True Truth -- You Can Stake Eternity On It
Read Luke 1:1-4: Our theme this morning is: It matters what you believe. A neighbor asks Henry’s mother, “Where’s Henry?” “I’m not sure,” she replies. “If the ice is as thick as he thinks -- he’s skating. If it’s as thin as I think it is -- he’s swimming.” The point is it matters what you believe. There is not Henry’s truth and Mom’s truth – there is absolute truth – true truth to which both must ultimately concede. Henry is either skating or swimming -- but not both. And if he can’t swim, he could be in trouble.
The Gospel of Luke is one of four ancient accounts giving the “true truth” of the life of Christ. That is three more accounts than we have of almost any other ancient life. God not only revealed Himself; He documented it thoroughly. Matt. 18:16 says, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” God gave us four. Each gospel has a unique perspective. In Matthew Jesus is presented as king, fulfilling a raft of OT prophecies. Mark writes Peter’s memoirs to the Romans, minimizing Jesus’ teaching and maximizing His actions as a servant. John demonstrates the deity of Christ. Luke presents Jesus as fully God, but emphasizes His humanity. His is a flesh and blood and sweat and tears Christ – victorious over all temptation, pain and suffering. The 4 together present a fully developed picture of this unique individual who was fully God and yet fully man all in one supreme person.
But the question is why? Why in the world would God take on the limitations of manhood, suffer and die, then top it all off with His amazing resurrection? Why? That is exactly the question Luke sets out to answer for Theophilus in what became a two volume work: Luke and Acts. Theophilus’ name means “loved by God” so some suggest it’s made-up to represent all of mankind. But when Luke says “things you have been taught, and calls him “most excellent Theophilus”, it sounds like a real person. Given that Luke uses the same title in Acts 24 and 26 for Roman governors, it seems likely that Theophilus was a high official. But his name is no accident. This book is about God’s love for all mankind. It emphasizes the universality of the message of the gospel – so while Theophilus is real, Luke’s letter to him is inspired by the Holy Spirit to address all of mankind. Luke’s purpose is to show that while “no one seeks for God” (Rom 3:10), yet, thankfully, God seeks for mankind. Thus the key verse in Luke is found in Luke 19:10 where Jesus says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” This is special delivery of the best news ever given to mankind.
Those who claim Jesus came only to correct the injustices of a corrupt political system have literally ripped the heart out of the gospel. Is Jesus on the side of those who have suffered injustice? Yes. Did He embrace the disenfranchised of His day? Yes. Will He one day make it all right? Yes. Does He want His followers to champion the cause of social justice? Yes. Was that His primary mission? Absolutely not! Those issues address only the temporal needs of mankind. None would have required the cross. To make them primary is to short-change His mission by an eternity. He came to seek and to save those who were lost in sin, enslaved by their own selfish hearts. To hold that Jesus’ primary mission was social justice is like applying a band aid to a ruptured artery. Jesus came to reconcile sinful man to a holy God. He came to apply eternal tourniquets, to stop the bleeding once and for all, not to apply band aids.
The Jews in Jesus’ time wanted the same political solutions that some today claim was His mission. But Jesus’s message to that crowd as to ours is, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” It was the repent part that they refused. They could not get behind that. But Jesus was adamant. I can be your king outwardly only if I am your king inwardly. Would you marry someone whose heart belonged to another? Neither will Jesus. He demands nothing less than your whole heart. It matters what you believe.
Luke’s prologue compares favorably with others written by the most noted historians of ancient times: Notice v. 1, many have undertaken. Others have written – perhaps short bios. Probably both Matthew and Mark had been written by this time. But as Luke writes, around 62 AD, 30 years after the death and resurrection of Christ, there is a need for a complete historical record. The church is spreading. The apostles cannot be everywhere. Eyewitnesses are dying. So, Luke, the most educated of the gospel writers, undertakes to make a definitive and precise record of redemption as lived out and taught by Christ. In this prologue, Luke emphasizes 4 things that he will flesh out throughout the gospel that will reinforce what Theophilus has been taught.
I. It is Certain
The Christian faith is not some ethereal, ambiguous spiritual feeling or elevated emotional state. It is not about ritual. Christianity is not about feelings; it is about facts – about the radical surgery required to address the sin problem that separates man from God. It is demonstrably certain. Luke gives 3 proofs.
A. Rooted in History
Christianity is rooted in real life. It is not “out there”, but “right here” -- comprised of the blood, sweat, tears and joy of everyday life. It can be seen and touched and examined. Luke’s concern for Theophilus, and thus for us, is expressed in verse 4: “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” That certainty is possible because God invaded human history. Thus, his purpose expressed in verse 1 is to “compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us.” Redemption thru Christ is historical. Luke explains it all. He explains in detail of the virginal, but very human mother of Christ. He shows how God became a man through the natural, bloody process of birth. Whereas Matthew traces the genealogy of Christ to Abraham -- Jewish Messianic roots, Luke traces his genealogy to Adam -- His humanity. Christ developed like any human being – physically, intellectually, socially and spiritually. He was tempted as man just like us.
