Gospel Certainty for Gentile Sinners, Part 2
January 11, 2015
Getting into Luke, we waded into the waters of Luke’s gospel last week. Today, we’re going to dive into the deep end of the pool. I just want to warn you because some of the stuff you can see in verses 1-4, it’s not narrative yet. Okay, we’re not to the fun stuff. We’re into the stuff that is very, very critical and very, very important here right at the beginning, and I just want to warn you it is technical. Luke is talking about his research method here. Now, I rejoice in Luke’s research method; I love reading about this. I know not all of you are into research method, but you’re going to be; after today, you’re going to be like, “Wow, this is really cool!” I just want you to be forewarned that it is getting into some deep territory here, but this is Luke’s prologue. He is setting up what we’re going to discover throughout the rest of the book. So, we’ll look at this verse 1-4 in just a little more detail. We’re going to take some time just at the outset of this study to get this introductory look at Luke. We spent some time there last week in introduction. This week, I’ve got one more week of introduction. We want to do a little bit of a biography of Luke next week, so we’ll talk about that. It’s important that we get a look at some of these introductory details because we want to get a greater appreciation of the things we are walking through as we go through the study of Luke.
Let’s say you’re in a furniture store, right. We recently bought some furniture moving here, but you’re in a furniture store and you’re looking at a piece of furniture. A salesman is showing you a chest of drawers or something like that, and to a certain degree the two of you can observe that piece of furniture—the chest of drawers—you can judge the quality of it, you can see if it’s suitable, convenient size, nice color, seems sturdy, but bring in the carpenter who actually made that chest of drawers and you get a very different description. Let’s say this particular piece this carpenter tells you about, he says it’s made out of Brazilian mahogany. Each piece he measured and cut to perfect precision. He put in care in shaping and sanding every single surface, every single edge. He was meticulous. This carpenter, if he’s really good, he’ll beam with pride as he tells you he didn’t use one nail, one screw, certainly not a staple, there’s not one drop of glue on this whole piece, this entire chest of drawers. He joining each piece to its neighbor using dove tail tongue and grove constructions. Rock solid. You can feel it. Each drawer has a floating bottom; it glides in and out on its track smoothly, separated by dust panels. Surfaces are sanded smooth; you can see it finished with stain to bring out the rich color, the natural beauty of that Brazilian mahogany. Great wood, expert craftsmanship, this is a chest of drawers, a piece of furniture that will last a life time. In fact, as one slogan says, they’ll fight over it when you’re dead. It’s that good. I don’t know much about carpentry, but I’m ready to buy that chest of drawers, right? Are you? Knowing what it took to create or produce something like that, whether it’s woodworking or whether it’s a piece of literature, like Luke’s gospel, knowing what went into that helps you to appreciate that product. It helps you to appreciate what’s before you and it’s going to help you too, to know what’s worth investing in, whether it’s worth spending the time on it, spending the money on it. And that’s some of what Luke’s prologue does for us. In fact, that’s why we take the time on Bible introduction. Whenever somebody, a Bible teacher, say, gets ready to study a book, he’s going take the time to explain it to you; and Luke, like a master craftsman, is telling us here in these first four verses what went into producing this account of Jesus’ life and ministry. When we know what went into it, how it came to be, we’re going to gain a greater appreciation of the treasure we hold in our hands.
That said, let me read the first four verse of Luke’s gospel for you. “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.”
