Friday, April 15, 2016

My Message for this Sunday

So that You may Know with Certainty – Luke 1:1-4

We are starting a new series of expository messages through the book of Luke today.

Lord willing, Ewen will join Gregg and me in Luke after he finishes his series through 1 John.

Now some of you may be wondering why we continue to preach through books of the Bible instead of focusing on topics that are relevant to the needs of our church.

While we may be led by God to speak topically over an issue on occasion,

basically, we want to address important topics by starting with God's Word and understanding it rightly and more fully in its own context first.

Then God and His Word set the agenda and the trajectory of our thinking concerning all the issues and topics we face.

If we know God's Word more fully we can apply it more accurately to any topic that comes up and we will have more wisdom in dealing with anything we may face.

After preaching daily for over 3 years to the Ephesian church, the apostle Paul said this:

I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." (Acts 20:27)

A preacher cannot say that, if he mainly preaches topical messages.

It is important that we learn to see the Bible as one book inspired by the One God, and that this God already has a message to convey to us.

Therefore, basically, we want to let God's Word set the agenda because God knows what we really need most, and that is ultimately to know Him and love Him more.

If we could know and love God through His Word more, our hearts and our perspectives on every issue would change for the better and many issues would be simpler.

As we have studied some epistles and Genesis for quite some time, we agreed that it would be good to look into the book of Luke, the most complete narrative of Jesus' life.

It is actually the prequel to the other book Luke wrote, the book of Acts, which is a history of the early church.

The 52 chapters in these two volumes make up just over 1/3 of the entire New Testament.

And as Jesus is the focus and the fulfillment of the entire Bible, this gospel of Luke is a vitally important book to read and study.

Vital because Jesus is not just the center of the Bible, He is the center of all of history.

All of history before Christ prepares us for the cross, and all of history after Christ is a blessing to His people because of the cross.

It is Jesus, who has come to rescue us by dying on the cross to pay the punishment for our sins and to bring us back to our loving Creator and Father God.

So let's begin today by reading the prologue of this good news, or gospel, according to Luke in chapter 1, verse 1-4.

And I ask you, if you are able, to stand for the reading of God's Holy Word.

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

You may be seated.

Now did it ever strike you as odd that we meet here each Sunday to talk about events that happened to Jewish people in Israel thousands of years ago?

And yet none of you, as far as I know, are Jewish, and neither am I.

Well, this book of Luke was written by a non-Jew, or Gentile, just like us, and it was written to a Greek nobleman named Theophilus as well as to other Gentiles just like us.

And this was always a part of God's plan, even from the beginning.

God had promised Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel, that he would be blessed to be a blessing to all the nations, and that includes Japan.

God had said, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3)

As we arrive at the New Testament, we see that everything the nation of Israel failed to do was fulfilled in the descendant of Abraham, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the promised descendant of Abraham and the promised descendant of Eve that we learned about in Genesis 3:15.

Jesus was the promised One who would crush Satan and bring salvation from sin and death to all of the families of the earth that God had created.

And as this message began to spread through Jerusalem and Judea, it overflowed through the words and actions of the apostles to the surrounding nations.

And now, as Luke writes, only about 30 years after Jesus had been raised from the dead and ascended to heaven, there were likely more Gentile Christians than Jewish ones.

And Luke, being a close partner with Paul and the other apostles, writes in his native Greek language to another Greek nobleman, Theophilus, and really to all Gentiles, like us.

We don't know much about Theophilus, other than that Luke dedicated both his gospel and its sequel, Acts, to him.

But as it says here, Theophilus had been taught of Jesus and was likely a new believer.

And yet, as he looked around he probably wondered if he, a Gentile, could fit into a foreign religion that was taught to him by the preaching of foreign missionaries.

And maybe you wonder the same: Can I, as a Japanese person, or a non-Jew, fit into a foreign religion taught to me by foreigners?

If you feel that way at all or have ever felt that way, Luke is just the book for you.

Our Creator God, is not an American, a Greek, or a Jew.

He is the One that made every nation of people, and commands us to bring good news of salvation to the whole world.

He loves to take “outsiders” into His care and make them “insiders”, involved and related to Him as their Savior, God, and loving Father.

His plan is to love and save Buddhists and Hindus, Muslims and atheists - people from every people group through faith in Jesus Christ.

Luke's aim in writing is clear: “that you (all non-Jews) may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” about Jesus. (v.4)

And in being saved from our Creator's wrath against our rebellion, God has a plan for us to live full of His goodness, as we walk with Him without fear, as Luke 1:74-75 says.

