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Sabbath School Lesson Begins

The Book of Luke


The Book of Luke: Introduction

by: John M. Fowler
The Book of Luke


And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." (Luke 15:20).

We know that verse. It comes from one of the most well-known and beloved stories in all literature, sacred or mundane. Astonishingly enough, we would never have heard it but for a simple missionary doctor who embedded that precious gem in a letter he wrote to his learned friend Theophilus.

The doctor's name is Luke, a Gentile convert, and the letter is The Gospel According to Luke. In addition to the Gospel, Luke also wrote the book of Acts. Having been a travel companion of Paul, Luke was a keen observer of, and participant in, the great Jesus movement sweeping the Roman Empire. This close association with Paul led Luke not only to grasp the profound meaning of the Christian church-which stood its ground against Caesar's demand to be honored as divine-but also to learn more deeply from credible sources about the Man behind it all: Jesus Christ. So, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke wrote a two-volume work on what could be called Origin and History of the Christian Church.

Part 1 of this work is the Gospel, written and delivered to Theophilus before Acts was written (Acts 1:1). Many conservative scholars date Luke's Gospel to about A.D. 61-63.

Theophilus was a Greek convert, and in addressing the letter to him, Luke was especially conscious of directing his Gospel to the Greek and Gentile members of the community of faith, while not disregarding the Jewish roots of Jesus. Matthew wrote primarily to the Jews, and so he emphasizes Jesus as the Messiah. Mark wrote to the Romans, and we see Jesus marching across the land with the news about the kingdom. John was a deep thinker, and in his Gospel emerges Jesus the Word, the Creator, the Son of God. But Luke writes with an eye on the Gentiles. To them he presents Jesus, the Son of man, as the Savior of the world and Friend of humanity. The universality of salvation is the underlying theme of his Gospel; so, his genealogy traces Jesus all the way to Adam and links him to God, while Matthew's genealogy stops with Abraham, the father of the Jews (Luke 3:23-38; compare with Matt. 1:1-17).

Luke's Gospel is the largest in the New Testament. Some miracles appear only in Luke, such as the raising of the widow of Nain's son (Luke 7:11-17) and the healing of Malchus (Luke 22:50, 51). (For other miracles, see Luke 5:4-11, 13:11-17, 14:1-6, 17:11-19.) Many parables are peculiar to Luke, including several famous ones: the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), the rich foolish man (Luke 12:16-21), the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32); the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), and the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:10-14). The Zacchaeus story (Luke 19:1-10) is also Luke's unique contribution.

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Luke claims to have surveyed the historical materials, interviewed the eyewitnesses (Luke 1:2), and then with perfect understanding of all things written an orderly account that the reader(s) may know the certainty of Jesus and His good news (Luke 1:3-4, NKJV).

When asked if he would recommend a good biography of Jesus, the great theologian James Denney replied, Have you tried the one that Luke wrote?

Good idea. Let's try it together, as a world church, this quarter.

John M. Fowler has served the church for 53 years as pastor, theology and philosophy teacher, editor and educational administrator. As author of numerous articles and books, he has written two Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guides: The Cosmic Conflict Between Christ and Satan (2002) and Ephesians: The Gospel of Relationships (2005).

Lesson 1 March 28-April 3

The Coming of Jesus

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week's Study: 2 Tim. 3:16; Luke 1:5-22; Deut. 18:15; Luke 2:9-12,25-32 .

Memory Text: For with God nothing will be impossible (Luke 1:37, NKJV).

The Gospel of Luke was written primarily to the Gentiles. Luke himself was a Gentile (implied in the context of Colossians 4:10-14), as was Theophilus, to whom the Gospel is addressed.

In addition to being a physician, Luke was a meticulous historian. In introducing the Gospel, Luke places Jesus in real history; that is, he puts the story in the historical context of its times: Herod was the king of Judea (Luke 1:5), Augustus reigned over the Roman Empire (Luke 2:1), and a priest by the name of Zacharias was exercising his turn in the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 1:5,9). In chapter 3, Luke mentions six contemporary dates related to the ministry of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus.

Thus, Luke places the story of Jesus in history-real people, real times-in order to dismiss any idea of mythology with his narrative. His readers must stand in awe and wonder at the fact that Jesus is real and that through Him God has invaded history with the Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11, NKJV).

Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, April 4.

Sunday March 29

An Orderly Account (Luke 1:1-3, Acts 1:1-3)

Acts 1:1 tells us that before Acts was written, its author wrote a former account. This, and the fact that both accounts were addressed to Theophilus, helps lead us to conclude that one author was responsible for both books. The two accounts can be viewed as Part 1 and 2 of Origin and History of the Christian Church. Part 1 is a narrative of the life and work of Jesus (the Gospel of Luke) and Part 2 (Acts of the Apostles) is an account of the spread of the message of Jesus and of the early church.

How was the Gospel written? Read Luke 1:2-3 and 2 Timothy 3:16.

Luke was aware of many who had written about the events that have shaken the city of Jerusalem and beyond-the events concerning Jesus Christ. The sources for such literary works included many eyewitnesses and ministers of the word (Luke 1:2, NKJV)-a clear reference to the disciples and other contemporaries of Jesus. Luke himself had an exposure to these witnesses and ministers (such as Paul and other apostolic leaders) and possibly also to the Gospels written by Mark and Matthew. Luke, obviously, was not an eyewitness to the Jesus story, but he was a credible and authentic convert to Christ.

Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience, presenting Jesus as the Great Teacher, the fulfillment of prophecy, and the King of the Jews. He often referred to Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled in Christ. Mark wrote to a Roman audience about Jesus, the person of action. Luke, a doctor and a Gentile, wrote to the Greeks and the Gentiles about the universal Jesus-the Savior of the world. Luke mentions that the purpose of his writing is twofold: to present an orderly account (Luke 1:3, NKJV) and to provide certainty to the great teachings of the new era. Certainty about truth, as in Jesus, is one goal of his Gospel.

Luke, an inspired author of Scripture, used other material in his writings. Very interesting. Obviously that use of other sources doesn't negate the inspiration or authority of what he wrote. What lessons should that have for us as Seventh-day Adventists regarding the question of how inspiration, either canonical or noncanonical, works on inspired writers?

Monday March 30

Call His Name John

For nearly four hundred years after Malachi divine silence marked the history of Israel. With the birth announcements of John the Baptist and Jesus the divine silence was about to be broken.

The birth stories of John and Jesus have parallels. Both are miracles: in the case of John, Elizabeth had gone well past the child-bearing age; in the case of Jesus, a virgin was to bear the child. The angel Gabriel announced both birth promises. Both announcements were received in a spirit of wonder, joy, and surrender to God's will. Both babies were to grow and become strong in the Spirit (Luke 1:80,2:40).

But the mission and the ministry of the two miracle babies were distinct and different. John was to be a preparer of the way to Jesus (Luke 1:13-17). Jesus is the Son of God (Luke 1:35) and the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies (Luke 1:31-33).

Read Luke 1:5-22. Though Zacharias is depicted as blameless, his lack of faith at the angel's announcement brought a rebuke. How does this help us to understand what the concept of blameless means for a believer in Jesus?

The birth of a son to Zacharias, like the birth of the child of Abraham, and that of Mary, was to teach a great spiritual truth, a truth that we are slow to learn and ready to forget. In ourselves we are incapable of doing any good thing; but that which we cannot do will be wrought by the power of God in every submissive and believing soul. It was through faith that the child of promise was given. It is through faith that spiritual life is begotten, and we are enabled to do the works of righteousness.-Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 98.

The miracle of John had a decisive purpose in God's dealing with His people. After 400 years of prophetic absence in the history of Israel, John did break forth into that history with a specific message and with a decisive power. John's mission and message was to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:17, NKJV). He was to be the forerunner of the Messiah, the one to prepare the way for the mission of Jesus.

Tuesday March 31

Call His Name Jesus

The birth of Jesus Christ was no normal event. It was marked in God's eternal calendar, and when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman (Gal. 4:4, NKJV). It is the fulfillment of the first promise God made after the entrance of sin in Eden (Gen. 3:15).

Read the following pairs of texts. In each one, how was the birth of Jesus an amazing fulfillment of prophecy? What does this tell us about why we must learn to trust all of God's promises? Deut. 18:15; Acts 3:22-24; Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:21-23; Mic. 5:2; Luke 2:4-7.

