St. Luke the Evangelist – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: 1 Timothy 4:5-15
In Christ Jesus, who heals the deep wounds of our sin through the holy Gospel of His forgiveness, dear fellow redeemed:
The apostle Paul wrote the words of today’s text from a prison in Rome. He was nearing the end of his life, and he knew it. It had been a hard life. Paul described some of those hardships in a letter to the church in Corinth: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; … in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2Co. 11:24-25,27).
In other words, Paul needed a good doctor. And he had one. As Paul languished in that prison, he wrote, “Luke alone is with me.” Luke was of Gentile background and may have first met Paul in Antioch, where Paul set off on each of his missionary journeys. Luke joined Paul during his second journey and again on his third journey. Paul referred to him as “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14).
But we have reason to question Luke’s aptitude as a doctor. He watched Paul endure great physical violence and pain for preaching the Gospel. If Paul didn’t stop, he could very well lose his life. What kind of doctor sits by and watches this happen to his patient? Doesn’t a good doctor urge the patient to avoid the things that are causing physical harm?
Luke did not do this, but it wasn’t because he was a poor doctor. Luke believed there was something more important than the care of the body, and that is the care of the soul. Paul had to carry on his mission work, even if it should lead to his death. The salvation of countless souls depended on it. So Luke did what he could to address Paul’s physical wounds, but the greatest help he provided Paul was spiritual.
You can hear Paul’s distress in his letter to Timothy. “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone,” he said. Crescens had gone. Titus had gone. He had sent Tychicus away. A coppersmith named Alexander had done him great harm and had strongly opposed Paul’s preaching and teaching. When he was put on trial, Paul wrote that “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (2Ti. 4:16).
Paul had been all alone, but then Luke came. A movie was released two years ago that imagines the conversations between Paul and Luke in prison. It’s called Paul, Apostle of Christ and would be worth your time to watch. Luke was well-equipped to encourage and comfort Paul because he had done extensive research into the life and teaching of Jesus. At the beginning of his Gospel, Luke stated the purpose for the writing: “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” (1:3-4).
Luke wrote so that Theophilus might have certainty, but Luke’s Gospel was for more than just Theophilus. Luke’s Gospel was for Paul’s certainty, for your certainty, and for my certainty. The four Gospels were all inspired by the Holy Spirit, but God used different authors to write for different audiences. The Gospel of the Gentile Luke was written for a Gentile audience. Just as Paul’s mission was to preach the Gospel to all the nations, so Luke’s Gospel was meant to be read by all the nations.
During Paul’s suffering and imprisonment, Luke was able to remind him of the never-changing love of God in Christ. In his younger years, Paul had been opposed to Jesus. He approved of the arrest and murder of Christians. He thought he was doing the Lord’s work but was actually doing the devil’s. Later on he stated that he “persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Gal. 1:13). There was blood on Paul’s hands. Imagine how Luke might have comforted him as Paul thought of the horrible things he had done.
Luke might have reminded him about the account of the Good Samaritan (Luk. 10:25-37). Jesus, like the Good Samaritan, came to Paul on the side of the road and healed his wounded soul with His Word of grace and forgiveness. Or Luke might have shared Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep, where the Good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and looks for the one that was lost (15:1-7). Or the parable of the prodigal son, where the Father welcomes home his wayward child and forgives all wrongs (15:11-32).
Paul could have related to Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector, which only Luke recorded. The Pharisee went to the temple to boast about how righteous and faithful he was, like Paul who used to think that about himself. But God humbled him like the tax collector and gave him faith to believe that he was forgiven and righteous before God because of what Jesus had done for him (18:9-14).
Paul needed these reminders of God’s grace as all of us do. God sent Luke to do this for Paul as a brother in faith, as a compassionate friend. Luke was an “evangelist”—he was a “bringer of good news.” God likewise calls you to bring the good news to others. This world needs good news. Most of the news we hear is bad news. Every day, we hear about disagreements, divisions, and hatred. We hear about sicknesses, injuries, and death. We hear about hardships, deep hurts, and pain.
There’s no getting around the fact that sin has saturated this world, and that the devil is doing his best to sow wickedness and chaos wherever he can. We see that happening in the current political scene today. If you think the devil is only working on the other side and that your side is pure in all its motives and policies, you are mistaken. The devil is an equal opportunity adversary. He wants all of us to hate one another, attack one another, and think we are better than each other.
But all of us have failed to keep God’s Law. We have wounded one another with our hurtful words and actions, and where we have done well, we have not given all glory to God. It is crucial that we recognize this. The patient does himself no favors if he ignores a health condition or lies to his doctor. Just because a doctor is not informed about a health condition does not mean there is no problem.
