Readers will learn to see Christ in all aspects of Scripture, and they will be encouraged by the devotional nature of each exposition presented as sermons and divided into chapters that conclude with a “Reflect & Discuss” section, making this series ideal for small group study, personal devotion, and even sermon preparation. It’s not academic but rather presents an easy reading, practical and friendly commentary.
The author of Exalting Jesus in Luke is Thabiti M. Anyabwile
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A Certain Faith LUKE 1:1-4
Main Idea: A belief isn't worth having if you can't be certain it is true. Christianity is the only certain and therefore trustworthy faith.
I. Why Does Luke Write His Gospel?
A. A biblical faith
B. A historical faith
C. A verifiable faith
II. How Does Luke Order His Gospel?
A. Chronological order
B. Geographic order
C. Dramatic order
D. Theological order
The powerful and penetrating writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates challenges me. I think Coates captivates so many readers because of his plain and sometimes painful statement of things. As a writer, he strikes me as someone attempting to be honest — bald and bare honesty, no sheltering hats or pretty clothes, just the full truth as he sees it.
Coates writes with a rare certainty — even about religious things. In his book Between the World and Me Coates retells the story of a young man in Baltimore pulling a gun on him when he was a child. He then offers these words:
I could not retreat, as did so many, into the church and its mysteries. My parents rejected all dogmas. We spurned the holidays marketed by the people who wanted to be white. We would not stand for their anthems. We would not kneel before their God. And so I had no sense that any just God was on my side. "The meek shall inherit the earth" meant nothing to me. The meek were battered in West Baltimore, stomped out at Walbrook Junction, bashed up on Park Heights, and raped in the showers of the city jail. My understanding of the universe was physical, and its moral arc bent toward chaos then concluded in a box. (Coates, Between the World and Me, 28)
Later in the book Coates writes, "You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice" (Between the World and Me, 70). It's not merely that faith claims were no comfort to Coates; rather, those claims must be resisted. He continues:
Raised conscious, in rejection of a Christian God, I could see no higher purpose in Prince's death. I believed, and still do, that our bodies are our selves, that my soul is the voltage conducted through neurons and nerves, and that my spirit is my flesh. (Ibid., 79)
What strikes me about Coates's writing on religious matters isn't his atheism. I am not surprised by unbelief. I have lived in unbelief enough years to understand something of its grip. What surprises me is how certain he is in his unbelief. Ironically, while rejecting Christian faith, he cannot help but make faith claims of his own — even if they are non-religious claims. He writes, "I believed, and still do."
Here's the truth: We cannot live without belief of some sort. We may believe in God, or we may believe, as Coates, in our bodies and a material universe that has no meaning. In either case we are believers. There are no unbelievers in the world, just people who believe in different things.
In such a world certainty becomes a rare and precious gift. The quest for certainty poses real dangers. We can give up on the quest prematurely, concluding that certainty itself is a hoax. Or we can be certain about things that are wrong or false. We all face that danger. So we're left with a question: Can we be sure that what we believe is true?
Why Does Luke Write His Gospel?
The Gospel of Luke belongs to what we call "the Synoptic Gospels" — Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They "see" (optic) "together" (syn-). They tell the same basic story about the Lord Jesus Christ. There are places where one of the Gospel writers includes stories or teachings that the others do not, but by and large they relay the truth about Jesus's life and ministry from the same vantage point.
A man named Luke wrote what we call the Gospel of Luke and its sequel, the book of Acts. In Colossians 4:10-14 the apostle Paul lists people who were partners with him in the ministry. He first lists Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus, and says of them, "These alone of the circumcised are my coworkers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me" (v. 11). These were Paul's Jewish partners. Then Paul lists Epaphras and describes him as "one of you" (v. 12) — a Colossian. And finally Paul refers to "Luke, the dearly loved physician" (v. 14), letting us know that Luke was (a) a companion of Paul's, (b) a physician, and (c) a Gentile.
Luke opens his Gospel by telling us his purpose in verses 3-4. "Theophilus" (v. 3), the name of the addressee, literally means "lover of God." It could be a name for an actual person; Luke addresses him in Acts 1:1 as well. Or it could be a code name for the entire church. In either case Luke intends his Gospel to provide believers "certainty" (v. 1) in the things they have been taught about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith.
Can we be certain of the teachings of a faith? Is not faith something you just believe without certainty? Is not faith a leap into nothingness? And is it not proud and arrogant to think your faith is certain and others are wrong?
The Christian claim is that the things the Bible teaches about Jesus are true and certain. We take this position for three reasons.
A Biblical Faith
First, we may be certain because Christianity is a biblical faith. That's what Luke means when he says in verse 1 that certain events "have been fulfilled among us." The word "fulfilled" has the sense of something being "accomplished" (ESV). Why that word choice? Why "fulfilled" or "accomplished" rather than merely "happened"?
