2010 9-26 “DEAR THEOPHILUS…” LUKE 1:1-4

I. Introduction
If you were writing a letter to a close friend and you wanted to tell him something of great importance, something earth-shaking, as it were, how would you begin? “Dear Theo, have I got a story for you!” Or maybe, “You’re just not gonna believe this, but…”

You wouldn’t necessarily begin your letter with a formal introduction explaining your purpose in writing or justifying your reason for doing so. Such a format would be much more like a business letter than a personal one. You know, “Gentlemen, This is to inform you that…” Or maybe, “Dear Mr. Philus, a detailed proposal including drawings, com-plete specifications, and contractual terms is attached…”

We wouldn’t begin a letter to a friend in such a business-like manner but Luke does. In the first century such a heavy-weight introduction would help to assure his readers that his writing skills, his research, his reliability, and his honesty are all above reproach.

So this formality would be a testament to Luke’s credentials and would be especially important to the Jews who would read his gospel because Luke was the only Gentile who wrote any of what would later become the NT. In fact, due to the length of Luke and Acts, he wrote more of the NT than any other human author, including Paul. (28%)

II. Text
Luke’s formal introduction, his preface to the book, is short but it is filled with valuable information and instruction for us. In it he lays the foundation for what follows. He tells us what we can expect and he whets our appetites to receive it. (please stand)
*Luke 1:1-4
1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us,
2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word have handed them down to us,
3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excel-lent Theophilus;
4 so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Truth – “the exact truth” – there is nothing more important for us to know than truth. One of the single greatest reasons you and I, as Bible-believing Christians, are so out of step with the society and culture in which we now live, is that we believe and hold firmly to absolute truth as it is revealed in the written Word of God.
The world and its systems do not. In fact, in today’s postmodern world there is only one absolute truth. It is this: “There is no absolute truth.” Of this the postmodern man is absolutely sure. We are taught today that truth is whatever you want it to be. Truth is whatever works for you. If you want black to be white and white to be black it’s just fine as long as you are happy.

Is this illogical? Of course it is! But there is an accepted foundational premise for any logical thought. It is called the Law of Contradiction (sometimes called Law of Non-contra-diction). It states that,
“…two antithetical propositions cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. X cannot be non-X. A thing cannot be and not be simultaneously. And nothing that is true can be self-contradictory or inconsistent with any other truth. All logic depends on this simple principle. Rational thought and meaningful
discourse demand it. To deny it is to deny all truth in one fell swoop.

Once you eliminate absolute truth, right and wrong cease to exist. Once you eliminate absolute truth, rationality and responsibility cease to exist. Once you eliminate absolute truth, any standards of conduct and character cease to exist. There remains no standard by which to hold anyone accountable for anything. These are just some of the conse-quences of postmodern thought. But such thinking isn’t new. It infected Israel 3400 ago.
Deuteronomy 12:8
8 “You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes.”

Pontius Pilate sounded like a postmodernist when Jesus stood before him.
*John 18:38-39
38 “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
39 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”

This great mystery, this great question – “What is truth?” – that the often brilliant minds of the lost cannot answer, is solved in one simple statement.
*John 14:6
6 Jesus said…, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

In Luke’s introduction to his gospel he says he will tell us “the exact truth” about Jesus.
Luke is a man who can be trusted to get it right. He has the desire and the credentials. It is all about absolute truth. It is all about Jesus Christ. What Luke has to say is for every unbeliever whose heart has been prepared by God to hear it. It’s for Christians too, those of us who already know the truth. About thirty years after Dr. Luke wrote his letters, the Apostle John wrote his. He confirms the fact that God’s truth is for us who believe.
*1 John 2:21-22
21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth.
22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.

Luke’s opening words convey assurance that all that follows will be trustworthy and true.
*Luke 1:1
1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us…

Luke writes knowing full well that many others have already written something about the Jewish Messiah. Various stories about Jesus of Nazareth would be well known through-out the empire. At least Mark’s (and possibly Matthew’s gospel) had been in circulation for a few years. So when Luke says, “many have undertaken…,” he’s probably referring to those Holy Spirit inspired writings as well as a large number of incomplete biographies in existence that had not been inspired by the Holy Spirit of God.

So the story was out there. Some had it mostly right. Some had it mostly wrong. But no one was telling the story from a well-organized or chronological standpoint. No one had written a complete account of Jesus’ life and ministry. Furthermore, no one had yet told the story from, what Luke would have considered to have been, the beginning.

Mark began with Jesus’ baptism and went right into His ministry. Matthew included more details and began with a genealogy. Luke wants to give us the background. He wants to give us details we can find nowhere else. From where and from whom he got his information is not known with absolute certainty, but he probably had some contact with Jesus’ mother, Mary and a number of the apostles. While there is no existing record of such contacts, it is not unreasonable to assume they took place.

