The Message

November 29, 2020 ()

Bible Text: Luke 1:1-4 |

Series:

Jesus the Savior: The Christian Message | Luke 1:1-4
Brian Hedges | November 29, 2020

I’d like to invite all of us to turn in God’s word to the Gospel according to St. Luke, Luke 1. We’re going to be looking at the first four verses.

While you’re turning there, let me tell you about a young man named David who, in the early part of the 20th century, was all set for a brilliant career in medicine. He lived in London, England, and he had trained with some of the most prestigious doctors in the land, and he was the assistant to a man named Lord Horder, who was the physician for the British royal family.

This man was all set for a very prestigious career in medicine, but something happened to him. He heard and understood and received the gospel of Jesus Christ; it utterly changed his life, and he felt a call to ministry. He left the practice of medicine to become a missionary to his native country, Wales.

Some of you already know that I’m talking about the great Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. His name was David Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Throughout the rest of his life he continued to stay up with medicine; he wrote a wonderful book called Healing and the Scriptures, and he had a unique insight into the application of the gospel to the lives of people because of that medical background. For the rest of his life, people affectionately called him “the Doctor.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones felt compelled to leave the practice of medicine and become an evangelist, really; that was the heart of his ministry, was evangelism. Someone once asked him why, and this is what he said. He said, “I saw that I was healing people so that they could go back to their sin.” He realized that they needed a deeper kind of healing. Now, of course, Lloyd-Jones loved medicine, he loved doctors; he actually married a doctor, his wife was also a physician. So there was no disparagement of the practice of medicine. He saw the value in that, but he saw that there was a deeper kind of healing needed, a healing that could only come to our souls through the gospel.

I think Martyn Lloyd-Jones was something like another great doctor in church history, and that is Dr. Luke, the beloved physician. You probably know that the apostle Paul calls Luke “the beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14, and Luke was one of the traveling companions in Paul. We have very good reason to believe, both on external evidence and authority and also internal evidence, that Luke was the author of the Gospel that bears his name and then also of the book of Acts, these two books. Together they comprise about one third of the New Testament.

The Gospel of Luke is the longest of the four Gospels, if you’re counting by words, and it’s a unique Gospel. Luke gives us things that you get nowhere else in Scripture. It’s only in the Gospel of Luke that you get the parable of the prodigal son or the good Samaritan, or you get the detailed infancy narratives of Jesus that are recorded in Luke 1-2.

As we enter into Advent, that’s what we’re going to study. We’re going to start digging into the Gospel of Luke, these first two chapters, and we’ll be doing this for the next four Sundays and then again on Christmas Eve, and then for several Sundays after Christmas as well. We’re just going to work through these two chapters to see what Luke has to teach us about Jesus the Savior.

This morning I want to begin by looking at the prologue to Luke’s Gospel, Luke 1:1-4. We’re going to turn there in our Bibles, or you can read it on the screen, Luke 1:1-4. This is one long sentence in Greek, and it has much to teach us about the message of Christianity, the message of the gospel. Listen to what Luke says.

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

This is God’s word.

I want you to see three things this morning about the Christian message, the message of the gospel. I want you to see that the Christian message is historical, that it is theological (I’ll explain what I mean by that in a moment), and that it’s personal. It’s historical, that is, it’s rooted in the facts of history; it’s theological, it’s about what God has done in history in and through Jesus; and it’s personal, it’s for you and me.

1. The Christian Message Is Historical

The Gospel is a narrative of events that is based on eyewitness testimony. It’s news, the proclamation of news, of events that actually took place, things that actually happened. You see that in verses 1-3, as Luke is kind of giving a reason for why he’s writing this record. He says, “Many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us.”

This is what we think happened, is that shortly after the resurrection of Jesus that stories about Jesus began to circulate. They were passed on orally; people were talking about who Jesus was and what Jesus did and the things that Jesus said—his disciples who had been with him, of course, and then the 120 disciples that Jesus had sent out and that had gathered in the upper room; and of course the many men, women, and children who had heard him teach and preach and who had witnessed his miracles. They were telling these stories, they were remembering what Jesus had done, and they were spreading the message.

