The Mercy of God in the Book of Luke

The Gospel of Luke was written to Theophilus, who was most likely a Roman official (as the author addresses him as “most excellent”) that had become a believer and needed to know the history and validity of the Christian religion. Luke might have also wanted to show Jesus’ innocence to disclaim rumors that Christianity was a threat to the peace of Rome, although the message of the gospel did cause much offense.  

Luke, who was the most likely author, was a Gentile believer who probably wrote the book with a Gentile audience in mind (along with Theophilus). He therefore gave the lineage dating all the way back to Adam, where as Matthew, whose audience was probably primarily Jewish, only gave the lineage back to Abraham, their forefather, whom they would have been familiar with: 

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

Matthew 1:1-16

 

Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli…son of Judah, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham…son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.

Luke 3:23-38

Here are some other characteristics that are unique to the Gospel of Luke:

  • Highlights the story of Elizabeth and Mary who gave birth to John the Baptist and Jesus, respectively
  • Contains the “Good Samaritan” and “Prodigal Son” parables (there are others that are unique to Luke, too)
  • Mentions prayer more times than any other gospel
  • Omits the condemnation of the Pharisees/scribes 
  • Focuses on the poor

For the Book of Luke we didn’t get to study it in-depth, but we did get to pick a parable to study.

Parables were meant to reveal a heart attitude of the original hearers of the message. They were culturally relevant, so it’s important to view the parable from the original hearer’s eyes to get the “punch” the message was supposed to bring. For instance, the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan would have exposed the hatred for Samaritans in the Jews’ heart. 

We learned that in studying parables, you must:

  • Identify who Jesus was speaking to when giving the parable
  • Identify the points of references in the parable (so like the characters, the setting, etc)
  • Identify the unexpected twist that happens in each parable (which gives the parable its power/efficacy)

To interpret it, you then must:

  • Identify whose hearts were exposed and of what sin (so, if Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, their hearts would have been exposed to hatred)
  • Interpret the intended response (e.g., humility, repentance, etc)

One of the parables I chose to study was the parable of the barren fig tree, which is also unique to Luke’s Gospel:

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Luke 13:6-9

So here’s the brief analysis:

  1. Audience – The crowds of people following Jesus (Identified from Luke 12:54)
  2. Points of Reference – An owner of a fig tree, his gardener, the fig tree.
  3. Unexpected Turn – The gardener tries to persuade the owner to give him three years for the tree to produce fruit instead of cutting it down right away.
  4. Who gets caught/heart attitude exposed – The crowds of people lacked mercy and graciousness toward sinners, thinking that the Galileans and those killed by the tower of Siloam deserved their punishment (see verses 13:13:1-5). But Jesus was showing them that anyone who repented would be forgiven.  
  5. Response from original hearer – They should have been humbled, knowing that God showed mercy and grace toward those who submitted to Him.

Studying this parable using this basic format (and the context surrounding the parable), I saw that the crowds probably would have expected the gardener to go ahead and just take down the fruitless fig tree, but instead he asks for more time. This would have shown the original hearers that God is gracious and would show mercy to anyone who repented (since this is what Jesus was teaching in the paragraph just before this). The original hearers shouldn’t have thought that they were better than other sinners. Every single human on earth is at God’s mercy, no matter how “good” or how “bad” someone is. 

The truth for today teaches that we are all sinners who are in need of God. It’s an important truth to meditate on to keep humble when tempted to devalue others based off their sin. Everyone’s need for God’s mercy and forgiveness is the great equalizer of us all!

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