“LUKE: THE BEAUTY OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER”
February 27, 2005
One of the great, great servants of the Lord who blesses us all still, though he lived so long ago, is Luke. We are blessed by his work because he is the human writer of the gospel record which bears his name and of the book of Acts. That means that in terms of volume, Luke is the writer of more than one-fourth of the entire New Testament. With the subject matter which he addressed, we are truly blessed. He pictures Jesus as the friend of sinners in his gospel record, and what a wonderful picture that is for us all. In Acts, he gives us the view of the beginning of the church, and of people hearing the gospel and wanting to know how to respond to it, and then actually obeying the gospel and becoming Christians. With Luke’s account we see the gospel spreading from Jerusalem to Rome in fulfillment of the great commission of Jesus. Luke’s work does bless us all.
But, it is Luke’s character which genuinely instructs us on what we ought to be. There are a lot of things about Luke as a man that we may notknow. He never uses his own name or refers to himself other than in the word “we.” He is never described in any detail in any great Bible passage. He is only mentioned by name maybe in three specific verses in the New Testament. It is generally thought that Luke was Greek in his ethnic background, and if it is true, that would mean that he would be the only writer of the New Testament from a Gentile background. He was a man of refinement and of culture. He had a rich vocabulary, and his use of the Greek language is highly polished. He had a good education. He was somebody who was especially talented. Tradition holds that he was the brother of Titus and that he was from Antioch.
While we don’t know for sure all the details about his personal life, we are certain about his character. The New Testament gives us some glimpses of his conduct, and the contents of the two books that he wrote let us know something about his heart. And, he is mentioned in Paul’s writings in some specific settings which allow us to see what kind of man he was. That is where we want to focus for these few minutes this morning.
The Lover of Truth
If we sing “Let the Beauty of Jesus Be Seen in Me,” I can’t think of any place where you see the beauty of Christian character more than in Luke. Luke is, first of all, the lover of truth. While we consider his writings as inspired of the Holy Spirit, it is also clear that the Spirit used Luke in his willingness to make a thorough investigation of all of the facts and then to record them for us. In Luke 1:1-4 he says, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eye witnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all these things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Theophilus’ name means “lover of God.” Apparently Theophilus was aware of many of the things that had already been preached and taught about Jesus. But notice that Luke’s interest is to trace these things in an orderly and accurate way so that people could read and have certainty about Jesus and what he taught and did. Luke is the kind of man for whom orderliness and accuracy and certainty, where matters of eternal importance are concerned, is crucial.
In Acts 1 in the first three verses, he says, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” Here again, Luke is writing about what has been done within the setting of history for the accomplishing of God’s purpose for our salvation. He saw these events as “proofs”.
When you read Luke’s writings, the fact that he is setting these events within history impresses us. For example, in Luke 2, at the beginning, he talks about the circumstances of the birth of Jesus within a real context where there are rulers and governors in real places. In Luke 3, as he begins to talk about John’s ministry, he mentions six political figures and their respective jurisdictions. In the book of Acts, he mentions 32 countries, 54 cities, 9 Mediterranean islands, uses very specific and technical titles and political terminology. He refers to 95 people by name. Luke has given us a way to check him out, and to see whether he is a lover of truth or not and to find out whether what he is saying is real.
Sir William Ramsey, who originally believed that Luke was a man who had included a number of details that were mythical in nature, determined in the latter part of the 1800s to go to the land Luke wrote about and to check him out. He spent 34 years studying Luke’s trustworthiness, and he wrote of Luke’s writing, “Every person is found just where he ought to be.” Ramsey said that Luke is “a historian of the first rank.” A.T. Robertson pointed out that the great detail and the minute accuracy of Luke in passages like Acts 27 throws more light on ancient seafaring than everything else we know put together. He has been called “the poet painter” of the gospel writers. A man of wide ranging knowledge, Luke was a lover of truth.