Luke says that “many have undertaken to compile this narrative.” They are putting these stories together, and they were circulating, and they were delivered from one generation to the next. Now, Luke is the next generation. Luke was a traveling companion of the apostle Paul. He doesn’t himself claim to be an eyewitness of Jesus. He wasn’t an eyewitness, but he seems to have taken intense interest in this.

In fact, the language he uses here indicates that he closely investigated all that had taken place. You see that in verse 3: “It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account.” So, Luke becomes, as it were, an historian of the Christian faith. In fact, the New Testament scholar Martin Hengel calls Luke “the first Christian historian and apologist.”

What Luke was doing is taking these stories as he personally interviewed the eyewitnesses of Jesus, and he was putting these together. He was taking much material from Mark’s Gospel, which was probably already written at this point, but also stories that were not in Mark’s Gospel or anywhere else, and he’s compiling them into a narrative of his own. That’s how we got our Gospels. That’s how we get the Gospel of Luke.

One of the things this shows us is that the Gospel is a unique genre of literature. It is not myth or legend, which is what some people want to say. They want to say that, you know, these stories of Jesus began to circulate, but they were myths, they were legends, and people embellished them and they were making things up, and the leaders in the church wanted to consolidate their power, so they eventually authorized these certain Gospels.

The problem with that is that when you read what Luke wrote, and the other Gospel writers, it doesn’t look like ancient myth and legend at all. In fact, many of you will know that C.S. Lewis, who I quote often, wasn’t actually a theologian, he was a literature professor. He was an expert in literature; that’s what he taught at Cambridge.

C.S. Lewis said, “I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends, and myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know none of them are like this. Of this [talking about the Gospels] text there are only two possible views: either this is reportage or else some unknown ancient writer, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative.”

Now, this is what stands out when you read all the Gospels, but especially the Gospel of Luke: the realism of this book. There is so much detail that it strongly indicates that this report, this narrative is based on eyewitness testimony.

Of course, that is what the Scriptures claim. You remember that the apostle John in 1 John 1 says, “...that which our eyes have seen and our ears have heard and our hands have handled concerning the word of life,” “that’s what we’re declaring to you.” The apostle Peter says, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Well, Luke is gathering that eyewitness material and he’s putting it together in this document called the Gospel of Luke.

Now, one of the ways that you could see this—I’m just going to paraphrase here from a great New Testament scholar named Peter Williams, who’s written a wonderful book called Can We Trust the Gospels? If you have any doubts about the authenticity of the Gospels, I recommend Peter Williams. Peter Williams in this book has a chapter that’s called “Did the Gospel Authors Know Their Stuff?”

The chapter, very simply, just looks at things like geography, place names, locations, bodies of water, travel routes, names of people, botanical terms, financial terms, local languages and customs—all this stuff that you just get tons of this detail in the four Gospel narratives, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They all include it. Luke includes more place names than any of the other authors. They include it with about the same frequency, and yet there’s variation between them. They’re not all just repeating each other. There are names and places in Luke and names of persons in Luke that show up nowhere else.

What Williams shows is that it would be virtually impossible for someone who is writing three our four centuries after all of this happened, from another culture and another place, to be able to write all this accurately. Instead, what you have is something that just seems like unconsciousness on their parts—they’re just reporting what happened! So the variation between the writers makes sense, because they’re all reporting different events and different stories, or some of the same events but from different viewpoints. So you have variation among them; and yet, there’s authenticity, and it harmonizes with everything we know about the culture and the place and the language and the customs of the first century.

In fact, it’s so compelling that there have been scholars who set out to study these things and began with a theologically liberal perspective. One of the great examples of this is Sir William Ramsay of the 19th century. He was educated in the University of Tübingen, which was really kind of the epicenter of theological liberalism. Ramsay came out of that, studied archeology—he did not believe in the trustworthiness of Scripture until he got to the field and began doing the archeological work, and the evidence became so compelling that he came to believe that the Scriptures really were trustworthy, because when he actually did the work and saw the authenticity of these records, it was compelling to him.

