To everyone who believes
on Him, Jesus Christ will usher them into the
presence of the living God.
A complete biography of
this wonderful person cannot be written because the
Gospel records only a few selected words and acts of
Jesus. They have a message to proclaim, and they
achieve their purpose in writing it by choosing
events in the life of Christ that fulfilled that
goal (cf. John 20:30-31; 21:24-25).
During the last
fifty-three years I have preached through each of
the four Gospels. For some time I have wanted to do
a series on the Gospel of Jesus Christ following A.
T. Robertson’s Harmony of the Gospels.
Our principle source of
information for these studies is the four Gospels by
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The first three are
called the Synoptic Gospels because they agree in
the general order of events and content. John
provides additional information not included in the
WHY FOUR GOSPELS?
I have been asked many
times why four gospels and not just one life of
Christ in the Bible. It helps us to keep in mind
that each of the gospel writers has a specific
purpose and audience in mind as he wrote. The word
"gospel" means good news of salvation available to
all who believe on Christ.
Biographies as we know
them today were not a literary form two thousand
years ago. The purpose of the gospels was to present
the life and work of Christ in a manner that people
would believe on Christ as their savior.
Only four gospels were
considered inspired by God, authoritative and
valuable enough to be included in the canon of the
New Testament. The four gospels were written by
apostles or by men who were closely associated with
them in their ministry.
Three of the Gospels,
Matthew, Mark and Luke are similar in content, with
common presentation of the work and teachings of
Jesus. They follow a similar pattern, but supplement
additional materials to accomplish their specific
goals. These are called the Synoptic Gospels because
they have this common view. All but thirty-one
verses in Mark are found in Matthew and Luke.
Of the 661 verses in the Gospel of Mark, 350 are
found in the Gospel of Luke.
When we examine the
Gospel of John we have additional material not
included in the other three, and he organizes his
material around long discourses without
contradicting the other three.
Mark was the first of the
four Gospels to be written before 60 A.D. The
apostle Simon Peter was Mark’s primary source and
was a witness with vivid descriptions, which could
only come from an eyewitness. Papias (130-160 A.D.)
says, "Mark, who was Peter’s interpreter, wrote down
accurately, though not in order, all that he
recollected of what Christ had said and done."
In reality, Mark’s Gospel
served as a chronological framework that was
followed by the other Synoptic Gospel writers. It is
filled with action and vivid details. He wrote to
win Romans to Christ.
The Gospel of Matthew was
the second one written a little later than Mark but
before 70 A.D. because the Temple was still in use
and Jerusalem was still standing in the Gospel. The
Romans destroyed the city and the Temple in 70 A.D.
Matthew wrote for a
Jewish audience to prove that Jesus was the Messiah
foretold in the many prophecies and types in the Old
Testament. His Gospel is filled with Messianic
prophecies and their fulfilment in Christ Jesus.
Luke probably wrote the
Gospel in Caesarea around 60 A.D. while the apostle
Paul was imprison there with the purpose of
encouraging a Greek believer Theophilus. He was the
"Beloved Physician" and traveling companion of the
apostle Paul. He was with Paul in Rome and possibly
died with him at the same time. He dedicated both of
his books to "most excellent Theophilus." The
preface is written in excellent classical Greek with
a carefully constructed sentence. Therefore it is a
literary work worthy of an educated audience.
The Gospel of John
complements the other three by emphasizing Jesus’
ministry in Judea and Jerusalem whereas the other
three placed more emphasis on the Galilean ministry
of Jesus. He fills in some gaps that Mark does not
include in his chronology.
John probably wrote
around 85 A.D. and died about 100 A.D. He was an
eyewitness of the ministry of Jesus and one of the
twelve disciples. He gives us his aim in writing in
John 20:30-31. "Therefore many other signs Jesus
also performed in the presence of the disciples,
which are not written in this book; but these have
been written so that you may believe that Jesus is
the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you
may have life in His name."
