One of the remarkable features of the accounts of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each give a disproportionate amount of space to the last week of Jesus’ earthly life.
Luke first gives us considerable detail about Jesus’ birth: The angel, Gabriel, made the announcement to the Virgin Mary; the birth took place away from home in Bethlehem; the shepherds received the news from an angel, backed by an angel chorus; and the baby was blessed by two aged worshipers at the temple.
But after that abundance of information, Luke gives no more detail about Jesus’ childhood until he is twelve years of age. At that time Mary and Joseph take him to Jerusalem for his first Passover. Luke’s comment after this trip is:
“Then (the boy) went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them … And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:51,52). That is all we are told.
After the silence from his infancy to his reaching 12 years of age there is yet another period of silence — 18 years (except for the notice elsewhere that he was a carpenter). This silence is broken when Jesus begins his public ministry, according to tradition, at 30 years of age. Surely Luke, the careful historian, had access to details of that period. He must have had good reason for passing over these long stretches of Jesus’ life.
But then Luke gives us ample information about his three years of ministry — where he went, the followers he chose, what he taught, the miracles he performed, his encounters with enemies, and the friendships he gathered.
So of the 24 chapters of Luke’s account of the Gospel, the vast majority of space is devoted to Jesus’ birth and the three years of his ministry, beginning at age 30.
But it is striking that even greater attention is given to one particular week of his Life (Luke 19:28 — 23:56). It was on the day the Passover lamb was sacrificed in Jerusalem, that he was nailed to the Roman cross as God’s Passover lamb.
This intensity of detail is where Luke’s story was going from the start. His earliest reference to the real reason for Christ’s life appears early on in Luke 9:51: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” The Message paraphrases Luke’s words as follows: “He gathered up his courage and steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem.”
That “setting out” was purposeful. It was not his wish to go. He knew what he would face. Yet he was resolute, on an appointed mission, to die under the Father’s judgment for the sins of the world.
During that momentous week, Luke reports, Jesus taught in the temple, he ate the Passover meal with the Twelve; he cautioned Simon Peter; he gave brief instructions for their ongoing ministry; he prayed his anguished prayer on the Mount of Olives; he was arrested, disowned by Simon Peter, and given a contrived and flagrantly lawless trial.
He was then brutally marched to Calvary where he was nailed to a Roman cross. Before sundown, he was hastily buried. So far as any of his followers knew, it was all over.
It becomes clear from this review that Luke did not intend to write a biography of the life of Christ, giving equal attention to every period of Jesus development. Luke’s report was to include the fullest detail about his mission — he came into the world to proclaim the good news of his kingdom and to die a sacrificial death for sinners.
So, Luke’s kind of writing requires a special title. It is not a biography. It is not even a history, though we believe it is historical. It is a Gospel. It is “good news.”
And the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel account rounds out the good news. He who, so far as his followers were concerned, was entombed with finality on a Friday evening, was raised to life by the power of God on a Sunday morning. As the risen one, he presented himself to the unbelieving disciples. He ate with them, stayed long enough to help them overcome their very real uncertainties, then was taken up to Heaven.
Luke closed his account with these words about his followers: “And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God” (Luke 24:53). Hope for all believers had been born. It is hope for this life and hope for the next, sealed for us by our Lord’s resurrection!
Image info: Agnus Dei by Francisco de Zurbaran