Guest Pastor James Krikava preached this sermon on the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist 10/18/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: StLuke Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Feast of St. Luke, click here.
A Sermon on the Gospel for St. Luke, Evangelist
Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and from the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Word of God, upon which we would like to meditate on this 18th day of October, the Feast of St. Luke, the Evangelist, is the Gospel heard this day, in which Jesus sent out the 72.
In the name of Jesus, dear fellow redeemed:
Last week FLC observed the 18th Sunday after Trinity, with preaching on the Gospel in which Jesus is quizzed by the Pharisees on the great commandment of the law and on the question: Who is the Christ? By the calendar, today would be the 19th Sunday after Trinity. But because this Sunday falls on the very day of the Feast of St. Luke, you might say, the feast day trumps the regular Sunday. However, of the Sundays after Trinity, the 19th Sunday was one that our Lutheran forefathers were careful not to omit. Therefore, I want to draw that gospel into St. Luke’s festival gospel today.
The Gospel for Trinity 19 is Jesus’ miracle of the healing of the paralytic. In one way or other all four gospels include it. Matthew, whose gospel tends to appeal to a Jewish audience and emphasizes Old Testament prophesy and fulfillment, is brief, leaving out the friends who lowered the paralytic down through the roof before, but including a notable addition from the others in the last verse: “When the crowds saw it (i.e., the forgiving of sins and the healing), …they glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8). We’ll get back to that in a bit.
Mark’s gospel, with his flare for the dramatic and appealing to a Gentile audience, places the miracle already in his second chapter at the end of a long string of miracles; like a bombastic climax or cymbal crash at the end of a movement within a long and involved symphonic work. By this Mark denotes what an amazing miracle this one was. As if to say, “Listen up! Take heed! This one is a doozy!”
St. Luke, whose day we are observing, includes it too. But the aim of his gospel is not fanfare like Mark, but more of a linear approach like the performance of a whole symphony from beginning to end, as he says in his introduction, “… it seemed good to me … to write an orderly account … that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:3-4).
St. John’s gospel doesn’t actually mention the event at all. But remember, John’s gospel is more of a theological exposition of the life, person, and work of Jesus, and he certainly does not omit the theology embedded in this miracle. The very institution of the preaching office, which chiefly consists of forgiving sins, is found large in John’s gospel. Remember from John what Jesus said to His disciples after His resurrection: “‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld’” (John 20:21-23). That’s what Matthew was getting at in his account of the crowd’s reaction to the forgiving and healing of the paralytic: “they glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8); not just to this man, Jesus, in the singular, but to men, in the plural, looking ahead to a fulfillment in the preaching office to be instituted later.
Matthew prophesies it, Mark punctuates it, and John nails it down with Jesus sending His disciples into the world with the authority to forgive sins, even as our dear St. Luke picks this up today when Jesus says to the 72: “The one who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16). And what are they to say? “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him.” This excerpt resonates with the four-part harmony sung by the four Evangelists. It’s music to our ears! So, as we remember with love and thanksgiving for St. Luke, the Evangelist, let’s have a look at the sending of the 72 as we too glorify God, filled with awe at the extraordinary things we have seen, that
God Has Given Such Authority to Men!
As a missionary of 16 years in the formerly communist country of Czechoslovakia, this gospel is particularly meaningful to me. Our experience on the mission field was not exactly like this one, but it still served me well. For one thing, I wasn’t sent out two by two; finances had something to do with that. The first year, just 6 months after the Velvet Revolution, my family and I were thrust into a mission field no one knew much about, except that it was known as the country with the highest percentage of avowed atheists in the world. We were all alone to set up a Lutheran mission that a second missionary would join a year later. We quickly learned the wisdom of sending out the 72, two by two. We were lonely. We faced many obstacles in getting a foothold. No internet; no GPS; and we had to adjust to the culture and language without another missionary to share our woes and frustrations. We welcomed the camaraderie of a second missionary family during the second year. Jesus was wise.
The sending out of the 72, two by two, is a kind of prototype of the preaching office Christ would establish for all time. But, like most prototypes, the sending of the 72 was not the final product as instituted by Christ by the end of the New Testament, and especially at the end of John’s gospel that we heard a minute ago. For example, with the sending of the 72, Jesus not only tells them to speak the word of “peace” and proclaim to them “The kingdom of God has come near to you,” but at the end he also commands them to “heal the sick.” This is quite Lukan with his linear approach to his gospel. You could think of this sending as the first exposition of the theme, to be fleshed out over time from its nascent form to its full blown finale.
