Luke, the Beloved Physician
Topic: Grace Pulpit
Luke the Beloved Physician
January 18, 2015
As you know, we’ve entered into the Gospel of Luke over the past couple of weeks, and we’ve started by looking at the style of Luke, the excellence with which he writes the gospel, just seeing how our author here can tell a very, very compelling story with the gifts and skills that God gave him. Last week we considered the prologue, and we talked about the author’s diligence in his research, his concern for accuracy and his goal of providing his readers, starting with Theophilus, with certainty about the gospel. The one thing we have not seen in the biblical records is a clear statement about who wrote it. Why do we say Luke wrote Luke? So, we’re going to get into that today. We’ve got a lot to cover, and as you can see, the communion table’s before us, so we’ll want to get right into talking about Luke. Today’s sermon may seem a little bit more like a lecture, but as we pointed out last week, this is introductory material; this is going to help us get an appreciation of what you’re studying as we’re going through Luke’s gospel. But I want to answer a couple of questions today. And first is the question I already mentioned: How do we know that Luke wrote this gospel? The second question is what do we know about Luke from Scripture? There’s not much written about him in the Bible, but there is a lot about him in the Bible. So, we’re going to pull that out. In answering the first question about the identity of the author here, you’re actually going to learn more than you thought you ever knew about Luke the author.
I want to keep this, though, I want to keep this from becoming just a merely intellectual exercise, and so I want to tell you up front the pastoral reason that I thought we should spend a Sunday getting to know our author, this author of the Gospel of Luke. Verifying the authorship of this gospel, sketching out a biography of the author, those two exercises really converge in a single thought, and this is the thought that I want you to keep in mind throughout this sermon: Certainty leads to conviction, and conviction leads to an abundant, joyful and fruitful Christian life. Okay, that’s what I want you to think about as we’re going through this material. If you’re ever tempted to say, "Okay, what are we doing this week?", here’s the reason why. Certainty leads to conviction, that’s why Luke wrote, “so that you may have certainty about the things you have been taught.” Certainty leads to conviction and conviction leads to an abundant, joyful, fruitful Christian life. Certainty in the truth is productive. Luke had certainty about the things he wrote, and he shared the gift of his certainty with Theophilus and then with all of his readers, including us, that’s the prologue, Luke 1:1-4. That’s what he’s saying, and Luke’s certainty about the gospel led to a conviction that took him all over the world, traveling with the apostle Paul. And it led to a tremendous amount of personal effort and sacrifice all for the glory of Christ and for the good of other Christians. Certainty was productive in Luke’s life, and it can be productive in yours too. And that’s my prayer for you, that’s my prayer for all of us—that through our study of Luke, starting even with these introductory messages, it’ll lead to that kind of fruitfulness, productivity and joy. So let’s get started.
First thing, we need to verify here that it was indeed Luke who wrote Luke and even Acts; we’ll talk about Acts. Considering Luke’s detail-oriented research, he would not want us to take for granted that he wrote this gospel. Luke would want us to check his credentials. So, how do we know Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke? Some of you are thinking, "Well, dummy, I guess it’s because my Bible says, 'The Gospel according to Luke' right before Luke 1:1. It’s right there." Okay, that’s true, but that title doesn’t show up in the Scripture. Okay, how do you know for certain that Luke wrote this gospel; what’s the basis of your certainty? That’s what I want to help you with. I can start by telling you that Luke’s authorship has never been seriously questioned, not until we get into 18th Century liberals from Europe, right, who denied the supernatural, they denied predictive prophecy, they denied the gospel, they denied scripture, essentially. The liberals maybe snatched a careless sentence from a writer named Photios in the ninth century, a man who merely mentioned the conjecture of other people, and it was in the context of affirming Luke’s authorship of Acts. He talked about other people who may have been involved in Luke’s writing—Barnabas and others—but he wasn’t even saying any of that was true; he was affirming Luke’s authorship, but liberals fanned that sentence with their own doubts into flames of unbelief, and they questioned Luke’s authorship, they denied Luke’s authorship.
