Luke and the Plan of God

Luke is a Gospel of Reassurance. It describesthe suffering of discipleship, that Christ is forming us, that we are called to be witnesses of redemption and forgiveness to the world and that we are called to participate, through listening to the Spirit, in the creation of the Kingdom.


On Wednesday we began our look at the book of Luke, our focus for 2007. Luke is the best book for learning about discipleship and learning how to live in community. There are a number of different sources that will inform our study including commentaries from Darrell L. Bock (The NIV Application Commentary), Joseph A. Fitzmyer (The Gospel According to Luke I - IX) and Robert C. Tannehill (Luke). We were each encouraged order two books: Luke for Everyone by N.T. Wright, and The Theology of The Gospel of Luke by Joel B. Green.

The purpose and plan of God is at the centre of Luke’s theology. With less emphasis on the cross, Luke focuses on discipleship, being witnesses and moving into the world. As a younger companion of Paul, Luke learned from this teacher. Watching the dissension in the church from the side, he learned from Paul’s mistakes and divisive approach choosing instead to be exceptionally discerning, playing down problems. Although Luke didn’t know Jesus personally, he would have relied on a strong oral tradition.

The Many and the One

During Luke’s time the question of how many cultures could be unified in Christ would have been a problem. It’s a relevant question for our time too. Is there a plan of God for every person alive, every culture and religion? Paul contends that Luke’s message, universal and non-exclusive, can be interpreted to every person. The next step in Acts is to interpret the universality into every philosophical system.

Our mission as a group is to be one little group among many different people. Unity and diversity. Standing alone together. The plan of God is to unify the world through the one gospel of Christ. Project Peacemakers exemplifies this, being more interested in acknowledging the Kingdom of God than in religion.

Why Read Luke?

With 2157 verses, Luke-Acts is the largest contributor in the New Testament. Both Luke and Matthew use Mark and Q as primary sources. We need to be careful when we study Luke to stick to what is in Luke and not compare or confuse it with other gospels. Luke tells his gospel in a certain way for a certain purpose. This way, rather than what happens, is what we want to pay attention to.

Luke is about God’s plan. Questions in Luke include:

  • How did a Jewish Movement become universal rather than staying within its own tradition? Is the Kingdom of God revealing itself in all contexts?
  • Do Gentiles really belong? After the destruction of the temple two paths emerged: Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, both small, word-oriented communities broken and on the run, getting together to assure each other. Gentiles were becoming the dominant component in the Christian church.
  • Why did Jews reject the Messiah?
  • How can a crucified criminal be the Hope of humanity? Both Gentiles and Jews were asking this question.
  • Is God really going to keep his promises? Luke is beginning to see the already/not yet. Jesus probably talked about the end of the world. Luke uses this to talk of the fall of Jerusalem.
  • How should we respond to Jesus’ message?

Why Did Jesus Come?

Bock’s interpretation of Luke suggests that Jesus came to atone for sin, but Paul’s not sure about this. It seems more evident from the gospel that Jesus came to form a people renewed by the Spirit and able to serve. Freed from all principalities, the Spirit enables us to serve. The things we are incapable of doing get addressed. God offers 100%. We offer zero.

Second, Jesus came to fulfill the promises of God to Abraham, Moses, David and the prophets. Promises such as providing a leader into the promised land, and fulfilling both messianic and royal prophecies. The message is that we don’t know how the promises will be fulfilled, just that it’s going to be in a very surprising way.

What Did Jesus Do?

Jesus revealed the way to God and God’s power through miracles and healing. These healings always involved ambiguity and surprise. Jesus expands our understanding of reality. Paul asks if we are going to believe that God will heal and in what sense? Jesus also revealed the Kingdom’s victory over evil and all that opposes humanity, and he revealed the way of Suffering Discipleship.

What Does Jesus Want Us to Do?

  • Repent. We need to know that we’re sick and in need of healing.
  • Take up the cross and follow daily. We’re called to a consistent every day walk of faith. God gives us the power to do this.
  • Witness to the message of repentance and forgiveness. We tend to be preoccupied with our own forgiveness but our job is to let others know they’re forgiven.
  • Rely on the Spirit in the midst of hostility and misunderstanding. This is for us with our family and community misunderstandings. The Holy Spirit will give us what we need to say at the time. We think we are alone in our head but the Holy Spirit is with us.
  • Love our enemies and pray for them. We don’t even forgive our friends. God doesn’t want us to alter the truth, we need to know who people are to love them.

Summary

Who was Luke?

  • Arab or Hellenistic Greek, not Jewish
  • Not an eyewitness
  • God-fearer
  • Used tradition and sources
  • Could have been a doctor
  • Companion of Paul, watching from the fringe

Genre: Gospel, theology and history

  • Includes rather than excludes
  • To inspire to live as a follower

Possible Dates

  • mid 60’s, Bock
  • after 79 AD fall of Jerusalem, Patterson
  • early 2nd Century

Audience

  • Theophilus
  • Mixed congregation, Jews and Gentiles
  • Those who wonder: Do I really belong? Is salvation really found in this movement?

Purposes

  • A lot that had been promised didn’t happen, maybe Luke is explaining
  • Let’s get together with the Spirit and make it happen

Primarily, Luke is a Gospel of Reassurance. In studying it, we will learn the suffering of discipleship, that Christ is forming us, that we are called to be witnesses of redemption and forgiveness to the world and that we are called to participate, through listening to the Spirit, in the creation of the Kingdom.

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