An Introduction to Luke
In preparation for a Bible study, I will be walking through some interesting passages and themes in the gospel of Luke. This particular gospel is certainly my favorite and is even one of my favorite books of the Bible overall. I'd like to take the time here to lay the foundation of two big themes in the gospel.
The first theme apparent in the gospel of Luke is compassion. Of course, Jesus is a compassionate man in all the gospels. But Matthew, Mark, and John have different purposes behind their depiction of Jesus. Matthew presents the Moses-Messiah Jesus who gives discourses on mountains and acts prophetically. Mark presents the Kingly Jesus who acts swiftly. John presents the explicitly Divine Logos side of Jesus that seems to only speak theologically.
Luke shares some of these same elements but his gospel has a missions orientation. Luke's gospel highlights that Christ has come to earth with a purpose of compassion and conquest in global missions. So this compassion emphasis comes hand in hand with a Gentile emphasis (the second theme). Though Gentiles factor into the other gospels too, Luke's particular emphasis from start to finish is unique in a couple of ways.
Christ's interaction with Gentiles is only part of the “boundaries” crossed. Many of these crossings are in the direction of disenfranchised people groups. Luke highlights female followers of Christ in his gospel (Luke 8:1-3) and in Acts in a way the other gospels do not including the woman washing Christ’s feet (Luke 7:37-39). Luke's nativity story incorporates the shepherds in the field (Luke 2:8-20) when Matthew's involves kings. Only Luke contains the conversion of the thief on the cross (Luke 23:40-43). Much of this emphasis comes early to set the tone. Luke alone records Christ’s reading of Isaiah’s scroll and the fulfillment of Jubilee (Luke 4:18-19). The response to this provokes Jesus into a clear communication of God's plan for the Gentiles. The Gentiles represent just a portion of the disenfranchised. Israel will be left passed over as God's word is spread to the nations. The relationship to Paul's theology and missions is evident. But alongside this Mary (Luke 1:52-53) and Zechariah (Luke 1:74, 78-79) sing of oppression overturned. God's plan is not to the privileged.
Thus, it is not surprising that only Luke records life details of Mary Magdalene (mentioned only in the scope of death/resurrection in the other gospels), Martha (mentioned in John only at the resurrection of Lazarus), and Zacchaeus. Similarly, only Luke records the parables of the Good Samaritan, lost coin, the prodigal son and Lazarus with the rich man (Luke 15-17). All of these stories communicate compassion to those viewed as small. This is seen repeatedly in Luke's accounts of Christ's “table talks” (Luke 7:36-50; 14:1-24; 24:28-35). These meals reverse a misconception of holiness and impurity. Christ’s own Messiah fulfillment is tied to his preparing a table for people. While the implied accusation of the Pharisees is incorrect — Christ was not made impure through these meals — they missed the larger theological fulfillment.
In all of this, the gospel of Luke presents itself as the Gospel for the Gentiles. This starts with Luke’s genealogy tracking all the way to Adam emphasizing the redemption of all men (Luke 3:23-38). It also comes through the baptism of Jesus Christ which replicates the Holy Spirit at creation (Luke 3:21-22). Christ's role is larger than Israel and extends to all the nations of creation. As previously stated, Luke alone portrays Jesus as the greater Elijah who ministers to the Gentiles — Jesus’ speech after His reject at home (Luke 4:20-30) and the widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17; 1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:32-37). There is also a dynamic parallelism between Luke and Acts. They are two unfoldings of the same ministry (like Elijah and Elisha). They share many mirrored similarities — Spirit power in sermons and songs (1-2; Acts 1-2), healing of lame (5; Acts 3) and raising the dead (7; Acts 9). The climax of the two books is Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.
When one reads Luke with these hints, the purposeful cross-boundary ministry of Jesus is more evident. Christ's message and purpose is no different then any of the other gospels – the gospel remains the same. However, there are noticeable alteration to the details of Christ's audience that are worth noting.