An orderly account
When you crack a new book for the first time, as you leaf through the first two or three pages, you will usually notice a page with just a sentence or two nestled right into the center of it. On it, you will find someone’s name. It will not be the author’s name, but it will be someone who, in the author’s mind, is more significant. It is the dedication page.
I never read those.
But today I made an exception. It is an old book, one written before the advent of the printing press, so the dedication is written right into the body of the book. As a matter of fact, it is the first paragraph of the work. It is a book I have read before and one I am sure I will read many more times, but this time, I was struck by this dedication. Usually, I will just read through parts like this to get to the real “meat,” but this was no ordinary book.
It was the gospel of Luke.
In truth, the dedication at the beginning of this book is not part of Luke’s outline. When Luke was sitting down to pen his gospel, the dedication that he included at the beginning had no real bearing on the story. It was not part of the story at all. Yet, in God’s superintendence of Luke’s writing, he included a word for us in this small, but important piece of the work.
Luke starts his gospel with this:
“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. “ (Luke 1:1-4)
Certainly, Luke’s main purpose for including this was simply to let Theophilus know the reasoning behind his work. In fact, a good deal of commentaries on the work will tell us that Theophilus may have been some form of patron for Luke, actually having him write down the work. But there is more that can be gleaned for us today from these words.
Take note of the first half of this dedication. Luke takes the time to explain a brief history of the storytelling that had taken place since the events of Christ. If you take all the dependent clauses out of his sentence, this is what Luke is saying, “As many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, it seemed good to me also to write an orderly account for you…”
In other words, Luke realizes the importance of sharing this story. Just like those before him, Luke sees the need to compile an “orderly account.” Here we find out that Luke stands in a forming tradition of those who dare to pass this story along to others. “…just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word has delivered them to us, it seemed good to me… to write an orderly account,” states Luke.
But Luke does not stop at telling us he thought it important to share this story. He tells us the manner in which it should be shared. Two key phrases point to the manner in which Luke compiled his account. First, Luke informs us of his study of the events. He says he “followed all things closely from some time past.” In other words, he had done his research. He had watched, observed, listened, learned and studied all that had taken place in the story.
Furthermore, it is pretty certain that Luke was a companion of Paul, having traveled with him on some of his journeys. Luke studied the story by observing it shared by Paul. He was in close community with the growing body of believers and was active in learning from them. Luke was not merely guessing at the events he was writing about. He had internalized them. He had ingested them. He had walked with the men who lived them firsthand. In other words, he made sure he knew the story he was telling, and that he knew it well.
Not only is his account studied, but it is also “orderly.” Luke drops this one little modifier in to his dedication to describe the manner of the account he seeks to provide, and I think it is significant. Luke intends to provide an account that is understandable, digestible, and makes sense. There is no point in telling a story that makes no sense. Luke knows the importance of considering the events in this story and retelling them in a manner that is able to be grasped by those who would hear.
In other words, the reason he is sharing is so that others may hear and understand. As a matter of fact, Luke tells us that. In the final part of the dedication, he closes it by saying this, “…to write an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” That is why he is taking the time to write his work. So that Theophilus, and any who read this book, will know with certainty the truth that lies within its pages.
So, why do I bring all of this up? Simply to say this:
We should do the same.
Luke realized this story was a big deal. Obviously, it had a big enough impact on his life that he followed Paul all over the known world watching him get beat up and thrown in jail. It was a big enough deal that he spent hours over an ink well and paper compiling notes and writing down events. It was a big enough deal that he saw the need to share it. But not just share it, share it with certainty and clarity.
Yet today, I feel the average pew-sitter could not recount the story of the gospel. Sure, most of us could mumble off a few memorized lines from the Vacation Bible School explanation of salvation (many of which are nowhere to be found in scripture). But to tell the story of Christ coming to earth, living here amongst mankind as one of them, teaching, healing, leading a band of disciples and then dying on a cross only to be resurrected. That is a story few of us could tell.
We wonder why the unbelieving world around us cannot see the convicting truth of the gospel. We wonder why so many make light of Jesus. Perhaps it is because we fail to present an “orderly account” to them. And perhaps we fail to present an orderly account because we have not studied the story enough to give one.
Imagine a church where all the believers knew the story of the gospel, they had poured over its words in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They knew the events that took place during the life of Jesus, and had built a home for its words in their heart. They relished the parables and savored the stories. They were in love with what is truly the greatest story ever told. What is more, they knew the story well enough to give an account of it. They could explain all that had taken place because of the life and death of Christ. What could that church do?
Imagine a single believer; not a pastor, a seminary student, or a theologian; but a regular guy in the pew. What will happen in their life when they, like Luke, “follow all things closely” and write the words of the gospel on their heart? How would it change them? How would it change others?
How well do you know the story?