Date: June 16, 2019
Speaker: Jeff Breeding
Series: The Gospel according to Luke
Scripture: Luke 1:1–1:4
What are the things in life that you are certain are true? What are the things that would stand firm in your mind, even if everything else were shaken? I have a few things I’m certain of in life. Some are significant – I’m certain of Laura’s love for me. Some are less significant – I’m certain my mother in law’s pizza is the best pizza on earth. If you had to write them down this morning, what are the things you are certain of today?
As you think about that list, do the events of Jesus’ life and ministry make the cut? It’s a good question to ask yourself – Am I certain that Jesus of Nazareth lived and walked on this earth? Am I certain that he healed the lame, opened the eyes of the blind, and amazed the minds of proud with his powerful teaching? Am I certain that he went to Jerusalem where he stood before Herod and Pilate to be condemned as a law-breaker? Am I certain that even though he was innocent, Jesus suffered and died a criminal’s death on the cross? Am I certain that Jesus did not stay dead but rose again on third day? Am I certain that he appeared to upwards of 500 eyewitnesses before ascending again into heaven on the clouds? Am I certain that right now, at this moment on June 16, 2019, Jesus of Nazareth is alive and seated at the right hand of God? Am I certain of these things?
The cynic would say that certainty about anything is impossible, and that anyone who claims certainty is simply trying to exert power of other people. The skeptic would say certainty is a myth, since there’s no way to answer every possible doubt. And the fool would say, “Certainty? Who cares about certainty? Why not eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die?” But friends, Scripture would say that each of those people is wrong. Certainty is not only possible, it is given to us in the Word of God.
And the opening of Luke’s Gospel makes clear that this certainty applies first and foremost to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Perhaps you heard it as we read the passage a moment ago, but the preface to Luke’s Gospel gives us his grand purpose in writing. And what is that purpose? It is certainty, certainty about what God has accomplished in Christ. These opening verses are one long sentence in the original – a well-crafted sentence designed to establish from the start that Luke has done his homework. In fact, throughout these opening verses, Luke goes out of his way to stress the historical accuracy of his account. Notice in v1 where Luke mentions other writers who compiled a narrative of these things. Luke is not writing in a vacuum but in a community of other witnesses who also testify to the history of what God has done in Christ. Look also in v3 where Luke says that having followed these things closely, it seemed good to him to write an orderly account. The emphasis again is on accuracy, trustworthiness. Luke spoke to eyewitnesses of Christ’s life. He tracked down sources, he heard their stories, and then he carefully brought all that work together in the Gospel we have before us today.
All of that to say, brothers and sisters, Luke clearly wants us to know that the events in this book are real, historical events. They happened as Luke reports, and as readers of Luke’s Gospel, we can have confidence in what we read.
And I want to press this home a bit further. From the start, I want to impress upon you the importance of affirming the historical accuracy of Luke’s account. You’ll often hear people say that it doesn’t matter if the Gospel accounts are technically or historically true. All that matters is the spiritual truths contained in these stories. For example, you’ll often hear this with Jesus’ miracles. When Jesus heals the leper in chapter 5, it doesn’t matter if that is historically true, some will say. All that matters is the kernel of spiritual truth contained in the story.
But here’s the problem with that perspective, Luke himself disagrees with it! Luke himself views these events as historical, as flesh-and-blood realities that occurred in time and space, and Luke now records that history for the people of God. Now, to be sure, the gospel of Christ is more than mere history. There is spiritual truth communicated by these historical events. The life of Christ is more than mere history. But it cannot be less than history because anything less than history is ultimately powerless. Think about it. A myth may engage the imagination, but it cannot command the human will. It cannot demand the allegiance of the human heart. And God’s Word always aims to shape our lives according to the truth.
Perhaps you are not certain this morning about what you believe. Or perhaps you do believe, but you’ve always had those little doubts that nip at the corner of your mind. Or perhaps you’re just tired, worn out, and in need of a reminder as to why any of this matters. Whatever the case, I have good news for you. God’s Word aims to give you certainty today, certainty that is rooted not in myth but in the flesh-and-blood history of what God has accomplished in Jesus Christ.
As we look now to the details of the passage, I’d like us to see three purposes at work in Luke’s faithful narrative, three purposes that, taken together, provide God’s people with certainty: # 1, Luke’s narrative testifies to the fulfillment of God’s plan; #2, Luke’s narrative passes on the truth of God’s word; and #3, Luke’s narrative strengthens the faith of God’s people. Let’s begin with that first purpose – Luke’s narrative testifies to the fulfillment of God’s plan.
