Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Daily Reading: Luke 1v1-4 "Without a shadow of a doubt"

"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught."

We live in a world where the pressure is on to question and doubt – Surely an intelligent person like you doesn’t really believe in miracles do you? Do you really believe Jesus came back from the dead? Do you really think a 2000 year old book has any relevance to life in Doncaster in 2007?  Those are just some of the questions we can face, that can nag away at our faith and that’s why it is so important that we study the gospel Luke wrote. The reason that Luke wrote his account of Jesus life, teaching, death and resurrection is to answer some of the doubts arising as a result of the pressures on the 1st Century Church. Luke writes his gospel and his second volume Acts to “Theophilus” – probably an individual, possibly of fairly high rank given the way he is addressed as “most excellent” – because he is feeling the pressure and he appears to be beginning to doubt (4).

He has been taught about Jesus, but maybe in the early hours of the morning over coffee with Luke he has confided that he is struggling to believe: ‘Luke, was Jesus really the Messiah?’ ‘Is God’s salvation really all by grace?’ ‘Is it for everyone or just for the Jews?’ Or maybe his struggle was in living as a disciple, because Luke certainly wants Theophilus to understand how disciples are to live (9:51f).  Luke writes so that Theophilus “may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” That Jesus was the Messiah – God’s promised one – come to seek and to save the lost (19:10) and that such belief is worth everything. But before he lays out his evidence he tells us in these 4 verses why we can trust his account.

Abundant evidence

How do you know that something is reliable?  You look to cross reference it – you look for other accounts of the same events, you look for corroborating evidence.  As Luke begins he tells Theophilus he isn’t the first (1-2) to write such an account, in fact “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us.”  Luke is not a loose canon; 'Look Theophilus you can go and cross reference what I am saying, go and check it out with other written accounts and talk to people who saw these things happen.'   Luke writes his gospel probably in the early 60s AD, within 35 years of Jesus life and death. The Apostles and 500 others who Jesus appeared to are still alive, so Theophilus can check.

But Luke doesn’t write his account because the others aren’t good enough, he holds them in high regard. They are eyewitness accounts from those who now dedicate their lives to telling others everything they know about Jesus (2). These accounts are from those who know “the things that have been fulfilled among us.”

Theophilus, this is not something new, you can check it out, because what I am going to tell you about Jesus should change what you base your life upon.  FF Bruce in his study of New Testament documents said: “…it was not friendly eyewitnesses that the early preachers had to reckon with; there were others less well disposed who were also conversant with the main facts of the ministry and death of Jesus. The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracies, which would at once be exposed by those who would be only too glad to do so. On the contrary, one of the strong points in the original preaching is the confident appeal to the knowledge of the hearers; they not only said, we are witnesses of these things, but also, ‘as you yourselves know’ (Acts 2:22).”

Maybe you are new to the Bible, maybe you haven’t been reading it very long, or maybe we have been reading it for a long time and have become a little over familiar with it. The Bible is reliable, you can check it out, and it will change your life as you read, think and apply it.

An Accurate Account

Luke wants Theophilus and us to be clear about how he went about compiling this account of who Jesus was.  So he explains:

a. Luke doesn’t have a team of researchers, “since I myself”, this is work he has done. Luke accompanied the Apostle Paul on some of his journeys. In Acts 21 he stays with Philip the evangelist before going up to Jerusalem to meet James and the rest of the church elders. He meets people who were there, who saw the events he writes of he interviews them and then records what they say.

b. He “investigates carefully” – that means he follows it closely. Just look at 1:5 why does he give us this detail, or 2:1 or 3:1 telling us who was emperor and governor. It is to show that he has carefully investigated and you can check.

c. He examines “everything from the beginning” – in fact most of what we know about events before Jesus birth is from Luke. Further proof of examining everything is that we see the disciples failures; their lack of faith in the boat, their slowness to understand Jesus teaching, Peters denial, their failure to grasp Jesus warning and prophecies about his death and resurrection.

d. Luke writes it all down in “an orderly account”, an account that is roughly chronological focusing on the promises made and fulfilled in Jesus.
Luke’s gospel is an accurate account from primary sources; it can be trusted. The question is what will it tell me?

A Firm Foundation

Why does Luke do all his work? Why go to all the effort?   It is not like Dan Brown, where the more sensational, the more sales, therefore the more money it makes. It is so that Theophilus would be certain that Jesus is God’s Messiah. That Jesus is the one in whom all God’s promises about an end to our rebellion against God are fulfilled.  There are 332 Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, prophecies about his birth place, what tribe he’d be from, what he would say, do and how he would die, even words he would utter. The chances of those words being fulfilled in one man are 1 in 84 to the power of 97, that’s 1 chance in 84 with 97 0’s after it. That’s kind of hard to take in isn’t it, so here’s what it looks like.

Luke writes so that Theophilus can be certain Jesus was who he claimed to be, who he had been taught he was, that he was the one who fulfilled God’s promises. So in 2:11 as the angels announce his birth to the shepherds they say “Today in the Town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” As Jesus is presented in the temple Simeon a man who has been told he will not die until he has seen the Messiah holds Jesus and prays “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.” In 4:41 even the demons recognise Jesus and cry out “You are the Son of God…” because they knew he was the Messiah.” And throughout Luke’s gospel you see Peter, those on the road to Emmaus, and others come to that same realisation and put their faith in Jesus.

Have you ever been made to feel foolish for what you believe about Jesus? Maybe it has made you begin to doubt what you have been taught; was Jesus really the Messiah? Did he really do those things?  Luke writes so Theophilus, with his doubts and worries, can be certain that Jesus is God’s Messiah – God’s promised one come to fulfil all the prophecies, come to make man right with God, come as Luke records it later “to seek and save the lost”. Come to die on the cross in our place to pay for our rebellion against God and secure our freedom from slavery to living for self.

But Luke is written to do more than just give us the facts, it is written so that we would see, know, understand and put our faith in him as our Saviour and live with him as our Lord. If Theophilus just treated Luke as a history book it would be of no benefit to him. It is written so that Theophilus, so that we, would believe Jesus is God’s Son, God’s answer, God’s promised one and put our faith in him and live our lives for him.  As we work through Luke's gospel we will see who Jesus really is!

Luke doesn’t want Theophilus just to know about Jesus, he doesn’t want him to become religious, he wants him to recognise that Jesus, God’s Messiah, the one who dies in our place, who rises again demands we respond by giving him our love and our lives by making him Lord.

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