Six months after Gabriel announced to Zacharias the coming birth of John, he announced to Mary of Nazareth an even greater miracle: that a virgin will conceive . . . and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus (Luke 1:31, NKJV).

The virgin birth of Jesus goes against all nature, and it cannot be explained by nature or naturalistic philosophy. Even Mary had her question: How can this be, since I do not know a man? (Luke 1:34, NKJV). The angel assured her that this would be the work of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), and with God nothing will be impossible (Luke 1:37, NKJV). Mary's immediate and faithful submission was remarkable: Let it be to me according to your word (Luke 1:38, NKJV). Every human question, no matter how natural or logical, must give way to the divine answer. Be it Creation or the Cross, the Incarnation or the Resurrection, the downpour of manna or the outpouring of Pentecost-the divine initiative demands human surrender and acceptance.

While Mary answered her own question by submission and surrender to God's sovereignty and eternal purpose, Gabriel assured her with another great answer: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35, NKJV).

Some secular cultures have been browbeaten into believing that everything, ultimately, has a naturalistic and scientific explanation. Why is this such a narrow, even superficial, view of the grandeur and greatness of reality?

Wednesday April 1

The Manger of Bethlehem

Luke begins the story of the Bethlehem manger with a note of history. Joseph and Mary left their home in Nazareth to travel to their ancestral town of Bethlehem as a result of a census decree of Caesar Augustus, the emperor of Rome, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Such historical details must lead Bible students to appreciate Luke's submission to the Holy Spirit, so that he would record the details of the Incarnation within the framework of history.

Reflect on the poverty of Jesus as seen in Luke 2:7. Compare the image of swaddling clothes, the manger, and no room . . . in the inn, with Paul's description of the condescension of Jesus in Philippians 2:5-8. What kind of a road did Jesus walk on our behalf?

The story of the poor circumstances in which the Lord of heaven incarnated Himself continues with the first visitors the manger had: the shepherds. Not to the rich or the powerful, not to the scribes or the priests, not to rulers and the powers that held sway over the land did the good tidings of great joy (Luke 2:10, NKJV) come, but to humble and despised shepherds. Observe the majesty and the simplicity of the message: A Savior is born to you. In the city of David. He is Christ the Lord, the Anointed One. You will find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes (author's translation). Heaven's most precious gift came in such a simple package, as often it does. But the gift brings glory to God, on earth peace, and goodwill toward men (Luke 2:14, NKJV).

Luke's record of the angel (Luke 2:9-12) brings out three vital matters of Christian theology. First, the good news of the gospel is for all people. In Jesus both the Jew and the Gentile become one people of God. Second, Jesus is the Savior; there is no one else. Third, Jesus is Christ the Lord. These three themes, so clearly established early in Luke, later became the foundation of the apostolic preaching, particularly that of Paul.

Think about what we believe as Christians: the Creator of all that was made (John 1:1-3) not only entered into this fallen world as a human being but lived the hard life that Jesus did, only to wind up on a cross. If we really believe that, why should every aspect of our life be lived in submission to this amazing truth? What parts of your life reflect your belief in the story of Jesus, and what parts don't?

Thursday April 2

The Witnesses to the Savior

Although writing primarily to the Gentiles, Luke was aware of the importance of the Jewish heritage through the Old Testament. He takes care to link the New Testament story with the Old and provides the scene of Mary and Joseph having the Baby Jesus circumcised on the eighth day and taking Him to the temple in Jerusalem, all according to Jewish law (Luke 2:22-24).

Read Luke 2:25-32. Note three points about the theology of salvation that Simeon brings to the fore: salvation is through Jesus; salvation is prepared by God; salvation is for all peoples-to the Gentiles as well as to Israel. How do these truths tie in with the first angel's message of Revelation 14:6-7?

Simeon's prophecy also predicted two significant features of Jesus' ministry.

First, Christ is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel (Luke 2:34, NKJV). Yes, Christ has brought light and salvation to all, but not without cost to the recipient. With Christ there is no neutral ground: accept Him or reject Him, and upon the appropriate response one's salvation depends. Christ demands exclusiveness; we abide in Him or we do not. Those who abide in Him will rise up and be part of His kingdom; those who reject Him or remain indifferent to Him will fall to the ground and perish without hope. Faith in Christ is nonnegotiable.

