The Gospel of Luke isn’t anything new. Luke begins by acknowledging that the story he’s about to tell is actually a story that’s being retold. Many others have already told this story, Luke says (1:1). In the Bible, we have other Gospels, Matthew and Mark, that cover the same basic story as Luke. In fact, Luke even uses the Gospel of Mark, and possibly the Gospel of Matthew, as source material for his own writing. Why, then, does Luke feel the need to put pen to paper and compose his version of the story? What does Luke say about his own Gospel? Here are three things to keep in mind about the Gospel of Luke.
1. Luke is a story.
Luke makes a point of reminding his readers that his Gospel is a story (Luke 1:3). He isn’t writing a theological handbook or a treatise on ethics, but rather a story, or in Luke’s words, “an orderly account” that tells his audience about Jesus.
The idea that the Gospel of Luke is a story may seem obvious. After all, at their core, the four Gospels are stories about Jesus! However, God could have providentially used some other sort of document or medium to communicate information about Jesus to his people. Instead, Luke’s Gospel is a story, complete with everything stories entail, including conflict, conversations, and characters. God uses this particular method of communication and this particular author to preserve the story of Jesus for the good of his people. When we read the Gospel, we’re not reading an encyclopedia entry about Jesus or simply a set of facts about what happened in Judea in the first century, but rather a rich and powerful narrative that has been carefully put together by Luke and graciously provided to us by God.
2. Luke presents a story that belongs to a community.
Luke’s Gospel is the story of a community. The history of the early Christians after Jesus’s ascension to the Father is recorded for us in Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, rather than the Gospel of Luke; nevertheless, the events of the Gospel are the beginning of the story of the Christian church. This story doesn’t exist in a vacuum; neither is it simply a record of events that has been preserved out of some sort of general historical curiosity. Rather, this is the story of “the things accomplished among us” (Luke 1:1)! It isn’t the story of some arbitrary group of people from the past. The Gospel is the telling of a story that is ongoing. Luke writes to record the beginning of God’s continuing work among his people. Despite the centuries that have gone by, those who follow Jesus today are a part of this story! The story of the gospel is worth investing in precisely because it is our story.
3. Luke is re-telling that story.
The story Luke tells is a story that Christians had been telling for decades since Jesus’s ascension to the Father. Luke tells us up front that this story has been told before (“many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things accomplished among us”, Luke 1:1). Novelty isn’t the point—Luke is helping the Christian community to remember and retell the story of Jesus so that we can be better disciples.
Whether you have been a Christian all your life or you’re just starting down the path of discipleship, the Gospel of Luke is an invitation to renew your journey of discipleship. The story of Jesus isn’t a story that Christians can ever move on from. If you grew up around Christianity, you may be familiar with the children’s song “Jesus Loves Me,” which contains the lyrics, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” We sometimes think of that basic knowledge about Jesus as elementary or childlike. You may have learned stories about Jesus as a child; surely we’re able to move on to weightier theology or more complex doctrine at some point, right? But the point of the Gospels isn’t to learn the raw facts of the story of Jesus so that we can internalize them and move on. Far from it! When Paul describes the message of the gospel to the church in Corinth, he returns to the basics of the story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, describing these things as “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:1–11). For followers of Jesus, the story that the Gospels tell is vitally important, not because of the information that it can give us but because that story becomes our story. By returning once again to the story of Jesus, Luke points us to the fact that we ought to revisit this story over and over so that we can understand afresh the truth of the good news and the reality of our salvation in Christ.
This is an excerpt from our brand new Bible Study, The Gospel of Luke.