THE THEOLOGICAL IMPORTANCE OF LUKE AND ACTS FOR THE CHURCH TODAY
Luke Introduction 42.6
Charles e Whisnant, Teacher, Learning, Researcher,
April 01 2012
What would be some of the theological importance of the book of Luke for the church today?
What does the Gospel of Luke bring to the table that would less noticeable or absent in the other Gospel?
AN ONGOING HISTORY:
This 21st Generation seems to be must less concerned about history. Yet what concerns this generation is a particular kind of history. It is not history as we studied it in our times, as a retelling of past events. Rather history as the context within which all of life is lived and particularly as the ongoing narrative or story of life on our planet.
Where the debate is about health care, social policy or even international relations, the debate is shaped in terms of the future outcome of the decisions made. What will be the consequences of the fiscal deficit for our children and grandchildren? If I have heard that statement once I have heard it ten times
How will the earth survive its mindless development?
Whereas in this generation, history is an open, unfinished process. We will study the past, not as if it were all of reality, or even all that is important, but rather as people immersed in the continuation of that past, and in its way to the future. History is not closed. It is not just about our ancestors. It is about us and the generations to come.
Well Luke it seems of all the Gospels carries the story beyond the resurrection and the appearances of the risen Lord. His Gospel goes to the ascension. Then he continues the story in the second part of his writing, the book of Acts.
I missed this the first time around, I did teach Mattthew, when I should maybe taught Luke first.
Because Luke-Acts are two volumns, and should be conceived as a whole, as a continued narrative.
First restating what others had written about Jesus, and then describing the development of the early Christian community. So if I get out of Luke I will do Acts.
So Luke the writer had a particular view of Christian history. Yes Luke would have agreed that the conclusion of all of history is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Yet he carries this point beyond Mark and Matthew. But this does not mean that history has ended, that what every happen from that point on is not really significant.
But on the contrary, Luke is concerned with how history now unfolds, particularly among those who share the common Christian faith that Jesus Christ is the end of history, and with placing this in the context of all of human history.
The purpose of the writing of Luke-Acts, Luke seem to say there is this overarching argument, a grand narrative that gives meaning to the whole.
The chronological dimension of that story – as in any story that is well told – is obvious. (when you learn it). \
Luke-Acts begins by grounding Jesus in a genealogy that goes back to Adam:
Then tells the story of the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus:
In order to move into his second volume to the continued work of Jesus through the Spirit in the life of the church.
(Charity reads novel, and she reads them in order that they are written, good idea)
The geographic dimension of the two volumes, is important as well.
The story begins in Galilee; slowly winds its way to Jersusalem, where it settles for the last c chapters of the Gospel and the first chapters of Acts:
And then moves on to Antioch, Asia Minor, Greece, and eventually Rome.
You will notice that the chronological and geographic history is left unfinished.
Paul is under house arrest in Rome, and we are told noting about the final outcome of his appeal to Caesar.
In Acts 1:8 the promises the disciples the disciples that they will be witnesses “to the end of the earth,” but you will notice that the narrative takes us only to Rome, hardly “the ends of the world, and there it leaves us, with no hint as to how the promise of Acts 1:8 is fulfilled.
Okay we could call Luke-Acts “The Unfinished Gospel.” (Which I did in the beginning teaching Acts.
When we get to the end of Acts, Paul is in Rome, and we get so engross and we are sad that the story ends there. We are left hanging, waiting for the next stage in history.
We are left with a cliff hanger, like some serial in television, unfinished in its narrative.
Why? I really don’t know, but just maybe Luke was not only seeking to give us information about history but to invite us to be a part of history.
We are going to learn the story of Jesus and the early church; BUT, we are going to be invited to see ourselves as the continuation of that story, and to become witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”.
The grand narrative is therefore an invitation, a reminder to readers of who they are; and within that grand narrative the various smaller narrative units must also be seen as a calling and an invitation.
Luke in his writing, with the Holy Spirit as Luke guide, and as the Word of God is a living, every presence today . Luke is very close to our own interest in history in 2012.
We study and write history to be a part of it. Those who see hope in the present, use history to invite others to hope. Those who see doom, to invite others to fear. Those who seek guidance and correction, to invite others to follow the guidance and correction of history.
