Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Pleasant Dale, Nebraska
IN NOMINE JESU
We interrupt this post-Pentecost season to bring you this minor festival. Today we take a pause from the green that has adorned our chancel for the past few months, and we shift our attention, perhaps too briefly, to the red, on the blessed evangelist St. Luke, the author of the Third Gospel, bearing his name, as well as the Acts of the Apostles. His feast day came late to the Western church, in the tenth century, late in comparison to the fixing of dates of the feasts of the apostles and other evangelists. Today is the date the Church has set aside to remember St. Luke and to thank God for sending His Holy Spirit to inspire him to write so much of the New Testament, over one third of it. It is not too often that we celebrate a minor festival, remembering one of the saints. Unfortunately, such observances are frowned upon by many in the Church, mistakenly thinking that such remembrances are "too Catholic." The truth of the matter is that honoring the saints is, in fact, catholic (small "c" as opposed to capital "C"), meaning that such a practice is worthwhile in the whole Christian Church. Our Lutheran Confessions, to which we have subscribed, support this practice. One the basis of Scripture we believe, teach, and confess thus: Our Confession approves honors to the saints. For here a threefold honor is to be approved. The first is thanksgiving. For we ought to give thanks to God because He has shown examples of mercy; because He has shown that He wishes to save men; because He has given teachers or other gifts to the Church. And these gifts, as they are the greatest, should be amplified, and the saints themselves should be praised, who have faithfully used these gifts, just as Christ praises faithful businessmen [Mt. 25:21, 23]. The second service is the strengthening of our faith; when we see the denial forgiven Peter, we also are encouraged to believe the more that grace truly superabounds over sin [Rom. 5:20]. The third honor is the imitation, first, of faith, then of the other virtues, which every one should imitate according to his calling. (Ap XXI, 4-6)
What do we know about St. Luke? We know that he was a physician, for St. Paul refers to him as such in his letter to the Colossians. Unlike Paul, Luke was a Gentile…and was the only Gentile author in the New Testament. Luke wrote his Gospel and the book of Acts for a Gentile audience, especially one Theolphilus, beginning his Gospel and addressing this Theophilus: Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed. [Lk. 1:1-4]
And in Acts, Luke again begins by addressing Theophilus: The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. [Acts 1:1-3]
In the prologue to Luke's Gospel, he goes to great lengths to establish that what he wrote in his Gospel was the result of much careful research, no doubt having come from his training and education in becoming a physician. Such formation has borne fruit in his writings as he explains with some detail the diseases of many who came to the Lord for healing. Luke accompanied Paul on the second of Paul's four missionary journeys and was likely with him near the end of his third, giving Paul the occasion to write to Timothy in our text that only Luke was with Paul. Paul was nearing the end of his life, knowing full well that he would soon pay the price of being a Christian, a price that would cost him his very life. Paul described himself as "already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come" (v. 6). He longed for young Timothy to come to him before Paul would be executed, for all his partners in the Gospel had left him for one reason or another…except for Luke. Only Luke was with him. Paul was confident in facing his martyrdom, knowing "there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on the Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing" (v. 8). No doubt one of those who have loved the Lord's appearing was St. Luke, who in all likelihood brought comfort and healing to Paul's soul, reporting to him what he learned in his research of what the Lord had said and done in His earthly ministry, that he may know the certainty of those things in which he was instructed by Ananias at Damascus. Luke remained faithful to the Lord and to His apostle Paul, likely suffering much for Christ's sake and for the sake of the Gospel, which he wrote.
Here we are, almost 2,000 years later, far removed the persecution that Paul and Luke endured. Here we are, with nowhere nearly as much on the line as they had, their lives in the balance. What are we willing to sacrifice for Christ's sake? What are we willing to put on the line for the sake of the Gospel? We are blessed that we really haven't had to put our money where our mouths are. Yes, we confess with our lips that we believe in one God, the Father Almighty, in one Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, as we will do shortly as we will confess the Nicene Creed. But is this what our hearts confess, or do these words simply ring hollow in our ears? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. We want to be steadfast with our Lord like Luke was with Paul, but we find ourselves more like Paul's former associate Demas, in love with this present world and having deserted Him. We hear the Word of the Lord, and we say, "Thanks be to God," but we sinners are more like Alexander the coppersmith in our Epistle, who strongly opposed the message. We too reject the message of the cross, for we consider it foolishness, as did the Gentiles in Paul's day. Anything that brings us eternal life in heaven and does not involve any action on our part we consider foolishness; we think it's stupid because it does not appeal to our sinful pride. Our sinful nature does not want to think of a Christ who died on the cross to take away our sins with nothing for us to contribute to our salvation. We cannot stand the thought that God loves us, and there's nothing we can do about it. Oh, sure, we can reject the message. We can reject the messenger. We reject the Messiah, and we reject our Maker. St. Luke records these words of our Lord just after our appointed Gospel for today: "He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me" (Lk. 10:16). Here we are, apart from Christ, ailing and dying—in fact, dead!—in our trespasses and sins.