One of the aspects of Christianity that lends to its certainty, that confirms its credibility, is the fact that Christianity is woven into real history, real places, real people, dates, times, events—all of that comes across clearly in Luke’s prologue, and it’s a common characteristic of his entire gospel and all of scripture. And that’s unique to Christianity. Don’t miss that. Christianity naturally intersects with the world and its history. Paul Meyer wrote in his book In the Fullness of Time, “Because Judeo-Christianity has so thoroughly influenced Western culture, we are prone to imagine that all other world religions have a similarly solid historical base. This is by no means the case. It can, in fact, be argued that every religious system before or since Judaism and Christianity has avoided any significant interaction with history and instead has asked followers to believe by sheer faith alone the claimed revelation of its founder or founders. Rather than any private, once-for-all-time revelation, Judeo-Christianity’s scriptures encompass a 2,000-year-plus period—two millennia in which its holy books constantly interlace themselves with history. So close an intersection with history, however, could have been hazardous for Christianity. Tangencies with known facts of the past could’ve laid the faith open to ridicule if it had garbled those facts, but rather than seeking the shelter of unprovable traditions to avoid such risk, Christianity instead threaded its origins into the very warp and woof of the past, becoming itself part of history’s fabric. For that reason, it has also been held to much more stringent standards of critical evaluation that any other world religious system. This, however, was the price it gladly paid for having such solid historical credentials.” That is exactly what you find here, in Luke’s gospel. It’s threaded, as he says there, into the very warp and woof of the past. It’s become part of history’s fabric. Everything Luke has written comes from primary sources—firsthand eyewitness accounts—and the purpose is to provide his readers, starting with this “most excellent Theophilus,” with absolute certainty.
In the Fullness of Time
Now the last time we got a taste of Luke’s literary skill, we talked about his ability to tell a compelling, richly detailed, vivid story. We noted Alfred Plummer, who said Luke not only knows how to tell a tale truthfully, but how to tell it with effect. That’s very true. Luke puts all of his natural ability, which has been honed and perfected by his training, by his experience he puts all of those literary powers to work here to provide the most comprehensive account of Jesus Christ. Jesus, in Luke’s gospel, is the Son of man, who came to seek and save lost people of all kinds: Jew and Gentile, male, female, every strata of society, every rung of the social ladder. We have the joy and privilege of taking up and reading this compelling account of the greatest story ever told. Now, what Luke wants us to see in these opening verses is that this story is no fictional account. It’s not a pretty myth; it’s not a piece of fancy writing, pretty poetry, nice prose. Not only does Luke tell a compelling, richly detailed story— that was our first point in our outline we started last week—but he tells a true story.
Here’s the second point for your notes: Luke records an accurate, well researched history. Luke records an accurate, well researched history. Now, as I mentioned last time, Luke’s prologue is amazing in its precision and clarity, and in the most modest, in the most gracious terms possible, Luke provides his readers with a bit of justification of why he’s writing what he’s writing, why he’s adding to the accounts that have already been produced. And not only that, but we also get some insight into his historical research, his methodology. So, first, take a look at Luke’s modesty there in verses one to three. He says, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of 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, to write an orderly account.” The life of Jesus Christ made such an impact on the world, and here we are 2000 years later, half a world away, and we’re still thinking about it. We’re still talking about it. Newsweek is still writing articles against it.
At the same time, I think we need to, we have a hard time imagining what it must have been like for those who were so close to the point of impact, what it was like for them. What the impact of the people who were so near to the events of the day, so near to Jesus’ miracles, so near to his teachings, so near to the crucifixion, the resurrection, all that spilled out from that, what was that like? Many people can tell you where they were when J.F.K., John F. Kennedy, was shot, or when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Were you there, where were you when 911 happened, when September 11th happened? All those are events that have profound social and even massive geo-political significance, and people who live in such momentous times share a common thought. This changes everything. Everything’s different. All the things that used to seem important up to this point, none of that matters anymore. Old structures are giving away to new ones, and the older generation looks at all that and worries about the change, and they wonder what’s going to become of the world. Younger people, they’re kind of naïve and they’re intoxicated with enthusiasm. They look forward to that change and they say, “Wonderful, it’s a brave new world.”