This brings up a very important concept for understanding the bible generally. Luther discusses it in his little work called, How the Christian Should Regard Moses, where he takes on the fanatics of his day who were destroying images in churches, rabble rousing, and stirring up revolt against the princes, and other such things claiming Moses as their justification for doing so. But Luther makes the observation that is borne out in the Small Catechism’s first part on the 10 commandments. Maybe you have noticed that in the catechism the first commandment does not include that part of Exodus 20 that says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything” (Exodus 20:4). And Luther’s German version of the 3rd Commandment is not the direct quote from Moses, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8), but simply “You shall sanctify the holy day” (SC I, 3rd Com).
Why do you suppose he did this? He appeals to St. Paul’s words to the Galatians: “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law” (Galatians 5:3). He is saying to those Judaizers, as he called them, who still insisted on circumcision commanded by Moses to Israel only, but not to the Gentiles and all those of the New Testament era. The same with dietary restrictions, festivals, new moons and sabbaths (cf. Colossians 2:16), the levirate law, requiring the brother of a deceased man who has no son to marry his brother’s widow, tithing as a governmental requirement, etc.
So, why does Luther deal with the rest of the 10 commandments without change since they too were given to the Jews only? Luther’s answer: “Now this is the first thing that I ought to see in Moses, namely, the commandments to which I am not bound except insofar as they are [implanted in everyone] by nature [and written in everyone’s heart]” (LW 35:168 NOTE: the bracketed phrases in this paragraph are from the version given in the 1528 Exposition of the Ten Commandments. WA 16,380, II. 26,31). The fanatics of Luther’s day wanted to pick and choose those parts of Moses by which they wanted to bind men’s consciences. That’s why even today you rarely find a crucifix displayed that in Protestant Reformed or Baptist churches. Christ hanging on the cross is considered by them to be a graven image of a creature and therefore a sin against the first commandment. So, they favor the vacant cross, if even that. Yet, how often do we tend to go along with such thinking? But Luther said to them, “If that’s what you think of Moses then you’d better go out and circumcise yourselves as well.” And on and on we could go.
Now, what does all of this have to do with the sending of the 72? What Luther says of Moses applies even more broadly. As Luther shows, it is not only important WHAT the bible says, but it is just important TO WHOM it is said. Is it said only to the Jews and not the Gentiles? Is it commanded only to the 72 or only the apostles and not to whole Christian Church? Here remember, Moses doesn’t give only commandments to Israel. He also does speak of things that apply to all people, Jew and Gentile alike; “extraordinary things” as Luke calls them in the healing of the paralytic. These are the revelatory promises of God to the whole world. The very first promise of the Messiah and Savior of the world was not given to Israel alone. It was given to all mankind. Long before there was a Moses or an Israel, to Adam and Eve after the Fall God gave all mankind the promise of the coming Christ, as He said to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He (the Christ) shall bruise your head, and you (Satan) shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). You will inflict on Him the pain of the cross and death, but He will overcome and rise from death and the grave as though your bruising was nothing but a scratch. He will crush you and your kingdom of darkness and reign as the King of kings forever; as Isaiah says of Him who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary of the root of Jesse: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Was this promise given only to Israel? Of course not. The whole Old Testament repeats this promise not exclusively to Israel but universally to all the nations and peoples of the world. See how St. Paul cites Isaiah: “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope” (Romans 15:12).
This mission and ministry to the whole world is unfolding in the sending of the 72. There are things commanded to them only and are not universal: e.g., “two by two” – that might be a wise and good idea, but it is not part of Christ’s command to the whole Christian Church on earth. Even the healing of the sick belongs only to the 72 and later to the apostles, but not to Christ’s command to the whole Christian Church on earth. It belonged to the fulfillment of the Messianic prophesy of Jesus, which should be marked by this sign.
Our Lutheran forefathers were careful to take into the preaching office only those things actually commanded by Christ to the Church Universal and not the things given to the apostles only, or, in our text, the 72. E.g., speaking of the Lord’s Supper, Luther once said that if we only had Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s accounts of the Lord’s Supper in the gospels, we would not celebrate the Sacrament today, because there it was given only to the twelve in the upper room. We celebrate the Sacrament because of St. Paul’s iteration of it: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread” (1 Corinthians 11:23), etc. Only here is it clear that this is instituted by Christ for the Church of all time, yes, even for you, for the forgiveness of sins.
