Luke is not one of the Apostles, neither as far as we can tell is he amongst the first believers in Jerusalem. He appears relatively speaking quite late in the biblical history of the church. And yet he has a significant role in the writing of the Bible and it appears he is a significant companion of Paul.
Luke writes 2 books – a gospel which bears his name, and a history of the first christians (Acts). Initially these were viewed as essentially one volume.
The Gospel of Luke
We know HOW Luke wrote his gospel, he describes it as “an orderly account” which he carefully researched (Luke 1:3). I have heard people preach on this and describe Luke visiting eyewitnesses and taking down notes as they remembered the events surrounding the life of Jesus. This seems to tie in with how the NIV says he “carefully investigated” the events, or the ESV which says he “closely followed” them. Both speak to the fact he took care about the accuracy of what he was writing.
We also know WHY he wrote the gospel “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4). Many people struggle with assurance, so I will touch on this and give some reasons why we can be certain about our faith.
Acts of the Apostles
Secondly, in Luke’s second book Acts, Luke describes something of his own interactions with Paul. He doesn’t specify his own presence, but his narrative switches to using the pronounS “we” AND “US”, in 4 different sections of his book.
Acts 16:10–17 Luke is present when Paul and his companions seek to go on to Macedonia, he is there in Philippi, he witnesses the conversion of Lydia, and the arrest of Paul and Silas. Luke’s telling of the arrest and imprisonment seems to suggest that he was not arrested along with his friends, and he seems to drop the pronoun from that moment.
At the beginning of Acts 20, Luke seems again to adopts the pronouns “we” and “us”, and from Acts 20:5 to Acts 21:18 he seems very much to include himself in the events which he is recording, again using the pronouns “we” and “us” . He is in Troas with Paul and his companions where we read the account of Eutychus being raised from the dead. Luke is part of the group which embarks on a journey by boat through Assos, Mitylene, Chios, Samos and Miletus. They then sail via Cos, Rhodes and Patara, Phonecia, Cyprus Tyre and Ptolemais until they finally arriving at Caesarea where the companions are given hospitality by Philip the deacon. Luke then records the companions setting out to Jerusalem with some of the brothers.
Whilst I believe Luke was present at the events he records in Acts 21 through Acts 27, he doesn’t mention his presence explicitly to implicitly until the beginning of Acts 27 where he reverts again to using the we/us pronouns as they set out for Rome, so Luke is shipwrecked along with Paul at the end of Acts 27, and the count of 276 people onboard the boat in the storm lends credibility to this – it’s an accurate detail which is typical of eyewitness testimony, he describes Paul’s house arrest and describes Paul’s actions right up to the end of Acts 28. I believe we can safely assume Luke was a witness to all that Paul did and said there.
More information about Luke comes from 3 of Paul’s letters, in Colossians 4:14 he describes “Luke the beloved physician greets you”, in 2 Timothy 4:11 he says “Luke alone is with me” (Paul is writing this letter while under house arrest in Rome awaiting execution – which again adds weight to what I said about Luke being with Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome, and Philemon 1:24 where Paul is writing to Philemon asking him to accept back his run away slave as a brother, describes Luke as a “fellow worker”
That is about all we know of Luke.
I want to pick up on a few things that I sense God is putting a finger on for us.
The nature and purpose of Luke’s Gospel.
Note that Luke has clearly spent considerable time with Paul, and I believe he has given attention and spent energy to ensure his account of Jesus’ life is accurate.
WE can be reasonably confident that Luke’s gospel is early. We know that at the end of Acts, Luke is concentrating his testimony on Paul who was in Rome under house arrest. At this point we can assume two things. We have to be careful about assuming anything, but these are both reasonable assumptions to make.
- The temple in Jerusalem is still standing. We know the temple was demolished by the Romans in AD72 after a 3 year siege. This is even was cataclysmic for the area and both the siege and the destruction of the temple was prophesied by Jesus (Luke 19:41–44 & Mark 13:1,2). It is improbable in fact hard to believe that Luke wouldn’t have recorded it. particularly if you take into account his meticulous attention to detail.
