Madison Church

Decoding the Gospel of Luke and Uncovering Christmas Mysteries

November 20, 2023 Stephen Feith
Madison Church
Decoding the Gospel of Luke and Uncovering Christmas Mysteries
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ever wondered about the peculiar Christmas traditions that have become an integral part of your holiday celebrations, or the historical intricacies of the Gospel of Luke? If so, buckle up for an enlightening discussion where we decode these traditions, starting from the peculiar Christmas Pickle to Krampus Night. We also embark on an explorative journey through the first two chapters of Luke's gospel in our Advent series, "Christmas according to Luke", where we aim to provide a detailed understanding of Luke's writings, bringing about a sense of personal renewal and fresh perspective this Christmas season.

As we navigate through the Gospel of Luke, we're not shying away from hard-hitting questions about its authenticity, comparing the New Testament with other religious texts, and addressing your queries about the historical truth of Jesus' story. We're going to dissect the concept of textual criticism and its role in determining the reliability of historical documents. Luke's investigative approach, despite his lack of personal interaction with Jesus, sets the stage for a dynamic and enriching dialogue about faith and history.

Our exploration doesn't stop there. We'll be comparing the historical narratives and timelines of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. It's compelling to realize how these faiths weave themselves into history through archaeological findings and external evidence. The meticulous preservation of the Bible, especially when contrasted with other faiths, demonstrates the robust historical foundation of Christianity. Join us in this journey as we unpack this rich heritage and delve into the timeless relevance of Luke's Gospel in our lives today.

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to Madison Church Online. My name is Stephen Feith. We're a pastor. We're glad that you're here joining us, and we'd like to invite you to join us in person soon. It's the Advent season. It's a great time to check out a church, and if you come to Madison Church, I promise you'll find a bunch of friendly people who want to get connected with you as we head into the holiday season. I know that a lot of you have family traditions. Most of them are normal. I know that some of you have family traditions. They're not normal. They're just frankly weird, right? Any of you want to raise your hand and admit that your family has a weird family tradition Me too. Me too. Okay, some of you love your family traditions. I mean, you look forward to it. All year, family traditions is going to be great. Others of you are on your knees all year praying for a miracle that God just wipes the memory clean of everyone who remembers this one holiday tradition that you desperately do not want to celebrate, and yet every year they remember. Nonetheless, if you don't have and many of you, you said we don't have weird traditions, I think that's probably just reflective of you being weird and so it's normal to you right? Is that? Maybe more along the lines I looked up some weird traditions for you. Does anyone know about the Christmas Pickle? Does anyone do the Christmas Pickle? Okay, a few of you do the Christmas Pickle. In some parts of the United States there's a tradition involving a Christmas Pickle ornament. I got a cute one here little scarf, little Santa hat. The pickle is hidden in the tree. For those of you who don't know, you hide this pickle ornament in the tree and then on Christmas morning, whoever finds the Pickle first gets like an extra special present. Interesting, right In Norway this one's a little different, but these are going to continue to get worse. I just want to let you know on the front side, in Norway it's common tradition to hide all the brooms in your house on Christmas Eve to prevent witches from stealing them and causing mischief. Question how did the witch get there if she needs a room to leave there? Never mind On the night of December 5th. This one's the worst one. Some people in Alpine region celebrate Krampus night. Oh, look at this picture I found. This is a postcard. Actually, krampus, send this to the bad kids, right? Krampus is a horned figure. And what does Krampus do? He punishes naughty children during the Christmas season. So, on the one hand, if you're good, santa brings you gifts, but in this country, positive reinforcement is not enough. So we've come up with Krampus, who will punish you if you're bad. How is that? And on December 5th, people dress up as Krampus and they roam the streets to scare children. This is a thing. This is a weird Christmas tradition. I'll tell you about a weird Christmas tradition. In my family, megan and I have a tradition of bringing new people into the world. That's our Christmas tradition. If you don't know what I'm saying all three of our kids. We have three kids. All three of them are born in December, all three of them. So that's