Midweek Advent Vespers
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
“The Chronicle of Luke: ‘That You May Have Certainty’” (Luke 1:1-4)
This past Sunday was the First Sunday in Advent, and thus it was the beginning of a whole new church year. In our congregation, and in thousands of churches all around the world, this is known as “The Year of St. Luke.” You see, in the three-year lectionary, the system of appointed readings that we use, Series A is the Year of St. Matthew–his gospel is the one predominately read throughout that church year. Series B is the Year of St. Mark. And now, starting this week, Series C is the Year of St. Luke. In case you’re wondering what happened to St. John, his gospel is spread out over all three years, with a greater amount read in Year B, since Mark is the shortest gospel, and thus there is more room to fit in John there.
But this is the Year of St. Luke. For the 52 Sundays that just started this week, over 40 of them–that is, over 80%–will feature as the appointed Holy Gospel a reading from St. Luke. So this year we are really going to dive into this gospel in particular. Most of our sermons will be based on Luke, and, just today, we are beginning an in-depth study of the Gospel of Luke for our weekly Bible class.
Besides being the main gospel used for this whole church year, Luke is especially helpful for this current time of Advent and Christmas. Of the four gospels, Luke is the one that gives us the most information about the events leading up to the birth of Christ, the birth itself, and the events immediately following the birth. The first two chapters of this gospel therefore are known as Luke’s “Infancy Narrative.” You’ll be hearing a lot from Luke 1 and 2 throughout this month of December.
So in view of Luke’s special Advent and Christmas emphasis, as well as our entering into a whole year of readings from this gospel, “it seemed good to me” that we take a closer look at what we’re getting ourselves into. We’ll start by finding out a little bit about who this guy Luke was. Then we’ll consider the content and purpose of Luke’s gospel–because in his prologue to the book, in the opening verses, Luke himself tells us what he’s going to cover and why. And so now: who Luke is, what he’s going to tell us, and why that is so important for you. Thus our theme today: “The Chronicle of Luke: ‘That You May Have Certainty.’”
First of all, though, who is this fellow Luke? We learn several things about Luke from the rest of the New Testament. St. Paul refers to Luke as “the beloved physician,” that is, he was a medical doctor by profession. But Paul also refers to Luke several times in his epistles as one of his fellow workers. In other words, Luke had joined Paul’s missionary band at a certain point and then traveled with Paul all around the Mediterranean world, helping to spread the gospel. As best as we can piece it together, it appears that Luke was a Gentile, a non-Jew, that Luke became a Christian somewhere along the line, and that he joined Paul’s team on Paul’s second missionary journey–when Paul was in Troas, in western Asia Minor–and then traveled with him from there for probably the last fifteen years of Paul’s life. On the occasions when Paul was in prison, Luke would have had some down time–maybe a couple years in Caesarea, a couple years in Rome–during which time Luke could have gotten to work on writing his books, first this volume we call the Gospel of Luke, and then Luke’s second volume, the Book of Acts.
Which brings us to the prologue of Luke’s gospel, the first four verses, in which he tells us what he’s going to write about and why. We’ll take it a verse at a time.
Verse 1: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us. . . .” Keep in mind, Luke is writing this gospel probably around the year 60, and he’s relating events that took place some 30 years earlier or before. During those intervening years, the apostles of Christ had been busy, very busy, preaching and teaching the good news of Christ. They were doing their work in person, by speaking in front of crowds and congregations. They were passing on their oral accounts of what took place in the ministry of Jesus. But after some years, it must have become clear that it was necessary to put this stuff down in writing. Some had apparently begun to do that. Luke refers to those who “have undertaken to compile a narrative.” Is he referring to Matthew or Mark, for example? Perhaps. Maybe he’s referring to just some partial written accounts, written down by those who had heard the apostles preach. In any case, it’s not that he’s necessarily criticizing those written accounts, as though they were in error. He’s just saying that some have started to write accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus.
