An Introduction to Luke
Luke is one of the two gospel writers who was not an eyewitness to the life of Jesus. So, what gives Luke the right to write a gospel? First of all, Luke was a contemporary and traveling partner of the apostle Paul. It is important to understand that the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are a two volume set, written by Luke. During the second half of Paul’s missionary journeys Luke joined Paul and became his traveling companion. This would mean that while Paul spent a couple of years in prison in Caesarea, Luke had free access to Peter, Mary, and any other eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life that were still alive in Jerusalem, Judea, and Galilee. Secondly, it is important to note that Luke was an educated man and an excellent historian. While he may not have been an eyewitness, he was a competent historian who had access to interview those who lived the story. When you read Luke’s gospel in its original Greek language you will find that the use of language is highly skilled and beautiful in form.
Luke himself was a physician. We know very little about him, but several theories have been proposed. One interesting theory proposes that Luke may have been the slave of a wealthy Greek man who paid to have Luke trained as a physician in order to serve the estate. This land owner took a liking to Paul and gave Luke to Paul when he became ill. Paul, in turn, set Luke free and welcomed him as a Christian brother. Whether this is true or not, we do know that Luke was dedicated to his friend and spiritual mentor Paul.
Overview of the chart
Luke, being a Greek man himself, was writing his books to a primarily Greek audience. Specifically he writes to the most beloved Theophilus. The word Theophilus means “God lover”. It is debated as to whether this is a specific man (perhaps his old owner) or a metaphorical term for anyone who loves God.
The important point to keep in mind is that the mind of his audience was thoroughly Greek; saturated in Greek philosophy. I chose a motif to organize the chart based upon the idea that Luke was seeking to present Jesus to the Greek mind as the ultimate Savior of the world. A common Greek theme, running throughout Grecian mythology, is that of the hero. The hero was half human, half god, who was sent to suffer through many trials and to fulfill a certain destiny. When read through these lenses it is easy to see how Luke may have been presenting Jesus to the Greeks as the Hero of all Heroes.
The Birth of a Hero
Luke’s account of Jesus’ beginnings is unique in the Gospels. In his Gospel, there is a beautiful pattern of angelic visitations, miraculous conceptions, and poetic utterances. As the infant Hero grows, we see Him presented to two aging prophets, one male, and one female. With their proclamation that the foretold
Messiah had come, it was time for the Hero of Israel to bridge the gap between the Old Testament and the New. Luke portrays the young Jesus, even at the age of twelve, as already advanced in wisdom, able to teach the elders of Israel, and aware of his identity as the Son of God. Whereas in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth He was portraying Jesus as the rightful King of the Jews, Luke is painting a picture of Jesus as being a mighty hero, born of the union between deity and humanity, wise and strong.
The Preparation of a Hero
It is important to note that Luke’s account of the entire first part of Jesus’ ministry (3:1-9:50) takes place in and around the region of Galilee. It is not until after His transfiguration that He begins to move toward Jerusalem. In this particular section we see the preparation of the Hero. His cousin, John, speaks as
His prophet, calling Israel to repentance and predicting the coming judgment of the barren tree. Next comes the baptism and pronouncement of Jesus as God’s Son, the bearer of the Holy Spirit. Finally, being led by the Spirit into the wilderness, the Hero withstands the fiery test of temptation and proves Himself worthy of the heroic task before Him.
The Hero’s Journey Begins
As the hero’s journey begins we notice three things. 1) He was given special powers, 2) He experienced a tension between loving the crowds, yet wanting to be away from the demands of the crowds, 3) He desires to have devoted followers and disciples which can be recruited and trained for His service.
The Hero takes the Power
Once the journey is underway, Jesus faces off with the power structures of Israel. As He intentionally breaks the traditions of the elders on the Sabbath, He boldly states that 1) He is the lord of the Sabbath, and 2) the elders of Israel have misrepresented the Law of Moses and it is time for new wine (“fresh blood”) to take over the leadership of God’s people.
Heroic Words, Heroic Deeds
In the bulk of the first section of Luke’s Gospel, we see the energetic activity of the Hero as His reputation builds. After being rejected in His hometown of Nazareth, He sets up a base of operations in the lake city of Capernaum. From there He launches on a campaign of teaching, healing, and miracles. Through these miracles He demonstrates His power over evil, over nature, and over sickness and death. Finally, in the climax of the section, Peter proclaims that Jesus is, indeed, the Christ, the Hero, that Israel has been waiting for and Jesus is transfigured to show His deity, authority, and power.
Then, in an ironic twist, Jesus turns the tables on His enthusiastic followers and warns them that, although they are correct to say that He is the Christ, they are grossly shortsighted as to the true meaning of this fact. He challenges the crowd that to follow Him would mean to lose everything. He also warns His disciples to not give credence to the opinions of the crowds. From this point on, Jesus sets His noble face towards Jerusalem where the final feat of this heroic quest awaits Him.
In the second half of the book we feel the tone change in Jesus’ ministry. Beginning at the end of chapter 9, Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem to complete his Hero’s mission.
There are four sections that chronicle this Hero’s Journey.
The Invasion and Explanation of the Kingdom
As Jesus set out for Jerusalem he sent 72 of his disciples ahead of Him to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God and to invite everyone to sit at the great banquet of the King. As the invitation was
extended and the responses began to return, the true nature and purpose of the Kingdom of God became evident. During this time Jesus’ teaching was very pointed and very harsh.
One of the major things to keep in mind while studying Luke is that he seems to have a heavy-handed agenda to emphasize the aspect of Jesus’ teaching that elevated the poor and outcast of society out of the social quagmire and onto equal footing with the rich and the “healthy.” In this section we see that the rich and healthy rejected God’s invitation and that the poor, the sick, and the little children were the ones who God really wanted at His banquet. The Kingdom of God is the great equalizer.
As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, the account of the blind man and the account of Zaccheus are told. These stories are told in order to contrast the true Kingdom of God with the Kingdom of Man. Inside the walls of Jerusalem lived the “wise” men of Israel, the keepers of the Law, the enlightened ones. Supposedly these men were the caretakers of God’s Kingdom, of God’s Vineyard. Jesus knew their hearts,
though, and He knew that they would reject the true Kingdom of God when it was presented to them in living color. Here, however, in the lives of a blind man and a wretched tax collector, were the true members of God’s Kingdom. Jesus didn’t want resumes and money and knowledge and prestige.
These things would not get a person into the Kingdom of God. Jesus wanted broken and repentant hearts. As He healed the blind man and ate a meal with Zacheus, He was demonstrating what the Kingdom of God is all about.
Clash of the Titans
Once inside the walls of Jerusalem things changed. The fickle crowd greeted Him with shouts of “Hosanna” and great expectations of a New Kingdom being established that would rid them of the Romans, but soon they would turn on Him to have Him killed. The Pharisees laid traps for Him and tried to defeat Him until they eventually, through treachery and lies, dragged Him to his execution.
In this section, Jesus bravely squares off with elders of Jerusalem and condemns them for being arrogant, blind, self-serving leaders who heaped burdens on the backs of God’s people and kept the Kingdom of God out.
The Hero’s Victory
In the final section, Jesus sets the world on its ear. Instead of valiantly fighting His way to the top, He humbly submitted to the curses and torture of unrighteous men and allowed Himself to be executed. Through this selfless act, the power of sin and death was once and for all defeated, the curtain dividing men from God was ripped in two, and the true Kingdom of God was unleashed on the world.
Other Resources to Study Luke