That You May Be Certain
Passage: Luke 1:1–1:4
Jesus is worth it because the good news is true news.
What makes something worth it? Businesses will often use something called a “cost-benefit analysis” when making business decisions. Here’s how one website described it: “A cost-benefit analysis is a process businesses use to analyze decisions. The business or analyst sums the benefits of a situation or action and then subtracts the costs associated with taking that action” (https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/cost-benefitanalysis.asp).
Without thinking about it, we naturally do a cost-benefit analysis with many of our decisions too. We might think of it in terms of pros and cons. What are the pros of doing this or buying this? What are the cons? Are there more pros than cons? We consider what we will gain compared to the cost. We are trying to answer the question: is it worth it? Is this worth the cost? Is this worth the price I will pay for it?
Businesses will also factor in the “opportunity cost” when making a decision. This considers what alternative benefits could be had if a different decision was made. In other words, the opportunity cost looks at what you are saying “no” to in order to say “yes” to this. What do you lose the opportunity to do if you make this decision? They want to make sure that the decision they are making has the most benefit compared to other decisions.
We use this in our decision making as well. If you say “yes” to buying a car, you know you won’t be able to afford that vacation. If you say “yes” to going out for dinner, then you are saying “no” to going to the movies. If you order the burger, you are saying “no” to the steak. Is what you are saying “yes” to more valuable than what you are saying “no” to?
Today we are beginning a sermon series in The Gospel According to Luke called “The Savior Who Seeks and Saves”. This series is going to give us an up-close picture of who Jesus is and an inside look into his teachings and what it means to be his disciple.
Leading up to Christmas, we already covered chapter 1 (Mary's Song, Zechariah's Song) and part of chapter 2 (Heaven's Song). Today we are going to back up and look at the first four verses of chapter 1. Similar to what you’d find on the outside of a book, this opening sentence gives a preview of what he’s writing about, establishes his credibility, and tells us his purpose for writing. Luke says he writes, “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Why would they need certainty?
It wasn’t easy to be a follower of Jesus in the 1st century. It went against the flow of the cultural and societal current. Whether you were Jewish or non-Jewish, there was a cost to following Jesus. So the question would be: is it worth it? Is following Jesus worth the cost? Jesus told people to count the cost before following him.
Luke writes to people who have become followers of Jesus by hearing the message from Jesus’ first followers, the apostles. But when you experience resistance, challenges, hostility, rejection, and persecution, is it worth it? What would make it worth it? Luke’s goal is to strengthen believers asking this.
We may have the same struggle. Is it worth it? When we do the cost-benefit analysis, do the benefits of following Jesus outweigh the cost? When we do the opportunity cost, are we willing to say “no” to things in order to say “yes” to Jesus? Do we gladly give up what Jesus asks us to leave behind in order to say “yes” to him?
Vaccines are what everyone is talking about right now and I hope today’s message is a bit of a vaccine for you. Vaccines introduce you to a weakened form of the virus so that your body is ready to combat it later. Today I want to introduce you to some of the reasons people don’t trust the Bible so that you may be strengthened in your faith to fight off the sickness of doubts later.
We will look over these four verses by asking four questions: who is Luke, what did Luke write, to whom did he write, and why did he write. Let’s start with the first question: who is Luke?
Who is Luke?
Here’s some Bible trivia for you: Luke is the only gospel author to write a sequel. Luke wrote the The Gospel According to Luke and the book of Acts. The Gospel According to Luke goes from Jesus’ birth to his resurrection. The book of Acts begins with Jesus’ ascension to heaven and records the history of the early church. Without Luke, we would know a lot less about the early church.
Here’s another piece of Bible trivia: Luke wrote more than any other New Testament author. The apostle Paul wrote thirteen letters, but in terms of words they account for 23% of the New Testament. Luke’s two books account for 27% of the New Testament.
