This morning we begin a new series, and I am so excited because we are natural mimics. Have you ever noticed this? Have you ever realized that you were unwittingly mimicking someone? If you are watching someone very intently, hanging on their every word, you sometimes ape their facial expressions. Or, if you hang out with someone enough, you might start to talk like them or dress like them. I remember when I first started working in student ministry at West Park there was a day a few months in that I realized I was wearing what my coworkers were wearing. I was wearing a button-up shirt with jeans and flipflops. At that point, I had never in my life worn that. And I had never made a conscious decision to wear it, but there I was, wearing it. I had become what I watched. So, how careful should we be with what we put before us! But that is why this series is so great!
So, how exciting it is that we are beginning a new series in the Gospel of Luke, because we get to watch Jesus. We get to remember the good news and see our God and savior in living color, as we walks among humanity, down our dusty streets. And the hope is that not only we would know more about him but that we would be more like him.
But this morning’s message will be a little different, and so I want to give you fair warning. This morning we are going to look at the first four verses of this Gospel, and you will see that these verses are prefatory remarks. So, we are basically going to read the preface of a book this morning and stop. I know that may sound a bit odd or boring, but what we have in the preface is such an interesting look into how the Gospels were written. Luke’s prefatory remarks provide a rare moment when a Gospel writer builds the case for the certainty of Gospel he wrote. John does not do this. Matthew does not do this. Mark does not do this. Luke alone talks about the process of how we got the Gospel and how he composed his own. How fascinating and helpful! So, for a skeptical culture, for believers who are sometimes nervous to admit their own questions, for those with lurking doubts, for unbelievers who believe it is all fairy tales, for believers nervous to share their faith for fear they will be asked a question they don’t know the answer to…what an opportunity to consider the evidence and understand the certainty of the Gospel! And that’s what we want to do. We want to focus on the certainty of this Gospel this morning.
So let us turn to the preface, in chapter one, verse one, of Luke.
“ 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.”
This morning here is what I would like to do. I would like to take some time to go back through this passage, verse by verse, and consider the case that Luke makes for the certainty of the Gospel account we are about to read. So we will look at what I am calling the “Hallmarks of Certainty.” Then, we will step back and talk about why this certainty is so significant for our own lives. So let’s look back at the text and comb through these verses.
Hallmarks of Certainty: Exegesis of Luke 1:1-4
 Inasmuch as (since/in view of the fact that) many have undertaken to compile a narrative (account) of the things that have been accomplished (fulfilled) among us,
Let me actually start at the end of this verse. Luke says that the things they are writing about happened “among us.” That is to say that the things that happened in the life and ministry of Jesus are within the lifetimes of Luke and his contemporaries. Luke is not writing some 200 years after Jesus. Luke is writing within thirty years of the events. He is writing in the 60’s (Bock, 1994). We know he is not writing any earlier because of the events that are included in his Luke-Acts account date to the 60s. We know he cannot be too far into the second century because already by 170 AD people are citing Luke as source (Bock, 1994). And within the Luke-Acts account we have some omissions that suggest its writing was early. For example, Luke does not mention the death of Paul (late 60’s) or the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD)…even as editorial comments (Bock, 1994). So “among us” is certainly “among us.”
Working backwards, consider this next phrase “compile a narrative.” This phrasing and vocabulary tell us something of how the story was coming together. The word “narrative” refers to a historical narrative (Geldenhuys, 1959; Stein, 1993), or even “account” would be a fair translation. So, just to be clear, we are not talking about narrative fiction or historical fiction; we are talking about a historical narrative or account. “Compile” suggests that the reports are out there, and people beginning to stockpile them. In this we catch a glimpse of how history is coming together. We might compare it to our day and time when somebody writes an explainer article that summarizes and compiles a news story. So now people are doing the same about the reports of Jesus.
Luke says that “many” have written. Many are writing. How many? We don’t know, but many. The Gospel of Mark is probably around at this point (Bock, 1994). But the important thing here is that there are “many” doing this. Luke is not some lone reporter. Luke is not the first one to break the story. Luke is one of many compiling and writing an account.
