A STORY THAT HAPPENS TO BE TRUE
Pastor Duane Smets
January 22nd, 2017
I. A Story About God
II. A Story About Lost People
III. A Story About Jesus Friends
Today is a very exciting Sunday for us as a church because today we launch our study and tour through the Gospel of Luke in the Bible!
It’s a great, fun and exciting book. Luke was this guy who was a medical doctor (Colossians 4:14) from Syria who was happily cruising along in his doctor life until he encountered the story of Jesus and once he did, it ended up radically changing his life. His whole worldview and whole career ended up changing as a result from what he came to know and believe.
He ended up traveling a ton with Paul helping a bunch of churches get started (2 Timothy 4:11). He ended up being this huge support guy in the church for ministry teams involved in working with the sick and the poor and people of different races. And best of all, he ended up putting all his formal education with his research and writing skills to produce the longest and most thorough account Jesus’ time on earth.
For Luke, the story of Jesus begins with the nature of story itself, so that’s how he starts things off talking about how this story came about and what it means for us. And what he kind of sets up for us right at the beginning of his book is sort of this question: What if it’s true? What if this story happens to be true?
You see Luke understood something about human beings, that we are a story formed people. For every one of us, every single person here in this room, we have a story that is wrapped up in our identity. Our story is our background, where we were born, where we grew up, what life was like and what we experienced. And each one of us having defining moments we remember which, when we think of them are the things that make us who we are in our personality, character as an individual and unique human being.
We are a story formed people. It’s why we love story. We love it when a movie tells us a good story. We love a book that draws us in and you can’t wait to turn the page. Story matters. It matters a lot.
This last week I watched a Ted Talk with J.J. Abrams on storytelling. He’s this obscure guy who’s written and produced a bunch of TV shows and movies. Mostly small indie stuff you’ve probably never heard of. Stuff like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Lost. You know, stuff nobody really likes.
Anyway, in his Ted Talk he said some very interesting things. He said what story does is addresses some sort of mystery that we can’t help but want solved. But he said it’s bigger than just sort of getting to the end and finding out who done it. He said the best stories are the ones where the solution draws something out of us, that taps into our own person and identity, provoking some realization that brings us to deep truth and wonder.
That struck me. Because that’s kind of what Luke does here in the first few verses of his book. It’s an introduction or a dedication of sorts but it’s one that kind of subtly provokes this question in us, “What if?” What if there’s really a God? What if He actually acted and did something incredible in human history? What if Jesus was really His man and did something so people could become friends with God? What if? What if?
What if. For me personally, this has been a very important question in my life. About 21 years ago now, when I was 18, I was at one of those critical person forming stages in my life. I was a freshman at college trying to figure out who I was, what I was going to do with my life and what I believed. All of that. I mean I was mostly having fun, just surfing all the time and chasing girls, but there was this undercurrent going on in me trying to sort things out.
I’ve always been a big reader and someone introduced me to this book written by a guy named Anselm from the 11th century. And in it, he has this prayer, which goes like this,
“Let me find You in loving You; let me love You in finding You. I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that You have created Your image in me, so that I may remember You, think of You, love You. But this image is so effaced and worn away by vice, so darkened by the smoke of sin, that it cannot do what it was made to do unless You renew it and reform it. I do not try, Lord, to attain Your lofty heights, because my understanding is in no way equal to it. But I do desire to understand Your truth a little, that truth my believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand.”
That was one of the things that put me over the edge in becoming a Christian. That there was truth to be had and that though I may not understand everything, I could understand enough and that what I could understand would enthrall me and enable me to find a home and an answer in God.
That line, “I believe in order to know” hit me so hard, one rainy night I walked into a tattoo parlor. Which was kind of scary. I had never been in one before. I grew up being taught that tattoos were of the devil and walking in everyone’s covered in tattoos, mostly tattoos of devils, so that seemed about right.
But I sat down and I got that phrase, “I believe in order to know” tattooed on my arm in Latin, because Anselm wrote it originally in Latin and because it just sounds super sexy in Latin, “credo ut intelligam.”
Now my left arm and other parts of my body are covered in tattoos but that was the first because for me it represented the whole course of life I had turned and taken, to make all of my life about knowing and understanding God and His truth.