Luke dwells much on the prayer-life of Jesus Christ, necessary because of His humanity. Jesus never makes a move but He looks first to His Father. Luke records Jesus as a guest in the homes of various people. He sat, ate and talked with them. No other Gospel presents Christ going out to dinner as often as Luke does. Luke records Jesus’ emotions, particularly His compassion. He died in painful humiliation -- and -- He rose again bodily, physically, verifiably in glorious victory. He ascended bodily into heaven where to this day He lives in a renewed body. It was all real; visible; verifiable; grounded in history. Christianity is not a pumped up religious feeling; it consists of certifiable historical facts that make a claim on us.
B. Revealed by Investigation
Verse 3: “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.” First question: Who is “me”? We’ve suggested Luke, but why? And who is Luke? Whoever wrote this volume also authored Acts, which is also addressed to Theophilus. In Acts 16, the author, describing Paul’s 2nd missionary journey, begins to speak in terms of “we”, rather than “they.” Notice 16:10, “And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” When Paul leaves Philippi (end of 16) the author goes back to the third person “they”. Then, in Acts 20, when Paul returns to Philippi on his 3rd journey, “we” starts again. Someone stayed at Philippi between Paul’s 2nd and 3rd journey. By comparing companions of Paul, it was clearly Luke. Furthermore, it is the unanimous testimony of early church fathers that Luke wrote Luke and Acts.
So, who is Luke? He is well-educated, using the most sophisticated Greek in the NT. He is mentioned 3 times, always as Paul’s companion (some speculate they met at the U. of Tarsus). He is a Greek as seen by his name and residence. He is called the “beloved physician” in Col 4:14 which explains his education and the nuance with which he describes Christ’s healings. He became a Paul’s lifelong companion, mentioned in Philemon 23, and as Paul’s lone companion in his final imprisonment in II Tim 4:11: “Luke alone is with me.” He is a faithful, gifted, much loved fellow-laborer in the gospel. Tradition says that he lived to be over 80 years of age. He’s the “me” of v. 4.
Now, Luke wrote, according to verse 3, “having followed all things closely for some time past.” Why did he do this? Verse 4: “that you (Theophilus, and by extension, us) may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Theophilus has embraced the teachings of Christ, but has little evidence to support them. Luke is saying, Let’s get the facts. I want you to be certain of that which you have embraced. So – I investigated. The words “having followed” in verse 3 are best translated in this context “having investigated.” Luke was not an eyewitness. But, he investigated everything going back as far as John the Baptist. He used written sources, referencing the work of others in verse 1 who have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us.” And he went directly to eyewitnesses as he describes in verse 2. He was comprehensive. By the time he was done, he could say to Theophilus – “Now you know for sure. I’ve substantiated everything.” His investigation substantiated its historicity.
But – did Luke get it right? Critics have long insisted that the gospels were actually written 200-300 years after the fact based on legend -- Christian mythology. Fairytales. They simply cannot accept the miraculous elements of the story, nor the accountability implied if Christ really was God come to save men from sin. But new textual discoveries continually pushes the date of NT docs back toward the first century. We now have a fragment of the Gospel of John that dates to within 30 years of the time John died. Furthermore, why would someone writing a fake “gospel” use the name of a relative unknown like Mark or Luke? A fake would surely claim Peter or Paul or someone famous. The sophistication of language and the precision of detail alone in Luke argues for its authenticity.
But the clincher comes from archaeology – a science that became prominent in the 19th century as biblical locations began to be unearthed all over Palestine. The most prominent of early archaeologists was Sir William Ramsay who worked from the late 1800’s until his death in 1939. In 1906 he was knighted for his scholarship. Ramsay was trained to believe that the New Testament narratives were largely myths. He was convinced that Acts was written by someone 100 years after events. He was sure that his work in archaeology would destroy the credibility of NT narratives once and for all. But just the opposite happened. He made a major discovery about the exact location of the city of Iconium which proved Luke right and liberal historians wrong. The more he unearthed, the more the Bible was vindicated. In his own words, "It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth." The book in which he wrote these words, St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen, hit the world of biblical criticism like a bombshell. He became convinced that not only did Luke write Luke and Acts but that he was no ordinary writer: "Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy, he is possessed of the true historic sense… in short, this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians." This assessment was later echoed by Prof. E. M. Blaiklock, Professor of Classics at Auckland University, New Zealand: "Luke is a consummate historian, to be ranked in his own right with the great writers of the Greeks." Beloved, Luke’s record is certain.