Here is what we do know. Luke wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God gave him the thoughts as well as the words. All of Scripture is so inspired or “God-breathed.”
It is, after all, the Word of God, isn’t it? Paul knew that and he made it clear.
*1 Thessalonians 2:13
13 …we constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.
*2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Luke wants to do more than write another biography of Jesus. He is interested in what Jesus has accomplished.
In v. 1 the word “accomplished” or “fulfilled,” is translated from a compound Greek word meaning “the complete fulfillment of some work of great importance.”

That work is how God accomplished the redemption of His people through the life and work of His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s what has been accomplished. That’s the point. That’s the story. That’s the good news of the gospel. Luke says that the good news is already well-known and Christians believe it. In fact, that’s what makes them Christians.

Well, how did that knowledge come about and from where did it come? He answers that question in v. 2.
*Luke 1:2
2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word have handed them down to us…

Luke tells us he received his information from the most reliable sources. Who would they be? They would be eyewitnesses and servants. In this context “servants” refers to those very eyewitnesses, the ones who knew Jesus personally, and then became believers and followers, or servants of Christ. Jeff read about one of them, the Apostle John, to open the service this morning. Remember?
1 John 1:1, 3
1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life –
3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also…

Whether in a first century conversation or a twenty-first century courtroom, there is no more credible witness than one who was there and saw and heard and even touched.

Have you ever been intimidated by someone who says you have blind faith – someone who says you have no facts upon which to base your belief in Jesus and in what He did? That can come from the people in your workplace, your neighborhood, or your friends. But far worse, sometimes it can come from your own family. Please take comfort in this. Your faith is not blind. Far from it! It has been handed down to you from eyewitnesses!

Jesus Christ, His conception, His birth, His life, His ministry, His teaching, His miracles, His death, His resurrection, and His ascension to heaven, are all settled facts. They are facts that are able to standup in any courtroom because they are all corroborated by eyewitnesses. Furthermore, those people know their witness is true. They would rather die than recant. We know that many of them did. So again I say to you that your faith is not blind. Your faith stands on the bedrock of truth.

Listen Christian, the facts about Jesus Christ are not built upon your faith. Your faith in Jesus Christ is built upon the facts. So Luke tells us that his story comes from eyewit-nesses who told him the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
One other thing that I think is worth mentioning. It is obvious that Luke has high regard for those who have handed down the truth to him. But he doesn’t worship them. There is no indication that he is awed by them. He doesn’t put them up on a pedestal. He under-stands that they are not the stars of Christianity. Even though the eyewitnesses had direct contact with Jesus, Luke neither venerates nor exalts them in any way. Veneration and exaltation is to be reserved for Christ alone.

There is a real problem with idol worship in our culture today, isn’t there? Athletes, entertainers, some politicians, and even some prominent Christian leaders and pastors are often held up as heroes or “super-stars.”

It is perfectly fine for us to marvel at an athlete’s physical prowess. It’s all right for us to be impressed by a singer’s or actor’s ability to perform. It’s okay to support and even “root” for a politician who stands on principle and consistently votes for what is right. It is not unreasonable to esteem godly Christian preachers who sacrifice themselves for God’s people or Christian teachers who refuse to compromise God’s truth. All of that is just fine.

But we must never forget that these people, without exception, are sinners, sinners who are hopelessly lost without Christ. Yet there many are people (including many professing Chistians) who have made the Brett Favres, the Tom Cruises, the Barak Obamas, and virtually every Pope, into some kind of an idol. That is what men and women do. Is it not our tendency, as sinners ourselves, to worship idols?

This tendency, this bent of our hearts, is in direct violation of the First and Second Commandments.
*Exodus 20:2-4
2 (1) “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (slavery in Egypt – slavery in sin)
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.
4 (2) “You shall not make for yourself an idol…”

Luke knows our hearts and his failure to praise the eyewitnesses from whom he gets his information proves it. He is introducing the gospel of Jesus Christ. And since Luke has accumulated such valuable and trustworthy information, in v. 3 he tells us why he is writing.
*Luke 1:3
3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excel-lent Theophilus;

Let me paraphrase. Luke is saying, “I have spoken to the eyewitnesses, I have read their accounts, I have carefully researched and investigated all of it, and I have left no stone unturned. Here is the story, Theophilus.”
Now notice that in all of this, the traditions of men are nowhere to be found. In the two thousand years that have passed since Luke wrote his gospel we have often managed to bury the simple truth of the good news of Jesus Christ so far under our traditions that the simplicity and purity of the gospel is sometimes difficult to find.

I believe this is one of the greatest failings of the organized church. Let me give you an example. Many of the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church have been raised to such a level of prominence and are held is such high regard that they often supersede Scripture itself. But this failing is not limited to Roman Catholicism. The Protestant Church has the same problem, albeit not quite so well developed.

Let me be clear here. There is nothing wrong with traditions per se. As long as we recognize that our traditions, regardless of how much we might cherish them, are man-made. They are fine as long as we know and understand that no man-made tradition is superior, or even equal, to God’s own revealed truth.

Luke goes on to tell Theophilus that he will present the story in an orderly fashion. Depending on which translation you read, the words in v. 3 are either “orderly,” “in order,” or “in consecutive order.” There is debate about what they mean. Do they mean every single detail is carefully arranged so that the gospel is perfectly chronological at all times? Or do they mean that every event is presented in a logical order so that, for example, each one of Jesus’ teachings are more easily understood? I’m not sure.

