Acts 16:6-10; Luke 1:1-4
4th Sunday before Lent
St Barbara’s 10.02.19
Rev Tulo Raistrick
I wonder if you have ever been to a book launch by a famous author or had the opportunity to attend a Question and Answer session they may have been the guest at. You may had lots of questions: Where did they get the ideas for their book? how much of what they have written is based on personal experience? who are their favourite characters? who do they most identify with?
Well, over the next four weeks we are going to be taking an overview of the Gospel of Luke, and to start with, we are going to meet the author.
Obviously we can’t meet him in person, but we are going to do everything we can to find out about him, to help us understand why he wrote his gospel.
Luke doesn’t mention himself in any of his writings. He wasn’t one of Jesus’ 12 disciples and he doesn’t mention himself by name in the other book he wrote, the Acts of the Apostles, the story of the growth of the church. But we do find out something about him from our reading from Acts we heard this morning.
This is a hugely significant moment. Paul is being called by God to cross from Asia into Europe – to take the Gospel further than it has ever been taken before.
And did you notice how the language suddenly changed from “they” to “we”. From now on, the book of Acts is all about “we did this… we went there…” It seems that in Troas Luke joined up with Paul.
Luke isn’t some detached writer, writing everything from a distance. He got involved; he joined in with Paul as they went around Europe telling people about Jesus. He even was with Paul when they suffered a terrible storm at sea and were ship-wrecked on their way from Jerusalem to Rome. And he lived with Paul in Rome, when Paul was there under house-arrest. In other words, Luke was not only someone who wrote about the Christian life; he lived it! What he wrote about deeply mattered to him. He had experienced the amazing love of Jesus and he wanted to share it with others. Which makes him a brilliant author to read!
There are also a few other things that we can find out about Luke. Paul in one of his letters tells us that Luke was a Gentile. That is significant. That makes Luke the only Gentile writer of the New Testament. All the other writers came from a Jewish background – there were certain things about the Old Testament law and temple worship that they just took for granted. Luke, on the other hand, was much more like us, less familiar with that world, and so when he writes, he does not assume his readers will understand all that Jewish background. He makes it easy for us to understand.
We also know that he was someone interested and aware in the politics of his day. Unlike any other writer in the New Testament, he gives us the names of key rulers and politicians. It is in Luke’s Gospel we get the words at Jesus’ birth: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)” A bit later on he writes, “In the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch (ruler) of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.” Luke was aware of the wider world. He recognised that the rulers of his day often had a negative impact on the lives of ordinary people.
But we also know, because Paul tells us in one of his letters, that Luke was a doctor. In those days, when simple illnesses could often prove fatal, and understandings of health were poor, the skills of doctors would be in great demand. Wherever they went on their travels, one can imagine Luke using his medical skills to bring healing, to relieve pain, to show Jesus’ love in action. While Paul took time out from preaching the Gospel to earn some money making tents, one can imagine Luke finding time to care for people and help their healing. If Luke had simply given up on his medical skills, it is unlikely that Paul would ever have referred to him as a doctor.
Responding to God’s call on our life does not always require dropping everything. It usually involves using the gifts and skills we already have to serve God in new ways. So for Luke it meant continuing to help people get better, it meant writing an account of the life of Jesus and the first Christians, and it meant being a friend and travelling companion to Paul.
But why did he feel the need to write his gospel and who did he write it for?
Well, at the very beginning of his gospel, as we heard in our Gospel reading, Luke gives us the answer to this. In the ancient world, when a writer wanted you to know that what they were writing was not some made-up story but a genuine, historical account they would start in the way Luke did. They would say: “Look, here are my sources… this is my research…” It would show that it was a well reasoned, well researched document – something that you could trust. Luke was making clear to his readers – he was wanting to write an account of Jesus’ life that would be regarded, not as a work of fiction, but as something to be taken seriously, something that could be trusted and relied upon.
Secondly, he wanted to give his readers an “orderly account”. If I was to ask each of us to write a history of the last year of St Barbara’s we would all come up with different accounts, emphasising different things, possibly putting things in a different order. We are all eye-witnesses, but we all will remember different things, and tell them in a different order from a different perspective. If we were to give an outsider a helpful understanding of what has happened we would need someone to order them, piece them together, create a coherent story. That is what Luke is doing in his gospel. He puts together all the eye-witness accounts of Jesus into a form in which we can understand and make sense of.
And he writes the letter to “your excellency, Theophilus”. This seems likely to have been some high ranking Roman official, who has already heard some of the stories about Jesus. Luke is writing so that he can have certainty, confidence, in what he has heard. In other words, this is written to build up his faith, to help him trust more in Jesus.
During Lent I am going to encourage everyone to read the Gospel of Luke, to put ourselves in the shoes of Theophilus and know that this is a book we can read, trust, and have our faith inspired by.
If you want to have your faith built and greater confidence in what you believe, there is no better way than to read God’s word.