Certainty of Faith: Living Against the Grain

“Certainty of Faith: Living Against the Grain”

 What Happened?

“So what happened?” a question that I would often ask during my days as a director of a group home of teenage girls. Inevitably, some situation would arise, as situations often do among teenage girls, and I would have task to figure out what happened. I had to interview the girls and staff involved. I had to take notes and document all that was said. It is always interesting during this exercise, because very rarely did the girls involved in the situation, see the situation in the same way. One felt that her actions were justified because of the provocation of the other one. While the other felt, she was completely innocent and therefore should be free of any and all punishment. But as more conversations happened, it eventually became relatively clear what occurred. Even though I was not directly there, after talking with the eye witnesses and all involved, I could come to a reasonable certainty of what happened. It was not easy or quick, but after careful investigation and research, I was confident that I knew what happened.

This morning we are going to start the Gospel of Luke. And Luke is going to begin answering the question, “What happened?” Christianity has changed the world. What started as a small Jewish Sect has grown to a worldwide religion!! During the days of the apostles, everyone was talking about Jesus Christ and his followers. It was the talk of the day. There were a lot of things happening with all these Christians. There was a dramatic change in the apostles.

Remember prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, the apostles were afraid of persecution and death so they abandoned Jesus. Remember Peter who said, “Though they (the other disciples) all fall away because of you, I will never fall away (Matt 26:33).” Jesus replied, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times. Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.” But you know how words often don’t follow through with action. Not only did Peter not die for Jesus, but called down curses upon himself when he was challenged for even knowing Jesus. And all the other disciples denied him as well. So all the apostles scattered and abandoned their friend and Lord. But within several months they were standing before the Religious Elite testifying in the name of Jesus Christ. From denying Jesus to a servant girl to standing boldly before the most powerful of the day declaring that salvation is found in no other name. So what happened? Well that is exactly why Luke chose to write this gospel.

We know from church history and the early apostolic writings that this gospel was written by Paul’s beloved Physician, Luke. The earliest manuscripts do not have his name attached to the gospel, but we know that whoever wrote Luke also wrote Acts as they are addressed to the same person, the most excellent Theophilus. “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.” We also can gather from certain sections of Acts known as the “We passages” that the writer of Luke-Acts was one of Paul’s traveling companions. Luke falls into that category and from the testimony of the early church, we can be fairly certain that Dr. Luke was the author of this gospel that bears his name as well as book of Acts. It is important to connect Luke and Acts early in our study so we know that this gospel was always meant to be the first book in a two-part series. It is like when you are watching a show and it is a two part episode. The writers have both episodes in mind before they complete the first one. It is clear throughout this gospel that Luke had in mind the events in Acts. So even in the first sentence, we see that, “many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,” The “among us” is referring to Christians, the followers of Jesus. This gospel would only be able to accomplish the foundation of who Christians are and how they came to be, but would need a follow up book to provide an account of the things that had been accomplished among the Christians through the Holy Spirit in the expansion of the gospel to the Gentile world.

But there is something that we should focus on here. Why is there even a need for this orderly account? The reason this book was necessary was because the world was asking, “What happened?” Christian lives should always make people ask, “What happened?” The Christian should look dramatically different than what he was before. The apostles went from timid and scared to bold and courageous and people wanted to know, “what happened?” We have our life before we repented and believed in Jesus, and then we have our life after we trusted Jesus. Before, the Bible says, that we are dead in our sin, objects of God’s wrath, even calling us his enemies. But another way of saying it; is that we were living like everybody else. Our values were the values of the world. Our desires were the desires of the world. We trusted in the power structures of this world. We sought after making a name for ourselves rather than a name for God. When our lives are indistinguishable from the world and its behaviors, people will never ask us what happened? There would be no need for anyone to ask us because there would not be anything different about us. The world saw a difference in the lives of Christians and people wanted to know what happened. Their lives were radically different so Luke began in this gospel to give a radical explanation.

Has Jesus made a difference in your life? Does your life look different than it did before? Christians should live such radical lives that they demand a radical explanation. So how does one become radical? Well, there is a lot of ways to answer that and Luke shows us how Christians were called to live by Jesus in the rest of his gospel. But if I can provide a sweeping generalization from this gospel is that Luke is calling Christians to live counter-cultural lives. Live against the grain of the world. Jesus wants us to live against the flow and pressure of this world and be striving to be His disciple. All of life is about Jesus Christ. All of your life speaks about your relationship with Jesus Christ. How you handle: your checkbook, your recreation your interactions with your children or spouse, your church attendance or lack thereof? Everything you do reflects your relationship with Jesus Christ.