Virtually everything in Luke's gospel challenges and encourages us to respond to this kind, gracious, and yet unusual Savior, Jesus Christ.

Now if we could read this section in its original Greek we would notice that it is one long sentence which is beautifully written in the high Greek of the foremost ancient historians.

Being a doctor and a first-rate historian with an excellent command of classical Greek,

Luke's gospel, more than any other, combines specific historical details along with beautiful and flowing narration.

Luke was a man of great intelligence who used first-class historical methods to find the “exact truth” (as the NASB says) about Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.

Verse 2 mentions that the Christians in Asia Minor at that time knew well the oral traditions from the eyewitness testimony of the apostles.

Luke had also likely studied the gospel of Mark (who wrote for the apostle Peter) and Matthew, who was also a disciple of Jesus and an eyewitness.

Besides these, he had likely also studied other written narratives, as verse 1 hints at.

After that Luke had probably met and closely interviewed other first-hand eyewitnesses during his two-year stay with Paul in Caesarea, and so he knew the truth very well.

But over this and through all of this, Luke was carried along by the Holy Spirit who allowed him to write things that no one could have otherwise known.

God helped him to do this so that Theophilus, and we, could have certainty about the historical truth of Jesus Christ. (v.4)

The Gospel of Luke has from the earliest times been regarded as Scripture, as God's Word, and not the words of mere men alone.

The evening before Jesus went to the cross He assured his disciples:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

And later he said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you”  (John 16:12-13)

So Luke wrote his history as Moses (who wrote Genesis) wrote his, of things reported by others, but ratified by God's clear and direct inspiration.

2 Peter 1:20 says, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Because the Gospel of Luke is first-rate history which was also inspired by God, many of the historical details have been confirmed, from place names, to cultural practices, to historical context.

Sir William Ramsay was a Scottish atheist and archaeologist during the early part of the 20th century, and the foremost scholar on ancient Asia Minor during his lifetime.

Though he set out to debunk the accounts of Paul and Luke, he ended up becoming so convinced of their trustworthiness that he finally became a Christian himself.

After examining all the available evidence he wrote, “Luke is the most accurate historian of the entire ancient world.”

“Every time a spade of dirt is turned over some detailed aspect of the gospel is verified.”

As Luke writes in verses 3-4, his aim was to give a careful, orderly account that would give the nobleman Theophilus and all else who read it, certainty over what they had heard.

God wants for us also to have certainty about our faith, that's based solidly on His Word, and not just on changing feelings or subjective experiences.

But is it important to try to persuade people that Christianity is true?

Well, Luke thinks it is.

Many today think of faith or spirituality as a leap into the unknowable,

Like going to a salad bar, you choose whatever you like because in the end there are no concrete reasons to prefer one religion to another other than preference.

One friend actually told me, “I think I will believe when God helps me to feel that it's a good time for me to believe."

I told him that the Scriptures are clear: “now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:2)

The Bible has clear truth claims, and we should seek to know if these claims are trustworthy or not and not wait for some arbitrary feeling to begin seeking.

Luke was not content with the amount of evidence that Theophilus already had from those who had taught him.

He does not merely pray and wait for God to help Theophilus know it is true.

Rather he undertakes a very large task, to write a fifty-two chapter, two-volume history book!

And this was all for the sake of certifying to Theophilus and to others the truth of the Christian teaching they had heard.

Luke praises the Bereans in Acts 17:11 for testing the apostle's teachings to see if they were true.

He writes, "Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so."

Luke was eager to encourage just the opposite of a blind leap of faith.

He wanted Christians to know the Scriptures and have their faith be rooted in them.

Last, when recording the resurrection of Jesus and how the apostles came to faith in the risen Christ, Luke says this in Acts 1:3:

He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”

According to Luke, Christ was very concerned to give proofs— in the sense of fully adequate evidence for faith.

Therefore, Jesus did not want to encourage a blind leap of faith.

Otherwise, he wouldn't have bothered to linger on Earth for forty days after His resurrection to give hundreds of people proof.

And so Luke went to great lengths to help people have certainty over the truth of Christianity.

Even so Luke knew that only the Holy Spirit could bring faith into our sinful hearts.

For example, Luke says of Lydia, in Acts 16:14 that as she listened to Paul's compelling sermon,

"the Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul."

