Sunday, October 18, 2020

Sermon -- Festival of St. Luke, Evangelist (October 18, 2020)

LUKE 1:1-4; LUKE 24:44-53


In the name + of Jesus.

      The Greek poet, Aesop, wrote many fables which were designed to teach lessons.  One example: A crow, having stolen a bit of meat, perched in a tree and held it in her beak.  A fox longed to possess the meat himself, and by a wily plan succeeded.  “How handsome is the crow,” he exclaimed, “in the beauty of her shape and in the fairness of her complexion!  Oh, if her voice were only equal to her beauty, she would deservedly be considered the Queen of the Birds!”  The crow, eager to show off her singing voice, called out a loud caw and dropped the meat.  The fox quickly picked it up, and addressed the crow, “My good crow, your voice is right enough, but your wit is lacking.”  The moral of the story is not to be deceived by flattery.  Aesop may have been good at fables and lessons, but no one will confuse Aesop's story with a historical event. 

     There are many who would reduce the Bible to a series of stories that are no different than Aesop's Fables.  But the Bible is not “Once upon a time in an enchanted kingdom.”  The Bible records historical events with real people who lived in particular places.  It is firmly planted in history.  Our faith is not based on fantasy, but on facts.  While there are many examples of the writers of the Bible pinpointing moments and places in history, there is probably no writer who is more of a historian that the doctor, Luke.

     Luke was closely associated with the apostle Paul, often traveling and serving the church with him.  While Paul was in prison awaiting his execution, Luke was there with him.  It is from the instruction which our Lord gave to St. Paul that Luke recorded his Gospel.  St. Paul, however, was not Luke's only source.  Twice St. Luke noted that, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19), so it is likely that Luke received details about Jesus' birth and youth from his mother.  As a faithful historian, entrusted with recording the life of Jesus, Luke was careful to get it right.  Luke proclaims a real Jesus.

     He says so in his introduction: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)  Although Luke mentions many who have written, the Lord chose to preserve only the writings of Matthew and Mark (John having written later).  Therefore, God guided Luke to record another account of Jesus' words and works.  Luke gives us the most detailed account of Jesus' birth and the only account of Jesus as a boy.  Luke gives us the most accurate starting date to mark John the Baptist's preaching, and therefore also Jesus' ministry.  Luke correctly identifies government titles, military officers, landmarks, weapons, and coinage.  No one who is trying to deceive you would ever be so precise.  One reason, of course, is that the Holy Spirit guided Luke in every word he used.  But another reason is because Luke, the historian, wants you to know that salvation is cemented in history.  Luke proclaims a real Jesus for real sinners.

     Luke, being a doctor, was trained to diagnose illnesses and to prescribe medicines and ointments to deal with them.  In his Gospel, Luke mentioned various diseases and ailments—leprosy, chronic bleeding, paralysis, a withered hand, blindness, and even demon-possession.  When it is claimed that simple-minded people of Jesus' day assumed that every disease and disorder was demon-possession, they fail to note Luke's careful designations.  Even though Luke could label these problems, that did not mean that Luke could heal them.  

     It is all the more true with sin.  It is not hard to see the symptoms of our sin.  They are behaviors which are harmful, hateful, or immoral.  Those symptoms are easier to see in others than in ourselves.  When we commit sins, we do it because we think they are beneficial, not harmful.  We do them because we like them and think we gain something by them.  If we cause pain to someone because we sinned against them, our apology is often, “I am sorry I hurt you.”  It is rare to hear the honest confession, “I was wrong.”  That's because we think we are good and our sins are justified.  But ask anyone you sin against if your sins are real.  The pain, the shame, and the bitterness that sins cause are real.  The diagnosis is obvious: We are all sinners, because sinners do sinful things.  Our offenses against God's Law are, indeed, wicked, but it is the root cause that damns us.  