But that is in complete contrast to the early church’s testimony. The early church universally acknowledged Luke was the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. Irenaeus, Clement, Origen, Tertullian, all of them specifically state Luke authored both those books. This chorus of witnesses goes way back, and it’s very, very widely dispersed around the Roman Empire. Irenaeus and Clement were contemporaries. They were mid to late second century. Origen and Tertullian were contemporaries. They were later second century, early third century and their witness is only a generation or two from the apostles. Irenaeus in particular was a disciple of Polycarp, and Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John. So, John to Polycarp to Irenaeus, and he says Luke wrote it. Those four church fathers all come from different parts of the Roman Empire. Irenaeus was located in Leon, in modern-day France. Clement traveled to all the major cities of the Empire, but he landed in Alexandria, Egypt. Origen was also located in Alexandria and then Tertullian was to the west of him in Carthage, which is modern day Tunisia—you know, in modern-day Northern Africa. So, from Europe to the Middle East, to North Africa, that’s a testimony about Luke’s authorship with wide geographic dispersion. It spanned the entire Roman Empire. So, it’s an ancient testimony just a generation or two removed from the apostles. No one had a different idea about who wrote this gospel and those are the folks we should be listening to, the ones who were very close to the action.
But even apart from that, and I don’t want to go too far investigating everything they said and all that, but we can ourselves 2,000 years later do a little inductive Bible study to verify Luke’s authorship. Here’s how it goes. You’re going to like this; we’re going to follow three lines of evidence to establish Luke’s authorship here, starting with what we can trace in the prologue. Okay, we’re going to start with the prologue. So, if you’re taking notes, here’s the first point, you might want to write this down for future reference, the prologue is consistent with Luke’s authorship. The prologue is consistent with Luke’s authorship. Even though Luke is never named in the gospel, there are several pieces of evidence in the prologue consistent with his authorship. Just listen to it again, Luke 1:1-4: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also having followed all things closely for some time past to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you’ve been taught.” You’re familiar with that, but let’s make a few things obvious; let’s highlight them.
First of all, it’s clear the author was not an eyewitness of the events that he records. He read earlier accounts, but he wasn’t there to see the things accomplished for himself, okay. Secondly, the author was, it says here, personally acquainted with the apostles, those who did witness the events, Luke 1:2, “those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word,” those are the apostles, “they delivered them to us.” So the author didn’t just read what others wrote; he heard with his own ears the testimony of the apostles. He was personally acquainted with those guys.
Thirdly, as we learned last week, the author was scholarly; he was trained in research, writing. He carefully researched the information that he recorded. As we saw last week, his research methods enabled him to produce an accurate account, an orderly and comprehensive account. It was reliable enough to provide the readers— Theophilus and others—with certainty, and not only that, but he had this rare combination of talents that made his scholarly research popularly accessible. That is, he didn’t write in such a way that it left everybody behind. He was able to bring it down to our level. He was no pointy-headed academic; he was a passionate writer, also a worshipper. He’s one of us. He was devoted to Christ. We saw that two weeks ago—how his literary ability enabled him to write a narrative with really vivid word pictures. What he wrote could be understood and appreciated by all kinds of people, scholar and layman alike. And it leads us to the obvious conclusion, plainly evident— that the author was as studied man. He was trained. He was a scholar, if you will, but he was a passionate, down-to-earth scholar. The level of training that’s evidenced in this prologue, combined with an interest in people, combined with a concern for practical, concrete application—all of that is consistent with someone who is a physician by training. Concerned about people’s health, concerned about their care, it turned him into a physician of the soul.
So, the author was not an eyewitness; he wasn’t that second generation of Christians who were personally acquainted with the apostles. He received the testimony about Christ directly from the apostles; the author was a scholar, not only a careful researcher, but also an accomplished writer, a practical writer, a lover of people. All of that is certainly consistent with Luke. It may even point to Luke, but notice it doesn’t prove Luke is the author.
So, let’s consider a second line of evidence. The second line of evidence here is the unity between Luke and Acts. If you’re taking notes, here’s how you can write it down so it makes sense later. The unity between the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts is consistent with Luke’s authorship. The unity between the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts is consistent with Luke’s authorship. It’s a short point, even an obvious point, but it’s vital in establishing Luke’s authorship of the gospel, and here it is. The similarities between Luke and Acts are so striking that they lead us to the conclusion that the same author wrote both works. Both books begin with prologues. Let’s turn over to the Acts prologue and take a look at that. The second prologue here refers to the first. Let me actually read that to you, Acts 1:1-5, and follow along. It says, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his sufferings by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them, he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which he said, ‘You heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’” That’s quoting from Luke. Notice how the author refers to the first book, and notice how both books here are addressed to Theophilus. Notice how this second book, the Book of Acts, not only summarizes the end of the first book, but it picks up where the story left off. They naturally fit together. This is clearly a continuation of the narrative. We all see it that way. It’s clear; it’s not coincidence at all. The same author wrote both books.