It is clear that the sequence of events in Luke periodically varies somewhat from what is reported in Matthew and in Mark. The important thing for us to grasp as we go through Luke’s gospel is that he wants to inspire confidence in us, his readers. Along the way he may group some details together in such a manner that the theme or major teaching will be more prominent than the actual chronological order in which the events occurred.

In any case, you can be fully confident of one thing. Luke has good reasons for writing as he did. Never forget that every word is inspired by the Holy Spirit. We know that His account of the life of Christ is “orderly.” And having said all that, Luke remains the most chronological of the four gospels.

What are the main themes that Luke is going to convey throughout his gospel? I think there are two overarching issues that will be seen in a wide variety of instances.
• First, the God of the Jews is the only true God, and He is absolutely sovereign in the affairs of men. The whole plan of salvation comes from God and God alone.
• Second, that plan is available to every tribe, tongue, and nation on the face of the earth. More than that, it is also available to every kind of sinner within every tribe, tongue, and nation. That means every sinner, no matter how great or how small in the eyes of men, no matter how moral, or immoral, debased and vile, is a candidate for the salvation that is found in Jesus Christ.

Luke will drive these two points home. God is sovereign and the gospel is universal. That’s what he wants to get across to the “most excellent Theophilus.”

By the way, just who is Theophilus? Well, no one really knows. His is a Greek name meaning “Friend of God.” Luke’s use of the term “most excellent” does give us a few clues about the man. He would no doubt be a citizen of the Roman Empire (not a slave) and someone in the upper classes of Greek society. In v. 4 we see that Theophilus is either a believer or one who already knows at least something about this Jesus.
*Luke 1:4
4 so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Just how much Theophilus already knows is open to speculation. But however much it may be, Luke knows it to be incomplete.

At this point I should say that there is at least a possibility that Theophilus was not an actual person but that Luke was addressing all Greek-speaking “friends of God.” It’s an interesting theory that has come up before and will likely do so again. While there is no incontrovertible proof that Theophilus was a specific person, it’s very likely that he was and was at least an acquaintance of Luke’s, and probably a friend as well.

If Theophilus was a believer he had the same problem so many Christians have today. They know something about Jesus. They know something about salvation. They know something about the Bible. They know something about doctrine. But they are largely untaught. They have what you might call “a Sunday morning kind of religion.” They look like Christians in church, but the rest of the week they think and act and live like the world because no one has taught them how to think and act and live like Christians.

The church is at fault for this. When the church allows itself to be distracted from the bedrock of the gospel and the purity of sound doctrine, it just naturally becomes like the world. The world begins to drive the church instead of the other way around.

Ask yourself this. Why did God establish the Church of Jesus Christ in the first place? Did He not do it so there would be a witness to the truth in this world? Then ask yourself these questions. If the church fails to preach the gospel and teach sound doctrine, who will? If the church fails to do those things, what good is it? What good is any church that doesn’t preach and teach the truth? It’s just a place where the lost are not convicted of their sin, the saved are not fed, and both remain ignorant of revealed truth.

Luke is saying to Theophilus (and to all who will read and study his gospel), “You’ve heard some things and you’ve learned some things, but you don’t have the whole truth. Let me give you the details.” Luke wants to help those who have heard a little to become those who believe. And he wants to help those who believe a little to become those who are fully taught.
III. Conclusion
Truth – “the exact truth” – is what the Gospel of Luke will tell us. How important is it?
John 8:31-32, 36
31 If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine;
32 and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
36 “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”

So truth is the difference between eternal freedom in Christ and eternal slavery in sin. Truth, in the end, is the difference between eternal life and eternal death.

Seven hundred years before Christ, Hosea prophesied against those of God’s people who were not living their lives in faithfulness to Him. They didn’t think that God’s truth was important. So they didn’t study it and they lacked any real knowledge of it. As a result of their lack of knowledge they began to live their lives just like the world around them.

It is for this reason that Hosea brought an indictment against them.
Hosea 4:1
1 Listen to the word of the LORD, O sons of Israel, for the LORD has a case against the inhabitants of the land, because there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land.
2 There is swearing, deception, murder, stealing, and adultery. They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed.

Hosea’s indictment was followed by a word of warning.
Hosea 4:6a
6a My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest.

Luke was concerned that this would never happen to Christians. So, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote his gospel. When it is carefully and diligently studied, it will fill those who read it with the knowledge of the “exact truth” about our Lord and Savior.

It is my prayer that the task before us, the verse-by-verse exposition of the Gospel of Luke, will be more than fulfilling. I pray that each one of us will get to know Jesus in a far deeper and more meaningful way than we ever have before.

Many of you are familiar with what is popularly known as “the AWANA verse.” Luke didn’t write it but he certainly would have agreed with it. I want to close with it and set the stage for the coming weeks.
2 Timothy 2:15
15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.

~ Pray ~