John’s goal is that his
readers "believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son
of God; and that believing you may have life in his
Luke tells us "many have
undertaken to compile an account of the things that
have been fulfilled among us" (Luke 1:1 NET). The
Gospel of Mark would have been one of these sources
and well as Matthew, which had been written previous
to Luke’s Gospel.
Luke opens his Gospel
saying, "In as much as many have undertaken to
compile an account of the things accomplished among
us, just as they were handed down to us by those who
from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of
the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having
investigated everything carefully from the
beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive
order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may
know the exact truth about the things you have been
taught" (Luke 1:1-4).
This is one long sentence
in the Greek, but our English translators help us
with the complexity of the sentence by placing it in
I like the smoothness of
the NET Bible: "Now many have undertaken to compile
an account of the things that have been fulfilled
among us, like the accounts passed on to us by those
who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from
the beginning. So it seemed good to me as well,
because I have followed all things carefully from
the beginning, to write an orderly account for you,
most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know for
certain the things you were taught."
Luke is definitely not
referring to any of the Gnostic gospels because they
came much later in the second to the fourth
centuries. Luke is writing about 50 to 60 A.D.
Yes, there were incipient Gnostic teachings by the
time the apostle John wrote his Gospel toward the
end of the first century about 80-90 A.D. But
Gnosticism was not full blown until another one
hundred years later. The Gnostic gospels came about
150 years after Luke’s Gospel.
Luke writes, "In as much
as many have undertaken to compile an account of the
things accomplished among us . . ." (Luke 1:1). How
many of these accounts there were no one knows, but
more than two or three. Definitely not eighty as a
popular novelist recently declared.
What is it that has been
"fulfilled among us" (NET)? It is the life and work
of Christ Jesus.
Luke has in mind
something that has been fulfilled by a divine
design. It is as if he is saying, "I saw God do it!"
His emphasis is on the
divine design which can be clearly illustrated in
the words of Jesus in Luke 24:25-27, 44-47. "And He
said to them, "O foolish men and slow of heart to
believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it
not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things
and to enter into His glory?" Then beginning with
Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to
them the things concerning Himself in all the
Scriptures. . . . Now He said to them, "These are My
words which I spoke to you while I was still with
you, that all things which are written about Me in
the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms
must be fulfilled." Then He opened their minds to
understand the Scriptures, and He said to them,
"Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer
and rise again from the dead the third day, and that
repentance for forgiveness of sins would be
proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning
Luke by quoting Jesus is
declaring that in Jesus the divine promises of the
Old Testament have been fulfilled. The salvation
promised has now fully come to pass. It has been
completely accomplished just like He said it would
Luke does not suggest
failure or cast any blame on the other writings
about Christ. The apocryphal gospels or Gnostic
writings came much later and would not be in his
thinking as he writes. None of them are dated in the
first century A.D. His research gave him more
information to share about Jesus.
Luke is fully convinced
or persuaded of the events about which he is
writing. He has a full and accurate knowledge
concerning the events about Jesus, which have been
widely known among the Christians.
He is a Gentile Christian
writing to Gentiles and his command of the Greek
language is excellent. Christ Jesus is the Savior of
the world and he states it in good clear expressive
Greek. Obviously, he is a well-educated, medical
doctor and thinker.
Luke tells us his sources
were "those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses
and servants of the Word have handed them down to
us" (Luke 1:2).
The disciples of Jesus
who became the apostles were the eyewitnesses who
gave their testimonies to the public. They were the
first generation of witnesses in the church. Many
people knew Jesus personally and were still alive
when Luke interviewed them. The apostle Paul called
upon these as evidences of his preaching on the
death and resurrection of Jesus in First Corinthians
15:3-8. "He appeared to more than five hundred
brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now
. . ." (v. 6). He is saying if you do not believe
me, you can ask them.