our Christmas tradition. It is a busy and expensive time of year for our entire family, but we do get an entire year to recover and not think about it until it's too late again, which is what we're doing again. We're like oh shoot, it's coming up. The Christmas pickle tradition. Where did these come from? Right, because that's the question you should be asking is where do these come from? Like, who's the first person to put a pickle on a tree and say find it, you get an extra present. And why? Why would they do that? Well, we don't really know. The Christmas pickle originated in Germany. That's all we really know. In Scandinavian folklore, they thought the witches were coming around, so you had to hide the broom so that they wouldn't mess up your life. And so it goes back, like I don't know it's, back in a time when people believed in witches. So, okay, we're gonna do that. Crampus night is just a blend of a lot of weird stuff and probably just people being mean who like to scare children, right? Maybe, just as we wonder about the origins of hiding brooms in Norway, celebrating crampus night, have you ever stopped to ask the origins about other things in your life that are significantly more important, things that maybe you just take for granted? I mean not just holiday traditions, but what about something like as important that has shaped cultures and societies, like the New Testament? So it's fun to talk about crampus and pickles, but what about the New Testament? That's a big deal. Where did that come from? Why, every year, do we talk about Advent at church? Why do we do that? Well, that's what I hope to kind of Figure out with you the next few weeks Work. This today were two weeks before advent actually begins. We're getting a little bit of a of a head start. You know, who knows, maybe we'll start Advent in September next year. I just love Christmas, but probably not. We have people here who would very adamantly Reject that idea. But today we are launching our Advent series, which is called Christmas according to Luke, and we're gonna go, verse by verse and word by word, through the first two chapters of Luke over the next eight weeks, and what I hope is that this isn't just another study for you. I'm not looking to inject a bunch of knowledge into you and if you're a church going type of person, I hope that this isn't just another Advent series, another Christmas message that you've come to just Expect this time of year. I really do hope it's time for personal renewal and breathe fresh Life into your Christmas season and how you understand and follow Jesus. In the upcoming weeks I'm gonna unpack the profound and timeless message of the Christmas story, things that, if you are church going person, you you have indeed heard Before, but I hope that I can point some different things out along this journey that we're taking through Luke. So, whether you're a longtime believer or you're just someone here, you're checking things out, you're watching or listening online. You're just curious. I invite you to keep coming back and then joining us and Engaging over the next month and a half or so, if you want to follow along and if you haven't been with us when we've done a word by word Study these are great studies to have a Bible with you, I I love it when people are writing in their Bibles that your Bible is supposed to be written in. If you don't have a Bible, those green ones we bought to give away, and so if you don't have a Bible, take a green Bible all over those seats, right in it. Just take it home with you. It's our gift to you or you can use your Bible app Although the internet down here is terrible, so that may not be the most reliable and if you'd prefer to just hang out and look at the words on the screen, that's okay too. I will have them on there. We're going to Luke's gospel, luke, chapter one, and while you're going there, luke, I'll just give you a little background of who Luke is. He's a traveling companion of Paul, and so while Paul is going through all of his missionary journeys and starting churches, he's got a friend he calls the beloved physician. Luke is a doctor, but don't think like modern-day doctor, think like 2,000 years ago Doctor. Okay, let's keep this in perspective. Here he's traveling with Luke. Luke is a witness to all of the things that Paul is doing and then Luke goes off to write. And Luke writes two volumes in the New Testament. He writes the gospel of Luke and he also writes the book of Acts. Now, when they were organized in the Bible Some 1700 years ago, 1800 years ago, and they're putting deciding the order in which you're going to put the New Testament, I Think they made a mistake. They put John right between Luke and Acts and it's a two-volume work. As a matter of fact, if you want to look ahead to where we're going in this series, read the last couple of verses of Luke and read the first couple verses of Acts and you'll see Luke just flows right into the other one and but you wouldn't necessarily know that because they throw John right in between those. But it is a two Volume work and the gospel is the first