Imagine yourself among those early generations of Christians. You’ve come to faith in Jesus Christ, you’ve listened to the preaching of Peter and John, the other apostles, these eye witnesses, people who were there, people who met Jesus, heard him speak, watched him perform miracles. You met the guy with the shriveled hand who’s now restored, you talk to him. And you’re among the small band of early believers, and you all share the excitement together, knowing this changes everything. You get that sense from Luke’s prologue. Here’s how W. Robertson Nichol describes this. He says, “This preface gives a lively picture of the intense universal interest felt by the early church and the story of the Lord Jesus. Apostles constantly telling what they’d seen and heard, many of their hearers taking notes of what they said for the benefit of themselves and others.” Luke, here, is no dispassionate observer. He’s not standing on the sidelines looking in; he’s a part of it. He’s right in the middle. He’s read the numerous accounts written by what verse one calls “the many.” In fact, notice the sequence there in verses one to two: number one, things were accomplished; two, eyewitnesses delivered those things to the second generation. You can see that in verse two. Luke describes that second generation as the many. And then, number three, many attempted to compile narratives, to write things out, a lot of people writing a lot of accounts. And Luke numbers himself among the many. Notice the first person plural: us. Luke and the many are the “us” in verse one among whom the things were accomplished. He and the many are the “us” in verse two to whom the eyewitnesses delivered their accounts.
And, so Luke joins the many in compiling a narrative of these events. Luke says, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative, […] it seemed good to me also to write an orderly account.” There’s no overt criticism of previous attempts. Luke isn’t here writing to say, “All their stuff is garbage; I’m going to write a better one.” He doesn’t do that. He’s not trying to correct some obvious error or right some wrong. This is just a statement of fact. “They wrote, I wrote.” He’s not claiming some superior place even though he could have bragged about his association with the apostle Paul. It would have boosted his credibility significantly. You see no hint of that here. He numbers himself among the others. He is also interested in compiling a narrative. Like the others, Luke was gripped by what had been accomplished among them and that’s part of what compelled him to write. By the way, just in case your translation says something different, that word “accomplished” there, whenever it’s used to speak of people, it refers to being fully persuaded or convinced, and you’ll find that sometimes used there, the things that people fully believe among us. But, actually when it’s used of things or events as it is here—things that have been accomplished among us—it means fully accomplished, really fulfilled or brought fully to completion. So, Luke is here telling us not just that Jesus had done some things among them, not just that Jesus had accomplished some amazing things, though he did. But, that Jesus had fulfilled things among them. That is, Jesus fulfilled Scripture. And not only that, but Jesus completely, he utterly, he totally fulfilled his mission. He fulfilled all the Father’s will. So what had happened among them, among Luke and the many, what the eye witnesses reported, what had spawned all this interest, all this activity, all this writing, they were seeing this as God working there, God was working on earth, fully accomplishing all his will in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That’s what Luke’s saying. So, of course, many people tried to write that down. Of course many people tried to compile accounts, and of course Luke considered writing about it just as they attempted: “I’m also going to write as well.” No overt criticism, just statement of fact. Wondrous, amazing, extraordinary things have happened among them, accomplished among them. Who wouldn’t want to write about it?
Now, that said, even though Luke is modest here, even though he doesn’t overtly criticize the accounts that were written before them, notice that he still thought it was important to write another one, didn’t he? He saw a need for a fuller account. He saw a need for something that was more complete, more comprehensive. The previous accounts were in two respects deficient. First, they were incomplete; they were isolated, not full. Secondly, they weren’t put in proper order, which means they lacked context, they lacked perspective. They weren’t put one after another. So there were things written, sure. Certain stories, certain accounts, certain teachings, but none of that was put into its proper order, into its proper context and certainly wasn’t comprehensive. And so, Luke set out to write a gospel that would provide a complete account. Something that would be written in an orderly sequence and that would give the reader a sense of context, a sense of perspective, and a sense of completeness about all that Jesus said and did. That was important. What Luke produced here was clearly superior to the many previous accounts. Frederic Godet notes this; he says, “It appears probable, therefore, to me that the works to which Luke alludes are writings really unknown and lost. Their incompleteness condemns them to extinction. In proportion, his writing is of superior value, such as our synoptic gospels, our synoptics spread through the church.” So basically what that quote is saying is that all those written accounts referred to in verse one, they’ve become extinct because they’ve not been in use, they’ve not been in circulation in church history. Luke, here, wants to produce a comprehensive narrative, an orderly account; and the scope of Luke’s gospel, the context that it provides, leads to absolute certainty about the things that were written. And listen, Luke is so convinced about the superiority of what he wrote in comparison to all those previous written accounts, that he tells Theophilus, “Look here”; he tells Theophilus to use his gospel as a standard of comparison. “Theophilus, you can measure everything you’ve taught by what I’ve written here.” That is a bold claim, not to be taken lightly. There had better be some justification for that. So, Luke wants his readers to know not only what he’s produced, but also why he’s produced it.