Not only that, but the two books, if you compare them, are very similar in content, very similar in style. Both books are marked by a universal interest in the salvation of humanity, Jew and Gentile alike. Both take particular interest in highlighting issues relevant to Gentiles, highlight the perspective of women, we’ve talked about that before. We don’t have time to trace all the similarities between the Gospel and the Acts, but the excellence in Greek expression, the massive vocabulary represented here, the use of language, all of it, exactly the same. In fact, one commentator, Alfred Plummer, summarized it best when he wrote this: “This similarity is found to exist in such a multitude of details, many of which are very minute, that the hypothesis of careful imitation by a different writer is absolutely excluded.” There are not two writers of Luke and Acts. One writer. It’s so abundantly clear, and the more you look at the details, or the more you back off and look at the broad picture, it’s clear. Whoever wrote Acts, wrote the Gospel as well, and whoever wrote the Gospel was also the author of Acts. Same person.
So, first we looked at the prologue of the Gospel; it’s consistent with Luke as the author. The authorship of a well-studied physician makes perfect sense. Second, the Gospel and the Book of Acts were written by the same person. So, I guess the final question is this, why are we so certain that the author’s name is Luke? Why do we think that? Why couldn’t it be someone else named in Scripture? Why do we think the author is Paul’s companion, this beloved physician, Luke, and here’s where we come to our final conclusive line of evidence and here it is for your notes. The “we” sections, and you can put quotes around “we.” The “we” sections in Acts point to Luke’s authorship. The “we” sections in Acts point to Luke’s authorship. What do I mean by the “we” sections? We’re talking about the sections of Acts in which the narrator enters the narrative; he comes into it and he tells the story at those points from a first-person perspective. Very, very important line of evidence here. Let me show you a few examples. You’ve already heard the author’s use of the first person singular in the prologue, both in the Gospel and in Acts. In Luke 1:3 he says, “It seemed good to me also […] to write an orderly account,” he’s talking about first person singular, me, myself. Then in Acts 1:1, the author writes, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I,” first person singular, “I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up.” Then from verse two, the author narrates the story in the third person; he did this, he did that, they did this, they did that, right? But the narrator comes back into the story during different portions. He’s one of Paul’s missionary companions, an eyewitness going through all the stuff himself. He’s a fellow minister with Paul, and there are three main “we” sections in Acts. Acts, chapter 16, Acts 20 and 21 and Acts 27-28. So, okay, Acts 16, Acts 20-21, and Acts 27-28—all of those are sections in which the narrator is a companion of the apostle Paul. The author of Acts is a companion of the apostle Paul.
The first example is in Acts 16. Go ahead and turn there. Acts 16, you remember, is when Paul was summoned by a man in a vision to come to Macedonia. Paul had actually planned on maybe going East, but he was summoned West in a vision. Acts 16:9, let me show you this, very interesting reading. I’m going to read just a few verses there, Acts 16:9, “A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately, we sought to go onto Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” So, you notice the first “we” there in verse 10. “So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and on the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days.” It’s clear the author was there right on the scene when Paul received that vision. He’s there, he’s listening, he’s hearing it—he’s hearing Paul relate this to himself and the others that were with them. So, the author heard what Paul said, they all agreed, they all jumped on a ship in Troas, set sail for Macedonia and then the author stayed a while with Paul and the others in Philippi. In fact, the author was present at the beginning of Paul’s ministry in Philippi. You can see it there in the text. He joined, in verse 13, he joined the women’s prayer meeting down by the river, verses 13-14. He witnessed Lydia’s conversion, he enjoyed her hospitality, verse 15. The author watched as Paul cast an evil—by the way, annoying—spirit, an evil spirit out of the fortune-telling slave girl. Sometimes you’re pretty sure that annoying people in your life are filled with evil spirits. I get it. It’s evidence right there. But Paul cast this evil spirit out of this fortune-telling slave girl, verses 16-18. It’s not clear, actually, whether or not the author personally witnessed what happened next, that is the anger of the slave girl’s owners, their accusations about Paul to the magistrates there, the unjust beatings, the imprisonment of Paul and Silas, the jailbreak, all that. He may have been there, though. He may have just been quiet about that part because that was taking place over here. So, the jailbreak, the divine jailbreak, the conversion of the Philippian jailer, the apology from the magistrates— again, he may have been there, or he may have moved on for some reason. We’re just not sure because the first-person plural has stopped at this point. We just don’t know if he’s right there. The last “us” was back in verse 17.