With that, let’s get into these first words of Luke and what they say. Luke was the human author, but we believe that behind every human author of the Bible was God, the divine author, commissioning the work and superintending the whole project so that the result would be His very Word and heart. So in light of these words not only being Luke’s words but God’s Word why don’t you stand as a way of honoring God for giving them to us and I’ll read.
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 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, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” – Luke 1:1-4
• Pastoral Declaration: This is the Word of the Lord.
• Congregational Response: Thanks Be To God.
• Pastoral Prayer
Alright, I’ve titled my message today, “A Story That Happens To Be True” and I’ve got three things for us to walk through on that from this passage. That it’s “A Story About God”, “A Story About Lost People” and “A Story About Jesus Friends.”
I. A Story About God
With our first point, “A Story About God” there’s a couple key words he uses and then also a feeling attached to them I want to zero in on.
In the first line, he tells us it’s a story. He calls it a “narrative.” If you’re here today and you’re not sure about all this God and Jesus stuff or if you have friends who are skeptical about Christianity, that’s fine. All we’re saying is it’s just a story.
You can decide later if you think it’s actually true and what that would mean for you and your life but for right now, just hear the story out. It’s a story. A narrative. And it’s a good story. It’s okay and good to tell people that. That’s really what the whole Bible is, one big story.
At the heart of the story is this simple beginning point or plot line. The beginning of the story is really that God acted in human history. You see the story of the Bible and the story Luke is going to tell does not begin at trying to prove the existence of God. It begins with God acting and getting involved with people on earth and then through that coming to believe and know God.
Remember Luke was a doctor. Doctors are a type of scientist. Luke was well educated and it shows in his writing. He originally wrote the book in Greek and his Greek is high caliber Greek with a wide vocabulary and impeccable grammar. But it wasn’t through some scientific study of religion that he became a Christian. He encountered this story, got enraptured into it and then he came to believe it was actually a true story.
His life and experience not only shows that there’s a way to be a Christian who has faith and loves science at the same time, but that the story of God can have a huge impact on us.
Now, look with me at this word “accomplished” in verse 1. His way of describing this story is to say something was “accomplished among us” and then verse 2 bolsters that perception adding this flavor of passion and excitement about what was accomplished…that there was a beginning event that people eyewitnessed!
After this introductory paragraph, Luke kicks off his story with the events surrounding that beginning and the beginning is the birth of Jesus. So what this “accomplished” word and “beginning” event are communicating is that God did something extremely significant in the course of human history.
For many people, they think that if there is a God, that He’s kind of more detached…sitting of above or beyond space just doing His God thing. He’s there, we’re here and God’s not really involved or interested in whatever is going on down here.
But Luke’s story here and really all the story of the Bible begin with saying God interjected Himself and got involved in the affairs of men and women, doing significant things which turn and shape the course of time itself.
So in its very base level, Luke’s story is a story about God acting. It’s about a God who cares about human beings, so He acts. He takes the initiative. It’s not in response to any person saying or doing anything to get Him to act. The story begins with a God who acts in history for the salvation of people and He accomplishes it.
What Luke then is asking you and asking me is, what if? What if what happened in Jesus was really an act of God who sent Him into the world? What if Jesus really accomplished something for the entire human race throughout all history? What if?
I think what it sets us up for is to want to investigate the story, to want to look into the what if.
When I was working on my second graduate degree, one of my classmates I got to know was a guy named Kyle Strobel. He’s the son of a man named Lee Strobel. Lee Strobel is a Yale Law graduate who worked as legal affairs editor for the Chicago Tribune newspaper for years and for the majority of his life was a self-proclaimed atheist and skeptic.
But one night Kyle’s mom, Leslie asked to sit down and talk with his dad to tell him that she’d been going to church and had decided to become a Christian. He says he rolled his eyes and then became upset feeling like he’d been tricked. That his fun, carefree wife would now turn into some sexually repressed prude who would trade in their comfortable life for boring prayer vigils and volunteer work at soup kitchens.
So Kyle’s dad, Lee Strobel decided to launch a journalistic investigation into Christianity to prove to his wife that it was all a bogus story made up by men. He set out to use his experience as a legal affair expert to look into eyewitness evidence, documentary evidence, corroborating evident, rebuttal evident, scientific evidence, psychological evidence, circumstantial evidence, fingerprint evidence, all the evidences.
