Did you know you are not expected to believe Jesus is who he said he is based solely on a collection of ancient manuscripts? The foundation of our faith is anchored to something far more substantial and sustainable.
- Have you ever felt compelled to document the life of someone you knew personally? Why or why not?
- Have you ever been in a season of doubt? What were the questions you asked yourself during that season?
- Does the idea that the Gospels weren’t written with an end goal of being put in the Bible change how you would approach reading them?
- What is your initial response to this episode? What questions did it stir up in you?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
So here is what might be an uncomfortable question for some of us, and an interesting and maybe even helpful and surprisingly honest question for others of us. When it comes to knowing if there is a God, and if there is a God what God is like, and when it comes to trying to figure out who God likes, does it really come down to the Bible tells us so? Or any other religious literature tells us so? We’re modern people, rational people, are we really expected to believe what we believe, or believe anything, based on a collection of ancient manuscripts written by potentially dozens of men, only, who didn’t even know each other, over the course of hundreds and hundreds of years in a world without science in the way that we think of modern science, and in a world where everybody believed in the gods, or some kind of god?
I mean, let’s just be honest, alright? Weren’t they just making stuff up? Weren’t they just guessing? should we really be surprised that modern people it seems more and more are kind of dismissing faith in general, or deconstructing their faith, the terminology that we use now, and we begin to ask really hard questions or what seem to be hard questions about faith and realize we don’t really have answers? And it’s not that we’re sure that we’re right, that religion is wrong, but because we’re not sure that religion is right, we just kinda step back and it’s like, I’m just I’m not sure about that anymore.
Should we be surprised more and more people are doing that? Or to make it personal, should we be surprised that perhaps that’s where you are, or are you surprised that that’s where you are? That maybe you’re in the process of walking away, or you just have so many questions you’re starting to lean away, or maybe you’re listening or watching the day and honestly nobody in your family knows this yet but you have your hand on the door knob, you’re about to step away and outside of faith, and you’re not sure how your family is gonna respond, your friends are gonna respond, maybe even your employer is gonna respond, but you’re just kind of leaning that way. And if all there is to this is the Bible tells us so, then we shouldn’t be surprised, and you should be honest with yourself. If in fact the Christian faith balances precariously on the edge of ancient declarations of superstitious men, well then, why not? Why not? But, as it turns out, Christians are not expected to believe…
What we believe based on a collection of ancient manuscripts written by men who never met each other over the course of hundreds of years, in a time when everybody was superstitious and everybody believed in the gods and there was no modern science. That the foundation of our faith, and we talk about this a lot here, the foundation of our faith is far more substantial than that. It’s far more sustainable than that. It’s even, as we’re gonna discover, it’s even investigable. Investigable.
So this is it. So the good news is the Christian faith is investigable, which means we are invited to kick the tires, and you’re invited to ask those hard questions. And as those of us who are Christians, we don’t have to look the other way and shrug and go, I don’t know, it’s a mystery, as soon as we start talking about faith, we just have to take it by faith. But the Christian faith does not rise and fall based on the accuracy or the inerrancy of 66 ancient documents that we call books of the Bible. It rises and falls on the identity of a single individual, Jesus of Nazareth.
So, if you’re curious about faith and you’re moving in the direction of faith, or you’re curious about faith and you’re returning to faith, or you find that you’re kind of losing faith or you’re losing your interest in faith, here’s the question that you should wrestle with. And the question to wrestle with is not, Is there a God, or is the Bible true?
The question to ask when it comes to is Christianity something even worth taking seriously or even worth considering, the question is this. Is Matthew, Mark, Luke… Or, not and… Or John, a reliable account of actual events?This is the issue, this is the question, when it comes to Christianity. Is Matthew, the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, any one of the four, a reliable account of actual events? Because if any one of these four is an actual account, a reliable account of actual events, then what they say about Jesus of Nazareth is true. And if what they say about Jesus of Nazareth is true, game on. Faith on. You should press on. You should lean in. For those of you who are Jesus followers, your faith is not in vain. Now, the reason that this is so confusing for so many of us is the way that the Bible was first introduced to us. And so to help you understand that, I need a timeline but I can’t draw. So anyway, so I asked my friend Joel Thomas if he would come and draw one for me.
