- The Explore the Bible lesson for Dec. 6 focuses on Luke 1:13-25.
As we begin our study of Luke’s Gospel, let’s take a closer look at this amazing man whom God chose to compile this amazing account of the life of Jesus.
We could consider Luke as “the evangelist.” He often is referred to this way because he wrote one of the four Gospels that originally proclaimed the “good news” of Jesus Christ. Being a Gentile (and most likely the only non-Jewish writer of any book in the Bible), Luke’s Gospel would have particular relevance in evangelizing Gentile readers, like Theophilus, the recipient of his gospel and his first Gentile reader. Thank God for this early Christian evangelist whose message still points people to Christ today.
We could talk about Luke as “the historian.” If we consider the complete two-volume letter set of Luke-Acts, Luke recorded some 27 percent of the entire New Testament! (That’s even more than what the Apostle Paul, who wrote at 23 percent.) Without Luke’s detailed historical record of Jesus and the story of Christianity after his resurrection, we’d know nothing about the spread of the gospel throughout that first century world. Thank God for Luke’s attention to history and getting the story recorded for posterity’s sake.
And then there’s Luke as “the apologist.” Many scholars believe Luke was recording the first apologetic defense for the legitimacy of Christianity in the face of Jewish and Roman opposition. Luke recounts the attempted defenses of Christ in front of Pilate and of Paul by Felix, Festus and Agrippa. Luke begins his two-book narrative with the most detailed account of the birth of Jesus, proving the reality of the incarnation. And he begins his book of Acts by noting there had been “many infallible proofs” of the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 1:3).
But two special dimensions of Luke’s background deserve particular attention. Being a traveling companion of Paul, we might say Luke was one of the first Christian missionaries. And being a physician (Colossians 4:14), we might say Luke was the first “medical missionary.” How convenient (and providential) was it that Paul had a doctor with him on his journeys. Think about all the physical hardships and infirmities Paul had to endure. Paul often found himself flogged, beaten and stoned (2 Corinthians 11). And, of course, there was Paul’s famous “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12). What a blessing to have a medical doctor accompanying him as he faced these many physical challenges. And we read how Luke, the ever loyal and committed companion, stayed with Paul right up “until the end” as Paul sits in a lonely prison cell in Rome, no doubt being attended to by the good doctor Luke (2 Timothy 4:11).
Two extraordinary birth narratives
These two aspects of Luke’s background, the missionary and doctor, have special meaning in my own life. As a “baby believer” and young pre-med student at Rice University, I wanted to “be like Luke.” I wanted to be a medical missionary. I loved reading about Luke the physician. I loved reading how, as a doctor, he begins his Gospel with the birth of two babies—John the Baptist and Jesus. I loved reading all the medical references in Luke’s Gospel. Considering our current study of Luke chapters 1-9, one author has chronicled some 66 specific medical references in just these first nine chapters!
And I loved Luke’s commitment to missions as I read all those exciting escapades of Paul on his missionary journeys and all the “we” passages in Acts in which Luke humbly includes himself in the narrative.
Although the Lord didn’t lead me in that particular vocational direction, leading me instead to become a pastor and now professor (a different kind of “doctor”), I still love to read about Luke the man. And I still love to read the writings of what has become my favorite New Testament author. And I especially love that the Lord led me to become a Baptist in my freshman year at Rice University. And here is one of the biggest reasons I was, and am, proud to call myself a Baptist.
Ministry to the whole person
Luke exemplifies how we as Christians need a wholistic approach to our evangelism and missions. Luke obviously cared about the spiritual needs of Paul and others, but Luke likewise cared for the physical needs of Paul and others. What a great balance. For many years, we as a Baptist people have embraced a strong commitment, not just to the spiritual needs of people, but to the physical needs of people, specially demonstrated in our commitment to medical missions. From the website of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention we read:
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Caring for the needs of people is integral to the missionary tasks of evangelism, discipling new believers, training leaders and forming healthy churches. Healthcare missions gives access to the unreached, allows for intimate conversations, meets needs, makes disciples and empowers the church.
Do you know that there are currently 67 healthcare-related mission trips and projects that the IMB has scheduled for 2021? And for all of these, there are opportunities for lay volunteers to participate. Thank God for Baptists and our commitment to healthcare missions!
Maybe you and I can’t become another Luke, the first medical missionary, but you and I can certainly pray for and support our many fine Baptist medical and missionary endeavors. Will you make this kind of commitment to being like a Luke?
Jim Lemons is professor of theological studies and leadership at Dallas Baptist University. He is a senior adult Sunday school teacher at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas.