The Things Fulfilled Among Us
Bible Text: Luke 1:1 – 4 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Luke – A Careful History | Luke 1:1 – 4
The Things Fulfilled Among Us
What’s your Christmas tradition?
I wonder what Christmas traditions you have!
Some of us maybe go to the pageant every year.
For others of us, perhaps our traditions involve food, maybe stuffing a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey and trying to eat all of it!
Maybe it’s watching Christmas movies,
Miracle on 34th Street,
Home Alone, one of those.
Our family has lots of Christmas traditions, and one of those, is the setting up of the Fisher Price Nativity Scene at the beginning of December, so we’ve done that just this past week.
We get out Mary, Joseph, the Stable,
Innkeeper, shepherds, sheep,
Angels, wise men, and camels,
And because we also have the Fisher Price Noah’s Ark set, our nativity also features 2 zebras,
And 2 elephants!
But I’m sure you’ve noticed, the media has some Christmas traditions too!
For our TV stations can be relied upon, in the weeks before Christmas, to air some “groundbreaking” documentary, that apparently calls into question everything we’ve always known about the Christian faith.
Like clockwork, early December every year, some professor of German verbs or something from a university no one’s ever heard of, announces his interpretation of some archaeological artefact, that all the actual archaeologists in the world have somehow misunderstood, all these years.
It is, a Christmas tradition!
I noticed this year, that the first promotional material for the game-changing, faith-shaking expose, I saw on the 23rd of November.
It’s like the Christmas pageant, it seems to get earlier every year!
But perhaps you’ve already seen or heard something like that being promoted;,
Most of what we believe about Christianity is wrong,
There was no Jesus,
Nothing we read in the Bible has any connection to reality,
All the words of Scripture were decided 300 years after Jesus, or some other outrageous claim!
And maybe those sort of statements raise questions for you, or quite possibly for people we know.
What is the historical foundation for the Christian faith?
Can we rely on what’s written down in the Bible?
How do we know that what’s written, is an accurate reflection of what happened?
And we’ve all played Chinese whispers. Is the Bible simply the product of Chinese whispers that has extended for 2000 years or more, in which case, well, we all know how that game goes, don’t we?
Well, as we begin our new teaching series, Luke’s introduction tells us what he’s written,
How he’s written in his book,
And why he’s written.
And as we go along, we’ll see some answers to those questions that we might have, or that people we know have.
What: Luke wrote about things coming to their fulfilment.
So straight out of the gate, Luke tells us what he’s writing about.
In fact, he tells Theophilus, who we’ll come back to in a moment, that has written about things coming to their fulfilment.
Look at his beginning. , 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, and so on.
Luke’s gospel is about things that have been fulfilled.
The events surrounding the birth of Jesus, his life and ministry, his death, resurrection and ascension, all these things unfold in fulfilment of plans, and promises God had made to his people.
God had promised a king,
God had promised to come to be with his people,
God had promised to shepherd his people,
God had promised forgiveness for sin and rebellion,
Time and time again, God had promised salvation;
God had promised to deal decisively with the sin that separates us from God, and that causes us to rightly, face his anger.
And so notice, if you can deal with the very specifics of the grammar for a moment,
Notice Luke’s passive language; things that have been fulfilled among us.
The events surrounding the life of Jesus aren’t things that somebody fulfilled.
The story of Jesus isn’t about Caesar bringing things to pass,
It’s not about a carefully orchestrated plan that some people have been working on,
The scholars call this kind of grammar “the divine passive.” Where things are just stated as being done, without any mention of who’s doing it, it’s their way of saying “God did it.”
Luke wants us to be convinced from the outset, that the story of Jesus, is the story of God fulfilling his long-held intentions for the world.
And notice also, these are things that have been fulfilled.
Just think about that for a moment.
Luke’s saying, that the promise of forgiveness,
The promise of relationship that God had made in the generations of the Old Testament,
The promise of salvation from sin, a new heart, that makes us not want to rebel against God but serve God,
There’s not some part of that great salvation left hanging, left undone.
There’s not some essential part of our salvation that God’s waiting for us to bring to the table,
God’s plans and purposes have been fulfilled in Jesus.