But here comes the blessed physician, St. Luke, or Dr. Luke, if you prefer, with the prescription for our spiritual health: the Gospel! In this divine prescription he has given us what we need to live, for he has given us the Good News that Jesus Christ has died for the forgiveness of our sins. Luke alone records the prayer our Lord offered on behalf of those who nailed Him to the cross: "Father, forgive them" (Lk. 23:34). Fellow redeemed, that prayer is for you, too, for it was your sins and mine that nailed Him to the cross, that He would pay the price we richly deserve. Luke alone records the promise our Lord make to the criminal crucified next to him, saying, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Lk. 23:43). Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that promise is for you, too, for He has prepared a place in heaven for all who believe in Him and confess Him as Savior and Lord. Luke alone records our Lord's last words on the cross: "Father, 'into Your hands I commit My spirit'" (Lk. 23:46a). Dearly, beloved, it was for you that your Lord bled and died, so that you would have eternal life in heaven with Him, partaking of the marriage Feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which knows no end. It was for you that our Lord went the way of the cross. The prophet Isaiah says in our Old Testament reading: "And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray" (Is. 35:8), and in the following verse: "… but the redeemed shall walk there" (Is. 35:9b). This Way of Holiness for our Lord was the way of the cross, where He shed His blood and died to win the forgiveness of your sins. The Way of Holiness for you has taken you to the font, where you were washed in the blood of the Lamb by water and the Word. The Way of Holiness for you has taken you to the pew, where you hear God's prescription for you and how He has filled it for you in His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Way of Holiness for you takes you to the altar, where your Lord seeks to feed you with His medicine for your soul. His prescription is simply this: "Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. Take, drink; this is My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." How often are we to take, eat, and drink? He invites us ever so tenderly and says, "Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." The Way of Holiness for us leads us out the doors of our Lord's house to serve Him in our vocations, living in the love He has first shown us from the foundation of the world.
Our Lord has done all this for you so that you would be forgiven, fed, and the Father's child into eternity. He has done so out of His great love for and His Father's mercy on you. One commentator has noted: In St. Luke's Gospel our Savior is pictured as the merciful Physician of bodily and spiritual ills. It has, therefore, been called "the Gospel of mercy and love." The beautiful passages of God's loving-kindness touch us deeply, for example the parables of the prodigal son and the Good Samaritan, the account of the penitent woman, and the good thief on the cross. Of inestimable value are the first two chapters on the incarnation and childhood of Jesus. Here Luke preserved for us the three precious canticles…the Benedictus, the Magnificat, and the Nunc Dimittis. [Parsch]
Yes, my dear Christian friends, this Gospel according to St. Luke, as well as the rest of the Bible, is God's prescription for us. When you go to the pharmacy and get your filled prescriptions, there are directions that tell you how much medicine to take and when to take it. In the Bible, that's the Law. If you don't follow the Great Physician's orders, you will die. But thanks be to God that the Great Physician became our disease, rendering us cured from the sting of sin, death, and the power of the devil! Usually, when you follow the doctor's orders and take your medicine as you should, you feel better. In Scripture, this is the Gospel, except that we are not under doctor's orders, but we have been given the invitation to receive His medicine for our souls, His body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Here at His Table your Lord gives you the elixir of eternal life, His body and blood, given in, with, and under the bread and wine. The Lord is present in His body and blood through these common elements to do extraordinary things. Even as the blessed evangelist St. Luke remained with his partner and mentor, the blessed apostle St. Paul, here, in Word and Sacrament, the Lord be with you, thanks be to God. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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