“Word for Today” – Luke 1 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com
“Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” So once said Benjamin Franklin. And Benjamin Franklin certainly lived up to his sobering, yet pithy, cynicism. For he lived in the shadow of eighteenth century Rationalism, trumpeted by the likes of gifted authors such as Voltaire, who wrote: “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” Doubting everything, it seems, was en vogue in Franklin’s day.
Of course, not much has changed. Rationalism has given way to post-modernism which has turned doubt into a near deity, calling on people to doubt even themselves and embrace what amounts to a near philosophical turpitude. Thus, as we begin reading through to gospel of Luke in the “Word for Today,” the doctor’s opening words in Luke 1 may perhaps strike us as fanciful and even absurd:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (verses 1-4)
“You may know the certainty of the things you have been taught?” Come on! Certainty is absurd! But Luke is serious about certainty.
Luke 1:1-4 has been called the best Greek sentence in the whole New Testament. His vocabulary is lofty and his syntax is complex. Moreover, Luke uses certain rhetorical devices, common to his day, to lead his readers to trust his integrity and credentials. A couple of phrases deserve our special attention.
First, Luke says that he writes his gospel as a record of events “just as they were handed down to us” (verse 2). The Greek word for “handed down” is paradidomi, a technical term for delivering authoritative information, much like you might receive from a lawyer in a certified letter today. Thus, Luke is certifying his gospel’s veracity.
Second, Luke says that he has “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (verse 3). In other words, Luke has done his homework concerning what he is getting ready to write. He has scoured sources and consulted eyewitnesses. If he were writing today, his gospel would surely contain a nearly endless parade of footnotes. For what he writes is a scholarly account of Jesus’ life.
Third, Luke engages in a rhetorical sleight of hand in his opening exordium. If you notice, Luke nowhere mentions in these verses that he is writing about Jesus. He only cryptically says that his is “an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us” (verse 1). Contrast this with Mark’s gospel, which begins unapologetically: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Luke’s tactic is intentional. By first establishing his credentials as a careful historian and author, Luke is leading his readers to trust him just as we would trust a biographer or a scholar. This way, we will not dismiss his record of Jesus’ work and teaching out of hand as an ahistorical flight of miraculous fancy. In other words, Luke seeks first to lead us to certainty about him so that he can lead us to certainty about Jesus.
So perhaps Franklin’s statement should be amended: “Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death, taxes…and Luke’s gospel.” And I bet if you continued searching the Scriptures you might even find that more of its books are certain. Indeed, you might even find that all of its books are certain. For they all reveal to us the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of heaven and earth and of you and me. And there’s no one more certain than him. In fact, I’m so certain of him, I’m betting my very eternity on him. But I’m not worried, for even in an uncertain world, my Jesus is still a certain bet. Is he your certain bet?
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