Luke is referring to the promises of the Old Testament, the Jewish Scriptures. One simple way of understanding the Bible's organization is to think of the Old Testament as "promises made" and the New Testament as "promises kept." The Old Testament looks forward to God keeping promises that he made to men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and King David. The New Testament books, like Luke's Gospel, record for us how God kept or fulfilled those promises.
Now, if Christianity is "certain," then we should expect it to finish or fulfill all the promises made in the Old Testament. We should expect the Christian claims to be thoroughly rooted in previous biblical promises. We should expect the New Testament to be more than current events. These are not things that "just happened." These are foreseen and fore-promised events that have now come to pass. One of the major themes of Luke's Gospel is his emphasis on the plan of God and its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
In fact, when Luke sets out to give us certainty by showing us how Jesus fulfills the promises of God, he reads and studies the Old Testament exactly the way Jesus himself did while on earth with his disciples. Luke 24:44-48 forms a bookend with 1:1-4, emphasizing the same idea that biblical promises are being fulfilled.
He told 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, the Prophets, and the Psalms [the entire Old Testament] must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He also said to them, "This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."
Two of the same key words are in Luke 24 as in Luke 1: "fulfilled" (v. 44) and "witnesses" (v. 48). The entire Gospel is about God accomplishing his plan and humans seeing him do it.
What is God's plan? The heart of biblical faith is the person and work of Jesus Christ — it is the gospel message.
We may be certain of the Christian faith because Christianity is a biblical faith.
You may object, "Wait a minute! That's circular reasoning. You can't say Christianity is certain by saying, 'The Bible says so.'" You are correct. I mean, people could make up religious ideas and stories, right? Or they could just be mistaken about what they saw since that was a prescientific era, right?
If all we had were circular references to the Bible, we would not have much. But the fulfillment of the Bible's promises and prophecies is not the only reason we believe in the certainty of the faith.
A Historical Faith
Second, we may be certain because the Christian faith is a historical faith. Luke points to evidence outside the Bible for believing what is inside the Bible. Verse 2 specifically refers to those who were "eyewitnesses ... of the word." That refers to all the people at the time who saw these things. He refers also to the apostles who were "servants of the word" and companions with Jesus. This is not third-person hearsay. In the Gospels we have eyewitness evidence admissible in a court of law. In fact, some scholars believe that Luke and Acts are companion volumes written as a legal brief in defense of the apostle Paul. If this forms part of a legal brief, then Luke roots his account in evidence, not imagination.
This is a major difference between Christianity and every other major world religion. I wavered between agnosticism and atheism as a young man in my mid-twenties. That time of uncertainty followed a period when I lived as a practicing Muslim. I feel as if I have been around the religious block! In Islam there is so much certitude. Muslims are convinced that Islam is the final religion and culmination of all religions and that Muhammad is the final prophet and greatest of all prophets. Do you know what there is very little of in Islam? There's very little external historical evidence for its religious claims. For example, every Muslim believes in Muhammad being miraculously transported to Jerusalem and from there into heaven. That's why Muslims claim the Dome of the Rock and the temple grounds in Jerusalem as a holy site. Yet there is no historical evidence that Muhammad ever went to Jerusalem. None. It's the stuff of dreams; it's not the stuff of history. In Christianity we're receiving history fulfilled in view of all.
The things we claim as Christians were not done in secret. They were done in space and time and leave a historical footprint. Consider how Luke gives us specific historical dates and figures as he recounts the life of Jesus:
In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijah's division named Zechariah. (1:5)
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire should be registered. This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. (2:1-2) In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, ... (3:1-2)
What do these passages have in common? They give us the specific names of actual people and places. They also give us specific time references. This means we are not left dependent on the Bible's claims to have certainty. We can look outside the Bible to test what is inside the Bible.
Archaeology and history both confirm the accuracy of Luke's account. In fact, whenever archaeology makes a discovery, it tends to confirm the accuracy of the biblical text. And time and again those who have examined Luke for historical accuracy have found the text completely reliable. It is as if God not only put his word on paper, he also carved it into stones. For our certainty, God left us a record inside and outside the Bible.
A Verifiable Faith
Which brings us to a third reason for our certainty. Christianity presents a verifiable faith. Luke's Gospel is a "carefully investigated ... orderly sequence" (v. 1).
Many others had written accounts (v. 1). We have three other divinely inspired accounts in the Bible: Matthew, Mark, and John. But Luke may not be limiting his reference to just those accounts. "Many" is a wide word. Though "many" have tried to write a narrative, only four have been recognized as Scripture. From the very start of Christianity, Christ's followers have set his teaching and life to writing. The early church attempted to be a biblically literate church.
