MEET LUKE :
PHYSICIAN, TRAVELLER, CHRISTIAN HISTORIAN
by Timothy Cross
Physician by Occupation
Luke the beloved physician (Colossians 4:14) was a Greek speaking medical doctor and firm friend of the Apostle Paul. During the closing days of Paul’s life, when the Apostle found himself in jail once again, Paul reported that Luke alone is with me (2 Timothy 4:11). Luke then stood by the Apostle Paul through thick and thin, even when others had deserted him. The consensus suggests that Luke was the only non-Jewish Gospel writer - though some consider that he may have been a ‘proselyte’, that is, a Gentile convert to Judaism.
Penman by Pre-Occupation
Under God, Dr Luke’s main legacy to the world is the twenty four chaptered Gospel which bears his name, along with the New Testament book entitled the ‘Acts of the Apostles.’ This latter may be considered as ‘Luke’s Gospel Volume II.’ It tells us of the spread of the Gospel and the growth of the church throughout the Graeco-Roman world. The name ‘Acts’ is a shorthand. A fuller title might be ‘The Acts of the Risen Christ, by His Holy Spirit, through His Apostles.’
Luke penned both his Gospel and Acts as a Christian ‘apo-logy’ to a high-up, Roman official named Theophilus. ‘Apology’ here is a technical word. Luke certainly wasn’t apologising for the Christian Faith. No. He was giving an ‘apo-logia’, that is, a word in defence, or a word of explanation about the Christian Faith to an intelligent but ignorant friend - most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed (Luke 1:4). In picking up his pen so - divine inspiration notwithstanding - Luke gained for himself the accolade of being one of the world’s greatest historians.
Luke gleaned the information for his account of the life and ministry of Jesus by careful research and investigation. We can see that Almighty God put his scientific mind to a higher use. Unlike Matthew, Mark (who gained his Gospel information from Peter) and John, Luke was not one of the twelve disciples, and so was not a first hand witness to Jesus’ words and deeds. Under the guidance and superintendence of the Holy Spirit however, Luke was enabled to write a Gospel as accurate and inerrant as each of the Gospels. Hence his introductory explanation:
It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely (or accurately) for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed (Luke 1:3,4).
It is interesting to note the medical matters which feature in Luke’s Gospel. Whilst Mark relates Jesus’ healing of a man … who had a withered hand (Mark 3:1), Luke describes the same incident by telling us of a man … whose right hand was withered (Luke 6:6). Whilst Mark relates Jesus’ healing of Simon’s mother-in-law when she lay sick with a fever (Mark 1:30), Luke tells us that Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever (Luke 4:38). Then when Matthew and Mark record how Jesus cleansed ‘a leper’ Luke alone notes the extent of his leprosy when he describes how there came a man full of leprosy (Luke 5:12). These small extra details square with a medical mind, used to making accurate diagnoses and writing up medical notes.
The Virgin Birth of Christ
Significantly, it is Dr. Luke who goes into the most detail of all the Gospel writers concerning the virgin conception of Christ - His conception by the Holy Spirit, without the aid of a human father, in the womb of the virgin Mary. Luke relates the angel explaining to Mary how
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God (Luke 1:35).
The intimate details concerning Jesus’ virgin conception would be known to Mary alone. Luke then evidently had her confidence. It is as though, whilst researching his Gospel, he took Mary into his surgery, and there she divulged the information concerning the miraculous conception of the eternal Son of God.
The Saviour of Sinners
Luke’s distinctive ‘angle’ on the Lord Jesus is that Jesus is the compassionate Saviour of sinners, and that the salvation He came to bring is universal in its scope. Interestingly, whilst Matthew traces Jesus’ human genealogy back to Abraham, the founding father of the Hebrew race, Luke traces Jesus’ human ancestry right back to Adam, the founding father of the whole human race (Luke 3:23-38).
If there is one key verse which unlocks the whole of Luke’s Gospel, it would be the words recorded in Luke 19:10, where the Saviour Himself explained that ‘The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10). From this key verse we glean truth concerning the Saviour’s manhood, mission, mandate and mercy.
i. His Manhood
Jesus describes Himself as The Son of Man … The compassionate humanity of Christ is a distinctive of Luke’s Gospel. Our God, in Christ, knows what it is like to be human, sin apart. We have not a high priest Who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:14). Our Saviour is a Saviour of real, tender and compassionate humanity.
ii. His Mission
The Son of Man came … The Lord Jesus went on a missionary journey like no other missionary journey. He came from heaven to earth so that we might go at last to heaven. He was born so that we might be born again. The living Saviour was born to die so that dying sinners might be born again and live eternally.
iii. His Mandate
The Son of Man came to seek and to save … Paul concurs with this in his succinct statement that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Our greatest need is to be saved from the condemnation we deserve for our sins. Our greatest need is for a Saviour. Christ alone is the Saviour for our greatest need. There is salvation in no one else .. (Acts 4:12) Luke recorded sometime later.
iv. His Mercy
The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Without Christ we are indeed, sadly, badly and eternally lost. We are under God’s wrath for ever. Yet the Christian’s testimony is ‘I was lost, but Jesus found me.’ ‘I was perishing, but Jesus saved me.’ In Luke 15, Luke relates Jesus’ telling three parables about three lost objects - a lost sheep, some lost silver and a lost son. All three parables contain the joy of being found - an illustration of the joy which accompanies salvation.
Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost (Luke 15:6). Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost (Luke 15:9). this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found (Luke 15:24).
If we hold in our minds the fact that Jesus is the Saviour of sinners, when we read through Luke’s Gospel, we will interpret every line of it correctly. When Jesus was born, Luke records that a message from heaven rang out proclaiming to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). In Luke 15:2 Luke records how some murmured against Jesus saying ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’ And, as we have seen, in Luke 19:10 he records the Saviour’s own explanation of His life and ministry with the words The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
The Road to Calvary
When we read Luke’s Gospel right through from the beginning, we cannot help noticing that it reads like one long journey to Jerusalem. As early as Luke 9:51 we see that He (Jesus) set His face to go to Jerusalem. On the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus spoke of His departure, which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). Then in Luke 18:31 Luke records how Jesus, taking the twelve, He said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.’
Why then this emphasis on going up to Jerusalem? Because it was at Jerusalem when they came to the place which is called The Skull (Calvary), there they crucified Him (Luke 23:33). The Saviour procured His people’s salvation in Jerusalem, at the place called Calvary. Salvation was wrought, not by His life but by His death, not by His instruction but by His crucifixion, for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Luke 9:22).
When Christ was crucified at Calvary, Luke alone records that Jesus said ‘Father, forgive them …’ (Luke 23:34). The words transcend their immediate setting, for the forgiveness of sins lies at the heart of salvation. Christ died that we might be forgiven. It is precisely because Christ suffered and died for sins not His own at Calvary, that there is a Gospel of salvation at all. The salvation procured by Christ at Calvary is as central to Luke’s Gospel as it is to the whole Bible, hence Luke closes his first volume with the risen Christ’s own explanation
‘Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations … (Luke 24:46,47).
So thank God for Luke’s Gospel. But thank God even more for the Saviour of sinners Luke describes therein. Truly, the Father has sent His Son as the Saviour of the world (1 John 4:14).
O sweet is the story of Jesus
The wonderful Saviour of men
Who suffered and died for the sinner -
I’ll tell it again and again
He came from the brightest of glory
His blood as a ransom He gave
To purchase eternal redemption
And oh! He is mighty to save.
Timothy CrossLast Update: 2013-08-12 16:41