THE GOSPEL OF LUKE
INTRODUCTION TO THE GOSPEL OF LUKE
The Message of Jesus and Its Significance
Galatians 4:4 has been noted as one of the most significant verses in the NT: "But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son. . ." When Paul writes that God sent Jesus when the fullness of time came, he means that He sent Jesus to earth at the perfect time. He did not send Jesus just haphazardly; He sent Jesus after He had made careful preparations in the world of mankind.
Normally when we think of this verse, we apply it to the fact that at this time God had prepared the world for the coming of Jesus in several ways. First, up until the time of Christ, communications were primitive; however, by the time of Christ, the Romans had built up a system of roads and sea travel which revolutionized communications. After the Roman legions had conquered the known world around the Mediterranean Sea, the emperors had to come up with something for these legions to do. They didn't want a bunch of warriors on their hands sitting around and doing nothing. That would have been a recipe for disaster. So they turned them into the first Army Corps of Engineers, who built aqueducts and roads throughout the Roman empire.
Few of us understand how radical this change in communications was. We think that the internet has changed society. Yet before the internet was arranged, we could still pick up a phone and contact somebody almost anywhere in the world instantaneously. Before the Romans launched their communications revolution, it took weeks, months, years to communicate to people throughout the known world. Now at least around the Mediterranean Sea that lapse of time was greatly reduced. This developed system of communications allowed the early church to spread the gospel to places it would not have been able to reach 100 years earlier.
Also by this time 2 languages dominated the known world: Greek and Latin. Before 300 B.C. if you wanted to share the gospel with the known world (the eastern part of the Mediterranean all the way down to India), you would have had to know a multitude of languages. Yet when Alexander the Great appeared on the scene, all this changed. Alexander was not interested in just simply conquering land. He was the student of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. He believed that Greek culture was the pinnacle of all culture. He launched a crusade to convert the great empires of the ancient world to this Greek culture, a process known as "Hellenism." Everywhere he went, he promoted Greek culture, which included promoting the Greek language. All of a sudden millions of people were bound together by one language. If you knew Greek, you could communicate the gospel to these millions.
With the emergence of the Roman culture came the predominance of the Latin language in the western part of the Mediterranean world. If you knew either one of these 2 languages, you would have been able to share the gospel with millions of people in N. Africa, Spain, Gaul, and Italy, an impossibility a few hundred years earlier.
A third way that God sent Jesus at the best time was that by this time Greek philosophies and pagan religions had failed to meet the deepest needs of men's hearts. Greek philosophy and eastern religions were bankrupt spiritually. Men were realizing that they needed a Savior. By creating a spiritual vacuum in their hearts, God had prepared their hearts to accept Christ.
A fourth piece of evidence confirms that God sent Jesus at the right time to earth--the language and concepts which were in use at that time were perfect instruments God would use to reveal Himself to mankind. If God had come to earth today, we would probably have thought of the church as a democracy and not a kingdom. Today when we think of the idea of a kingdom, we think of Great Britain. Well, as wonderful a queen as Elizabeth has been, she has absolutely no power. Parliament could dethrone her overnight if it wanted. God, on the other hand, does not serve at the whim of parliaments. He doesn't take a vote each year to see if He is going to be king or not. By divine right He is king over the universe. (Be careful when trying to use language current today to try to communicate God's truth. Although we need to be culturally relevant to a certain degree, if we use the language of our present culture to influence completely the way we communicate God's Word, we may end up preaching our culture and not Jesus.)
Because God has chosen certain concepts from the first century AD to reveal Himself to us, we need to learn what those concepts are and study them in order to understand what God is saying to you and me right now. Whereas that might seem somewhat difficult, that should not bother us because the greatest command of all states: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and WITH ALL YOUR MIND" (Matt. 22:37). If I am truly going to love God, then I must know who He is and what He wants. That involves using my mind.
THE THEME OF THE MESSAGE OF JESUS
At the beginning of the First Gospel, Matthew sums up the message of Jesus in one short sentence: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 4:17). In Matt. 3:2 Matthew sums up the preaching of John the Baptist. It is interesting that these 2 themes are not merely similar; in the Greek text of Matthew they are exactly the same. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus states that the purpose of His coming was to preach the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:43).
The word translated "repent" literally means "to change one's mind." In the context of the Bible, it refers to sinners changing their mind/attitude/heart towards God. Before they repented, sinners were hostile in their relationship to God. Jesus and John the Baptist are calling for these people to change their attitudes and hearts so that now they are in a positive relationship with God. They are especially to change their minds in their attitudes towards Jesus.
The second part of the sentence gives the reason they are to repent: "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Jesus is saying that if I want to be a part of this kingdom of God, then I need to repent in my relationship with God, especially in the way I relate to Jesus. Moreover, this kingdom is at hand because the King Himself, Jesus, has just appeared on the scene.
THE THEME OF THE EARLY CHURCH
This was not only the theme of the messages of Jesus and John the Baptist; it was also the same theme of the message of the early church. This should not surprise us since the early church believed that it was supposed to carry on the same mission Jesus Himself had carried out (John 20:21). If they had changed the message, then they would have changed the mission.
The following verses give us a brief survey of the sermons preached by the leaders of the early church from the beginning of the church until the end of Paul's life, 30 years later.
These verses are just samples of what the early church taught. If you were to look in a good concordance and search out the word "kingdom," you would find that it is used no less than 342 times in 316 verses in the Bible. The word "Christ" which refers to Jesus being the one who brings in the kingdom of God occurs no less than 555 times in 512 verses in the NT alone. It is quite clear that the message of Jesus was the same message of the early church, the coming of the kingdom and Jesus' relationship to it.
