Reading the Gospels - Luke
Luke: The Journey of Salvation
Luke’s gospel is about the journey. Mark’s story is quick and concise; the power of the suffering Son of God. Matthew’s story is organized and full of instruction as Jesus the king unveils the way of the upside-down kingdom. But Luke is a storyteller, and a good one, following Jesus and taking us along on the journey of salvation.
Luke begins with a long story leading up to Jesus’ birth, a story of angels, of dreams and visions, with prophetic poems announcing what God is doing. Here it’s John the Baptist’s birth that is announced first, because he’s setting the stage. Something big is on the horizon.
Jesus’ coming is good news and bad news. Mary remembers what God does:
He scatters the ones who are proud in their inner selves, He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but he has lifted up the humble;
He has filled the hungry with good things, but he has sent the rich away empty (Luke 1:51-53)
Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, announces God’s mercy and salvation that “will shine on people living in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:77-79).
What God has done is brought to the present. It’s what God is now about to do in Jesus. It is only in Luke that Jesus is called “Savior.” And Jesus is God’s salvation. This will be bad news for those who have it good, who are comfortable in this life. It will be good news, “salvation,” for those who are humble, whose lives are in darkness. Jesus himself announces what that salvation is all about in Luke 4:18-19:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,
and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Luke’s gospel is a gospel of “raising up” the lowly. Jesus’ announcement of his mission emphasizes the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, and the oppressed. In other words, all those in Jesus’ world who are left out and overlooked – the “humble” in Jesus’ world. It is only in Luke that the announcement of Jesus’ birth goes out to the shepherds in the fields. The were nobodies, literally outside of society. In the ancient world, if there is a great person born, a “Savior” of the world, then you go and tell the most important people first (as Matthew’s birth story does). Luke turns that narrative on its head. And Luke’s genealogy, unlike Matthew’s, goes back not to Abraham, but to Adam. For Luke, Jesus’ mission is bigger than bringing God’s plan through Israel to a climax; it’s about the restoration of humanity.
Luke’s gospel has several themes that give shape to God’s saving restoration through Jesus. Several times Jesus emphasizes lifting up the poor and the condemnation of wealth. It is only in Luke that we have, for example, the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, where the rich man goes to a not-so-good-place after he dies, while the poor Lazarus goes to be with Abraham. The point? In the next life, the fortunes will be turned. Those who are rich now, and who do not lift up the poor, will experience pain in the next life. Jesus even states it in Luke 6:20-21: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied; blessed are you who week now, for you will laugh.” These blessings have corresponding statements in Luke 6:24-25: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry; woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” Luke’s gospel has the story of Zacchaeus (the “wee little man”), where the rich Zacchaeus announces that he will “undo” his wealth and give half of his possessions to the poor and repay anyone he’s cheated. It is at that point Jesus proclaims, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham!” (Luke 19:9).
Luke also has a focus on the lowly in society, particularly women. Only Luke has the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42. It’s normally understood that “sitting at Jesus’ feet” means quiet devotion to Jesus, rather than busy-ness is what’s important. And this is true, but the story of Mary and Martha is saying something else. Women weren’t allowed to be “disciples” of a teacher in Jesus’ world. It was a boys’ game. Martha wasn’t just the “busybody” in this story; she was doing what society expected of women. She was doing what she was supposed to be doing. Mary, on the other hand, was taking the position of a disciple, sitting at Jesus’ feet. Jesus lifts up Mary, and women, into a new role that breaks through the broken human categories of his world. Why? Because salvation means that human purpose is supposed to center on Jesus, not on the cultural roles we define.
The Good Samaritan in Luke 10 emphasizes Luke’s concern for the wounded and needy. What it means to “love your neighbor” and find eternal life is to “go and do likewise.” It is to be the Samaritan. This is what God has done for humanity, rescuing and restoring a humanity broken and damaged by its own greed and selfishness, robbing one another and leaving one another to struggle on the side of the road in the journey of life. In Luke, Jesus is God’s salvation, restoring to life the ones beat down and with nothing. And this salvation comes freely, as irresponsible, unreasonable grace. That’s what the Prodigal Son gets at (again, only in Luke), that’s what the thief on the cross experiences, after living a life of bad decisions. Jesus, remember me. “Of course,” Jesus says. “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
For Luke, Jesus is God’s salvation. It’s salvation because it brings God’s restoration to a messed-up world. He died for this. And wherever and to whomever it comes, it comes “today.” Jesus’ salvation is a reality when, in Mary’s words, the humble are lifted up and the hungry are fed. To his readers, Luke’s gospel says, “Go and do likewise.”
Read Luke 1-2. What expectations do these chapters set up for Jesus? What is God up to? How does it bring both God’s hope and judgement?
Luke 6:17-49 are Luke’s much shorter version of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. What things does Jesus emphasize? It’s even more interesting to compare what Jesus says in Luke with what he says in Matthew. If you do this, think about how we need both versions, and why it’s important to not emphasize one and neglect the other.
Jesus speaks several parables that are in Luke only, and they emphasize certain important things in Luke’s gospel. Read these and identify important themes that relate to what God’s salvation looks like for Luke’s gospel:
The Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37)
The Foolish Rich Man (Lk. 12:13-21)
Inviting Guests (Lk. 14:7-14)
The Banquet (Lk. 14:15-24)
The Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-32)
The Shrewd Businessman (Lk. 16:1-15)
The Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31)
4. Luke has a long resurrection account in Luke 24. Read it. What does it tell you about Jesus? At what point is Jesus finally recognized? What does this mean for the church today?