In the sending of the 72, however, universals are found as well. First, Jesus “sent them on ahead of him… into every town and place where he himself was about to go.” What is Luke getting at here? Again, what did Jesus tell these disciples as he sent them out? “The one who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16). The answer comes fully fleshed out in Luke on the road to Emmaus: “that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).
The preaching of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” is where Jesus himself goes. He is the real voice speaking through the disciple’s mouth. He told the 72, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’” And remember what Jesus said to his disciples at the end of John’s Gospel: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” Why? Because “he who hears you hears me.” And what are they to hear? Here with the 72 Jesus says, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!” And what is that peace? It is the peace of sins forgiven for Jesus’ sake.
And let’s not forget that this forgiveness comes in more than one way. As Luther says in his own last will and testament, enshrined in that confession of the Lutheran Church: “The Gospel offers council and help against sin in more than one way, for God is surpassingly rich in his grace: first, through the spoken word, by which the forgiveness of sin… is preached to the whole world; second, through Baptism; third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar; fourth, through the power of the keys; and finally, through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren. Matt. 18:20, ‘Where two are gathered… in my name, [there am I in the midst of them]’” (SA:III:IV, Tappert, 310).
All of this is wrapped up in the TOWN and PLACE where Jesus himself goes. All of this is wrapped up in the PEACE brought to this house. This is what draws you here. You are baptized for the forgiveness of sins. You hear the word of the Gospel preached into your ears in this place as it rings out to the congregation. And going back to the healing of the paralytic, this is place where you can hear the same Gospel of forgiveness of sins spoken to you personally and individually in private confession.
Remember, the Lutheran church upholds this divine forum of pastor and penitent where Jesus is the speaker, as if you were that paralytic lowered down through the roof in front of Jesus for that special comfort of the absolution Christ gives in this special forum. As we believe, teach and confess with our Lutheran forefathers, “Our churches teach that private absolution should be retained in the churches… Our people are taught to esteem absolution highly because it is the voice of God and is pronounced by God’s command… The power of the keys is praised, and people are reminded of the great consolation it brings to terrified consciences, are told to believe such absolution as God’s own voice heard from heaven, and are assured that such faith truly obtains and receives the forgiveness of sins (AC XI and XXV). And Fr. Martin, in a sermon on Confession and Absolution, once preached:
I will allow no man to take private confession away from me, and I would not give it up for all the treasures in the world, since I know what comfort and strength it has given me. No one knows what it can do for him except one who has struggled often and long with the devil. Yea, the devil would have slain me long ago, if the confession had not sustained me. For there are many doubtful matters which a man cannot resolve or find the answer to by himself, and so he takes his brother aside and tells him his trouble. What harm is there if he humbles himself a little before his neighbor, puts himself to shame, looks for a word of comfort from him, accepts it, and believes it, as if he were hearing it from God himself, as we read in Matthew [18:19] “If two of you agree about anything they ask, it will be done for them” (The 8th Sermon, March 16, 1522, Reminiscere Sunday).
And last but not least this is what makes you come here to receive Christ’s body and blood, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sins. Is this not what John means when he says of Christ: “For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16). That’s what Luther means when he states what the preaching office gives, “God is surpassingly rich in his grace”(SA:III:IV, Tappert, 310).
This is what makes you care for your dear pastor James and his family by providing him a living so that he can care for your souls. This is what makes you defend this ministry and congregation, even as we are still like lambs in the midst of wolves, who would silence the Lord’s voice in your midst. This is what makes you a partner in sending other mission-pastors into the unbelieving world with the gospel. But the fight is worth it, for the dividends are great and eternal. And this is what makes you sons and daughters of peace, for you welcome that peace to this house and you pay it forward to others that they might become houses of peace with you.
This is how we commemorate the dear Evangelist St. Luke. For the Holy Spirit Himself has caused him to write for us these extraordinary things we have seen in his gospel and all the gospels, and still see them through this word, which lives in our midst through the Gospel and the Sacraments. Yes, like the crowd gathered around that paralytic, we too can marvel “that we have seen [the] extraordinary things” Luke tells us about. The Lord continues to appoint pastors and teachers and sends them out through His Church to go where Christ himself goes. For, as Jesus says here in Luke, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” And then marvel and glorify God, who has given such authority to men! Amen.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.
Arise and receive the apostolic blessing:
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.