Let me ask you a question, are you striving to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus? Are you expending ourselves for Jesus our King? Or does your life look like the rest of the world? One of the greatest dangers to this radical discipleship that we will see throughout this book is how easily we can be influenced to think and become like this world rather than to think and be like God. Romans 12:1-2:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual[a] act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

God has placed a high calling on our lives as Christians, because he has given us His name. We have been born-again Christians. We represent Jesus Christ to this world. And if we represent Jesus Christ, shouldn’t our lives reflect that? Our lives are called to be distinct, set apart from the world. Christians, by nature, are aliens and strangers here. We long for the day when our journey will end and we will finally go to our heavenly home.

Can I encourage you to get plugged into a Sunday School class? It is very hard to live against the grain by yourself. I do not think we understand how dangerous this world really is to our souls. A friend of the world is an enemy of God. We need each other to help us live against the grain. Plug into a Sunday School class and develop relationships with people that can encourage your walks with Christ. We need fellowship. My first two years in college I struggled living the Christian life. I had a difficult time resisting the temptations of the World. After my sophomore year, I rededicated my life to Jesus, but was going back to an environment where I did not have many Christian friends. When I arrived on campus, I knew that if my faith was going to survive, I was going to have to find support. I met Stan Chen. He was a solid Christian. On the surface we had nothing in common. We came from different backgrounds, different ethnicities. I was a hugger and he loved handshakes. But I pursued a relationship with him to help me live against the grain. We meet every Monday night for dinner for two years. If it was not for his friendship, I would have continued loving the world. Sunday School is the place where you can start to develop deeper relationships. Confess your struggles. Ask for prayer. If you feel disconnected from the church, one of the reasons could be that you are not plugged in relationally to the church.

How do you know?

Luke is first answering the “what happened” question, but he is always answering the “how do you know” question. Notice first that Luke is not the only one who has written on this movement of Christians. “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us.” There are other gospels or historical narratives about Jesus: Mark, Matthew and John. Many believe at the time of Luke’s writing, probably around early 60s AD that Mark and Matthew both already existed.

So it is logical then for Luke to have used the gospel of Mark and Matthew in his research. Secondly, notice his sources. Verse 2 says, “just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first (or beginning) were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” So Luke received his information about Jesus Christ from people that were there; the eyewitnesses and the servants who served alongside Jesus, primarily the apostles and possibly other disciples. Verse 3 says, “Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning.” This shows that Luke was not haphazard in his approach to his work. It says that he “carefully investigated” from the beginning. He investigated the other gospels, Mark and Matthew, and eyewitness accounts. He did this to write and orderly account of the narrative of Jesus life and what was fulfilled in the life of the early church.

Now it says that Luke wrote to most excellent Theophilus so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Who is Theophilus? Most scholars believe that Theophilus was a Roman official since he was addressed most excellent (which was a common title for Roman officials of the day). They also believed that Theophilus may have been the patron that supported Luke while he did this work. We know that this type of careful investigation would have taken a considerable amount of time so many feel that Theophilus must have fit the bill which enabled Luke to write both this gospel and the books of Acts.

We live in an age of skepticism. I am sure that you have heard many people say, “You can’t trust the Bible,” but beloved, those people are dead wrong. We can trust the Bible because the Bible is also a book of History. Jesus Christ is not just some mythical figure, but he was Mary and Joseph’s son from Nazareth. Luke is going to carefully detail the accounts of his life to explain how the Christians came to be. He carefully researched and investigated. He talked with eyewitnesses. We can trust this gospel. The people who say things like, “we can’t trust the Bible” have just not done their homework. We other sources from the 1st century that confirm the events recorded in the New Testament. We have Jewish and pagan sources that support the information in the New Testament; sources from people that were against Christians. Listen to what Dr. James South, says we can learn from these sources:

First, they confirm that He actually lived. One still hears the claim occasionally that Jesus never existed, or that we can’t know from history that he existed. Those making these claims are either ignorant of the evidence or dishonest in ignoring it. Second, they confirm several basic facts about Jesus which are stated in the gospels. (Listen what these non Christian sources confirm).They establish that he lived in Palestine in the First Century AD, he had a brother names James, the Jewish leadership called for his death, he was crucified by the Romans during the governorship of Pilate, he was known as a teacher, his ministry was characterized by miracle-working, he was believed by his followers to have been the Messiah, he was worshipped as Deity, and his followers were called Christians. The non-Christians sources do not give us any additional information that was not already recorded in the Gospels, but their corroboration is of great importance, since it comes from sources that could hardly be accused of being biased in favor of Christianity.[1]

I say all that so let you know that you can actually trust the Bible. The Bible has stood against skeptics and cynics for thousands of years and still is trusted as a reliable historical document. You can trust the Bible. You can trust the message of the Bible.

