The Kingdom is Near

Text: Luke 10:1-9

Today we are celebrating a holiday called the Feast of St. Luke. Often, a feast day is what we would otherwise call a Church Holiday. For example, we can also call Easter the Feast of our Lord’s Resurrection. The Church also sets aside other days throughout the year where we remember and give thanks to God for particular servants who have gone ahead of us in the faith. Usually these feast days mark the day of their death, but in one case we mark a birth – the birth of John the Baptist is celebrated June 24th; feast days also can be celebrated on important days in someone’s life – for example we celebrate the conversion of St. Paul on January 25th. Other days fall into use over the course of time without a specific reason, or the reason is unknown to us now. Such, it is with St. Luke. (You can find these dates, by the way, in the front of our hymnal.)

On October 18th, we remember St. Luke and give thanks to God. We give thanks, first, that St. Luke received God’s grace through faith and – with us – is awaiting the Resurrection of the Dead. We also give thanks for the good witness we receive through St. Luke. We will see today how he devoted his life to the spread of Christ’s Gospel. The color red on the altar also speaks to the fact that Luke was called to suffer for his faith. Today we ask of the Lord that, as He called and strengthened St. Luke for the one purpose of spreading His Gospel, so also would He grant that we be faithful and constant witnesses to the world, proclaiming that His kingdom is near in Christ. 

I.

But, who is St. Luke? Likely, all of us recognize him as the human author of the third Gospel. We might also remember that in addition to the Gospel, St. Luke is also the author of the book of Acts. Whereas the Gospel was more concerned directly with all things that Jesus did and taught, Acts is concerned with the things He did and taught through the Apostles. Combined, they make up nearly a quarter of the New Testament, more than any other single author. Beyond this, there is more we can learn about and from St. Luke. The first mention of St. Luke, chronologically, is in St. Paul’s letter to Philemon, where he wrote, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.” (Philemon 23-24 English Standard Version) St. Paul mentions him in similar fashion to the Colossians, saying, “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you…Luke the beloved physician greets you.” (Col. 4:12, 14) So far, we know that Luke was a fellow worker with Paul and a physician by trade.

The context of Paul’s letter to the Colossians indicates that Luke was by birth a Gentile. That means that he was not born believing in God nor even part of His chosen people. Tradition dating back to the second century is that Luke was born and raised in Antioch in Syria. What we know from Scripture is that Luke encountered Paul on his second missionary journey when he came through a city called Troas. Luke heard the preaching of Christ through Paul and was brought to faith by the Holy Spirit. It is in that chapter of Acts that many passages change from “they,” to “we.” This shows that from that point on, Luke was an eyewitness of events and experienced them with St. Paul. Luke travelled with Paul as far as Philippi and stayed there for seven years, preaching and teaching. When Paul came through on his way to Jerusalem with the collection for the poor, he picked up Luke. From then on, they were together.

Luke was with St. Paul in Jerusalem when the Jews rioted and tried to kill him. He was there when Paul was taken into custody, first in Jerusalem and then in Caesarea. Luke travelled with Paul to Rome and remained with him there. Although Acts ends with Paul being released, later on Paul was imprisoned in Rome a second (and last time). St. Paul bore witness in our Epistle today that, at that last imprisonment, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me.” (2 Tim. 4:10-11) Though Luke was not himself an eyewitness of Christ, in his travels he was able to interview many who were, likely including the rest of the Apostles in Jerusalem. It is his closeness with St. Paul that grants his Gospel its apostolic character. When Paul at times mentions his Gospel, it’s possible he was talking about the writing of Luke.

After St. Paul’s martyrdom we lose track of St. Luke. Early tradition of the Church is that Luke went to Greece and remained there until the end of his life. Most witnesses say that he preached and taught until he was 84 and then died; some say that he himself was martyred. He was buried in a city called Thebes. His bones still exist and are housed there at a church in Thebes, and a few other places. Today, we remember St. Luke and give thanks to God that, by His grace, Luke was called to faith in Christ. We are thankful that, through St. Luke, the Lord sent to us and all the world the saving Word of the Gospel.

II.

We celebrate feast days not just to give thanks to God but also so that we might learn from the example of those who have gone ahead of us in the faith. But, what can we learn from the example of St. Luke? We heard in the Gospel how our Lord sent out the seventy-two. St. Luke tells us that the Lord sent them, “ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where He Himself was about to go.” (Luke 10:1) The instructions He gave them might sound odd and laborious to us – they weren’t supposed to carry any money, bags, no extra shoes. They were to stay where people would have them and eat what was put before them. These things testified to the seriousness and urgency of their call, to proclaim in each house and town, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (v. 7)

In a way, St. Luke was one to hear that call. The Holy Spirit called him to faith through the preaching of St. Paul and, from that moment, he dedicated his life to spreading the Good News that, in Christ, death is defeated and sins are forgiven. He worked tirelessly to gather reports from eyewitnesses of Christ so that we can have an orderly and factual account of things that Jesus said and did. He remained a faithful companion to St. Paul, even through the toughest times and after all others had left him. All told, he devoted everything for more than a half-century to this single purpose: that you and me might know the love of Christ and, in Him, have life and light.

Our prayer to God this day, on the Feast of St. Luke, should be that we, also, would receive the call of Christ with the same seriousness and urgency. As we know, our times are not so different from St. Luke’s. We also live in a time where the world is filled with sinful behaviors and unbelief, but also with those who are burdened with sorrow and sadness. Christ came so that those burdens might be made light through faith, so that the whole world – including those in our own cities – might receive the forgiveness of sins through faith. But, how are they to believe unless they hear, and how are they to hear unless we speak? The Lord grant us a steadfast faith and willingness, like St. Luke, to dedicate our lives and talents to the single purpose of proclaiming His Good News to this world.

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