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Drawing on his vast experience as a communicator of God's Word, Chuck Swindoll presents his legacy to anyone who reads and loves the Bible: Swindoll's New Testament Insights. The newest addition to this landmark series provides a wealth of colorful, detailed and easy-to-understand insights into the Gospel of Luke.
About the Author
Charles R. Swindoll has devoted his life to the clear, practical teaching and application of God's Word. He currently pastors Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, and serves as the chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary. His renowned Insight for Living radio program airs around the world. Chuck and Cynthia, his partner in life and ministry, have four grown children and ten grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
Each of the four inspired Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — begins in a unique way. Matthew starts with a genealogy tracing the legal descent of Jesus from Abraham to Joseph, highlighting His place as heir of the Abrahamic promise and the Davidic kingship (Matt. 1:1-17). After a brief quote of an Old Testament prophecy, the Gospel of Mark drops the reader right in the middle of the action of John the Baptizer's ministry ... leading to Jesus' baptism ... flashing through His temptation in the wilderness ... and cutting straight to His preaching in Galilee (Mark 1:1-14). John's Gospel begins with a theologically rich "Christology from above" — a kind of hymn to the eternal Word of God, Himself God, who became man for us. Reminiscent of the powerful opening of Genesis 1, John's bold confession of the person of Christ booms and echoes like a thundering voice from on high: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1-18).
Unlike the other three accounts of Jesus' life and ministry, the Gospel of Luke kicks off not with a genealogy, an action sequence, or a piece of powerful prose; it begins instead with something like a sticky note. The opening verses read like a "transmittal letter," dedicating the following account to "most excellent Theophilus" (Luke 1:3). In this very brief preface, however, we not only learn the name of the first reader of the Gospel, but we also catch a glimpse of the standards of excellence for which the writer, Luke, strived in his research and writing of the account. Before stepping into the narrative in 1:5, let's take time to explore the kind of excellence Luke sought in His presentation of Jesus Christ in all His splendor.
Only the Best LUKE 1:1-4
How seldom we find true excellence. We live in an increasingly hurried and hassled society in which fewer people must generate greater output with fewer resources. The constant push for quick turnaround and instant gratification has dulled our senses and lowered our expectations. We have come to accept — and even expect — mediocrity on the job, in the marketplace, and in government. "First-rate" used to be our minimum standard; now, it is considered rude or unreasonable to ask for excellence.
Quality can't be rushed. Unfortunately, we're all in a hurry. And the consequences of slouching standards and slipshod work can be disastrous, even with seemingly insignificant tasks. As John Gardner wisely stated in his book Excellence, "The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water." Tragically, his words have proven prophetic: the cancer of mediocrity has invaded Christendom. Fewer seminaries now expect anything beyond a cursory familiarity with the original languages, and more students preparing for ministry opt for degrees with no Greek or Hebrew required. Most graduate programs compress systematic theology to fit into one or two semesters; so, with neither comprehension of orthodox doctrine nor the skills to think through the issues, we shouldn't be surprised when Christian seminaries cease to be distinctly Christian. In recent years, a prominent Methodist seminary has added clerical training for Muslims and Jews to its curriculum to become "the first truly multi-faith American seminary." They also plan to add clerical training for Buddhists and Hindus.
This formerly Christian seminary did not change its stripes suddenly. The decision to abandon the "things [they] had been taught" (1:4) began with a small yet momentous compromise in their view of divine truth and its source. This undoubtedly followed a host of tiny compromises in both hermeneutics and theology. The journey toward irrelevance began with a decision to give mediocrity a passing grade.
The downward drag of mediocrity is not a new phenomenon. While traveling with Paul, Luke saw communities of believers scattered across the Roman Empire like a great number of pearls, each growing around its own core of oral tradition. As an educated man, Luke foresaw a particular danger looming on the horizon. As first-generation witnesses began to pass away, leaving fewer firsthand accounts of the Lord and His teaching, myths and fables would take the place of authentic stories. If the churches were to survive this erosion, they would need a unified, comprehensive story of Christ to bind them together. They needed a copiously researched and ruthlessly verified account that would equip them to separate truth from fiction and to remain distinctly Christian. They needed an excellent Gospel.
When the Holy Spirit compelled Luke to write, He drew upon Luke's affinity for meticulous accuracy. Luke's extraordinary devotion to excellence took four distinct forms:
Excellence in Research
Excellence in Organization
Excellence in Expression
Excellence in Discipline
— 1:1-2 —
Excellence in research. During Luke's travels with Paul, he encountered a patchwork of oral traditions preserved in the memories of aging saints who knew Jesus personally. Many had likely written informal memories on scraps of parchment and papyrus. As he traveled with Paul, gathering these scraps of written tradition and perhaps recording his own interviews with eyewitnesses, Luke felt the Holy Spirit's prompting to write a more excellent account.