WE ARE PART OF AN ONGOING HISTORY, ITS UNFINISHED, AND THERE IS AN INVITATION TO JOIN WHAT GOD IS DOING AMONG US.
I have said many times, “I want to know what God is doing in History now, and get in on what He is doing.”
But as a footnote, there is the counterpoint to this: This unfinished history is not simply up for grabs. Its end has already been written. It has been written in the life and death, and resurrection of Jesus, and in his final reign.
And, because the end has been written, Luke invites us today to join in the grand narrative that begins in His Gospel, continues in Acts and leads to us.
THE GREAT REVERSAL:
Let us look at the particular interest that we seem to see in the book of Luke. There seems to be a grand reversal on the part of the writing of Luke’s geopolitical ( “Geopolitics” politics, esp, international relations, as influenced by geographical factors. The study of politics.
In a world where all power and all important decisions were expected to come from Rome and within the context of a Judaism centered in Jerusalem, Luke tells a story that begins in Galilee- a marginal land by both Roman and Jewish standards—and the moves on to bring its message and its power first to Jerusalem, and the into Rome itself.
Within this context of that geopolitical reversal, that is the relationship that existed between a country’s politics and its geography, and the influences that geography has on political relations between countries Luke offers numerous instances other reversals no less astonishing.
1 Mary announces this at the very beginning of the Gospel: 1:51b-53
2 The parable of the Prodigal, it is the supposedly good son who is left out of the feast, while the prodigal has a banquet celebrated in his honor.
3 Jesus shows particular compassion for those whom His society would consider the worst sinners, and has harsh words for good religious people.
4 The hungry will be filled, and those who weep will laugh; but those who are now full will be hungry, and those who now laugh will weep (6:21,23; 16:19-31
5 The first shall be last, and the last first.
6 Things hidden to the wise have been revealed to babes.
7 The greatest is the one who serves.
Reversal is a theme of some of the classic children’s stories: Cinderella and the Ugly Duckling.
There is much in those stories that is wrong. The notions that a girl’s highest purposes in life is to marry a prince, that physical beauty is to be valued above all, that women do not love their stepchildren are wrong.
But there is one point that is still true: Justice requires a reversal of conditions for the excluded and the opposed – and, if they insist on their privileges, also for the insiders and the oppressors.
This is a theme we sometimes like and sometimes detest, generally depending on whether we are the wronged or the wrongdoers.
If we feel wronged, we call for reversal.
But if other claim we have wronged them, and all for reversal, we reject their pleas as unjustified, ungrateful and inordinately proud or even violent.
It is at this point that the Gospel of Luke both encourages and confronts us.
It encourages us if we seek a just reversal, and it confronts us if we resist it.
Luke’s unfinished history includes a grand reversal as a sign of the reign of God, and invites us to consider the reversals that we encounter in our day as possible signs of reign.
A REVERSAL FOR THE POOR
4:18; 6:20; 7:22; 14:13, 21; 18:22; 19:8; 21:3
For Luke the gospel is “good news for the poor” 4:18. And this is part of the great reversal.
While this is a central theme throughout the Gospel, probably the best-known example is the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, whose conditions are radically reversed in the end.
Hear Luke speaks to our day. Throughout the world, people are coming to the conviction that poverty is in large measure the result of injustice.
While we who have never had to face hunger, nakedness, and lack of medical service, and who consider ourselves producers of wealth, find it difficult to understand such an interpretation of reality. We look for people who are poor through their own fault, and then claim that we are willing to help ‘the worthy poor,” but not the rest. Therefore there are only a few worthy poor and there is no need for radical action is needed.
Well the poor in Luke are the supposedly unworthy poor. Quite often, “the poor and the sinners” were lumped together. After all, the poor could not offer proper sacrifices, could not keep themselves clean of ritual contamination, and had to deal with many things that the godly considered unclean.
IT IS TO THESE POOR THAT THE MESSAGE IS GOOD NEWS.
It is to these poor that the great reversal is announced.
Thus Luke comes into our present reality speaking a word that, though unwelcome by many our age needs to heed.
Throughout history, in the world, in our age, its characterized by the emergence of women claiming their rights to be protagonists of their own lives. (They want to be a main participant in an event)
Culture wants to keep women in their place.