- Paul is still alive at the end of Acts. It is generally accepted that Paul was executed during the persecution of Christians by the emperor Nero following the great fire in Rome between AD64 and AD67.
We can therefore reasonably conclude that Acts was written prior to AD67. Acts 1:1 describes Luke as “my former book”, so Luke was written before that.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 about the resurrection and again, he says people who witnessed the events surrounding Christ’s ministry, death and resurrection are STILL ALIVE and therefore available to be asked about the accuracy of his letter.
One other piece of information we have is in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul writes some words of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 11, which are believed by scholars both Christian and non-Christian to be quoting Luke’s Gospel. If that is the case, given that we know 1 Corinthians was written about AD55, Luke’s gospel pre-dates that.
In other words Luke certainly is written before AD67 and quite possibly (or even probably was written prior to the writing of 1 Corinthians in AD55.
Why is this important? Because we can be confident about the accuracy of Luke’s writings because it is way too early to be a developed mythology as some claim AND and it is written well within the lifetime of multiple eyewitnesses who would immediately recognise and would have been able to refute and challenge any inaccuracies in what Luke said.
YOU. CAN. TRUST. THE. BIBLE.
So, we can trust and rely on his account. Let that soak into your Spirit and let it inform and influence you as you read it.
The events which Luke records are drawn from a number of sources, he tells us that himself. Scholars believe Mark’s gospel is one of those sources, but we also have details in Luke’s gospel which flesh out some of the events with details that bear all the hallmarks of eyewitness testimony, so for example, when Jesus feeds 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fishes it is Luke who describes that the people were sat down in groups of fifty each. Or when Jesus was beaten by the temple guard Luke tells us they blindfolded him, but Mark did not, or Luke 3:1–3 (ESV) which lists
- Tiberius Caesar,
- Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and
- Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother
- Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and
- Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of
- Annas and
All of whom are REAL people who we have records of from sources outside the Bible. In fact as far as Caiaphas is concerned his bones were actually discovered in an ossuary in 1990. Up to that time people didn’t believe he even existed. So Luke is clearly talking about real events and real people.
Voddie Baucham, who currently is the Dean of Theology at African Christian University in Lusaka, Zambia. puts it like this … The Bible is “a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses and they report supernatural events that took place in fulfilment of specific prophecy and they claim that their writings are divine rather than human in origin.”
So we can be certain about what Luke says Jesus said and did. As a result we can rely on the things which his Gospel teaches us about Jesus. That Jesus did actually say and do the things that Luke records him saying and doing, and that as a result we can trust in and rely on the promises He makes to us in Scripture.
The Gospels are real Testimony
It is important to Luke that when we hear news, it is accurate. He says he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning”. Whenever we hear about something, the primary source should be that we hear it from the horses mouth, AND that if that’s not possible, as far as we can, we should take care that the information given is accurate. That is what Luke did and the media of today would do well to follow his example!
It is hard to trust anything mainstream media says anymore. Fake news is a phrase which Donald Trump seemed to use all the time, and without saying one way or the other whether he was right, we must be careful to discern whether what we’re being told is the truth or not. At the very least ALL news we watch has a bias in it which we must try to filter out to get to the truth.
In this subject, we must testify to what God has done and is doing in our lives, we will never fully grasp the power there is in our testimony.
Revelation 12:11 says that the saints overcame the accuser by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.
The Psalms exhort us to tell of his wondrous deeds – here are just three examples
Psalm 9:1 (ESV) “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.”
Psalm 26:6–7 (ESV) “I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O LORD, proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds.”
Psalm 71:17–19 (ESV)
O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and grey hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.
Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens.
You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?
So testimony, proclamation of who God is and what He has done is exceptionally important … BUT …
But NEVER EVER gild the lily
Don’t ever exaggerate what God has done. In our enthusiasm and effort to give all the glory to God, we can sometimes over stress or embellish what He has done, and I have heard testimony from people about something I also witnessed which when I’ve heard it thought – I must have been watching something different because that’s not how I remember it!