So this is super important. Okay, here is… And if you don’t hear anything else today, okay, remember if you need something on a chalkboard, Joel… No, if you don’t hear anything else today, this is the story of the Christian faith in a nutshell. Okay? There was an event, we talk about this, the Resurrection of Jesus, and immediately following the resurrection of Jesus, there was a new movement. It was called a Nazarene sect. It was called The Way. It was the ecclesia or the gathering of Jesus that eventually was called the church. And immediately upon these events happening, people who were involved in the story actually documented the events for us. This is where we get the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Book of Acts. And all of this happened in the first century. In fact, all of this, it could be argued, I would argue persuasively, that all of this happened before 70 AD, before the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. So within 35 years, or 40 if you stretch it, from the time of Jesus, something happened, it started a movement, and the movement was documented, as in written-down documented by the people who were part of the movement.
And then, 300 plus years later, the first Bible was assembled. Now, the reason… And we’ll talk more about this in just a minute. The reason this is important, is this. The story of Jesus is not a Bible story. The story of Jesus, or the narrative or the life of Jesus, is why there is a Bible. Jesus is the reason for the Bible. So when we were growing up, somebody gave us the Bible and there’s all kinds of story about David and Goliath, that’s so cool, and then a story about Red Sea, that’s so cool. And then you get to the parts about Jesus, and I’m even not sure I understand that, but the miracles, that’s so cool. And before we know it, the story of Jesus is a Bible story, it’s a story in the Bible. You need to understand, if there had been no resurrection, there would have been no church. And if there was no church, there was nobody to document the story of the resurrection because the resurrection never happened, apart from the resurrection of Jesus, there is no Bible. And as we’re gonna see, the Bible only became a collection of these extraordinary ancient documents because of what happened in the church in the 300 years following the first century.
So if even one of the Gospels or the accounts of Jesus’ life is true, then you need to lean in. Okay, enough of that, it’s making me jealous. Alright, here we go, take it down. So here’s the point, here’s what we’re gonna do. For the next few weeks, we’re gonna explore one of those accounts of the life of Jesus. We’re gonna explore the Gospel of Luke. It was named for its author, Luke. Luke was not one of Jesus’ disciples, but as we’re gonna discover, he knew Jesus’ disciples and had conversations with Jesus’ disciples, and James, the brother of Jesus. And the reason I introduced the whole series and the message the way I did is because when we open the Gospel of Luke, this is kind of how Luke introduces his audience to the life and this account of Jesus. Now, we don’t know how many times Luke wrote and rewrote the introduction to his account of the life of Jesus, but some of you are writers and I’m a writer, and when you’re writing something important, that first line is so important, isn’t it?
So as we begin the exploration of this incredible first-century document, the Gospel of Luke, as written by somebody who interviewed eye witnesses, as we’re gonna discover, here is how Luke, he’s a doctor apparently, here’s how Dr. Luke, who is meticulous in terms of detail, here’s how he began. So here is the first chapter, the first verse, and the first word of the Gospel of Luke. He writes, “Many… ” Many. Now, how many is many? Four? Is four many? Four doesn’t seem like many. 40? Well, it depends on what we’re talking about, right? Listen to how he begins his gospel. This isn’t once upon a time, this isn’t a fairy tale, this isn’t something he made up, this is certainly not how you begin a lie. He says,”Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us.” He says, Now what I’m about to tell you, I’m not the first person to try to get this out, right? Many people have endeavored to draw up an account of the things that have literally happened or been fulfilled right here among us. Quick question, don’t answer this out loud. Do you know how many will undertake to draw up an account of your life? Not many, that’s how many. Okay?
The only people that are gonna even know you existed or know I existed after our grandkids are not many. Unless you do something extraordinarily great or extraordinarily horrible, okay? But not many people are gonna write up an account of our life, and Luke tells us, he’s like, Hey, I’m starting this thing out, but you need to know, I’m not the only one doing this, many people have endeavored to get this down in such a way that people can understand and experience through what’s written what has happened right here. Now, listen, check it out. There are not many… Not many people even undertook to draw up the accounts of the lives of famous people from ancient times, or especially the first century. I mean, Tiberius Caesar, who was Caesar during the life of Jesus, there’s not a storyline, you have to piece it together. Pilate, there’s virtually nothing. Even Herod the Great, who Josephus gives us a storyline and almost a moment-by-moment account of the life of Herod the Great, but other than Josephus, that’s it. And Herod the Great did extraordinary things. But there’s just one. But here’s a question, do you know how many detailed narrative accounts we have of the lives of ancient peasants? Crucified criminals? Even famous first-century rabbis?