Can you be sure?

In our era of doubt, we just want reassurance. So listen to verse 4, “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Luke wrote this gospel so that its recipient, the most excellent Theophilus, would have certainty of the things he had been taught. So by extension, we can know for certainty the things in this gospel. The Greek word used there could also be translated safety. So you are safe to trust the events and details about Jesus in this gospel.

Notice that Theophilus had already been taught about Jesus Christ. Luke wanted to reassure Theophilus that it was safe to trust the things he had been taught. This shows us something. We need to be taught. Human beings are born in sin and clothed with iniquity. We are a fallen race and our depravity is extended to our minds and our knowledge. Christianity is based on facts. Our faith is rooted on facts. We need to be taught the truth about God. I believe this is so important to remember in our age where man is king. So many people question the Bible as if to they have the right and the knowledge to doubt the Word of God. This world has an inflated view of man. Man is not the center of the universe; God is the center of the universe. All of our lives should be about knowing and learning and worshiping God for this is his world and we belong, body and soul, in life and in death to Him.

God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. We do not want to be proud and think that we do not need knowledge. We need to be taught. This is one of the reasons God has given teachers to the church so that people can grow in the knowledge of God. And that is why the longest part of this service is the exposition of the Word of God so we can learn to think rightly about God. James 3:1, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” God is going to judge teachers more strictly because he cares about what is being taught. We need to be taught. And what we are taught, we need to be able to trust. Beloved, it is safe to trust this Book. This Word is trustworthy.

Listen to Jeremiah 9:23-24:

23 This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches,24 but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.

Our culture wants the wise man to boast in his wisdom, the strong man to boast in his strength and the rich man to boast in his riches. Our culture craves power and values celebrity. And unfortunately, those views have seeped into the evangelical church are becoming more and more popular. We boast in our worldly wisdom though God has made foolish the wisdom of the wise. We boast in our strength when in our weakness, God is strong. We boast in our riches when God says that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Beloved, do not boast like our world, “but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth.” Our boast should be that we understand and know the Lord. And how do we know the Lord?

John 1:9-18:

9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own,[b]and his own people[c] did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”)16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.[d] 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.18 No one has ever seen God; the only God,[e] who is at the Father's side,[f] he has made him known.

Jesus Christ has come so that we can know God, just know about God or of God, but know God, personally. We can experience his grace, his kindness, his love and his righteousness. This is why Jesus Christ has come. He has come to show us grace and truth. We can only know God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ came into this world to us as the Savior of the world. He lived a perfect life and died a sinner’s death. He died to pay the penalty of the sins of anyone who would trust in Him. Although God gave Jesus over to death, he did not abandon his soul to the grave or let his holy one see decay, but raised him from the dead. His resurrection shows that God was satisfied with his sacrificial death so that anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ will be saved. We don’t need worldly wisdom, or strength, or earthly riches; what we need is to know the Savior!! Turn from your earthly boasting and know the Savior. Repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know God? Have you experienced the grace of Jesus Christ? If not, I challenge you to make that decision today.

In 1972, Chuck Colson was a man that pursued worldly ambitions. He was wise in the eyes of the world. He was a powerful and influential player in Washington. He was known as Richard Nixon’s “Hatchet Man.” Times magazine called him, “tough, wily, nasty and tenaciously loyal to Richard Nixon.” But his ambition led him to one of the worst presidential scandals of our history, Watergate. He was convicted and sentenced to prison for obstructing justice. But right before he was convicted he experienced a radical conversion to Jesus Christ. Colson says, “Was Christ to change my view of life so drastically? My mind was whirling … Deep down I knew forces were at work which were demanding that I rethink every facet of my life … I could not sidestep the central question (God) had placed squarely before me. Was I to accept without reservation Jesus Christ as Lord of my life?…While I sat alone staring at the sea, words I had not been certain I could understand or say fell naturally from my lips: ‘Lord Jesus, I believe You. I accept You. Please come into my life. I commit it to You.’ With these few words that morning came a sureness of mind that matched the depth of feeling in my heart … I was coming alive to things I’d never seen before; as if God was filling the barren void I’d known for so many months.”[2] After serving in prison, he gave his life to the organization he founded, Prison Fellowship. Prison Fellowship has been the vehicle God used to bring many people to Christ. Before his death, Colson was one of the most well respected leaders in the evangelical church.

But what want you to see is that Chuck Colson came to realize emptiness the world’s values. He did whatever he could to advance his life in the eyes of the world, but it was not until he surrendered to Jesus that he truly found life. 23 This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches,24 but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness justice and righteousness on earth for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.”

[1] Just Jesus. South, James. 2012. DeWard Publishing Company. Ohio.