If you do that, you run the risk that people will have unrealistic expectations about what God will do, or that you will be perceived as being dishonest, neither of which are helpful for people to “have certainty” about God. You may do more harm than good. Jesus says let your yes be yes and your no be no (the context is different I know, but speaking plainly and honestly is important).
1 John 1:1–4 is a very good description of what that looks like – what the characteristics of testimony are:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
Testimony that John writes about here involves seeing, hearing and touching. This is firsthand experience, not hearsay. The most important thing we must understand about testimony is that we must have experienced it for ourselves.
There is an account in Acts about a some priests who thought that spirituality was a matter of reciting a formula – for them it was exorcism.
Acts 19:13–16 (NIV) “Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.”
So, two of the most critical elements of testimony must be these.
- Testimony must be ours. It cannot be second-hand. In fact it’s not testimony if it is second hand – it’s hearsay.
- Testimony must be honest. We must not elaborate or embellish what God is doing or has done. This leaves us open to the accusation of deceit, and at the very least creates unrealistic expectations amongst those who hear.
The Gospel is OBJECTIVELY True
Thirdly Luke makes a very interesting statement concerning his intent. He says “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4)
One of the things I struggled with when I was younger was assurance. I had no certainty in my faith. One of the characteristics of our modern world is that nothing is certain for anyone. At the risk of being controversial, not even things which only yesterday were accepted as scientific facts are deemed to be certain any more. We all know what they are, and this is not the time or the place to wade into that can of worms, but it does reinforce the sense we have all around us that truth in our culture is regarded as malleable not absolute. Phrases like “your truth” and “my truth” illustrate this perfectly.
This means that for many people the “truth of the Gospel” is a meaningless concept for them.
However, modern understandings of truth, popular though they may be are complete nonsense! The Bible makes some statements about truth.
John 1:14 describes the word, a reference to Jesus as being full of grace and truth, in John 14:6 Jesu himself says I am the way, the truth and the life, and the messianic prophecy in Isaiah, speaking of Jesus says no deceit was in his mouth (Isaiah 53:9), John 3:33 says God is true and Titus says God does not lie (Titus 1:2). Truth is part of the very nature of God.
Truth is commanded in Scripture. Exodus 20 amongst other places condemns lying (v16: “you shall not bear false witness”), and Jesus actually says if we lie we are speaking the language of the enemy (John 8:42–47).
Psalm 36:3 describes a core attitude of wicked people and says “The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful”
Interestingly, although they were trying to trap him, the pharisees send their disciples to Jesus and say to him “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are”. Matthew 22:16 (NIV). Truth is not swayed by popular opinion.
Proverbs 12:19 “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.”. Truth stands outside of time. It does not change with the passing of time. If it was true a thousand years ago, it is true today.
Proverbs 14:25 “A truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is deceitful.”. Jesus says the truth will set you free (John 8:32). Truth brings freedom and life. You will really know this if you have found yourself caught up in a lie that you are really uncomfortable with – then you will understand what it means to be trapped. Often even when it means they are found out, people who lie feel a real sense of release and freedom when the truth comes out (adulterers, criminals and so on).
It is important to grasp that truth is not some kind of changeable attribute which depends on our subjective assessment of things or even on the circumstances we fond ourselves in. If that were the case, we could never be sure of anything. If the measure of what is truthful keeps changing there is no way to know what you are being told is the truth. The ONLY way we can have certainty is when truth is absolute and outside of our circumstances and outside of ourselves.
What Paul says about Luke
I want to pick up on just one thing, which Paul says about Luke when he is writing to Timothy. He says “ Luke alone is with me”. I want to consider loyalty. This morning. What is it? What does it look like? What are the effects of it?
There is a passage in 1 Chronicles 12 which lists all the fighting men who gathered around David when he was banished from the presence of Saul. These men would have been executed by Saul had they been caught, but they were loyal to David, they were loyal to him and as 1 Chronicles 12:38 says “fully determined to make David king over all Israel”.