So, let’s take a look at Luke’s approach here. And we’re going to start with verse two, the apostolic witness: “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.” From what Luke wrote, you get the sense that a tremendous investment of his energy and expense and time, even years of time, was what was required to research, to compile, and to write this new narrative. In fact, just as a footnote, it may have been Theophilus’ funding that enabled Luke to write and publish this two-volume project, the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. The lion’s share of the work was obviously Luke’s, but some funding was required to allow him to travel, to free him up from normal work to allow him to be able to write this.
But, let’s start with this. In verse three, Luke says he “followed all things closely for some time past.” Let me unpack that phrase just a little bit. “Followed all things closely for some time past.” There’s a verbal in there, there’s an object and there are two adverbs. You’re like, “Oh, great, a grammar lesson, right here in church!” Oh, yes! Right here in church. There’s a verbal, it’s “having followed.” There’s an object that is “all things” and two adverbials describing how Luke followed all things, that is “for some time past” and “closely.” Now stick with me here—this is really cool, trust me. Understanding these words is going to help us appreciate and understand. Remember the carpenter, the chest of drawers? Yeah, this is why I told you that. Okay, understand this. Let’s talk about the verb first. “Having followed,” that’s a participle, and it tells us that Luke traced the narrative back to its roots. In fact, the literal use of that word means to physically accompany someone, to go along with them. And Luke here had become so familiar with the details, it’s as if he walked in the steps of each and every event he describes.
Ancient historians like Herodotus or Thucydides, men who did that kind of investigation, they were considered no longer to have received their information secondhand, but rather they became primary sources. The event was so important in the historian’s mind that he would invest time and energy to visit, to go on location. Travel then was not like travel now. It wasn’t about jumping in your car and driving down the road. It wasn’t about hopping on a plane and enduring a ten-hour flight. It was about getting there on foot, which was dangerous—roads where bandits hung out to take you down, take your money, and even kill you. Shipwrecks could ensue. So it was no small thing for a historian to go on location and research every event. Not only that, but that historian, that writer—Thucydides, Herodotus, Luke—they expended mental energy in all this project. They sacrificed time in their life when they could make money or do whatever with their time. No. They focused all their mental energy to analyze, to understand, and then to benefit the public by publishing the research. That’s a huge task, and that’s what Luke did. That’s what he’s saying here. He walked the land. He traced the steps. He saw all those places, talked with the witnesses. As we talked about last time, it’s quite clear he talked with Mary about all those things that were treasured in her heart, right? Twice he mentions that. And you may remember from the Book of Acts that Luke accompanied Paul back to Jerusalem at the tail end of his third missionary journey, and that means that Luke would’ve had plenty of time during Paul’s two-year Caesarean imprisonment to conduct thorough investigation. So, like a competent, thorough journalist, Luke would’ve conducted in-person interviews with apostles, with Jesus’ family, with friends, acquaintances, people who were healed, people who rejected him, those throughout Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem who witnessed Jesus’ ministry.