None. None. We have quotes, we have legendary stories, but I’m just telling you, this is why you gotta sit up and pay attention, there is nothing even close to close to close to what we find in Luke’s presentation of the life of Jesus. But that should cause us to ask a question. Why in the world would Luke bother ? I mean, he’s a busy guy, lots going on. Okay? I mean, food is scarce, this is the first century. Why in the world would he bother to bring us a detailed account of a Galilean day laborer turned rabbi that was executed by Rome, who was, again, rejected by his own people and rejected by the empire? Why even tell us the story? Why is that even a story worth telling? And why would others try to tell us that story as well? Going back to the first word of his Gospel, why so many… Why would one even tell us the story? Why would there be four? Why would there be many? And the answer is simple. Because something extraordinary happened. Something that had implications for future generations. But it wasn’t just extraordinary, something good had happened. Something good had happened on behalf of not just the people in Judea and Galilee, something had happened that was good on behalf of people for the whole world. And somebody had to tell it.
He writes, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us.” Not among them. This happened… This is why you gotta pay attention. This happened in his lifetime. Ancient history was often written by people who live long after the events, and they would cobble together the different writings and quotes and try to put together an account of what happened. But very, very rarely do we have anyone who actually lived during the time of the person they write about. Luke, as we’re gonna discover, and if you read the Book of Acts, he actually knew the men and women who played key roles in the story of Jesus, he goes on. “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us. Just as they were handed down to us by those… “
Ready for this? “Who from the first… ” In other words, when this thing first began, “were eye witnesses and servants of the word.” In other words, Luke says, What I’m about to tell you I got from the eye witnesses, I talked to the people who were there. And sure enough, read the Book of Acts, he knew Peter, he knew John, he knew James, the brother of Jesus. He says, I have interviewed everybody I can because I wanted to make sure there’s at least one account that covers all the bases. Then he says this. “With this in mind… With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated… ” [0:16:42.5] ____ One Greek word. Carefully investigated. In other words, it means, having carefully followed along, or, having closely paid attention to the events, I myself have done all the research I can, talked to everybody I can, I too have investigated everything from the beginning. This is why Luke brings us the story of the birth of Jesus from the beginning. He said, I’ve gone as far back as I can, and I wanna give you the whole story.
He says, “With this in mind… With this in mind, I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning. I, too… ” Along with many others. “I too decided to write an orderly account for you.”
Again, here’s my point, this is a point for the day, but it’s such a big, big, big, big deal, especially if you’re struggling with faith, or moving in the direction of faith, or you’re about to turn your back, okay? Luke is not writing the Bible. Luke didn’t have any idea there would ever be The Bible. Luke didn’t know if his document would survive the first century. Luke had no idea if anyone would read it other than the person he’s writing it for. He’s not writing the Bible, the Gospel of Luke isn’t part of the Bible. The Gospel of Luke is something that, as we’re gonna discover in a few minutes, was included in the collection of documents that was eventually titled The Bible, because of what this story contained when it was written, who wrote it, and what it said about Jesus. Luke was documenting the life and teaching of Jesus. Which means, this is important, we shouldn’t take Luke seriously because it’s in the Bible, we shouldn’t take the Gospel of Luke seriously because it’s in the Bible. Luke’s account of the life of Jesus was written 300 years before the Bible was assembled, as we said a minute ago. So Luke’s account, this is important, his account of the life of Jesus didn’t become reliable when it was placed in the collection of documents we call the Bible.
Luke’s account of the life of Jesus was included in the Bible, because Luke’s account was considered reliable, this is so important, when it was written. Let me illustrate it this way, when you go… When you travel and you stay in a hotel, and you decide to go out to eat, you’ve got some jewelry, you got your iPad, you’ve got your watch, you know you got some stuff that’s important and you find there’s a safe in the closet in the hotel room, this is not a trick question, don’t answer out loud because it’s gonna sound like a trick question, do you put things in that safe to make them valuable, or do you put things in that safe because they’re valuable, you put them in there because they’re valuable. The safe doesn’t make them valuable, the fact that you put them in a safe is evidence of the fact that you consider them valuable. So here’s the point, Luke’s account, this first century account of the life of Jesus was considered valuable the moment it was written. And it was eventually placed in the collection of books we call the Bible, not to make it valuable and not to make it true, but because it had been considered valuable and true from the moment it was written, because of when it was written and who wrote it.
So as you struggle or if you’re struggling with faith, or if you ever struggle with faith and you’re like, how could God and evil in the world and all those big questions that we should all be bothered by, we should all ask… Again, we don’t ever have to look the other way and just pretend and God’s just gonna work it all out, but you know, I dare not look over there and see what’s going on with them, when you find yourself in all of that, or if you’re considering Christianity maybe for the first time or the first time in a long time. It really comes down to this, is Luke lying? Is he lying? Okay, he can’t be mistaken, there’s some people who say, oh, he’s mistakan… No, no, no, that’s what you say if you’ve never read the Gospel of Luke or the Book of Acts, if you read the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, you may come away with all kinds of theories that he was mistaken, you can be mistaken about an event, and you can be mistaken about a conversation, you can’t be mistaken about the story arc of an entire life and what happened for the next 20 years after that story ended.
He wasn’t mistaken. It comes down to this, he either carefully investigated everything from the beginning,or he didn’t, And when you read the Gospel of Luke, and if you read the Book of Acts, you know what’s clear, Luke believes what he’s written. Luke is absolutely confident that what he documents actually took place because it’s based on his conversations with the people who were there. Back to Luke, he says, With this in mind, I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, and I too decided to write an orderly account for you most excellent, Theophilus. Theophilus was probably a wealthy believer who was like, Okay, I believe Jesus is Messiah, and I keep hearing all these stories, would somebody kinda put it all together for me, and Luke apparently wrote the Gospel of Luke, not for us and not for the world, but apparently, so this one gentleman he knew could read the whole thing and say, Okay, now I think I’ve got it.
I too, he says, I too decided to write an orderly account for you most excellent Theophilus. And this is so powerful. And if you’re wrestling with faith… You know, I get it, I don’t claim that I’d be able to answer your questions. But this next statement is so powerful. He said, The reason I took the time to get this down… The reason I wrote this is, is so that you may know the certainty. In other words, he says, I want you to know the certainty, I want you to be secure in your knowledge of the things that you have been taught, because Theophilus was a believer and he had been taught, and Luke is like, I wanna come in behind the things you’ve been taught, and I wanna give it context because I want you to have certainty so that he wouldn’t be left with the impression, and so that you wouldn’t be left with the impression, and so that you wouldn’t be left with the impression that Christianity is all about faith and faith.
We just gotta have faith. Said not Jesus, okay. We just gotta believe stuff said, nobody who followed Jesus after the resurrection. That Christianity isn’t faith and faith, and Luke takes the time to document the life of Jesus so that people in the first century during the time when these events happened, would know with certainty what had happened because their faith would be anchored to an event and ultimately to a person, that Luke wanted to assure that our faith was anchored to that event, the resurrection of Jesus, that as we saw earlier, would launch the movement, the church. And then this was so fascinating, this is such a fascinating history, when it was safe and when it was legal, the bishops came out of hiding and they put together the very first Bible. And this is amazing to me, and again, there’s just… I don’t even know how to put words around this, think about Luke,
He had no idea that of all the many that were written in all the many that were attempted to be written, that his would be one of four that would survive, and not only would it survive… Here’s what happened to it. It was meticulously copied, and then it was distributed to Christians and little ecclesias. And some people memorized this entire document, and then as the years passed, it was demonized, it was collected with other Christian literature, and it was burned toward the end of the third century, the very beginning of the fourth century, Emperor Diocletian, he was the last emperor to launch… In fact, he was really the first emperor to launch a really… An empire-wide persecution of Christians at the deepest level. And here’s what Diocletian realized, he realized, the reason we can’t get rid of these crazy Christians, and the reason we can’t get the pagan… I mean that we can’t get our gods to be happy with us is because the Christians aren’t making sacrifices and now the gods are angry, but we’ll never get rid of the Christians until we get rid of their literature.
