September 18, 2020

The Gospel of Reversal … and a ‘friend of God’

associate pastor

associate pastor

Ken Rathburn

Hello NAPC friends. In my seminary studies right now (and by extension, in much of my personal reading time), I am working through the Gospel according to Luke. This book, the longest in the New Testament and the first in the two-part series of Luke and Acts, conveys fascinating truths about our glorious God. So, I have decided to share these learnings with you through a brief series of periodic blog posts and this is the first. The beginning of the book seems like a good place to start, so here we go.

When you start a new book, how often do you bother to read the author’s dedication, or (worse yet) the prologue? If you’re anything like me, you’re likely to skip over those seemingly insignificant words—jumping straight into the actual story. They don’t really add much to the rest of the book, so why bother? With the Gospel according to Luke, well, we should bother. Those first four verses of personal dedication and prologue are some of the most telling of all:

1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 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, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).

From the very start, Luke reveals valuable information, not only for his original reader(s), but also for each of us today.

Certainty from an orderly account

Luke writes as others before him to record who Jesus was and what Jesus did. He shares information from eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word—people who saw Jesus’ amazing miracles, excruciating death and mighty resurrection. Luke doesn’t use language like “Once upon a time” or “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” No, he wants his audience to know this is not a fairy tale or myth. Luke wants his reader(s) to know about events that actually happened, conveyed in an orderly and clear manner. He says this will give certainty to his reader(s) who already follows Christ in order to trust that the teachings are true. Think meticulous news reporting, not epic screenplay or tips for living. Oh, and about Luke’s intended reader(s) …

Theophilus, who?

Luke’s Gospel is dedicated to someone named Theophilus. This may sound to us like just one more Biblical name we can’t pronounce, but it is far more important than that. The name sounds Greek, making this person a Gentile. To Jews, Gentiles represented those outside the family of God—not members of the Lord’s chosen people—the unclean outcasts. Luke is writing to an outsider and a nobody. At the same time, addressing him as “most excellent” indicates this is a person of high social status—someone of worth and value—someone that matters. And on top of that, Theophilus was not a known name and no one back then would write such a lengthy volume (very expensive to produce) for just one person. Theophilus is a combination of two Greek words: Theos, which means “God,” and “phileo,” which means love between friends or brothers. Putting these words together, this name could mean “friend of God” or “lover of God” or “one who is loved by God.” In any case, Luke’s hidden message comes through loud and clear: The Gospel according to Luke gives certainty to those who feel like nobodies that they are worthy of being called friends of God—loved by the Father because of the work of the Son.

The Gospel according to Luke gives certainty to those who feel like nobodies that they are worthy of being called friends of God—loved by the Father because of the work of the Son.

This message that the outsiders and the lowly are now raised up in Christ is the aim in Luke’s entire Gospel. At the end of chapter 3, he will hint at this again when setting out the genealogy of Jesus. Instead of stopping at Abraham to highlight Jesus’ Jewish lineage, he traces him back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). This is meant to show that Jesus is the great hope not just of the Jews but for all people who will believe in him (1 Timothy 4:10).

How about you?

Do you ever feel like an outsider? Are you afraid you don’t measure up and you’re irrelevant to God? Maybe you try, but you just cannot seem to have it all together like you think God expects. Well, apart from the grace of God we have all rebelled against him and are on the outside looking in. And yet, the Father “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). “See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). Listen up Christian! Be encouraged and have certainty! Let me remind you that your hope of inclusion is not in vain. In Christ, you are loved by and you matter to none other than the God of the Universe. By grace and through faith, the status of the lowly outsider has been reversed to the status of the elevated insider.

From a fellow friend of God,
Pastor Ken