We don’t top up Christ’ work,
We don’t repeat his sacrifice,
We don’t need God to act in now in the very same way he acted in the past, God’s plans and purposes reached the climax in Jesus.
Now, of course the lasting and ongoing implications of these events continue, even to today, don’t they?
But as far as our salvation is concerned,
As far as God’s intention for his creation, he hasn’t left the last bit for us to do.
These things find their fulfilment in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
How: Luke was very careful in recording history
So, having told us what he’s writing about, Luke goes on to explain how he’s gone about writing this account.
And here’s how we know that what we read in Luke and the rest of the Bible for that matter, that these things are true and reliable.
Luke isn’t writing something novel
So Luke points out that he’s not writing something new or novel; Plenty of other people have had a crack at this before him, Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us
He’s telling Theophilus, “This isn’t just an idea I had.
These are such significant events that many people have made a record of them.”
So what are these other accounts that Luke refers to? Well probably one of the things he has in mind is Mark’s gospel.
The historians reckon that Mark was the first of the 4 gospels to be written down, and there are bits in Luke where he seems to have used Mark as a source.
But also, without a doubt, Luke is mindful of other accounts of Jesus’ life, that we know nothing about. They haven’t survived the 2000 years or so from then until now, and so they’re lost to history.
But if you consider events like the life and ministry of Jesus, we’d be crazy to think that no one else had written any of this stuff down.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, weren’t the only people to think, “I reckon these events need to be recorded.”
But what Luke is not referring to here, is the groundbreaking “gospel” that is uncovered every Christmas in some weird kind of tradition! The so called Gospel of Mary, supposedly written by Mary Magdelene, or what’s called the Gospel of Judas, or others that you might have come across, that people like to tell us, revolutionize our understanding of Jesus and Christianity.
The problem with those documents, is that even the non-Christian scholars agree that the Gospel of Mary was written around 180 AD, and the gospel of Judas, closer to two eighty AD.
Luke’s gospel was written sometime in the early 60s AD, so the Mary document is about 120 years later, and the Judas one, 220 years later. So not only are they entirely incapable of giving us any kind of fresh insight into the life of Jesus and early Christianity, clearly Luke, 120 or 220 years earlier, isn’t going to use those documents, as his source material.
Regardless of what people like to say, those kind of writings, sometimes called the Gnostic Gospels, do not give us any kind of reliable perspective.
You will still see them on TV this Christmas.
But Luke wants Theophilus to know that other people before him, have also recorded the events surrounding the life of Jesus.
Lots of writers in the ancient world began their writing with a critique of everything else that had been written on the subject! Not Luke, he points out that others had written, as a way of underscoring the reliability of what he’s about to put on paper.
I’ve been reading Sherlock Holmes novels recently. And quite enjoying them! But it’s an interesting term, though, isn’t it? A novel.
Luke wants us to know that what he’s writing is not , novel.
The events surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus were so significant that many other people, committed those events to parchment.
You know when you search for something on Google, and it returns only one result? That’s disheartening, isn’t it?!
You want lots of people to have written about the thing you’re interested in.
“Google Jesus,” Luke says to Theophilus, “You’ll find plenty of what you’re looking for.”
Luke carefully investigated for his orderly account
The lasting impression we’re left with, on reading these introductory verses, is just how careful Luke has been in investigating, and writing.
Take a look at verse 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,
One of the books about Luke that I pulled off by bookshelf in the last couple of weeks, is called “Luke, Historian and Theologian.”
He’s a theologian, well, actually, we’re all theologians.
A theologian is just someone who has some thoughts about God.
The question is always whether we’re a good theologian or bad one! But Luke is also an historian.
Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright, once said that the role of the historian is “to give an accurate description, of what has never occurred”!
But Luke’s telling us just how careful he’s been, to record and order, the things that have occurred.
These days we’d call Luke an investigative historian.
You can picture him there, recording interviews on his iPhone, thumbing through page after page of official records at the government offices,
And spending hours in front of his computer, tracking people down on Facebook.
Or whatever the equivalent was in the first century!
Now, many of us perhaps know people who are into family history, genealogies, family trees, all that kind of thing. I’ve never really bothered digging into my family tree, But actually, that book, Luke, Historian and Theologian when I pulled it off the shelf the other week, I found inside it, the funeral card from my uncle who passed away three years ago, and it did make me stop and wonder about his life,
Where he was born,
The places that he’d been.
We do sometimes like to trace back our family history.
Any some here will have done that, worked out where your great great grandparents were born,
When your family first migrated and all that.
That , careful , tracing back, generation, generation, year by year, that’s the language that Luke uses when he says he’s carefully investigated.
Following the evidence,
Luke has carefully investigated everything, from the beginning, no doubt meaning, from the beginning of Jesus’ life, even before his birth, as we’ll see in the next couple of weeks.
But considering Luke’s already told us that the events of Jesus’ life are events of fulfilment, of things coming to their completion, I’m sure Luke also wants us to rest assured that his careful investigation, extended back into the Old Testament Scriptures, so that he knows exactly what’s being fulfilled.
He has carefully investigated everything, from the beginning
Luke relied on the very best sources
And part of Luke’s careful investigation, is his receiving the testimony from those who were there at the events they were describing. See verse 2, just as they were handed down to us by those who, from the first, were eyewitnesses and servants of the word
Luke hasn’t written his gospel according to what he heard from his mother’s sister’s cousin’s brother, or something like that!
People who want to undermine our confidence in the Scriptures, and say we can’t believe them, say that they’re not an accurate reflection of history, they say these things were passed along, from person to person, Chinese whispers style, for centuries before anyone wrote them down,
But that is entirely at odds with what Luke the historian records, isn’t it?!
He says the account of the events of Jesus’ life, the plans and purposes of God coming to their fulfilment, were handed down to us, that is, to Luke and his contemporaries, not at the end of some long chain of telling and re-telling, but from those who from the first, were, eyewitnesses, and servants of the word.
Luke the careful investigative historian, got his information, from the eye-witnesses.
We see , repeatedly in this section, just how carefully-chosen Luke’s words are, and this is just the introduction! But when he says these accounts have been handed down to us, he chooses a word that describes,
Not just conversation,
Not even the retelling a story,
He picks a technical word, that describes the deliberate passing on of a body of teaching.
Perhaps the closest thing we would be familiar with, would be the idea of teaching a curriculum. Those of you who are teachers are well-versed in this;
There’s a body of knowledge that you’re required to pass on.
The teachers in these classrooms during the week don’t get to decide, “Well, I think a year 7 should learn this!”
There is a careful passing on, of an authoritative message.
That’s what the eye-witnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus have passed down to Luke;,
Not their own opinions,
Not what they wish Jesus did,
Not what they imagined Jesus to be like.
They handed down a body of information about Jesus, and Luke uses this language of authoritative curriculum if you like, to say “this is the true message about Jesus.
If other people have thoughts or ideas about Jesus that are contrary to this, then those must be excluded.
Which still stands today. We hear all kinds of claims and ideas about Jesus,
From some sensationalist archaeological “discovery”,
To people we know, our friends and family, who say things like, “Well, I like to think about Jesus like, such and such.”
I remember one lovely older lady I met, who told me she liked to imagine that Jesus and Mary Magdalene got married.
Which, she’s free to imagine that, but Luke says, “Having done the investigative historian thing,
Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, here’s the definitive, authoritative, message about Jesus.
It’s what the eye-witnesses handed down to us, to Luke, and to the other gospel writers.
Any other thoughts or opinions about Jesus, need to be measured against this testimony.
Do you see all the ways that Luke’s saying, “What you’re holding in your hand, you can have great confidence in”?
But Luke goes one step further even, in talking about these people who have passed on the accurate, authoritative message about Jesus. He doesn’t just call them eyewitnesses, does he, but servants of the word or ministers of the word.
And this is one group, not 2 groups of people, it’s eye-witnesses slash servants.
What’s better, more accurate, than getting your information from someone who was there, who saw stuff?
Getting your information from someone who was actually part of it, involved.
So when the media wanted to cover the Day-Night test last weekend, they went and spoke to people who watched it, asked for their thoughts and opinions on the game and the format.
But they don’t stop there, do they?
They go and interview Steve Smith or the other players, to find out what really went on.
Eye-witness testimony is great!
But testimony from people who are involved,
Who understand what’s going on, that kind of evidence will give us even greater, more accurate insight, won’t it?