Because understand in the ancient times, pagan religions, they didn’t have literature, they didn’t have a Bible, they didn’t have anything, you just made sacrifices to the gods, you trusted the priest, and you just hoped things worked out. But these crazy Christians they had stuff written down. This was new. I mean, the Jewish people had the Torah, but you had to go to synagogue. And that was a whole different thing. These crazy Gentile Christians had this literature that just fueled this epidemic of Christianity, so he decided not only are we gonna arrest the bishops, not only are we gonna shut down these little house gatherings, we’re gonna collect anything that looks like religious literature, and we’re going to burn it. And part of what was collected and burned were copies of the Gospel of Luke, but these brave, brave, brave Jesus’ followers in the late third century, early fourth century, they would risk and in some cases lose their lives, not simply over what they believed, but to protect this sacred, sacred literature that would eventually become part of your Bible.
By the beginning of the fourth century, this literature had been so broadly distributed that even dire collusion with the power of Rome couldn’t do away with all that Christian literature. And then something remarkable happened. Constantine became the emperor, and he allows the Christians to come out of the shadows and worship publicly, and when they come out of the shadows to worship publicly and their bishops and their scholars come out of the shadows, they are able to bring for the first time in human history, this literature that has fueled this movement that accomplished so much in the first 300 years of Christianity, and they’re able to bring out copies of the Gospels and copies of the letters of Paul and copies of the letter of James, and in some cases, they’d already been bundled together, and they brang these out, and the empire that crucified Jesus finances, finances, the assembly of the very first Bible and the very first Bibles. so now you’ve got the wealth of the empire, you’ve got the best scholars bringing, not hundreds, thousands and thousands of these manuscripts together, and they compare and they compare and they compare and they compare, and they authorized and they decided which of these documents are more authentic and where are the differences, and they put together the very first Bible.
You see, the stories in the Bible about Jesus, they’re not Bible stories, the story of Jesus, it’s the story. It’s the whole thing. If any one of the Gospels reflects the reality of Jesus’ life and Jesus’ teaching, that’s enough for us to sit up straight and pay attention, because at the end of all four Gospels, Jesus is crucified by Rome and buried and seen, and he rises from the dead and something happened in the world. And it’s why we’re here.
And it’s why we need to pay attention. And it’s why if you’re starting to deconstruct your faith, I’m telling you all the things that have fascinated you that you’ve now lost your fascination with when it comes to faith, it really comes down to the Gospels, it comes down to one Gospel and for the next few weeks, it’s gonna come down to the Gospel of Luke. So as we wrap up this first in the series, I wanna leave you with this. If you choose… And it’s your choice, if you choose not to follow Jesus because it’s inconvenient, I get that. Because it is, following Jesus will require something of you and following Jesus will require something from you, it’s gonna require you to forgive people who don’t deserve to be forgiven, it’s gonna require you to forgive people and you’re gonna feel like you’re giving them a gift after they’ve already taken something from you. Following Jesus is gonna require you to be less selfish, less full of yourself, and there are times when it’s gonna be so extraordinarily inconvenient. So it’s gonna cost you some money. Jesus said more about money than just about anything, way more than he said anything about heaven, because Jesus knew that where your treasure is, that’s where your heart is and Jesus is after your heart.
But if it’s too inconvenient, I get that, that is somewhat of a valid reason not to follow Jesus, but please, please, please don’t choose not to follow Jesus because you don’t think there’s anything to the story of Jesus, because in spite of what you heard in college and in spite of what you’ve heard in culture, there is.
If you read it and you read the Book of Acts, you may be convinced, you may be convinced of this, that 2000 years ago, something extraordinary happened, something extraordinary for you and for your family and for us, and for our culture and for our country, and for every single generation, the story of Jesus had to be told, and Luke chose to tell it, and we will pick up his story of the life of Jesus next time in Part Two of Investigating Jesus, how we know and why we follow.