But, in the process of investigating all the evidence in the story of Jesus, the story got ahold of him. He writes about his investigation and what happened to him in his book: The Case For Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Here was his conclusion…
“After a personal investigation that spanned more than six hundred days and countless hours, my own verdict in the case for Christ was clear…the evidence of history and of my own experience was too strong to ignore.
When I read in the Bible that I was separated from God, it resonated as being true. The God whose existence I had denied for years, seemed extremely distant and it became obvious to me that I needed Jesus.
So on November 8, 1981, I talked with God in a heartfelt and unedited prayer, admitting and turning from my wrongdoing, and receiving the gift of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus. I told him that with his help I wanted to follow him and his ways.”
The story of Luke is a story about God, a God who knows about our distance from Him, due to our sin and shortcomings, so He acted in human history by sending His Son Jesus after us.
What Luke invites you to and what I’m inviting you to this year along with us is to check out the story. To look in on it to see what God accomplished from beginning to end in Jesus and to see what if, to see what it might do in us, to see what it means if it’s actually true.
If there’s a God who not only sits over and above and outside space and time but also broke through all of that and stepped down into our world to come after us, then that’s a good story and a good God.
To look more into that part of the story, of God being a God who acted because He cares about us and came after us. Let’s move onto our second point for today, “A Story About Lost People.”
II. A Story About Lost People
With this point, I’d like us to talk about the significance of eyewitnesses. Luke makes this point in verse 2 that there were eyewitnesses of everything that happened with Jesus and then in verse 3 says he followed and investigated these accounts closely.
To get at what eyewitnesses and interviewing people’s accounts carefully is significant we’ve got to remember where Luke is coming from. As a doctor, he was someone who had studied the human body. Doctors aim for accuracy and they want to know everything they can about a patient in order to give them the best treatment possible.
So for look that involved looking into eyewitness testimony. In the first century as well as today, eyewitness testimony was weighty evidence in a court of law. The question with eyewitness testimony is a concern over what actually happened.
This is the issue of real or fake news.
I love fake news. I saw this one on the New Yorker the other day…
QUEEN OFFERS TO RESTORE BRITISH RULE OVER UNITED STATES
“This two-hundred-and-forty-year experiment in self-rule began with the best of intentions, but I think we can all agree that it didn’t end well,” she said.
Then this one over at The Babylonian Bee…
RUSSIAN HACKERS MAY HAVE INTERFERED WITH VOTE ON CHURCH POTLUCK DATE
"AUSTIN, TX—According to sources, local man Clarence Williams has urged his church’s lead pastor as well as local law enforcement to move forward with an investigation into Russian hacking, claiming that there was ample evidence to support the theory that malicious foreign agents infiltrated and influenced the outcome of a vote on the date for next month’s potluck at Second Baptist Church."
Fake news is fun. The dangerous kind is the kind that isn’t just for fun but actually poses to be real to lead people astray. And that’s what Luke is concerned about. Luke is a guy who cares about truth, so much so that it’s one of his biggest concerns.
So he says in verse 4 that his goal is that his readers might “have certainty concerning the things” they’re taught. Luke wants us to know that we can trust him and that what he’s written for us is reliable.
Luke also wrote another book in the Bible the book of Acts, which is kind of like the sequel, The Gospel part 2 where he records everything that happened after Jesus rose and a bunch of churches got started. At the beginning of Acts he gives this summary of what He wrote in The Gospel book and says this,
“In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” – Acts 1:1-3
Luke cares about proof and truth. And this isn’t true just of Luke. It’s true really of so many writers of the Bible.
David, who wrote most of the Psalms in the Bible says things like,
“Your Word is true.” – Psalm 119:142
“O LORD, all your commandments are true.” – Psalm 119:151
“The sum of your word is truth.” – Psalm 119:160
Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples who wrote two books of the Bible said this,
“We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” – 2 Peter 1:16
John, another one of Jesus’ disciples who wrote five books of the Bible said this,
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” – 1 John 1:1-4
So you see the writers of the Bible care a lot about truth and whether or not Jesus really is who He said He was and whether or not He actually did what they say He did. And here is why that is significant and important, it’s significant and important because if we don’t have some sort of reasonable assurance from God about what He did, then really we’re lost.
