Pastor Scott Andrews | July 2, 2023
It seems hardly a month goes by that we don’t hear of some famous person – even an evangelical celebrity – who is deconverting from the Christian faith. Usually announced in some fashion on social media, the former “Christian” gives all the reasons for leaving the faith, with the result he or she now feels much freer and happier. And yet, didn’t Jesus say, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest…for My yoke is easy and My burden is light”? Moreover, the sad news is, for every one celebrity deconverting, deconstructing, apostatizing, there are hundreds more who don’t make the headlines.
Deconversion is a popular trend, especially among GenZ and Millennials, basically under the age of 40. About 30% in those demographics now claim to be atheists. In 2015, Pew Research released data that showed – listen, this is startling – for every one person who becomes a Christian, four leave the faith. Now, we can discuss what it means to leave the faith, but the data shows these are people raised in the church, who made a profession of faith, who called themselves Christians, who now do not. Other surveys show similar results. One in 2018 demonstrated that about one million people per year in the US are leaving the faith. I’ve talked about this recently, but significant denominational decline in evangelical groups support those findings.
If the trend continues, by 2050, over 40 million who at one time called themselves Christians, will no longer. The result will be potentially catastrophic for the American church. One writes, “While it is hard to find clear data, as far as we can tell, this is the single largest generational loss of souls in history who were nominally raised in the church and no longer call themselves followers of Jesus.” What’s the problem – is Jesus the problem? Is the church the problem? Some would say yes to the latter.
Bringing it closer to home, there is also hardly a month that goes by that I don’t sit with parents in my office and grieve with them a prodigal son or daughter. In many cases, children I watched grow up in this church. In fact, we have a small group that meets on Wednesday evenings to share the heartaches of prodigal children, and to pray for their return. Incidentally, I recently attended the group and found them to be faithfully committed to Scripture, prayer and mutual encouragement – meaning, it wasn’t just a place to commiserate and mutually sing, no one knows the trouble I’ve seen. It was a very encouraging gathering. Oh, and by the way, I have personally experienced such prodigal grief.
Further, even locally, we’ve had an alarming number of pastors resigning their pulpits – perhaps not leaving the faith, just leaving ministry. Again, surveys show that as many as 70-80% of evangelical pastors have given serious consideration within the last year to leaving vocational ministry.
So again, what is going on? I can offer a host of guesses as to the causes for the departures. I might even get some right. But more importantly, what is the solution? But before that, let me take it one step further, for us, to the issue of…doubt. Suddenly, the numbers increase exponentially. When we get to the heart of the matter – to our heart of hearts – have we ever, or do we even now doubt? And if so, what is the end result or such soul-searching doubt? Stuff it? Deny it? Live with it? Or walk away – deconvert? I wonder how many of us have given serious consideration in the last year to leaving – the church, the ministry, the faith? Pastor, Wheaton College President, and author Philip Ryken writes:
“Doubt. Little by little, it gnaws away at the soul. To be sure, there are times when Christianity makes all the sense in the world. The mysteries of the birth, death, and resurrection of God the Son appear so certain that it would seem foolish even to call them into question. Yet there are times when, as the poet Roger White so aptly put it, ‘A mosquito buzzes around my faith’ – the mosquito of doubt. In solitary moments the nagging questions whine in our ears: Is the Bible really true? Does God actually hear my prayers? Can my sins truly be forgiven? Will I definitely go to heaven when I die?”
Or I would add, is there really even a heaven or hell or life after death? Or is this it? Should I just eat, drink and be merry, because tomorrow, we die and fade into oblivion? Ryken goes on:
“Sometimes the doubting questions can lead to unbelief…. Even if we ourselves have not abandoned the Christian faith, we can understand how this could happen. We too have had our doubts. There are times when our faith falters, when the whole story of salvation suddenly seems quite improbable, if not impossible. We still believe in Jesus, but sometimes it is hard to know for sure.”
If we were honest, I suppose many of us would say we have entertained such inklings of doubt. At least question: Is this really true? Am I wasting my time? What am I doing here? And so again, back to the question, what’s the solution? I don’t have a magic potion – the solution is the same as it has always been – are you ready…the Spirit-inspired Bible. Faith come by hearing, and hearing by the word of or about Christ. Nothing bolsters faith, builds faith, encourages faith, strengthens faith, like the Word of God. Specifically, one of the gospels which narrates the story of Jesus Christ.
