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Things are not always as they seem. Sometimes what most hinders our perception of what God is doing is our own expectation of what God should do or would do. For example, we might assume that God's saving plan, sovereignly introduced into the world by an omnipotent God, would be carried out quite straightforwardly, like a championship team steaming through the playoffs to a triumphant Super Bowl or World Cup victory. Surely God would vanquish all foes and would be embraced by all people, especially when he reveals his messenger with wondrous displays of power. Some groups within Judaism had always hoped for such a day (Psalms of Solomon 17—18; Testament of Levi 18; Testament of Judah 24). They expected that once God came to deliver, he would do so by mightily overthrowing all opposition. Then God would grant salvation to his people and rule in glorious power. Surely this is how God would save a world desperate for rescue.
But the message of the gospel has never been popular. Despite the wondrous works associated with Jesus' ministry, the world did not embrace him with open arms. Jesus' honesty about the human condition met with rejection and resistance. Many fled from the mirror held up in his words. Others fought his teaching and sought to crush his message. Those who did recognize the image Jesus described and realized their deep need for God were going against the grain. They became reminders that life is not defined by independence but by dependence. The question became on whom or what did one depend to define and find life.
The Gospel of Luke is about life and God's plan. It is a story written to a man, Theophilus, who in all likelihood was a believer who needed reassurance (1:4). A Gentile in the midst of what had originally been a Jewish movement, he seems to have been asking whether he really should be a Christian. Had God really called all nations to enter into life with God? Was a crucified Messiah the beacon of hope for both Jews and Gentiles? Would God really save through a ministry that ended with crucifixion? What about the endless obstacles the church was suffering in getting its message out into the world? Might the obstacles not be a sign of God's judgment on a message gone awry, rather than evidence of blessing? Questions like these probably haunted Theophilus. They are not unlike questions we might raise as we contemplate what God has done and imagine how we might have done it differently.
This is why Luke wrote his Gospel: to explain how the God of design and grace works out his will through Jesus, the ascended Messiah-Lord. Luke wishes to make clear how Jesus is Lord of all, so the gospel can go to all. He also wishes to explain the journey that is salvation. To be saved involves coming to Jesus in faith, but the act of faith is only a first step in a journey that many others do not understand. How does the salvation-traveler face life in the midst of great opposition? In sum, Luke's Gospel, as his preface makes clear, is a reassurance that through Jesus one can know God and experience life as God designed it.
Luke introduces his topic with a formal literary preface that explains why he writes a Gospel though others have already presented the life of Jesus (1:1-4). Luke seeks to build carefully on precedent. By doing so he hopes to strengthen Theophilus's faith. As we read Luke's account, we realize that Theophilus is not alone in his need to be reassured. In each generation there are many like him.