“When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ (Luke 3:21-22, NIV).
Luke gives us a rare insight into the beginnings of Christ’s ministry. All four of the Gospel writers chronicle the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus at His baptism by John. And, they tell us about the great mystery of this voice coming from heaven identifying Jesus as “My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” But, only Luke chronicles that Jesus was praying as heaven opened up. Why is it that Luke was the only one of the four Gospel writers to record that Jesus was praying? Luke didn’t even know Jesus personally.
Luke gathered the material to write his gospel from eyewitness accounts and his own personal research. We know now that Luke’s accuracy as a historian has been widely documented. In the books of Luke and Acts he refers to rulers and historical events that have since been confirmed as accurate. As Luke said, “With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,” (Luke 1:3, NIV). Luke ranks, in his own right, with the finest historians of the day.
Having Eyes to See
Do you ever just miss the obvious? I mean, miss seeing something spiritual that is right before your face? It has something to do with having “eyes to see and ears to hear.” If we are going to discern the spirit, then we must be “in the spirit.” We must be spiritual people. We must walk after the spirit, not the flesh, and have our minds set on the spirit. “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” (Rom. 8:5, NIV). We know there are two dimensions, the physical and the spiritual. But, the physical world superimposes its system upon us. It is pervasive and insidious. We must battle with all that is in us to set our mind on the spirit.
I walked into a Christian school to take a tour and interview with the current headmaster to discuss the possibility of applying for the job of headmaster (the private school counterpart to a public school superintendent.) As I walked in the main entry to the school I had one of those “ah ha” spiritual moments when you perceive something in the spirit. Covering the wall of both sides of the foyer entry were dozens and dozens of athletic plaques recognizing the school’s athletic achievements. I looked for any similar awards for academics, fine arts, or anything to identify this was a Christian school. There was nothing to be found. I heard the whisper of the spirit in my ears, “Open your eyes and see what is really important to this school.” Later I discovered that the school had gained almost immediate entry into the state association where all public schools competed in activities and that the school had instantaneous success in the premier sport for the state, football. Oh, and in one of the school’s first years of football it had to forfeit victories for not following the rules of the activity association, victories that would have put them in the state playoffs. After accepting the job as headmaster, it took me three years to subtly move, little by little, the athletic plaques to the athletic wing of the building. I replaced the athletic plaques with items that highlighted academic achievements, the arts, athletics, and more importantly, items that let everyone know who entered the building that this was a Christian school.
Luke was a close companion of Paul and traveled with him on his missionary journeys. He was the only one who stayed with Paul to the end of his life and in his imprisonment. “Only Luke is with me.” (2 Tim. 4:11). Paul identifies Luke as the “beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14. Luke paid attention to details. He saw what others did not see, heard what others did not hear.
My daughter and son-in-law are physicians. I can personally attest to my daughter’s fastidious attention to detail as a young girl. And I am sure her husband was the same way growing up. One time her advisor in college told me that they did an experiment in the lab where they had to count 2,000 fruit flies. Rachael counted 4,000. Physicians pay attention to detail. Maybe that’s one reason so many physicians turn out to be successful writers, from Copernicus and his On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres, John Keats the famous poet, Conan Doyle with his Sherlock Holmes, to Alexander McCall Smith and the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. In their journey to become physicians today, doctors are trained for four years in college, four years in medical school, and three to five more years in residency. They are trained to learn how to pay attention to details.
But there is something more working here with Luke.
It is quizzical and compelling that on other instances Luke is the only Gospel writer to draw attention to Jesus’s prayers at dramatic events.
In the cleansing and healing of the leper, Matthew, Mark, and Luke chronicle the event. But only Luke inserts in Luke 5:16 that that Jesus withdraws to pray as the great multitudes followed Jesus and came to Him from every direction.
Only Luke recounts the dramatic all night prayer in which Jesus prayed to God before calling the disciples to Himself and choosing the twelve. (Luke 6:12)
As Peter professes the revelation given to him by the Father in heaven that Jesus is the Son of the living God, only Luke pens that the event happened as the disciples joined Jesus while He was alone praying. (Luke 9:18)
Jesus took Peter, John, and James to the top of a mountain where these three saw Moses and Elijah speak to Jesus. In Luke 9:28 only Luke mentions that Jesus took the three up to the mountain to pray.
As Jesus taught the disciples how to pray in the model prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, only Luke takes note of what preceded the event. It came about as Jesus was praying in a certain place when He ceased, one of His disciples said, “Lord teach us to pray.” (Luke 11: 1-4)
All four of the writers chronicle Satan tempting Peter, but only Luke, in 22:31, pointedly writes that Satan had asked permission to sift Peter, but Jesus prayed for him that his faith would not fail.
In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus went off to pray and only Luke writes, in 22:41, in his Gospel that Jesus instructs the disciples to pray that they would not enter into temptation.
As Jesus is being crucified between the two criminals He speaks to the Father. In Luke 23:34, only Luke reports that Jesus asks the Father to forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.
At the very instance of Jesus breathing His last breath He commits His spirit into the Father’s hands. All of the Gospel writers include the crucifixion in their discourse, but only Luke records Jesus’s final words of prayer, “Father into Your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46, NIV)
Also, Luke is the only Gospel writer to chronicle two of the most pointed parables that Jesus told to instruct us on prayer. In Luke 11:5-13 he retells the story that Jesus told of the friend who comes at midnight. In this parable Jesus instructs us to keep asking, seeking, and knocking. You will receive, find, and the door will be opened. Then in Luke 18:1-7 Luke narrates the great parable of the persistent widow that Jesus used to teach us that God listens to the prayers of the faithful.
Luke chronicles all these events of Jesus praying and teaching on prayer. The Holy Spirit used Luke’s training as a physician and his natural propensity for details to teach us what the Lord wants us to understand about prayer, pray always. In God’s economy Luke’s gifting and training are not coincidences or happenstances. For the Lord has truly made all things for His ends. “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:36, NIV).
Luke tells us that while Jesus was praying at His baptism the Father spoke in a voice from heaven that was heard by all. Can you see the scene now– John the Baptist baptizing Christ and an audible voice is heard from heaven. What must those gathered around thought? God declared to the world in front of all the many people that Jesus is the Son of God in whom he is well pleased. The word must have spread like wildfire.