Luke compiled a massive amount of research going all the way back to the start. Now the ESV translates that adverb in verse three, “for some time past.” A better translation of that word is probably “from the beginning, from the start.” The idea here is that Luke went back to the start of the story. In fact, as we said last time, he goes back further than any other gospel account. The other adverb there in verse three, the word “closely.” Luke followed everything closely, he followed everything accurately, carefully—you could even say strictly or fastidiously. He was disciplined in his research, tracking down all the facts, getting all the details straight, getting the order right. What made Luke so fastidious in his research? Well, it had to do with his subject, didn’t it? Notice the object in verse three, which is “all things,” everything, everything pertaining to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. He followed verse one, “the things accomplished among us.” More specifically verse two, he followed the things that those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, “what they delivered to us.” Those two designations, just as a note there, eyewitnesses from the beginning, ministers of the word, those two designations refer to the same group of men, the small band of men called the apostles. The first term “eyewitness”—it was a crucial component in witnesses, in the credibility of Luke’s gospel. Luke has made a distinction in his sources; he’s noting the difference between himself, the author, the “many narratives” in verse one, and then the eyewitnesses. He’s not one of the eyewitnesses. The eye witnesses delivered to Luke and others what they had seen and heard personally. It says the apostle John wrote: “That which we have heard, that which we’ve seen with our eyes, which we’ve looked upon, which we’ve touched with our hands” (1 John 1:1). Then in verse three of 1 John, “That which we’ve seen and heard, we proclaim to you also.” That’s what’s going on here. Those eyewitnesses—the apostles who personally participated in the events—they were able to provide Luke with the information, with the documented evidence of what really happened.
That’s why being an eyewitness was one of the prerequisites for each of the men Christ chose to be his apostles. When Peter led the other apostles of the 120 in choosing a replacement for Judas, remember that in Acts 1:21 and following. He cited eyewitness as a requirement, being crucial for apostleship. This is what he said, “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time the Lord Jesus, went in and out and among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us, one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” Accompanying Christ, accompanying, you know, all the other apostles from John’s baptism all the way to the ascension—about three years. That is a long time to hang tight with that group, especially through everything they went through. This is a long time of being a first-hand witness. And, listen, that is a small group of men—a very, very short list. In fact, verse 23 says they could only find two that were qualified, a very exclusive group there. And these were the men who became what Luke then describes, not only as eye witnesses from the beginning, but ministers of the word. That “ministers of the word,” it’s kind of a technical term that’s used there for a subordinate who carries out the orders of a superior over him, used in military context. All that in Greek mythology—Hermes was the minister of Zeus. So, he carried out the orders of Zeus. In Roman society, the minister, the huperetas, could refer to one who is subordinate in rank to a superior officer; it could refer to a police officer who was carrying out the orders of the court. It even referred to something as like normal in life like a physician’s assistant. That was a huperetas.
One commentator, Cesla Speak, elaborated on the role of minister in civil and judicial administration. Here’s what he said: “These guys take part in”—he didn’t use the word “these guys,” that’s my term. Technical, “these guys,” very technical. Anyway, these guys “take part in expert evaluations, autopsies, promises made under oath, court hearings, they deliver summonses and verdicts to parties in litigation, they give an accounting to their overseers and by their signature certify they have in fact passed on a petition to the party concerned. They promptly obey orders received from a superior, and they officially pass along a message carrying it to parties who have an interest in it.” That’s a minister, that’s a huperetas. This was no low position. To be someone’s minister was very, very honorable—highly regarded. You can think of it in terms of like Minister of State, Minister of Defense, cabinet-level positions. And the honor and dignity that was attached to the position of minister is derived from the persons you’re working for. So, whether a doctor, whether President of the United States, courtroom judge. In the case of these apostles, their dignity and honor comes from whom they serve, who appointed them as ministers—the Lord Jesus Christ.