I’ve had the great privilege of pastoring this church for 26 years. During that time, we have been on an intentional journey of studying through the NT on Sunday mornings. Near the beginning, we studied Matthew and Acts. Then Paul’s letters in the order he wrote them. We went back and got John. Then we finished Paul and studied Mark. Then we traveled through the General Epistles – through Jude. The plan, my plan, was to grab the remaining gospel, Luke, then finish with Revelation. I was asked by several to do Revelation first, and in a moment of weakness, I agreed to teach Revelation, which we finished last week. Bringing us to the 27th book of the NT – at least in our study of the NT.
I review all that because it has been my observation in our time together, that nothing has ever had the spiritual impact that one of these Gospels has had. Why? Well because, we’re studying the life of our Lord, our Christ, and His work on the cross and resurrection, leading to our salvation. I’m not suggesting the gospels are more important than the rest of the Bible, for example, more important than the epistles. I am saying that immersing ourselves in the life of Jesus has been deeply impactful. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I would even say, faith building.
Now, I suppose you could ask, why four gospels? Good question. You see, they each provide a snapshot of the life of Christ from a different vantage point – perspective – and have slightly different emphases. To be clear, all nonetheless true, but different at the same time. For example, John writes near the end of His gospel, “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.” I write this gospel so you would believe in Jesus.
So why did Luke write his gospel? He tells us in the prologue – the first four verses, which is actually one sentence in the Greek. It’s carefully written and balanced, with verses 1 and 2 going together, and verses 3 and 4 going together. It actually follows the history-writing regimen of the day. Read it with me – Luke 1:1-4.
Did you see it? Luke wrote his gospel for doubters. For people struggling in their faith – or at least those needing to mature, to grow in their faith. Luke wrote his gospel for us. How do I know? “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.” Not the best translation. Better translation, the ESV has it, “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” And the word certainty is at the end of the sentence for emphasis. That you may know the things you have been taught for sure – with certainty. Does anyone besides me need that certainty for your life today in this ever-increasing chaos and opposition? In the midst of widespread deconstruction?
So, what is the solution to doubt? Luke says, read the Spirit-inspired story of Jesus again. Meet Him again, as for the first time, and be overwhelmed by His person and His work. Bolster, encourage, build, strengthen your faith by spending time with Jesus.
We begin then, this morning, our study of the gospel of Luke. And given today’s religious climate, and the need for our faith to be strengthened, the timing could not be better. For the next few minutes, I simply want to look at the necessary introductory material as we start a new study in any book. But Luke actually gives us a structure for doing so in his prologue. We will see to whom he wrote, and why he wrote. We’ll make some educated guesses along the way, namely, who wrote it, and from where and when he wrote it.
Starting with, who wrote it? And you say, well clearly Luke did – it says so right at the top, Luke. That’s why it’s called Luke. But you should know, strictly speaking, all of the gospels are anonymous – that is, none of them identify the author. To be sure, very early in church history, it seems to be known who the authors were. Matthew was written by Matthew the tax collector, one of the Twelve. Mark was written by John Mark who received his information from Peter. John was written by another apostle – John, the brother of James – one of the inner circle, Peter, James and John. He is the beloved disciple in the fourth gospel. And Luke was written by, well, Luke, who was also not an apostle. Which is interesting to note, two of the four gospels were not written by apostles.
Some interesting thoughts about the book of Luke. First, it is actually the longest of the four gospels, which means if we were in Matthew for four years, well, you do the math. Second, it’s actually the first of a two-volume work – Luke and Acts were written by the same author, and intentionally go together. The first tells the story of Jesus, the second tells the story of the church. Don’t miss it – the first tells what Jesus did to purchase, to produce the church, the second shows the results of that purchase. We’ll come back to that. Third, Luke is one of the so-called synoptic gospels – that is, Matthew, Mark and Luke – so called synoptic because they go together as they share much in common. But actually, about 40 percent of Luke is not found in Matthew and Mark. To Luke we owe the following stories, found only in Luke:
- The birth narrative of John the Baptist.
- The birth narratives of Jesus – namely, Gabriel’s appearing to Mary, Mary’s Magnificat, the birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the shepherds, the angelic choir, the dedication at the Temple, the prophecies of Simeon and Anna.
