I want us to think for a few minutes about the certainty of the Christmas season; about the things we can count on when Christmas comes around. We can be certain, we can count on, getting together with some friends and family, maybe eating some good food, giving and receiving some Christmas gifts, the Christmas Story movie playing on repeat on various TV channels, Christmas music playing everywhere we go, and the beauty of Christmas decorations all over the place.
The certainty of these things, during Christmas, feels like a breath of fresh air in the midst of a broken world where there is much uncertainty. Think about it… we live with the uncertainty of this life every day: Our health can take a turn at any moment, a friend can betray us at the drop of a dime, a loved one can pass away overnight, job security is a mirage, financial stability oftentimes feels like a teetering stack of wooden blocks, and our emotional health can take a swing for the worst in a moment’s notice. There is so much uncertainty in this broken world; there is not much we can count on.
This recognition – of the uncertainty of this world – is what makes Luke’s gospel so refreshing, like a fresh drink of trustworthy water for lips that have been parched by the uncertain realities of this broken world. Luke actually says in the opening verses of this gospel that he wants “to write an orderly account” for his friend, Theophilus, (the name means “one who loves God”) so that he could “have certainty concerning the things [he had] been taught” (1:3 – 4). But what things had Theophilus been taught, that he needed to be certain of? Let’s look at a few passages together that I think will help to answer our question.
1Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3it seems good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
19:10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
24:27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself… 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.
With those passages in mind, it seems likely to me that Theophilus had been taught that Jesus had come to seek and to save the lost through his life, his death and his resurrection in fulfillment of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms(Lk. 1:4; 19:10; 24:27; 44). A close examination of the first two chapters alone reveals a number of characters who testify to the certainty that Jesus is the one who came to seek and to save the lost in fulfillment of the Old Testament. In those two opening chapters, we see Gabriel, Mary, Zechariah, the angels, and Simeon all speaking of Christ’s arrival in salvific terms as they describe his coming.
- GABRIEL: In 1:31 – 33, Gabriel instructs Mary to name her son “Jesus” which loosely means deliverer or rescuer and he follows this instruction by describing Jesus as “the Son of the Most High” who will possess “the throne of his father David” and whose reign and kingdom will never end.
- MARY: In 1:49 – 55, Mary describes the birth of Jesus as an act of the Almighty, holy, merciful, powerful God who scatters the proud, knocks the mighty off their thrones, lifts the humble, fills the hungry and sends rich oppressors down the road (1:49 – 53). In Mary’s estimation, God out of his deep mercy and in accordance with his promised salvation, is seeking to help his people by saving them (1:54 – 55; Micah 7:19 – 20).
- ZECHARIAH: In 1:68 – 79, Zechariah’s prophecy describes Jesus’ coming with salvific phrases like:
- He redeemed his people (1:68).
- He is a horn of salvation (1:69).
- He saved us from our enemies (1:71).
- He delivered us from the hand of our enemies (1:74).
- He is full of the knowledge of salvation and offers forgiveness of sins (1:77).
- Jesus is the sunrise who shall visit us from on high (1:78).
- Jesus is light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death (1:79).
- THE ANGELS: In 2:11, when the angels announce the coming of Christ to the Shepherds, they describe Jesus as the “Savior who is Christ the Lord”.
- SIMEON: In 2:30, when Simeon blesses baby Jesus and gives thanks for his birth he says, “my eyes have seen your salvation”.
The significance of what these five different characters say, culminates in the theme of salvation or better yet the Savior. In other words, these speakers are speaking of the Savior who is coming or has come to provide salvation. Once again, Luke 19:10 binds all of this together and helps to underscore what one author notes when he says that “the title that best sums up the themes of Jesus’ humanity and compassion in Luke is [none other than the title of] ‘Savior’”.2
Now, if you flip all the way over to the very end of Luke’s gospel (CH 24), you will see that not only does the front cover of this book (the first couple chapters) drive home the certainty of Jesus being the one who seeks to save the lost in fulfillment of the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, but the back cover of this book (the final chapters) make this point as well.