We know that in John’s gospel, he refers to Jesus as the Word. And Luke probably has something similar in mind. Such was the impact that Jesus, the Word had on these people, they became his servants, preaching the Word, the message about Jesus.
Luke’s account is well-ordered
And just briefly, notice that Luke calls this 2 volume set, an orderly account.
Looking at Luke’s gospel we can see that he’s arranged things broadly chronologically. He starts prior to the birth of Jesus, and finishes with the ascension of Jesus.
He’s put things in order.
But this implies more than just chronological order.
When we read the text, we can see that Luke has ordered things according to their place in salvation history, that is, God’s work in the world.
We see the movement from Jesus, to the church,
From the Jews, to all the world,
From God’s promises, to their fulfilment,
He shows the things that have been fulfilled, to give confidence as we wait for their summing up, and Jesus’ return.
That is, Luke has a particular goal or intention, in writing, and we’ll come back to that in just a second,
How do we know that what we have is what Luke actually wrote?
But how do we know that today we have Luke’s carefully investigated, orderly account?
Or, once again, has Chinese Whispers kicked in, and left us with something, maybe similar to what he wrote, but with various people’s additions, and subtractions, and interpretations?
And so what I’d like to do is something a little different from usual, and leave Luke’s gospel for just a few minutes, and spend some time thinking about the reliability of the New Testament documents.
I’m going to go pretty quickly, but you can ask questions later if you’d like.
Some of you will have read some ancient or classical texts like Homer’s Iliad, or Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars, or the Annals by Tacitus.
The difficulty with all these ancient texts including the Bible, is that we don’t have the original. The actual bit of paper that Homer wrote on is long lost, and it’s the same with Luke, we don’t have his original.
Determining reliability 1. How long from the original to our oldest copy?
And so to work out, how do we know what they actually wrote, historians rely on 2 things.
The first thing is, how much time has passed, from the original, to the copy that we do have in a museum somewhere?
Obviously, less time, less chance of Chinese whispers,
More time, greater chance that things have been changed.
Determining reliability 2. How many ancient copies do we have today?
And the second thing the historians like to consider, is how many ancient copies do we have access to today.
Clearly if we have only a few, and some differences have crept in, it’s hard to work out what the original said.
But if we have heaps and heaps of ancient copies, and a few of them have this difference, and a few have that difference, the scholars are able to work out, what the original said, and even where and when the errors were introduced.
So let’s think about Tacitus.
You’ll see in the table on your outline, that Annals was written around 100 AD. But the oldest copy was made about 1100 AD. So a thousand years, for changes to have possibly been introduced to what Tacitus wrote.
And there are about 20 ancient copies or fragments that we can compare.
That’s considered pretty good for ancient literature, and you won’t meet anyone who tells, that Annals has been changed, and Chinese Whispers and all of that!
Homer’s Iliad, actually fares much better though! The gap between the original and the copies we have is only 500 years. And a whopping 643 ancient copies are available for the historians to cross-check.
You buy a copy of the Iliad, there’s no suggestion at all, that what you get is unreliable, or that somebody has changed it, from what Homer originally wrote.
So how does the New Testament stack up?
What response should we make to the people who tell us it’s all been changed?
Well the New Testament was written between about 45 AD, and 100 AD.
And the oldest copies we have, were made in around 125 AD.
So the gap, the time in which errors could be introduced, starts at only 25 years.
25 years compared to 1000 years which is considered average, or 500 years which is considered excellent!
Now, I’ve got a birthday this week, I am more and more mindful, that I can clearly recall events of 25 years ago!
Nelson Mandela’s release from prison,
The first Gulf War begins,
The VFL becomes the AFL,
So even if changes were introduced into the New Testament documents in those intervening 25 years, there would have been plenty of people around, who’d be able to point it out, and say, “No, that’s not what happened, I was there! Jesus only fed five people with the loaves and fish, not 5000”, or whatever it might have been.
This all but removes the possibility of any kind of meaningful change, because there’d be too many people just waiting to correct it.
The other thing though, remember, is how many ancient copies or partial copies can we compare,
Tacitus has 20,
Homer has 643,
The New Testament, more than 24, , thousand.
Why so many copies? Well obviously a lot of people thought that the message about Jesus, was the most significant news they ever heard, so lots of people made copies,
And people looked after the copies.