Luke was a constant
traveling companion of Paul and would be fully aware
of this great body of witnesses. He was in contact
with them as he traveled in Judea, Jerusalem and
places in the Roman Empire where the Christians had
migrated to because of persecution. Their vivid
memories and minds were full of the teachings and
miracles of Jesus.
Luke could still verify
the accuracy of the accounts with the eyewitnesses.
They were "eyewitnesses" from the beginning
referring to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and
early preaching of the Gospel (1 John 1:1-5; Acts
1:14; 1 Peter 5:1; Luke 24:48; 1 Cor. 15:5; 2 Pet.
They told what they had
seen as eyewitnesses. Luke describes them as
"eyewitnesses and servants of the Word." He is not
describing two groups of people, but two
descriptions of the same group. These eyewitnesses
from the beginning were servants of the Word from
the beginning. These faithful eyewitnesses passed on
accurate accounts to each church. No doubt educated
members of the churches wrote these down just like
we take notes in our day.
Moreover, Matthew and
John were eyewitnesses who wrote down their
observations and experiences. Here is John’s
testimony in the preface to his First Letter. "This
is what we proclaim to you: what was from the
beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen
with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands
have touched (concerning the word of life – and the
life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and
announce to you the eternal life that was with the
Father and was revealed to us). What we have seen
and heard we announce to you too, so that you may
have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship
is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ).
Thus we are writing these things so that our joy may
be complete" (1 John 1:1-4 NET). The writer is
saying he was an eyewitness to all he is writing.
At the end of his Gospel
John certified: "This is the disciple who is
testifying to these things and wrote these things,
and we know that his testimony is true. And there
are also many other things which Jesus did, which if
they were written in detail, I suppose that even the
world itself would not contain the books that would
be written" (John 21:24-25). It is his certified
statement of authenticity and absolute truth.
The second generation of
Christians was not actual eyewitnesses, of course.
Luke and Mark wrote down what Peter and other
eyewitnesses told them about Jesus. The second
generation was in contact with the eyewitnesses and
wrote down their testimonies. "This Jesus God raised
up, and we are all witnesses of it," declared Peter
Luke does not claim to
have been an eyewitness of the life and work of
Christ, but he does say he possessed first-hand
sources of information from these eyewitnesses. His
travels brought him in close personal contact with
the actual eyewitnesses of these events in the life
of Jesus. He has not missed out on anything
important to the early roots of Christianity.
Luke tells us many other
writers set about this task. How many we do not
know, and only a few fragments have survived. The
four Gospels in our New Testament stood the test of
time, and gave evidence of being inspired by God the
Holy Spirit. We have the orderly arrangement Luke
and Mark made after making their interviews and
listening to the evidence. What had been
accomplished was now being delivered in these four
Gospels. The eyewitnesses were now the servants.
What we hold in our hands
is an accurate account of the actual events in the
life and work of Jesus Christ. We can have assurance
that what we read is historically accurate. There is
no reason to doubt it.
The accounts were "handed
down" from one generation to another. The verb is a
technical term for handing down material, whether in
oral or written form, as authoritative information.
Luke used both written
and oral sources and verified his information with
eyewitnesses. Even the oral traditions were rooted
in those who saw and experienced what they reported
to the churches. Keep in mind the Jewish people knew
how to handle with care a steady stream of
traditions. They were known for their accuracy in
the communication of this oral tradition.
Luke’s account is
constructed with the same care.
Luke’s account is based
on solid principles of investigation.
"It seemed fitting to me
as well" (Luke 1:3a). After being a part of this
great movement and experiencing God’s grace in his
life Luke said, "It seemed good to me as well" to
write down these events.
Luke is not critical of
the other accounts, but will add more information
and a second volume about all that Jesus began to do
and teach in His incarnate body, and all that He
continues to do and teach through His new Body, the
everything carefully from the beginning" (v. 3b).
