How you think about Jesus matters.
One reason it matters is because there is an actual Jesus.
It doesn’t really matter what you think when I say when I say Winnie the Pooh because there is no real Winnie the Pooh. But there is a real actual Jesus. He is not a fictional character.
There’s lots of ways we could demonstrate that.
If we just take the introduction to Luke as an example.
Luke’s writing around 63 or 64 ad.
So this is early.
Obviously it doesn’t have a date in the verse so you might wonder how we know that. We don’t know the exact date. But there is evidence this is early.
Like the fact that Luke is using names of places that were around in the first century even though he wasn’t from Palestine. Or that he’s right on the names of Jewish people in the first century. And he’s accurate about historical details like the names of particular coins and things like that and he didn’t have google or wikipedia.
Perhaps that doesn’t strike you as significant at first. But, if you compare Luke to books that we know were written in the 200’s or 300’s or later, you’ll see a striking difference. They use names like Barbelo and Autogenes for Jesus disciples. When they talk about the region, they don’t have actual town names, because they weren’t written by someone who knew Palestine in the first century. But Luke was!
This is first century.
And it had to be kind of early on in the first century as well, because there are some really big things that took place around 70 ad, like the death of James who was a leader in the early church, and the destruction of the Jewish temple, and yet Luke doesn’t talk about any of that as something that happened. Plus, you could say he is fairly pro-Roman and that would be very awkward if Rome had just destroyed Jerusalem and I could go on with a few other illustrations, but the point is that, Luke’s writing early on around 63 or 64 and he’s not having to argue for the existence of Jesus at all.
We can even go further.
In Luke 1:1-4 he talks about different sources for his gospel and the very first thing he emphasizes is that so much was already known and said about Jesus.
“Since MANY have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us.”
And I’m bold printing, many.
Luke’s not writing because there wasn’t much known about Jesus. He’s writing partially because there WAS SO much known about Jesus.
I mean, there was already a lot of talk about Jesus by 63 or 64 ad.
All over the world, at that point.
I know sometimes people will say, ‘Why should I consider Jesus because all we know about Jesus is from the gospels and they are biased’ which is not even totally true because the Jewish historian Josephus talks about Jesus twice, but even if all we did have was the gospels, this is not just one but four separate accounts of someone doing the kind of stuff Jesus did.
And it’s clear they are not all just copying each other either. Because there are differences. And sometimes those differences get us confused, but one thing they tell us is that ultimately, these are four basically independent accounts. And then, besides that we’ve got twenty three other New Testament books as well, and actually in one of them, 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, which was written around 49 or 50 ad, Paul quotes a creedal statement about Jesus that comes from within five years of the crucifixion and so there’s lots of talk about Jesus from different sources.
As Luke says, “Many have undertaken to compile an account.”
Compile an account means literally setting the hand, which is a phrase you’d normally use when someone is writing something and maybe he’s talking about Mark or Matthew. I don’t know for sure. There may have been more written accounts as well. But, what I do know, is that here he is 30 or so years after the crucifixion, and there is already a lot of good material out there to use for research.
Which Luke underscores in verse 2.
And remember he’s still not talking about his own book yet but about the other stuff that was out there and he’s stressing it was solid, trustworthy material.
“It was handed down to us.”
And, that’s kind of, a technical term for tradition.
What happened was you had Jesus doing these amazing things, like rising from the dead and you had people who saw it happen. And they started telling other people about it, and even started writing stuff down about it and trying to explain what it meant, so that, by the time Luke was writing in 63 or 64 AD there was already a lot of clear, systematic instruction about the life of Jesus out there that was being taught by those who were actually there for the whole thing.
Again verse 2.
“Just as those who FROM THE BEGINNING were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.”
And that means He’s talking about those who were there AT LEAST from the time Jesus was baptized by John.
So this isn’t legend that’s motivating Luke to write.
There was good hard data, early on, from people who saw what happened, and then, told other people about it at GREAT COST to themselves.
Because remember, it was hard to follow Jesus in those early days. Not everyone was killed for believing Jesus. But many people were. And, many of the eyewitnesses, Luke talks about were crucified, or thrown off buildings, or stoned, which is part of why Luke’s doing the work of writing. There’s all this great material. MANY have undertaken. It’s from really solid people about Jesus. It’s eyewitnesses, servants of the Word. Jesus is an actual real person, and his influence in Luke’s day, was already so profound, that people who knew him were being thrown in prison and dying, so that other people could know the truth about him.