Second, Simeon prophesies to Mary, a sword will pierce through your own soul also (Luke 2:35, NKJV). The reference no doubt is to the Cross, which Mary will witness. Mary and all the generations that follow her ought to remember that without the Cross, there is no salvation. The Cross is the hub around which the entire plan of salvation revolves.

Salvation is a gift in that we can do nothing to earn it. Yet, it can still be very costly to those who claim it for themselves. What has following Christ cost you, and why is that cost, whatever it may be, cheap enough?

Friday April 3

Further Study: Luke, the writer of the Gospel that bears his name, was a medical missionary. In the Scriptures he is called the beloved physician. Colossians 4:14. The apostle Paul heard of his skill as a physician, and sought him out as one to whom the Lord had entrusted a special work. He secured his co-operation, and for some time Luke accompanied him in his travels from place to place. After a time, Paul left Luke at Philippi, in Macedonia. Here he continued to labor for several years, both as a physician and as a teacher of the gospel. In his work as a physician he ministered to the sick, and then prayed for the healing power of God to rest upon the afflicted ones. Thus the way was opened for the gospel message. Luke's success as a physician gained for him many opportunities for preaching Christ among the heathen. It is the divine plan that we shall work as the disciples worked.-Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, pp. 140-141.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If Luke in writing his Gospel took into account previously published materials, how are we to understand the inspiration of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16)? How does inspiration work? See Ellen G. White, The Inspiration of the Prophetic Writers, Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 15-23.
  2. The virgin birth is of God's making, marked by His mystery, majesty, and mission. It is truly beyond human understanding too. But the question is So what? How many secular things are beyond human understanding, as well? If God does exist, and He has the power to create and sustain the universe, why should something like the virgin birth be beyond His power? Only those whose worldview is limited to natural laws alone (at least the ones we now currently understand) could, a priori, dismiss the idea of a virgin birth. In contrast, those whose worldview incorporates the supernatural should have, a priori, no reason to reject it. After all, look at what the angel said to Mary after giving her the incredible news: For with God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37).
  3. An American TV interviewer is reported to have said that if he had an opportunity, the person he would most like to interview would be Jesus, and he would ask Him just one question: Are You indeed born of a virgin? Why is that question, and the answer to it, so important?

Inside Story~ NSD China Tang Yue

A Divine Encounter 

Taking her six-year-old son by the hand, Tang Yue didn’t expect anything unusual as she walked from her home to the nearby market. Little did she know that she was about to experience a divine encounter.

Tang Yue believed in God, and on Sundays she met together with other Christian believers, but at the moment her thoughts were centered on what she needed to get at the market. As she walked down the street, two kind-looking men approached her and stopped.

You know, said one, keeping Sunday is not from the Bible. He held up a Bible and showed the astonished Tang Yue texts regarding the seventh-day Sabbath. Encouraging her to see for herself, the other man told her, You can search the internet, and see what day is really the Sabbath day. Then the men concluded their brief presentation by telling Tang Yue that Jesus came to this world, and the Saturday church is really the church of God. Then as quickly as they had come, the two men disappeared into the crowd.

Astonished by this strange, brief meeting, Tang Yue went home and began searching the internet for answers to the questions the strangers had raised. To her surprise, she came across an amazing website-in Chinese-that had answers to her questions, including clear answers about the seventh-day, Saturday, being God’s true Sabbath. The site also offered easy-to-follow Bible studies. Learning that the website was from a Seventh-day Adventist ministry, she wondered if there might be an Adventist church nearby that she could visit.

Doing another internet search, Tang Yue was happy to learn that there was an Adventist church in her city, and she decided to visit. Surely there must be something special about this church, she thought to herself.

Finding her way to the church the following Sabbath, Tang Yue looked for the two men who had approached her on the street, but she didn’t see them. In fact, she never saw them again.

But she keeps returning to the Adventist church and believes that she has found her spiritual home. [This church] is teaching very closely to the Bible, says Tang Yue. It is very different from the Sunday church. I believe that what the Adventists are teaching is the truth, and that Jesus is coming soon.

Tang Yue continues to worship regularly with Seventh-day Adventists who meet together in an apartment within a city in central China.

This quarter, a part of your Thirteenth Sabbath Offering is going to help provide more places of worship for believers in China.

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