GOOD NEWS FOR EVERYONE
Introduction to the Gospel of Luke
From January to Easter of 2018, Sunday sermons at Bethany Chapel will feature passages from the gospel of Luke.
The following is a bird’s eye view of the gospel; every week we will be posting key points and questions for discussion arising from the passage and sermon for that particular Sunday.
Luke’s gospel is one of three “synoptic” gospels; along with Matthew and Mark, Luke presents an eyewitness account of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Although there are many similarities with the other gospels, Luke is distinct in a number of ways. Perhaps the most prominent is how his gospel connects to the book of Acts. Luke is the writer of both documents, and Acts flows naturally out of Luke. Together Luke and Acts seamlessly link the ministry of Jesus with that of the early church. Through both documents we see God’s love offered (in words and actions) to the whole world. Salvation and God’s kingdom is meant for everyone! That is why, in Luke, Jesus spends most of his time with people considered “outsiders” by the religious community. Later in Acts we observe the same thrust: the first community of Jesus begins in Jerusalem but quickly moves out to engage the wider world.
What also knits Luke and Acts together is the importance of the Holy Spirit. The angel Gabriel informs Mary that Jesus’ conception would be by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). Elizabeth and Zechariah (the parents of John the Baptist) are filled with the Spirit, as is old Simeon who recognizes infant Jesus in the temple (Luke 1: 41, 67; 2:25-27). Luke goes on to report that the Spirit descends on Jesus during his baptism (3:22), drives Him into the desert for forty days (4:1), and fills Him after he returns (4:14).
The importance of the Spirit is also clear when Jesus launches his ministry. In the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, He reads from the book of Isaiah which begins with “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Luke 4:18). The verse reveals that His ministry will extend to people who are poor, marginalized, and oppressed. Jesus then makes reference to two Hebrew prophets (Elijah and Elisha) who were sent to reveal God’s love for Gentiles (Luke 4:24-27). Jesus’ priorities will be equally generous. The synagogue crowd is furious; they turn on Jesus and try to kill Him by throwing him off a cliff. They wanted the Messiah to meet their expectations, but Jesus has come to share God’s love with everyone, and the Spirit is giving him the strength to do so.
At the end of Luke’s gospel, the resurrected Christ sets the stage for the birth of the church by telling his followers to not rush but wait for “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Shortly after, in the first chapter of Acts, Jesus repeats the command that they wait for the Spirit before launching ministry (Acts 1:5, 8). When the Spirit does arrive (Acts 2:1-13), the believers are supernaturally enabled to share and live out the good news of Jesus to their world.
Luke’s gospel is also unique in the prominence it gives to marginalized people. When Jesus is born, the angel first shares the news with lowly, despised shepherds. The birth story is communicated largely through the eyes of young mother Mary. This was startling, given that in first-century Israel, women did not enjoy the same status or rights as men; yet Luke records her devotion and depth of understanding (Luke 1:46-55). Luke is also the only gospel with the story of the “good Samaritan” who Jesus presents as the hero fulfilling the command to “love your neighbour” (Luke 10:25-37). This was shocking in that religious leaders considered Samaritans to be sinful heretics.
Of the gospels, then, Luke’s is perhaps the most universal in its reach. Jesus expanded the circle of who could belong to God. It was important for the early church to realize this. John Nolland writes: the ideal reader of Luke in the 1st century would have been the “God-fearer”; one whose birth is not Jewish … who would have considered himself still an outsider (Word Biblical Commentary on Luke, xxxii). Howard Marshall adds: that (Luke) wrote for an urban church community in the Greek world is fairly certain. Luke wrote for those who were removed from the primary ministry of Jesus, both in geography and in time … to show the ‘wideness in God’s mercy’ … especially to needy people despised by official Judaism (NIGTC Commentary on Luke, pp 33-36).
The gospel of Luke is crucial for us today. It challenges us to creatively and graciously reveal God’s truth and love to people we are tempted to avoid or judge as unworthy. It is a warning to not become ingrown, self-righteous, or self-serving. God’s love is risky. If religious people in Jesus’ day rejected Him, we too will face criticism if we follow him faithfully. Thankfully, we can - and must - invite the Holy Spirit to give us the heart and mind and attitude of Jesus.
LAYOUT OF LUKE'S GOSPEL
1. Birth, Baptism, Temptation 1:1 – 4:13
2. Public Ministry 4:14 – 21:38
4:14 – 9:50 Ministry in Galilee
9:51-19:10 Moving to Jerusalem
19:11-21:38 Ministry in Jerusalem
3. Death, Resurrection, and post-Resurrection Appearance 22:1-24:53