C. Ratified by Eyewitness Testimony
It’s no wonder that Luke was found to be unfailingly accurate 1800 years after the fact. He did not just accept hearsay. He sought eyewitness testimony. Verse 2, “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us.” The word translated “eyewitnesses” is the Greek word αυτοπτης (autoptes) – from which we get autopsy. Autopsy – exposure of hidden details. Exactly what Luke was up to when he sought testimony from those who were eyewitnesses to the life of Christ including Mary. He was going directly to the source to get the facts that substantiate the claims surrounding the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It’s like Paul’s comment in I Cor 15:6 concerning the resurrection of Christ: “Then he (Jesus) appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” He was saying if you don’t believe me, check the eyewitnesses. Luke is saying the same thing to Theophilus. You can be certain, Dear friend. I’ve interviewed the eyewitnesses. It happened just as you were taught. Luke, certifiably one of the most accurate ancient historians checked it out. It’s certain.
II. It is Comprehensible
Note Luke’s purpose in verse 3, “to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4) that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” What does orderly mean? Luke’s account is generally sequential, but not entirely. Rather, he has carefully grouped certain incidents together to make an orderly presentation of the gospel message. It is an orderly, logical presentation intended to instill certainty! In other words, Luke is presenting truth – true truth.
Our society has decided there is no such thing as truth. College campuses are rife with the teaching that there is no absolute truth. It’s all relative. If what you believe helps you, great. But my truth is as valid as your truth, even if they are logically opposed to each other. The latest surveys suggest that 2/3 of Americans do not believe there is such a thing as absolute truth. But, of course, the statement “there is no absolute truth”, is itself a statement of absolute truth! It fails by its own definition. Furthermore, no one – no one actually lives like truth is relative. When someone says, “Stop, a car is coming,” we stop. It’s not just his truth – or my truth. It’s absolute truth. And we know exactly what will happen if we don’t stop – regardless of how hard we believe to the contrary. Life is filled with thousands of such examples. We live like there is absolute truth – because there is absolute truth! And Luke’s point to Theophilus is, here are the facts – the comprehensible true truth that will add certainty to your faith. Accept it or deny it, but remember, it matters what you believe.
III. It is Comprehensive
This message is not just for Jews. It is not a local message. It is universal. In Luke’s prologue we have a Gentile author, presenting the life of Jewish Savior, to a Gentile who is “loved by God.” Not hard to get that message, is it? The gospel is for everyone. Jesus died for the whole world – everyone.
Luke emphasizes this in many ways. His genealogy goes all the way back to Adam – all of mankind. Luke notes in 2:10 the message of the angels who announced the birth of Christ: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke presents the ministry of Christ to the outcasts of Jewish society – Gentiles, lepers, prostitutes and the poor. The message is universal. By the time he finishes Acts, he has shown that the gospel knows no barriers of any kind -- not ethnicity, creed, color or social standing. As John says in I John 2:2, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Salvation knows no limits, except those imposed by unbelief.
IV. It is Complete
Now, there is a very important phrase in verse 1. “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us.” The phrase is “have been accomplished.” What Luke is saying is, I am going to document for you the history of redemption which has been accomplished, completed, perfected in the person of Christ. This immediately brings to mind the final words of Christ on the cross recorded in John 19:30 – “It is finished.” And having so said, he bowed His head and gave up His spirit – still in perfect control as He had been all along. No one took His life. He gave it up when it was finished. What was finished? All the requirements for the redemption of mankind. His perfect life enabled Him to be substitute for others. So, He took the sin of mankind upon himself. He gave His life as a ransom for many, and now it was finished. The gospel is absolutely complete; all that remains is to redeem those who will believe.
Conclusion – Let me close with this. Some of you read Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code. Landon is the scholarly hero; Sophie is his younger partner in solving a murder mystery involving secretive religious symbols. At one point Sophie says, "You told me the New Testament is based on fabrication." Langdon replies, "Sophie – every faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith. Acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove." Of course, he has just contradicted himself. If it’s fabrication, it cannot be true. It's just made up. But then he defines faith as acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, but that we cannot prove – maybe it is, maybe it’s not – just the way most people today think of faith. But the whole point of Luke is that Christian faith is firmly grounded in history, based on verifiable fact and exclusive in its claims. That’s why, when confronted with the irrefutable evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, skeptical, doubting Thomas could only exclaim, “My Lord and my God.” Christ is definitely and demonstrably Lord and God. The question today is, is He Your Lord and Your God? That’s your choice. Have you given Him your life in exchange for His? It matters eternally what you believe. Let’s pray.