Posted by: Johnold Strey | October 16, 2010

Sermon for the Commemoration of St. Luke, Evangelist

LUKE’S GOSPEL IS OUR GOSPEL

  1. A gospel founded on fact
  2. A gospel commissioned by Christ

Text: Luke 1:1-4, 24:44-49

The commemoration of St. Luke is normally observed on October 18.  This sermon was preached at Christ Lutheran Church in Clarksville, MD at the WELS School of Worship Enrichment on Sunday, October 17, 2010, and again at Apostles Lutheran Church in San Jose, CA at the WELS Arizona-California District Pastoral Conference on Tuesday, October 19, 2010.

Introduction

Have you ever perused the pages in the hymnal between the services and the hymns?  If you have made your way through those pages where few dare to roam, you may have come across the chart of so-called minor festivals in the Christian church calendar—days like the day we’re celebrating today, the Commemoration of Saint Luke, which technically occurs on October 18.  Charts or no charts, I think it’s safe to say that there are not a lot of congregations in our synod that have observed days like these.  We don’t have a lot of experience across our synod with these occasions.  And that begs a question.  Why bother?  If we’ve managed to get along without these occasions for so long, why observe them now?

That’s a fair question.  One benefit of these minor festivals is that they provide an opportunity to consider doctrines and subjects that don’t come up as prominently in the regular lectionary.  The day that commemorates St. Matthias (February 24) provides an opportunity to talk about the divine call into the ministry.  A day to commemorate the presentation of the Augsburg Confession (June 25) allows us to talk specifically about our Lutheran Confessions and the importance of upholding a bold and biblically accurate confession of faith.  The commemoration of St. Michael and All Angels (September 29) lets us study what Scripture says about angels, perhaps in contrast to popular yet inaccurate ideas about these heavenly beings.

If a minor festival occurs on or near a Sunday and we choose to observe it, our focus is not really on a person.  Luke’s name may be on your service folder, but we haven’t gathered to give Luke some kind of Lutheran canonization this morning.  Instead, we take our lead from the letter to the Hebrews: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the Word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).  Today we don’t remember Luke the man, but we remember the message—the evangel—that Luke proclaimed.  We remember the gospel message of Luke, but we observe that Luke’s gospel message really wasn’t his own message.  Luke’s gospel is the gospel of Jesus Christ—a message from God meant for all people and proclaimed to you once again this morning.  Today we remember that Luke’s gospel is really our gospel—a gospel founded on fact, and a gospel commissioned by Christ. 

I.

Christianity is unique in several ways.  We usually observe that Christianity is unique because it is the only religion based on what someone else—Christ—has done to make you right with God, not on what you do to supposedly make yourself right with God.  Another way Christianity is unique is because it is based on historical facts, not feelings—and these facts are attested to by eyewitnesses.  Other religions cannot make that claim.  Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, claimed that he had received special golden plates from an angel, and that 11 different men (many who were his relatives) were witnesses of these plates.  One of these witnesses contacted a classics scholar by the name of Charles Anthon, and asked if he could authenticate the language on the plates.  The “witnesses” of early Mormonism claimed that Professor Anthon said that these plates contained a reformed Egyptian language.  But when Anthon found out about this claim, he took an ad out in the newspaper saying that he didn’t know who Joseph Smith was and never said the things attributed to him.  The “eyewitnesses” were shown to be frauds.  Take another example.  The prophet Mohammed claimed a special miracle: The moon supposedly came out of the sky one night, flew in one arm of his tunic and out the other, and then returned to the sky so quickly that no one noticed the moon had been missing.  This supposed miracle does not prove anything meaningful—like power over death!—but there were no eyewitnesses of this miracle, and the event was recorded well after Mohammed’s death.  Without eyewitnesses, there isn’t support for someone’s claim no matter how pious it may seem.

The events of Christianity, however, are events that eyewitnesses saw and reported.  At the start of his Gospel, before he begins the historical account of Jesus’ birth and life, Luke describes the process of writing his Gospel.  Luke says that his historical record resulted from research and interaction with eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry.  “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.”

Luke acknowledges that others had drawn up historical records of Jesus’ life and ministry.  Perhaps the inspired records drawn up by Matthew and Mark were the other writings he had in mind.  Perhaps he had in mind less-than-successful attempts to record the life of Jesus.  In any case, Luke tells us that what characterizes his work is his direct interaction with the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry, many of whom were called servants of the Word in the infant Christian church.  The Holy Spirit led St. Luke to take the historical facts at his fingertips and put them together in an orderly fashion that has come down to us today in the inspired Scriptures.

Luke recorded facts.  He recorded eyewitness testimony.  But he didn’t record facts for the sole purpose of writing a history book.  These gospel facts would also foster faith in Jesus Christ.  He writes, “Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”  Luke’s record was first written for a man named Theophilus, a name that means, “lover of God.”  Based on the way Luke addresses him, he may have been an important government official.  Regardless of his public importance, Luke wanted to confirm the truths about Jesus that Theophilus had previously been taught.  Luke wanted Theophilus to have a complete and competent understanding of Jesus’ life and ministry.  He wanted Theophilus to know that his Gospel was founded on historical fact.

The Christian Church today proclaims the very same factual gospel that Luke recorded.  Our message today is not based on popular psychology or modern philosophy but on real, historical facts.  With such a unique, compelling, factual message, you would think that we would have no trouble trusting this gospel as the “power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).  But to what degree do we trust these gospel facts and this gospel message to accomplish its work?

One theologian within our circles has observed that we have an interesting allegiance to the Word of God.  We will defend it to the death.  We will defend the virgin birth, the factual record of the miracles, the vicarious atonement at the cross, and the literal resurrection from the dead.  But do we always trust that the gospel message alone is the power of God to convert the lost and strengthen the found?  Do we believe that proclaiming the gospel facts are enough to bring new souls into the kingdom of God?  Or does the Word of God suddenly lose its power, at least in our own minds, when it comes to converting souls and strengthening faith?

The sad reality is that our inbred sinful nature is unconvinced of the gospel’s power.  Even as our New Man wants to put the gospel to use in God’s kingdom, our sinful nature is right there, convincing us that we must augment and supplement the gospel if it is to have any “success.”  We are tempted to tell people what they want to hear, not what they need to hear.  But when we attempt to augment or alter the simple gospel facts, we no longer have the gospel, we endanger our hearers’ souls, and we condemn our own souls by our sinful failure to trust the power of the simple facts of the gospel.

But thanks be to God that our sinful failings do not change the simple gospel facts.  For my shortcomings cannot erase the angels’ message in Luke chapter two that “in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (2:11).  My guilt does not change Jesus’ guilt-forgiving proclamation in Luke chapter nine that “the Son of Man [would] suffer many things and…be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (9:22).  The law sentences me to eternal death for my sin, but the gospel tells me that my heaven-sent substitute took my place on the cross, tore down the barrier between us and God, and with our redemption complete finally cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (23:46).  The law says that my sin should leave me dead in the grave and bound for hell, but on Easter morning the angel proclaimed that “He is not here; he is risen” (24:6), and through faith in Jesus I receive his forgiveness and believe that his resurrection assures me that I am a heaven-bound soul looking forward to my own resurrection on the Last Day.

What great comfort Luke offers us as he presents us the gospel facts!  What great comfort we have in all of Scripture!  Our faith is not based on a burning in the bosom; our faith is founded on fact—facts read in the Scriptures, recited in our Creeds, and repeated in our songs.  What comfort to know that Luke’s gospel is our gospel—a gospel that extends peace and pardon from the risen Lord through his real, factual, historical resurrection from the dead.

II.

When a baby is born, the new parents are excited to tell their family and friends about their new addition to the family.  When a young couple becomes engaged, they are thrilled to tell their family and friends about their upcoming wedding.  When the Chilean miners were freed from their underground prison last week, was there a news agency that did not stop regular programming to announce the completed rescue?  Of course not!  Good news begs to be proclaimed!  The good news of Jesus Christ is no different.  In fact, the risen Jesus told his disciples that the Old Testament Scriptures not only predicted his work, but they also predicted the proclamation of this good news.  “He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’  Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,  and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’”

Jesus cites the three traditional divisions of the Old Testament and stated that they all pointed forward to his work.  Perhaps he cited the hauntingly beautiful and accurate prediction of his suffering in Isaiah 53.  Perhaps he quoted Psalm 16 or Job 19 which predicted his resurrection.  But the Old Testament preview didn’t stop with Christ’s work.  It also previewed Christ’s commission.  “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”  Repentance over sin and forgiveness proclaimed to the repentant sinner—law and gospel!  The emphasis we often think of as Lutheran is really a biblical emphasis already stated in the Old Testament.  As the First Lesson from Isaiah’s book emphasized, this is an inclusive message meant for all peoples and nations and races.

The events of Jesus’ life, predicted in the Old Testament, had been fulfilled.  Now Jesus points his disciples to their commission.  “You are witnesses of these things.  I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”  Perhaps it seems as if Jesus is stating the obvious when he tells the disciples that they “are witnesses of these things.”  This fact was behind his commission.  A witness sees, and then witness testifies.  Jesus would soon send them a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  They were to wait for that gift, and then from that point forward they would carry out his commission to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.

What do you think of when you hear the word “evangelism”?  A church committee?  Coordinated public relations efforts?  Those things are certainly parts of a church’s evangelistic efforts, but evangelism, strictly speaking, is proclaiming the gospel—the very same gospel Jesus commissioned, the disciples preached, and Luke recorded.  Evangelism is not a program, but the constant confession of Christ’s people to believers and unbelievers alike.

What a privilege that we have received this commission to proclaim the gospel!  What a privilege to be the mouthpiece of the Savior and tell someone, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  What a privilege for pastors to be the hand of the Holy Spirit as the waters of baptism are poured over someone’s head.  What a privilege to be a waiter or a guest at the Supper that previews heaven’s eternal feast.  What a privilege for a congregation to be the light of the gospel in a sin-darkened community.  What a privilege for worshippers to be the choir that sings proclamation-filled praise of our Savior.  What a privilege to be the person who explains the no-strings-attached gospel to a searching soul for the very first time.  What a privilege to proclaim the gospel Christ has commissioned us to preach—a gospel that forgives our sins and that forgives the sins of others, a gospel that comforts us and others, a gospel that promises eternal life to us and to others who hear and are brought to faith in the risen Christ.

Conclusion

I mentioned the rescue of the miners in Chile earlier.  I suspect that event is going to be sermon illustration material for months!  Can you imagine a more horrific feeling than to be suddenly trapped a half mile underground with no way out on your own?  Can you imagine more breathtaking news than that someone else has engineered your rescue and that you will be delivered from that underground hell?  Last week’s historic rescue was phenomenal—yet even more phenomenal is the historical rescue Christ accomplished for you on the cross, demonstrated by his resurrection, and delivered in your baptism.  Is this not the most glorious news we could receive?  Then let it be the glorious news we proclaim!  Amen.

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