Everyone has to answer the big “meaning of life” questions: Who are we, and why are we here? What’s wrong with the world? What, if anything, can make it right? Who gets to define morality? Should I be moral? Why? Why should I be a good person? Why should anyone choose love instead of hate? How should I use and spend the short days I get to live on this planet?
Everyone has functional answers to these questions. And no matter what our answers are, they cannot be overtly proven or disproven. We all must thoughtfully investigate and draw our own conclusions.
Yet, we all tend to agree that better and worse answers to these questions exist. Most modern, secular Americans agree that it is better to work things out with your enemies as opposed to killing them. We tend to believe that it is good and right to care for the poor. Almost unanimously, we assume that all human beings have rights that should be fought for and protected. And all of these beliefs have to come from somewhere.
A Far Bigger Impact than We Think
Without even realizing it, many of our deepest held values come from the Christian movement started by Jesus.
Luc Ferry, French philosopher in his book A Brief History of Thought says, “The philosophy of human rights to which we subscribe today would never have established itself [apart from Christianity].” In other words, if Christianity never became the dominant western worldview, our thoughts on human rights would not exist as we know them.
In pre-Christian Europe, when the monks were propagating Christianity, all of the elites thought that loving your enemies and taking care of the poor was crazy. They said society would fall apart, because that’s not the way the world works. The talented and strong prevail. The winner takes all. The strong prey on the weak. The poor are born to suffer. Isn’t that how it has always worked? But the teaching of Christianity revolutionized pagan Europe by stressing the dignity of the person, the primacy of love, including toward enemies, and the care of the poor and orphans.
– Tim Keller, Encounters with Jesus
Human Rights...Says Who?
We all believe in human rights – in liberty and freedom – but we often don’t ask ourselves “Why?” The basic premise is contrary to the rule of the natural world where the strong eat the weak. So if it’s natural for the strong to eat the weak…and if we all got here through the natural, unguided process of evolution…why do we think it is wrong for a strong nation to eat a weaker nation? On what basis can we say that genocide – a strong ethnic group “eating” a weaker one — is wrong? If there is no God, then our views of justice are nothing more than opinions. And we suddenly have no basis to denounce injustice.
Unless there is a God, we have no right to tell anyone that our feelings or ideas are more valid than their feelings and ideas. Unless there is a God who created us in His personal image, then many of the values we cherish and assume are actually imaginary – wishful thinking with no foundation.
Yet we are sure that these values are not imaginary, that things like genocide are absolutely wrong and that people have rights regardless of their talent, gender, age, wealth or race. Late Yale law professor, Arthur Leff captured this self-defeating tension in our thoughts perfectly:
In the absence of God… each ethical and legal system… will be differentiated by the answer it chooses to one key question: who among us… ought to be able to declare ‘law’ that ought to be obeyed?... Either God exists or He does not, but if He does not, nothing and no one else can take His place… As things are now, everything is up for grabs. Nevertheless: napalming babies is bad. Starving the poor is wicked. Buying and selling each other is depraved. There is such a thing as evil… God help us.
– Arthur Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law”
Because we assume human rights are real and morality has a foundation, we owe it to ourselves to examine where these ideas came from. We owe it to ourselves to examine the school of thought where these beliefs originated – Christianity and its founder Jesus Christ.
Which Brings us to Luke
The gospel of Luke is a perfect opportunity to examine Jesus and the origins of His movement. In his opening lines, Luke declares his intention for compiling this biographical narrative about Jesus. He writes so that an educated and esteemed man, Theophilus (and all others privileged to read thereafter) would have “certainty” that Jesus not only spoke the true answers to life’s big questions, but that He was the answer.
Jesus doesn’t just have the answers. He is the answer to life’s biggest questions. In carefully looking at and considering Jesus, Luke says we can be certain we have found the truth. There is something about Jesus that sets Him apart from any other spiritual teacher, political leader, or revolutionary. There is something about Him that is different, significant and even otherworldly. His impact is so far reaching that many modern, secular minded Americans don’t even realize how many of the values we take for granted come from His teaching and His actions.
Part of this certainty comes from what theologians describe as Jesus’ “self-authenticating” truthfulness.
Jesus, as He is revealed in the bible, has a glory – an excellence, a spiritual beauty – that can be seen as self-evidently true. It is like seeing the sun and knowing that it is light and not dark, or like tasting honey and knowing that it is sweet and not sour. There is no long chain of reasoning from premises to conclusions. There is a direct apprehension that this person is true and His glory is the glory of God.
– John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ
Our culture is growingly uncertain when it comes to the truth about Jesus. One of the biggest obstacles that people deal with is that they often think they already know all about Him. They often think they already know the answers that Jesus offers to the questions of life, and they have already deemed Jesus’ answers as unsatisfying, unworthy or wrong. Unfortunately it is quite common for these people to have a distorted or altogether false view of Jesus.
So we invite you to take an investigative look at the real Jesus. and join us as we study the good news according to Luke.