Luke’s Narrative Testifies to the Fulfillment of God’s Plan
As we noted a moment ago, v1 opens with a note of historical emphasis. Notice again what Luke writes, v1 – “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things accomplished among us.” Again, we hear how Luke stands in line with other witnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry. Luke himself was not an eyewitness, as we’ll see in a moment in v2, but he is a witness. He is following on from others who have also witnessed and recorded the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.
But there is something else at work in v1 that should perhaps get more of our attention. Notice how Luke speaks of the things that have been accomplished among us. The idea here is of something brought to completion. It’s a note of fulfillment, in other words.
Now, the question becomes, “the fulfillment of what?” What is it, exactly, that Luke sees as brought to completion? The answer is the plan of God for the salvation of his people. We’re in Luke chapter 1 this morning, but gospel message of Jesus Christ begins actually in Genesis 1. From the beginning, God determined to save a people for himself. From the beginning, God purposed to display his glory by redeeming his people from sin and death. This was not a plan that God came up with on the fly in the Garden of Eden. No, from the beginning, God has been working out this plan. Before the foundation of the world, Paul tells us in Ephesians 1, God has determined to save his people.
And Luke’s point here in v1 is that this plan has reached its climax in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. All that God has been doing since the beginning is brought to completion in this man – the Lord Jesus. Back in Genesis 3, when God promised to crush the head of the serpent through the seed of the woman – that promise is brought to completion in Jesus Christ. In Genesis 12, when God promised to bless Abram and through Abram to bless all nations – that plan is fulfilled in Christ and carried on through his church. In Exodus 12, when God told his people that the blood of the lamb would save them from the angel of death – that foreshadowed promise has been accomplished in Jesus Christ. In 2 Samuel 7, when God promised his people a king in David’s line who would reign forever – that plan has been brought to completion in David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ. In Isaiah 53, as God saw the day when his Servant would bear the sins of his people and bring healing by his wounds – that promise is fulfilled in Christ who bore our sins in his body on the tree. In Psalm 2, when God promised that his King would receive the nations as his inheritance – that purpose has been accomplished in Jesus the Messiah. From the beginning, God has had a plan, that plan has been revealed in God’s promises, and now Luke tells us in v1, those promises have been accomplished in the life and ministry of Jesus.
And that means, brothers and sisters, that the history of Jesus Christ is ultimately redemptive history. These things are not merely events – they are the accomplishment of redemption. From the beginning – right here in v1 – all the way to the end in chapter 24, Luke wants us to see that Jesus Christ came to save those whom God has called to himself. Jesus Christ came to fulfill God’s plan. Indeed, Jesus Christ is God’s plan, hidden for ages past, foreshadowed in the Law and the Prophets, and now revealed to the church through the preaching of the gospel.
Brothers and sisters, I hope you’re gripped by a sense of wonder that what we will read in these chapters is the most glorious, the most marvelous, the most astounding good news that could ever be uttered on earth. God has kept his promises. That’s really the grand takeaway from Luke’s Gospel – God has done precisely as he said he would. And therefore, this gospel is trustworthy. This Christ is deserving of your trust, your allegiance, even your very life.
But there is another aspect to this I want you to notice in v1. Notice where Luke says these things have been accomplished among us. That is, the gospel of Jesus Christ did not happen in some dark, hidden corner of history, away from the watching eyes of the world. No, Jesus lived and ministered among us, Luke says – out in the open, for all to see.
I remember talking with some Mormon missionaries one time, and I asked them why Joseph Smith had to receive his visions in secret, alone, with no other witnesses. I asked them why no one besides Smith ever saw the golden tablets. “Doesn’t that bother you,” I asked them. They didn’t answer. But the same could be asked about Islam – why did Mohammed have to receive his visions in secret? If Islam were true, why not reveal it openly and publicly?
But those questions do not apply to the Gospel of Christ. God has not kept himself hidden, and he has not fulfilled his plan in secret. Far from it! Right there, among the ins-and-outs of everyday life in Galilee, Jesus lived and walked. Right there, in the open square of the Temple, Jesus taught and preached. And right there, on the hillside outside of Jerusalem, Jesus died but three days later rose again. Five hundred eyewitnesses saw him. Thomas touched him. His disciples witnessed him ascend again to heaven, and then many of them lost their lives in martyrdom to proclaim this good news. Christianity is not founded on some secret. God has fulfilled his plan, and he has done so among us, Luke writes, where humanity could witness his saving power.