So now, put this all together. Many folks are compiling accounts of what happened among them, and Luke is writing in that context. What does that mean for certainty? It means you can go check with any number of sources to see if Luke is telling the truth, if he is in the ballpark. So, if Luke was lying or fabricating a myth, he could easily be rebuked and corrected. It would be similar to lying about a UT football game. You might fabricate the score and add some embellishments about an angel descending into Neyland, but your account would not get very far because thousands of people were there, and scores of articles were written about the game. Anyone who wanted to debunk you could do so quite easily. And anyone who wanted to debunk Luke’s account could have. (By the way, this is why you have Paul naming names in 1 Corinthians 15 when he talks about those who saw the risen Christ. The implication was that you could go ask these people if you wanted to double check him.) But no one debunks Luke, and in the next century, we already have folks citing Luke’s Gospel as an authoritative account (e.g., Irenaeus in 170 A.D., Bock, 1994).
 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers (guards/servants) of the word have delivered them to us,
This verse completes the picture of how Gospels are coming together. So, we have the actual events. Then, we know from the last verse (verse one) that there are many folks working to compile the accounts. And now, in this verse, we have the missing link. Between the actual events and the written accounts were “eyewitnesses” and “ministers of the word.” Think for a minute about what we Luke is saying.
Luke says the reports are coming from eyewitnesses. I want to make sure you hear that. They are eyewitnesses. Sometimes in our day we talk about “witnesses” in a trial, and that can mean a number of things. You might have a character witness who was not there for the moment but they can speak to the character of the person in question. Sometimes they have an expert witnesses who testify about the possibility of some event within the story. But Luke is talking about eyewitnesses. The word in the Greek is autoptes, and we get our word “autopsy” from it. The word is the combination of auto (as in, “on my/its own”) and opsis (as in, eyes). It literally means “I saw it with my own eyes!” So, the link between the actual events and the records are people who had seen it with their own eyes, eyewitnesses.
We are also told these people are “ministers of the word.” I don’t like the translation “minister” because it is almost exclusively a churchy word for us. We use it like “Presbyterian minister.” But this word has more of an official since, like “Ministry of defense.” In fact, elsewhere it is translated “officer” or “guard.” So, the sense here is that these folks are word guards. These people were official ministers of the word.
Furthermore, these are one and the same people (Stein, 1993). We should understand eyewitness and word guards to refer to the “those” at the beginning of this verse. So, those who are officially speaking and guarding the word were themselves eyewitness (not myth-keepers), and those who were eyewitnesses see themselves as having an important, word-guard job. So we have great certainty in the account because we know that those who are speaking officially are themselves eyewitnesses and that those who were eyewitnesses are speaking officially, carefully, as conscientious guards.
Now we turn to verse three. In verse three we have a series of questions that we might ask anticipated and answered for us. Let’s take a look.
 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things (everything) closely (carefully/accurately/diligently/exactly) for some time past (from above/the beginning), to write an orderly (in sequence/in consecutive order) account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
Who is the “me”? Who wrote this? It is a man by the name of Luke. How do we know? After all, it does not say that Luke wrote it. It is certainly attributed to Luke, but how do we know it is true? Well, there is some internal evidence and some external evidence.
Internal evidence. The author was not an eyewitness. Luke fits that bill. Whoever wrote Acts presents himself as close companion to Paul. Consider all the “we” passages in Acts (Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16). Irenaeus, a second century church figure, claimed that Luke was “inseparable” from Paul (Bock, 1994, p. 5).
External evidence. Paul lists Luke as one of his traveling companions (Col 4:14, 2 Tim 4:11, Philemon 24). Allusions to the Gospel appear as early as ca. 95-96 and ca. 100. Justin Martyr (ca. 160) speaks of Luke writing a “memoir of Jesus” (p. 5). Luke as author was a firmly established tradition by AD 200, with zero evidence of any disputes about the authorship (Bock, p. 5).
So everything points to Luke being the one who wrote Luke and Acts.
So, why is Luke qualified to write this? Or, in other words, who is Luke?