So the higher our regard for Christ, the higher our regard for his ministers, but the lower the regard for Christ, the quicker they are to put their ministers to death, also, right. John Calvin writes, “By this commendation, ministers, by this commendation, he exalts them above the rank of human authority. Luke intimates that the persons from whom he received his information had been divinely authorized to preach the gospel. Hence, too, that security, which he shortly afterwards mentions and which, if it does not rest upon God, may soon be disturbed. There’s great weight in his denominating those from whom he received his gospel ‘ministers of the word.’ For on that ground, believers conclude that the witnesses are beyond all exception as the lawyers expressed it and cannot lawfully be set aside.” You get what he’s saying there? Calvin’s dead on there. These ministers of the word, when they delivered their proclamation, that was a proclamation, that was a testimony, that was witness, that was beyond all exception. And you cannot, legally, lawfully, set aside what they say. When they spoke, it was binding on the conscience. There’s the law involved there, and it’s the law of Christ. So, when Luke records that, it’s binding. These eyewitnesses and minsters, they were more than bystanders; they weren’t just observers at a scene, summoned into court to be worked over by some crafty lawyer. These men were divinely ordained to be Christ’s ministers, Christ’s apostles. And not only that, but they personally guaranteed the certainty of their testimony. You remember most of them held fast their testimony to the very end, to death by execution. But before dying for their testimony for Christ, the apostles delivered the truth to many, including the “many” in verse one, including Luke as well. Verse two says these apostles handed over the truth about what had been accomplished in Christ. The same word “handed over,” delivered over, is used of a soldier handing over a prisoner to a guard or a warden. He’s handing over; he’s taking something he’s been entrusted with, handing it over to the person who’s going to hold on to it. Apostles delivered the message to the next generation. That’s the “everything.” It’s everything the apostles taught. The “all things” when he says, “it seemed good to me” also “having followed all things closely from the start.” The “all things” there is everything the apostles taught—everything—authoritative, binding truth.
Luke wants his readers to know that what he’s written stands on a firm foundation of eyewitness testimony, and it was a testimony sealed in blood, as we know. He was very careful to get all the details right. He was very careful to get all of his facts right, to put them in a proper sequence, to put them all in the right order. Luke’s gospel is evidence of disciplined research. It’s a triumph of hard and diligent effort. And get this, all that he did here is under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, so that even what Luke produced—what he wrote and published—is theópneustos; it’s God-breathed. This is Scripture. The presence and involvement of God’s Holy Spirit does not eliminate human effort, not at all. As every teacher knows, as every preacher knows, as everybody who prepares a Sunday school class knows, it’s hard work, but God is in that. And whenever God’s spirit is working in and among men, he empowers and directs and then guarantees the outcome of that effort. The labor is a joy, yes, but it’s still exhausting, make no mistake. Listen, Luke embraced that labor. He disciplined himself in that effort, and he did it for our sakes. We could only wish people would read and study Luke’s gospel with the kind of discipline and care and diligence that Luke put into it. So many sloppy Bible readers today. So many careless disciples, professing Christ, but sleepwalking through the Christian life, and because these professors are careless and lazy in reading and studying, their convictions are shallow. Their lives are hardly transformed. Their testimony is weak. When so few workers are there to diligently tend the vineyard, we can hardly be surprised when growth is stunted, when unproductive branches grow and are unchecked, when weeds choke out the vine, choke out the productivity. So many false gospels dominate our land. And so many professing Christians don’t know how to tell truth from error, how to discern right from wrong, how to discern Christian from non-Christian. Listen, Luke was careful in his research here. Not because he was some kind of bespectacled bookworm, or because he wore dork glasses like this. This guy traveled extensively with the apostle Paul; he was no nerd. He was even shipwrecked with him. He’s no nerdy librarian in love with scholarship; he was a careful researcher because he cared passionately about the subject of his study—the Lord Jesus Christ. He cared passionately about the truth, and he loved Theophilus enough to track everything down, to get every fact exactly right, to represent everything as it actually happened, just as the apostles delivered it over to him.
So, Luke did not want to misrepresent the apostles’ testimony; he did not want to misrepresent Christ. Why? Because these facts are eternally significant. They’re profoundly important. They mean life and death, heaven and hell. They’re the difference between the glory and the shame of Christ. Luke wanted to get these details right to bring all glory, all honor to God and to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Beloved, I hope that kind of passion catches fire here at Grace Church, as well.