- The boyhood of Jesus – at least the story of His time at the Temple when He was 12 when He confounded the religious leaders.
- The parable of the Good Samaritan – without Luke, lots of you would need new jobs.
- The parable of the lost things, to include the prodigal son.
- The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.
- The story of the rich man and Lazarus.
- The story of Zacchaeus.
- The thief on the cross.
- The story of the two on the road to Emmaus.
- The names of many of the women who ministered to and with Jesus. Luke was really big on elevating women at a time when they were devalued. Ladies, you should love Luke.
That’s just to name a few – there are seven miracles and seventeen parables unique to Luke. It is a marvelous gospel, without which, we would miss a lot. Now, it does also have a lot in common with Matthew and Mark. Which points to the issue of his sources. Notice, the author says 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 to investigate and write it out, this book, for you. So, who or what were the sources of Luke’s work? Eyewitnesses, as well as those who had written accounts. Likely Mark, perhaps Matthew, and perhaps a couple of oral sources called Q and L. It gets rather technical – I won’t get into that. The point is, the author carefully investigated the evidence by probably interviewing witnesses who were still alive, reading sources, and considering oral history.
But again, who was Luke? Very early church history ascribes the writing of this gospel to Luke. In fact, it was readily and widely accepted until, well you know, the 19th and 20th centuries when everything about the Christian faith came into question. Which, by the way, is one of the answers to the questions – why all the deconversion, why all the doubt? Because our world is full of doubters and opponents – and the mosquitos have actually become incessant attacks against our faith – and it is indeed difficult to follow faithfully. So, let’s read about Jesus again, and be overwhelmed by His person and work. Jesus is the only antidote to unbelief.
So again, it was universally held – starting with the early church fathers to the 19th century that Luke wrote the book. Further, earliest copies of the book have his name attached to it – the gospel according to Luke. But who was Luke? He is not mentioned in this gospel which bears his name. But later, in Paul’s letter, we see his name three times:
Colossians 4:14 – Luke, the beloved physician, sends you his greeting. From that, we learn that Luke was a doctor (again, widely held by the early church), and that he was often with Paul.
Philemon 23-24 – Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers. Again, we see him as a worker traveling with Paul.
II Timothy 4:11 – Only Luke is with me. Notice, Luke was with Paul in both his imprisonments in Rome. In his first imprisonment, he wrote Colossians and Philemon; in his second imprisonment, he wrote his last letter to Timothy – and only Luke was with him.
By the way, also, in the book of Acts, there are these so-called we passages. Acts is also strictly anonymous, but the author switches from the third person, they and them, to the first person we and us, indicating he was traveling with Paul at certain times. From that, we can narrow down the potential authors, and Luke was one of them.
So, we are going to accept the clear testimony of the early church and the internal evidence that doctor Luke wrote the book. And by the way, further, Luke is a Greek name, and Colossians 4 seems to differentiate Luke from other Jewish believers, so most hold that Luke was a Gentile. That’s important – that would make Luke the only non-Jewish writer in the NT. Now think about that, Luke and Acts together comprise about 27% of the NT – more than any other NT writer – even Paul – which means a Gentile wrote more of the NT than any other Jewish author. Which will make sense, since Luke makes more references to Gentile believers than the other gospels.
We actually don’t know from whence he wrote it. Guesses include Rome because he was with Paul in Rome, Antioch because early church tradition says he was from Antioch, and Achaia – which is southern Greece – because it seems from the we passages that he spent a couple years in Achaia. It’s all just a guess, and in the end doesn’t really matter. And by the way, we don’t actually know when he wrote it either – but most agree it was after Mark and Matthew since he appears to use them as sources. But notice, Acts ends with Paul’s first imprisonment, so most surmise the book was written in the early 60s AD, before Paul’s martyrdom.
Now, to whom did Luke write? We find that both Luke and Acts were written to Theophilus, which means, lover of God or loved by God. Theophilus was also a Greek or Gentile. We don’t know who he was, but Luke calls him most excellent Theophilus, which is a title usually reserved for Roman nobility. He may have been Luke’s patron – that is, the one who funded the research and the writing. He seems to have been a God-fearer – that is, Gentile follower of Judaism – who had somehow come into contact with Jesus and the gospel. We don’t know if he was already a believer when Luke wrote him, but many suggest he was, but was seeing the opposition to the followers of the Way – especially by Jews – he may have been having second thoughts. So, Luke writes to encourage him in his perhaps faltering faith. How appropriate for us.
Which brings us to why he wrote it. He tells us:
First, he clearly says while many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting or good for me as well. Why? I have investigated everything carefully. Again, he had access to the eyewitnesses, he had access to the earliest written sources, and he had access to the earliest oral sources. He was there and able to check things out. And he thought it fitting, having done so, to write his own account – under the inspiration of the Holy Spirt. To be clear, the canonicity of Luke – that is, that it belongs in the Bible – has never been questioned. His account is consistent with the other gospel narratives, but adds some further, incredibly important detail.
Let me make a couple of other thoughts about what Luke wrote. (Luke note booklets) Notice, he says he wrote it out in consecutive order, or as the ESV has it, to write an orderly account for you. That actually doesn’t mean in consecutive order. It’s not like Luke has the things written in the most proper chronological order – that wasn’t the purpose of near eastern historiography at that time. History was not written for history’s sake – so that we know names, dates, events in their proper order. No, history was written for a purpose – to communicate ideas. True, some of it was simply political or religious propaganda. But when it comes to history in the Bible – it’s not just so you can know names and dates, but so that you can know what happened for a purpose. Remember, John said he wrote so you would know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you might have life in His name.
Luke does the same thing. He writes an orderly account, that is, an intentionally purposeful account, that’s the idea, so that you can know for sure what you believe – what one author called “the gospel of knowing for sure.” Meaning, Luke was not just an historian, he was also a very capable theologian. We’ll come back to that. Another thing I want you to notice is that Luke was not a disciple – that is, he was not a follower of Jesus when Jesus walked the earth. He was a second-generation believer. Probably – don’t know for sure, but probably came to faith in Christ through the ministry of the Apostle Paul.
Why is that important? Look at what he says – many have compiled accounts of the things accomplished among us. Us. That’s interesting. Just as they were handed down to us. Luke is saying, he is part of the community of believers. He’s saying, what Jesus did was not only for those who knew Him personally – who walked with Him. No, these things He accomplished – prefect tense – in the past with ongoing effect – He accomplished among us. But Luke wasn’t there. Doesn’t matter – what Jesus accomplished, He accomplished for all who would believe, to include us. The us continues through time – until Jesus comes back. Are you listening, brothers and sisters. There is no reason to doubt – what Jesus did, He did for us.
Another important side note: Luke has a ton of OT references. And in them, he is intentionally connecting what the OT said regarding the prophecies of the Messiah, to Jesus. And he then writes the 2nd volume to show what the Messiah Jesus accomplished in His work. In other words, Luke is demonstrating an incredible continuity between the OT and the NT, all the prophecies fulfilled, right through to us. Don’t miss it – the Bible is all God’s plan, from creation to consummation – from creation to recreation – from the first Eden to the second Eden – it’s all God’s plan. And Luke ties it wonderfully together. It can be trusted and believed.
Remember the two on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, that we’ll look at in ’27 or so? Jesus appears to them. These two were disciples of Jesus, and were leaving Jerusalem on their way to Emmaus, about seven miles away. And they were dejected, because Jesus had been crucified. Let’s just read it:
13 And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem.
14 And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place.
15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them.
16 But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.
17 And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad.
18 One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?”
19 And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people,
20 and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him.
21 “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. [we were hoping it was all true, that He was the Messiah] Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened.
22 “But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning,
23 and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive.
24 “Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.”
25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!
26 “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”
27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. [And the NT wasn’t written yet.]
Luke is going to start the book with the birth of the forerunner, promised by Isaiah and Malachi, and end the book with the resurrection of Jesus – and all of the Bible, starting with Moses through the prophets, are about Jesus. It’s incredible.
I’m out of time – I’ve got a lot more to say – glorious themes we will see in this book, for example. But I will end with this – the purpose Luke gives us for writing is in verse 4, “so that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” More than anything, through this book, as we look at Jesus, I want to encourage and strengthen your faith. I want to stem the tide of deconversion. I want you to know, you can trust Jesus, because what has been written about Him is altogether true. Discover Jesus again, as if the first time.