My notes from John Piper’s opening session at TGC13′s national conference, “His mission: Jesus in the gospel of Luke.” (All notes are paraphrased.)
The only place in the entire book of Luke does the author write in the first person (Luke 1:1). The reason he does so is so that we may have certainty (Luke 1:4). The word “certainty”— asphaleia—means security (NT) or safety (OT). The idea seems to be that Luke is saying, “Theophilus, you’ve been taught many things, but I want you to know them differently—I want you to know them as locked down, secure unshakeable reality.
The reason I”m lingering over this is not only because Luke did, but because we live in a time when people don’t know these things in an asphaleia kind of way. THey have ideas in their heads and they know them like clouds and not mountains.
But when resistance comes, the old cloud goes away and a new cloud lodges in their minds–that’s the way a lot of people know doctrine. I want you to know the doctrine locked down, nailed down, immovable like a mountain, not a cloud, says Luke.
He doesn’t want you to know them any other way—he wants you to know the truth so it’s safe from being changed from the culture or ceasing to be what they are. They’re safe to be what they are forever!
This is the kind of knowing we want to have. The other kind of knowing—the kind that wrecks churches—is different. Luke knows what it means to be a most excellent Theophilus. He’s the one who wrote to us about most excellent Festus and Felix—how did they know? Felix had an excellent understanding of the Way, but hoping for a bribe sent Paul on his way. That’s the kind of knowing that wrecks churches, that brings reproach on churches.
Luke saw Paul’s back—he knew the scars he had—he knew the kind of knowledge that sustains obedience. And he wanted Theophilus to know it too.
When Paul preached to Festus, Festus told Paul, “Your learning is driving you out of your mind.” And Paul replied, “I am not out of my mind… I am speaking what is true and rational.”
You can’t buy truth with wealth. You can’t control truth with power, which is why rich and powerful people don’t like it. Truth doesn’t give them enough wiggle room. It locks them down and you either submit or perish.
How does Luke build the asphaleia in his head so they’re absolute unshakeable reality—mountains, not clouds?
In the first two chapters he does it by paralleling John the Baptist and Jesus. Remarkable that John the Baptist receives so much attention in the first two chapters of Luke.
So how do you preach on two chapters of the Bible? I’m going to show you how Luke shows Theophilus how to get the truth into his heart in an asphaleia kind of way. And he does it by showing Theolophilus the following:
Know the unshakeable reality of God
Zechariah and Elizabeth found favor with God…he will turn the hearts of the people toward God… Mary had favor in the eyes of the Lord… The angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus…
God is the main actor in this story. He is all pervasive in this story. And if you stretch your mind out over the whole of the gospel of Luke, you find this confirmed. Matthew, which is nearly identical in length to Luke, “God” and “Lord” uses 54 times. Luke uses them 192 times. Luke is God-saturated.
God is the main actor in all of history. And it is a remarkable thing he does in his God-centeredness. God sent his angel. God struck Zechariah down. God made barren Elizabeth and the virgin conceive.
God is the main reality in the universe, in history, in Luke’s gospel and in Acts… know the asphaleia of the doctrine of God. Let it be the mountain in your life. Everywhere you look—GOD! Don’t take Him for granted. He doesn’t like being taken for granted. And it doesn’t say “he” in any of those texts.
Know the asphaleia of God.
Know the unshakeable reality of Jesus
The first clue in this text that something really extraordinary is coming is when Gabriel says that Jesus will reign over the house of Jacob forever. His kingdom will have no end. It means his kingdom will outlast all kingdoms, it is not an exclusively Jewish kingdom. It is a universal kingdom.
God could raise any one of you and make you king over that kingdom, could he not? You don’t need to be virgin born to be king. But this is no ordinary installation of a king raised from the dead, like we will be raised from the dead, as king. And Luke is very intent on Theophilus knowing that. We know from these verses—the Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you and the child will be called Son of God.
Jesus is infinitely more than man, not less. The “therefore” in the middle of the verse is important—the power of the most high will come upon you and therefore this child will be called the Son of God.
What can this mean except that Jesus had a human nature from Mary and a divine nature from the Holy Spirit. What else would this virgin birth from Almighty God without a husband mean? United in one person, Mary contributes the humanity, the Holy Spirit contributes the divinity.