He did not merely paste the pieces together to form a composite document. Luke scrupulously checked his facts. The Greek term translated "eyewitnesses" (1:2) derives from the term we transliterate "autopsy" and is not found anywhere else in the Bible — neither the Greek translation of the Old Testament nor the New Testament. It is a term used often, however, by historians such as Josephus, Herodotus, and Polybius. In ancient cultures, no evidence carried more weight than the testimony of a reputable eyewitness.
Luke interviewed the people who knew Jesus best. He spent time with the people who saw Him eat, heard Him snore, and inhaled His odor on a hot afternoon. They had been present when His ministry unfolded. A few had marveled at His transfiguration. They had witnessed His agony in Gethsemane, His writhing under the torturous scourge, and His torment on the cross. And they thrilled to see Him alive again. Luke diligently scrutinized his sources to weed out specious material, fill in missing details, correct errors, and even disclose previously unknown events. And only then, when he had assembled and vetted all the material he could find, did he begin to write.
— 1:3 —
Excellence in organization. A good historian does not merely assemble facts and then string them together. A good historian tells a story, usually for a specific purpose. He or she must choose which information to include and what data to leave out. Then the historian must organize and arrange the facts to paint an accurate, compelling, memorable, and useful picture of what occurred.
The term rendered "investigated" literally means "to follow along" or "to accompany." In addition to the important task of checking the details, Luke traced the story of Jesus from the beginning to its conclusion to see the mission and work of Christ as a whole. Only when viewing the total can one begin to appreciate the wonder of it all.
The phrase rendered "in consecutive order" (NASB) could be misleading. Luke did not do away with chronological order altogether in his history of Jesus, but he didn't use it as his main organizing principle either. A better translation might be "in an orderly sequence" (cf. the renderings in the NLT, NIV, and ESV). Ancient people did not obsess over time like we do today. Luke's overarching arrangement of the individual episodes of the Lord's life follows a geographical sequence, which ancient readers would have accepted without question.
Excellence in expression. Throughout the narrative, Luke's grammar and syntax compares very favorably with the best examples of Greek literature in his day. Moreover, his storytelling ability is nothing short of genius. He employed several marvelously sophisticated literary devices, not only to inform his reading (and listening) audiences, but also to occasionally entertain them.
Luke could have presented the facts — and only the tedious facts — in chronological order; instead, he crafted a compelling narrative that conveys the beauty, irony, complexity, excitement, and pathos of God coming to earth to save the world from sin. And it's a good thing he did. As my mentor, Howard Hendricks, often said to his teachers-in-training: "It's a sin to make the Bible seem boring!"
— 1:4 —
Excellence in discipline. Despite Luke's careful attention to detail and his artful use of language, he never lost sight of his primary purpose: "so that you (Theophilus [and those for whom this history was commissioned]) may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught." Luke's travels with Paul impressed upon him the perilous future that Christianity would face without an excellent record — an infallible, inerrant, wholly trustworthy account — of the Lord's life, teachings, and work. He understood that sound theology, like a house, must stand upon the solid rock of truth (cf. 6:46-49). Without an accurate and reliable account of what Jesus taught and what He did on our behalf, believers have no basis for their beliefs. After all, faith separated from divine truth will shift with the prevailing winds of popular opinion and collapse when battered by the storms of adversity.
To make matters worse, Theophilus and all these "God-lovers" lived during a time when the beginnings of a movement known as Gnosticism threatened to warp Christian doctrine just as it had begun to distort Judaism, pagan religions, and even Greek philosophy. Those who knew Christ personally and had witnessed His resurrection would soon die, and with them, firsthand knowledge of Christian truth would cease. Any vacuum of information left after their passing would soon be filled with myths and fables.
Sure enough, it was not long after the production of John, the last of our four Gospels, that Gnostic writings telling bizarre stories about Jesus began to circulate. This occurred as early as the second century. Fortunately, Luke had prepared an excellent history of Jesus and the church He commissioned. Luke saw the random collections of unverified anecdotes about Jesus as building materials — useless until assembled to build a house — and he erected a house large enough for all believers, Jew and Gentile alike, and sturdy enough to endure through the ages.
Truth has become a slippery subject in these latter days. Postmodernism denies the existence of truth, so it is not surprising that postmodern Christians see no difference between disagreement and hostility. Consequently, they quickly set aside truth to avoid disharmony, particularly with people of different belief systems. I find this attitude confusing and appalling. I can think of few gifts more precious or costly than the gift of truth, especially when knowing the truth will help someone avoid unnecessary difficulty, illness, sorrow, grief — or worse, eternal separation from God! I agree with Martin Luther, who wrote,
Elegant and true is the sentiment which Aristotle expresses in the First Book of his Ethics (chapter 4): that it is better to stand by the truth than to show too much favor to those who are our close friends or even our relatives. And to do this is distinctly becoming to a philosopher. For while both the truth and our friends are dear to us, truth should enjoy the preferred place. If, then, a man [like Aristotle] who is a heathen holds that this should be done in civil disputes, how much more should it be done in matters which have the clear testimony of Scripture in their favor, so that we do not place the authority of men before Scripture! For men can be deceived, but the Word of God is itself the wisdom of God and the most certain truth. It will be the truth as I understand it, even at the risk of hurting a relationship.