one he writes. So he writes Luke first and of all the gospels written Matthew, mark, luke and John Luke is the most Is the one that most directly speaks to us today. In Madison, wisconsin. You live or you're around this area in Madison, wisconsin. It's 2023. Of all the gospels, this one you should find the most, the easiest to relate to and the most relevant to your life, because Luke is writing to educated, well to do, people who are seeking confirmation, information or validity in their faith. And if you live in Madison, if you live in the United States, you're well to do. You may not feel well to do, but, globally speaking, when you look at the rest of the world, you are well to do and You're educated. Most of you know how to read I would take a guess at all of you know how to read. Most of you know how to write, you know how to send text messages and, again, going around the world, that's not always true. And so Luke is writing to an audience who's just like you. They can read, they can write, they can do all of these things. But on top of that, they're starting to hear rumors about this guy named Jesus and they want to know. The same thing you want to know and maybe you didn't know this, but they want to know is Jesus who he said he was? Did Jesus do the things that people are saying he did, and so Luke sets out to do this now. Furthermore, another distinct aspect of Luke's gospel is that he explicitly writes to Gentiles, non-jewish Christians, and so if you're in the room and you have no Jewish heritage, this gospel is specifically written with you in Mind. Throughout the entire gospel of Luke, he emphasizes Jesus's ministry to the outcasts, the religiously on, religiously unfit, the poor, and to women. This highlights his priorities, not just as a historian, but as a theologian, and I need you to keep that in mind as we're going through Luke. This isn't just Christian history. Luke has an agenda, a theological agenda. He interprets what happens through a theological lens. Now, with all of this background in mind, let's turn our attention to the opening verses of Luke. Start with verse one. Luke writes Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write an account for you, most honorable theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught Right away. Luke is going to point out a few things here. The first thing he points out is that there are various accounts going around about Jesus. So he acknowledges that. He says hey, many people have set out to write accounts. One of the things, one of the accounts he's talking about, is Mark. At this point church history, we know that Mark was already circulated. As a matter of fact, we know that both Matthew and Luke, in writing their gospels, stole from Mark verbatim, word for word, didn't try to hide their homework. When you're looking at original manuscripts, you see that Matthew and Luke took bits from Mark and included it in theirs. But it's not just that. There are some other things going around, some rumors about Jesus, and some might be true and some might not be true. That's what people are asking Now. He says these written accounts, they all used eyewitness reports that traveled around from the early disciples. So where did all of these rumors, where did all of these fairy tales, these stories of Jesus, these accounts come from? Luke says well, simply put, peter, john, the people who followed Jesus, who knew Jesus, who walked around with Jesus. But notice that Luke says it wasn't me. You see, luke, remember, is a traveling companion of Paul. There's no reason to believe that Luke knew Jesus. He never indicates that he knew Jesus. And so Luke now says I'm going to set off to investigate it myself. Why does Luke have to investigate it? Because he didn't walk with Jesus. Mark doesn't have to investigate it, matthew doesn't he? Those guys walked with Jesus. John walked with Jesus. Luke has to look into it, he has to investigate it. And why does he want to do that? He says I want to make sure that you get an accurate account of the story. I want to make sure you theophilists know what's real, what's facts, what actually happened and what didn't. And all of us in the room were like yeah, that'd be great. Thank you for doing that homework for us, luke, because we also want to know what's real and what's not. And Luke, though, admits he has a greater purpose. He says so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught. You see, while Luke might not have walked with Jesus, we know that Luke's life has been transformed by Jesus. And theophilists, we speculate, or scholarship speculates is kind of this new believer. He's just getting started and he's in the Roman Empire and there's a God for everything, and Caesar claims he's God. And now there's this Jewish Messiah who he claims he's God, which is weird because it was the Jewish people who killed this Messiah, but theophilists is still curious. So there's something to this Jesus, there's something to this God. And so Luke, who has not just experienced God's love and transformation, he hasn't just seen it in Paul, but he's traveled