So who is this guy who wrote almost a third of the New Testament? Luke doesn’t name himself as the author of his gospel or Acts, but from the early days of the church, he has been identified as their author. For a while, Luke was a traveling companion and coworker of the apostle Paul (cf. Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-21:18; 27:1-28:16). Paul mentions Luke in several of his letters and in Colossians 4:14 calls him “the beloved physician”, which is why many believe Luke was a doctor by trade. In Colossians, we also discover that Luke was probably a Gentile and not a Jew.
What did Luke write?
This brings us to our second question: what did Luke write. This question will take the longest to answer.
Luke begins in verse 1 by telling us there are others who have compiled narratives like his. He writes:
1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, (Luke 1:1)
Who are these other people compiling narratives? Where are the narratives that they compiled? First, this could be referring to written narratives. One of the written accounts that was probably already compiled at this point was The Gospel According to Mark, which is dated to have been written sometime in the mid to late 50s AD, about 25 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Luke is usually thought to be written either in the 60s or 70s AD.
Second, these other narratives could be referring to oral narratives that were never written down but were memorized and handed down. This was one of the main ways the story of Jesus was taught and spread. People would retell the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection from memory. To our culture, that may sound impossible and really inaccurate. We have all the information we want in our pockets on a phone so we don’t even memorize directions to somewhere anymore. We wonder: How could you memorize an account of Jesus’ life the size of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John?
But we have to put ourselves in the first century. Jesus was a Jew and his first disciples were Jews. And Jews had an oral culture in which memorization was very important. Rabbis would memorize most if not all of the whole Old Testament. For comparison, that’s 803 pages (Torah is 177 pages) in those black Bibles back there. Luke is 30 pages in those Bibles. There are Orthodox Jews who do the same thing today. Memorization in Jewish culture was a key part of learning. Other cultures in the world today also transmit their important history, stories, and traditions orally. In the early church, there were people specially designated for passing on the story of Jesus. First it was the apostles and then there were people called teachers. Their job was to tell the Jesus story faithfully.
Think about what comedians do. They stand on a stage with an hour of content memorized. There’s a guy named Max McLean who puts on a play in theatres where he performs the entire Gospel According to Mark. He has memorized the entire book and the show is just him on a stage with a few props reciting it and acting it out. So we can see that memorizing a lot of content and retelling it faithfully is possible.
But we still need to answer: what are these narratives about? Luke says others have compiled a narrative of the things that have been accomplished or fulfilled among us. This word “fulfilled” tells us that the story doesn’t start in the 1st century. Jesus is fulfilling what has been promised and predicted beforehand in the Old Testament. Jesus fulfills the story of the Old Testament. He’s the climax of it. That’s why three quarters of our Bible is the Old Testament: because Jesus is the fulfillment of that story.
You may have heard the Bible called an instruction manual for life. Or there’s the acronym using the word Bible: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. But Luke says he is writing about what has been accomplished and fulfilled. This tells us that the story about Jesus is not good advice, but good news. “Gospel” means good news, not good advice. It’s good news about something that has happened that has changed everything. The question is whether we are going to reorient our lives around what has happened.
Ok, so others have compiled narratives of what’s been fulfilled. But where did they get their information? Verse 2 says:
2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, (Luke 1:2)
These written accounts are based on the testimony of those who were eyewitnesses and ministers (or servants) of the word from the beginning. Just as the eyewitnesses delivered their testimony of what has been accomplished, so these compilers wrote them down. That’s their source material.
So who are these eyewitnesses and ministers of the word? These were the twelve disciples or apostles. In Acts 1, when the disciples were finding a replacement for Judas, Peter listed the job qualifications of an apostle: someone who was with them the entire time Jesus was doing his ministry, from his baptism by John in the Jordan River until the day he ascended into heaven. That’s what qualifies someone as an authoritative witness of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
It’s these eyewitnesses and servants of the word (or gospel) that have provided the material for compiling narratives of Jesus’ life. But perhaps you have heard of other “gospels” that have been discovered: The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Peter, The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Judas. Some will ask: why aren’t these included in the Bible? Why don’t these get the stamp of divine authority on them?