To set aside excellence in the pursuit of what is factual and real might make things easier in the short run. But to set aside truth for the sake of harmony with people means sacrificing something of far greater importance: harmony with God, the Author of truth. Luke pursued the truth with excellence, and the Holy Spirit kept him from error. And for nearly two millennia, the Lord has preserved this excellent, orderly account for us, so that we may have certainty about our trust in God's Son — what He taught and what He did on our behalf. With this long history of excellence behind us, let's not settle for mediocrity now! Let us, instead, boldly and lovingly proclaim what we know to be factual and true. After all, real and lasting harmony between people depends upon our acknowledging and embracing truth together.
APPLICATION: LUKE 1:1-4
Excellence as unto the Lord
Luke set a wonderful example of excellence when writing his orderly history of the Christ (The Gospel of Luke) and His church (The Acts of the Apostles). He explains his motivation in the opening lines of his dedication to "most excellent Theophilus," from which we can glean a few principles.
Excellence honors God. Be careful not to turn that statement into a battle cry for perfectionism, which merely gratifies self. But pursue excellence in everything.
Excellence stands the test of time. Luke wanted to create something that would serve the needs of endless generations to come and withstand intense scrutiny. Others had attempted to document the Lord's life, but none except the Gospel of Mark had endured (1:1). Two thousand years later, Luke's Gospel hasn't lost its original beauty.
Excellence today honors the legacy it has inherited. Luke recognized his responsibility to steward what had been handed down to him by "those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word" (1:2). By their excellent handling of the truth, he became a child of God, and with their passing, others would look to him.
Excellence recognizes what is valuable and takes care to preserve it. Luke accepted that he had a responsibility to handle the "exact truth" with utmost care (1:4). He treated the story of Christ like a priceless heirloom and preserved it for those who would come after him.
Excellence pays attention to details. Luke "investigated everything carefully from the beginning" and then arranged the facts in orderly sequence (1:3). He scrupulously and meticulously verified every scrap of information by tracing each detail to its original, eyewitness source. His travels with Paul gave him unprecedented access to the who's who of Christian prehistory. Still, it was a significant undertaking that would have required painstaking organization to catalog and organize the data.
Excellence recognizes its duty to the welfare of others. Luke appreciated the fact that Theophilus (and the church at large) looked to his work for greater stability in their faith (1:4). While it is the Holy Spirit who draws people to the Father through Christ and who preserves their faith, the excellent work of His servants often becomes His means. While His use of Luke's work is special, He nonetheless uses the excellent work of all His servants to build and strengthen His church.
Each day, as you fight traffic, when you put in overtime, while you dutifully grind out the tasks that have been assigned to you — no matter how obscure or thankless — let excellence guide your every effort. If you are a plumber, plumb with excellence. If you are an attorney, don't merely fill out forms; approach every case with ingenuity and integrity. Regardless of your profession, let your professionalism attract others to Christ. If you are a musician, practice, even if you have it down. If you are a homemaker, make hospitality, economy, efficiency, kindness, and orderliness your profession.
Let excellence become your trademark.
