We’re going to move from Psalms to Luke’s gospel for a week. This seems a great time to focus on Jesus, learn from him, see his kingdom and mission afresh and let our love and praise for him grow. My intention is to take one section of the Bible week by week, to give us a balanced diet. Mark’s post yesterday was brilliant (& clearly v popular) if you’d like to contribute, please send offerings to me.
Luke 1:1-4 (ESV)
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 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, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
Luke was a Doctor (they’re so ‘in’ right now – Hooray for the NHS!).
I’m married to a Doctor, I know that they like truth, they like grounded researched facts, they trust evidence and know how dangerous fake news can be. So Luke begins his narrative of Jesus’ life, by explaining who he’s writing to, who his sources are and wanting to pass the news on. He’s clear that he hasn’t rushed this, he hasn’t compulsively seen something that he found interesting and shared it before checking it. He’s considered the life of Jesus and wants Theophilus to be sure that what he shares is true.
It’s also an orderly account. The gospels all tell the story of Jesus, they highlight different aspects of his ministry. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have all carefully given an account, and we’ll see that they do this to share the story of Jesus in a way that enables us to know him. The differences and similarities of the gospels are amazing. Along with millions of other Christians, I believe the gospel writers were inspired by the Spirit both in what they wrote and how they arranged it.
Coming afresh to these verses, I find the word ‘narrative’ as the ESV’s translation of the Greek word ‘diegesis’ in verse 1 really enlightening. This word can be translated as, ‘declaration, narrative, history’. This is the only time the word is used in the New Testament. Luke knows that sharing the history of Jesus needs to be rooted in fact, reliable witnesses who were there. (Theologians also believe that Luke used Mark’s gospel, another eye witness account, as one of his sources when compiling his gospel). But he shares not just facts, but stories.
Stories are one of the most profound ways that humans make sense of life. In recent decades, psychologists have explored the value of story-telling in shaping both culture and personal development. Think of a story-style joke, you can probably retell it almost word for word from how you first heard it. Try recounting this paragraph word for word in 10 minutes time, you won’t be able to. As well as remembering stories, they help us make sense of life.
I believe God does miracles, because the stories I’ve heard and been part of where God has moved miraculously bring that theory into reality for me. I believe God walks closely with us through the confusion and internal chaos of grief, through phases such as anger, depression, denial, bargaining, not because the Kubler-Ross model theory tells me, but because that’s the story of my own grief.
Memes are funny, slapstick videos are hysterical, sound-bite quotes catch our attention and often surprise us with a twist from what we expect. But real life stories are more powerful as they shape what we believe. I’ve recently finished a biography of Nietzsche, a confused man who ranted against Christianity and whose philosophies were deeply secular and anti-kingdom. He communicated his ideas with aphorisms, short pithy statements which reflect life and make us feel clever. Nietsche’s ideas were destructive, and he died a madman. Jesus gave us stories, which don’t make us feel clever, they challenge, provoke and renew us. Luke’s gospel is a biography of a man who loved, served, healed, inspired and laid down his life.
We will be telling the stories of 2020 for years to come. What we did during the Coronavirus outbreak, what changed, what we went through. Those stories will help us make sense of this season.
God packages truth in stories, and then lets those stories work in our hearts as truth about him and his kingdom. As we read the gospel stories about Jesus, they are evidence-based and they are life giving stories. Let them take root in your life, they will grow into the beautiful fruit of the Spirit.