Luke writes as a historian. He is not writing a
historical novel; he claimed a full knowledge of the
events before he wrote.
Luke’s credibility and
accuracy as an ancient historian is beyond question.
A hundred and fifty years ago the critics
investigated thoroughly and viciously the writings
of Luke. Archaeological discoveries over the past
150 years have certified Luke as an accurate
credible historian with remarkable ability to use
details. He would have been very disturbed by the
so-called "facts" of Dan Brown. Luke focused on
factual truths. He claimed to be investigating
thoroughly and accurately the historical facts. He
writes these down in an orderly fashion. The most
critical studies and researches into the Gospel of
Luke have proved time and time again the amazing
accuracy of his writings.
Luke was ready to write
only after he had "investigated everything
carefully" his sources. He has examined the evidence
and has followed it accurately. He uses an
interesting word that means, "to follow along a
thing in mind, to trace carefully" or investigate
anything accurately. He mentally followed
along in his investigation all these events that
were relevant to his theme and got them ready in his
mind before he began to write. He began to write
with a full and accurate knowledge of the person and
work of Christ. He used the word akribos
meaning to write accurately going into the minute
details. Godet says Luke was like "a traveler who
tries to discover the source of a river, in order
that he may descend it again, and follow its entire
course." That is what Luke does mentally as he
prepares his evidence.
He has taken a long and
careful look at all the facts he has gathered. He
went back to the "beginning" and interviewed
eyewitnesses. He got his historical facts and
geographical and political information together. He
made a thorough investigation of everything that
related to Christ Jesus. He has about thirty percent
more information, not included in the other gospels.
He concentrates on the parables and miracles of
Luke is a careful,
thorough and accurate historian. He is not concerned
about a chronological order of the life of Christ.
However, he does present it in a logical and topical
manner as a narrative history. He follows Mark’s
general chronological order for the most part,
except in 9:51-18:10 where he gives a more topical
presentation. It is more of a logical-topical
arrangement of materials. Luke makes no mistakes as
a historian. To him a logical or topical connection
is at times more important than a precise sequential
order. The important thing for Luke is an accurate
orderly account of the facts demonstrating that
Jesus is the Savior of the world.
The apostle Paul spent
two years in prison in Caesarea. Since Luke was his
traveling companion he would have taken full
advantage of the opportunity to interview
eyewitnesses in Judea. He writes as accurately as
possible with an eye for vivid details.
Luke was associated with
John Mark, the author of the second Gospel who had
been an eyewitness to some of the events in the life
of Christ, and a companion of Peter (Col. 4:10, 14;
Philemon 24; 2 Tim. 4:11, 13).
Christians who could
write would have committed to writing information
concerning Jesus. As the first disciples died or
were martyred it would have been necessary to commit
to writing the saying and stories about Jesus. That
writings were available in the early church is
evident in the instruction the apostle Paul gave
Timothy. "When you come bring the cloak which I left
at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the
parchments" (2 Tim. 4:13). Luke had an exceedingly
large number of firsthand sources of information
both oral and written, available to him in his
Luke tells us he
"investigated everything carefully" (v. 3). This
would indicate he examined all available data with a
goal of seeking the truth with accuracy. He
selected, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,
from this abundant amount of information that which
would help him communicate his intended purpose in
writing his Gospel. Luke is the most comprehensive
of the four Gospels.
Luke examined carefully
all the narratives previously written including
Matthew and Mark. He compared these with the oral
traditions he had heard and the eyewitness he
interviewed. He studied the facts and arranged them
into a careful, thorough scholarly work.
Not only is his integrity
and credibility at stake, but the Christian Way as
well. He is aware of that as he researches and
presents his work.
