Posted on March 21, 2013 by David Holder
It may surprise you to know that Luke wrote more of the New Testament than any other writer. Typically, people think this distinction belongs to the apostle Paul, but Luke’s Gospel plus its sequel Acts comprise more verses than Paul’s letters put together. Paul wrote the most books, but Luke wrote the most words – about 5,000 more words than Paul.
Luke was a Gentile, perhaps the only Gentile writer of the New Testament. He wrote both of his books – Luke and Acts – to Theophilus, an otherwise unknown man. In doing so, Luke makes a significant contribution to the New Testament since much of what he included is not found in any other Gospel or letter. Our specific purpose here is to review Luke’s distinct portrait of Jesus Christ.
It has long been recognized that Luke’s Gospel has excellent literary quality, historical reliability, and a universal appeal, all which may be expected from a physician, as the apostle Paul describes him (Colossians 4:14). In Luke’s introduction (1:1-4) he provides interesting insight into how his work was produced. He wrote specifically to Theophilus – a Gentile name – to substantiate as truth things Theophilus had been taught. Luke refers to Theophilus as “most excellent,” likely indicating he was a person of some status or rank. Luke had sources available to him, which he researched and used to produce his account in a logical order. The order is not necessarily chronological in all places, but “logical” in accomplishing Luke’s purpose. The summary is that Luke, a Gentile, wrote to a Gentile, producing an account of Jesus that would be especially helpful, instructive, and encouraging to Gentiles.
Luke accomplished his purpose by presenting his portrait of Jesus with selected emphases and themes. Certainly, Luke shares some themes with the other Gospels, since the focus of attention was the same for all writers, that is, Jesus Christ and especially His death and resurrection. But Luke had several items to which he gave specific and somewhat unique emphasis.
First, that Jesus accomplished salvation for all, as we might expect from a Gentile believer. The universal appeal of Luke’s Gospel is obvious from several facts. He traces Jesus’ lineage to Adam (3:23-38), instead of to Abraham, as does Matthew. Luke includes references to several non-Israelites, especially Samaritans (9:51-55, 10:30-37, 17:11-19). Luke notes Jesus’ words that people will come from all directions to be in the kingdom of God (13:29). Luke’s record of Jesus’ birth includes the angels’ announcement of a Savior (2:10-11) – “good news and great joy for all the people.” Simeon saw God’s salvation and he describes the Christ child as one who was “a light of revelation to the Gentiles” (2:32). Luke’s description of John’s work included from Isaiah 40, “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (3:6). Jesus came to “help” people, as His works of compassion demonstrate. But the most significant “help” he offered was salvation — “For the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost” (19:10), and Luke shows Jesus going beyond the boundaries of Jews and Judaism to all people to do this.
Second, Luke give special attention to the Holy Spirit. Almost everyone associated with the births of John the Baptist and Jesus is said to have the Spirit: John (1:15), Mary (1:35), Elizabeth (1:41), Zacharias (1:67), and Simeon (2:25-27). Jesus is said to have and work by the Spirit (3:22; 4:1, 14, 18; 10:21; 11:20, cf. 5:17), but He was also the One who would give the Spirit. In some sense, the followers of Jesus would have the Spirit (3:16, 11:13), and this paves the way for the work of the Spirit that is so prominent on the pages of Luke’s sequel we know as Acts (cf. 24:49).
Third, Luke shows special interest in people – individuals, especially those who generally did not count, who were nobodies in the world. Luke shows these are “somebody” with God. He makes individuals with names, troubles, diseases, and sins stand out in his Gospel. He takes special interest in the poor (1:53; 4:18; 6:30; 14:11-13, 21; 16:19-31). Women are prominent in Luke’s account: a woman who is a “sinner” (7:37f); Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna (8:1-3); a woman with a hemorrhage (8:43-48); Mary and Martha (10:38-42); a bent woman (13:11-13); and a widow with a mite (21:1-4). Luke includes children: the infancy stories of Jesus; references to “the only son” or “the only daughter” in some episodes (7:12, 8:42, 9:38). When Jesus rebuked pride in His disciples, Luke notes that He “took a little child” (9:47). Luke mentions that Jesus spoke of children several times in His teaching (10:21, 17:2, 18:16). Jesus had watched children play and could use this scene in making his point (7:31-35). As one writer asks, “Did any other of the world’s great religious teachers have such an interest in children?” (An Introduction to the NT, Carson, Moo, Morris, p. 130).
People who are not typically “respectable” are mentioned by Luke, such as a “sinner,” likely a prostitute (7:37), a leper, and a Samaritan at that! (17:11-19); Zaccheus, a rich tax collector (19:1-10); and the poor (2:24; 7:22; 14:12-14, 21; 16:19f , cf. 4:17-21). But Luke also gives coverage to the respectable: a centurion (7:1-10) and a synagogue official (8:41f). Morris observes, “Whereas in Matthew the parables center on the kingdom, in Luke they tend to stress persons. Luke is interested in people” (Luke, Tyndale Commentaries, p. 40).
Jesus calls people to follow Him, to be His disciples. In addition to several statements concerning discipleship generally common to the Synoptic Gospels, Luke contains an extended version of the sayings about following Jesus in 9:57-62 and about the costs of doing so in 14:25-35.
Fourth, Luke emphasizes matters pertaining to riches and possessions, and he does this both¬ in his Gospel and in Acts. Luke includes several episodes and encounters that deal with money and material things, such as the parable of the rich fool (12:13-21) and of the unrighteous steward (16:1-13) plus the episode about Lazarus and the rich man (16:19-31) and Jesus’ encounter with Zaccheus (19:1-10). Following are several lessons Luke includes about money and material things through Jesus’ teaching:
• Possessions build self-sufficiency and may cause us to forget to depend on God (6:24, 12:13-21, 16:19-31)
• Possessions may hinder undistracted devotion to God (8:14, 14:18-20, cf. 17:28, 18:18-30)
• Lack of possessions may heighten our awareness of how much we need God (6:20, 16:19-31; cf. 4:18-19, 15:12-14)
• Possessions can promote the kingdom of God (8:1-3)
• True disciples give up whatever is necessary to follow Jesus (5:11, 27-28; 14:33)
• Those who give up all will be richly rewarded (14:12-14, 16:1-13; cf. 18:18-30)
Finally, Luke’s Gospel is one of song and of joy. Luke includes the songs of Mary (1:46-55), Zechariah (1:68-79), and Simeon (2:29-32). He frequently mentions people as rejoicing or giving glory to God or praising Him – 1:14, 44, 47; 2:20; 7:16; 10:21; 13:13. Luke mentions laughter (6:21), leaping for joy (6:23), joy in finding what was lost (15:6-7, 9-10, 32), and a man who received Jesus gladly (19:6). For Luke, knowing and following Jesus was a wonderfully happy activity and way of life. He obviously wanted Theophilus to know this and us, his later readers to know it. And this is a great place to end our journey for today.