In chapter 24:13 – 35, Luke records the account of two disciples on the road to Emmaus and their encounter with the risen Christ. These two disciples are discussing the bewildering recent events of Jesus’ death and resurrection while taking a seven-mile hike from Jerusalem to Emmaus when Jesus shows up and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (24:13 – 27).
Jesus then joins the two disciples for a meal in Emmaus and Luke tells us that “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” as he vanished from their presence, leaving them to return to Jerusalem to share what they had witnessed with the rest of the disciples (24:28 – 35). Jesus then reappears to all the disciples in 24:36 – 49 and he questions their unbelief and then he further underscores his explanation and argument concerning his life, his death and his resurrection as the fulfillment of “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (vs. 44).
In all of this, Luke is persuading (using rhetoric) and explaining (using apologetics) that we can be certain of who Jesus is and what he came to do so that his readers might have their eyes, their hearts and their minds opened to understand and believe in the certainty of Christ as the Savior. Another author highlights all of this when he says that “Luke’s use of the Old Testament is best summed up as a prophetic and Christological use – [in other words] all of the Scriptures point to Jesus and must be fulfilled by him”.3
So, while we may not be certain of many things in this life, we can be certain, according to Luke, that Jesus is the one who came to seek and to save the lost in fulfilment of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. But who is Luke and why should we trust his description of Jesus?
Church historians unanimously attribute the writing of Luke’s gospel to “the Gentile disciple, Paul’s ‘beloved physician,’ so identified in Col. 4:14, and Paul’s companion for several portions of his missionary journeys.”4 This is the “Luke” whom Paul says is the only one who is still with him at the end of his life as he awaits his death in a Roman prison (2 Tim. 4:11). He is also the same “Luke” who wrote the book of Acts as the second half of his “two-volume, chiastically structured account of the life of Jesus and the growth of the early church.”5
One point of interest here is that if you look at the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts as a whole (a two-volume book), you can see a well-formed narrative that begins in Rome, moves inward to Jerusalem, and then moves back outward to Rome once again, making the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus the founding heartbeat of the church’s witness (the image below may be a helpful visual).6
The story begins with Jesus being born in the context of Roman rule (Lk. 1:1 – 4:13). Then the story moves inward with Jesus ministering throughout the Gentile world in Galilee (Lk. 4:14 – 9:50). Then the story travels further into Judea and Samaria as Jesus makes his way towards Jerusalem (Lk. 9:51 – 18:34). The story finally lands in Jerusalem for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus (Lk. 18:35 – 24:53). This is the heart of the two-volume book.
Moving straight into the book of Acts, the church is birthed in Jerusalem where the Gospel of Luke ended (Acts 1 – 7). Then the story begins to move back outward into Judea and Samaria (Acts 8 – 12). And finally, the story travels all the way back into the Gentile world throughout Galilee once again, and ends with Paul preaching in a Roman prison (Acts 13 – 28).
All in all, what we see here in Luke’s two-volume set, is a masterfully written story that positions the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus at the center of the story; the heart of the story is Christ crucified and risen. Jesus moves into his crucifixion and resurrection from the outside boundaries of Roman rule and then upon a confession of Christ crucified, risen, and returning, Jesus sends his church outward from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (signified by Rome) with the message of the gospel.
It is as though, Luke wants Theophilus, and us to be certain of the person and work of our crucified, risen, and returning Savior who came to seek and to save the lost in fulfilment of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms! But that is not all! If this description of Jesus is the main theme that acts like a coat hook, then there are a few other descriptions that Luke hangs on this central coat hook, there are at least seven beautiful coats we can hang on this main coat hook. Namely that: Jesus loves outcast, He is the perfect Savior, He is the best prophet, He is the teacher of parables, he is the risen and exalted benefactor, He is the fulfillment of the Law, and he is the giver of the Holy Spirit. Let us take those one at a time, briefly.
