We begin today a set of readings from the early chapters of the Book of Acts. As with any book, we can ask who wrote it. The author of this volume was Luke, the doctor who became the companion of Paul.
There are several references to him in the literature of the early church – he was a native of Antioch in Syria, which we know from the Book of Acts was one of the earliest centres of Christianity, and the suggestion is made that he may have been converted there. These references to Luke also say that he never married and later, after Paul’s death, he moved to Greece where he died at the age of eighty-four.
As far as the New Testament is concerned, Luke first appears on the Christian scene in Troas (the use of ‘we’ in Acts 16:10), and perhaps he was a doctor there. It may be the case that he was converted at that time, which would differ from the tradition about him mentioned in the previous paragraph. Alternatively he may have been a believer in Jesus for some time before then. Whether it was the time of his conversion or not, it does seem to have been a time of special consecration for Luke and he was accepted into the company of Paul’s apostolic team, perhaps because his medical skills were needed by others in the group.
No doubt, Luke at that moment of consecration had little idea of what was ahead of him in the service of God. As far as he could see, he was putting his talents to good use. Yet behind the scenes, God was working in his life, preparing him for his future role as one of the authors of the Bible. As far as we know, Luke is the only Gentile who had this great privilege. Even in his medical role, Luke would have been good at observing details and taking notes of what he saw, and these practices would have helped him as he interviewed witnesses and summarised events. None of us can say what God will do through us when we dedicate ourselves to him.
Paul’s apostolic team learned quickly that Luke was both reliable and capable. One of the first places they went to was Philippi, and we can see from the account in Acts 18 that Luke seems to have stayed on there when the others left (note the use of ‘we’ as the team journey from Troas to Philippi, and the use of ‘they’ when the team leaves Philippi; in Acts 20:6, when Paul’s team, having revisited Philippi, leaves for Jerusalem, the ‘we’ is resumed). We should not be surprised that the church in Philippi was devoted to helping missions once we recall the likely possibility that it was nurtured by Luke in its early years. We cannot say how great the blessing will be that others will experience through our devotion to Jesus.
It is not too difficult to see that Luke was marked by practical love for Paul. In Colossians 4:14, Paul calls him ‘the beloved physician’. This description flows from years of experience. Paul had several infirmities, with some suggesting that he had symptoms of malaria, and he needed almost constant medical care. In addition, he suffered much physical abuse from hostile crowds and official beatings from the authorities. I suspect that many times Luke had to deal with deep lacerations, even broken bones, in Paul’s body. And during these years, a deep bond developed between Paul and his doctor.
Colossians 4:14, when combined with 2 Timothy 4:10, reveals another feature of Luke, which is that he did not flinch when the going became tough. These two verses detail the contrast between Luke and Demas – the latter abandoned the Christian ship when the winds became too strong and the waves were almost submerging the boat. But Luke remained, true to the end. In fact, he was Paul’s only companion in his second, and last, imprisonment in Rome. From his prison cell, Paul informs Timothy, ’Only Luke is with me’ (2 Tim. 4:11).
We can mention one more characteristic of Luke, and it brings us back to the books he wrote. Why did Luke write his Gospel and the Acts? His initial reason was that Theophilus, a high-ranking Roman official, would know about Jesus Christ and his church. The labour of writing these works were intense and demanding, yet Luke thought it worthwhile for a great deal of labour to be expended on one person. Luke had a concern for the soul of Theophilus, and his concern made him busy in helping his friend.