Now, why does this matter, you may be asking? Why should this make a difference to me? The answer has to do with faith. You may have heard people talk about taking a leap of faith in becoming a Christian, but that’s really not a biblical description of faith at all. Faith in Christ is not a blind leap into nothingness. No, faith in Christ is grounded on what God has done in history to fulfill his promises. In other words, God has given his people reason to believe. Right here in his Word, God has laid out the truth of his plan. He has recorded the fulfillment of his promises. And that means, if we long for faith to take root, grow, and become strong, then we must look to God’s Word. We must read and believe what God has revealed. Far too often we act as though faith is something we can produce on our own. We act as though we can make faith stronger ourselves. But faith is always a response to God’s Word. Faith always grows stronger by first going deeper in God’s Word.
Wherever you are this morning, God’s call on your life is the same – listen to his Word, and believe what he has revealed to be true. Do you know Christ today? Are you trusting in his life, death, and resurrection for your salvation? God has revealed himself. He has laid out so clearly in his Word the truth of what he has done. And now, that clear, truthful Word stands ready to give you faith and then strengthen the faith God has already provided. Listen to God’s Word. Bank your life on what God has accomplished in Christ, and God will not fail to save you.
Luke’s Narrative Passes on the Truth of God’s Word
That is the first purpose we see in Luke’s preface – he writes a faithful narrative that testifies to the fulfillment of God’s plan. The second purpose comes in v2 – Luke’s narrative passes on the truth of God’s word. We mentioned a moment ago that Luke was not an eyewitness, but v2 makes clear that he did receive eyewitness testimony. Listen again to v2 – “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us.” Again, we hear Luke’s concern for accuracy and truthfulness. He reminds us that there were numerous eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and ministry, and that these eyewitnesses handed down the testimony of Jesus Christ. I don’t want to belabor this point, but it is simply too important to overlook. Luke is not making this stuff up. He is passing on the testimony of those who saw the Lord Jesus on earth.
But you’ll also notice that these eyewitnesses are called ministers of the word. That’s such a key point. The idea here is that of an assistant or a helper who serves on behalf of someone or something else. And that’s what makes these eyewitnesses so significant in the gospel history of Christ. They were servants of God’s word. Under God’s providence, they helped preserve and pass on what God had revealed in Jesus Christ. In fact, that was the entire reason why God allowed these people to be eyewitnesses. It was for the purpose of passing on God’s truth. It was for the purpose of serving God’s word as revealed in Jesus Christ.
And this purpose becomes even clearer at the end of v2. Notice again where Luke says the eyewitnesses delivered these things to us. That word delivered means to pass down what you have received, and to do so in a way that preserves the truthfulness of the message. That’s the emphasis here – reliability, accuracy, truthfulness. Luke’s account is based on reliable, truthful testimony.
Overall, then, what we see here in v2 is the process of faithful gospel transmission. This is how Luke has come to know the gospel – because the eyewitnesses remembered and declared what God has done in Christ. And this is also how Luke will compose his gospel – by carefully preserving and delivering to us what he also has received. From one generation to the next, God has passed on the truthfulness of his Word. And therefore, we should believe what Luke proclaims.
You know, as I think about this faithful gospel transmission, two words come to mind. Perhaps these will be good points of application for us. Two words come to mind, and the first is gratitude. If you are a Christian today, you stand in debt to those who came before you and delivered the gospel message to the next generation. Your faith, in some measure, owes to the faithful ministry of saints, including some now long gone. Think about this, brothers and sisters. This certainly includes those immediate saints in your personal history – perhaps parents or grandparents, Sunday school teachers, a pastor. But it also includes the entire line of faithful saints down through the ages – from the apostles and eyewitnesses to Luke here in chapter 1 and then on down to today. To read the history of the church, then, is not simply to read of events from a bygone era. It is to read your own family tree – the family tree of the faith once for all delivered to the saints. And this should be a great encouragement to your faith, brothers and sisters. The history of the church is really the history of God’s faithfulness to his people. That’s why it is important and even helpful to know the church’s history – because it shows us the hand of God in passing on the truthfulness of his Word.
And so, when I read v2 about eyewitnesses delivering these things to Luke and then Luke delivering them to us – when I read that, I’m filled with gratitude. What a kind heavenly Father who would not only reveal himself in his Word, but then preserve and pass on that Word for us. Luke’s faithfulness, in some measure, has been used by God to bring about our faith, and the word that brings to my mind is gratitude.
And that leads into the second word – responsibility. To believe the gospel is to be part of the stewardship of God’s Word. We believe because brothers and sisters before us delivered the truth to us, and now our role is deliver the truth to the next generation. That starts in our own homes and churches, which is why it is vital to teach our children the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Read them God’s Word, Mom and Dad. Bring them to church. Serve in our children’s ministry, and recognize that you’re helping to pass on the truth to the next generation.