J.P. Moreland told of a Jewish friend whose undergraduate degree was in the classics from Harvard University and his masters’ degree was in the classics from UCLA. When these two first met, this friend told Moreland that he was a Christian. But knowing that this man was from a Jewish background, Moreland asked him, “How did you become a Christian?” And here’s what he said, “Dr. Moreland, I have studied myth most of my education. I know the earmarks of myth. That is all I studied. My undergraduate training was in mythology. My graduate training has been in mythology. And I was practicing reading Koine Greek reading the gospel of Luke, and I got halfway through it, and as a Jew, I said, ‘My God, this man really did these things. What am I going to do? This is history. It doesn’t read like myth. I know what myth tastes like because all I do is read it, and this is not myth.’” That needs to be impressed on our minds over and over again in a world where people want, instead of discussing what Jesus said and did, to go around it by just questioning the documents that tell us about him.
I appreciate Luke because he was a man of shining talent who was willing to use it in the Lord’s service. He took advantage of his opportunities to know the truth. He cared about truth. He recorded the truth. He made it possible for us to know the truth. We ought to take the advice of the proverb that said, “Buy the truth and sell it not.” And Luke is a man who can help us to do that.
The Gracious of Heart
Secondly, Luke is the gracious of heart. What I mean by that is that he is the kind of man who saw people, and treated people, as the objects of God’s love. John may have said, “For God so loved,” but nobody ever pictured the love of God in action more than this man who left us the record of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son.
Luke’s writings focus upon those who were often neglected. His concern for women, for example, is unique. He tells us about women who served Christ and about women who were helped by Christ. His interest in Gentiles and Samaritans is also obvious as he records the parable of the good Samaritan, for example. In his writing, a publican or tax collector, goes away justified while a proud Pharisee goes out more guilty than when he came before the Lord. He was interested in the outcasts of society - the poor, the humble, the despised, the hated, the publicans, the sinners – and he always humbly keeps himself in the background while he is telling us about all these others.
One writer said, “There is scarcely an anecdote or a parable proper to Luke which does not breed the spirit of mercy and of appeal to sinners. The gospel of Luke is especially the gospel of pardon…. He can make each incident of the gospel history a history of pardoned sinners. Samaritans, publicans, centurions, guilted women, benevolent pagans, all those whom Phariseeism despises are his clients. The idea that Christianity has pardoned for all the world is Luke’s. The door is open. Conversion is possible to all.” And that is the heart of this great and good man. He is a lover of truth. He is somebody whose heart has room for the whole world, and his compassion and his mercy for people, his strong human sympathies, his warmth and sensitivities to what people go through, cause him to write about God’s mercy for a man beaten and robbed and left beside the road to die or compassion for a boy who came home from the far country, or compassion for Zacchaeus who has to climb a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. That picture of his heart ought to rub off on us to be people who are gracious and concerned and kind in the treatment of other folks.
The Helper of People
Third, Luke is the helper of people. You and I know him most, perhaps, from Paul’s phrase in Colossians 4:14 where he simply refers to “Luke, the beloved physician.” Luke was a doctor. His profession was a lot more highly advanced than a lot of us might assume. One writer said that what Luke would have done in doctoring was on a level comparable to the medical profession of our country in the 1800s. There hadn’t been that many advances from Luke’s time to that time. Greek physicians practiced in the tradition of a noble Hippocrates who lived before 377 B.C. Galen of Pergamum, who died about 200 A.D., wrote an outstanding medical treatise. Herophilus of Chalcedon was the father of the study of anatomy. Luke had been for training, was an educated man, and was a professional man in his day.
His writings give us glimpses of his medical background. While other writers may say that a person had a fever, Luke will tell us it was a high fever. While other writers may say that someone had leprosy, Luke will tell us this person was full of leprosy. Even the term he used of a needle to tell us about Jesus saying of a camel passing through the eye of a needle, Luke used the term that referred to a medical needle, a surgical needle.