The next time the author shows up, the narrator shows up in the narrative is in Acts chapter 20. So, go ahead and flip over there, Acts chapter 20. In verse one, and Paul is at the tail end here of his third missionary journey. When he was in Philippi, he was there on his second missionary journey. He finished up that journey, went back to Antioch and then set out again, and he’s actually coming back through Macedonia on his way out, way back to Jerusalem, he’s at the tail end there. His second missionary journey ended in Acts 18:22. His third missionary journey started the very next verse, Acts 18:23. He just didn’t sit still for long. I understand that. He traveled by land from Antioch through the region of Galatia, Phrygia; he ended up in Ephesus. All of that region is in modern day Turkey. Paul stayed for three years in Ephesus and then during that time, one of his converts named Epaphrus, he went back East about 100 miles into the Lycus Valley where he was from. He planted the churches at Colossae and Hierapolis. Paul never visited Colossae. Paul’s wealthy friend Philemon lived there. The church probably met in his large home. It was a very productive, very rich time there in Ephesus of ministry, but the author of Acts was apparently not present for any of that, okay. He reappears again in Acts chapter 20 after Paul left Ephesus to return to Jerusalem. So here it is Acts 20:1-6, “After the uproar ceased,” this is the, remember all the people converted burning books and everything and the greatest Diana goddess of the Ephesians, that whole uproar, and they’re trying to bring Paul to actually, you know, wanted to kill him again, but after that uproar had "ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days.” Okay, two important facts about our author from that section. First, it seems pretty clear that the author, oh I’m sorry, that Paul that had left the author in Philippi because he picks him up again in Philippi. The last time the author was in the narrative was in Philippi, and here he is again in Philippi. It’s safe to conclude that Paul left Luke in Philippi to establish that church. It’s very interesting. It’s common with Paul to do that, to leave a trusted man there. He’d plant a church; it was a main function of his apostolic calling. Then he’d leave at least one faithful minister in that newly planted church to establish the church in the foundation of the gospel that he laid there. He sent Timothy to Corinth, and then later he sent him to Ephesus. He sent Titus to Crete. It seems clear here he left Luke to minister in Philippi. Hold that thought—we’ll come back to it in a minute.
The second thing we can see here, just this reading, that the author of Acts, he was one of Paul’s companions, but, get this, he’s not one of the companions that’s named here in this “we” section. We know for sure the author is none of the men named in verse four. The use of “we” alongside those other names, that excludes every named companion of Paul as the author. That means the author was not Sopater, the Berean. The author was not Aristarchus or Secundus, both from Thessalonica. It wasn’t Gaius or Timothy who was from Derbe. It wasn’t either of the Asians, Tychicus or Trophimus. So, for the same reason we can go back to Acts 16 and say it wasn’t Silas, because the author “we” was there and he talked about Paul and Silas in prison. So, the only companions of Paul who were not named in the Book of Acts who could possibly be considered as the author of the Gospel and Acts, just two men. Two men come to our minds: it’s Luke or Titus. Neither of those guys are named in the Book of Acts. And, yet, no one has ever suggested that Titus was the author of Luke and Acts. Nothing fits. Nothing fits about Titus and the authorship of these two books. In fact, the timing of Titus’s travels, his activities, like sorting out the problems in the Corinthian church, as you can see from 2 Corinthians 2 and 2 Corinthians 7, Titus probably wasn’t with Paul during the “we” sections in the Book of Acts. You can try to line up the timing. So that leaves just one, this beloved physician.