With so many thousands of ancient copies to compare, any errors that did get introduced, and can easily be crosschecked, so we can work out what’s original, and what’s not.
In the Classics Departments and History Departments of universities across the world, the Bible is considered the gold standard;,
The authoritative, reliable source of information on the ancient world, with a provenance that no other ancient document even comes close to matching.
If you want some more information about that documentary evidence, or you’ve got friends who you know are interested, pick up a copy of Why Trust the Bible off the Welcome Desk.
Why Luke wrote: to give certainty.
OK, so knowing that what we have, is what Luke wrote, what was his intention in writing?
What does Luke hope we take away, from our study of his orderly account?
Well, he tells us plainly, doesn’t he?
Look at the middle of verse 3, 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
We don’t know too much about who this Theophilus was.
We can’t even say for sure whether he was a Christian, or whether he had just heard some things about Jesus, but probably, he’s a Christian.
Intriguingly, Luke uses the same title most excellent, in volume 2, the Book of Acts, to refer to the Roman governors, Felix and Festus, so it’s possible that Theophilus may have been of that kind of significant social rank.
Whatever the case, it seems that he’s interested in Jesus and the Christian message, he’s been taught something about them, and Luke writes for him, so that he might , what? know the certainty, or know the truth, of what he’s been taught.
And the certainty word actually stands in an emphatic position at the end of the sentence. It’s the word Luke finishes with.
And it’s the word that Luke uses to describe a locked prison in Acts;,
How can Theophilus, who’s heard something about Jesus, and as I say, he’s probably a Christian,
He probably believes that Jesus offers him forgiveness and relationship with God,
If he has moments of doubt,
If his mates mock his Christian faith,
How can he know that what he’s heard and believed is true?
How can he be certain that Jesus really is the way into relationship with God?
Well, Luke’s hope, is that if he reads this, he’ll have certainty.
If he encounters Jesus, the Word of God,
The fulfilment of God’s promises,
If, though he never met Jesus, he encounters him in the testimony of the eye-witnesses, and those most closely connected to Jesus,
Then his understanding of Jesus can be as firm as that locked prison.
It’s a good question, though, isn’t it?
How do we become certain?
When we have moments of doubt,
When our friends and family mock our Christian faith,
When we’re confronted with the TV show, or the conversation that seems to imply we can’t have certainty, about Jesus, and what he offers us;, forgiveness and relationship,
When newspapers respond to the latest mass shooting in the US with a front page screaming, “God’s not fixing this”, Implication: whatever you believe, it’s not enough!
Wouldn’t it be great, in those moments, to have certainty?
From time to time I find myself at funerals, and at the funeral of a Christian person, I get to speak of the great hope Christians can have in the face of death, that because of Jesus, they’ll be welcomed into God’s presence as dearly loved child.
And so frequently at funerals, people say to me, “Pastor,” they say, “I wish I could have your faith. I wish I could be sure of the things you’re sure of.”
But see it’s not that I have some unusual measure of faith, or that I’ve somehow managed to achieve a certainty that they can’t have.
Luke tells us here, that certainty comes from what we have in front of us today.
Certainty comes from hearing this eye-witness testimony.
Certainty comes from reading this orderly account, that God’s Holy Spirit caused to be written down and preserved for us.
Luke is pretty clear, that reading his orderly account, is the way we become certain about the things of Jesus.
Interestingly, Luke doesn’t say certainty comes through some apparition, some vision, some word from God.
I meet lots of people who think that’s the path to certainty;
“If God appears to me in a vision, or speaks to me, or works some miracle in my life, then I’ll have certainty,
Then I’ll know that Jesus really is who he claimed to be, and all that,
My faith will be firm.”
Luke , records visions and miracles in his book, he’s all for that,
But he doesn’t think that experiencing these will lead to a firm faith,
He doesn’t think visions and miracles are what give certainty.
He doesn’t think Theophilus should seek out those things, or wait for them.
For certainty, you’ve got to turn to the apostolic testimony, the eye-witness evidence.
Maybe you’re the sort of person who picks up a book, and generally, skips the introduction, get straight into the action!
That’s usually my pattern!
But it would be a mistake to do that in Luke, wouldn’t it?, and miss out on understanding his goal for us,
that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.