You and I do have a problem. It’s a problem that causes death and not just the death of the body. We can try to cover up its symptoms. We can try to act like it isn’t there. But if our inner sinfulness is not addressed, it will overcome us and suffocate our soul. The first step is admitting the problem—not pointing out other people’s sins but acknowledging your own. The world would look a lot different if everyone did this.
Repentance requires humility, and humble people can work through their disagreements. But the proud have no love for others. The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled that Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luk. 5:31-32). Do you see what that means? It means that if you own up to your sick spiritual condition, a Physician is here to save you.
Jesus is that Physician. We know that He was able to overcome physical illnesses. He healed people time after time during His three years of public work on earth. There was no end to the sick who came looking for Jesus. He laid His hands on these people and healed them (Luk. 4:40). Luke tells us that some were even healed by touching Him, “for power came out from him” (6:19). No problem was too great for Him, whether diseases, plagues, or evil spirits (7:21).
His purpose in this healing was to reveal who He was, the Messiah. He did not come simply to be a healer of the body; He came to save souls. His purpose was to get to the root of our problem. He came to spare us from the punishment we deserved by being punished Himself. He came to stop our bleeding by shedding His own precious blood. Sin was the deadly infection, but Jesus’ holy life and atoning death were the perfect cure. Certain death was the prognosis, but Jesus’ resurrection changed our outcome to life.
Jesus is the medicine that saves us from our spiritual sickness. He cleanses our diseased hearts through the waters of holy Baptism and puts in our starving mouths the nourishing food and drink of His holy body and blood. He speaks powerful promises into our ears, “I have good news for you!” He says. “Your sins are all forgiven! You will not die, but live! I am the Great Physician; I know what I am saying. I do not lie.”
We need this good news, and so do all who are spiritually sick. The side effects of our sinful condition are many. Many things cause pain and distress in this world. And the Lord knows the suffering of every heart and soul. He wants to apply the healing grace of His Word, so that despair turns into hope and sorrow turns into joy.
Just as Luke proclaimed The Holy Gospel, which Heals the Hurting Soul, we declare the same Gospel to one another, both to those who believe and those we pray will believe in the future. We want all to join Luke and Paul and us in fighting the good fight, finishing the race, and keeping the faith. We want all to know that there is salvation for sinners, and that on the last day, the Lord promises to give “the crown of righteousness” to all who trust in Him.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from 15th century Greek painting of St. Luke)
The First Sunday in Lent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 4:1-11
In Christ Jesus, who bore the dreadful curse of sin and death to save our souls, dear fellow redeemed:
What if there was a way for your dreams to come true, even the ones you could never imagine happening? What if you could go wherever you wanted, have whatever you imagined, and do whatever you liked? You could have a mansion by the ocean filled with all sorts of good things. You could become a stronger and better athlete than everyone else. You could become a famous actor or singer. You could be established as the leading intellectual authority in every academic discipline. You could be a world leader—maybe even the world’s king. Imagine what fun you could have, and what good you could do!
But suppose you didn’t have a fairy godmother to grant your wish like Cinderella did, or come across a magic lamp like the one Aladdin found. What if you could have anything you wanted, but you had to give up something to get it? What would you give up to see your dreams fulfilled? There are some—perhaps many—who would take this deal. They would give up just about anything to see their dreams fulfilled. But what about their soul? Would they wager their eternal soul for a lifetime of success and pleasure?
There are reportedly some who have done this. Legend tells of people who rose to prominence because they “made a deal with the devil.” The most famous story involves a man named Faust, who supposedly lived in Germany around the time of Martin Luther. Faust grew tired of being a nobody, so he offered his soul to the devil in exchange for great knowledge and power. More recent examples involve virtuoso musicians, who were rumored to have “sold their soul” for unparalleled musical abilities.
Setting aside the factualness of these accounts, they do highlight certain truths. First, they show how the sinful nature works. If we want something bad enough, we will stop at almost nothing to get it. Second, these legends underscore how the devil and demons are constantly tempting us to sin. They will promise the world if only they can draw us away from Christ and possess our souls.
Their malicious work among men started with our first parents, the crown of God’s creation. After failing in his attempt to overthrow God, the devil set his sights on Eve. He slithered over to her and told her she could have more and better. “[Y]ou will be like God,” he said. “All you have to do is eat this fruit” (Gen. 3:5). She did, and gave some to Adam “who was with her” (v. 6). But it was fruit from a tree God told them to stay clear of. In their bid to control their own destiny and obtain something beyond the perfect life they enjoyed, they lost everything.