And so Luke says, if you look at verse 3, “It seemed good to me also…”
Now, he’s moving from talking about the sources he was using to what he is doing and why he is doing it, but as he does, understand, he’s not disrespecting the sources. That’s not the problem. He just realizes he has a unique opportunity in that he had followed all things closely. Remember, Luke was a companion of Paul and so he had unique insight into what was going on in the church and access to all kinds of information about Jesus, and so it seems like, he took every opportunity to ask the eyewitnesses he met questions and investigate so that he could understand the significance of what happened and apply it to the problems the church was facing, and, you know, he actually, even describes his investigative process.
As someone somewhere explained,
He says he followed ALL things. Meaning, his investigation was THOROUGH. And, he says he followed all things CLOSELY, meaning his investigation was careful. And, he says he did that for some time past, and that’s not talking about length of Luke’s investigation, but instead, he’s saying, he went all the way back to the beginning of what happened with Jesus, which means his investigation was EXTENSIVE.
If you know people, you know they can argue about anything.
And so people can say whatever they want to say when we talk about Jesus because that’s just what people do, but if we just take Luke’s gospel, as a one example, we have good reason for believing in Jesus. He’s writing very close to the time Jesus ministered on earth. And he’s using quality sources to do so. Luke is based on eyewitness accounts from people who weren’t benefited from a worldly perspective to say what they said. The opposite. They died. And it’s thoroughly, carefully, extensively, researched. So when we talk about Jesus we are not talking about someone we are just making up. We are talking about a real person who actually existed, which means, you don’t get to make Him who you want Him to be.
Jesus is who He was and getting him right is especially important, when you consider the kind of claims that He was making and that were being made about Him.
There’s an apologist who says if you make a list of people who changed the world, there are a few people on that list. And if you make a list of people who claimed to be God, there are people on that list. But if you look at both lists, there aren’t many people whose names are on both of them, except for Jesus. It’s not just that Jesus existed and changed the world, it’s the claims that were being made about him.
That’s why the gospel writers were so urgent.
They didn’t record their stories just to tell us there was a Jesus. They wrote because they want us to be sure about the meaning of Jesus.
Take Luke again as an example.
Luke wants us to be convinced Jesus is the fulfillment of everything God’s doing in salvation history.
In other words, you need to have a biblical image of Jesus, because he’s a real person, and because, he’s LITERALLY the center of God’s saving plan, the turning point of history, and, the fulfillment of all of God’s promises.
I think you see that in a couple ways in the introduction to his gospel.
First of all the word accomplished.
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things ACCOMPLISHED among us.”
The word accomplished means fulfilled. So you could say, the things fulfilled among us. And by fulfilled, Luke’s saying that Jesus’ life, ministry, death is not merely interesting historical data. God was doing something through Jesus’ life and death. He was fulfilling something.
And that’s why so many people wrote about him and why Luke wants to explain him. aAnd while that’s just a little hint here in verse 1 with the word fulfilled, that hint gets louder, clearer, when you look at how Luke explains the way he’s writing in verse 3 and 4.
He says, “It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.”
And of course, orderly is Luke explaining what he’s trying to do when there are other accounts. There are these other accounts. But it seemed good to Luke, since he investigated all this from the beginning to write an ORDERLY account.
But, what does he mean by orderly? We probably instinctively think, he means chronologically.
Like in terms of time, 1, 2, 3, because that’s really important to us now and days. But if you look at Luke gospel, he doesn’t totally do that. He is maybe more chronological than some of the other gospels, but, he does some rearranging. Plus, it doesn’t really make sense, that Luke’s thinking, oh you know, there’s all this good material out there about, but what Theophilus really needs, is for someone to arrange it in chronological sequence. That’s not his concern, I don’t think. Instead Luke means that he is bringing all this material together, in a logical, orderly way, to prove a point about Jesus and the point is that what happened to Jesus’ is the fulfillment of every promise God was making throughout Scripture.
In other words, he’s organizing all this to prove Jesus is not just another figure in this long history of how God working in the world. He IS God’s PLAN for rescuing the world. He is the one whose life and death has fundamentally changed the world. He’s not writing because he finds Jesus interesting. He’s writing to prove Jesus is the FULFILLMENT OF ALL GOD’S PROMISES.
And that’s why how you think about Jesus matters.
It matters more than anything else.