This article is part of the Why Study the Book? series.
Recovering What Was Lost
It’s hard to forget the story of Jesus and Zaccheus. The scene is a bit ridiculous: a small man, hated but curious, climbs a tree to see Jesus; Jesus stops to say, “Get down here—I have to stay at your house today!” The crowd complains while Zaccheus overflows with joy and repentance. Then Jesus speaks one of the most comforting promises ever made: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:1–10).
Throughout the history of Christianity, the gospels that have received the most attention are those written by Jesus’s apostles Matthew and John. Scholarship of the past two centuries has focused on Mark’s gospel as the earliest record of Jesus’s life. Because of these tendencies, it’s easy to overlook the book of Luke, resulting in a picture of Jesus’s life, heart, and ministry that is incomplete. When we study Luke, we recover what may otherwise be lost.
What exactly do we stand to recover? A full 35% of Luke’s gospel is found in no other source. Here we meet Zaccheus, visit the home of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38–42), and see the resurrection of a widow’s son (Luke 7:11–17). Here, and only here, we find the parables of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, and many more. When we study Luke, we hear these favorites in their original setting, breathing new life into familiar words.
Good News for the Poor
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). This is the first taste Luke gives us of Jesus’s message. While this emphasis runs throughout all four Gospels, it is Luke who most consistently draws attention to Jesus’s ministry to the lost and the least, the left out and the overlooked.
In many stories unique to Luke, Jesus defends repentant people who, like Zaccheus, are dismissed as “too far gone” by the self-righteous (see Luke 7:36–50; 15:1–32). In this gospel, we hear repeatedly that God’s kingdom exalts the humble and brings down the proud (Luke 1:51–53; 14:7–14; 18:9–14). And it is in Luke that we learn the most about Jesus’s interactions with and attitudes toward women.
At a moment when our society is wrestling with what it means to steward power with integrity, and when the Western church is seeking to break down barriers between majority and minority cultures, Luke’s gospel has much to teach us.
Salvation to the Ends of the Earth
“To seek and to save the lost”—the vocabulary of salvation occurs more in Luke’s writings than in those of any other New Testament author. On the one hand, this is not surprising: when we include the book of Acts, Luke wrote more of the New Testament than anyone else. So it stands to reason that when we count words, Luke would come out on top.
But in Luke, salvation is more than a matter of statistics. Here we continually hear God’s heart beating for the salvation of the world—from the prophet Isaiah’s hope that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (quoted in Luke 3:6) to Jesus’s final reminder that “repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his [the Messiah’s] name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).
The church in the Western world is losing its cultural influence and privilege. When you think your own survival is threatened, it’s hard to be concerned about spreading the good news of salvation to a lost world. Studying Luke can renew our vision and zeal for advancing the good news of salvation to our neighbors and to all nations.
When we study this book, will not our hearts burn within us with love for him?
A Burning Heart
The most important reason to study Luke’s Gospel is captured in the words of Cleopas and another, unnamed disciple. After an encounter with the resurrected Jesus, they say to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us . . . while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
Jesus had been teaching them that all of Scripture has always been centered on him as the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption (Luke 24:26–27). When we study Luke’s Gospel, we see Jesus, the Redeemer. We hear the words of Jesus, the friend of sinners. We feel the heartbeat of Jesus, who seeks and saves the lost. When we study this book, will not our hearts burn within us with love for him? And will not this love overflow for the salvation of the world?
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