Why should the devil stop there? If he could tempt the first two people to give up everything for a foolish dream, why couldn’t he continue to turn God’s people against Him? So he tempts us. He tempts us to fulfill every fleshly desire. If we have been blessed with plenty, he tempts us to be prideful about what we have and to think we deserve more. If we are blessed with little, he tempts us to be bitter and discontent and to covet what others have. This is why the Proverb says, “[G]ive me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Pro. 30:8-9).
The devil also tempts us to recklessness. He wants us to become bored with the responsible life. He wants us to take unnecessary risks, even if they endanger ourselves or others. What matters overall is that he gets each of us to focus on what makes us happy, what we want, what others should do for us. His goal is to get all creatures to reject their Creator, just as he did. He tempts us to believe the lie that we don’t have to answer to anyone, and that we should fear, love, and trust not the one true God, but the god of self.
And the devil has often succeeded. In fact, there is no one here who has not fallen for his temptations. So when he saw the man Jesus head into the wilderness following His baptism, why shouldn’t he have success against Him too? For forty days, Satan tempted Jesus (Mar. 1:13, Luk. 4:2). We do not have record of all those temptations, but no doubt the devil employed his full arsenal. Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are.”
What is recorded today appears to be the devil’s last, best effort—at least for the time being. Jesus had now been fasting for forty days and nights, which corresponds to the length of our season of Lent. Think how you would feel after just four days of fasting. You would be weak and probably have a pounding headache. It would be hard to focus—this, after just four days. Jesus fasted for forty.
Seeing His physical weakness, the devil now attacked Jesus’ claim to be God. What sort of God suffers? What sort of God is weak? “If You are the Son of God,” he said. “If You are the Son of God, You shouldn’t be suffering. If You are the Son of God, You shouldn’t be hungry. Why don’t You just turn these stones into bread?” And why shouldn’t He? It was because Jesus had not come to serve Himself but His Father. He later said to His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (Joh. 4:34). So He told the devil, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
This is why God might allow us to hunger at times and to struggle along. It is not to drive us away from Him, but to teach us to trust His Word. Moses explained this to the Israelites after their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. He told them that the LORD “humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deu. 8:3).
The fact that Jesus quoted from this passage shows that His forty days in the wilderness had something to do with the Israelites’ forty years in the wilderness, and also with our own time of wandering in this world. What the Israelites and we do with doubts and complaining, Jesus did perfectly on our behalf, never succumbing to the devil.
Hearing Jesus quote from the Scriptures, the tempter devised a plan to use God’s Word against Him. He took Jesus to the top of the temple, that place of God’s holy presence, and urged Him to throw Himself into the arms of the angels. After all, hadn’t God said that He would send His angels to protect His people? Again, Jesus quoted words that Moses had spoken to the Israelites: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deu. 6:16).
Then the devil tried once more. From a high mountain, he showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” “All these I will give You,” he said, “if You will fall down and worship me.” Setting aside the question of whether or not the devil could actually deliver these kingdoms to Jesus, what he was really asking for was Jesus’ soul. But it wasn’t just the soul of Jesus he hoped to gain; it was the souls of everybody.
If Jesus had done this, the devil would have won. He would have unseated God from His throne. He would have made the Creator bow to him, a fallen creature. Then the universe would have a wretched and diabolical overlord instead of a merciful Savior. But your soul is worth more to Jesus than that. Your soul is worth more than all the power and glory the world can offer. Jesus would not be tempted to abort His mission. Speaking once again words that Moses spoke, He said, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve” (Deu. 6:13).
So Jesus succeeded against the devil where you and I have so often failed. He did not give in to temptation. He did not compromise His soul. As the last part of Hebrews 4:15 tells us, Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” I do not say this just for comparison’s sake, to show that you are a sinner but Jesus was not. I say this for your comfort. Jesus lived a sin-free life for you. He withstood temptation for your sake.
There are many times you have put your soul on the line to pursue what the devil and your sinful nature wanted. The devil had you right where he wanted you. But Jesus took your place in the scales of justice. He set His perfect life against God’s righteous demands, and the scales were balanced. Then He offered up His holy life in payment for your sins. In this way, He redeemed your soul. He bought it with His precious blood, so that you would be joined to Him and not the devil.
If Jesus should think so much of your soul, you should too. No amount of riches, glory, and power in the world is worth the loss of your faith. No “deal with the devil” is worth the cost of your eternal soul. Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or What Shall a Man Give in Return for His Soul?” Let it be your whole purpose to commit your body, soul, and all you have to Jesus, who has already secured for you the eternal glories of heaven.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(painting is “The Temptation of Christ by the Devil” by Félix Joseph Barrias, 1822-1907)