We started with the prologue in the Gospel, learned, connected it with the prologue of Luke. We learned something about the author’s character and competency from his prologues. We talked about the unity between the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. Both works are clearly written by the same author. And then the “we” sections of the Book of Acts. They lead us to this inescapable conclusion that Luke is the author of the two-volume work, Luke and Acts. When you combine all of that with the unanimous testimony of the early church, no one should question Luke’s authorship. No one. You say, "Yeah, we do that, tried to tell you. It already says, 'The Gospel according the Luke in my Bible. So, I’m a smart guy; I already figured that out and it told me." I know, but now you know with what? Certainty. Thank you. You’ve also just completed a process of inductive study, honestly, that very few people take the time to do, very few people. Very few people know how to do it and, yet, you know how to do it because you’ve just done it. We’ve all done it together. Isn’t that cool? Now you can go apply that in your own Bible study and learn more and more and more.
We’ve also, in that process, learned some very important things about Luke, the author. And I want to highlight some of that right now. It might surprise you to find out that Luke is named just three times in the Bible. In one sense, he’s not that important in the unfolding narrative of Scripture, but by virtue of his authorship, he’s absolutely indispensable to the narrative of Scripture. Without him, we’d be missing one third of the New Testament. So, as I said, Luke is mentioned just three times in the Bible: Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11 and Philemon 24. Apart from those three biblical references, Luke is relatively unknown. He wasn’t a major figure, but in each case, Paul is the one who mentions Luke. And in each case, every time he mentions Luke, Paul’s in prison. And that means the author is with Paul in his first Roman imprisonment in Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24. You can look at that. That’s the prison epistles, four prison epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, and then Colossians and Philemon. Paul wrote those four, called the prison epistles. He wrote those in his first Roman imprisonment. And Colossians 4:14 just says this, “Luke, the beloved physician greets you as does Demas.” Later on in the next one, Philemon 23 and 24, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus sends greetings to you and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.” Now those two letters, Colossians and Philemon, were both carried by Tychicus to the Colossian church, delivered at the same time, so it makes sense that Luke is there and Luke is named.
The author, though, is with Paul again in the second Roman imprisonment. 2 Timothy 4:11, at the very end of Paul’s life, shortly before Nero put him death. Here’s the context, 2 Timothy 4:9-12, Paul is writing to Timothy; it’s a whole different tone, different from any of his other letters. It’s clear he’s about to die. Paul says, “Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me, gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia, Luke alone is with me. Get Mark—bring him with you because he’s very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I’ve sent to Ephesus.” That’s it, just three passages, but from those three passages and from what we can glean in the “we” sections of the Book of Acts, we get a character sketch of Luke. He was beloved to Paul. He was beloved. Not just as a physician, but as a fellow worker in the Gospel, as a man who stayed faithful to Paul to the very, very end. Loyalty in friendship is so uncommon, isn’t it? That’s what makes friendship and loyalty so precious to us. When all the world was against Paul, when all his friends left him at the very end, when he was condemned and rotting in prison awaiting his death sentence, Luke stood by him, Luke was there. Remarkable man. So, how did someone who was so relatively unknown to the narrative of Scripture, how did he become the author of a third of the New Testament? What is it that connected Luke and Paul so much to unite them in such a strong bond of loyalty and friendship, partnership and devotion? I just want to take a few minutes and find out who this guy was, okay?
A number of commentators think that Luke came from Antioch. You know, it’s a central hub, that church in Antioch was a central hub for Christianity. Antioch was especially known for its missionary activity in the later first and early second century, into the second century. This is the Antioch known as Syrian Antioch, which is today at the southern tip of Turkey. If you look on your map and you see how the Mediterranean kind of curves around, you’ve got Israel over here, North Africa here, Europe up here. Turkey is right up here in the corner and it’s got a little tip, spit of land that comes down and it’s on the Mediterranean. Antioch’s right in there. So, it’s within sight of the western shores of the Mediterranean Sea. We don’t know for certain that Luke was from Antioch, but it seems pretty likely. Antioch—it’s geography, the internal activity of that church, what was going on in the meetings—all is described so clearly in the Book of Acts that it seems Luke was right there, watching it. It just reveals Luke’s fondness for the city. There was another city called Antioch, you know; it was called Pisidian Antioch or Antioch in Pisidia, Acts 13:14, but the Antioch in Syria is just plain Antioch, as if it’s a kind of a center reference point for him, kind of like America on American-made maps is right in the middle of the world and everything else is split in half on the sides. Have you seen those maps? I don’t know if they’ve expunged them from today’s curriculum, but they used to be in mine. I thought, yep, America’s right in the center, of course, I live there. But that’s how it was for Luke. Antioch was right in the center of his thinking, and you can see that kind of thinking coming across in how he writes. He seems to highlight it at times. And like when he lists the first deacons in Acts 6:5, he names each man—Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and get this, Nicholas was what? A proselyte from Antioch, by the way, kind of like, "That’s my homeboy, I know him." So, if Luke was from Antioch, that would mean that he and Paul were kind of like from the same home church, saw the same meetings together. The two men may have grown up in the faith together. Paul kind of came there as a newer convert, and that’s where Barnabas was. That’s where Barnabas really helped Paul to grow in the faith.
