A Reliable Record (Luke 1:1-4)

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Sermon Transcript

This morning we’re beginning a new series. We have finished with Joel and now we’re going to be moving on to the Gospel of Luke. Now, this morning’s passage is critical not just to the Gospel of Luke, but actually it has implications for all of Scripture and the reliability and authority of Scripture. So go ahead and turn to Luke chapter one. We’re going to be looking at the first four verses; Luke 1 verses 1 through 4.

Now, yes, going through a Luke that does mean that we’re going to be looking at some traditionally Christmas passages in the summertime. Well, that’s all right: the birth of Jesus isn’t only for December. And because, honestly, we don’t know exactly when he was born other than most likely not December—probably either April or August—so if it was spring, early summer, hey, good enough time to look at the birth. But anyway, we’re not going to be looking at the birth today we’re looking at the first four verses. Luke does not begin with his—with the birth of Jesus; he begins this gospel actually a lot like an epistle or a letter, so it’s a little different than the other gospels in that it begins as almost as a letter. So, before we read the text let’s have a word of prayer.

Heavenly Father, thank you for your Word. Thank you for working through men to bring us your Word, to record your Word. And, God, help us to trust it, to submit to it, to follow it. But, God, as we read your text, I pray that you are glorified and honored by the reading of your Word that you have given to us. May you be lifted up. May we be challenged and encouraged, taught and brought into submission through your Word. And I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Beginning in verse 1, Luke writes:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 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, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Now, as I said, this begins almost like a letter: he says here’s what I’m writing about, here’s who I’m writing to. A lot of the epistles began with this same idea of “Hey, I’m writing to this person. Greetings.” Now this does not have a greeting that you would normally find in a letter, but this idea of writing specifically to somebody almost reads like a letter. However there’s more than just an opening here. These four verses tell us a whole lot more than just, “Hey I’m writing stuff down and it’s for you.” There is some apologetics in these four verses, and so the first thing we’re going to see in verses 1 and 2 is that Luke gathered reliable sources about Jesus.

Luke gathered reliable sources about Jesus (vv. 1-2)

There are those who like to question the veracity—that is, the truthfulness and reliability—the veracity of Scripture. Well, what we’re going to see here at the first two verses is that he’s using reliable sources about Jesus. Let’s take a look at those first two verses: “In as much as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us,” then we can stop there.

So here we have many people have undertaken the effort to write things down about Jesus; they’ve taken the effort to record what Jesus did and what Jesus has said, and so many others (not just Luke many others) have been writing this stuff down. Now this raises the question of when did Luke write this Gospel.

Well the dating of this Gospel none of it is exact as far as saying, “Oh, it was written in 64 AD in the month of June,” you know we don’t have that kind of specificity. But the Gospel of Luke was written most likely in the 60s AD. Now that’s not the 1960s, it wasn’t during that era—the first century 60s AD.

Now for a little context, let’s look at when the other gospels were written. Mark—and this is going to be in chronological order—Mark was written between 55 and 70 AD, John between 55 and 95 AD. Now that means that the Gospel of John is the most difficult to date, and it is, but between 55 and 95 AD. What this means is that Luke wrote his around the same time that Mark was writing his, most likely sometimes shortly after Mark had written his. Matthew was the latest one, most likely he wrote his between 80 and 100 AD. So we have Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all writing (relatively in big picture) at the same time during that first century, with Luke, Mark, and John—and definitely Luke and Mark—writing at or close to the same time. So these men would be part of this “many” who have undertaken to write things down.

But it’s not just Matthew, Mark, and Luke and John. [It] would include many other people whose names we don’t know for sure. Barnabas may have written stuff down. Timothy may have written stuff down. We don’t know if the other disciples wrote stuff down that we simply don’t have anymore. We don’t know, but here’s what we do know: Luke says “many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us.” Many people have been writing this stuff down at the time that Luke was gathering this information.

So that raises the question, well okay, Jesus died in the 30s—early to mid 30s AD. Luke doesn’t write his until the 60s. Why did it take so long? They didn’t have the internet. They couldn’t do research and gather the resources as quickly as we could. When I was working on my PhD, we traveled up from Florida to Washington, DC. Well, Luke, Mark, Matthew, the rest of them didn’t have a vehicle that would travel 60, 70, 75 miles per hour on an interstate highway to get them there, hundreds of miles in one or two days. They didn’t have that. They couldn’t go online and Google search all of this information. They couldn’t email each other these documents. It took time to gather the information. It took time to collect this information. It took time to record this information. That’s why we have this gap of time. So the time frame that [it] took them to write this in that era is not unthinkable. It’s not unthinkable at all. It’s actually, by many standards, this is pretty quick. They wrote this stuff down pretty quickly and recorded it pretty quickly by the standards of the day. Not by 2022 standards, though. So we know when they wrote it: first century. Luke wrote in the 60s AD.