You see, some people have this idea about faith like it’s some sort of blind leap of belief into the dark. Like there’s no logical reason to accept or believe it but you just do anyway and that somehow that’s honorable and spiritual. But that’s actually not the view of the writers of the Bible. They care a lot about truth and reason. Faith from the Bible’s perspective is actually built on it.
Eyewitnesses and evidence are important from the start here in Luke’s story because he wants to help us answer the “what if?” And the significance of God acting not in private but in public so that many many people could see what He did and report on it is that it gives us assurance.
We’re a people who need assurance. That’s not a bad thing. It’s actually something that’s wired into the fabric of our humanity. The story in the Bible is that way back in the beginning, beginning in the garden of Eden with the first man and women is that something there was lost. And ever since we’ve been searching.
Human beings have classically and historically been people who search, we search for new discovery, we search for meaning and we search for truth. We’re designed to need and want answers. We can’t help it.
The problem is there’s conflicting reports, fake news that confuses us. J.J. Abrams, who I was telling you about earlier talks about his TV series Lost and how the driving principle behind the show and all it’s six seasons were core human questions, who am I and why am I here? His premise is that we as human beings are lost and we are searching for meaning, purpose, and truth.
What Luke is announcing here at the beginning of His story is that in Jesus, God came down to us to find us and bring us home so that we wouldn’t be lost anymore. Because there are eyewitnesses and sure evidence, we’re not left to speculation and imagination. God’s given something concrete to us.
So at its core, the story of Luke in the Bible is a story about lost people and how there’s a God who in Jesus leads a rescue search party to bring us home to Him.
Have you ever been physically lost? I know with our phones now we’ve all got constant GPS so it doesn’t really happen much anymore these days, so maybe think of losing an object. It’s an unnerving and frustrating experience when you lose something of value and can’t find it.
Or think about this. Losing a kid. There was one time, I think I was in Target or something and I had one of my young daughters with me, probably only three or four at the time. And I had stopped and was looking at something and then all of the sudden looked down and she wasn’t there.
Right away there was this pit feeling in my stomach. In an instant, flooded with panic, and I took off running, looking for her.
Being lost is unnerving. It rattles you. And there’s a deeper sense of lostness we experience when our soul is lost. When we’re just floating through our life not grounded or connected to anything bigger than ourselves, not anchored to God, we’re lost. Just staying in the “what if” and never landing on anything doesn’t feel good.
Luke tells us there’s a way you can have some certainty. “There were a bunch of eyewitnesses. I, a doctor personally investigated everything. This really happened. You should really hear the story because when you do, you’ll hear it and you’ll know. You’ll know it’s not only the best story you’ve ever heard but you’ll know it’s all true because it’s a story that finds you and brings you home, home to God.”
I’m hoping and praying that through our study of Luke this year that it will do two things. One, that for those of us who are Christians, that it would give us a greater sense of security. That we’re not crazy. That Jesus really is true and really is good. And two, I’m praying that many people who are not now Christians, who are lost, would be found. That this story would find them and impact and change their lives forever.
The result of that happening, for all who are found, is that we become friends, friends with God through His Son Jesus. So for our last point, today let’s talk about that, how this is “A Story About Jesus Friends.”
III. A Story About Jesus Friends
This point comes from just one word in our text in verse 3 where Luke says that he wrote this account for “you, most excellent Theophilus.”
So the question is, “who’s Theophilus” right? At first, this comes across kinda funny, that in both of Luke’s books in the Bible, this one and Acts, he talks about this Theophilus.
Here’s the deal. Experts, scholars, good Bible studying pastors have basically boiled it down to three things Theophilus might be.
1. Theophilus is a high-ranking Roman official.
The words “most excellent” lend to this and we know that Theophilus was a common Greek name in the first century. If that’s who Luke’s talking about then basically he’s either dedicating the book to him because he’s a friend or because he became a Christian or perhaps even sending it to him in hopes that he’ll help propagate and publish the book.