with Paul and he's seen others experience it and transform it. And you can almost imagine Luke traveling around with Paul and Luke thinking, you know, it'll be really helpful Is that, as we're at these places, we could give them the story of Jesus, like maybe a paper copy of this thing, instead of starting from scratch every time. And so then Luke sets off at some point in his journeys with Paul to write this gospel. He wants to help theophilists hold faith in a context where doubts naturally arose, but Paul, or Luke, wants to set a confident foundation for theophilists, and for you and for me and for anyone who has ever picked up his gospel. Now can we trust Luke? Because Luke sets off. He says I'm going to investigate what happened and you should trust me. Now I'm going to be honest with you. When somebody says you should trust me or I'm going to look into it, or let me do my own research, all sorts of red flags go up for me personally, because nowadays we live in such a Google search and almost anyone can find anything they want to back up their claims. If you want a Bible verse to say something, trust me, somebody has it out there for you. Just Google it, what perspective you want, and you'll find it. As a matter of fact, you don't even have to look anymore. You can go to chat GPT and say make an argument for this view, give me Bible verses that support it. And so then, when Luke comes out and Luke says no, no, no, hold on, guys, I got this, trust me, I looked into it. I'm like, well, hold on, luke, maybe I don't trust you. Let's look into this. You know, in the past we've done series on how we got the Bible and can we trust the Bible. And we did it through the lens of what's called textual criticism. Okay, and this is a scholarship word. It's a scholarship that historians and archaeologists use to determine if something is trustworthy. They use different tools, like history is a form of science. They don't just find any document in the ground and say, oh, it's good, it's legit, like, let's count it. They do a bunch of research to see if, in fact, this stuff holds up. And so that's when they that's called textual criticism. Now, during my last talk on the reliability of the Bible, somebody asked an interesting question, and it was one that I had not thought of before. But they asked how does the Bible or the New Testament specifically size up against the other religious texts of the world? Like we talked about, the New Testament and the Bible here obviously were a non-denominational Christian church, but how does the Bible stack up against the Koran? And I was like I don't know, I've never looked into it, and so I thought today would be a good time to inject that, because what we're asking right now is that Luke says I'm going to come out, I'm going to write an account for you, theophilus, something you can trust so you can follow Jesus, and I'm like well, I don't know if I can trust Luke. So in looking at if we can trust Luke, let's look at the other faiths of the world and see how they stack up to the Bible. It might be fun. In Christianity, islam and Judaism, there is a common thread between these three faiths. The text, their scriptures, are all rich with historical narratives, detailed events and specific timelines. What that means is, in Judaism and Christianity and Islam, the things they're writing about they are claiming happened at a certain period in history. They point the things going on in the world and they point the specific people who lived in the world in the world like Jesus or Moses or Muhammad. These were real people, they lived in a certain time, and then these stories go around it. So they bind themselves to history. And what does that mean? Well, it means like if Luke was talking about Jesus and then he was like an, all of a sudden, a transverse Wrex walked by, we would have substantial reason to believe that Luke isn't telling the truth about something or that something got changed. Why? Because, historically we know, dinosaurs weren't walking the earth 2000 years ago with Jesus. He wasn't riding them either although I love the t-shirt that has them on it, okay. But also by binding themselves to history. There is external evidence, historical accounts and archaeological findings that show that the events that they're talking about actually happened. And so by showing that, oh well, this happened, there's more reason to trust Luke. And so, as we go through Luke's gospel over the next few weeks, he's going to talk about certain emperors and different types of people who are in power, and then, archaeologically, you look at that and you say well, was he really in power when that happened? So yeah, he was Based on what this person wrote, based on what that person wrote, based on these inscriptions that we found on a temple. And so history checks out what Christianity says, what these other faiths sometimes say. Hinduism and Buddhism are a little bit different. They present a different scenario because their accounts blend both history and mythology. So it's not just history, there's mythology, there's lots of gods and there's