For daily inspiration, here are some key passages you might consider posting near your workspace:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. (Eccl. 9:10)
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)
We have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. (2 Cor. 8:21)
With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. (Eph. 6:7-8)
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world. (Phil. 2:14-15)
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Col. 3:17)
Excerpted from "Luke"
Copyright © 2017 Charles R. Swindoll, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
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
Author's Preface vii
The Strong's Numbering System ix
Luke's Preface (Luke 1:1-41) 15
Only the Best (Luke 1:1-4) 15
Announced and Appearing (Luke 1:5-4:13) 24
"A Baby? At Our Age? Get Serious!" (Luke 1:5-25) 26
The Day Mary Met Gabriel (Luke 1:26-56) 39
The Prophet of the Most High (Luke 1:57-80) 53
Nativity Revisited (Luke 2:1-20) 60
A Sacrifice, a Savior, a Sword (Luke 2:21-38) 72
The Day the Pupil Stumped the Professors (Luke 2:39-52) 80
The Greatest Mortal Who Ever Died (Luke 3:1-38) 88
The Devil Never Made Him Do It (Luke 4:1-13) 102
Ministering and Serving (Luke 4:14-9:50) 110
Into the Fire (Luke 4:14-30) 112
Ministry at the Grassroots Level (Luke 4;31-44) 119
What It's Like to Fish with Jesus (Luke 5:1-11) 130
Great Deeds, Strong Faith, Big God (Luke 5:12-26) 136
Is It Okay to Party with Sinners? (Luke 5:27-39) 145
The Defiant Messiah (Luke 6:1-11) 153
"The Twelve" and Their Marching Orders (Luke 6:12-49) 160
There Is Always Hope (Luke 7:1-17) 180
In Defense of a Doubter (Luke 7:18-35) 189
The Love and Grace of Jesus (Luke 7:36-50) 200
Where Are You in This Picture? (Luke 8:1-21) 208
Freedom from Bondage (Luke 8:22-39) 220
Never Too Little, Never Too Lost (Luke 8:40-56) 231
Welcome to the War (Luke 9:1-11) 239
A Shocking Agenda (Luke 9:12-27) 246
The Ultimate Close Encounter (Luke 9:28-36) 257
Snapshots from an Amazing Album (Luke 9:37-50) 265
Instructing and Submitting (Luke 9:51-19:27) 273
A Face Like Flint (Luke 9:51-62) 275
Practical Talk to Those in Ministry (Luke 10:1-16) 284
Joyful Return, Insightful Response (Luke 10:17-24) 291
What about My Neighbor's Neighbor? (Luke 10:25-37) 299
Exchanging What's Good for What's Best (Luke 10:38-42) 307
Lord, Teach Us to Pray (Luke 11:1-13) 313
The Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness (Luke 11:14-28) 321
Grave Warnings for the "In" Crowd (Luke 11:29-36) 327
Clean from the Inside Out (Luke 11:37-54) 334
Marching Orders for True Disciples (Luke 12:1-12) 346
The Testimony of a Fool (Luke 12:13-34) 355
People, Get Ready (Luke 12:35-48) 366
It's Time to Get Real (Luke 12:49-59) 377
What a Difference Jesus Makes! (Luke 13:1-17) 383
Straight Talk for Saints and Sinners (Luke 13:18-35) 391
Spiritual Table Manners (Luke 14:1-24) 400
Exacting Expectations (Luke 14:25-35) 409
How to Make the Angels Laugh (Luke 15:1-10) 415
Two Rebels under One Roof (Luke 15:11-32) 421
What's at the Core of Life? (Luke 16:1-18) 430
The Subject Everybody Ignores (Luke 16:19-31) 439
How Not to Be a Stumbling Block (Luke 17:1-19) 446
Knowing Where You Are … Knowing Where You're Going (Luke 17:20-37) 457
You Want to Be Godly? Start Here! (Luke 18:1-17) 464
Rich Man, Poor Man, Son of Man … Me (Luke 18:18-19:10) 473
Making Sense with Your Dollars (Luke 19:11-27) 487
Conquering and Commissioning (Luke 19:28-24:531) 493
The Messiah Confronts Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-48) 495
Fighting Fire with Fire (Luke 20:1-47) 503
Lifting the Prophetic Veil (Luke 21:1-38) 519
Strong Leadership in Stormy Times (Luke 22:1-30) 530
The Darkest of All Nights (Luke 22:31-65) 539
The Day the Sun Refused to Shine (Luke 22:66-23:46) 551
The Day the Son Came Out Again (Luke 23:47-24:12) 570
The Master Says Farewell to His Friends (Luke 24:13-53) 578
List of Features and Images
Timeline of Luke 2
Map: Significant Places in Jesus' Ministry 2
The Gospel of Luke at a Glance 4
Map: Luke Travels with Paul 7
Herod the Great 30
The Holy Place in Herod's Temple 32
The Allotment of Priests Serving in the Temple 33
Nazareth Ridge 43
The Star of Caesar Augustus 63
Stone Bust of Augustus 63
Map: Joseph and Mary's Journey to Bethlehem 64
Ritually Unclean 74
Map: Israel after Herod the Great 82
Map: Area of Galilee 122
The Synagogue at Capernaum 123
The Pharisees 141
Son of Man 143
Map: Capernaum, Bethsaida, and the Hill Country 244
Ruins of the Temple at Mount Gerizim 278
A Brief History of Samaria 279
Excursus: The Legend of Lucifer 293
Map: From Galilee to Bethany 308
Slavery in the First Century 372
Map: Traditional Route from Galilee to Jerusalem 480
Map: Area of Jerusalem 498
Coin of Tiberius 513
The Sadducees 514
Jewish Calendar and Festival Cycle 533
Map: Jerusalem 545
The Trials of Jesus 547
The Mistrials of Jesus 556
Sanhedrin Hall 558
Pilate's Residence 561
Herod Antipas 563
Tomb with Rollaway Stone 575