Now, a question that sometimes comes up which I want to deal with quickly here. It’s kind of technical, but I’m going to spare you some of the technicalities and just kind of hit the high points. In writing this gospel, did Luke make use of the other two gospels written by Matthew or Mark? It’s a question some people ask, it’s understandable. There are striking similarities, obviously, between the three gospels, which is why they’re called the synoptic gospels: “syn”—together and “optic”—seen. They’re seen together. Right, they relate the narrative from the same view, from the same perspective. The early church believed Matthew was the first gospel written. It was published probably in the early 50’s. Mark wrote, published sometime after that, maybe the mid 50’s. And then Luke wrote his gospel around AD 60 or 61 with his second volume of Acts coming around AD 62, 63, somewhere in there. Paul was martyred in AD 64. We know that from church history. Luke doesn’t mention it in the book of Acts, so we know everything he wrote was before that. So, Luke published probably eight, ten years, something like that after Matthew and Mark. And because of what Luke said in verse one—“Many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us”—you might be tempted to think that Matthew and Mark are among the “many.” So, are their gospels among the sources that Luke used in compiling his narrative? I don’t think so. The distance between publication dates may lead us to believe that Luke made use of those other two gospels, Matthew and Mark, but there are several reasons I think Luke wrote independently of those other two authors and those other authors independently of one another.
First of all, Luke makes a distinction between himself and the “many” in verse one and then the eye witnesses and ministers of the word in verse two. You remember the eye witnesses and ministers are those who delivered the testimony to Luke and the many. So, since Matthew and Mark were both eyewitnesses—though Mark wasn’t an apostle, he was an eye witness of some of those events. Mark 14:51-52. But since Matthew and Mark can’t be part of both groups, they’re distinguished. The “many” in verse one are set against the eyewitnesses and ministers in verse two. Luke is not claiming to have read their written accounts as a part of his research here. Did he speak to them? Matthew, maybe. Mark, obviously he spoke to him: Philemon verse 24 makes it clear Luke and Mark were together in with Paul for a time. But Luke wrote independently of their gospel accounts. Because they were eyewitnesses and ministers, they delivered to the many and the two were not together.
Secondly, though Luke was not overtly critical of the accounts written by the many as we said earlier, there is at the same time some kind of subtle criticism implied here. Luke is not making that obvious, but it is implied. The previous accounts were incomplete. They were out of orderly sequence. To compile and publish what had already been written would have lacked context and perspective as we already said, right? So, Luke took it upon himself to remedy that inherent deficiency even if he didn’t see the need to criticize anything written before him. Was Matthew deficient, Mark’s gospel deficient, not complete, not orderly? Mark is probably, probably just as orderly as Luke is.
Thirdly, if Luke had read Mark or Matthew, read those gospels, he would’ve recognized them as orderly accounts. He would have seen Mark’s as chronological as his own. Matthew wrote as an apostle. It’s well known that Mark wrote down the perspective of Peter, so he also wrote the testimony of an apostle. Matthew and Mark both wrote inspired scripture, which has been universally, unquestioningly accepted by all Christians; there’s no deficiency at all in inspired scripture, right? Since that’s the case, if Luke’s aim is to provide Theophilus with certainty, why not simply hand him a copy of Matthew or Mark? If Luke had had a copy of Matthew and Mark, it would have been a brazen attitude, completely out of step with his character—especially as a non-apostle—to think he could improve on what they’d written. And it would be absolutely unthinkable to commend his own account to Theophilus as a reliable standard by which to measure everything else he’d been taught since Mark and Matthew were already sufficient.
So, no, I don’t think Luke used Matthew’s gospel or Mark’s gospel. He may have talked with those apostles, probably did. Definitely did with Mark’s case, may have with Matthew. I realize that was a bit technical, but it’s important for things we’ll talk about later, all right? The question does come up among thinking people and I know you all are thinking people with inquiring minds and you want to know.