Either way, it’s clear Luke isn’t writing a personal letter to him but writes in such a way that it’s clear that he’s writing for a wide audience intending for hundred of people, not just Theophilus, to read the story and be impacted by it.
2. Theophilus is code for a group of non-Jewish Christians.
You see, the word Theophilus is a portmanteau, meaning it’s the smashing together of two words to make up a whole new word. The first part of it “Theo”, is the word for God, “theos”. The second part of it “philus”, is the word for friend, “philia”. So a theophilus is a friend of God.
When non-Jews converted to Judaism they used to called them God-fearers. Nearly all the first Christians were Jews. But there were some who weren’t, Luke being one of the first non-Jews to become a Christian and when they did, many non-Jewish Christians started referring to themselves as “God-friends” instead of “God-fearers.”
There are all kinds of debate about when Luke was written. If it was written late, like after the persecution and killing of Christians had started, some think maybe Luke was using the word Theophilus as a secret code, trying to get the story of Jesus this secret group of non-Jewish Christians who huddled together.
3. Theophilus is an invitation to believe.
When you sit down and you read through the Gospel of Luke there one main thing that stands out to everyone who reads it, especially if you read the other three Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and John first. Which by the way, I’d encourage all of you, sometime this year in our study through Luke to sit down and read the whole thing in one sitting. It’ll take you about two hours, but that’s how it was originally intended to be read and when you do that you notice things you just can’t by only reading little bits at a time.
Anyway, if you do sit down and read through the whole book in one sitting here’s what will stand out to you. Jesus is constantly reaching out to people who have been alienated, either by society or by their own sins and He befriends them. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is constantly reaching out to people, seeking them out and bringing them near, bringing them in.
In Luke’s portrait of Jesus, we see a focus on Jesus reaching out to all different types and classes of people, sick people, healthy people, rich people, poor people, religious people, irreligious people, women, men, children, different races, different places and all kinds of different faces.
In light of that what many of suggested is that Luke is using the word “theophilus” as an invitation to read the story and become a friend of Jesus. Luke cares about writing factual history and at the same time he’s writing to persuade anyone and everyone that they can become friends with God through Jesus, and that being friends with God is the most excellent and best life we can have.
Soooo . . . which one is it? Here’s what I think. I don’t think it matters. Regardless of who Luke is referring to with Theophilus the heart and intention of his story is the same. Luke wants to tell the story of Jesus and hopes that we’ll not only be convinced about the events of His life but enter into a relationship with God through Him.
And I think the word “friend” is one of the best ways to describe that relationship. Due to our own inner faults, sinful desires and just plain brokenness we’ve all distanced ourselves from God, making Him our enemy. But what if?
What if the story of Jesus is actually true? What if Jesus not only came and lived and reached out to all those people back then but actually died and rose again and still reaches out to us here and now? What if through Jesus we who are lost and enemies of God could be found and become friends with Him? What if?
As we conclude today I want to ask that question one more time. What if? All throughout the sermon today I’ve been asking that question, “what if?”
In our home, one of our favorite books to read with our kids is The Jesus Storybook Bible. It’s actually a favorite of our church’s here. Before it gets into all the stories of the Bible, at the beginning it has a chapter titled, “The Story” and this is what it says,
“The Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne–everything–to rescues the ones he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!
You see, the best thing about this Story is–it’s true.
There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling on Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.”
What if? What if the story is true? Jesus the hero. Jesus the prince. Jesus the rescuer. Jesus our friend.
The best stories are the ones that are true. What Luke offers us is a true story of a savior, Jesus, who came and who lived and who died and who rose all for us, so that we might believe in Him and through that be in relationship with God.
Today we end our service in a time of meeting with Jesus and singing songs to Jesus. We meet with Him by coming to one of the many tables throughout the room which have some bread and some wine or juice on them.
Throughout the centuries Christians have done this. It is one way Jesus said that no matter where we are and no matter where He is we can connect with Him and have a tangible taste of His love and care.
The bread, He said, is His body, His perfect life come for us to save us.
The wine, He said, is His blood, His perfect death given for our sins.
So for those who believe, as we respond today come and in your own way say to Jesus, thank you that you’re real and thank you that you came for me, thank you for welcoming me in as a friend of God.