is writing ‘the story’ of Jesus Its actually there in v1 it’s the greek word diagesis meaning story or narrative and unfortunately it hasn’t been translated that way in NIV. What it actually reads is ‘Many have undertaken to draw up a story of the things that have been fulfilled among us. and luke said it seemed good for me to do the same. I think probably the NIV chooses a different word because of the connotations that story has with fiction?
what luke is writing is true but a true story
what luke is emphasising is that his aim wasn’t to put together a compendium of jesus’ teachings or a collection of his sayings or vignettes of examples to follow from his life.
no from the beginning Luke says i want to tell you the story of Jesus
Luke writes story because it’s not the teachings, hte sayings or the example but the actions of Jesus that save you.
When it comes to the salvation of the world he is the hero of the story not us
In this respect Christianity is unique
In all other religions the focus is not so much on the story of their spiritual leader but on that leader’s teaching. And if there are events recorded of that leaders life they are primarily there as examples to be followed. And that’s becaus ein every other religious system you’re saved by the way you live. By following that inspirational teaching and example.
But you see in xianity it’s the exact opposite. For a start the moral teachings of Jesus are not inspirational and uplifting. they are unachievable and humbling: Be perfect as God is perfect says the sermon on the mount. You’ve heard it said do not kill i say never become angry. You’ve heard it said don’t commit adultery, i say if you a look at someone lustfully you’ve committed adultery. Do not worry. Love your enemies. these teachings are not inspiring they’re impossible, they’re devastating - you can’t do them. nobody can.
people say ‘oh i love the sermon on the mount - i try to live it” they’ve never read it. when you read it you end up saying “God save me from the sermon on the mount!”
and that’s the point
the Bible says we are fallen, spiritually broken people and so our great need is not for a teacher to tell us what to do but for a saviour to do for us what we cannot do our great need is not for an example to show us how to live but for a saviour to live the life that we should have lived and to die the death that we susequently deserve to die.
we need one who will come and act on our behalf
and luke says praise God he’s come
this is why Luke gives us the story of Jesus because it is the actions of Jesus that we need. hsi actions for us.
we cannot save ourselves. if it was down to us there would be no certainty about our salvation. have i done enough?
But Jesus Christ is the saviour of the world. And here is the story of that great salvation he has enacted for us
That’s why we can be certain about salvation. It’s down to him.
certainty about Jesus
certainty that it’s true
certainty about salvation
the certainty of heart makes us people of love