Well, Luke tells us he has “followed all things closely for some time past.” Luke is a careful, comprehensive researcher who has studied everything from the very beginning, and indeed his Gospel includes a level of detail in the birth narratives unmatched by the other Gospel accounts. How did he do this? Well, he traveled with Paul. (Irenaeus called him Paul’s “inseparable” companion.) This means he would have been in close contact with Paul, yes, but also with the disciples (e.g., Peter and James). He also spent time in Jerusalem. We read in Acts 21 that the “we” group of Acts, which we understand to include Luke, went to Jerusalem. There, Luke would have been present with Paul was speaking with James, the brother of Jesus (Acts 21:17ff.), and all of this suggests he had ample opportunity to gather good information (Geldenhuys, 1959).
Sidenote: Inspiration Method. We have a great picture of how scripture is written here that jibes nicely with more overt statements about scripture elsewhere, such as 2 Peter 1:21. In 2 Peter 1:21, Peter is talking about the content of scripture, and he says no one speaks on there own, but they are “carried along” by the Spirit. “Carried along” what does that mean? Well, that word is the same word used to describe how the wind “carried along” a ship in the Book of Acts. In Acts 27:15, 17, we are told the wind drove the ship. So, you can imagine the sailors running about the ship, doing what they do, and yet their is the grander element, the wind, carrying them along where it wills. So, for the writing of Luke, we can see these human elements within the purview of divine oversight and direction. On the human side, we have a humble Luke researching diligently and the writing and the language. But on the divine side, we have the events themselves. We have the people connections. We have providence and the direction of God.
Now, one other point here on why we should listen to Luke. We should listen to Luke because he is a careful researcher, but we should also listen to Luke because he does NOT claim to be an eyewitness. Now, how on earth does that make him worth listening to? Because it shows that he is honest (Plummer as quoted in Geldenhuys, 1959, p. 52). If you wanted to make up a story about some savior who died and came back to life, you really should start by saying that you were there. Why would you, from the outset, clarify that you weren’t there? Because it is true and you are telling the truth. This is yet another hallmark of authenticity.
The final question answered is is about what it is we’re about to read? Is this an interpretation? A commentary? An embellishment? No. It is a history, a sequential account. Luke says it is an “orderly account.” And the sense here is that it is a sequential, well-thought-out assembly of the true story. We are not reading fairy tale or a commentary. We are reading a research paper from a careful researcher. We have everything reason to be certain of its veracity.
And so, at this point, we might ask why does Luke go through so much trouble? Why does he interview all these people? Why does he go through all the trouble of getting writing materials (which is no easy feat)? Why does he write 96 pages and 1,151 verses? (It’s the longest gospel!) Why does he go onto to write the sequel, the Acts of the Apostles? Why all this trouble? He tells us in verse four…
 that you may have (know the) certainty concerning the things (words) you have been taught.
Why did he write? Because it is true! And he wants Theophilus (and us) to be certain that it is all true. Everything you are about to read is true, and it has been recorded that you might have certainty.
So, the hallmarks of certainty are numerous, but at this point, you may be thinking “This is all well and good Derek, but I didn’t come here today looking for a history lesson. What about me? I need some food for my soul. I need to be filled up.” Well, I believe Luke’s prefatory remarks do have some significant implications for our lives, and as we wrap up this morning, let’s consider three ways we might apply these verses to our own lives today…
1. You can seek certainty.
Maybe you thought you couldn’t seek certainty. Maybe you arrived this morning with a mind full of doubts. Maybe you were criticized for being curious. Maybe when you were growing up you were told to “just have faith” when an adult didn’t know the answer to your question. Maybe you felt bad for wondering. Maybe you misunderstood what faith is; you thought is was blind, irrational acceptance, so you never looked very closely at the Bible. But hear today that you can seek certainty. It is okay to examine your faith.
The NT is friendly to seekers. The NT is very friendly to people who sincerely want to know. Jesus obliged Thomas (John 20:24-29). Think of what Jesus could have said. The Bereans (Acts 17:11) were praised for how they examined scripture to see if what Paul (and Silas) said lined up. And here, Luke says it’s okay to want/seek certainty. That’s why he wrote this gospel.
Caveat: Not testing and skepticism.
