Friday, June 11, 2010
Faith and Doubt, 1: Luke 1:1-4
1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 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, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
--> Now, Luke is my favorite gospel account and, quite possibly indeed, my favorite book of the Bible. As a fellow writer (or, at least a fellow who claims to be a writer), I feel a kindred spirit with Luke, the historian. His attention to detail is impeccable; rather than focusing on what Jesus said and spending most of his time writing out Jesus's words (like Matthew), he focused more on the context and the setting of where these things were being said; rather than giving very basic summaries of what happened (like Mark), he went into great detail each miracle performed, each action Christ took and each reaction Christ received; rather than writing with an inclination to become very preachy as a means of reaching the lost faction of his readership (like John), Luke didn't offer much commentary at all -- he let the stories of Christ's birth, ministry, death and resurrection suffice for themselves.
In the preface of this book, in those first four chapters, Luke even explains that his intentions are different from his contemporaries! He is fully aware that stories were circulating and that books were being written. "It seemed good to [him] also" to offer his version of the story, his own spin on the story.
Maybe it's because I'm embarking on this blogging adventure with Josh that I am reading Scriptures more closely. And maybe it's because I'm reading Scriptures more closely that I have taken such a notice to the first four verses that introduce Luke's account of the gospel -- an introduction which I have never really paid any mind to until this project.
The book of Luke is a story about life. Of the four apostles who wrote gospels, Luke shares the most stories about the miracles Jesus performed: giving sight to the blind, speech to the dumb, hearing to the deaf, healing blood clots and paralytics and lepers, casting out demons and even resurrecting the dead. It is the story of vagabonds, ragamuffins, castaways, sinners, demoniacs, freaks and, as Josh sometimes says, "a ragtag team of misfits and miscreants" -- all people who lost their way and were in desperate need of salvation, of a second chance at life (and "life more abundantly" (John 10:10)). Ultimately, as it is with the three other gospel accounts, the gospel according to Luke is the story of the greatest miracle of all: Christ's resurrection -- the very gospel itself.
Luke's account of the gospel is a book about the human condition and God's saving grace.
Another thing that sets Luke's gospel story apart is his target audience. Unlike the other three gospels, we cannot assume that he is writing for the sake of the general public; we cannot assume that Luke intended for his account to be widespread. We cannot assume such things because of verses 3-4: it is made very evident that Luke wrote this gospel account to a single person, Theophilus. Don't hear me wrong -- I believe that all Scripture is the word of God and that the Holy Spirit wrote the Scriptures just as much as anyone else and that God is sovereign. Perhaps Luke knew that 2,000 years later, you could pick up a paperback copy of his gospel account at a local bookstore -- God definitely did. What I'm presupposing is that we cannot say, for sure, Luke knew that; we did, however, know that he was writing this account to Theophilus, so that he "may have certainty concerning the things [he had] been taught" (v4).
The phrase, "the things you have been taught," leads this writer to believe that Theophilus was a believer or, at the very least, one who had been preached to. The fact that Luke is writing a personal letter to him out of great concern for the certainty of his faith, as if he were an old friend or even, perhaps, a ministerial associate, points to the former possibility.
And this believer, much like every believer from time to time, at one point or another will experience, was struggling with his faith. He had heard the gospel, he had experienced the gospel and he even had a relationship with at least one of the people who had firsthand experience with Jesus's daily interactions (namely, Luke). And, yet, for all this knowledge, he was still struggling with the things which he had been told. He was still wrestling with his faith.
Theophilus was Greek -- at least, we can infer that from his Greek name (which, ironically, translates to "friend of God"). His Greek heritage, therefore, made him a gentile -- he was not one of God's chosen people and, therefore, not a part of God's inheritance; that is, until Jesus came. Jesus's death and resurrection was for all, "to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16). The Jews were growing on a vine that tied them directly to God and, because of Jesus's death and resurrection, the Greeks and all other gentiles were grafted in.
But, Theophilus, being a gentile, was not so sure. After all, Jews and gentiles were polar opposites; the Jews were God's chosen people, the gentiles were... not. In fact, throughout the Old Testament, they were enemies of God and had no part in God's Kingdom (this is why Theophilus's name is, at once, so ironic and, again, so indicative of what Luke's gospel account is all about). Needless to say, Theophilus was struggling with the idea that he too could now be saved.
Can you imagine the thoughts racing through his mind?
"So God gave up His Son to save us -- not just the Jews, but also the Greeks. But the Jews are still His chosen people. Does that mean I'm still saved? Can I be saved? Why would God change His mind? Was Jesus really the Messiah? But what about the struggles the church is having spreading the gospel? Wouldn't she be more able to minister to the lost without all the hardships and oppression and adversity? Why won't God end the evil altogether? Is what I'm hearing true? Am I saved? Is there a God?"
Admit it -- these are all concerns and doubts that we have today. Right?
This is why Luke wrote this gospel account: to explain and make clear exactly what happened, as it happened and why it happened. He clearly and concisely explains God's salvation plan, why everything had to be the way it was and that Jesus really is Lord of all. All the care Luke gives to the task, as noted in his preface, is designed to reassure Theophilus, who has been taught on such matters previously. Whatever pressure this believer is under, he should be confident that God has moved to fulfill his plan through Jesus. Like a pastor who comforts a believer under siege by the world, Luke wishes to encourage his readers. Theophilus may be asking, "Is Christianity what I believed it to be, a religion sent from God?" Whether it is internal doubt, persecution or racial tension with Jews that has caused this question to be raised, Luke invites Theophilus -- the "friend of God" -- to consider the story of Jesus again and know that these indeed were events that "have been accomplished among us" (v1).