Sermon Text: Luke 1:1-4; 24:44-53
Date: October 17 & 18, 2015
The Festival of St. Luke, Evangelist
Luke 1:1–4; 24:44-53 (NIV84)
1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 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, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
44 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.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 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.”
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
We Can Be Certain!
Festival Sundays surrounding a prominent figure from church history, biblical or otherwise, is always a delicate balancing act. Whether we are speaking about Martin Luther’s work at a Reformation celebration later this month or a festival like we have before us today, celebrating the work of the Evangelist Luke, we are very careful to make clear that we are not merely celebrating or even going to the extreme of worshipping the human being. No, our celebrations are always a celebration of the work that God did through these people, even as he does his work today through us. So we gather together this morning to celebrate the work of the author of the third the Gospel as they are ordered in the New Testament, Luke.
Luke, we know from Paul’s letter to the Colossians was a doctor. Other than that we don’t know too much about his history or personal life or even when he became a Christian. He wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts as two companion volumes that are joined together, hinged at the ascension of Jesus.
What we can say for certain is that Luke was not one of the 12 disciples. Some have speculated that perhaps Luke is the unnamed of the two disciples who, unaware, met with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus on Easter afternoon and evening because Luke is the only Gospel that clearly fleshes out that meeting (though the Gospel of Mark seems to make a passing reference to it [Mark 16:12-13]). From what he says in the opening verses of his Gospel, recorded for us in our lesson for this morning, it would appear that Luke was not a Christian from the earliest stages of Jesus’ ministry.
As such, Luke’s Gospel perhaps gives us the one of the clearest pictures of research ahead of writing a book of the Bible. His Gospel offers a unique perspective. It is speculated that Luke, when putting together his “careful investigation” with those who were “first eyewitnesses” spoke with and interviewed people who had been there from the beginning. That could be a reason that Luke’s Gospel offers a viewpoint so focused on Mary’s experiences when dealing with Jesus’ early life. Luke very likely could have interviewed Mary before he wrote it down.
Years after Jesus’ ministry, by the time the apostle Paul is beginning his second missionary journey, Luke is there to help him and assist in his work. From Acts we surmise that Luke traveled and worked with Paul for about seven years, and then rejoined him later on his way to Jerusalem, and seems to have been with Paul continually until Paul’s death at the hands of emperor Nero.
What should be clear from all of this is that Luke was a vital helper for Paul’s work (whom Paul lists as his and the Colossians’ “dear friend” [Colossians 4:14]), an instrument of the Gospel, and servant of our Savior Jesus. Though Luke, God has given us not only another perspective on Jesus’ life, ministry, and work to secure our salvation, but also gave us a detailed history of the early Christian church, centering on the early work of Peter and John and concluding with the later work of Paul.
Luke has a very clear emphasis and purpose in writing these things down and recording what he’s seen and heard. He writes these two books to his friend Theophilus to “write an orderly account… that [he] may know the certainty of the things [he had] been taught.”
While the original intent of Luke’s work was to encourage Theophilus, God had much bigger and broader plans for his work. Luke joins Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, John, Peter, and all of the other faithful people through whom God recorded his flawless Word. By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the work of Luke wasn’t just right and accurate because he carefully investigated everything and was convinced he had done accurate research and was told the truth by eyewitnesses of things he himself did not see. Luke was right and accurate because Holy Spirit corrected any errors and insured that what was written down was not just the words of a faithful, yet sinful, man—it was actually the very Word of God.
What brings you certainty in what you believe about God? Is it because you were taught by the best of the best? Is it because your pastors have been such amazing men teaching and preaching so well? If our certainty is based on people, if our confidence comes because of a sinful human being’s good work, we’re in trouble. What happens when the flaws of that individual are exposed? What happens if, God-forbid, the person you respected so highly falls into public sin and thus disqualifies himself for the ministry. What if that teacher or pastor simply takes a call and serves elsewhere? If your confidence is locked in that individual person, you’re in trouble.
Why did Luke write his Gospel and Acts for Theophilus? It wasn’t so that Theophilus would have more confidence and certainty in Luke; it was so he would have more confidence and certainty in God. And that’s what God’s Word does. Whether through the pens of the prophets or apostles, evangelists or psalm writers, God works faith and sustains faith through his Word. Without the Word faith is dying; with the Word faith is vibrant and alive, receiving the blessings of God and trusting him to fulfill his promises. And so we want our confidence and certainty to come from what God has said and done, not people. We want it to be God’s promises and his clear Word to be what comforts us—not just the way someone else might have explained it to us. Through his Word God grants that certainty as he did for Luke.
So we want to be in church to hear God’s Word, not just on occasion, not just enough to keep a pestering pastor off our back, but regularly because we know how important it is to our eternal, spiritual health. We want to be surrounded by God’s Word regularly in our homes on a daily basis. We want to talk about these things with our family, our friends, and our fellow Christians, to build one another up in our faith through the very Word of God.
That certainty produces the most amazing things in our lives. In our lesson we jump from the introductory verses of Luke’s Gospel to the very last verses of his Gospel, to Jesus’ ascension. In his parting words to his disciples, Jesus reminds them that absolutely everything went according to plan. “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” He opened their minds so that they could (finally) understand the necessity and the results of all that Jesus did. Through his working in their hearts, the disciples understood how in need they were for a Savior and that Jesus was the Savior they needed. All that happened to him was to fulfill his Father’s will, to accomplish the forgiveness of sins for all mankind, to forgive even the disciples’ sins. So they knew, then, that even after they had run away from him, denied him, doubted him, they were forgiven. Eternal life was theirs because of Jesus’ complete payment for sin on the cross. They could be certain that they were God’s children.
That’s the same message Luke would have heard perhaps from Jesus but certainly from the apostles. It’s the same message that he wrote down for Theophilus and that by God’s grace has been passed down to us. Luke’s sins were gone; Theophilus’ sins were gone; our sins are gone.
Notice what Luke records the disciples did because of that: Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. Joy filled the disciples’ heart so completely that they couldn’t keep it in. They were publicly praising and teaching about Jesus in the temple. After Pentecost they would officially go out as messengers of the good news of reconciliation in Jesus.
The faith worked in our heart, the certainty that comes through the same Word of God, has the same effect on us. We cannot help but be overjoyed in what God has done for us. We were lost in sin, condemned to eternal death and God has rescued us from all of that. We now belong to him; we are safe and secure.
Our rejoicing will take many forms; our certainty brings many results. We rejoice in and praise God, both privately and publicly, as the disciples did. As we do that, we want to make sure that those who hear us and hear of our faith understand what Jesus has done for us—because he’s done the same thing for them too. We support the work of our congregation here. We have an ambitious ministry plan for a congregation of our size, supporting an elementary school and three full-time called workers. But together we’ve made our plan and together we will execute that plan. You may have seen that our general fund has been a bit anemic lately. If you haven’t already done so, driven by the joy that comes from the certainty in Jesus’ love and forgiveness for us, prayerfully consider whether you might be able to support our unified work more robustly with your time, prayers, and offerings, so that we can be more confident as we move ahead with our work even as we are supremely confident in what God has done for us.
In the end, we draw our eternal confidence from the same place that the evangelist Luke did and where Christians of all time have: the flawless Word of God. Know this for certain: your sins are forgiven in the blood of Jesus. By your baptism you are a dearly-loved child of God, an heir in his family. You will be his and he will be yours forever! Amen.