What does Luke mean by ‘salvation’?

Jesus and Ordinary Folk

During October we were looking at Jesus interactions with some of “ordinary” people in the gospels.  It was fun to highlight some of these stories of everyday people who are often unnamed in scripture.  As we said each week, these are the type of people Jesus regularly interacted with.  In one sense, he was one of them himself, born and raised in a backwater part of Israel which was on the outskirts of the Roman Empire.

A lot of the stories we looked at have been from Luke’s Gospel account. Luke seemed particularly keen to point out to his readers that the kingdom of God was wide open to those people who were doing it tough, or who were forgotten, snubbed and overlooked by society or by the religious elite – and he seems to like to point out that they were often the first ones to enter the kingdom and embrace Jesus.

This emphasis of Luke, and Jesus, should cause us to stop and think about the implications for us in our own lives and as a church.  One of the beautiful things about the kingdom community that Jesus came to initiate – the church – is that it’s open to all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds and that together in Christ we can be one, and we can be brothers and sisters.

This is part of why we have an emphasis on being a welcoming, hospitable and inviting church – because Jesus was welcoming and inviting and he was extremely compassionate towards people, his heart went out to them – and we want to be like Jesus and live his way.

As Christians we are to be #ALWAYSJESUS people – to first and foremost live with, and from, a deep sense of allegiance to him, no matter what.

If you want to read a bit more about how Luke’s emphasis, below is a short essay I had to write a couple of years ago on “What Salvation meant for Luke”.   You might like to have a read of it, you might not – no problem either way!

What does Luke mean by ‘salvation’?

Introduction

Salvation for Luke is embodied in, and comes through, Jesus who ‘came to seek and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:10), to call ‘sinners to repentance’ (Luke 5:32) and to proclaim and usher in the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43).   At its core it means God’s acceptance and forgiveness of sinners, which is available to all people, but Luke especially presents it as good news to the poor, marginalised, oppressed and disreputable.   For Luke, salvation is fundamentally spiritual in nature but it often has wider holistic transformational effects in the lives of those who embrace it.

Salvation embodied

At the outset of his writing Luke establishes the embodiment of salvation in Jesus.   The heralding angel announces that ‘a saviour has been born’ (Luke 2:11) and while holding the child Simeon praises God declaring, ‘my eyes have seen your salvation’ (Luke 2:30).

Salvation for all

Similarly, Luke uses the angel (Luke 2:10), Simeon’s prophecy (Luke 2:32), a reference from Isaiah in regard to John the Baptist’s ministry (Luke 3:6) and Jesus genealogy (Luke 3:23-38) which is traced back past Abraham to God via Adam to show that Jesus was not only Israel’s long awaited Messiah (Luke 1:32-33, 2:11) but that the salvation he brings will ultimately be available to all people – Jew and Gentile alike.

Kingdom of God

Significantly, Luke records Jesus commencing his public ministry by reading a messianic passage from Isaiah 61 and announcing its fulfilment there and then (Luke 4:16-30).  In doing so he was effectively announcing the partial (or the ‘now but not yet’) in-breaking of the kingdom of God into the world through himself.   The Isaiah text implies there would be holistic implications from this in-breaking and inherent in it was an expectation that its fulfilment would usher in an era of God’s favour and salvation.

This commencement story and the ensuing narrative provide the context for understanding what Luke means by salvation and paint a picture of the wider transformation it can bring.

Jesus is seen compassionately proclaiming, describing and bringing the liberating kingdom of God into the midst of ordinary people’s lives.   He heals and forgives sins in response to faith, calls social outcasts to follow him, befriends despised people while denouncing the self-righteous, casts out demons, raises the dead and feeds the hungry.   He tells stories of a surprisingly kind Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), of a lavish kingdom banquet where the poor, crippled and blind dine (Luke 14:15-24), of the high value of lost people to God and his unconditional and searching love for them (Luke 15:1-32) and of the reversal of fortunes of a rich man and a beggar (Luke 16:19-31).

Luke’s picture of salvation is indeed one that is good news for the marginalised, poor and the nobodies where the first often end up being last and the last often end up being first.  There is an underlying theme of ‘reversal’ in the narrative which conveys that injustice and inequality has, and will have, no place when the kingdom of God comes.

Despite Luke’s focus on the poor, salvation is not exclusively for them.   It is available to all classes of people.   Luke shows Jesus being concerned with respectable, prominent and wealthy lost people too (Luke 14:1, 18:18-25, 19:1-9) but in his gospel it is generally the poor who are the most open to salvation.

Forgiveness of Sins and Jesus’ Death and Resurrection

Luke’s emphasis on the poor and the marginalised and on the ‘reversal’ theme does not imply that salvation is only about physical, social or economic transformation.   For him salvation has God’s forgiveness, acceptance and justification of sinners at its core.   Luke records Jesus forgiving peoples sins and saving them in response to faith and he recounts the story Jesus told of a sinful but humble and repentant tax collector who receives God’s mercy and justification and a proud Pharisee who does not (Luke  5:18-24, 7:36-50, 18:9-14).

Furthermore, Jesus suffering, death and resurrection are central to Luke’s understanding of salvation and how it is accomplished even though their connection with salvation in his gospel is mostly implied and only occasionally explicitly stated.   Luke records Jesus awareness of the necessity and significance of the passion events (Luke 9:22,44, 12:50, 18:31-33, 24:26).

At the last supper Jesus speaks of how a new covenant was being introduced through his blood which would be poured out for his disciples (Luke 22:20).  Importantly Jesus final words in the gospel connect his death and resurrection specifically with the core salvation message of repentance and forgiveness or sins (Luke 24:46-49).

Salvation for Luke encompasses the hope of resurrection to eternal life but it is not a major focus for him and references to it are almost incidental rather than purposely stated (Luke 16:19-31, 18:29-30, 20:35-36, 22:16-18).

Discipleship

For Luke, salvation cannot be separated from an ongoing journey of discipleship.   It involves both an initial response of repentance (Luke 5:32, 13:5) and an ongoing commitment to unconditionally follow Jesus daily and not look back (Luke 9:23, 57-62).  It should only be embraced after serious consideration (Luke 14:25-35) and yet it should also be embraced with childlike simplicity (Luke 18:17).

Conclusions

Luke records the spread of the salvation message across the gentile world in Acts.  He continues to present salvation as being found in Jesus (Acts 4:11-12), bringing forgiveness of sins and eternal life (Acts 2:38, 13:48) and often having wider transformational effects in people’s lives (Acts 16:16-18, 19:19).

In summary, salvation for Luke is embodied and found in the person and work of Jesus and encompassed in the good news that the in-breaking kingdom of God has come through him.   Its core elements are acceptance by God and the forgiveness of sin which come through repentance and faith, but it also often has wider transformational effects in people’s lives.   It is available to everyone, but is especially presented as good news for the poor and marginalised.

 

Author: David Pearson