And they were careful about what they accepted. They rejected the false Gospels that were not associated with an apostle and often written very late. You may hear of the so-called lost books of the Bible. Those "lost books" include things like the Gospel of Thomas. Do not let such writings trouble you. The early church worked prayerfully and faithfully to preserve God's Word. They had five tests for whether a writing should be part of the canon of Scripture:
1. Was the book written by a prophet of God?
2. Was the writer authenticated by miracles to confirm his message?
3. Does the book tell the truth about God, with no falsehood or contradiction?
4. Does the book evince a divine capacity to transform lives?
5. Was the book accepted as God's Word by the people to whom it was first delivered?
These tests help us establish what should be regarded as Scripture. These tests give us a foundation for rejecting the Apocrypha, those books dated between the close of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament. Roman Catholics include these books in their Bibles, but these books were never accepted by first-century Jews or the early church. They fail the test of canonicity, and so we reject them as Scripture, however useful or edifying they may be in other ways. These tests help us assess and reject later books falsely attributed to apostles, like the so-called Gospel of Thomas and others.
Because the church wrestled through these questions of canonicity, we can be confident that the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible are the same books used by the early church. We see this same carefulness in the Gospel of Luke, which, by the way, was always received by the early church as Scripture — even by heretics like Marcion. Marcion was the "Edward Scissorhands" of the early church, famous for cutting out parts of the Bible he did not like. As it turns out, he did not like most of the Bible. But even Marcion accepted Luke's Gospel as Scripture.
What am I saying with all of this? Christianity can be tested. Because it can be tested, it can be trusted.
What sets the Gospel of Luke apart is Luke's critical and logical analysis. The Gospel of Luke is a kind of investigative journalism. He "carefully investigated everything from the very first." He was not an eyewitness, but he apparently interviewed the eyewitnesses. That is why Luke's Gospel includes unique incidents like the conversation between Mary and Martha when the two women were pregnant, the Magnificat (the song Mary sings when she visits Elizabeth), and the details about Jesus as a twelve-year-old boy. How would Luke know these things? He likely had access to Mary and others who knew these details. Luke has been investigating, verifying, testing the truth as he compiles the narrative.
If you have ever been told that to be a Christian "you must check your mind at the door," I am here to tell you somebody lied to you. Bring your mind to this book, and both your mind and your heart will be satisfied. To be a Christian is to be a thinking being and to think most deeply about the most profound things — the nature of God and the ways of God in the universe. Do not check your mind at the door. If you ever meet a pastor who gives you that impression, find yourself another pastor and another church. Was it not the Lord himself who told us that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Bring your brain to church. You'll be lost without it! Bring your mind and open it to the truth of God's Word.
Our faith can be tested because it is a historical faith with external evidence. Consequently, when we talk about Christianity we are not talking about mythology, superstitions, or manmade traditions. We are talking about truth. I stress that because some people think that any religious claim must be a myth or legend. But when they say that about Christianity, they prove they don't know much about mythology!
C. S. Lewis was a student of literature, including mythology. Lewis came to faith in Christ late in life. He knew what it was to study literature as a non-Christian and what it was to appreciate literature as a Christian. He addressed the notion that Christianity is mythology head on.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary: Exalting Jesus in Luke"
Copyright © 2018 Thabiti Anyabwile.
Excerpted by permission of B&H Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Series Introduction xi
A Certain Faith 1:1-4 5
Jesus Was a Fetus 1:5-56 19
Getting to Know Jesus
The Savior, Christ, and Lord 1:57-2:20 35
A Growing Boy 2:21-52 46
The Only Savior, God's Son 3 59
Our Prophet, Priest, and King 4 73
The Holy One of God 5:1-32 88
The Lord of Worship 5:33-6:11 102
A Great Moral Teacher? 6:12-49 114
Friend of the "Nones" 7 128
Sower of the Word 8 141
The Chosen One of God 9:1-45 155
The Great Apostle 9:46-10:24 167
Daily Life in the Kingdom 10:25-11:13 179
The Only Way 11:14-12:12 190
The Author of Life 12:13-13:9 204
The Evangelist 13:10-14:35 215
The Great Shepherd 15 230
The Master of the House 16 241
The Humble King 17 253
The Rewarder of the Faithful 18 263
The Savior of the Lost 19:1-27 276
The King of Peace 19:28-48 286
David's True Son 20 294
The Son of Man 21 306
The Lamb of God 22:1-38 317
The Rejected Savior 22:39-71 329
The Crucified Christ 22:66-23:56 341
The Resurrected Lord 24 351
Works Cited 361
Scripture Index 363