So, I preached on Biblical knowledge at my church last weekend, and I may have been a titch flippant about where to start. Partly I just want folks to start their journey somewhere, and since we’re about following Jesus, starting with a gospel seems like a good idea. The Gospels (i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are where we see Jesus at work.
So, I vote Luke, not John. That may not be a popular choice, but I have a reason for my choice.
John’s a lot of talking and theology, and we can get so focused on eternity that we forget how we engage the world right now matters too. John’s great too, please don’t get me wrong. But, John’s a gospel that was overemphasized when I was growing up — at the expense of attention to Matthew, Mark and Luke.
So, why Luke? Luke is the only Gospel with the the iconic stories of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15), the Good Samaritan (Lk 10), and the road to Emmaus (Lk 24). And just in case you were wondering — the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan aren’t primarily for kiddos. A bonus personal note: the road to Emmaus is probably hands down my favorite Bible passage; it’s the passage that comes up again and again for me at various life points.
Also, Luke’s my favorite gospel. I’m not going to hide that fact. But there’s more to why I choose Luke.
A gospel which opens with a story about a guy going temporarily mute because of his response to God’s messenger invites us to consider seriously our response to God. Each story within the gospel sings with invitations to the reader: will we welcome Jesus and those he welcomes? Luke wants us to choose loving Jesus and loving people.
Luke is a gospel that doesn’t pull punches. Luke’s the guy who says “Blessed are the poor.” Not Matthew’s “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” I can’t finagle myself into Luke’s Sermon on the Plain blessing like I can with Matthew’s Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount.
Luke unsettles me. EVERY SINGLE TIME I READ IT. And Luke is, for me, a tangible gospel. Jesus’ good news isn’t just spiritual; it has a concrete, physical element to it. People are healed, captives are freed, and justice reigns.
When Jesus begins his public ministry (Lk 4), he cites Isaiah 61 as his thesis statement — his statement of intent if you will. So, what is Jesus all about?
- Bringing Good News to the poor.
- Releasing captives
- Restoring sight to the blind
- Freeing the oppressed.
- Showing that the time of God’s favor has come.
Welcoming Jesus implies excitement about these things. It’s like Zaccheus, that wee little man up in a tree eagerly watching for Jesus, who readily restores to people what he’d stolen as a tax collector (Lk. 19). Encountering Jesus means practicing justice in our relationships with others.
Luke forces us to sit up and pay attention to the reality that Christianity is not just about loving Jesus. The way we engage with people matters too.
Loving Jesus implies loving those who Jesus loves. The least of these. The person who can’t offer me status or help. The person who might actually hurt my status if I’m seen hanging out with them. The person who makes me insane with frustration. The person who strikes out at me with any opportunity he or she gets. It’s easy to love the person who welcomes me, who can give me a lift up, who benefits me. Jesus wants to lead us into something bigger, scarier and more audacious.
Luke’s Jesus beckons us toward a radically generous way of living and loving.
That radical love for others comes from the encounter with Jesus who radically loves us. Luke’s Jesus reminds we are welcomed by God. Our graciousness stems from the grace which has been lavishly poured out upon us.
It is not rules, nor begrudging obligation. It’s a paying forward. As people with radical experiences of grace, we become people who can offer an abundance of grace to others. Our cup which has been filled to overflowing spills out upon others.
That, in a nutshell, is why I say: start with Luke. Read it like a story. Watch the characters. Watch the questions they ask (and the tone they use to ask). How do they respond to Jesus? How does Jesus respond to them? What’s the invitation for you to welcome? To welcome Jesus? Or to welcome people? Or what do you learn about how Jesus welcomes you?
And friends, don’t just leave it as a private encounter. Go and tell somebody about it. Yeah, if you’re not used to doing it, it’s going to feel silly, stupid and awkward. Do it anyway.
Okay. I’ll put my bossy pants away now. But, here’s the deal. It’s cool that God spoke to you, and what you’re learning may just be the word that a friend needed to hear.
Nothing makes me more excited than someone telling me what God is teaching them through the Bible! Seriously. I am inwardly leaping and cheering as people share these stories with me. If you can’t find somebody cooler than me to tell, well, come tell me.
I might even do a ridiculous and foolish happy dance like I used to do with my high school students when I counseled for camps. If it helps you feel excited, I’ll be happy to make a fool of myself for you.
On a final note, if you finish Luke in a hurry, try moving to Exodus. Why? Some folks talk about Jesus being a new Exodus, and Luke draws a lot of metaphors from Exodus into his gospel. Check it out. Watch how God moves, and how the law fits into the story of what God is up to in the Hebrew people.