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Insights on Luke
By Charles R. Swindoll
ZondervanCopyright © 2012 Charles R. Swindoll
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Introduction: The Doctor Gives a Second Opinion
Luke was a people person. You can tell by the way he described the people he knew. You can also tell by the way he presented the man Jesus in his gospel. Matthew established Jesus as the legitimate heir to David's throne, the King of the Jews, the long-awaited Messiah. Mark described Him as the no-nonsense Godman who came from heaven "to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). John emphasized the mystery of Jesus' deity and presented Him as the tangible embodiment of divine truth. But Luke, like all physicians frustrated and humbled by the limited science of their times, undoubtedly identified with the neediness of humanity and marveled that God, moved by love for us, would make Himself so vulnerable.
Luke shows us an all-powerful Creator taking on the fragile frame of a mortal. His gospel presents a man who is never so deified as to be distant or uncaring. On the contrary, the man he describes, Jesus, climbs down from the heavenly realms to enter the clutter and chaos of our fallen world and to subject Himself to our faults and frailties, pains and passions, sorrows and sicknesses. In Luke's account alone we hear the helpless infant cry of the Almighty. We see the Christ child match wits with the greatest theological minds of His day and become fully aware of His dual nature—His divine origin, divine purpose, and divine destiny living in human flesh. We see Jesus the minister healing throngs of diseased and disfigured people for no reason other than love. Sometimes, His miracles serve few purposes beyond simple kindness.
Luke's carefully researched and sensitively written account of Jesus' life highlights the God-man's humanity more keenly than the other three gospels, undoubtedly to place even greater emphasis on the Messiah's prophetic name: Immanuel, "God with us" (cf. Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23).
"It seemed fitting for me as well to write"
The Bible doesn't tell us much about Luke. We know for certain that he was a Gentile by birth. When Paul listed the members of his team in a letter to the Colossians, he counted Luke among those who did not bear the outward sign of God's covenant with Abraham (Col. 4:10–14). The early church father Origen (ca. 185–254) identified Luke as the "Lucius" mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:21, a possibility given the relatively late date of that letter in Paul's career. Later scholars have suggested that Luke was Lucius of Cyrene (Acts 13:1), one of the leaders in Antioch who commissioned Paul and Barnabas for the first missionary journey. Church tradition lends some assent to this theory, placing Luke in Antioch early in church history, but the evidence is weak. On the contrary, in Acts, Luke appears to be a junior member of Paul's evangelistic team rather than a leading member of the most influential Gentile church at that time.
If we take Scripture on its own, a more plausible theory of Luke's identity emerges. Our best evidence comes from three clear references in Paul's letters and three extended passages in Acts where Luke writes in the first person "we," indicating his own personal involvement in the narrative (see chart, "Luke in the New Testament"). It's not a lot to go on, but there are enough clues to tell us what we need to know about the man who chronicled the Lord's life and the immediate impact of the gospel in the first century.
According to the first of three "we" passages in Acts, Luke first encountered Paul in Troas during the apostle's second missionary journey. Paul and Silas's team had been trying to penetrate the Roman provinces of Bithynia, Asia, and Mysia with the gospel, but "the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them" (Acts 16:7). So, they settled in the seaport city of Troas to consider their next move. During their stay, Paul had a night vision that convinced the men to plot a new course through Macedonia and Greece. Luke traveled with the team from Troas to Philippi, where he witnessed the beating and imprisonment of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:22–40), and as a physician (Col. 4:14), undoubtedly took the lead in treating the men's wounds. When the team continued on to Thessalonica and then Greece, they did so without Luke. It is quite possible they left him in Philippi because that had been his home before meeting Paul in Troas.
It's not clear whether Luke was a believer before encountering Paul. Other than using the plural pronoun "we," he appears to have deliberately omitted a direct reference to himself in the story of Christ (gospel of Luke) and the rise of the church (Acts). He doesn't reveal when, where, or how he became a Christian. There are at least two strong possibilities.
First, Luke may have heard about Christ from a Jewish convert returning from Pentecost (Acts 2). We often call Lydia (Acts 16:14–15) "the first convert in Europe," that's not exactly precise. Paul's letter to Titus indicates that the gospel had reached the remote island of Crete before the apostle's visit, so the same can be said of cities across the Roman Empire (including Rome, cf. Rom. 1:7–10). Christians undoubtedly existed in Macedonia but remained isolated and unorganized, and Luke may have been one of them. He writes, "When he [Paul] had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia" (Acts 16:10). This suggests his "chance" encounter with Paul in Troas proved pivotal in his own life and for the spread of Christianity.
Second, it's also possible Luke became a believer as a direct result of Paul's ministry in Troas. He may have heard about the Hebrew God from Jews living in and around Philippi, which prepared him to hear the gospel from Paul and accept Jesus as the Messiah. Or he may have been one of the many pagans living in Philippi, where the profiteers of pagan mystery religions held the political strings (Acts 16:16, 19–21). At least one biographer identified Luke as the "man of Macedonia" in Paul's vision in Acts 16:9,2 but this is pure speculation. Regardless, Luke's conversion may have added extra weight to Paul's vision.
Paul referred to Luke as a "physician," a title that said more about a person's calling and character than his expertise or training. With medical knowledge in the first century limited to herbal remedies and traditional therapies, most any well-educated person could function as a physician. Those who took the title did so because they had devoted themselves to helping the sick. Still, the title "physician" suggests Luke had received a good education. Moreover, his literary style compares favorably with classical Greek historians, demonstrating his ability to gather research, arrange facts well, and then prepare a readable history.
Luke's chosen profession may have prompted Paul to add him to his evangelistic team, although he doesn't appear to have become a permanent member of the group until the end of the third missionary journey. On that last tour, Paul and his entourage passed through Philippi on their way to Greece, again without adding Luke to their numbers. After several months of ministry in Greece, Paul intended to sail directly home from Cenchrea (a port city near Corinth), but a plot to kill him changed his plans. To distract any would-be assassins, he instructed his team to board a ship in Cenchrea as originally planned, but to sail for Troas, where he would rendezvous with them. Meanwhile, he retraced his steps through Philippi (Acts 20:2–5), where evidently he invited Luke to join him. According to the second "we" passage, Luke accompanied Paul to Troas and probably remained at Paul's side for the rest of the apostle's life.
The third "we" passage follows Paul from his arrest in Jerusalem, to his confinement in the palace of Herod Agrippa, along the journey to Rome, and through his two years of house arrest awaiting trial. No one knows for certain where Paul traveled after his release, but within a couple of years, he was back in Rome and again in prison. As he penned his final letter to Timothy and prepared for the end, he mentioned that only Luke remained at his side (2 Tim. 4:11).
Excerpted from Insights on Luke by Charles R. Swindoll Copyright © 2012 by Charles R. Swindoll. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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