The Good News According to Luke

  • Read Luke 1 here.
  • If you missed Sunday’s sermon (December 20) you can listen to it here.

Since this is my last post before Christmas, let me wish everyone a very HAPPY CHRISTMAS!!

I’m beginning a new sermon series on the Gospel of Luke.  Since most movies and story books tend to tell a unified story of Christ’s birth, I thought I’d use this post to highlight how each Gospel tells the story in different ways, highlighting different events.

MARK:

  • Doesn’t mention the birth of Jesus at all.  The book begins with the ministry of John the Baptizer, then the baptism, temptation, and ministry of Jesus.

JOHN:

  • In his first 18 verses John presents the deity and incarnation of Jesus.  He makes it very clear that Jesus was divinely present at creation, but “became flesh and lived among us“.  But John never mentions Bethlehem, or gives details of Jesus birth.

MATTHEW:

  • Begins with a genealogy linking Jesus with David and Abraham.
  • We’re simply told that “His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
  • An angel appears to Joseph, reassuring him of Mary’s fidelity.
  • The birth of Jesus is never described.  Chapter 2 begins after the birth of Jesus with the visit of the Magi.
  • Only Matthew tells of Jesus’ flight to Egypt and Herod’s execution of Bethlehem’s baby boys.

LUKE:

  • Begins with the promise of a son to Zechariah & Elizabeth.
  • An angel visits Mary predicting she would bear a miraculous son, even though she’s a virgin.
  • Mary’s song.
  • Birth of John the Baptizer.
  • Zechariah’s song.
  • Joseph & Mary travel to Bethlehem where Jesus is born.
  • Singing angels appear to shepherds and announce the birth of a Saviour, a Messiah.
  • 8 days after his birth Jesus is presented at the temple where Simeon and Anna prophesy over him.
  • Luke tells the only account of Jesus childhood when in 2:41-51 he describes Jesus’ visit to the temple at Passover when he was 12 years old.

I appreciate the efforts people make to consolidate these four accounts into one story.  I think that having one story makes it simpler to remember all the facts.  But generally, I’m cautious of efforts to harmonise the Gospels.

It seems to me that when we attempt to consolidate the Gospel stories we’re saying that the four writers made mistakes, or overlooked information.  While harmonisation may simplify the story, we do ourselves a disservice as Bible students in the process.

  • Did Luke really not know that Jesus’ family spent time in Egypt?
  • Was Matthew completely unaware of the angels singing to the shepherds?
  • Did Mark not know how or where Jesus was born?
  • Did John forget important arguments to support his statement that “The Word became flesh.”?

Each of the Gospel writers told the story differently because they were writing to different audiences with slightly different emphases.  While Matthew highlights fulfilled prophesy, Luke fills the pages with people rejoicing at the birth of a Saviour.  The two Gospels  present two perspectives of the same event and we can dwell on each perspective and benefit from it.  We lose something important when we merge the separate accounts into one generic story.

  • Have you considered the role each of the Gospels have in telling of Jesus birth?
  • Do you have a favorite one? As I said in my sermon, I relate to John who gets straight to the point and doesn’t require me to interpret his story.
  • Since only two Gospels describe the birth of Christ, does this mean it’s unimportant?  Where does his birth rank in importance compared to other events in Jesus’ life?
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6 comments

  1. Tom

    Well Peter, I don’t think by trying to harmonize the Gospels that one is saying the Gospel writers made mistakes. Like you said, each Gospel is focused on different details due to the intended audience. But we must remember that while there are four Gospels there is only one story. We are not reading about four different Jesus’, we are reading about one Jesus. And so I think it’s only natural that we bring together the different details that each Gospel has to have a full understanding of the Life of Christ.
    Now I’m sure many story books and movies will tend to water down the life of Christ and I am not advocating that, but rather a complete understanding of the life of Christ.

  2. ozziepete

    Hi Tom,
    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Of course there was only one Jesus. If my primary purpose in reading the Bible was to establish the historical facts then harmonising the Gospels becomes a necessity. I agree that this is a natural urge and an interesting pursuit that has some value.

    However, I believe that serious Bible study seeks a greater purpose. Since there are four accounts (none of which are contradictory), I feel obligated to explore why each author included and excluded particular information and events.

    No person, including Jesus, is one dimensional. Concentrating on one Gospel at a time allows us to understand various aspects of Jesus birth that give us deeper knowledge of the miracle.

    I’m afraid that if we spend too much energy harmonising the Gospel accounts, we smooth out the bumps and create a one dimensional image rather than the 4-D image God intended.

    Hope that clarifies my approach. I’m not against harmonising, but I am opposed to making that the exclusive story we present.

  3. Tom

    I don’t disagree with studying each Gospel by itself.
    I guess it just doesn’t seem to me that harmonizing the Gospels or “smoothing out the bumps” is a bad thing. Maybe I don’t understand what you mean by “bumps”. If by that you mean apparent inconsistencies, then I think we should smooth those things out so that people understand that there are no actually inconsistencies. Perhaps that is not what you mean though.

    I can see a valuable place for each approach and both should probably be incorporated in the Christian’s study.

    Now when I teach, I will usually teach on one book of the Bible at a time. As well with the Gospels, I will focus on one at a time.

    In my preaching however, if I am preaching on a particular event in the life of Christ I will focus on one Gospel account but I will usually bring details in from other Gospels that record the same event but have additional information left out by the particular Gospel I am using.

    • ozziepete

      Tom, I think I might be saying “to-mah-to” and you “to-may-to”. I don’t mean to suggest that the “bumps” are contradictions, rather they’re different perspectives and emphases that highlight different dimensions of Jesus’ life and ministry. There seems to be a place for both approaches. I do believe that presenting the harmony of the Gospels has an important role in defending the accuracy and inspiration of the books.

