Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us . . . . With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).
I can’t remember a time when the church wasn’t like home to me. The sanctuary furniture, the aroma of Wednesday night dinner, the songs and hymns, the stories from the Bible – throughout my entire life these have formed a kind of refuge. Something familiar and comforting.
I don’t say all of that because I’m a pastor. Perhaps I’m a pastor because I can honestly say all of that.
Having been so thoroughly immersed in “church-world” for so long, the challenge for me is in recognizing that for so many people none of those things is true.
For some people, church was never part of their life.
For others, church failed them. It somehow became a source of pain or hurt or rejection.
For still others, what was once good and life giving simply got elbowed to the edges of life by busyness or any assortment of other things that looked better and more life giving.
For whatever reason, for many people church and faith are alien to their way of life. Interestingly, those are the very people that the church is called to reach.
So how do we tell the Jesus story to skeptics who aren’t sure they believe it, or to outsiders who feel excluded by it?
Some Help from Doctor Luke
The New Testament opens with four documents that tell us about the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Each of them speaks with a distinctive voice, reflecting a distinctive perspective on the story, composed with a distinctive audience in mind.
Among the four, the gospel according to Luke gives us the Jesus story for skeptics and outsiders.
Luke speaks to the skeptics in the very first sentences of his gospel. Here he puts his cards on the table (as it were) and sets forth his methodology for the twenty-four chapters to follow. A skeptic will appreciate something that has been thoroughly examined, researched, thought out. Luke claims to have “carefully investigated everything from the beginning,” examining the eyewitness reports of the earliest followers of Jesus. With this research he compiled “an accurate account” of the Jesus story. His purpose in all of this diligent study was so that we “might have certainty” about what we’ve been taught (Luke 1:1-4 NLT).
Luke speaks to outsides because he knows what it’s like to be an outsider. As Eugene Peterson concisely explains, “Luke is the only Gentile in an all-Jewish cast of New Testament writers.” As Luke tells the Jesus story he does so with an eye to women, common laborers, socially marginalized and racially snubbed. Luke has no patience for “religion as a club.”
Nowhere is this more evident than in the much-loved Christmas stories. In Luke’s familiar telling of the birth of Jesus we note the prominence of Mary and Elizabeth, the shepherds, the aged Anna speaking a prophetic word alongside the devout Simeon.
Luke’s stories draw us in close, skeptics and outsiders especially welcomed.
Nativity, Mission, Passion
This past Sunday at Grace Church Pastor Marnie introduced a new series that will take us all the way to Easter – that’s about 131 days. We’ll gather weekly as a congregation and hear the Jesus story as told by Doctor Luke. In broad strokes, we’ll work through Luke’s story of good news in three sections:
“Luke: The Nativity.” This will be our focus for the coming month, the weeks of Advent. We’ll make our way toward Christmas Day with some of the best-known Bible stories of the season.
This will be followed in the new year by “Luke: The Mission.” For these weeks we’ll walk with Jesus, observing his powerful deeds, listening to his challenging teaching.
Finally, we’ll come to “Luke: The Passion.” As we approach Easter, we’ll follow Jesus all the way to Jerusalem, the site of his rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection.
At Grace Church you’ll be provided with a journal that has the text of Luke with space for your notes, allowing you to do your own Luke-like investigation of Jesus. I hope you’ll fully engage this study of Luke’s gospel. But even more importantly . . .
Maybe you know a skeptic. Or maybe you know someone who feels like an outsider to the whole church / faith experience.
Maybe that person is you. Sometimes skeptical. Sometimes on the outs with that messy flawed gathering of God’s people called “church.”
Don’t let these days get by without joining those Bethlehem shepherds and seeing for yourself what God has revealed. Pray for someone you know who needs to do that.
This is “good news of great joy for all people” (Lk. 2:10). Skeptics and outsiders included.
Prayer: Gracious God, we’re thankful for the way you pursue us – and especially the way you pursue the skeptics who struggle to believe and the outsiders who struggle to belong. In the infant Jesus you entered our world, intent on showing us who you are and what you are like. Pursue us in these days of Advent, and give us grace to know you better, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.