All of this just shows, brothers and sisters, that our faith—the Christian faith, Christianity—is not based on myth and legend, it’s not based on documents that were written centuries and centuries after all of this happened; it is based on compelling eyewitness reporting of the things that actually happened in history. If you have any doubts of that, I encourage you to dig into the evidence and read these Gospels for yourself, and I think you’ll see the note of authenticity that is there. The Christian message is historical; that’s first. We need to understand that.

2. The Christian Message Is Theological

Secondly, we also need to see that the Christian message is theological. Now, that can be a scary word for some people; I don’t mean it to be intimidating at all. I simply use the word “theological” to mean that it has to do with the acts of God, with what God has done. The Christian message is not mainly about what you and I must do, it’s mainly about what God has already done.

In fact, this is the big difference between all the religions of the world and the Christian message. The religions of the world say do, and they essentially are giving you a list of things to do, of behaviors to adopt, of disciplines to practice, of ethics to follow. Now, you get some of that in the Bible, and that’s important in its place, but that’s not the gospel. The gospel is not what you do; the gospel is what God has already done. We could define it as the revelation of God’s mighty, saving work through his Son, Jesus Christ.

I think we get just a little hint of this in the very first verse, Luke 1:1, where Luke says, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us…”

That word “accomplished” is an intensive form of the word usually translated as “fulfilled.” When you read the Gospel records (this is true of all of them, but especially you find it in Matthew and Luke), you have this emphasis on the fulfillment of Scripture. What I think Luke is telling us here is that the things that have happened, the events that have taken place, are actually the fulfillment of God’s saving plan, the plan that had been disclosed in the Old Testament Scriptures.

One evidence of this is how the book ends, in Luke 24, where Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and you remember what he says? Let me just give you one verse, verse 44. “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’” The Scripture is being fulfilled. God’s saving plan is coming to completion in and through the work of Jesus Christ.

This is especially true in Jesus’ work of salvation. In fact, in Luke 9—you remember this—this is a wonderful scene; it’s the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus is up on the mountain with three of his disciples, and they’re on the mountain. There appears with him Moses and Elijah, and they’re speaking with him, and do you remember this? This is what it says in Luke 9:30-31. It says, “Behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” The departure is literally the Greek word exodus.

I think what Luke is telling us there is that Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus on that mountain about the new exodus. It’s not just departure, but it is the new exodus; it is the work of salvation, the new work of salvation that Jesus is going to accomplish when he goes to Jerusalem.

You see, the gospel is about what God has done, it’s not about what we do, and it’s about what God has done through these great redemptive events in the life of Jesus—the incarnation (that’s what we celebrate at Christmas), the crucifixion (that’s what we celebrate on Good Friday), the resurrection (that’s what we celebrate at Easter), and the ascension (which is what we celebrate on Ascension Sunday; yes, there is such a thing as Ascension Sunday). These great events are the great redemptive events!

One of the reasons—this is also one of the insights of Martyn Lloyd-Jones—one of the reasons that preaching according to the Christian calendar and observing things like Advent and Christmas and Good Friday and Easter, one of the reasons those holidays are important and can help us as a church is because it reminds us every year of the central events, the central truths of the gospel, which are the things that are most precious to our faith.

Well, Luke is concerned with that. His message is theological, and he’s especially concerned about salvation. When you look at the word “salvation,” it’s interesting that that word itself doesn’t even show up in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, one time in the Gospel of John; but Luke uses the word numerous times, and he uses the verb “to save” more than any of the other Gospel writers. One scholar says that the idea of salvation is the key to the theology of Luke. I want you to see that just in Luke 1-2, which is the focus of this particular series.

Do you remember after Mary receives the announcement from the angel Gabriel that she is going to bear the Christ child, and then there’s song of praise, this song of Mary, the Magnificat? You have that in Luke 1. You remember how she begins? She says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Then you have another hymn, so to speak, at the end of the chapter, and this one’s from Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. It’s after John has finally been born, and Zechariah—you know, he’s been struck dumb, and now he’s speaking again, and when he speaks, salvation is a theme that just runs through his prayer. He says in part (this is Luke 1:76-77), “And you, child [speaking about his son, John], will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give knowledge of salvation to his people and the forgiveness of their sins.”