And he calls these events “the things that have been accomplished among us.” That is noteworthy. The word here for “accomplished” could also be translated “fulfilled”: “the things that have been fulfilled among us.” What Luke is going to tell us is that what God had promised from long ago–those things have now been fulfilled.
And what’s more, they have been fulfilled, accomplished, “among us”! Dear friends, that is significant for us, too. We are in that “us.” God has come through on his promises, and they have come to fulfillment in the coming of the Christ. And by the good news of Christ coming in our midst, we get included in the action! This is what Luke is getting at.
Verse 2: “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us.” Remember, Luke himself was not an apostle. He had not been one of the Twelve, the disciples who had been with Jesus for the events recorded in the gospel. So where did Luke get his material from? From the eyewitnesses themselves. They “delivered” those accounts to Luke; they handed them down. In fact, it appears that Luke actually interviewed the eyewitnesses and got the accounts straight from them as he was compiling his gospel. This could have happened during one of those extended down times I spoke of, when Paul was in prison. Luke heard from the eyewitnesses who saw Jesus do these things some thirty years earlier–the apostles, certainly. But also it appears very likely that Luke spoke to Mary, the mother of our Lord, particularly about the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. Yes, Mary would have still been around at the time when Luke was writing his gospel. She was an older woman by then, maybe in her 70s, but she would have been very able to recall the astonishing events when she gave birth to the Savior of the world. It says a couple of times in the infancy narrative that Mary “pondered these things and treasured them up in her heart.” And we get Mary’s “treasure” in the first two chapters of Luke.
Verse 3, Luke continues: “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.” It seemed good to Luke. And it seemed good to the Holy Spirit also and most importantly. Luke did his interviewing and his research and his writing, in his own distinctive style. But at the same time, this was all under the direction and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We have the inspired Word of God here in the Gospel according to St. Luke. The Word of God in the words of men–that’s what we have in the Bible. Holy Scripture has both a divine nature and a human nature, similar to what we have in our God-man Savior himself, Jesus Christ.
So in Luke’s gospel we have an accurate, orderly account of the things fulfilled among us, namely, of–as Luke says at the beginning of Acts–of “all that Jesus began to do and teach,” up until the day of his ascension. The deeds of Christ and the teachings of Christ. Jesus, as he goes about doing the will of his Father: bringing in the blessings of God’s end-time kingdom; restoring creation; healing the sick; delivering people from the power of the devil; calling sinners to repentance and faith. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost,” as Jesus says in what might be called the theme verse of Luke’s gospel.
And Jesus does this by taking a journey to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and die to bring us out of the bondage of our slavery to sin and death. Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem, to be handed over to unjust crucifixion, that is how determined he is to accomplish his rescue mission. Jesus is determined to do whatever is necessary to accomplish your salvation, my friend. And that is what it took: God’s own Son, the Messiah, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffering and dying for you; and then rising from the dead and sending out his apostles with the saving, life-giving message. This is the great good news that Luke has to tell us in his gospel.
Verse 4: “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Here is the purpose statement for Luke’s gospel. This is why he is writing this book. “That you may have certainty.” That you may have faith, and that your faith would have a firm foundation. God doesn’t want you floundering about, not sure of what you believe. He doesn’t want you to have a shaky, weak, blown-about faith. No, he wants you to be sure of your salvation. He wants to be certain of what you believe.
But believing what? Faith concerning what? Concerning “the things you have been taught.” You have been catechized. You have been given the basics, the ABCs of the Christian faith. And now God wants you to go deeper. To get a very firm foothold on the truth. The truth of Christ Jesus, your Savior and the Savior of the world. This is what Luke’s gospel is all about.
So dive in! The water is fine. Whether your name is Theophilus or Theodore or Phil or Phyllis, in this gospel of his, St. Luke has some good news for you. You’ll be hearing much more of it during this Advent, this Christmas, and for this whole year coming up. Yes, it’s the Year of St. Luke, which means it is, above all, the Year of Christ Jesus our Savior.