      Practically, in my preaching/teaching (where the audience already accepts the inspiration of the books) I’ll generally only refer to anther Gospel to contrast the accounts and better understand the particular application Luke is making. I’m not super motivated to to collate a single, harmonised, historically accurate account. If Luke wanted us to have that information he would have included it, but if he regards it as superfluous to his purpose I don’t need to introduce it.

  4. rob

    Have you considered the role each of the Gospels have in telling of Jesus birth?

    I often think about each of the roles of the 4 Gospels, when growing up in the Church, I was taught that Matthew and Luke go together and Mark and John do the same. (This how I study the Gospels and I firmly believe that to be the case.) If you look at just the Biblical birth of Christ we see that it was only recorded twice (Matthew and Luke). John talks about the “being of Christ” (the Alpha and the Omega/ who is, who was and who is ever to come), but never specifically speaks to Our Saviors Birth. Mark never mentions it as we know.

    I think that it is important to understand who the Gospels were written to as well, as Matthew was slanted more to the Jewish nation and Luke more to the pagan (Gentile) nations. Matthew shows the genealogy of Joseph (1st Chapter) and Luke the genealogy of Mary (3rd Chapter) both who were of David’s line.

    Luke tells the story of the shepherds that were in the field coming to see Jesus in the manager at His birth and Matthew of the wise men coming to see Jesus at his house around the age of 2 (the reason is that the Jews were looking for the long promised King of Israel; a physical kingdom).

    It is important to point out both Gospels of Matthew and Luke show the all prophesies of Christ coming to bear from the old Testament (Isaiah and the other prophets). That was God’s purpose with the first few chapters of both Gospels. God wanted it written so that even a person such as myself could pick up the Bible and understand it with out being taught.

    Do you have a favorite one?

    My favorite Gospel is Mark as it gets to the meat and potatoes (the ministry of Christ) of the what we are supposed to be doing in our personal lives (also as the Lord’s Church) and it gets too what actually saves us pretty quickly. I do quote quite a bit from this Gospel as Jesus made it pretty clear in chapter 16 what we are supposed to do with the Gospel (Good News): “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

    Since only two Gospels describe the birth of Christ, does this mean it’s unimportant? 

    I would say yes and no to the question, is it important that Jesus came to the Earth as a human? Most defiantly YES as it fulfilled the prophesies.

    On the other hand, what part of Jesus’ life saved me, was it the baby Jesus where the angel said: Luke 2:10: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Forunto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Or was it His death, burial and resurrection (which was for all mankind)? It was the second. That was why we were given a command to partake in the Lord’s Supper on the first day of every week (Matthew, Mark, Luke and 1 Cor.) and Paul wrote so much about Christ death and our baptism into Christ’s death that saves us.

    Where does his birth rank in importance compared to other events in Jesus’ life?

    I rank all of Jesus’ life important from a Biblical standpoint for the fulfillment of the Old Testament Law. So it all is important and we celebrate it every Sunday when we gather around the Lord’s Table. But in regards to the commands that were given to me by Jesus in three of the Gospels he tells me to take the Lord’s Supper “do this in remembrance of me” (that includes his birth).

    As I think of all that he has done (the suffering and pain that was inflicted on Him at his crucifixion) for me and the world ever Sunday and everyday. I THANK Him and our Father everyday for the Grace he has given me.

    • ozziepete

      Rob, I agree with most of your points here, but also want to share some alternative views.

      I don’t think I’ve ever heard of the Matthew-Luke, Mark-John connection. Most writers I’m familiar with group Matthew-Mark-Luke together (called the Synoptics) and let John stand by itself. They do this because many events or teachings are recorded in all three Gospels, but omitted in John. Sometimes the similarities between the 3 are virtually word-for-word. Eg. Matthew 8.2-4 = Mark 1.40-44 = Luke 5.12-14.

      I’m also cautious in making statements about who the books were written to. First, the books themselves don’t tell us this. Second, if I think Matthew was written to Jews, I may tend not to give it as much importance since I’m not a Jew. Since they’re all included in the Bible, then in God’s eyes they’re all written to us. However, I agree that it can be helpful to try and figure out who the authors were writing to as it can explain why they each include different details. But that’s more of an academic exercise than a practical one.

      I believe the importance of Jesus’ birth is not that it fulfilled prophecies. The importance is that God became human. That God the Son sacrificed his place in heaven to reach out and reconcile sinful humanity. (Phil 2:6-7) The OT prophecies let people know that this was going to happen, but they’re not that important in themselves, other than to demonstrate the foreknowledge and supremacy of God. I don’t really think you disagree with this, but your wording was a little unclear.

      It’s like if I’m traveling to an amusement park and see a sign telling me how far ahead it is. When I actually get to the park I’m excited to experience the park, not because the sign was accurate. Yet, if I choose to think about it, the accuracy of the sign tells me something about the person who designed it.

      Finally, you commented that “God wanted it [the Bible] written so that even a person such as myself could pick up the Bible and understand it with out being taught.” I’ve heard statements like this from quite a few people over the years. Yet it seems to fly in the face of Scriptures themselves which say things like, “Go and make disciples…teaching them…” (Mt 28:19) In Mt 5:19 Jesus clearly expects his disciples to be teachers. The Ethiopian eunuch is never criticised for not understanding Isaiah, rather God sent him a teacher. (Acts 8:34-35) The Bereans in Acts 17:11 are not commended for ignoring teachers and only reading the Bible, but for listening and learning from teachers and then comparing those teachings to Scripture.

      The Bible does not record a single instance of someone becoming a Christian without teaching. Rather the Bible presents a model of Christians helping other Christians or seekers to apply the Bible to their lives through teaching. There are plenty of instructions in Scripture to teach, but none to print Bibles.

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