interactions with humanity and there's some things that didn't happen. And they acknowledge that. Their own scholarship acknowledges that. And what they say is that this is more philosophical and it's more metaphorical and allegorical. And so we're just, we're not going to read it as history. Well, as such, if you're not going to present your religious texts as history, we can't do textual criticism of it in the same way that we can do textual criticism of the other three books. And so, with that established, I'm going to keep talking about how the Bible, the New Testament, stacks up, but we're going to kind of drop Hinduism and Buddhism because we can't compare the two, because one can be historically compared and the other two cannot. But before I move on from Buddhism, of their original texts, this is important. In textual criticism, one of the things that we look at is how many original documents that they have, and by original I mean like around the same era in which these things were coming out. And so I brought a bunch of blocks with me to help demonstrate it, because I know that graphs and facts and figures can get really boring and mundane, and I love them. But I know they're boring and mundane. But let's pretend, for the sake of my demonstration here, that this represents 100 copies, 100 copies of an original manuscript, both all of Judaism, buddhism and Hinduism. They each have around 300 original copies around the era in which they claim that these things were coming out. So they all have. So these three represent 300-ish. The Quran, on the other hand, actually possesses fewer than 100, which is weird because of all of the wants to get their book on the scene. They're the newest, they were around the 7th and 8th century, and so they get one. So if you can imagine there, okay, so we have these three, we have that one. Now if we move to Christianity, I don't have enough blocks. I'll just let you know if each of these represented 100 in the same way that the other ones do. I don't have enough blocks with me, because we have over 6,000 copies of the New Testament from the era in which they were written. This is a visual representation. Remember, I don't have enough. I needed about enough. I needed about another 10 here. Okay, to get it. But if you're looking at the original documents and historical criticism and saying, can we trust these original documents and who should we trust? Here are Buddhism, hinduism, judaism, here's the Quran, islam and here's your New Testament. It's not a comparison. That's what I want you guys to see. It's not even close. And some of these date back all the way to the second century, which means that they were being written within a lifetime of Jesus's death. Within a generation, people were already writing these things and passing them around. That time gap is substantial, because the further away an event happens, the harder it is to remember. Try describing your fifth birthday, but try describing your most recent one, right? Well, some of you just gave me a look right now. Maybe you can't remember that one either, but that's a different topic. Manuscripts of the Bible have been meticulously copied and preserved for centuries, and this well-documented textual tradition shows that there's always been an emphasis within Christianity, within the New Testament to preserve the text. There's a rich heritage. What I'm saying is the early followers of Jesus knew that when they got a copy of Luke, it was important to copy it word for word. They understood that it was important, that what they had was important. There was never a doubt, there was never a period of time where they questioned that they didn't have to get a committee together to vote on it. They just knew that when they got this, or whether it was Luke or John or Mark or one of Paul's letters, they knew just how important it was. And then, to add to it, not only are they written early on, not only do we have a bunch of copies of them, but the New Testament, compared to every other historical document that we have, has undergone extensive critical examination that surpasses the scrutiny to any other document. A lot of big words. What am I saying Is that there are historical documents, things that you learned in school, in high school and in college and in middle school. There are things that you were taught that were actually less reliable than Luke's gospel. They make conclusions, they tested you on it. If you did good, you probably got a scholarship on it and it was less reliable than the New Testament by the same standards. All of that to be said, I feel like I could personally trust Luke after all of that. So when Luke comes to the scene and says, look, I looked into all of this and I said, well, can we trust you, luke, and I look at all of this. Okay, yeah, we can trust Luke. But now this is going to get you into a grind the next few weeks Because, while you may agree with me, you're watching and listening online. You may agree with me. Okay, yeah, historically we can believe Luke. Luke is going to write some things that he says happened historically that