First of all, they weren’t written by those people because by the time these “gospels” were written, all those people were dead. Second, these books weren’t written by eyewitnesses of Jesus’ entire ministry. Some will say that the early church chose the books that lined up with their beliefs and declared that those books are authoritative. And any books that didn’t match their beliefs, such as these other “gospels”, were considered false and heretical. Views like this were made popular in The Davinci Code book and movie.
The reality is that the early church did not choose which books had authority but recognized which books already had authority by their very nature. Jesus commissioned his twelve apostles to be his authoritative witnesses so it’s their testimony that has credibility and weight. For a book to be recognized as authoritative, it needs to be written by one of Jesus’ twelve apostles or a close associate of an apostle.
The four gospels we have each pass this criteria. Matthew was written by one of the apostles: Matthew or Levi the tax collector. Mark traveled with Peter, one of the original apostles. John was one of Jesus’ original twelve apostles. And Luke was a close associate of Paul, who was commissioned by the risen Jesus as an apostle, and Luke went back to the eyewitnesses and apostles to write his book. All four of the gospels in our Bible are based on eyewitness testimony and were all written in the first century: Mark in the 50s, Mathew and Luke in the 60s or 70s, John in the 80s.
Sometimes people will say that the stories about Jesus were changed and embellished over time as they passed from one person to the next. Since the gospels were written between 25 and 55 years after the events, they can’t be accurate. [Illustration] It’s like the game of telephone or telephone pictionary. In the game of telephone, you gather around in a circle and one person whispers a message in the ear of the person next to them. Then it gets passed from person to person to person until finally it makes it back around to the original person. Then you compare what the original message was to what made it to the end and it’s always wrong and usually funny.
What’s more, people will add that we do not have the original document that Luke wrote, which is true. What we have are copies of it. The early church saw these gospel accounts as so important that they made copies of them by hand to share and spread. But inevitably there would be some differences between the copies. So people will say, “We don’t even have the originals, so how can we know what they actually said? Maybe the originals accurately told Jesus’ life, but we don’t have those.”
Here’s our situation: We have the events then the oral stories of the events then we have the writing of the gospels based on those stories about the events. Then copies of copies of copies were made of those gospels. On top of that, the gospels were written in Greek so we are also reading a translation in English or Spanish or whatever other language. So do we have anything close to what actually happened? Can we trust what we have in our Bibles?
In John 14:26, Jesus told the apostles that the Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance all that Jesus had said to them. This means God himself was supervising the work of telling the Jesus story and recording it. What we have in our Bible comes from eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and they had the Holy Spirit working in them and through them to produce this testimony.
As the copies were made of the written gospel accounts, errors and changes were bound to happen. Scholars call the copies “manuscripts”. We have over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, not including manuscripts in other languages. Some are as small as only a part of a verse and some are the whole New Testament. It’s remarkable we have so many manuscripts that trace back to sources written between 25 and 60 years after the events. What’s amazing is that even with all those copies, there is hardly any difference. Most of the differences come from leaving a word out in copying, accidentally substituting one letter for another like writing an “l” instead of an “i”, or using a synonym for a word. Scholars do the hard work of comparing the differences to get back to what the original said with 97 to 99% accuracy. No major Christian belief is affected by any of these passages where we might not know the exact original wording down to the word or letter.
What does this tell us? The fact that we have so many copies shows us that the early believers cherished the story of Jesus and as Christianity spread, so did copies of the Jesus story. The fact that it has been translated so many times shows us that the news about Jesus is for all people, no matter their language. All these copies and translations tell us that the news about Jesus is meant to be spread. From the event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the news rippled out through people, time, cultures, and languages. The early Christians wanted to get the word out and they were careful about how they did it. They saw these documents as something to be preserved.
