On October 18, Rev. John William spoke to the congregation of Christ Church, Melaka about the lessons that we can learn from a very vital person who contributed to the New Testament as we know it today: St Luke, the evangelist. Christ Church has been in existence since 1753, is the oldest functioning protestant church in Malaysia, and is part of the World Heritage.
Rev John began by giving a brief overview of Luke’s life. He was the writer of the Gospel according to Luke, and the companion volume of the Acts of the Apostles. In fact, the original setting, the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were one book combined. Later, editors separated them so they are now divided into two.
The little details of Luke’s life are gleaned the Bible and from early Christian literature. We know that Luke was born in Antioch, Syria. We are familiar with Syria as it has been in the news every day because of what’s going on there. Well, Luke was born there. He was a Syrian.
There are some uncertainties as to whether he was a Jew or a Gentile. Some believe that he was a Hellenic Jew—in other words, he was a Jew, but influenced by Greek culture. Others believe that he was Greek. Luke is believed to be a physician—a doctor. But he was also an artist. He is the patron saint for artists, physicians, surgeons, students, butchers, and also bachelors—having never been married.
In the New Testament, he is depicted as a constant companion of Paul while Paul was on his missionary journeys. We don’t know if he ever met the Lord Jesus personally, how he became a disciple of Christ, or how he became connected to Paul. But coming from Antioch where the followers of Jesus were first named “Christians,” and considering that it was a Christian mission front, it is likely that Luke was converted there and encountered the Apostle Paul who did work in Antioch.
What are some features of Luke’s life that we can emulate?
1. We are to study the Word of God.
1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
The first thing we can note about Luke is that he went into detailed research about this Jesus of Nazareth. He wasn’t a person who just accepted the things he heard. So he compared all the writings that were present at that time and took into account what the eyewitnesses of Christ’s resurrection said. He was the recipient of these witnesses and testimonies, and it was probably these encounters that led him to his faith in Christ.
“We should really thank God that Luke took it upon himself to write ‘an orderly account,’” Rev. John said. “If he hadn’t, we would only have 3 Gospels, and you and I would be deprived of a whole lot of information about Jesus and the church.”
What was Luke’s purpose of writing? That readers would know the certainty of things they were being instructed. At that time, the New Testament was not yet written. They did not have the Bible as we know it. They had apostolic teachings and preaching that were passed on orally, and so Luke felt that it was important for him to study the historical facts in a detailed way and write an orderly account so that the Christians could have certainty in what they believed to be true.
In the same way, we must be diligent in making sure that our Bibles—in whatever form they may be, whether leather-bound or on our phones—are read and carefully studied.
Especially in this present time of Internet and Whatsapp chains, all sorts of false information are circulating, and people are believing them. “If you receive anything over Whatsapp, make sure you verify the truth before you send it on,” Rev. John admonished. “We tend to send anything and everything over the Internet without first checking the legitimacy of the information.”
That is why we need to learn from Luke. Do a detailed study. Be thorough. Investigate. People will believe what they read because we are wired to think that we will only write what we believe, and so when people read what has been written, they believe. But such is not the case anymore. Many people write things that are not true and so we should not be deceived.
2. We are to practice lay ministry.
As far as we know, Luke was not an apostle or a full-time minister. He was a doctor and a layman, and yet, it did not stop him from being interested in church history, theology, and missionary work alongside Paul.
There is a growing movement today called ‘marketplace ministry ‘which encourages lay Christians, in whatever profession you are in, to treat your workplace as your mission field. So whether you are a doctor, lawyer, teacher, politician, or nurse, you are a minister in that particular field.
Just as Luke served the Lord through his gifts and talents, we can also ask ourselves how we can serve God in our specific spheres. “You don’t have to go to Timbuktu,” Rev. John said. “You can be a minister in your neighborhood, to your friends, and to the people you meet. Ask the question, ‘How can I bring the love and life of God to the people around me?’ Show them that somebody cares and that they matter.”
Even though Luke was never in charge of the mission, he remained a faithful companion to Paul. He was content with doing his work and fulfilling the purposes of God and not his own ambitions. “It’s not about being in charge,” Rev. John reminded the congregation. “It’s about serving Christ.”
3. We are to reflect God’s mercy.
Luke includes many accounts in his gospel that are absent in the others. For example, he is the only one who describes the birth of Christ. He is the one who wrote about the three wise men and about the angel appearing to Zacharias. Without him the story would have many gaps. He was detailed, systematic, and concerned about the purposes of God and His complete plan of salvation.
Luke recognized God’s value for women and was extremely respectful of what was perceived as the weaker gender. He was the one who wrote about the angel appearing to Mary, about Elizabeth, Mary Magdelene, Joanna, and Suzannah. He mentions these women and how they worked alongside Jesus.
He also portrays God as very gracious, loving, and forgiving to sinners. We would not know about Zacchaeus if not for Luke. Jesus came to eat with him and sit in his home. Then, there is the sinful woman who came to Jesus while He was dining to pour perfume on His feet. Everyone was shocked and scandalized, but Jesus said, “They who have been forgiven much will love God much.”
Just like Luke, we should likewise treat women with the respect they deserve. He emphasized God’s grace upon sinners and marginalized members of society who needed God’s mercy. These people were despised and persecuted, but we learn from Luke’s writing that we are to love them and show them kindness.
4. We are to see things to completion.
Unlike the other Gospel writers, Luke’s writings continue on with what we know as the book of Acts. He wanted to show that the mission of the church did not end with the ascension of Christ, but continues down through the ages until Jesus returns again and the consummation of history takes place when Christ is recognized as King over the entire cosmos.
From this, we can learn that we should not go halfway in our service to God. Instead, we should be like Luke and go all the way until the work is complete.
5. We are to leave behind a godly legacy.
What is written about a person when he or she dies is probably what’s most important. After Luke’s death, this was what was written about him, preserved in the original Greek from the second century.
“Luke, was born in Antioch, by profession, was a physician. He had become a disciple of the apostle Paul and later followed Paul until his [Paul’s] martyrdom. Having served the Lord continuously, unmarried and without children, filled with the Holy Spirit he died at the age of 84 years.”
“I would hope that when I die, something like this will be written about me” Rev John said: ‘Having followed and served God in His purposes, died in the Lord, was faithful to the end, serving God continuously, and was filled with the Holy Spirit.’” Indeed, that is the sort of life we should all want to live, and the legacy we want to leave behind.
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