Proverbs 17:17 says “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”
Loyalty does not reveal itself until such time as things are not going well. It is easy to say you are loyal when the thing or person you are loyal to is popular and successful and your loyalty is lauded by all who see it.
Loyalty really reveals itself when none of those things are true, when your loyalty to someone or something will land you in trouble, when you might lose your reputation or your livelihood because of it. It is in those moments when it is revealed for what it is. I guess the question we must ask ourselves is whether we are loyal to the things we claim to value? Are you loyal to God? We tend to call it faithfulness. Loyalty and faithfulness are almost synonymous with one another, and faithfulness is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:22)
It is sad to say that Faithfulness is Rare, the bible is quite blunt about that, so for example it says:
- Psalm 12:1,2 “Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race”.
- Micah 7:2 “The faithful have been swept from the land; not one upright person remains”.
- Proverbs 20:6 “Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?”Faithfulness was rare in Biblical times, it is rare today.We let each other down, we make promises we don’t follow through on, whether in our families, our friendship groups or the workplace. So for example (and I don’t know the exact statistics), significant numbers of marriages end up in divorce, people are betrayed by people they thought they could initially trust (e.g. in the workplace to “get ahead”), getting the place on the team is more important than the trust and camaraderie built up in training.
Too many people find it far too easy to bail out of friendships, of jobs, out of churches, out of marriages, even out of families — faithfulness is something that is hard to find nowadays but GOD is faithful!
Psalm 18:25: to the faithful you who yourself faithful; though note 2 Timothy 2:13, even if we are faithless He remains faithful
In other words, God’s faithfulness does not rely on our faithfulness: irrespective of our faithfulness, God will remain faithful; it’s part of his nature. Which is just as well. We can rely on His faithfulness as we can rely on His love, regardless of our own actions.
Psalm 33:4: “For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does”. // Psalm 145:13(b): “The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does”. Just as our character comes out in our actions, God’s character comes out in his deeds. Not just some of them mind you, ALL of them!
This because His faithfulness is an expression / outworking of His love –
Deuteronomy 7:9: Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.
Psalm 108:4: For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
“a thousand generations” and “to the skies” are descriptors showing us how great His faithfulness actually is. How far reaching it is, remember the Psalmist says “where can I go from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7) God’s faithfulness does not disappear with the passage of time or with geographical distance – and it certainly doesn’t disappear in the face of difficulty like our own so often does. This faithfulness of God for us can be relied on by us regardless of the challenges we face.
Our Faithfulness should echo or display God’s faithfulness. We are living breathing examples of what God is like – or we should be, so the bible says that God’s faithfulness does not depend on us or our actions, our faithfulness should not depend on the actions of others either. Like our love, it should be offered. There is no place for saying “he doesn’t deserve it”
The Bible says all sorts of stuff about our faithfulness, I am going to read some of them. I may or may not elaborate, but what I really want to get across is the fact the faithfulness and loyalty may be rare today, but Biblically, it is very important in God’s people.
1 Samuel 2:9: He will guard the feet of his faithful servants,
Proverbs 2:8: he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.
Psalm 37:28: the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones.
Psalm 97:10: Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
2 Chronicles 6:41: may your faithful people rejoice in your goodness.
If you read the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 you will see it is interesting to note that the servant was commended for his faithfulness, not for the amount of money he made … Matthew 25:21 (&23) “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
So, how is our loyalty and faithfulness revealed? Do we desert people when things get difficult? How about church? Is our loyalty shown in our actions? Or is our commitment flaky and unreliable and about as reliable as the wind or the waves?
It seems to me that the core point this morning revolves around consistency and reliability.
Firstly, we can trust in and rely on God and the gospel because it is is an accurate account of the life and actions of Jesus and because it is true, it is constant and it is something which we rely on in the storms of life.
Secondly, we should seek to be people that those around us can trust and rely on in the storms of their lives.
I want to end up by reading out a parable of Jesus, which speaks to this. It is found in two of the gospels, but unsurprisingly, I am going to use Luke’s version.
Jesus says “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:24–27 (NIV)
Is your faith a rock which will withstand the storms of life?
Are you a rock for others in their storms of life?