     If someone had chronic headaches, they would be recognized as symptoms of a greater problem, perhaps a tumor.  A doctor could prescribe limitless supplies of Advil and that would mask the symptom, but it would do nothing for the disease.  The tumor is the real and lethal problem.  Likewise, our sins are symptoms.  We can try to improve our behavior so that we are more kind and more sensitive to others.  While that masks our sinfulness and others would appreciate it, it does not address our underlying problem.  Our real and lethal problem is our sinful condition.  We can label it, but we cannot cure it.  This is why Luke proclaims a real Jesus.  We need a real Savior because sin and death are real.  We are real sinners.  We need a real Savior.  St. Luke proclaims and assures you that you have one.  Jesus is a real Savior for real sinners.

     Shortly before Jesus ascended into heaven, he commissioned his apostles to proclaim to the world all that he taught and did for the salvation of the world.  Jesus told them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48)  St. Luke has recorded the testimony of people who witnessed God in the flesh, who heard the testimony of angels, who saw Jesus perform miraculous signs, who were taught by Jesus about the kingdom of God, who saw him crucified, buried, and risen from the dead.  St. Luke proclaims a real Jesus.

     Luke recorded these things not just so you know your history, but so that you can know your salvation.  Yes, St. Luke proclaims a real Jesus, but he proclaims a real Jesus for real sinners.  Jesus said all of these things were done so that “the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in (Jesus') name to all nations.” (Luke 24:47)  This is the cure for sin and death.  Jesus has come to purify you of all sin and to deliver you out of your sinful condition.  He has taken up your infirmities and sorrows, your sin and your shame, your death and your damnation.  God has never overlooked your sins, instead he became a man to pay for them.  Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin before Caiaphas.  He suffered under Pontius Pilate and was executed by Romans.  He was crucified publicly and confirmed dead.  On the third day after his death, Jesus rose from the grave, producing a scandal and cover-up among his foes and great joy among his friends.  Luke proclaims a real Jesus for real sinners, as none of this was done in secret.

     Since Jesus has risen from the dead, you know that the payment is complete.  Jesus' resurrection proves that God the Father is pleased with Jesus' sacrifice on your behalf.  For this reason, Jesus wants forgiveness proclaimed to the world.  Every infraction against God's Law has been atoned for.  Every sinner who is baptized into Jesus has been covered with Jesus' innocence and purified of all unrighteousness.  St. Luke made a careful investigation in all that Jesus said and did and he has recorded it for you so that you can know with certainty that you have been saved by Jesus.  Luke proclaims a real Jesus for real sinners.

     I suppose some might consider Luke's Gospel redundant or even unnecessary.  As we considered earlier, Matthew and Mark had already written their Gospel accounts.  And much of what Luke recorded they had already covered.  What's more, in his introduction, Luke acknowledged that his friend, Theophilus, had already been taught about Jesus.  If all of these facts are true, why write a third Gospel?

     St. Luke answers: “It seemed good to me … to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:3-4)  We continue to gather together as the friends of God (for that is what “Theophilus” means) to hear the testimony about a real Jesus who brings a real salvation to real sinners.  Sin still plagues us.  Death still bothers us.  Fear and doubt still haunt us.  Our need for comfort and encouragement is constant and real.  God be praised—so are the mercies and promises of Jesus Christ.  

     Luke proclaims a real Jesus for real sinners.  And so, we sit before the pulpit to hear the words of Christ.  We come to the altar to partake in the body of Christ which bore our sins.  We drink the blood of Christ which atones for our guilt.  We are fed the body and blood which have overcome death so that we will receive an eternal life with a real, unending glory.  We come to the sacraments so that we maintain a real connection with Jesus and grow in certainty of his promises.

     For many, eternal life, everlasting peace, and endless glory are fantasies.  Not for you.  They are the promises of God.  They are received by faith, and they will be seen in their realities at the resurrection of the dead.  You have a real Savior who gives you real comfort, hope, and peace.  These are the facts.  St. Luke is your witness.  Jesus is your Savior.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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