“Ok,” some will say, “so we have reliable copies, but all four gospels are different.” You can read the same story between them and they have different details. When Jesus calmed the storm, do the disciples lack understanding because of hard hearts (Mark 6:52) or do they worship him and call him the Son of God (Matt 14:33)? One skeptic is famous for saying: “it depends which gospel you read.” Does the centurion himself come to ask Jesus to heal his servant (Mt 8:5-9) or does he send his friends to ask Jesus (Lk 7:1-8)? “It depends which gospel you read.” Who did the women see at the empty tomb: a young man dressed in a white robe (Mk 16:5), one angel with clothing white as snow (Mt 28:2-3), or two men in dazzling apparel (Lk 24:4)? “It depends which gospel you read.” More differences could be pointed out, but this is a sample.
New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg has done a lot of work in validating the credibility and historical accuracy of the gospel. Here’s his response to the differences and apparent contradictions: “The largest group simply reflects the natural variations in storytelling and writing that characterize most partially independent accounts of the same event, without calling into question the historicity of the event itself. Many involve inclusion (or omission) of those details most relevant (or irrelevant) to a given Gospel writer’s purposes, particularly his theological emphases. Only rarely do these create dramatic differences between two parallels, but even then one can understand how both perspectives may remain true” (“Who Was Jesus of Nazareth?” by Craig Blomberg).
If you were to ask Katie and I about how we met and came to be married, there are two versions of that story. There’s a story from my perspective and a story from Katie’s perspective. When someone gets engaged, sometimes you hear one person tell the story then you ask the other person, “Now what was this like from your perspective?” When Katie and I retell the story, there are often parts she tells and parts I tell. And depending on the occasion, we might leave parts out or give more details. Katie might remember and include details that are important to her but that aren’t important to me. But even though there are two perspectives with differences, it doesn’t make the events any less real.
This is why these four accounts of Jesus’ life are called the gospel according to Matthew, according to Mark, according to Luke, according to John. Each one is telling the same gospel but from a different perspective, bringing out different parts of the story.
Think about a major event that gets covered by four different news channels. Each would be reporting on the same event, but you would get a slightly different perspective of the event. The core of what happened would be the same, but they’d report on it differently. We have four gospels doing that.
When Katie and I were hiking in Yosemite National Park, one of the most prominent sights that you could see all around the park was a huge rock formation called Half Dome. It was breathtaking and majestic. We planned to hike it several days into our stay, but as we hiked other trails, we could often see Half Dome. Do you think we took one picture and stopped? "Well, we saw it and got a picture. We're good." No, we took many pictures of it because from different trails, we saw it from different angles. It was such an impressive thing to behold that we wanted to keep taking pictures. Did we only stop and look at it once? No, we would pause and look at it many times. Then when we hiked it, we took more pictures. Now we were experiencing it from a whole new perspective: up close and on it.
The person of Jesus Christ is beautiful, breathtaking, and majestic. He leaves you in wonder and awe. The early church saw no problem with having multiple versions of the story with multiple people telling it. They knew of the differences between these accounts. But Jesus is so big, beautiful, majestic, and breathtaking that it takes multiple accounts to even try to capture who he is on paper. Each is giving a portrait of Jesus: who was he and what was he about?
To whom and why did he write?
All of this brings us to Luke’s reason for writing and to whom he wrote. Luke addresses both this gospel and Acts to a man named “Theophilus”. Theophilus probably financed this project, paying for Luke’s writing materials and travel. It’s like Luke has a research grant. So Luke dedicates both his works to Theophilus.
Why does Luke write? Versse 3 and 4 say:
3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:3-4, emphasis mine)
Luke goes to the eyewitnesses and apostles to write an orderly account of what has been accomplished, all so Theophilus and other believers can have certainty concerning what they’ve been taught about Jesus. Or to say it another way: so that they may know the truthfulness of what they’ve been taught.