COAT #1: JESUS IS THE LOVER OF THE OUTCASTS7
The fact that Jesus loves the outcast is a fact that many of us really love about him, but we often fail to grasp the true significance of Jesus’ love for the outcast. When Luke shows Jesus loving on Samaritans, Gentiles, tax collectors, sinners, women, and the poor, he often highlights those “who have flagrantly violated the cultural and religious norms of Judaism”.8 Rest assured, you can be certain that you are never too far gone to be loved by Jesus! (10:1-20, 25-37; 17:11-19; 5:30; 7:34; 15:1, 11-32; 18:9-14; 19:1-10; CHs 1-2; 13:18-21; 15:3-10; 13:10-17; 14:1-6; 7:36-50; 10:38-42; 8:1-3; 6:20; 4:18; 14:7-24; 16:19-31).
COAT #2: JESUS IS THE PERFECT SAVIOR9
Although we camped out on the certainty of this as the major theme coat hook for Luke’s gospel, it is worth mentioning once again because we can never get enough of Jesus as our perfect Savior. In 19:1 – 10, when Jesus visits Zacchaeus (the rotten little mob boss who collected taxes for the Romans from his own people; he is a master of extortion and a traitor to his own people), Luke shows us that when Jesus says that he came to seek and to save the lost, he meant that his perfection was more than adequate for even the most despised of sinners. Nothing but the perfection of Jesus’ shed blood and broken body could ever cover the multitude of sins in Zacchaeus’ life or ours for that matter. We can be certain that Jesus is the perfect Savior if he can save a wee little traitorous extortionist named Zacchaeus!
COAT #3: JESUS IS THE BEST PROPHET10
Some scholars note that Luke uniquely refers to Jesus as the best prophet when he records the crowd saying, that “A great prophet has appeared among us” (7:16) after resurrecting a widow’s only son who had died. Luke also records Jesus referring to himself as a prophet (13:33), and all throughout the center section of Luke’s gospel (9:51 – 18:34) Jesus is seen as God’s messenger who has come to warn a stiff-necked generation of its coming destruction even as they reject the messenger and eventually murder him at the cross of Calvary. Luke is certain that we would do well to listen to Jesus’ instructions and his warnings so that we might remain in his life-giving presence. To ignore Jesus’ prophetic words in our lives, is to certainly reject him as our Lord and Savior.
COAT #4: JESUS IS THE TEACHER OF PARABLES11
One author points out that “Twenty-eight of the forty passages most commonly classified as parables appear in Luke, [with] fifteen of these found only in this gospel.”12 Parables such as the good Samaritan (10:25 – 37), the rich fool (12:13 – 21), and the rich man and Lazarus (16:19 – 31), as well as the Pharisee and the Publican (18:9 – 14), are all designed with simple, down-to-earth language that is meant to teach simple truths regarding who your neighbor is, how the love of money can be detrimental to our eternal destiny, and how humility is the desirable character trait for Christ’s followers. The fact that Jesus is a teacher does not surprise us. What surprises us is that we fail so often to listen to his instructions when they are as plain as a well-lit afternoon on the beach! You and I can be certain that Jesus’ parables are meant to transform our lives.
COAT #5: JESUS IS THE RISEN AND EXALTED BENEFACTOR13
The idea of Jesus being a benefactor rests in his promise to reward his followers for imitating his life of servanthood (14:12-14; 22:24-30). Because Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, he alone holds the authority to issue rewards to his followers for serving without expecting a return as they keep their eyes focused on the hope of Heaven. We do not serve in this life to make this earth a better place because this earth is not our home; we serve in this life so that we can bring glory and honor to our crucified, risen, and returning King who rewards the faithful, punishes the wicked, and promises to fully transform and restore this broken world we are passing through. You and I can be certain that if we sacrificially serve those around us because we want to bring honor and glory to God, then we will receive our rewards in heaven.
