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Entries in Reliability (1)


The Trustworthy Account

We have been looking through Luke in order to discover who Jesus really was and what he really taught.  Over the next 5 weeks we are going to go back to Luke 1 and discover the reality of the birth of Jesus.

However, today let’s look at Luke 1:1-4.  Here Luke describes why he is writing and I think we will find it both instructive and encouraging to our faith.

Why Luke Wrote

We see in verse three that Luke is addressing a man named Theophilus. He also uses the title “Most Excellent.”  It is from this title that most scholars believe Theophilus was an official of some sort who had come to hear the gospel, whether from Luke or someone else.  Either way, Luke is trying to give Theophilus further information about this Jesus that Christians were talking about.

Now the gospel of Luke is actually the first volume of a 2 part account of which the book of Acts is the second volume.  You can recognize this by reading Acts 1:1, “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach…”  Although Luke is writing to a specific person, it seems clear that the size of the accounts expected a wider audience. So this project of writing a Gospel and a History of the Church from the ascension of Jesus, seems to have been instigated by the need of further details that Theophilus had.

Luke makes reference to the fact that other gospels had been written.  He doesn’t say whether he felt they were insufficient or that he didn’t have a copy.  Either way he explains that he recognized that he was in a perfect position to create such a gospel as well.  Now let me insert at this point that it would be easy to say that this reference would include things like “The Gospel of Thomas,” or “The Gospel of Judas.”  However, the only Gospels that the first century church recognized as actually from the apostles and their companions were the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  There is no record of these other gospels existing until later centuries.  They were also quickly rejected as poor copies of the Gospel style that were clearly written in order to co-opt Christianity and Christians into certain philosophies that existed at the time.  So this verse does not “verify” the legitimacy of The Gospel of Judas.

Another need for writing that is not explicitly mentioned by look is the fact that eye witnesses were beginning to die.  Now in 1 Corinthians 15:6 Paul mentions that over 500 disciples were taught by Jesus at one time after his resurrection.  If we add a potential 100 more we would have a large pool of people who were witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus.  This is beside the point that all of Israel were witnesses of the life, ministry, and death of Jesus.  Notice that Paul mentions that some of these 500 have passed away.  This pool of people was diminishing.  This would slowly begin to put pressure on Christians to write out the Gospel accounts before the eye-witnesses were all gone.

Another aspect of this is that even with 600 people, not all of them travelled as Paul did.  This group was limited in its ability to travel to all people and satisfy their curiosity.  So again, this would put pressure upon the witnesses themselves to put these things into written form.

Now Luke gives himself to this task because he felt that he had “perfect understanding” of what had happened.  Luke had ministered with the apostle Paul and had interacted with the other apostles as well.  He had received the accounts first hand and had opportunity to question and hear testimony from the people referenced in the historical stories.  Luke in verse 4 mentions that his hope is to make us certain about the stories of Christ.  He is concerned about the reliability of what people hear about Jesus.  If you have ever played The Telephone Game then you know how easily a story can be obscured the further removed from the source it gets.  Thus an account written by those who either actually saw the account or deposed those who did and wrote down their accounts would serve to establish that this is not just a tall tale that has grown with the telling.  Luke wants Theophilus to know that the incredible stories he has heard are in fact verifiably what happened.  Two thousand years later this need is even greater.  It is amazing to me that we are so quick to believe what we think happened, or didn’t, 2,000 years ago when we weren’t there.  And, yet, we will quickly discount the eye witness account of those who were there and that was written at that time when it could have been verified easily. These written Gospels become a verified anchor in time that becomes the evidence that what has been passed through time to us is the same that the Apostles themselves experienced.  It is reliable.

The New Testament Is Reliable

Now it is for these very reasons that we can know that the biblical account is reliable.  You can disbelieve it.  But don’t pretend that it is completely removed from reality.  You can disagree that Jesus existed, but you do so over the top of the historical witness of the first century Jews.  You can believe Jesus wasn’t resurrected from the dead, but you do so over the top of over 500 eye witnesses.  I can continue on this line of reasoning, but you can catch my drift.  You can be sure that the gospel of Luke we have today is the very understanding that Luke had and, by extension, that which the Apostle Paul, and the early Church themselves also had.

These accounts come from men who were eye witnesses and not in the sense that they all had a one-time psychedelic experience.  The apostles lived with Jesus and were his disciples for at least 3 years.  Those who witnessed him after the resurrection were numerous in number, but also numerous in the amount of times Jesus appeared to them.  Jesus spent nearly 40 days with these people and wasn’t just “sighted” like the modern Bigfoot sightings.  Rather, he spent time with them demonstrating that he was Jesus and teaching what he was wanting them to do.  Even if we want to believe that this is a large conspiracy, we will find such a premise incredible in light of how all of the apostles and many of the eye witnesses were treated and killed.  Under pain of death none of these eye witnesses recanted their stories and said, “We just made it up.”  We see this reality when Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:16, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”  The Apostle John also in his letter 1John 1:1,3 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—… that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

Another form of verification is the miraculous events that these eye witnesses saw.  Now in the modern world we reject miracles by definition.  However, it doesn’t explain what these people saw.  When the disciples share exactly what they saw, it stretches unbelief to hear some of the attempts of modern men to explain how they didn’t see what they saw, without saying they were lying.  You can believe that it wasn’t a miracle, but don’t pretend that the disciples didn’t know what a dead body looks like and that they were tricked by a different person pretending to be Jesus.

Think about it.  If this was just the account of a teacher from antiquity this world would be quick to embrace Jesus.  He would just be another teacher like Plato, Socrates, etc…  But Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh, and he claimed to rise from the dead and ascend into heaven.  This is unacceptable not just because it seems miraculous, but because it requires obedience to a particular God.  The miracles were the way that God helped the people to pay attention to Jesus.  But the point is not the miracles.  The miracles are intended to point to the one who is speaking and what they are saying.  Keep this in mind in the future because the Bible warns that lying signs and wonders will occur in the end times.  They are not lying because they aren’t real, but that they point to a liar and cause people to believe the liar.  When you look at Jesus hanging on the cross you know in your heart that this is no liar.  This one really meant what he said.  But when you see him resurrected from the grave you know that he was right!

These things were written down within decades and after having shared the story practically every day.  Historical evidences that we dig up always end up verifying the details of the Bible.  But on top of this, countless millions throughout every century have testified that they found the salvation and the Holy Spirit, promised in the Scripture to those who believe, to be real and true.

Jesus challenged us with this, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” This world wants to destroy any faith you would have in God’s Word.  But I am telling you that Jesus knew this would be happening.  You have been given great evidence upon which you can stand.  May you stand to the end!

Trustworthy Accounty Audio