There’s another pointer this—when Mary visits Elizabeth and says, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” The word “Lord” is used 26 times in these chapters. All of them refer to God.
Elizabeth, we’re told, is speaking by the Holy Spirit—”The Lord has spoken to the mother of my Lord who I call the Lord.”
Or consider the juxtaposition of Lord and Christ in Luke 2:26. Simeon was told he would not die before he saw the Lord’s Christ. And then we see that he’s declared “Christ the Lord!”
This is the second reality. Lock it down. There is a great God who pervades everything, rules everything, guides everything, and he came into reality and caused a virgin to conceive a Son for Himself—the Lord Jesus, the Son of God. There is none like him in all the world.
Know the unshakeable reality of salvation.
Know the reality that Jesus will save his people by dying for them. Nail that one down.
How will the saving spoken of in Luke 2:11 and Luke 1:69 be done? It will come in the Savior coming with the forgiveness of sins. This Jesus he will deal with your sins. He will set his face—”The Son of Man must suffer many things… and on the third day rise again.” This is the plan, it’s how the forgiveness of sins is going to come.
How will this Savior bring this salvation through the forgiveness of sins? He will do it by shedding the blood of the New Covenant.
it was promised in that there would be a new covenant where everybody’s sins would be forgiven no more. And Jesus raises a cup and says, this is the cup of the new covenant poured out for you.
This is how a Savior is going to come, this is how Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1:77-79 will be fulfilled.
Know the asphaleia of salvation. Know them like a mountain and not a cloud.
Know the unshakeable reality of faith
Know the certain reality that souls come in a certain way—and not everybody does. There is a way not to go in, and there is a way to go in. It is real, it is historical. It is totally fixed. God can’t change the past.
That’s pretty solid. Herod, king of the Jews. Zechariah, priest of God of the house of Abijiah. Jesus, born in Bethlehem, dedicated in Jerusalem, raised in Nazareth… These are real, fixed historical realities.
Don’t miss the difference between Zechariah and Mary to Gabriel. Gabriel was sent from God and he brought an old barren couple spectacular news. “You’re going to have a son, the long expected Elijah-like person is going to be born to you. The forerunner is going to be born to you!” And Zechariah did not rejoice.
The question, “How shall I know this” that made Gabriel mad.
When God almighty addresses you, this is not the way to respond. And so Gabriel tells him, “I am Gabriel who stands before almighty God! And because you did not believe, you will not able to speak until all these things have come to pass.”
Now consider Mary. Gabriel came to her and told her, “Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God. You will have a son whom you will call Jesus…” And Mary did not say, “How will I know this?” She said, “How can this be since I am a virgin?”
And the angel did not get angry. He told her that the Holy Spirit would do it, for nothing is impossible with God. To which Mary says, “Behold I am a servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.”
What do you call this? Zechariah’s question was called unbelief. Mary’s was called belief. And then Mary sang—Zechariah’s mouth was silent, but she sang (1:48 and following). Mary sang her song for you, for all of us, over her son…
Be humbled by the knowledge of the God-man, Theophilus. Let nothing in your status keep you from being like Mary. There is one way into this salvation. It is not with wealth, or power or doubt. It is not suspicion at the word of God—it is by faith. Be like the publican in chapter 17, crying out “God have mercy on me a sinner!”
But you’re not a Jew—this all sounds very Jewish, doesn’t it? It should for salvation comes from the Jews. But there is hope for you most excellent Roman Theophilus as Simeon makes clear in Luke 2:29-32.
There is a rock-solid truth that God has come into the world to bring about salvation through the forgiveness of sins. Receive it in faith, like Mary.
And receive it with joy—which is the great work of the Holy Spirit. Theophilus, do you have the Holy Spirit? Does he live in you, producing joy over this salvation? Does the Holy Spirit open that to you and blow you away—or is it nothing to you?
When He comes, the upshot of that joy is words like this:
My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
That’s the voice of the Holy Spirit in a human being!
Do you have the Holy Spirit? May we not enjoy talking here, but may the Holy Spirit come with joy.
Know this Theophilus—know the unshakeable locked-down reality that God is the main actor in the story, and that Jesus Christ is his son, the God-man, and he came to save, and there’s a way in—it isn’t money, or power or doubt—it’s, like Mary, child-like reliance on the miracle working power of Christ.