Here again Luke speaks rather often about this relevant issue in our day.
Women have a significant role in Luke’s gospel and in Acts.
Who was the first person to hear the good news about the birth of the Messiah? A woman.
Who was the first person to hear the good news about Christ resurrection? Women.
Luke is the only Gospel writer who informs us that the early Jesus movement was financed by women: 8:1-3.
In chapter one Mary and Elizabeth are much more important than Joseph and Zechariah.
In the Gospel, Luke often couples story or a parable about a man with one about a woman.
2:25-38 its Simeon and Anna.
4:31-39 Jesus heals first a man and then a woman.
8:26-56 once again Jesus heals a man and a woman.
The parable of the Good Samaritan in chapter 10 is followed by the visit with Mary and Martha.
In 13:18-21 someone (a man) plants a mustard seed, and a woman adds some yeast to the dough.
In 15:1-10 a shepherd loses a sheep, a woman loses a coin.
EATING AND FEASTING
A theme in the Gospel eating. Jesus attends banquests. Jesus is seen at meals. Jesus eats after his resurrection. Jesus is eating at a meal because it is a way of expression of the social and religious order. Jesus eats and drinks with not only the worthly but the supposedly unworthly. Jesus uses meals to announce a different order, and he does this to the point of criticizing the sitting conventions at a banquet to which a leader of the Pharisees has invited him 14:7-11, and then suggesting to his host that His guest list is wrong 14:12-14. Jesus and eats as a part of an act of worship. Lord’s Supper for one, and His final banquet when he left earth.
Today we eat on the run. Infrequently sitting together as a family. Jesus and Luke participated in symposium meals. A formal meeting held for the discussing of a subject. They reclined on couches and were long and festive, featuring food and drink and lengthy conversation. No gulping and galloping at those meals.
The meal at the dinner table is one of the places where we most clearly manifest our values as well as our social gatherings and prejudices.
We usually invite to dinner oly those whom we like, or those whom we must invite because some social gathering or obligation. Those whom no one likes, those who are most in need of it, seldom receive a dinner invitation.
And what is true of the actual tables in our dining rooms is also true at the larger table of the earth and its produce.
Maybe we need today to correct our “good manners” at the table in our home and in the world.
THE SPIRIT (where I really want to go)
In the twenty-first century, there can be little doubt that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit will be a central issue in our century as it has never been before.
While its seems true that the more traditional churches are losing membership, some are losing hope, whereas the vibrant and growing churches in the world stress the work of the Spirit in their midst.
Much of the work of the Spirit lead to excesses, but nevertheless the churches need to rediscover what Scriptures says about the Spirit. Therefore a theology for the 21st century will be largely a theology of the Spirit.
In Luke-Acts stresses the role of the Holy Spirit, both in the life of Jesus and in the life of the early church. 17 references to the Spirit in the Gospel of Luke
In Acts the Spirit is mention 57 times.
The work of the Spirit is a major part of the ministry of Jesus.
Early in Luke Jesus’ mission is based on the scriptural declaration “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” 4:18. In Acts practically opens with Jesus’s promise that the disciples would receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and the fulfillment of that promises at Pentecost.
One could say that in Luke we have the story of the work and presence of the Spirit in Jesus, and in Acts we have the story of the work and presence of Jesus through the Spirit.
So why the Gospel of Luke? Why today?
Simply, because it is precisely the Spirit whose work Luke emphasized that makes any Scripture – and certainly the Gospel of Luke – relevant to us today.
We do not study Luke because he was a good writer, and he was,
Nor do we study Luke because he was a good historian, and he was,
Nor do we study Luke because he tells us the customs and political figures of his time, and he does,
We study Luke because, through the agency of that same Holy Spirit whose work and power Luke emphasizes, his Gospel becomes the Word of God to us, leading and accompanying us as we seek to join Jesus in the great reversal He announces and brings about.
THE STORY OF LUKE AND ACTS: Christianity is a story. It is a story of God’s dealing with humankind and with all of creation, particularly through Jesus Christ, and since then, by the power of the Sprit, in the church and in the world in which it has been placed.
So as we go though Luke, we must not seek to supersede the narrative, nor to turn it into abstract principles, but to relate it to the life and proclamation of the church and of its members.