“St. Luke’s witness to the Lord Jesus Christ”
Our Patron Saint being St. Luke the Evangelist, whose Festival falls on October 18th, I shall explore some of the priorities associated with this saint.
First, he is one of the Four Evangelists, or authors of the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament. The Gospel according to St. Luke begins with a statement of the writer’s awareness that he is not the first writer to document the narrative of the events of the Gospel, for in Luke 1:1, we read, “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us” (NKJV). At the time St. Luke wrote, there were many accounts of the Gospel, even if now, in our Bible, we have only four Gospels. What happened to all those other Gospel narratives? We do not know. Either the Church regarded them as apocryphal, or they did not survive in manuscript form. In his second introductory statement, St. Luke implies that he is himself not one of the original Apostles and eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, but one of those to whom the “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:2, NKJV) delivered their testimony to the Gospel. Nevertheless, St. Luke acknowledges that from the first he has had a complete understanding of the Gospel events, enabling him to write “an orderly account” (Luke 1:3, NKJV). What this also tells us is that St. Luke was concerned to write an accurate, historically true Gospel narrative – he doesn’t want to convey any untrue information or put any distorting spin on the truth of the Gospel. Finally, his writing has an immediate purpose: he is concerned that the person of status whom he calls “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:3, NKJV), who might have been a Roman government official, but recently instructed in the Christian faith, might know for certain the facts of the Gospel which he has been taught (Luke 1:4). Of course, it was not only Theophilus who benefitted from receiving this written record of the Gospel, but many others with whom it was shared and among whom it was circulated, including us who have received it as one of the books of our Bible.
The first four verses of St. Luke’s Gospel account depict a saint who realizes that though he is not the only author of a gospel, he yet has a purpose in reflecting the historical truths of the Lord Jesus Christ’s life and teaching, as well as his passion, death, resurrection and ascension, and making an accurate record of these for the purpose of confirming someone’s instruction in the faith, a record that will be helpful for all who convert to the Christian faith or who have been taught it from their youth. What we learn from St. Luke’s firm purpose to write his Gospel in order to reflect the historical and theological truths of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Gospel, so that even one Christian might have a firm grasp of his faith, is that we should ourselves have a firm purpose to know our faith, above all to know our Lord Jesus Christ, to know the Gospel by reading, learning, studying and obeying it, so that we may deliver it accurately to those with whom we share our faith. How important it is to have this steadfast resolve to know the truth of the Gospel and communicate it in a world in which so many people are Biblically illiterate, with no knowledge of the Bible or the Gospel, and a world in which so much sin and evil abound!
One of the greatly encouraging themes of the Gospel according to St. Luke is the role of the Holy Spirit. In this Gospel, the Holy Spirit is closely linked to both prophecy and the advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as to the proclamation of the Gospel after the Lord’s ascension into heaven. For example, we read that John the Baptist will be filled with the Holy Spirit “even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15c, NKJV). The Holy Spirit enabled John the Baptist to speak as a prophet, as more than a prophet, as the forerunner of the Messiah, calling people to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. The Holy Spirit causes the Blessed Virgin Mary to conceive Jesus Christ, so that Jesus is called the Son of God ((Luke 1:35). When St. Mary visited Elizabeth, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit blessed Mary with this benediction:
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.
(Luke 1:42b-45, NKJV)
In the power of the same Holy Spirit, St. Mary utters the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) glorifying God not only for doing great things for her, but for remembering his covenant with Israel and exalting the humble while putting down the mighty. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is associated with prophecy in this Gospel account of St. Luke, and it is clear from St. Luke’s narrative that these prophetic messages are inspired by the Holy Spirit and relate to the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to the significance of his coming and of his mission, as well as to the coming of St. John the Baptist. In this Gospel, ordinary people receive and share these prophetic messages by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In St. Luke’s view, prophecy is by no means restricted to the recorded writings of the Old Testament prophets. The first two chapters of the Gospel are testimony to the role of the Holy Spirit in inspiring prophecy in various individuals who were looking forward to the coming of Christ. The descent of the Holy Spirit in bodily form on Jesus after his Baptism (Luke 1:22) demonstrates Jesus Christ is God’s beloved Son, and that Has the fullness of the Holy Spirit and himself baptizes with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:16c). It also confirms the witness of Hebrews 1:2 that in these last times, God has spoken to us through his Son.
Besides this emphasis on the Holy Spirit, at least in the early chapters of St. Luke’s Gospel, there is an emphasis on people of all classes and nations coming into God’s kingdom, and the Gospel being for them all. Consider the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-34), in which it is the Samaritan who shows neighborly love to the man beaten and wounded by robbers. This surely excludes exclusivism of any kind in our treatment of others. As for those who rejected certain classes of Jewish society as sinners, the Parables of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7), the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10), and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) reveal God’s love for the lost and his will for each one to return to him, a love that is shown in Jesus’ associating with sinners instead of keeping aloof from them.
The healing ministry of Jesus, including forgiveness, loom large in St. Luke’s portrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ, as does the Lord’s teaching on generosity to the poor, and the danger of hoarding wealth instead of using it to help others, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) illustrating this.
Perhaps a verse near the end of St. Luke’s Gospel sheds light on one of the great truths St. Luke communicates about Jesus. After the resurrection of Jesus, we encounter these words: “And he opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45, NKJV). The Old Testament Scriptures that are full of prophecies about the Lord Jesus Christ have to be understood, if we are to preach or share the Gospel effectively. For example, in witnessing to Jewish people, it may be helpful to know the important passages that contain prophecies of the Messiah, his passion, death, and resurrection. The Lord Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, opens people’s minds to understand the Bible, and being baptized with the Holy Spirit empowers Christians for service and witness.
The witness of St. Luke in his Gospel is not static, but dynamic. Here we do not have a faith that is intended to stagnate or sink into oblivion, but it must be living, powerful and active in every Christian’s life. Such a faith must be reflected in our lives, as must be the presence of the Holy Spirit.