you're not going to have a box for in your head. Angels show up and talk to people Historically. Does that happen very often to you? No, he's going to talk about a virgin birth. Historically, that doesn't really happen often. Luke is going to tell you the story about a man who looks just like you and me, walks the earth. Luke's going to say he was killed, came back from the dead and unleashed a powerful movement. He's going to say, historically, that happened. And so if we believe Luke, historically that this is what happened, what do we do with those facts? What do we do when we say we can trust him historically, but he tells us historically, this dead rabbi came back from the dead and he is the Messiah Optional sidebar here. I always write these in my notes. It's something that's on my heart this week that I'm like I should talk to Madison Church about this. As we're getting into Luke, this is a good time to mention. We shouldn't say the Bible says dot, dot, dot. Whatever it is, whatever you want to say, the Bible says dot, dot, dot. And the reason that we don't is because the Bible says a lot of things, because the Bible has a lot of authors, and if you say the Bible says, you're throwing fuel on a fire of contradiction, because you can say the Bible says this and somebody else can say, well, the Bible says that. And you could both be right, because without the context, the Bible says a lot. So when you're talking about something in the Bible, you don't say the Bible says, you say Luke says, you say John says, you say Paul says. Because that also opens you up to a little bit more humility as well. Because I don't know if you know this, but if I were to come to you and you and I were having a talk and you said something that I disagreed with. Right, you said something that I disagreed and I said well, you know the Bible says you know what I just did to you. I played a trump card because I just said my words are the Bible's words, my words are God's words. To disagree with me is to disagree with the Bible, and I know you didn't intend that to happen. Right, when we say the Bible says again, this is just an extra sidebar. I'm trying to help you guys, when you're having these good, faithful conversations, know who you're talking about. If you're quoting Ephesians, know that Paul wrote it. That's going to require a little bit more work on your part, but it'll be better, I promise it'll be better, not just for you but for the world, if we can get everyone on the same page here. And so when we say Luke says something, that's what we're referring to, and it might be different than John. But then that also goes a little bit deeper. Because why can't you trust Luke? Because he investigated, because he looked into these events, because he traveled with Paul, because he had Mark, because we have thousands of manuscripts from early on, within the lifetime of the death of Jesus. It makes it for such a better and more compelling story to tell. When you say Luke said this, and this is why I think that and it opens you up for a lot more conversations how can I make this applicable for you today? How do we know what Luke says? How do we know what Paul says? How do we know what John says? Well, we've got to read it. We have to read it, and so later today I'm going to send you guys an email. If you're on our email chain. I'm going to have four different reading plans. You just got to pick one, but each of them are going to go through the Gospel of either Matthew, mark, luke or John for the Advent series, and so it's Advent season, and so for those of you who are like, how do I know what Matthew says? Well, you could read Matthew over the next four or five weeks. We'll send that out to you, so be checking your email. In conclusion, here, the Gospel of Luke is unique and compelling. I'm excited to get into this and I didn't mention it earlier, but it's going to take us three years to get through Luke. I promise we're going to break it up. We're not doing a straight three years. There's only 80 talks. So I figure, if there's 80 talks over three years, that's 150, which just means about every other week we got to talk about Luke. But by the time we get through this I'm going to give you all like a certificate or something. You could be many scholars and Luke. But then I hate to break it to you again we're going to go three years through Acts. So that's where this is going. So if you're at Madison Church, you're in it with me for at least the next decade. Okay, that's what we're going to do. But I love Luke's Gospel, not just because of the richness of his narrative, not just because of the theology, but because it has weathered some historical scrutiny. Of all the Gospels, I just think this one holds up the best. It's so relevant for us today Well to do. He's going to talk about blending a hand and helping those around us so much of what we want to do in giving back at Madison Church.

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Advent Series
Reliability of Luke and the New Testament
Comparing Historical Validity of Religious Texts
Exploring the Gospel of Luke