Like the other three
gospel writers, Luke selects saying and events in
the life of Jesus, summarizes and arranges it in a
logical presentation to accomplish his goal in
Luke paints for us with
words a magnificent portrait of Jesus. This portrait
of the Savior of the world is not a figment of his
imagination or a work of fiction. The picture is
well grounded on facts of a man in a specific time
and place in history. These are real historical
events and we know they are true because Luke was
careful to pen only what he knew to be accurate
facts. Luke says he checked and double-checked his
Christianity is based on
historical facts, not a myth or personal opinions.
His gospel is absolutely trustworthy; you can go to
the bank with it. Our faith is not based on a
mystery religion or Gnostic mystical experiences or
alternative religions, but true, accurate, factual
knowledge of a perfect man who died for our sins and
rose from the dead.
Let’s not lose sight also
that he had another thing going for him as he wrote
his gospel. The breath of God was upon him leading,
guiding and choosing what to write. It is the
product of divine inspiration.
"All Scripture is
inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for
reproof, for correction, for training in
righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). This statement is
true of the four Gospels as well as the Old
God revealed Himself to a
lost world in Jesus
PURPOSE OF WRITING THE
Luke wrote his Gospel for
Theophilus. His name means "God-lover."
We, like Theophilus, can
have absolute assurance that the Gospel we read in
the Bible is the record of the facts we need to know
about Jesus. We have a "sure knowledge" of the
truth. It is accurate and trustworthy. Luke
testifies that in this Gospel we have a full
knowledge of the exact truth concerning Jesus.
Luke wrote this gospel to
reassure his friend of the truth concerning Jesus
because Christianity is Christ.
Theophilus is probably a
Gentile believer who wants to "know the exact truth
about the things he has been taught" (Luke 1:4). He
has some knowledge about Jesus, but how much we
really do not know. I think he was a socially
prominent, man of means, and a disciple of Luke. The
title "most excellent" is like "Your Excellency" and
may refer to an office of importance in the
government or just an intelligent middle-class Roman
The four Gospels are a
unique genre of writings that center on the person
of Jesus and His saving work. They are not
biographies because they do not tell the whole story
of the life of Jesus. The material included in the
Gospels is selective to accomplish a predetermined
purpose. It contains both history and theology in a
presentation to confirm the faith of his friend.
Luke’s Gospel is intensely practical, evangelical
and pastoral. Repentance, faith and forgiveness are
characteristic themes as well as the ministry of the
PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
1. Luke assures his
readers "that you might know the exact truth about
the things you have been taught" (v. 4). "That you
may know for certain" expresses the definiteness,
trustworthiness, absolute certainty and truthfulness
of the Gospel. He is saying I certify that this is
the absolute truth so help me God. He does not want
to see anyone go to hell because he has believed in
a false gospel. It is with full certainty that he
writes. He will stake eternity on its truthfulness.
2. It is important for
every believer to know "the exact truth" about
Christ Jesus. Eternity depends on it. God has given
us the four Gospels so we can have a solid secure
foundation upon which to build our faith in Christ.
The Christian faith rests on solid, historical
3. God has revealed
Himself fully in the person of His Son. The Gospels
tell us what we need to know in order to have an
intimate personal relationship with God in Christ
4. Christ Jesus is
the promised Redeemer, "the Servant of the LORD."
What is our response to the truth of God’s Word?
Jesus had a word of rebuke for those who would not
believe the witnesses (Luke 24:25-27). We will be
held accountable to the truth we have received.
5. The Gospel of Jesus
Christ is for all who will repent and believe on Him
as their Savior. He is the friend of all sinners.
"And they will come from east and west and from
north and south, and will recline at the table in
the kingdom of God" (Luke 13:29). Let’s be faithful
in proclaiming the Gospel.
6. The historical grounds
upon which our Christian faith rests are unshakable.
The God who sent His incarnate Son to be the Savior
of the world by His own divine superintendence
guided and preserved the writing of the story.
7. Someone said, "When
God spoke, He didn’t stutter. He said precisely what
He meant and He meant what He said."
Title: Luke 1:1-4
How the Gospels Were Written
Series: Life of