Well, what is he writing about? Well, let’s take a look at the text: “many have undertaken to compile a narrative of things that have been accomplished among us.” This phrase, “things that were done among us,” indicates or alludes to what it is he’s writing about. What he’s writing about are things that Luke experienced, Luke saw, and that these people whose records he’s been gathering that he’s been talking to, they saw, they experienced. And so what he’s writing about ultimately is this. When you look at the larger context of the Gospel of Luke, he’s writing about this: he’s writing about Jesus’ work in his ministry, and he’s writing about Jesus’ work through the first century Church (and we have that recorded in the book of Acts). And by the way, the books of Luke—the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts—are often considered two volumes of one work, so you might hear people, if you do research or look in commentaries, refer to “Luke/Acts” or Luke, actually “Luke-Acts,” as if they’re one book. You can see them as one book if you like because Luke begins in his gospel writing about the work that Jesus did in his life, in his ministry, pointing to Jesus’ death and Jesus resurrection; in the book of Acts, Luke records about what Jesus did after his resurrection through his Church. So it’s all pointing to Christ.

But also this phrase, “among us,” at the end of verse 1, “among us,” what this means is that this was stuff going on at the time of Luke. In other words, he experienced some of these things. He was there, he witnessed it, and there are others who witnessed it. So we have eyewitness testimony, which brings us to verse 2. So we know that he was gathering information in the 60s, and he was gathering information about Christ.

And then he says in verse 2, “just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us.” They gave us what they had. So we have eyewitnesses and we have “ministers of the word.” This tells us what his sources are, and there’re two types of sources here. What Luke is saying is he used a primary and secondary sources. Now, this is a little bit of academia here, so I need to explain this. If you’re not familiar with what those terms mean, primary sources are, to put simply, eyewitness testimony, eyes on the ground, first hand experiences. Secondary sources are those who weren’t necessarily eyewitnesses, but they know about what happened.

Think about it this way: a concert. A concert goer who was at the concert will be a primary source of what happened at that concert. However, his friend who he told about the concert will be a secondary source. And what Luke is saying is he used primary and secondary sources in his research. And if you’re going to do quality, reliable research, you must use primary and, to a limited extent, secondary sources and Luke is indicating he did that.

First, he says “eyewitnesses . . . from the beginning.” The beginning of what? Well, you can actually jump down to verse 5 and see that he’s going to begin with the foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus, so beginning there. “From the beginning . . . eyewitnesses”: primary sources.

Also “ministers of the word.” These could include eyewitnesses, but it also could include those who were secondary sources. So what Luke is indicating is first, what he’s doing. He’s gathering reliable sources, and he’s gathering it from primary and secondary sources. Now, this is important. What this means is that the sources Luke was using could be verified by others, could be scrutinized by those who were there. He couldn’t say, “Oh, Jesus showed up on this purple horse and declared himself King of the Lilliputians.” Someone would go, “Mmm, sorry, that never happened,” because the people were there.

Think about it this way: ever heard the term “peer review”? Peer review means that when someone writes a research work, they submit it to others who are peers—often in the medical community but also in non-medical doctoral work. It’s submitted to peers who look at the information, look at the sources, evaluate it, scrutinize it to make sure that what is being written and recorded is accurate, is true, and is proven so that the veracity of the document is secured. And what Luke is indicating is that the veracity of what he’s recording is verified and solidified because people could scrutinize it and ensure that what he had is the truth. So his sources are reliable.

So what does this mean? What this means is that we can trust what Luke wrote. We can trust what’s in here about Jesus. What Luke tells us Jesus did, he did. What Luke tells us Jesus said, he said. And by the way, Matthew, Mark, and John agree with Luke and the rest of the Bible agrees with Luke. Why? Because of the ultimate source of this, and we’re going to get to that in a moment. But what this means is Luke’s work, from even an academic standpoint, is reliable, is trustworthy; it is not simply his opinion. It is well researched. He did PhD-level research in this Gospel. And, trust me, I know what that’s like; I’ve got one. He did doctoral-level research. He did quality research: he looked at primary sources. He did credible research: he looked at multiple sources. So we can believe his claims here because he’s done his homework. So in verses 1 and 2 what we see is that Luke gathered reliable resources—reliable sources—about Jesus Christ.

Luke wrote a reliable record about Jesus (vv. 3-4)

But then in verses 3 and 4, he now turns from gathering his sources to using his sources, and he writes down for us that he wrote a reliable record of Jesus. Take a look at this, just the first part of verse 3. He says, “it seemed good to me also”—now that “also” is referring to the “many” in verse 1, “many have undertaken”—so it seemed good to him also “having followed all things closely for some time to write an orderly account for you.” In other words, Luke was writing an understandable and reliable record about Christ.

It was his intention to give us something that we can look to and say, “what did Jesus say,” because there are all kinds of stories and rumors out there. We know that because in the New Testament there’re many refutations of false teaching regarding Christ. Many of those false doctrines are still prominent today, sadly, but the disciples, the apostles refuted, false teaching, and so what Luke says is this, “I wrote an understandable, reliable record of what Jesus did.”

But it wasn’t just based on his research. Take a look at this in verse 3: “having followed all things closely for some time past.” In other words, he was paying attention. Luke was paying attention to what Jesus was doing and what people were saying about Jesus. He did his homework. He’s a witness himself. Now we don’t know at what point Luke became a Christian, there’s no indication on that, but there is indication that he was and is a believer in Jesus, and that Luke is with Christ right now worshiping his savior because when someone puts their faith in Jesus and repents of their sins, that’s where they end up: with Jesus worshiping him in glory. Luke is there right now. But we don’t know exactly when he got saved, but we do know that he’s a witness because he’s paid attention “having followed all things closely.”

But also we have the person he’s writing to which has been debated as far as the identity of this person. He ends verse 3 ,”most excellent Theophilus.” “It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past to write for you.” For whom? “Most excellent Theophilus.” Now who is Theophilus? Well, first the name Theophilus has meaning that helps us understand a little bit about how God worked in this. “Theophilus” means “lover of God” from the Greek words theo and philo. Lover of God. So he’s writing to Theophilus.

But some say Theophilus is not a specific individual but is a name given to represent a group. Well, when we look at the actual text and read in context (including the book of Acts), it seems to be clear that he’s writing to a specific individual. However it’s more than just some guy named Theophilus; there’s a reason he’s writing to Theophilus that—we can debate whether Luke knew this or not, but knowing what Scripture says and knowing what Scripture is, God had his hand in Luke’s writing. In fact, we know it as much that God had his hand in Luke’s writing. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is inspired (or breathed out) by God. All Scripture. Every bit of it. From Genesis to Revelation, every bit inspired from God, which means God is the ultimate source. Now, how does this relate to Luke?

Well, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul calls Luke’s writing Scripture. All Scripture, including Luke’s writing because it’s Scripture, is breathed out by God. What this means is that there are two authors to this Gospel: God is the Divine author, Luke is the human author. And so what we have written in Luke—what we have recorded by Luke—is exactly what God wanted Luke to record, written to the person God wanted him to write to. He wrote to Theophilus which indicates he’s writing to a specific person named Theophilus, but he’s also writing to a larger group who are the believers—the lovers—of God.

God had his hand in that. God was working through Luke to bring about this well-researched work based on his experiences and his research to write the things that he knows about and pointed all to Christ. As I said, the Gospel of Luke is about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection; Acts is about Jesus’ work through his church. It’s all about Jesus. And when we make Scripture about us—when we make Scripture about someone else—we’re taking Scripture and saying, “God, you’re not involved anymore,” and we’re elevating ourselves above Jesus. Scripture is always about Christ, and it’s about how we know him, how we relate to him, how we’re saved by him, how we follow him, how we love him. Him: Jesus. It’s about what he did, who he is, what he’s going to do. It’s all about Jesus. But he wrote to Theophilus.

But he writes not just simply to say, “Hey, here’s some information.” How many times have we sent an email to somebody just to let them know about something they need to know about? I did this just earlier this morning. Somebody needed something, I sent it to him via email. We do that all the time: here’s info.