We think that Luke was from Antioch, but we do know for sure that Luke was a Gentile; he was probably a native Greek. For example, when Paul passes on Luke’s greetings to the Colossian church in Colossians 4:14, Luke is listed with the other Gentiles, not with Aristarchus, Mark and Jesus or Justus of whom Paul says, “These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers,” Colossians 4:11. Luke isn’t named with them among the men of the circumcision, among his fellow workers; he is named with the Gentiles on the next list. Not only that, but you can see all through Luke and Acts, you can see how Luke describes people of other ethnicities, how he translates certain words out of the native Aramaic or Hebrew and puts them into the vernacular. This guy’s a Gentile. But more specifically, he was probably a native-born Greek, as well. He was probably a Greek because of his fluency in Greek, his command of the language that is far more likely of a native Greek speaker than it is for a non-Greek. The fact that Luke was a Gentile—you know what that means? It means that Luke is the only non-Jewish author in the New Testament. In fact, he is the only Gentile author in the whole Bible. It is significant that God would choose a Gentile to write one third of the New Testament, a Gospel for the Gentiles, written by a Gentile. What a God we serve, to fold us in to the narrative of his people!
Well, not only was he from Antioch, a native Greek—I’m assuming he was from Antioch, he was a native Greek—he was also a physician. We noted in Colossians 4:14, “Luke the beloved physician greets you.” You need to understand something about being a physician in the first century. It wasn’t quite like today, right? In the Roman Empire, most doctors, physicians were slaves. They were owned by someone. Statistics are such that if Luke was a physician, he was likely not born into freedom, but into slavery. There were tens of millions of slaves throughout the Roman Empire; they served all kinds of functions, at all levels of society, in fact. In the larger cities like Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Antioch, about one third of the population would have been slaves. It wasn’t just the rich who owned slaves, either. Even middle class families would own an average of eight slaves per household. Even people who were set free from slavery, called freedmen—men and women who bought their freedom or were granted their freedom through manumission—even they owned slaves. Nobody in that day thought slavery was evil, it just was. That was the way the economy worked. In fact, it was called the slave economy. If you removed all the slaves, the whole thing would’ve just completely crumbled. People saw slavery, in fact, in that day as a motivation for paying your debts. You didn’t want to be caught up in debt slavery. It was a motivation for fighting bravely in battle because the loser becomes the slaves to the victor. So, you do not want to lose the war. It brought out a lot of bravery.
So, many slaves lived and died in slavery, but some slaves were able to gain their freedom. In fact, manumission was one of the ways to motivate slaves and avoid an uprising. So, you didn’t want the slaves getting together because, of course, for any rebellion or anything like that, you would be punished severely and definitely, you’re not going to get your freedom. So, masters held out the hope of freedom for their slaves; they kept them working faithfully, relatively subservient in the pursuit of freedom for themselves or even family members. That may have happened with Luke. Perhaps his master saw potential in Luke while he grew up in his household. He invested in Luke, trained him in medicine. The idea was that Luke would return from his education, serve the household, and, perhaps the master would put Luke’s skills to use to start another revenue stream, charging other households for medical care. But at some point, Luke either bought or earned his freedom. It wasn’t totally unheard of that a master would show favor to a beloved slave and simply set him free. Again, while we don’t know that for certain, I don’t have time right now to unpack all the reasoning that goes into that, but it is a pretty good educated guess that this was Luke’s route. He was a native Greek slave; he was trained in medicine. He received a very, very good education, and he was set free by a benevolent master—whatever the circumstances were of that—and then God put his training to a different use than it was originally intended by the owner, right? God does things like that—trains you in some way and in something you did not anticipate, something you didn’t foresee. God puts all that training to work in some other direction for his purposes and his glory.
