(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

I found William Barclay's brief introduction to Luke's gospel very helpful. It certainly reflected his admiration of, and enthusiasm for, the author's work. Barclay considers Luke's gospel illustrates the truth of Faber's well known lines:

            There's a wideness in God's mercy,
            Like the wideness of the sea;
            There's a kindness in His justice,
            Which is more than liberty.

            For the love of God is broader
            Than the measure of man's mind;
            And the heart of the eternal
            Is most wonderfully kind.

Luke's introductory remarks tell us something about:

(B) The New Testament.

(1) Its inspiration.

I have heard Christians, who should know better, liken the authors of the New Testament to earnest schoolboys taking down dictated notes from an old fashioned, authoritarian, teacher. According to some fundamentalists God gave Luke, John and the rest the words to write; all they had to do was write them down. This is not how Luke claims to have produced his gospel. This is how he described the process: Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning ... . v3.

Luke's gospel is the outcome of exhaustive research and thought. Furthermore he claimed to use his own judgment to order the material collected because he wrote: It seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you .... . v3. The gospel of Luke is the result of Luke and the Holy Spirit working in partnership. The author was probably not even aware of the help he was receiving!

(2) Luke's selection as an inspired book of the New Testament.

Lots of gospels were written. Luke acknowledged: Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us ... . v1. Only four passed the test of time and usage. Luke forms part of the canon of the New Testament because after 400 years of use it measured up - it proved its worth. The New Testament is more like a much loved, well-thumbed, thoroughly trusted cookery book than anything else.

(C) The author - Luke.

He was:

(1) An intellectual.

Luke's intellectual ability is evident in the Greek of the opening verses. It is some of the best Greek in the New Testament. Barclay notes that Luke used a form of introduction employed by the great Greek historians. The author hints at what he is capable of - possible for the benefit of his distinguished patron - Theophilus.

We shouldn't overlook the contribution that thousands of scholars have made to our understanding of God's Word. Some are too ready to disparage them!

(2) A careful and thorough biographer.

Luke carefully investigated everything from the beginning .... . v3. He gives us details about the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus that are not found in any of the other gospels.

Luke uses a style for telling the advent stories that looks almost as if he is translating from the Hebrew. Perhaps, he had access to an account of the events surrounding Christ's birth written in Hebrew by Mary herself. The other alternative is that Luke writes the early passages of his gospel in a special way to emphasise the Jewish origins of Christianity. Even in our English version of the Bible Luke 1 and 2 seem to have more in common with the Old than the New Testament.

The care Luke took with his biography of Jesus is well illustrated by how he dates the emergence of John the Baptist with reference to seven public figures who held office at the time. See Luke3v1and2

(3) Scrupulous about the truth.

Luke wrote to Theophilus so that he might know the certainty of the things he had been taught. In order to get the truth Luke listened to those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. v2. In other words Luke had excellent sources. He did not write an interpretation of Jesus' life to justify the theology of his great friend Paul. Luke used his time in Jerusalem, and his lengthy stay at Caesarea during Paul's imprisonment by Felix, to consult with eye-witnesses to the life of Christ - including at least some of the apostles.

In order to convey the facts about Jesus in an accessible and impressive way to his Gentile readers Luke's style changes again in chapter 3 and remains consistent to the end of his gospel. He adopts the style of the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, as one appropriate to the stirring truths of the Jesus story.

The gospel of Luke.

The preface conveys four things about Luke's gospel:

(1) It is a personal account.

Luke informs Theophilus: It seemed good also to me to write an orderly account .... . v3. Luke's biography of Jesus will reflect his special interests. These may in part have been influenced by his long and affectionate association with Paul. So Luke gives a special place to women, emphasises the importance of prayer, shows sympathy with the plight of the poor and highlights the redemption of the lost in his gospel.

(2) It is written by a Gentile for a Gentile.

Unlike Matthew Luke seldom quotes the Old Testament. He invariably gives the Greek equivalent of Hebrew words and never uses the Jewish term, 'Rabbi' of Jesus but always a Greek word meaning, 'Master.' William Barclay writes: Because of this Luke is the easiest gospel to read. He was writing, not for the Jews, but for people like ourselves .... .

(3) Its structure reflects Luke's judgment as a writer and historian.

Luke writes: It seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you..... . The author didn't just arrange the facts about Jesus chronologically. The translators of the New Testament realised this. Some of the chapters of Luke have a common theme running through them: chapter 15 - lost things, chapter 16 - Christ's ironies, chapter 17 - the outcome of faith.

(4) Its uniqueness.

This is hinted at by Luke's opening sentence: Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us. Luke wrote about what God had fulfilled or accomplished through Christ. He told redemption's story - how God achieved his purpose of saving sinners through the finished work of Jesus. This saving purpose of God was the outcome of his love and mercy. Luke more than any of the other gospel writers shows Jesus seeking and saving the lost. Only Luke tells us about the prostitute in the home of Simon the Pharisee, Zacchaeus, the penitent thief and the prodigal son.

William Barclay helpfully refers in his commentary to the practice of portraying the writers of the four gospels in stain glass windows and giving to each a symbol. Mark's symbol is a man because his gospel is the most realistic report on the man Christ Jesus. Matthew's symbol is a lion because he portrayed Jesus as the Lion of Judah - the Jewish Messiah. John is symbolised by an eagle because his gospel soared to heights beyond all others. The symbol of Luke is a calf, the animal of sacrifice, because he dwelt on Jesus' sacrificial and saving work for sinners everywhere.

(E) The sponsor: Theophilus.

(1) Theophilus, his Excellency, was probably a high ranking, wealthy, Roman convert to Christianity. He may have wished for an authoritive, trustworthy account of the life and work of Jesus to counter some of the rumours and misinformation circulating about the Faith. It is likely that he sponsored the gospel of Luke and met the cost of publishing it - as he did the book of Acts as well. Theophilus, in his way, made a significant contribution to the New Testament!

(2) Theophilus desired to know as much as possible about Jesus. This is nearly always the consequence of a man being converted to Christianity. There is a tremendous desire to learn more and more about the Truth.

(3) The distinguished Roman showed his commitment to the Faith by being willing to pay for a thoroughly researched, scholarly biography of Jesus. It is a reminder that financial giving is one way of making our commitment plain.

(4) Luke's sponsor obviously valued Luke's work. Both his gospel and his Acts of the Apostles were treasured, preserved, copied and distributed among the churches. In this Theophilus showed excellent judgment! Both books were copied over and over again and eventually entered the canon of the New Testament and have proved an immense blessing to the church for 2000 years.

(F) Conclusion.

The preface of Luke is not without its lessons for us:

(1) The Holy Spirit is most likely to inspire us when we commence some work for Jesus. It is futile to sit back and wait for the Spirit to galvanise us into action. We need to get started, to get to work, and before we know it he will be there, by our side, helping us.

(2) If a job for Jesus is worth doing it is worth doing well.

(3) Every Christian can make a contribution to the work of Christ. Luke had a gift that is universally admired in the church. He was a creative communicator. Theophilus had a different part to play. He sponsored and publicised Luke's work. It remains true that those with creative gifts need the support and encouragement of others.

(4) There is no higher calling than to present Jesus as the Saviour of the lost.