EXPLANATION OF THIS THEME
Definition of the Kingdom of God
Whatever the kingdom of God is, it is primarily the rule of God in the hearts of people. To a limited degree it is true that God's kingdom today encompasses the entire universe. For example, according to the Book of Job Satan does have restraints on him. Yet it is true that out of the 6 billion people who live on the earth, 4 billion reject Jesus. Of the 2 billion which confess Jesus, we can be sure that not all 100% of them truly believe in Jesus. This does not even take into account the multitude of the demonic forces which are openly hostile towards Jesus. One day though God's kingdom will cover the entire universe, mankind, in addition to the spiritual world and the material universe. Right now though, we see God's rule in the hearts of Christians (the church) and in the hearts of those spiritual forces which are obedient to Christ.
The Kingdom of God is God's Kingdom
Although the theme, the Kingdom of God, might sound somewhat simplistic, it is somewhat more involved than what it seems. Whatever else the Kingdom of God is, it is GOD'S Kingdom. Whereas that might seem to be the case without saying it, this aspect of the Kingdom of God can get lost if you don't intentionally remember it. The reason it might tend to get lost is that from here on out we are going to be focusing on the important role of Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Whereas right now the focus in the Kingdom of God is on Jesus, behind all of this stands the Father.
I say this because some Christians tend to think that whenever you focus on Jesus, you lose sight of the Father. Dr. J. T. Ayers once told me that I spoke too much about Jesus and that he just felt like he needed to put in a good word for the Father. I can understand his sentiment; however, I need to remember that this focus on Jesus is the will of the Father Himself. Just think about it for a moment. Whenever Nathan and Molly do well in school events, I don't jump up and say, "What about me? I'm the one who bought them their shoes. They have my genes! (Fortunately they have Putt genes in them as well!)" I rejoice that all this attention is being focused on them. That's what a good dad should do. Well, God is the best Dad of all. If I rejoice in my children receiving attention, how much more does our heavenly Father rejoice in His Son!
Moreover, think about why the Father would rejoice over people focusing on Jesus. Jesus obeyed His Father perfectly. As we watch Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, we come to appreciate better the sacrifice Jesus made for us. The only reason Jesus did this is that He loved His Father. What Father would not be proud of such a Son? The Father is infinitely "proud" of His Son. He desires that we focus our attention on Christ. For example, right now because Jesus obeyed His Father to the point of dying on the cross, the Father has given to Jesus "all authority . . . in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:18). (The Great Commission, Matt. 29:19-20, spells out how we are to lead all mankind to submit to the lordship of Christ: evangelizing and discipling.) Right now the focal point of history is the lordship of Jesus. The next major event God has for His creation is the bowing of every knee and the confessing of every tongue that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Right now God is wooing all mankind to submit to the lordship of Jesus. According to 1 Cor. 15:28 only after the Father has subjected all things to the lordship of Jesus, Jesus will turn and give all things to the Father so that the Father is all in all, that is, so that the primary focus will now be on the Father.
Revelation supports Paul's claim in 1 Cor. 15. In Revelation 19 and 20 Jesus returns and reigns over all creation for 1000 years. Only after Jesus has reigned for 1000 years does the Father come to the transformed earth to dwell among us. At that point and at that point only do we see the face of God (Rev. 22:4). The ultimate goal of history is the closest, deepest, most intimate relationship with the Father imaginable; that comes though only after Jesus has been exalted over all the universe. Even then as we gaze upon the Father on His throne, guess who is sitting right beside the Father? His Son, Jesus.
THE PURPOSE OF THE GOSPELS
Many Christians believe that the purpose of the 4 Gospels is to give us the history of Jesus while on earth. While the Gospels are historical documents in the sense that the stories in them are historical/true, the Gospels are more than mere histories of Jesus' life. They are basically sermons, presenting historical evidence for the belief that Jesus is God the Son who has come to bring in the kingdom of God. They do not merely present historical evidence for this belief; they call for a decision from the reader. They present the evidence for their claims that Jesus is God the Son and then they ask you to accept these claims as true. They ask you to accept Jesus as God the Son. The Fourth Gospel puts it perfectly: "But these [signs] have been written that you may believe that Jesus is THE CHRIST, THE SON OF GOD, and that believing you may have [eternal] life in His name" (John 20:31). The Gospel of Luke has the same purpose as the other 3: to present evidence for the Christian claim that Jesus is God the Son who has brought in the kingdom of God.
LUKE'S CONTRIBUTION TO THE CONCEPT OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Although all 4 Gospels deal with the concept of the Kingdom of God, Luke adds a significant contribution to the theme of the Kingdom of God. Based upon the ministry of Jesus, Luke takes the values normally associated with a kingdom and turns them upside down. Normally whenever we think of a kingdom, we think of great men, great rulers, power, the wealthy, etc. Yet look at the people Luke highlights in his gospel:
Whereas in Matthew Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," in Luke Jesus says, "Blessed are you who are poor." Luke is not saying that those who are financially poor are necessarily blessed; rather he is saying that the poor are normally the ones who are poor in spirit, the ones who don't have to be told that their lot is destitute spiritually.
Being a Greek, Luke would have naturally been impressed by Jesus' attention to Gentiles and to the down-and-out. Yet being a disciple of Paul, he was well acquainted with Paul's teachings concerning the make-up of the kingdom of God. When Paul declares that humility and not pride should be a key characteristic of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven, he points to the actual make-up of the church to prove that the kingdom in fact is made up of the down-and-out: "For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the things which are wise, the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are that no man might boast before God" (1 Cor. 1:26-29) In other words, when Jesus came to the earth, He came for you and me.