I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.Luke 1:3
My congregation, like many others, uses a schedule of Sunday scripture readings called the Revised Common Lectionary. This lectionary is a three-year cycle of readings that covers most (but not all) of scripture. Each of the three years features one of the four gospels as its primary gospel, with John’s Gospel appearing at different times all three years. This Sunday we begin a new year in this lectionary, Year C. The primary gospel that we will be hearing this year is the Gospel According to Luke. So I thought it would be helpful to share an overview of Luke’s Gospel, and to reflect on why Luke’s Gospel is so important.
What’s so special about Luke’s Gospel? Lots! Just as with Matthew, Mark, and John! When I am asked which of the four gospels is my favorite, I sometimes (jokingly) answer that this is like asking me which of my children is my favorite. They are all my favorites, but for different reasons. All four gospels are important, even necessary, to fully understanding the good news of Jesus. So what is particularly important about Luke’s Gospel? Let’s take a quick trip through Luke’s Gospel to find out.
What’s Different About Luke’s Gospel?
As Christians, we believe that Luke’s Gospel is inspired by God, as are all the books of the Bible, but each of these writings also reflects the personality and writing styles of its author. So what makes Luke’s Gospel unique? Luke uses Mark as the basic structure of his Gospel (as does Matthew), but Luke adds many unique stories and parables, including the story of the birth of Jesus, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and the story of the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus, just to name a few.
Luke also shows a special concern throughout his gospel for marginalized groups of people, including: women, Samaritans, the poor, and all those in need of God’s mercy and salvation.
Luke is also the only evangelist who offers us a sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of the early Church and its mission to proclaim the gospel beginning in Jerusalem and then to “the ends of the earth.”
Who Wrote Luke’s Gospel?
All four gospels were written anonymously, but the author of Luke’s Gospel has, from the earliest days of the church, been considered to be Luke, a physician and a companion of Paul’s. Luke was probably a Gentile by birth, and well-educated in Greek culture. He himself was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ life and ministry, as he attests, but wrote his “orderly” account based on those who were. Although not one of the original disciples, Luke was clearly a faithful follower of Jesus and a very gifted writer. His divinely-inspired masterpiece has justly been described as “the most beautiful book in the world.”
What Are Some Key Moments in Luke’s Gospel?
The Annunciation and Birth
Luke gives us the most complete account of the birth of Jesus. The first two chapters are dedicated to telling the story of the miraculous births of both John the Baptist (born to Elizabeth, who was barren and “getting on in years”) and Jesus (born to Mary, who was a virgin, by the power of the Holy Spirit). The story of the birth of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel is one of the most familiar and beloved stories in all of scripture. But these opening chapters also contain several canticles which have become important “songs of salvation” in our worship services, including: Mary’s Magnificat, Zechariah’s Benedictus, the Angels’ Gloria in Excelsis Deo, and Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis.
Jesus’ First Sermon
Luke tells us that Jesus’ first sermon took place in the town where he had been brought up, Nazareth, and was based on a passage from Isaiah, which Jesus himself fulfills. The passage that Jesus quotes from Isaiah can be seen as a summary of all that Jesus came to do. Here it is:
“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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:16-21
The Parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son
Luke is the only gospel that includes two of my favorite stories from scripture. These beloved stories are simple enough to be understood by children, but complex enough to continue to reveal new insights to us in every stage of life. They are known as the Parables of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).
The Risen Jesus’ Appearance on the Road to Emmaus
Another story unique to Luke that is very important is the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). This resurrection story teaches us many things, including the awe-inspiring fact that even after his resurrection, Jesus continues to reveal himself to us through the Scriptures and “in the breaking of the bread.”
Jesus’ Commission and Ascension
Luke’s Gospel ends where it begins – in the Temple. Just before his disciples return to the Temple “with great joy” after witnessing Jesus’ ascension, he gives them a final commission, which brings up many of the themes found throughout this gospel. Jesus says to them:
“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” – Luke 24:45-49
What Is a Good Summary of Luke’s Gospel?
There are many possible passages to offer as a summary of this gospel, but I will end with one that we often often sing at the conclusion of our worship services. After hearing God’s Word and receiving the body and blood of our Lord, we join Simeon in singing:
“Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people; a light to reveal you to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” – Luke 2:29-32
Here are my overviews of the Gospels of Mark and John: