Ancient Greco-Roman society enjoyed death, as seen in the Roman’s relish for the gore and spectacle of death in the gladiatoral arena and in their turning execution into a spectator sport called crucifixion. But at its best, as seen in some of its greatest philosophers, it shed light on the art of dying well and nobly, as the final test for one who had been trained in the arts of virtue. (…) But jesus did not appear to this mind to have died nobly. (…) This was an especially pressing for Luke, as one of his goals was to the the gospel into the Greco-Roman world and to place Christianity on the world stage. Thus, he opens Luke-Acts with a distinctively Hellenistic literary preface, and ends his work with Paul in Rome. Further, Luke uses the tradition of the “noble death” to construct a Passion Narrative that would appeal to the Greco-Roman world. Distinctively among the Gospels, his account presents Jesus’ passion as a type of martyrdom, so that his hearers would come to see the death of Jesus as an object of both admiration and emulation. (…)
[Luke’s] work is introductory in nature. He aims not so much to explain the meaning of the cross as to paint winsome picture of it. He does not explain why the cross is the source of salvation, but shows that the cross is the place where Jesus saves. Luke’s Passion Narrative is not merely a martyrdom, but a martyrdom that invites the Greco-Roman world to see Jesus’ death as an object of wonder and beauty.
At the same time, Luke’s Gospel offers the church an example to emulate. We are invited by Luke to take up the cross, whether the cross of martyrdom or the cross of suffering for the sake of Christ. Having heard the Lucan Passion, and having seen Jesus as the willing and obedient man who dies to offer us salvation, we are persuaded to read the Gospel of Matthew and see there the deeper theology of atonement that he offers.
It has long been said that Matthew is the “most powerful book ever written” and that Luke is “the most beautiful book ever written.” To this, the Passion Narrative of Luke bears witness.
Scaer, Peter J., “The Glorious Dying of the Son: The Gospel of Luke & Jesus’ Noble Death” (Touchstone Magazine, November 2004), s. 24.29 (24-29)