Why do they need this certainty concerning what they’ve been taught about? The question for them isn’t whether Jesus is real. Even non-Christian writers at the time mention Jesus and give the same basic portrait of Jesus that we have in the gospels. For Theophilus and other followers of Jesus, the question isn’t “is Jesus real” but “is Jesus really who I’ve been taught that he is?”
There were other interpretations and perspectives on Jesus at the time. Most of Israel’s religious leaders thought Jesus was a fraud and they had him killed. Are they right? Non-Jewish Gentiles would hear the gospel and think it’s foolishness. Are they right?
What Theophilus has been taught is that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plans and purposes. He is Israel’s promised Messiah and the Lord and Savior of the world. Is that right? Others are saying “no”.
Remember, it wasn’t easy to be a follower of Jesus in the 1st century and in many other centuries. There was a high cost to believing Jesus is your Lord and changing your life based on that belief.
As a Jew, to follow Jesus as your Messiah, Lord, and Savior didn’t mean you abandoned your God but it meant leaving the religious system that was in power and that influenced the rest of your family and friends. As a non-Jewish Gentile, you would abandon your gods, your religion, and the way you were living. For both, it meant risking rejection by friends and family, persecution, and even death.
Luke is writing to people asking: is it worth it? Is following Jesus worth the cost? Is he worth changing your life for, losing relationships, and possibly being killed? If what they’ve been taught is true, then it’s worth it. Luke’s goal is to assure them of this: Jesus is worth it because the good news is true news.
That’s the question for each of us today: is Jesus worth it? One of our issues is that Christianity is normal in our country so it doesn’t take much to call yourself a Christian. We can call ourselves Christians without it costing us much of anything. The easy road of saying “I’m a Christian” is that it costs you a few hours on Sunday and a few bucks in the offering basket but then the other 166 hours of the week, we spend our time just like everyone else and our money just like everyone else. For these first followers of Jesus, to call themselves a Christian meant their whole life changed.
We have other interpretations of Jesus today as well. Some people think he was just a great teacher or a great example but nothing more. Some people think he is just a legend or that he was a great man but what we have in the Bible isn’t historically accurate. Some people think Jesus basically taught what other great teachers taught like Buddha or Muhammed.
Many people don’t believe Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords who died to save us from ourselves - our sin, our selfishness, our denial that we need God. So what kind of life change happens when we believe that? It requires more than a few hours and a few dollars on Sundays. If Jesus is our Lord and we are going to follow him, that means a whole-life commitment. It means the way we live and what we value is going to stick out from the crowd. It means we swim against the current of the world, of our society, and of our coworkers, family, friends and neighbors.
Think about these questions:
- Does your life require a gospel explanation? If someone asked you, “why are you doing that? Why are you living that way?”, your answer would take them to the gospel: “I believe Jesus is my King and he loves me and died for me and that changes everything.”
- Does your life only make sense if Jesus really is the Lord and Savior of the world? When people look at your life, do they see you are living with someone else on the throne?
- Does your life look radically different from those who don’t believe? Or would people be surprised to find out you are a Christian?
Living that way can be costly. To do what Jesus asks us to do might mean discomfort, ridicule, rejection, and hatred. There’s an opportunity cost because saying “yes” to Jesus means we are saying “no” to other things that the rest of the world is doing. It means spending our money and our time differently.
So why would we do it? Is it worth it? What makes it worth it? Do you believe Jesus is worth it? We go all in on something despite the costs because we are certain of the benefits. If we are holding back from Jesus, it may be because we are holding onto the benefits we think the world offers. The benefits of the world seem greater with much less cost: comfort, accepted by others, more money and time for ourselves. But Jesus sasked: What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Lk 9:25)
If you are holding back from Jesus, it may be because you lack certainty: you aren’t fully convinced that he is the best thing to ever happen to you, that his ways are the best way, that without him you have no real hope, that he is the Lord and Savior of the world. Are you living with certainty? Or are you holding back? Luke’s goal is to give us certainty. He wants to show us that Jesus is worth it because the good news is true news.