COAT #6: JESUS IS THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW14
In his gospel, “Luke is faithful to history by reporting how Jesus’ first followers did not immediately break away from Judaism and its Torah” (as can be seen in Lk. 1:6, 59; 2:21-24; and in Acts 3:1; 18:18; 21:21-24) although he does emphasize the fact that Jesus came to fulfil the Law of Moses instead of working to preserve it (Lk. 24:44). What Jesus came to do was to fulfill the Law of Moses perfectly on behalf of every sinner who cannot fulfill it so that he could be the sacrifice offered once and for all for the cleansing of sin. Jesus is literally (as a friend of mine says) “the decoder ring” that unlocks the meaning of the Law: Jesus was always the point of the Law; he performed it perfectly, and was sacrificed for those who cannot perform it, so that those whom he saves are enabled to perform it by the power of the indwelling Spirit (which leads me to my next point).
COAT #7: JESUS IS THE GIVER OF THE SPIRIT15
Most scholars are quick to point out that Luke’s gospel mentions the Holy Spirit “considerably more often than in Matthew or Mark”16 and they also point out that the book of Acts can rightly be titled as “The Acts of Jesus Through Spirit-Filled Apostles”. All throughout Luke’s two-volume book, we see Jesus at first and then his followers, filled with the Holy Spirit to boldly proclaim the gospel and to even suffer as witnesses to the power of the gospel to save and to transform sinners into the likeness of our crucified, risen, and returning Savior. Overall, Luke’s message is that Jesus is the giver of the Holy Spirit, and he gives the Spirit to his followers because there is no substitute for a Spirit-Empowered believer boldly proclaiming the gospel in word and in deed (Lk. 1:15, 41; 3:16; Acts 1:5; 2:4; 4:31; 11:16; Romans; 1 Cor. 12:13).
So, in conclusion, over the last few weeks, we have been asking “Who is Jesus according to __________” as we have studied through Matthew, Mark, and now Luke. And while Matthew and Mark seem to have given us some real beautiful descriptions of Jesus, Luke does not let us down either!
According to Luke, we can be certain that Jesus is the Savior who came to seek and to save the lost in fulfillment of the Mosaic Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Because this is who Jesus is, we can also trust that Jesus loves outcasts, that He is the perfect Savior, that He is the best prophet, that He is the teacher of parables, that he is the risen and exalted benefactor, that He is the fulfillment of the Law, and that he is the giver of the Holy Spirit.
I wonder if you know this Jesus! Do you know what it is like to be so caught up in your sin that you are hopeless to find a way out? Do you know what it is like for Jesus to come and find you in the midst of your filth? Have you felt the love of Christ for an outcast such as yourself? Have you come to the realization that he died on that cross to save you? Have you experienced the words of Jesus penetrating the depths of your heart, convicting you of your sin, calling you to repent, and encouraging you to trust in his work at the cross and the empty tomb? Have you received the Spirit of God at the moment of salvation and have you experienced the supernatural strength he gives you to not only proclaim God’s goodness with your words but to also show his righteousness with your renewed life as you wage war against your sin?
This description of Jesus is not the sugar-coated version that the culture wants you to hear. This description of Jesus is the one that begs us to surrender to the One who came looking for us when we were imprisoned by our sin. He is the One who loves the filthiest of sinners. He is the One who was determined to die in your place. He is the One who never stops calling out to you when you run away to the pig pen. He is the one who meets you at the end of the driveway with a fat smile, a brand-new set of clothes, and a party plan when you finally come home smelling like the filth of the world.
He is not the One who hands you a set of rules to follow to get close to him. He is the One who hands you a declaration that says you are not guilty of any past, present, or future sin because of his work at that cross and then he promises to help you walk in renewed obedience to him by the power of his very own Spirit that he places within you. This is the Jesus we celebrate at Christmas. I wonder, do you know this Jesus that Luke says we can be certain of?
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, 2nd Edition (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2009), 165. (This paper is based largely on this citation in the context of pgs. 159 – 176).
4 Ibid., 173.
5 Ibid., 160 – 162.
7 Ibid., 163 – 165.
8 Ibid., 164.
9 Ibid., 165.
11 Ibid., 165 – 166.
12 Ibid., 165.
13 Ibid., 166.
14 Ibid., 167.
15 Ibid., 169.