Mark begins his Gospel with mystery and immediacy. Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is a king who offers salvation through willful obedience. Luke, who most scholars agree had access to both Matthew and Mark, sets out to offer an orderly account of what has been written and said of Christ. Luke, a Gentile, sets out to write something different than the Jewish authors Matthew or Mark, and Luke succeeds in being one of the most prolific authors of the New Testament. Luke is so eloquently ordered that his story of Jesus has captured our Christian memory. When you think of Christmas, do you picture Joseph dreaming or do you see shepherds and angels and a manger? When explaining to someone God’s radical love you may quote from the Sermon on the mount, or perhaps you would tell the story of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son or the Lost Sheep. “Zacchaeus was a wee, little man, and a wee little man was he. This story’s only found in Luke, by now you’re able to see.” An orderly account is a memorable one.
From the very beginning, the reader can see just how orderly and beautifully Luke is putting together his story. The first two verses are mirrors of verses three and four:
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word—–I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.
Luke has taken great care to capture the reader’s attention. Luke has written a prologue in the style of Hebrew poetry. Hebrew poetry doesn’t rhyme like our beloved Dr. Suess; rather it offers parallelism as its paintbrush:
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous.
Praise benefits the upright
Praise the Lord with the lyre
Make melody to him with the harp of ten strings
Sing to him a new song
Play skillfully on the strings with loud shouts
For the word of the Lord is upright
And all his work is done in faithfulness
Let all the earth fear the Lord
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him
For he spoke and it came to be
He commanded, and it stood firm. (Psalm 33: 1-4, 8-9)
Not only is Hebrew poetry beautiful, but it helps us understand what the words mean. What is a Lyre? It is a ten-stringed harp. What does it mean to fear the Lord? It means to stand in awe of him. Luke’s story is eloquent and ordered and memorable.
If you set out to write an “orderly account” of what you know of Jesus, what would your story be? Maybe your story would be Jesus proclaiming Good News to the poor? When Jesus was born the angels reported the news to the shepherds, not the royal family. Jesus said to the crowd, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” “Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.”
Maybe your story would be Jesus proclaiming forgiveness. Jesus said to a group of followers, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Why do you seek the speck of dust in your neighbor’s eye and do not see the plank in your own?” A woman entered into the home in which Jesus was dining and she bathed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Jesus said, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven because she has shown great love.” Jesus said from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Maybe your story would be Jesus as healer, one who gives sight to the blind. Jesus cleanses the leper and the paralytic. Jesus raises the widow’s son at Nain. Jesus heals the demoniac, a woman at the end of her life, and a young girl just beginning hers.
Maybe your story would be Jesus proclaiming freedom for the oppressed? “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you when people hate you and revile you and exclude you and defame you on my account. Rejoice in that day for your reward will be great in heaven.” Woe to you who tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds and neglect justice and the love of God.”
Maybe your story is one in which Jesus calls us to serve out into the world now! Jesus sent out the twelve and told them, “Go and proclaim the good news and cure those who are sick. If people don’t welcome you then write a letter to the editor, blabber about it on facebook, burn your political opponent . . . wait, no, he said to shake the dust off your feet and move on.
What would your story be? What kind of experience have you had with Jesus Christ? Maybe you’re not quite sure how to answer that? Luke gives us a model of what Jesus came to accomplish in the world. Jesus came to his hometown and unrolled the scroll of Isaiah, which read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In other words, Jesus came to us so that we might go to God. Jesus came to bring about a kingdom in which the poor are not only welcome but offered eternal value. It is a kingdom in which the broken are made whole and the forgotten are remembered.
It doesn’t work out this way every week, but the songs we play and sing in worship also proclaim our scripture lesson. Some of you got it the week we read Jonah and the songs were You are Good, Deep, From the Inside Out, and Amazing Grace, or when we were talking about the Ark of the Covenant going home to the Israelites our closing song was “Home” by Phillip Phillips. Today we began our service with “Victory in Jesus” played in the style of “Born on the Bayou.” Here we have a song that talks about this divine savior who conquers sin and changes the world, but it’s a savior who was born among livestock surrounded by shepherds.
Luke’s story is a story for us, those of us who love God. In fact, this story is written to a person named Theophilus, which means, lover of God. I write this story to you, my dear Theophilus. I write this story to you, lover of God. Amen.