If God does not open the hearts of those who read or hear Luke’s Gospel, all of Luke's writing is in vain.

But the Holy Spirit does not replace God's Word, He works through it so that people can give heed, or pay attention to the good news of the Bible and respond in faith.

Paul wrote, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Cor. 2:4-5)

Like Paul, we don't have to be gifted communicators to help people, we just need to know God's Word and be able to lead people to it, as we pray for God to work.

The great theologian Augustine said, “The truth is like a lion. You don't have to defend it. Let it loose, it will defend itself.”

In the same way, when God draws us by the truth and beauty of His Word, we are held by it and our faith grows as God captivates us with His glory.

Luke was written to show how Jesus has accomplished or fulfilled all that God's Word had promised and prophesied in actual history. (Show verse 1)

For me it has been so important for my faith to see how all of the detailed prophecies and promises of the Old Testament are so accurately fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

Luke aims to show us that it is Jesus was Almighty God made man.

Jesus fulfilled the Law’s demands on our behalf, as we could not

and He fulfilled all of the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament to save us and bring all the glory to God for our salvation.

Luke 24:44 says, “Then (Jesus) 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.”

And if you seek Jesus, and seek to study and find out if this Book can be trusted, I believe you will see that it is fully reliable and the best foundation for your life.

The best way to do that is simply to spend time reading the Bible itself and see its trustworthiness for yourself.

After all, the best way to learn to trust another person is to spend time with them.

So I want to encourage everyone here to read the Bible, but also to read it and study it with others so that they can also see its truth and be saved and changed.

The Bible is self-authenticating, and by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Bible, God can take out our hearts of stone which are hard and resistant to Him because of sin.

Now the apostle Paul said, these things that Jesus did, “did not happened in a corner.” (show Acts 26:26)

Luke says to his fellow Greeks, that these things were “fulfilled among us, meaning they happened close enough in time and space for people to clearly verify its claims. (v. 1)

These were verifiable facts that anyone could search out and find, if they really searched them out, as he had.

1 Corinthians 15:6 says this about Jesus' resurrection:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive,”

It is as if Paul is saying, “Please go find these 500 people, they are still alive to ask!”

The resurrected Jesus said this to his disciples who thought they were seeing a ghost,

See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:39)

John says this:

that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)

The disciples saw firsthand his miracles, his way of life, his death on the cross and above all they were radically changed by witnessing his resurrection from the grave.

And they had these things recorded for us and gave their lives to see that this good news might be known and so that we might come and enjoy fellowship with God forever too.

Their combined eyewitness testimony and changed lives is enough evidence for any court to give a clear verdict.

So what will you do with the evidence?

The glory that they saw in Christ, we may also see through their words.

The human words of Scripture are seen to be from God in the same way that the human man Jesus was seen to be from God by those who knew Him.

Not all saw it, but for those with eyes to see, the glory of Christ was clear and undeniable.

John says that people did not see it because they loved the darkness rather than the light. (Jn 3:19)

It is the same here in the Scriptures.

If, by the Holy Spirit, you have a heart to seek the truth in His Word, you will surely find your Creator God here, but if you refuse to love the truth, you will perish in your sins. (2 Thess. 2:10)

More than any other religion or philosophy in the world, God's Word presents itself as actual verifiable history.

It is not primarily just a list of ethical teachings or philosophical thoughts over mystical truths or even a collection of good heart-warming stories.

At its heart, Christianity is a claim that something life-changing has been happening throughout time and is being fulfilled in real, concrete, actual history.

And it is all through the person of Jesus Christ, God made man, in order to save us and bring us to Himself because of the great love He has for us.

As we study Luke together over the next several months, I encourage you to use it in your own quiet times with the Lord.

I encourage you to read and study it with others also so that you and they may know God and love Him more deeply.

As Luke says, he wants us to have certainty, and in that certainty of faith, that we would overflow in joy and love to others who need evidence themselves of God's work.

Through our lives, we can become the sweet-smelling aroma of Christ, drawing others to God Himself and to His wonderful salvation.

Let us pray.

In your word it says, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”

Earlier we sang, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see You.”

Lord, please open the sin-darkened eyes of our hearts by your word so that we can see you and enjoy more of your glory there.

And in seeing your glory, that we would be transformed by it, from one degree of glory to the next.

Help us to have your thoughts and perspective about the problems and issues we face.

We thank you for your Word

and we thank you for your Spirit who leads us and captivates our hearts by your Word.

In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

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