But you must seek it. You must do your homework. You cannot simply say from a distance “I just don’t see it.” Or with a hard heart determine, “I won’t see it!” To see it, you must seek it with a sincere heart. John Stott has provided a helpful distillation of what biblical seeking looks like ( from Basic Christianity). You must seek diligently, humbly, honestly, and obediently (Stott). Will you seek it? Will you read the account?
2. You can get certainty
You can be confident. The word is trustworthy. We see from our careful study of these prefatory remarks that there are many hallmarks of certainty for the accounts of Jesus. We have many people close to the events recording eyewitness accounts during the lifetime of those same events. And within a couple decades of its writing, we have Luke being used by other writers, such was his reliability. We have great reasons to be confident! (Compare this to Plutarch’s lives, which was probably written at the beginning of the second century AD and records new details about Alexander the Great who live in the fourth century BC.)
Compare to a modern historian. You should have great confidence. Consider the example of the modern historian, Stephen Ambrose. (Comparison to Stephen Ambrose). Think about how exciting this is. We have a contemporary of Paul, around during all that was happening, compiling for us a careful account of all that happened. Compare that to the works of Stephen Ambrose. Nobody says the work of Ambrose is junk. Why? Because he talked to eyewitnesses (e.g., Sergeant Richard Winters). Because he talked to multiple eyewitnesses. Because he compiled these accounts with other veterans still living who could deny these claims.
Be bold in your faith and witness. I hope this study will embolden your faith and your witness. May your faith be strengthened! The stories you heard are true. You have not believed in vain. This is true history. You have subscribed to no myth or mere principles of philosophy. You are saved by true events in history. How wonderful! There was a man from Nazareth named Jesus. And it really did work miracles and teach. And he really did die on a Roman cross, but was raised back to life on the third day. It’s all true. In an age that questions everything, remember that you have every reason for great confidence. And let this confidence embolden your witness. The word of God is true!
But there’s more than that. The ultimate goal is not simply that you seek certainty or that you get certainty, but that you HAVE certainty, that it be yours.
3. You must have certainty
Having certainty is a different thing than seeking or getting certainty. It seems there is a difference between knowing about something and being certain. Apparently, Theophilus knew the story, but Luke knew that wasn’t enough. Theophilus needed to have certainty, to be certain. Seeking certainty is the journey. Getting certainty is a matter of having all of the facts in front of you that point to one, clear conclusion. But having certainty is a matter of personal knowledge and conviction. And that is what Luke wants for Theophilus. He says that Theophilus has heard the stories, but he is putting together this careful study that Theophilus might have certainty about what he has heard, that he would know that is was true. But to have certainty, to be certain, to say I am certain, is a matter of choice. I must respond. I must make a decision and act it out.
Why is having certainty so important? Because Luke isn’t just writing history. He is writing history, and scholars consider him a first-rate historian. But he is writing more than history. In verse one, Luke refers to “the things that have been accomplished.” He is not just writing about historical facts. He is writing about history that accomplished something, history that did something. He is writing about a story that was played out with a purpose. It is history (facts, actions) that accomplish something and demand a response. The situation would be similar to someone proposing for marriage. In a proposal, we have events and facts, but they are more than that. They are events and facts meant to accomplish a purpose and demand a response, namely, marriage. The man goes to one knee. The man professes his love, its breadth and depth and history. The man presents a ring and proposes marriage. If, in that moment, the woman is having doubts about whether she can and should marry him, she might seek certainty by assessing the facts. She might replay all the details of their relationship and of that moment. At that point, she might conclude she had gotten certainty: all signs point to a smart match. But then, if she concluded that they should get married but she could not believe it or, having concluded it, she absentmindedly walked away, we would say she had misunderstood the presentation of the evidence. The man was not looking for intellectual, academic certainty. He was looking for the certainty of actually getting married. If you are certain that you can and should marry someone, you marry them. That’s how that kind of history relates to that kind of certainty. The facts of engagements are facts of purpose that are meant to elicit a response. It is the same with the story of Jesus.
And so, I wonder this morning…Will you respond to the facts? As we enter this new series, will you listen? Will you keep an open mind? Will you have an open heart? Will you seek the Lord? God says through his prophet Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Will you do that?