Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 6, 2016
1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 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 1:1-4, ESV
Today we begin a long journey in the longest Gospel, but I promise it won’t seem all that long. The Gospels of the New Testament stand as the centerpiece of Holy Scripture, amazingly beautiful to behold. They are the finest contribution of literary work ever given from God to man and from man about God.
Each one of the human authors received God’s inspiration, gathered facts, and told the good news of Jesus Christ in his own unique way. Together they tell the same story from four points of view of how God came to us in Christ to make us the children of God. The third Gospel, in addition to being the longest, is remarkable in many ways, including its introduction. It is written by an unnamed man we know, to a named man we do not.
The Unnamed Man We Know
None of the Gospel writers identified themselves in writing, but we do know each one by name. Testimony from second and third generation Christians accurately identify Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The four had much in common, but one of them stands out as the most uncommon of all of the human authors of the Bible.
Luke, short for Lukas or Lukanos, is the only non-Jewish person to write Holy Scripture. His contribution is considerable, for if you count the words in his Gospel plus his lengthy sequel, the book of Acts, Luke exceeds even Paul for penning the most material of any New Testament writer. God wrought a lot of words through Luke, and we should pay wrapt attention to every one of them.
Luke was Greek, a Gentile, almost certainly converted to Christ during the missionary work of the Apostle Paul, to whom Luke became a traveling companion. Paul mentions Luke by name three times (ref. Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 1:24), which is how we know his dual vocations of physician and missionary. Luke would have been among the most intellectual, spiritual, and dedicated Christians of his day, and these attributes are evident in his style of writing. Getting to know Luke better will enable us to get to know Jesus better, which should be the goal of life.
By the time Luke begins to write his Gospel, our Lord Jesus Christ has been crucified, buried, and resurrected for approximately thirty years. During these decades the gospel has been preached (kerygma) and in some of the stories were written down (Q). Mark’s Gospel had most likely been the first Gospel published. That’s when the Holy Spirit began to move upon Matthew to take these three sources (kerygma, Q, Mark) and write a Gospel crafted to carry the gospel to a primarily Jewish audience. God commissioned Luke to do something similar, only from Gentile to Gentiles. This explains Luke’s introduction to his “orderly account.” It was so successful God gave Luke a contract for the sequel, Acts.
How can an understanding of Luke increase our knowledge of Christ and Christianity? In every way! Luke tells us that God loves the world, Jew and Gentile, red and yellow and black and white. He is partial to Christ’s interaction with those normally looked down upon in society. No matter who you are, where you’ve come from, or what you’ve done, the gospel is for you. For those already saved by grace through faith in Christ, Luke reminds us that we all have two jobs. Our secondary vocation is whatever home or business or school or ministry employs us; but, our primary purpose on earth is to spread the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, Luke, we’re glad to know you, even though you did not write your name in your Gospel. But, you did write down the name of the person to whom you wrote, but we really are not sure who he is. Who is Theophilus?
The Named Man We Do Not Know
The identity of the original recipient or recipients of any book of the Bible is an important ingredient in determining the proper interpretation of every passage. Unlike a lot of books in the Bible which name the author but not the recipient, Luke did not mention his name but did identify his original audience of one, “Theophilus.” Scan all the Bible dictionaries and commentaries you like and you’ll be hard pressed to come up with any reliable clue as to his exact identity. All we really know is what is written in this introduction to Luke’s Gospel.
We know he was one of “us,” as Luke points out twice. So, this Gospel was written to Christians to help them better understand Christ and take His message to the whole world. Again, this is our main job, no matter what our other jobs may be. Also, this is why the church should always be gospel-centric in worship, word, and sacrament, to constantly put Jesus before our eyes so that we well take Him out to the world with our lives and lips. Luke is writing to “us,” too!
We know he was a “most excellent” man, but we don’t really know what that means. The term is found in various English translations of the Bible. In Psalm 45:2, the Psalmist describes a descendant of King David, the messianic king, our Lord Jesus Christ. Luke uses the term three times in all, here and in the book of Acts (ref. Acts 24:3, 26:25) when speaking to men of rank, Governors Felix and Festus. Paul said the most excellent spiritual gift of all is love (ref. 1 Corinthians 12:31ff). Christians are the best people in the world, although it is not because of who we are but because of Whom we worship and serve. There is definitely something good about Theophilus, but we need to know more.
We know he was searching for clarity and certainty concerning the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, and the salvation it brings. What could be more important? All the knowledge, money, power, and fame in the world is worth nothing without the acceptance and assurance of the gospel of Jesus Christ! Salvation and certainty come, of course, by hearing and heeding the word of God. So, Theophilus was a good person in good pursuit of good understanding of the good news of Jesus Christ. So far, so good.
The final clue is this: we know his name, Theophilus. We know it is a Greek name which can be translated into our language. It literally means “friend of God,” or perhaps “lover of God.” That’s a good name. Yet no one knows exactly who it is. Or, do they?
I know. It could be me. It could be you. It could be any Christian. Are you Theophilus?
Are you Theophilus?
Are you a friend of God?
A friend is someone you know, personally. A friend is someone you can talk to, intimately. A friend is someone to spend life with, joyfully. I hope you have a friend or friends like this. Perhaps it is your spouse, a parent or child, a person you’ve grown up with, or a person you’ve just come to trust and enjoy as a friend.
Make no mistake, Jesus is the greatest friend you will ever know. He knows you, and loves you anyway, unconditionally! He speaks to you through His word and Spirit, and you can speak to Him in prayer. Knowing Christ personally and savingly is the greatest joy in this life, and in the life to come. Are you a friend of God?
Do you love the Lord with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength?
Your greatest love is the source of your greatest pleasure. If your greatest pleasure is sex, you will always be searching for a physical lover, or many, to your eventual shame. If your greatest pleasure is money, you will do almost anything to get it so you can have it and spend it, your life revolving around money, to your eventual bankruptcy. If your greatest pleasure is power and control over other people, you will step over and on top of other people to get it, as we often see in an election year, and history will treat you with disdain. But if your greatest pleasure is God, where will you go? You will go to Jesus. Where can you find Him? In the gospel of the Gospels, like this one from Luke to Theophilus.
The gospel from the Gospels should be heard every Lord’s Day and put on display in the holy communion of the church. It shows us Jesus. It makes us love Him, ever more. It transforms us continually into constant lovers of God. Are you a lover of God?
Are you Theophilus?
Theophilus may have indeed been a real person. Or, it may be a name created by the crafter of this Gospel and the book of Acts. Luke could have been writing to a friend, or in order to make friends, friends and lovers, of God.
You can be Theophilus, if Jesus is your greatest friend. You can be Theophilus, if your greatest love is God. Change your name, not literally but spiritually, and be a friend and lover of God now and forever.