So, we’ve seen how Luke tells a compelling richly detailed story; that was point one last week. We’ve just seen point two how Luke records an accurate, well researched history. Just quickly, let’s cover a final point. Luke provides a gospel of absolute certainty. Luke provides us with a gospel of absolute certainty. The product of Luke’s scholarship is a comprehensive orderly narrative of the gospel. Did it say everything Jesus said and did? No. John tells us in John 21:25 that’s an impossible task, couldn’t do it. All the books in the world couldn’t, you know, couldn’t contain or the world could not contain all the books that would be written as a result of everything Jesus said and did. Still, Luke’s gospel is meticulously researched. It’s comprehensive— more comprehensive than even the other gospels. It’s orderly; it provides all the context and perspective that’s going to accomplish his goal in the writing. What is that goal again? Look at verse four: “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” The witnesses of the apostles spawned many incomplete narratives, but eventually by the will of the Spirit, by his direction, that apostolic witness became canonized in Luke’s complete narrative.
And that’s what Luke’s comprehensive, orderly narrative was. It was canon. “Canon” is a word that means standard, standard of comparison, a standard for measurement; and that’s what he gave to Theophilus. That’s what Theophilus was supposed to use to judge the certainty, the reliability, the truthfulness of everything he’d been taught. The word for taught is catacheo. You probably recognize that. We get the verb “to catechize” from it; “catechism” comes from that. Even at that early date, people were being catechized in the Christian faith. If you think about it, that’s quite a claim for Luke to make. “Take everything, Theophilus, that you’ve been catechized in and compare it what I’ve written here because that’s the truth, that’s the standard. What I’ve written, judge everything else you’ve been taught about Christianity by that.” Listen, that is a claim to canonicity. That is a claim of Scripture-level authority because that’s exactly what it is. The early church recognized that as the church throughout the centuries has recognized it up to the present day. Luke may be modest and humble about what he’s doing, but he is fully aware of the claim that he’s making, that is not lost on him. He makes no apology for it. He doesn’t try to explain himself overly. He’s convinced of the truthfulness, the reliability of what he’s written. He’s confident in commending it to Theophilus and he’s utterly unapologetic about it.
You know what—that’s exactly the sense we get from everything God says. Everything written in scripture is truth. It is the truth. It is true truth. Bold, confident, unapologetic in everything that it claims. And, as we noted at the very beginning, Luke’s gospel is embedded in the events of history—specific times, actual geographic locations, real people, facts that you can check his timing and his events against. He’s been intentional to weave his narrative into the facts and dates of political history, personal history, and ethnic history. Anyone, anyone can take a copy of his gospel and verify the truthfulness of what he’s written. In fact, we’re invited to do so, so we, too, can know the certainty regarding the things we’ve been taught. This gospel is an anchor for our faith, and it teaches us the certain truth about Christianity. It’s a compelling, richly detailed story. It’s accurate, well researched history, but all that leads to is gospel truth and truth of absolute certainty. No other religion in the world can boast the certainty that we have in the written word of God. Listen, never shy away from putting the truth to the test. It’s true. Everything else needs to be measured against it, not the other way around. God’s word will stand up to any test because it is the unmitigated, uncontested truth of the living God. It’s what he spoke. Whatever God says is reality, and there is no disputing it; no detractor can stand against his eternal word.
Now, among all this rich detail, the painstaking research, you know what this gospel does not tell us? It doesn’t tell us who wrote it. We’re going to take Luke, the author next time to think about it, did he write it? He did. Did he write it? Why do we know he wrote it and what is his biography? Who is this author—knowing something about him—what does that tell us and explain to us and teach us, okay? We’ll talk about that next time.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we are so grateful entering into this Gospel of Luke, and I know by some weeks of introduction that we will be well primed and ready to receive what you’ve written here, what’s prepared for us. We thank you for using the author Luke, the beloved physician, to pen this gospel for us and the second volume, the Book of Acts. We thank you for your goodness to us in giving us a truth of certainty that we can rely on, that we can anchor our souls into. We thank you how it teaches us the story of our Redeemer. We sing praise to you because of him; we give glory to you for all that you’ve done for us. As we sing one last time, Father, I pray that our hearts would be full and our hearts would be expressive to you, in true gratitude and real worship. In Jesus’ name, Amen.