Now, another thing, it’s not entirely clear when or how Luke became a Christian. He just shows up—he’s a Christian. He’s actually a pretty faithful minister when he shows up on the pages of Scripture, but it looks like he first met Paul at the church of Antioch. Antioch, as I said, was a thriving, active church. It was focused on reaching out beyond its walls to the Gentile world. Luke gives us an insider’s view of the scene in that church. In Acts 13:1-3 he says this, “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers,” which included Barnabas and Paul, or Saul then. And, “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I’ve called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” It’s likely that Luke witnessed that send-off. He was there, and through continued exposure to the reports brought back by the missionaries who were sent out, through seeing the thriving ministry that local church in Antioch, Luke himself was eventually sent out by that church as well. We don’t know exactly when or how it happened, but as we said, he shows up on the scene in the narrative in Acts chapter 16, joined up with Paul and his company there in Troas just before the Macedonian call. And then from then on, he proves himself to be useful in their missionary work. In fact, he is such an exemplary minister that Paul names him as one of his fellow workers, Philemon verse 24.
Now, as we said earlier, it appears that Paul left Luke in Philippi to minister there. Remember, the church started with the women’s prayer meeting. Joined to it, a jailer and the members of his household. So you had jailers and women, all that stuff—that’s the church. Perhaps that’s where Luke learned to appreciate a women’s perspective as he thought through things. Or to think through the plight of a soldier and what he has to deal with in submission to orders that he doesn’t maybe agree with. All of that comes through in Luke’s writings. So, it appears Paul left Luke in Philippi while on his second missionary journey, picked him up on the way back to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey, which was a period of more than five years. He had at least one and a half years in Corinth, Paul did. He was three years in Ephesus, so Luke had at least five years of ministry in Philippi, probably more. And if Paul’s letter to the Philippians is any indication—and you heard me read the first chapter of it this morning—remember, it’s an epistle of joy, so Luke’s ministry was very effective there, very fruitful. He injected the missionary zeal that he learned in Antioch into the church at Philippi. There’s a greeting to the Colossian church in Colossians 4:14. There’s a greeting to Philemon in Philemon 24. So, if he greets the church in Colossae, Luke does, and he greets Philemon, we have no records that Luke was ever in Colossae, that he was ever there. That was hundreds of miles away. How did he end up getting connected there? Probably through the evangelistic zeal of the Philippian church. Probably through the missionary efforts, probably through the outreach, probably through the support. Later, when Paul was in prison in Rome, the Philippian church, remember, sent a delegation led by Epaphroditus who served Paul sacrificially, even almost to death. Paul picked up Luke on his way back to Jerusalem; he was taken with him the Philippian church’s gift to the famine relief in Jerusalem. So, this church in Philippi was a thriving, evangelistic, giving, loving, sacrificial church body. Now listen, do not miss a connection. Loving sacrifice, evangelistic zeal, cheerful giving—a church like that, a church like Philippi, that finds joyful satisfaction in sufficiency of Christ. That’s thematic in the book of Philippians. Luke played a quiet role, but a significant one, in that ministry. That’s the mark of Luke’s influence—quiet, but very, very effective.
So, Luke traveled back to Jerusalem with Paul, he witnessed his arrest—that’s the whole section in Acts from chapters 20 to 21, and that’s where they parted company. Paul had been swept away with his arrest, his appearances before the Roman Tribunal, the Sanhedrin governors, then his extradition back to the Caesarian imprisonment. So, Luke is out of the narrative from chapter 22 to 26 of Acts, but Luke used those two years of Paul’s Caesarean imprisonment to conduct quite a bit of research in preparing the Gospel of Luke. After that, once Paul was sent from Caesarea to Rome to appear before Caesar, Luke rejoined him. I mean, you know the end of that journey. You know the end of that trip, making a case before Caesar, you’re going to be imprisoned, you go on a long journey that is friendship for Luke to join Paul on what is certain to be a bad, unpleasant experience—he joined him. That’s loyal, loyal friendship. So Luke took this ocean journey, this ocean voyage with Paul toward certain imprisonment. They endured a shipwreck together; they pulled each other up onto the beach in Malta. They were water logged, they were freezing, soaked, but eventually they made it to Rome, and Luke stayed with Paul during part of that imprisonment, though not all of it.
