The Global Message of Luke
“The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). With these closing words to Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a man deeply despised by his fellow Jews, Jesus states the message of Luke to the global church today. Christ did not come for the clean and the religious, the upright and the educated—he came for those who know themselves to be lost. Throughout Luke we see Jesus welcoming outsiders into the blessings of grace, while those who appear to be insiders are shut out.
This is great hope to those around the world today who feel themselves to be outsiders. It is also a reminder to those who are taking the gospel to the nations that it is generally the socially and culturally marginalized who will be most readily drawn to the gospel. Above all, Luke’s Gospel is a call to everyone around the world, whatever our social or moral status, to abandon our futile methods of self-salvation and leave all to follow Christ, the great Friend of sinners (Luke 7:34; 9:57–62; 18:9–14).
Luke and Redemptive History
At the beginning of history, two people ate food offered to them by Satan, their eyes were opened, and the whole human race was plunged into sin and death (Gen. 3:6–7). At the climax of history, two people ate food offered to them by Christ, their eyes were opened, and they saw who Christ was and the new age that was dawning in him (Luke 24:30–32). This prophecy-fulfilling restoration of God’s people—people who now come from surprising places, cultures, and social spheres—is the role Luke’s Gospel fills in redemptive history.
Placed against the backdrop of the whole Bible, Luke’s Gospel shows us that the one for whom God’s people had been waiting so long had finally come. In him, all the hopes and promises of the Old Testament were coming to decisive fulfillment. He was the true Son of God (Luke 4:41; 22:70–71) who, unlike Adam, God’s first son (3:38), walked faithfully with God. He was the true Israel, who unlike Israel before him passed the test in the wilderness (4:1–13). After generations of sin, failure, and finally exile, One had come who would bear the punishment for his people and fulfill the ancient promises. The people would be restored to God. This was the One about whom the entire Old Testament spoke (24:27, 44).
This restoration is for all people in all places around the world. After his resurrection, Jesus tells his disciples that they are his witnesses and that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). This global mandate to preach the gospel to all nations will be empowered and begun when the disciples are “clothed with power from on high” (24:49). This happens when the Holy Spirit is poured out in Acts 2 and the gospel begins to flood out to diverse people groups (Acts 2:5–11). The promise given to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all the families of the earth is finally coming true (Gen. 12:1–3).
Universal Themes in Luke
God’s heart for the poor and needy. An important event in Luke’s Gospel takes place right at the start of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus reads the following statement from Isaiah and identifies himself as this statement’s fulfillment: “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 liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19; quoting Isa. 61:1–2). Throughout Luke we then see the social and cultural reversals that take place as insiders are unconcerned about who Jesus is and what he is doing while outsiders are drawn to and understand Jesus. Time and again, long-held assumptions about Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, educated and ignorant, moral and immoral, are inverted. Luke drives home God’s great love for those who are marginalized (e.g., Luke 1:48, 52–53; 6:20–26; 13:30; 14:11; 18:9–14).
The Holy Spirit. The Spirit is emphasized more in Luke than in any other Gospel, and this emphasis is then picked up and expanded in Acts (also written by Luke). Around the world today the Spirit is alive and active in places not traditionally associated with Christianity. Indeed, the Holy Spirit does not favor the educated, culturally sophisticated, or historically Christian regions of the world. The Spirit does not need our human cleverness or ingenuity. Rather, the Spirit is drawn to all whose hearts are open to God and his grace (Luke 11:13).
The danger of money. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus pronounces severe woes on those who love money, yet he blesses those who are poor and therefore recognize their need (Luke 6:20–26; 8:14; 12:13–21; 16:10–13, 19–31; 18:22). Amid the ongoing gap between the upper and lower classes around the globe, as well as a frequently unstable world economy, Christians must pay special heed to Jesus’ teaching on money. Believers with many possessions must constantly examine their hearts to see where their hope and security lies. Above all they must remember the gracious wealth of grace that has been given to them through Christ’s self-giving (2 Cor. 8:9), and respond in joyful gratitude and love.
The Global Message of Luke for Today
The marketplace of ideas is increasingly global, and cross-fertilization of cultures has never taken place so easily. Yet it has never been easier to feel small and insignificant amid the blur of modern activity, today’s media with its big personalities, and the continuing population growth in some parts of the world. Such feelings of insignificance are acutely painful because we are made in God’s image and are hungry to experience the glory we were originally destined for (Gen. 1:26–28; Isa. 43:6–7; Rom. 1:23; 2:7; 3:23).
Luke’s Gospel confronts us, however, with the pervasive reminder that it is precisely to such felt insignificance, such smallness, that God is drawn. He has a great heart for the marginalized. As Mary prayed, “he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:52–53). Throughout Luke, Jesus befriends the Samaritans, the poor, the outcasts, the tax collectors, those on the social or cultural periphery.
This is who God is. In Christ, the Friend of sinners, God is attracted to those who feel themselves least attractive. The grace of the gospel qualifies those who feel themselves most unqualified.
As we, his people, receive this grace, we work earnestly to eradicate sickness, destitution, and earthly discomfort. The mercy we have received vertically should extend itself out horizontally in tangible acts of sacrificial love to our neighbors. Above all, however, we must heed Jesus’ parting words, and speak repentance and forgiveness to all nations (Luke 24:47)—thus offering not only earthly comfort but eternal comfort, with Christ himself, in the new earth.