The Cradled, Commanding, Crucified, Conquering, Crowned, and Coming Christ
The first four verses of The Gospel According to Luke make up one of the most remarkable sentences in ancient literary work. It reads as follows:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)
The implications of these opening lines from Luke’s Gospel are profound with respect to their apologetic value. N. T. Wright has written the following about Luke’s opening sentence:
Luke opens his gospel with a long, formal sentence, like a huge stone entrance welcoming you impressively to a large building. Here, he is saying, is something solid, something you can trust. Writers in the first-century Mediterranean world quite often wrote opening sentences like this; readers would know they were beginning a serious, well-researched piece of work. This wasn’t a fly-by-night or casual account. It would hold its head up in the world at large. (1)
This introduction to the book of Luke has indeed “held its head up” high in world literature. A. T. Robertson calls it “the classic introduction” and observed that it ranks with the introductions of Herodotus and Thucydides “for brevity, modesty, and dignity” (18). Hendriksen compares Luke’s introduction to those of such great Greek medical men as Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and Galen. He also says it ranks with the historians Herodotus, Thucydides, and Polybius, as well as the biographer Plutarch. Hendriksen then writes that Luke’s introduction is “more beautifully balanced than any of the others” (54). Hobbs concurred: “. . . Luke . . . with the added flavor of divine inspiration uses much more beautiful phraseology as he introduces his Gospel in a splendid literary style which is not exceeded by any Greek writer” (18). There can be no reasonable doubt that Luke’s introduction “ranks among the very best Greek literature of the first century” (Stein 421).
Just as both the style and substance of this introduction prove it to be a classic in literature, both prove it to be the result of a writer who was educated in medical science. Zahn says it is “proved to the satisfaction of anyone open to conviction, that the author . . . was familiar with the technical language of Greek medicine, and hence was a Greek physician” (146). We have no doubt that this writer was “Luke, the beloved physician” as he was known by Paul (Colossians 4:14; cf. Acts 1:1-3). It is not without major significance that Paul, in writing to Timothy, cites a statement from Luke’s first treatise and calls it “the Scripture” (1 Timothy 5:18; Luke 10:7; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
During the nineteenth century, a young Scottish scholar pursued a study of the historical accuracy of the New Testament. His name was Sir William Ramsay. He did not doubt that Jesus of Nazareth actually lived, but he believed the New Testament records contained historical inaccuracies. It addition to other subjects, he meticulously researched and evaluated the historical evidence relating to the place and the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. His work resulted in a book, Was Christ Born in Bethlehem? (1898), and is a masterpiece that rationally addresses the question of the accuracy and the reliability of the biblical record concerning Christ’s birth. Ramsay’s concern was “the trustworthiness of this author [Luke] as a historian” (5), and his claim, following his investigation, was “we claim . . . a high rank for Luke as regards trustworthiness” (7). The introductory chapter to Was Christ Born in Bethlehem? addresses what Luke’s history professes to be. Ramsay wrote:
Luke has not failed to put clearly before his readers what character he claims for his history. He has given us, in the prefatory paragraph of his Gospel, a clear statement of intention with which he wrote his history, and of the qualifications which give him the right to be accepted as an authority. . . .
. . . Luke claims to have studied and comprehended every event in its origin and development . . . to have investigated the preliminary circumstances, the genesis and growth of what he writes about. Exactness and definiteness of detail . . . are implied . . . investigation and personal study . . . tracing of events from their causes and origin. . . .
. . .[A]s he begins, he is in the position of one who already has acquired the information needed for his purpose. (10-12)
Ramsay speaks of Luke “as an ‘educated’ Greek” and says “anyone who knows Greek can gather that from the preface alone” (13). According to Ramsay, the claim of Luke that his Gospel is an “orderly account” (Luke 1:3) implies “a rational order . . . omitting nothing that is essential for full and proper understanding” (14, emp. added) rather than being a chronological order. The account written by Luke is emphatically declared to be “trustworthy and certain. . . . [H]e claimed to state throughout what is perfectly trustworthy” (14, 16).
Sir William Ramsay concludes his examination of what the gospel of Luke professes to be with the following observation concerning the literary and intellectual consequence of denying Luke’s veracity:
No rational theory such as would for a moment be admitted in regard to an ordinary classical author, has ever been advanced to account for the supposition of deliberate imposture in the claims to credit advanced by Luke. If the author was an impostor, his work remains one of the most incomprehensible and unintelligible facts in literary history. (19)
The “beautifully told story” (74) of Luke begins with the pre-birth announcements of both John and Jesus whose births were separated by six months (cf. Luke 1:5-80). The pre-birth announcement of John’s birth included the angel Gabriel’s affirmation that “many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord [cf. Luke 7:28] . . . And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah . . . to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:14-17). Six months later, the angel Gabriel announced to a virgin by the name of Mary that she would conceive a son whose name would be Jesus. Included in this announcement was the claim that Mary’s child “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David. . . . And of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). Three months later, John was born, and six months following John’s birth, Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea.
