These studies can be used for private study and meditation or for group study and discussion.
Guidelines for group study
1. Pastor invites members at a service or services to volunteer to hold this series of Bible studies in their home, inviting up to ten more people to share these studies with them.
2. Those invited are encouraged to invite others to come and join in with them.
3. If a particular group gets too large (more than a dozen), one of the group should volunteer to start another group so that other can always be invited to join. This is how the Kingdom of God grows.
4. Of course, you want insiders (i.e., congregation members) to participate in this. But you will also want to give the opportunity to participate to any friends and acquaintances who are outsiders (non-members).
5. At the end of a certain period (say, 12 weeks), a potluck supper could be arranged with all participants attending as a grand finalenot only to share insights, seek explanations from the pastor on unanswered questions, but also to celebrate the Kingdom.
Introduction to the Gospel of Luke
Before we study the message the Gospel of Luke has for us in reaching out to others, it is important to know something about who wrote it and why. It also helps to know to whom it was originally addressed and what final outcome was expected from his readers. Answers to these questions will help us also to understand how we fit into the great family of the people of God, as members of Gods Kingdom into which Jesus has called us. These answers will help us to see our mission as Gods people.
Who is the author?
The author was certainly well educated, for he writes in a fluent Hellenistic style, after the manner of Greek historians. He was also well acquainted with the Old Testament scriptures in the Greek translation (the Septuagint) and familiar with Jewish traditions. However, his inadequate knowledge of Palestinian geography would indicate he was not a native of Palestine. Although the Gospel would not have been titled the Gospel of Luke originally, the church has always from earliest times recognized the author as Luke, the person who is referred to in Philemon 24 as Pauls fellow-worker, and in 2 Timothy 4:11 as the only one who was with Paul during his final days in Rome. In Colossians 4:14 he is called Luke the beloved physician who, together with Paul and other companions, sent greetings to the church at Colossae. An ancient Greek Prologue to the Gospel, written at the end of the second century AD, says that Luke was a Syrian of Antioch, by profession a physician, the disciple of the apostles, and later a follower of Paul until his martyrdom.
Why was it written?
Luke gives a reason at the beginning of his Gospel. Read Luke 1:1-4. There he acknowledges that many have already written about the teaching and mission of Jesus as this was passed down from eyewitnesses and servants of the Word. So why does Luke write another account? He tells us that having investigated everything accurately from the first, he wished to write in order, point by point so that his reader might know the certainty of what he had been taught so that he would feel secure in it (1:3-4).
The real meaning of this statement becomes clear as we examine Lukes writings as a whole. In order to understand his purpose we need to look also at his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles. When we put this together with the Gospel, we can see how Luke has set out a continuing story. In the Gospel everything focuses towards Jerusalem as the centre from which the message of Jesus is to go out into the world. In Acts, the risen Jesus sends the disciples out as witnesses into all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). That is then illustrated primarily in Pauls activities right up to the time Paul is still preaching in Rome around 61 AD, even while under house arrest there (Acts 28:30). Lukes two volumes thus give the whole sweep of the spread of the Gospel from Galilee to Jerusalem and from there to all the lands around the Mediterranean and on to Rome as the centre of the whole Roman Empire.
In Lukes Gospel Jesus concentrates on bringing the Good News to the people of Israel in fulfilment of Gods promises to them, and on preparing his disciples for their mission. Nevertheless, every now and then Luke will emphasize that the Good News is also for all nations. This is highlighted in old Simeons utterance when the infant Jesus is presented at the temple: My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the nations, and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:30-32). Luke expands the quotation of Isaiah 40:3 said in regard to John the Baptist in Matthew 3:3, to include the words of Isaiah 40:5: and all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Luke 3:6). Luke places Jesus preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth virtually at the beginning of his ministry to emphasize that Jesus purpose is in accordance with Isaiah 61:1-3 and 58:6. When that message and Jesus prophetic role are rejected, Jesus points the people of Nazareth to examples of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha being sent by God to outsiders beyond the borders of Israel (Luke 4:16-30; cf. Matthew 13:53-58). The implication is clear that even if it is rejected by those to whom it was originally sent, the Good News to the afflicted would go to, and was also meant for, all nations. This same message is given again in Luke 13:22-30 where they will see people coming from the four corners of the earth to celebrate in the Kingdom of God. In Lukes version of the messianic banquet parable (14:15-24; cf. Matt 22:1-14), the master sends his servant out a second time to bring in people from the highways and hedges, that is, those outside of Israel. The Gospel ends on a universal note when the risen Jesus explains to his disciples that his death and resurrection was so that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (24:46-48).
With this emphasis in mind, Luke wanted to show that Christianity had a positive stance toward Rome and its people and that it was a politically harmless, socially conscious, love-motivated faith founded on the message and ministry of Jesus Christ. In Jesus God had fulfilled his promises to Israel and now extended these blessings to all nations. For this reason Jesus had exemplified Israels role and had trained his followers to carry out that role of being faithful witnesses to the nations.
Luke wished to demonstrate, therefore, that Christianity was really a branch of Judaism, because Judaism had been officially recognized as a bona fide religion in the Empire with its headquarters in Jerusalem. Consequently, Luke connects Jesus to Jerusalem as often as he can. Jesus, 40 days old, is presented in the temple in Jerusalem (2:22); at age twelve he is again found in the temple (2:42-46); his Galilean ministry is shortened (4:14-9:50), while his journey to Jerusalem is expanded (9:51-19:27). This is followed by his Jerusalem ministry (19:28-21:38) and his suffering, death and resurrection there (22:1-24:53). Significantly, Jesus final words to his disciples in the Gospel are to tell them to stay in Jerusalem until they are clothed with power from on high (24:49). It is from Jerusalem, as Luke shows in Acts, that the Good News goes out into the world of his time, reaching even to Rome, the centre of the Mediterranean world.
The constant message that no-one is deemed unworthy, no-one is to be regarded as marginal, or outcaste, or inferior, that all people are acceptable in Gods sight, points in one direction: This Gospel has been written primarily for Gentiles. Luke wanted to say emphatically that when God sent his son Jesus Christ to seek and to save the lost, that included also the Gentiles.
To whom is it addressed?
Luke addressed his Gospel to most excellent Theophilus, which may be a generic name to mean any person who seeks to be a friend of God (theophilos). The work is certainly directed towards Greek-speaking Gentiles who know something of the story of Jesus and are acquainted to some degree with the Old Testament prophetic writings.
The message of Jesus had first been proclaimed to Jews in a Jewish context against the background of Jewish tradition. The first Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew, had been written for Jewish Christians. The early church was unanimous in its conviction that this Gospel had early circulated in an original Hebrew version which was later translated into Greek. The Hebrew version continued to be used by those Jewish Christians in the eastern Diaspora, while the Greek version circulated around the Mediterranean lands initially among Greek-speaking Jewish Christians and early Gentile converts. However, because Matthews Gospel was addressed primarily to Jewish Christians, with its references to Jewish law and practices, Gentile Christians could gain the impression that they were only second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. Luke sought to correct that impression by writing his Gospel specifically for Gentile Christians to give them the certainty (Luke 1:4) that the Good News was also addressed to them. This is essentially what was implied by that second-century Greek Prologue to Lukes Gospel: He [Luke] made very clear in the prologue that other (gospels) had been written before him but that it was necessary to set forth for Gentile converts the accurate account of the (new) dispensation that they might not be distracted by Jewish fables or deceived by heretical and foolish fantasies, and so miss the truth itself.
Take a look at Luke 1:1-4 and some of the other passages mentioned above. Discuss the implications of Lukes purpose for sharing the Good News with others.