But Luke doesn’t say, “Hey Theophilus, here’s just some info about Jesus.” No. There’s a reason—a motive—for it. Take a look at this, verse 4: “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Now, the things that you’ve been taught—when we look at the larger context of what Luke writes about both in Luke and Acts—the things that he’s been taught are the Christian faith: the doctrines of the faith, the gospel given once for all to the apostles and the saints. In other words, Scripture as we have it today. He was saying, “Theophilus, I want you to be certain, assured, confident that what you’ve heard about Jesus is the truth. How do you know it’s the truth? Because I’ve done the work. I’ve researched it. Here’s what Jesus said. Here’s who Jesus is. Here’s what Jesus did.” And if you are taught something contrary to God’s Word about Jesus, it’s a lie. It’s a lie. It doesn’t matter how well it’s promoted, it doesn’t matter how graceful or eloquent the person may present it, if it’s contrary to what’s in Scripture it’s a lie. Reject it. In fact, if it goes against Scripture, Paul says, “if someone comes to you with a gospel contrary to the gospel you’ve heard from us,”—what’s the gospel you heard from us? recorded in here—“if you hear something contrary to that,” he doesn’t say that it’s merely another thought, he says that’s not even a gospel at all. Reject it and reject the ones teaching those lies. Why? Because of the authority and the reliability of Scripture. So he says I want you to be confident concerning those things.

Now, in this we have a direct purpose and an indirect purpose. The direct purpose is for Theophilus and for believers to have confidence in what we believe; but the indirect purpose is for us to take what we’ve received and share it with others. If we’re not teaching, preaching, and sharing this, we’re failing to do our mission. The book—not the books—the letters of First and Second Timothy and Titus (the Pastoral Epistles, as they’re called) are not just for elders, are not just for pastors, are not just for preachers, it’s for every single one of us. And what is a Christian called to do when it comes to teaching and preaching God: preach the Word. Not opinion. Not pragmatism. Not culture. Not the latest trends. Preach the Word. Everything we do, everything we are, everything we practice, everything we believe is from this [holds up Bible], and if we are doing something that is based on something other than this [the Bible], then what we’re saying is this [the Bible] is no longer our ultimate authority, something else is. And we’ve taken the Word of God and made it subordinate to the opinions of man or the will of man and placed ourselves above God.

That means that we must be assured that what we have recorded here is true [points to Bible], is reliable, is accurate. It also means that we must take this true, reliable, accurate record of Jesus and share it with others: teach it, preach it, share it.

Now many claims at the time of Luke—there were many claims—about who Jesus was. In fact, some of those claims continued for centuries. In fact, there was one Church leader (many, many, many, many years later) named Arius who taught that Jesus was not fully God; he was a lower deity, a different deity separate and beneath, subordinate to and not equal or the same as God. Basically, he denied the Trinity. The Arian heresy continues today: it’s called Jehovah’s Witnesses. But that was something they dealt with at the time of Luke, time of Paul: who is Jesus? How do we know who Jesus is? Open the book, read it, see it. It’s given to us so that we can be confident in who Christ is.

What we see here, ultimately, in the end, in these four verses, we see that what Luke has done is he’s done a tremendous amount of research. He’s done his homework. He’s gathered for us reliable sources verified them, checked them, put them together in a way that is understandable and followable instead of just random information here and there, in a way that we can follow it. As he said, “an orderly account.” But that this record not only is based on reliable sources, but that this record is a reliable record of Jesus. And then that does not apply only to the Gospel of Luke; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers all the way through Revelation is a reliable record of Christ.

So, what must we do? We must do one of two things. We must either take this reliable record, read it, learn it, and submit to it, even if it doesn’t accord with our own opinions. If our opinions differ than what’s in here [holds up Bible], our opinions must subordinate to this [pats Bible], and they must conform to this, or else we’re saying our opinions are better than God. So, we must submit to the Word of God or rebel against him. To rebel against the Word of God is to rebel against God himself, and if we’re going to say, “I am a Theophilus, a lover of God, a follower of Jesus Christ,” we must live that claim or else we’re hypocrites.

The good news is this: the grace of God sent Jesus down. Jesus humbled himself so that he would take on humanity. Jesus is fully God and fully man, and he willingly had the sin of man placed upon him, and he willingly died on that cross and shed his blood so that all who repent and put their faith in Jesus alone will be saved. But he didn’t stop there. On the third day, he physically rose again—because Jesus is God—but he did that to defeat death so that we can have a new way of living in Christ.

The bad news is this: Jesus had to do that because we’re sinners. And because of our own sin, there are times that we rebel against God. Every single one of us, every time we sin, we’re rebelling against God. That’s the bad news. And it’s worse than that: we can’t fix that on our own. That’s why Jesus came because what’s impossible for us to do is possible for Jesus. That’s the gospel of Jesus, and that is what Luke writes about in this Gospel.

So, as we go through this work, we’re going to see a lot of things about Jesus. That’s why I’ve called the series “Walking with Jesus.” So, I want to ask one simple question: are we walking with Jesus or are we walking on our own?

Let’s pray.

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