After Paul’s release, Paul went on to Spain, did some missionary work there; we lose touch with Luke. We don’t know what happened to him exactly, but he showed up again at the end of Paul’s life. 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul’s been abandoned by everyone else, he feels the betrayal, the departure of Demas, the apostasy of Demas, but Luke alone is with him. Luke gave him comfort. Clearly, Luke would’ve acted as Paul’s personal physician. You know how the connection between doctor and patient can be very, very close, right? You’ve experienced that yourself, especially if you’ve had a lifelong doctor. He knows you pretty intimately; he knows all of your warts, all the facts about you. It’s all charted, all recorded. That could become a very strong doctor-patient relationship, but I don’t believe that’s the reason Paul referred to Luke as the beloved physician. They shared life together. These guys shared ministry together, they suffered together. They endured hardship, loneliness, persecution, betrayal, abandonment. Luke was beloved by Paul because he was a faithful minister of Christ. He was a hard worker, a loyal friend who stayed with him in the midst of stress and danger even when Paul was socially ostracized, isolated and abandoned; Luke was true to the very, very end.
What made Luke remarkable was his devotion, not so much just to Paul, but first and foremost to Jesus Christ. Don’t forget that Jesus Christ—not the apostle Paul—Jesus Christ was the subject of his very first volume. Jesus Christ is on display, and that’s the one who drove Luke’s devotion, that’s the one who motivated his entire ministry and his entire life. It’s abundantly clear when you think about the level of his scholarship and research, his ability to write and communicate. Luke took all of those talents, all those skills, and he dedicated them for the sake, all of his energy, for the sake of elevating Jesus Christ. He’s utterly unconcerned about bringing attention to himself. That’s why he doesn’t name himself in either of his prologues in Luke or in Acts. He doesn’t criticize his predecessors, like we said, and he doesn’t write for the glory of his people, whether the Gentiles, the Greeks, whatever—he doesn’t write for the glory of that. He doesn’t write for any of that glory. He is humble and he applies his intellect solely for the good of Theophilus, solely for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. And, listen, that is not common. Luke’s prologues are similar in form to other prologues I’ve read like by Herodotus, Thucydides, Josephus—very similar in form to these other prologues, but by contrast, he does not parade his knowledge and learning. Luke is humble. He doesn’t have flights of erudition and eloquence. This man is completely down to earth, and he actually shapes and forms his intellect for the good of the people who are listening to him. That’s why he writes, that’s what he writes. It guides how he writes it. He’s not trying to impress. He’s trying to communicate clearly. Look, just a physician devotes himself, devotes his education, his training, his learning, his expertise, all of that for the care of his patient, Luke had here become a physician of the soul. He’s truly pastoral. He’s devoting himself sacrificially, humbly, excellently for the good of God’s people and for the glory of Jesus Christ. That’s what he would’ve seen in Antioch. It’s what he would’ve seen through all of his travels with Paul. It’s what he would have actually put into practice in intimate familiarity and detail in the church of Philippi. That’s what he gives himself to in writing the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. Listen, Luke’s life, that’s a life worth emulating, isn’t it? As I said from the beginning, we can see in Luke that his certainty led to conviction, and his conviction burst forth in abundant joyful, fruitful, Christian life. Isn’t that what you want for yourself, for those around you? That’s what I want as well.
Join me in a word of prayer. Heavenly Father, we just want to thank you for this gospel, we thank you for the Book of Acts, we thank you for how you’ve put in the pages of Scripture, if we’ll only take the time to pay attention and learn. You put into the pages of Scripture all the things we need to know to develop certainty and to develop a certain conviction in the truth. We thank you how your truth, the knowledge of it, the understanding of it, leads to abundant joy and fruitfulness in the Christian life and we ask, Father, that you would do exceedingly above all that we can ask or think here in this church and each of our individual lives as well. We commit this study to you, for your purposes and your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.