Luke the Reliable Historian
That You May Know
When you come to live in a city that's new to you which you must get to know, one of the most useful things you can buy is an A-Z. Pauline and I have acquired three. One is a big fold out job, one is a tiny little booklet you can carry on a day out, and the other is a spiral-bound monster suitable for keeping in the car. We've used all three from time to time. The wonderful thing we've discovered is that not once have we been led astray.
We haven't been able to test the accuracy of these documents at every point. We've not travelled to every street, road, cul-de-sac or lane. But, wherever we have tested them, we've found them to be utterly reliable in the purpose for which they were created. The more we test the contents the more convinced we become of their accuracy. In fact, we don't ever question their reliability. We don't even ask the question. We just pick them up and find out where to go and how to get there.
I suppose if we really thought about it, we'd realise that our confidence in the A-Z is based on evidence. Trustworthy organizations and their employees have done meticulous research and produced accurate computer-aided design files. These were then entrusted to a printer who produced accurate print-outs of the files. These have then been tested by the experience of thousands of motorists, lorry drivers, emergency service people, and postmen over dozens of years. And, then, there's the evidence of our own experience of arriving at the right destination on numerous occasions.
A vast amount of this evidence has built up so that when Pauline pulls out the A-Z from the car door pocket, I don't feel I have to say "Call a friend who knows the city to make sure the map's right."
I suppose you might be able to say then, that the map is a true representation of reality. And, that's what we want at the end of the day. We want to be guided by truth. It matters to us that if we want to get to Aycocks Green that the map doesn't actually lead us to Harborne. If it did, we wouldn't say to our map-reading passenger, "Oh it doesn't matter everything's relative, Harborne's as good as Aycocks Green." We'd probably speak words we might later regret.
If, these things matter in the realm of travelling to a desired destination in your home city, how much more do they matter when it comes to life's journey? You only have one life, there's only one journey you make. How important is it to try to ensure that you live that life on the best possible foundations? However are you going to discover what the best foundations are? Is there a journey map you can trust for life's journey? An A-Z.
The book we're going to study over the next few months claims that there's a true and sound foundation on which you can build your life? It claims that there's a path you can follow which has been marked out by a kingly forerunner who can lead you into all truth and into the kingdom of God, and even into eternal life.
Listen to some words from this King's pre-natal preparations. "He will be great and will be called the Son of the most High.And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be NO END". A king is announced. His reign will be eternal. The whole of history, especially through the history of the Jewish nation, has been a preparation for his coming. All this is being brought to reality by the power of the God who controls all things and who controls the destiny of the universe.
If that's true, it's got to be the most important thing you could consider. Because if it's true then it's got to be the foundation of life and the goal of history. Journey's end.
And, Luke claims that along with other Gospel writers he's giving us the A-Z. And, he claims that his book is as accurate as a man can make it. Look at his opening sentences - Luke 1:1-4. These words have been described by many scholars as consisting of the best Greek in the NT. Luke's not just writing a nice introduction, he making a scholarly statement. Listen to these sentences written 400 years earlier by one of the greatest historians of the ancient world.
“As to the fact of the occurrences in the war, I have thought it my duty to give them, not as ascertained from any chance informant nor as seemed probable, but only after investigating with the greatest possible accuracy, in the case both of the events in which I myself participated and of those regarding which I got information from others.” (Thucydides on the Peloponnesian War of 400 BC).
Thucydides is generally regarded as one of the first true historian. He placed a high-value on autopsy, or eye-witness testimony to events, and writes about many episodes in which he himself probably took part - Thucydides was the first historian who attempted something like modern historical objectivity. (Wikipedia)
Luke's saying, "Here's my A-Z of the life of God's promised King and this is the approach I took in my research."
1. He was comprehensive
verse 1. Luke was aware that many people had made orderly accounts of the events of Jesus' life. There were collections of writings recording the words and deeds of the Nazarene. Luke had the benefit of being able to do research in these manuscripts. He wasn't trying to make a whole suit out of a yard of cloth. He was actually trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot. There was an embarrassment of documentary riches. Luke new that his Gospel would have to fit onto a length of scroll. he couldn't write 900 pages and leave it at that. He had to economise. He had to be careful. He had to make sure that his material would fit the scroll. So, he handled it carefully and according to a plan.
Some people think that the Gospel writers had to make do with a few facts and stretch them out to make the most of them. The opposite was the truth. And, remember this. Luke's contemporaries weren't able to pop down to W.H. Smith's for a notebook and pen to record their journals. Writing materials were scarce and expensive. The fact that many people had put their hand to this before Luke did shows the importance of the subject matter.
2. He was original
Verse 2. You'll notice that he refers to certain people who had a two-fold dimension to their experience. They were eye-witnesses and they were servants of the Word. Luke went back to the original people. The people who saw what had happened, and had listened to the words, and had felt the touch, of the life of the Son of God. He's obviously referring to the apostles.
You remember how the apostle John referred to himself and his colleagues :- 1 John 1:1 (ESV) 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.
These men who had been so changed and impacted by what they saw and heard that they devoted their lives to serving the Word. What they saw and heard changed them forever and they couldn't help but make known as fully and carefully as they could the story of Jesus.
Luke had first hand access to those men and women.
3. He was thorough
In verse 3 he uses the Greek word akribos. It means precise or accurate. He was passionate about getting it right. He tells us that he studied everything. He was thorough and accurate. It's clear from his two books Luke and Acts that he was aware that men and women were going to their deaths at the hands of their opponents for believing in this Jesus. This wasn't a matter of religious interest but of life and death. The man he's writing to, Theophilus, may one day have to pay for his faith in Christ with his life's blood.
So, Luke tells us he's done all this so that his friend can be certain. The noun of this word is used in Hebrews of the anchor that is steadfast and sure. It means without possibility of failure. He wants his friend to know that if he picks up this A-Z it won't let him down. It won't be casually put together. It won't be full of spin or errors. Luke knew that men's life's and men's eternal destiny depended on giving them an A-Z of the kingdom that would be trustworthy and reliable. So, he was comprehensive, original and thorough.
Sir William Ramsey - The present writer takes the view that Luke's history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness...You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian's. and they will stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment, provided always that the critic knows the subject and does not go beyond the limits of science and of justice...
Of course, as we shall see, Luke's thorough scholarship isn't the only thing that make his books trustworthy. He's not only the theologian of the life of Jesus but of the work of the Holy Spirit. He kept company with men whose whole existence was set on fire by the Spirit of God. And, that Spirit was also at work in and through this man to enable him to give us a map of utmost worth and reliability.
The God of the Bible is a God who speaks. He has spoken most clearly and powerfully in Jesus Christ. It's a Word that promises salvation to all who believe. It's a Word of life, of eternal life. It's conveyed through the most wonderfully accurate documents the world has ever known. So, I want to ask you - Do you feel about this book as John Wesley did.
I am a creature of a day. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God. I want to know one thing: the way to heaven. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. He has written it down in a book. Oh, give me that book! At any price give me the book of God. Let me be a man of one bookh