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What stands out from the Gospel of Luke?

What stands out from the Gospel of Luke?

I preached through Luke’s Gospel in three chunks over 2020–2022. I did this in part because it’s long—one-eighth of the New Testament long! And for that reason, many of us are reluctant to study Luke. It just seems too daunting.

But over those years, what stood out to me about this book? Well, there are the obvious things: its Gentile-friendliness; its long ‘road trip’ to Jerusalem in the middle; its high number of parables, including some of the hardest in the New Testament—I’m looking at you, Parable of the Shrewd Manager! And of course, there is its theme of ‘salvation’ that overarches everything: ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,’ says Jesus about Zacchaeus, in what many take to be the topic statement of the book (19:10).

But the thing that really stood out to me was Jesus’ love for people and his love for all sorts of people. Of course, that could be seen in all the Gospels, but it really stood out for me in Luke.

Let me give you an example. Luke 7 is bookended by two stories of two totally different people: a powerful, good man and a powerless, bad woman.

The powerful, good man is a centurion. His servant is dying, so he sends for Jesus to come and heal him. In every way, this centurion seems to have it ‘together’:

  • He’s powerful:
    • He’s a centurion (7:2)
    • He’s able to send people—in this case, the Jewish elders—to do his bidding (7:3)
    • He’s rich, with enough money to build a synagogue (7:5)
  • And he’s good:
    • He “highly values” his servant and sends for Jesus’ help when that servant is dying (7:2)
    • The Jewish elders think he’s good: “He loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue” (7:5). That’s why they’re willing to go to Jesus and plead earnestly for him to come (7:4)

And yet, if you scratch the surface, the centurion is not ‘all together’. He’s deeply conscious of his own flaws.

When [Jesus] was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.” (7:6b–7)

The leaders may think the centurion deserves to have Jesus come to his house, but he doesn’t! He’s conscious of his deep unworthiness. That’s why he sent messengers to get Jesus in the first place; he didn’t feel worthy to go himself. And that’s why he changes his mind at the last minute and suggests that Jesus not come after all, but just heal at a distance.

Yet the centurion’s unworthiness doesn’t stop him from asking Jesus for help. In fact, it makes him do it! Because he knows power when he sees it.

“For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes …” (7:8)

So when he sees Jesus and his power—a power he doesn’t have—he asks Jesus for help. And Jesus does what he asks and heals his servant, amazed by the centurion’s faith (7:9).

It’s a great reminder that even the most together-looking people are still human and have the same needs and insecurities as everyone else. Behind corporate travel and the harbourside house is still guilt, worry, indecision and frailty. And Jesus has come to heal all of it. All anyone needs to do is ask.

The second story is about a powerless, bad woman—the social opposite of the centurion. The woman is a “sinner” (we’re not told in what way) who has crashed a Pharisee party Jesus is at (7:36–37). There she does something unusual (and scandalous): crying, she breaks an alabaster jar of ointment and starts anointing Jesus’ feet with it and kissing them (7:38).

The Pharisee host Simon is shocked, thinking that if Jesus really were a prophet, he would know who this woman is and have nothing to do with her (7:39).

But Jesus knows who she is and still has something to do with her. In fact, he’s impressed with her. While Simon the host has done very little for Jesus since he got there, this woman has been incredibly welcoming to Jesus, washing and anointing his feet and kissing them (7:44–46). And the reason she does so? She knows she’s a sinner, so she’s very grateful to find someone who can forgive her. But Simon, who doesn’t think he’s a sinner, is not grateful (7:47).

Two very different people, yet they both see their need for Jesus, and Jesus gives himself to them. It shows the heart Jesus has for needy people, whatever their social or moral status. That’s what stood out for me from Luke’s Gospel.

So why not get into Luke? Yes, it is long, but it’s well worth reading because it’s so full of Jesus! Brilliant, powerful, and compassionate Jesus. Who among us, all in need, couldn’t do with more of him?

Des Smith

Des Smith is married to Suzie and they have four children. Des is the pastor at Trinity Church Lockleys, Adelaide, and has written several studies in the Interactive Bible Study and Pathway Bible Guide series for Matthias Media.
Tags  Bible, Luke