Luke’s account of the birth of Christ says, “she [Mary] gave birth to her first born son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). N. B. Hardeman, once described by William Jennings Bryan as an orator without peer, eloquently summed up the incongruous nature surrounding the birth of the King of kings:
The Prince of Peace was among the beasts, and the beast [Herod the Great] was among the princes. The real King was in the stable, while the usurper was clad in purple. Only a few miles, as men measure space, separated the two: but, as God measures moral distance, a whole universe intervenes. Herod and Christ are at opposite poles. Infinity interposes between the selfishness that lived to slay and self-sacrifice that died to save. (53-54)
When an angel of the Lord announced on that starlit night “good news of great joy . . . for all” because there had been born “in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11), the glory of the Lord shone and a multitude of a heavenly host of angels were praising God and saying, “glory to God in the highest . . .” (Luke 2:13-14). The glory of God revealed in that manger and articulated by the multitudinous host of angelic beings must have been an awesome situation to see and hear!
It was forty days later that Mary and her husband Joseph brought the infant Jesus to Jerusalem and, in harmony with the custom of the Law of Moses, presented Him at the Temple (cf. Luke 2:22-24, 27ff; Leviticus 12:1-6). They were met by a righteous and devout man whose name was Simeon and who had been eagerly anticipating the day when he could see the Messiah—the Lord’s Christ (cf. Luke 2:25-26). When Simeon saw the baby Jesus, now just over a month old, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God (Luke 2:28). He said:
“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.” And His father and His mother marveled at what was said about Him [cf. Psalm 118:22-24]. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:29-35)
This prophecy announced by Simeon is marvelously linked to the cross of Christ. Jesus would be like a stone over which some would trip, fall, and perish, but by which others would be enabled to rise, and be saved (cf. Romans 11:9ff; 1 Peter 2:6-8). Those who imagine themselves to be strong and high, who rely on their own merit, power, and intellectual supremacy, will come to a woeful undoing, because they do not realize their need for the cross, and they do not take refuge in the Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25). However, those who bend low at the foot of the cross and obey the gospel will be raised up with the hope of eternal life (Romans 6:1-11, 23). Just as Simeon had predicted when the nails penetrated Jesus’ flesh and the spear pierced His side, a sword pierced His mother’s soul. However, a door opened which is wide enough to let a guilty world go out into the sunshine of satisfied divine justice and into the light of the countenance of God (1 John 2:1-2). “Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied . . .” (Isaiah 53:11).
We are living in a world where the “dogmatism of science has become a new orthodoxy . . . to the point that to believe today in a miraculous happening like the Virgin Birth is to appear a kind of imbecile, whereas to disbelieve in an unproven and unprovable scientific proposition like the Theory of Evolution . . . is to stand . . . an enemy of progress and enlightenment” (Muggeridge 20). It was Darwin, not Dr. Luke, who said his doctrine seemed “I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree” (168). On the other hand, it was Luke who affirmed the rationality of the Christian faith, the historicity of the Christian story, and the security of the Christian life. Christianity teaches us how to live hopefully. Man cannot truly live spiritually by “half-truths” and uncertainties. It is the truth that results in the greatest freedom (John 8:32). Such things as guilt, fear, doubt, worry, etc., rob us of the peace that is the result of true spiritual security. True spiritual security is the result of what Luke’s traveling evangelistic companion Paul affirmed: “I know in whom I have believed . . .” (2 Timothy 1:12). This is blessed assurance. It comes from an intellect that knows the certainty of truth and makes a total willing commitment to the truth.
The manger. The towel. The cross. The empty tomb. The crown. All of these and more are constituent elements that enable one to know with certainty the case for the deity of the Christ. Twenty centuries have failed to diminish the power of the cradled, commanding, crucified, conquering, crowned, and coming Christ. Not even eternity will change it. In fact, it will take eternity to magnify His intrinsic worth (cf. Revelation 5:8-14). We contemplate Him, and we bow in adoring wonder and worship.
Charles C. Pugh III
Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. 1958. New York: Mentor, 1964.
Hardeman, N. B. Hardeman’s Tabernacle Sermons. Vol. 2. 1923. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1971.
Hendriksen, William. Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke. New Testament Commentary. Vol. 3.Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978.
Hobbs, Herschel H. An Exposition of the Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966.
Muggeridge, Malcolm. Jesus the Man Who Lives. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.
Ramsay, W. M. Was Christ Born at Bethlehem?: A Study on the Credibility of St. Luke. 1898. Minneapolis: James Family, 1978.
Robertson, A. T. Luke the Historian in Light of Research. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1920.
Stein, Robert H. “Luke 1:1-4 and Traditionsgeschichte.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 26.4 (Dec. 1983): 42103.
Wright, N. T. Luke for Everyone. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2001.
Zahn, Theodor. Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1953.