Or, do you remember when the angels in Luke 2 make the proclamation to the shepherds who are out tending their flocks by night? The angels come, and what do they say to the shepherds? They say, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

There’s one more example, the story of Simeon. This is another one of those stories that you only find in the Gospel of Luke. Simeon is this old man, and the Holy Spirit has shown him that he will not die until he sees the Messiah. Little baby Jesus is taken to the temple shortly after he is born, and Simeon sees him there, and do you remember what he says? This is Luke 2:29. He says, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”

This is a theme in the Gospel according to Luke. Here’s one of the really interesting things about this. In Greek, the word “to save,” sozo, is the word “to heal.” There’s not a separate word in Greek for healing someone of their diseases and then another word for saving somebody from their sins. It’s just one word. It means to deliver, whether it’s delivering from sickness or delivering from sins. So here is Dr. Luke, who somehow comes in contact with the story of Jesus, the message of Jesus, and all that Jesus had said and done, and he finds it compelling, so compelling that (sort of like Martyn Lloyd-Jones) he devotes himself now to spreading the message of Jesus, doing it by compiling this narrative.

I love the way Michael Wilcock puts it in his commentary. He’s talking about the word “to save.” He says, “This word, with its layers of meaning, fascinated Dr. Luke. He is telling of a man who has the power and the authority to do the kind of work that he himself had been trained to do, but at depths undreamed of and in regions unexplored and with effects so far-reaching as to confound his own elementary ideas of healing and salvation.”

This message, the Christian message, what is it? Well, it’s reporting actual history, but it’s more than that: it is reporting the events through which God has brought salvation and healing to the world through his Son, Jesus Christ, through his incarnation, his crucifixion, his resurrection, and his ascension. The gospel, as has often been said, is not good advice; it’s good news. It’s not telling you what you have to do, it’s telling you what God has already done. Then the call is simply to respond to that good news in faith.

Here’s a humorous illustration that I think makes a good point. There’s a story about a man who fell down into the pit; he couldn’t get out of the pit. Numerous people come by and speak to him in his predicament. A subjectivist says, “I feel for you down in that pit.” A more objective person says, “It’s logical that someone would fall into the pit.” An optimist says, “Things could be worse.” A pessimist says, “Things will get worse.” A realist says, “Now that’s a pit.” An escapist avoids the subject of the pit altogether.

A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into pits.” A fundamentalist said, “You deserve your pit.” A hyper-Calvinist said, “You were predestined to fall into that pit.” An Arminian said, “Just use your free will to get out of the pit!” A charismatic said, “Just confess that you’re not in the pit.” A Christian scientist said, “You only think you’re in a pit.”

An IRS man asked if he was paying taxes on his pit! Someone consumed with self-pity says, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen my pit.” But Jesus came and he climbed down in the pit and he took him by the hand and he brought him out of the pit.

That’s the news that people need. That’s what they need! They need the message of a Savior who actually descends in the incarnation to us, goes all the way to the cross, death on the cross, in order to rescue us from our sins. That’s what Jesus has done.

3. The Christian Message Is Personal

The Christian message is historical, the Christian message is theological (because it shows us what God has done to save sinners through Jesus Christ), and, number three, the Christian message is personal. It is personal, and it is intensely personal. It is a message that is addressed to people in their need with a call to response. It’s intended to give us certainty about Jesus and to secure our believing response.

Look at verses 3-4. Luke says, “...it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

Now, who is Theophilus? We think that Theophilus may have been a nobleman. This phrase “the most excellent” is a phrase that is used in the book of Acts to describe governors like Festus and Felix; it’s a term of honor. So Theophilus very well may have been a nobleman. Some people think that he was a patron, that he was actually financing the distribution of copies of this record that Luke made for him. We don’t know, really, whether he was at this point a Christian and Luke is writing to simply confirm him in the faith that he has received, or if Luke is writing this for evangelistic purpose, in order to help him become a Christian. But the name Theophilus means “the friend of God,” or a "lover of God." It’s interesting, if you go to the book of Acts (this is one reason we think Acts and Luke are written by the same author), Acts is also written to Theophilus.

Here’s what I want you to see, is that Luke writes this account and he discloses his purpose in verse 4. He says, “...that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” If fact, the word “certainty” comes at the very end of the sentence in Greek. It’s a word that means security or safety, that which is certain or sure.

What Luke is saying here is, “I’ve put all this together, I’ve gone through this process of research and investigation, interviewing the eyewitnesses, compiling the stories together, compiling it into one orderly narrative, so that you can have this complete gospel, so that you can be sure that this is who Jesus really is; that he really did come and do and say the things that are reported here, and that you can have certainty about this in your life.”

I think it just reminds us of a couple of things. It shows us the reliability of the gospel records. I mean, Luke is claiming that right at the outset. We’ve already seen reasons for believing that this is based on eyewitness reporting, and I just want to encourage you, read the Gospels for yourselves. This would be a great exercise. If you want to know how you can dial into God’s word and really get your focus on Christ during the season of Advent and Christmas, this is a wonderful way to do it. Read through the Gospel of Luke. Read it through. Read it for yourself. If you’ve never read a Gospel, read it through for yourself, and you will find, I believe, the self-attesting power of this gospel to bring change into your life.

It’s reliable historically, but more than that, the Holy Spirit speaks through this word, so that when we open it, when we let it speak for ourselves, it has life-changing power. It had utterly transformed Luke’s life. He was confident that it could utterly transform the life of Theophilus, and it can utterly transform your life and mine. We need to let the word speak.

I love these words of Spurgeon. He said this in a number of different ways, but here’s just one way in which he used this illustration. He says, “The word of God can take care of itself, and will do so if we preach it. See ye that lion? They have caged him for his preservation, shut up behind iron bars to secure him from his foes. See how a band of armed men have gathered together to protect the lion. What a clatter they make with their swords and spears! These mighty men are intent upon defending a lion. O fools, and slow of heart! Open that door, let the lord of the forest come forth free. Who will dare to encounter him? Let the pure gospel go forth, in all its lion-like majesty, and it will soon clear its own way and ease itself of its adversaries.”

There’s power in this message. Let the lion out of the cage! Open the book! Let the book speak, let the record speak for itself, and there is power (the power of the Holy Spirit) working through the word to bring transformation and change into our lives.

The Christian message is historical, it is based on eyewitness testimony of events that really took place; it is theological, disclosing for us the mighty works of God through the birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ; and it is personal, it is written for you and for me, that you and I might be friends of God, that we might be lovers of God. The question is, have we received that message?

I want to conclude with this prayer from the 1662 prayer book. It’s a prayer that is based on the writings of Luke. I think it’s a beautiful prayer and a good one for us to pray this morning.

It goes like this: “Almighty God, who called Luke the physician, whose praise is in the Gospel, to be an evangelist and physician of the soul, may it please thee that by the wholesome medicines of the doctrines delivered by him all the diseases of our souls may be healed through the merits of thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Luke the physician gave us wholesome medicine, the medicine of the gospel, pointing us to Jesus Christ, and through Jesus Christ our souls can also be healed. Receive this message, believe this gospel, share it with others. Let’s pray.

Gracious God, we thank you for the good news. We thank you for the Gospels, the gospel records that have been given to us, and especially this morning for the Gospel recorded for us by Luke. We thank you for your work in his life, and that he gave us this writing about Jesus. Lord, we look forward to all that it will teach us in the coming weeks as we dig into these first couple of chapters together. May we receive it as medicine for our sick souls, may we find healing for our hearts in the message of what Jesus has done for us, and may we in response believe and love you, our God and our Father, and Jesus Christ your Son.

As we come to the Lord’s table this morning, would you use this as a means of grace to point us to Christ and to help us by faith to lay hold of Christ? Draw near to us as we worship. We pray this in Jesus’ name and for his sake, Amen.