Here’s what we are saying. Luke is a man who used not only his heart in the Lord’s service, but he used his profession as well in the Lord’s service. He took his training, the kind of background and vocation that he had, and he used it. Apparently he cared for the beloved apostle Paul. Apparently he also worked in some of the places they traveled to. It involved sacrifice and facing danger. But Luke was a helper of people.
The Bearer of Good News
Then I want you to notice in the fourth place – very importantly – that Luke was the bearer of good news. Salvation is Luke’s key word. He uses the word “saved” or “salvation” more times in his one gospel record than is found altogether in the other three. Luke says that Jesus Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). He tells us that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons (Luke 15). His writing has been called “the singing gospel” because of the great hymns of praise that are found in the first two or three chapters. “Rejoice” and “joy” are found often in his work. Luke is about good news.
Now it is interesting. There are no recorded sermons of Luke, but he was an evangelist. All that we know of him relates to the spreading of the gospel and to how people felt when they had been obedient to the gospel of Jesus.
The pronouns “we” and “us” in Acts tell us of his activities. He was with Paul in Acts 16 when Paul, in response to the Macedonian call, went to Macedonia to the city of Philippi, and taught the gospel in that area. He was with Paul in Philippi when Lydia was baptized, and apparently he was there in town when the jailor was baptized into Christ in Acts 16. He joined Paul in Troas sometime later in Acts 20:5. He accompanied him on his last journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:17). He was with Paul on the amazing journey to Rome in Acts 27 and 28. Luke’s whole purpose is to let men know the good news that Christ has been made both Lord and Savior, that there is life in him, that we can be forgiven in him, that we can have hope through him, and that it can be for anybody throughout the whole wide world. His books are written to convince us that Jesus, the Son of man, is the Christ, and then to convert us to him. What he has done has, of course, had a role in the conversions of multitudes of people down through history. He is a bearer of the good news of Jesus.
The Loyalty of Friendship
Luke is a lover of truth, the gracious of heart, the helper of people, the bearer of good news, and then Luke is the loyalty of friendship. In II Timothy 4, parts of this chapter are among the saddest passages in all the Bible, and that’s all they would be were it not for the shining character of Luke. Paul refers to others who have been his co-workers (II Timothy 4:10). “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me.” Only Luke is with me. Here is a man facing what he refers to in verse 6 as being offered. He is lonely. He is asking Timothy to come to him, and his only comfort at the time is that Luke is with him.
Many people through the centuries have written or spoken concerning the value of friendship. The Proverbs, as you have read in the last few days, said that “a friend loveth at all times and a brother is born for adversity.” Luke was a dear friend and a much loved brother in Christ. He remained with Paul through adversity and hardship. The fidelity of Luke must have been a great encouragement to the apostle in those last days of his life. Maybe you and I would be well served to draw some close parallels between his friendship with Paul and the Lord’s friendship with us. It was a friendship of sacrifice. It was a friendship of loyalty. He stayed when everybody else was gone. It was a friendship based on love that gave. Here is a man who is a lesson for us!
Luke’s life impresses me with the value of being a Christian. When I look at the things that I can see in his life, I come away saying, “There is the man I wish I was. There is the kind of person I want to be. I want to love the truth and hold to it. I want to care about people. I want to serve and to help people. I want to make it possible for somebody else to hear the good news and rejoice, and I want to be a friend to somebody who will be there all the way to the end.”
How can I be that kind of man? Knowing my weaknesses as I do, how can I be that kind of man? Thankfully Luke in Acts has made the answer to that question clear. When people, the very first time the gospel was preached, had their hearts pierced by it and cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Luke recorded the words that were spoken in answer: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” It is Luke who shows us in Acts 8 what needs to be done when somebody has made that beginning and then has been overtaken by a fault and his heart is not right. Luke is the one who records the word to repent and to pray to God that the thought of your heart might be forgiven.
So it is with those words today, still, that we ask you to consider the value and beauty of Christian character and make that your own in Jesus. If you need to take some action in that way today and we can help you, won’t you let it be known while we stand and sing together?