We are stewards of God’s truth, revealed in the gospel. And the one requirement of a steward is faithfulness. By all means, I pray we see the gospel advance in our day. I pray for this church and other faithful churches to be full with new believers who have been brought to faith in Christ through the God’s grace. Oh, how I pray we see the gospel advance!
But if God does not see fit to give gospel advance in our day, we still have a monumentally important role to play in the work of God’s mission. And that role is faithfulness. We hold fast to the truth. We deliver what we have received, and by God’s grace, future generations believe.
Do you pray to stand firm in the truth? Do you yourself know the truth of God’s Word, and are you praying for God to help you stand firm in that truth? Do you pray for our church to remain faithful, to pass on what we first received? I hope you do, brothers and sisters. This is no small thing. Pray, both for yourself and for our church, that we would follow in Luke’s footsteps on deliver to the next generation what we have received, that is, the good news of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ.
Luke’s Narrative Strengthens the Faith of God’s People
That brings us to the final purpose in Luke’s preface from v4 – Luke’s narrative strengthens the faith of God’s people. You’ll notice in v3 that Luke mentions a man named Theophilus, who is the recipient of both this Gospel account as well as the book of Acts. Remember, Luke’s Gospel is the only one to have a sequel, so to speak – the book of Acts – and both are addressed to this man, Theophilus.
Now, the question is, “Who is Theophilus?” Was he a believer already or simply interested in the Christian faith? Was he a Roman official or some other high-ranking member of society? Luke does refer to him as most excellent Theophilus, so perhaps he is a man of some means. But honestly, we don’t have much detail on his background.
There is, however, an important point to note in v4. You’ll notice that Luke says the purpose of this book is to give Theophilus certainty concerning the things he has been taught. I take this to mean that Theophilus is, in fact, a believer in Jesus Christ. He has been taught the gospel, he has believed, but now Luke aims to provide greater certainty about this gospel truth. Perhaps Theophilus had questions about some aspect of the gospel. Or, perhaps Theophilus was a Gentile and was struggling with whether or not Gentiles are fully received as the people of God. We know from the book of Acts that was an issue in the early church, and Luke’s Gospel also contains a clear emphasis on Jesus’ mission extending beyond the Jews to the Gentiles. Perhaps Theophilus needs reassurance about salvation being given to the Gentiles as well.
Whatever the specific reason the key point is that Luke writes to give Theophilus certainty. Luke doesn’t want this brother to be confused or even misled. He wants Theophilus to have confidence. He wants to remind Theophilus of the stable foundation for his faith. There is no need for Theophilus to be concerned that he is missing out on what God is doing in the world. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s plan. Jesus Christ is the truthful revelation of God’s word. Those who know Christ can have confidence that they are reconciled to God! That is Luke’s purpose in writing, brothers and sisters – to assure this man that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all who believe.
But here’s what I want to leave us with this morning. This is the takeaway from Luke’s preface. This certainty, this assurance of faith is not based on how strongly Theophilus believes. It’s not based on how firm Theophilus proves to be on his own. No, the certainty Luke aims to give is rooted in what God has done in Jesus Christ. Do you see it, brothers and sisters? Luke’s entire pastoral purpose is to point Theophilus to who Jesus is and what he has done to save his people. That’s why Luke writes this Gospel account. That’s why he has so carefully done his research and recorded the events of Jesus life. It’s because assurance of faith comes only from knowing Christ and trusting that he alone is sufficient to save.
I would say this is an emphasis we desperately need to recover in our day. Many Christians struggle with assurance of faith. Many believers lack certainty regarding the truth. That may be true of you this morning, and if so, there is nothing to be ashamed of in that. This is true of many Christians.
But if that is true of you today, I want you to hear me on this, brothers and sisters. God intends for you to have certainty and assurance of faith. But the way he gives you that assurance is through his Word, and more specifically, through the testimony of who Jesus is and what he has done to fulfill God’s promise to save. That’s why Luke writes, and to put it plainly, that’s why we need to listen and believe what is contained here in this book. Look to God’s Word. Read, believe, obey, and apply what God has said. There is certainty and assurance for God’s people, and praise God, that certainty comes not from within ourselves but from the trustworthy word of God.
What are the things in life that you are certain are true? I pray that through this series we may all be able to say with increasing confidence that we are certain Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to save sinners like you and me. And I pray that this Christ-centered confidence would then lead to greater obedience to Christ, greater worship of Christ, and perhaps most of all, greater devotion to the mission of Christ, as we minister his gospel both to one another and to this lost world.
May God give us certainty, brothers and sisters, certainty that God’s plan to save his people has been accomplished once and for all in Jesus Christ. Amen.