18 October 2017

Healing the Nations by the Word of the Physician

If “sola Scriptura” means anything at all, it certainly means that the Word of the Lord which is heard in the weekly Divine Service establishes and governs everything else that happens in that Service: the preaching, the hymns, and the prayers, the celebration of the Sacrament, and the faith in which the people of God receive the Holy Communion.  For the Word that is proclaimed from the lectern and the pulpit is the Word that leads you to the Word-made-Flesh at the Altar.

Thus do we owe a debt of gratitude to St. Luke the Evangelist, and to the Lord for giving St. Luke to His Church on earth.  For the words of this man are prominent among those Words of Christ with which the Lord has fed His dear children with the heavenly Bread of Life.  Between his record of the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, he has written over a fourth of the New Testament.  And by the grace and Spirit of God, this Beloved Physician, St. Luke, has led you also from the Holy Gospel to the Font of Forgiveness, and to life and healing in the Body and Blood of Christ.

It is one of the many ways in which the Holy Triune God works through means: communicating, revealing, and giving Himself through created things and earthly “stuff,” and so also through men like St. Luke.  The Lord Jesus did not leave us any written record from His own hand, but in His divine wisdom, according to His good and gracious Will, He chose men like St. Luke to write down His words of life as the Holy Scriptures.  So did He choose the Holy Apostles to be His witnesses to all the nations of the earth.  So has He chosen pastors like myself to speak His Word and to work His works in His Name among the congregations of His people all over the world.  And so does He call you to be His own, to be His living presence among those who are still lost.

As an Evangelist, St. Luke has contributed beautifully and richly to the life of the Lord’s Church.  It is from his Gospel that we have learned to sing those familiar canticles, the Benedictus, the Magnificat, and the Nunc Dimittis.  So also has St. Luke recorded a number of those dearly loved stories of our Lord which are found nowhere else, such as the Annunciation of Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Visitation of St. Mary to St. Elizabeth, and the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple.  Also the story of the Twelve-year-old Jesus in Jerusalem; the Parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son; the healing of the ten lepers; and the appearance of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus at Emmaus, made known, both then and now, in the Breaking of the Bread.

All of these events and activities — as well as the many others that St. Luke shares in common with the other three Evangelists — are more than just stories.  They are more than just a record of the past, more than nostalgic memoirs.  They are grace and life and healing from your heavenly Physician, Christ Jesus: the Annunciation of His flesh and blood, given and poured out for you; His coming to visit you with forgiveness and life and salvation; His Presentation in the Temple of His Church, that you might receive Him to yourself and behold in Him the Light of Revelation.

The Gospel According to St. Luke is the gracious and astounding Word of God in Christ, who was ever and always about His Father’s business; who was and is your Good Samaritan, binding up your wounds and healing the leprosy of your sin; who welcomes you — cleansed and forgiven — back into His Father’s House; who opens the Scriptures to you on the way, to and from Emmaus; who reveals and gives Himself to you in the Breaking of the Bread and the Pouring of His Cup.

This grace of God in Christ is given to you here within His Church, because St. Luke and the other Evangelists have recorded the Apostolic preaching of repentance and forgiveness in His Name.

As the Apostles were eyewitnesses of His Life and Ministry, of His Cross and Resurrection, they were sent to speak His Word and to work His mighty deeds to the ends of the earth — to go before the face of the Lord to every city and every place where He Himself would thereby also go.  And among the many others who were sent to follow after the Apostles in this Ministry of Christ Jesus, St. Luke not only preached in his own day but carefully committed the Word of Christ to writing, so that you and countless others would learn to know and trust those things that Christ has done and said; so that you would know and trust in Christ Jesus Himself.  To this end, the Holy Spirit is at work in this Holy Gospel to open your heart and mind, that you would comprehend the Holy Scriptures of the Prophets, Apostles, and Evangelists, as the revelation of the risen Christ Jesus.

Although he was a Gentile, St. Luke portrays the Lord Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Jewish Old Testament for Jews and Gentiles alike.  From beginning to end, he writes of those promises and Prophecies of Yahweh which have been accomplished and perfectly realized in Christ Jesus, the Son of St. Mary.  For it was necessary, as the Lord Himself has said, that all things had to be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms concerning Him.

Indeed, everything has been fulfilled and accomplished by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.  And this fulfillment of the Scriptures continues in the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name; in Confession and Absolution; and in the Body and Blood of Christ, the Sacrifice of Atonement, now given and poured out for you in the Holy Communion.

St. Luke, in particular, portrays Christ Jesus as the Sacrifice to end all sacrifices for sin.  And it is for this reason that the symbol for St. Luke is the flying bull — one of the four winged creatures of the Prophet Ezkiel’s vision, traditionally used as symbols for the four Holy Evangelists.

Not all the blood of sacrificial bulls could ever take away your sins, but the Sacrifice of Christ has done so for you and for all.  For He is the merciful and great High Priest who has entered with His own Blood into the Most Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption once for all.  So does the same Blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ, who offered Himself through the Holy Spirit to His God and Father in heaven, now cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.  Indeed, He is the Mediator of the New Testament — by means of His sacrifice upon the Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead — so that you may receive the promised eternal inheritance in His Body given for you, and in His Blood poured out for you and for the many at His Altar.

As the sacrificial Lamb of God, Christ Jesus took upon Himself — into His own flesh and blood — all your sins and iniquities, all your suffering and pain, all your sickness and death — and He crucified it all in His own Body on the Cross; He buried it forever in His tomb.  And having thus offered His Body and Life as the perfect Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the whole world, He has risen from the dead as the First-fruits of the New Creation.  He lives and reigns to all eternity, never to die again.  And He comes to His Church of all times and in all places — as He now comes to you — with His Word of forgiveness, and with His life-giving Body and Blood.

Whereas He has taken upon Himself all your sins and all of their consequences, He returns to you — by way of a blessed exchange — His own divine life, His righteousness, holiness, purity, and perfect health in body and soul, for now and forever.  All that you were as a fallen child of fallen Adam, subject to death and the grave, He became and suffered in your place; so that, by His grace, through faith in His Gospel, you might become all that He is, a beloved child of God the Father.

This healing of the nations, this healing and salvation of all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, comes only from that blessed Tree of Life, the Holy Cross of Christ, the saving fruits of which are now distributed and bestowed in the Breaking of the Bread at the Lord’s Table in His House.

As a physician (perhaps a very fine physician), St. Luke was no doubt humbled at times that, for all of his medical knowledge and skill, there was still no way for him to create or preserve life.  Those good works remain the divine prerogative of God alone.  But, as an Evangelist, recording the Word and works of Christ Jesus, our heavenly Physician, St. Luke was given the blessed privilege to offer healing and life and eternal salvation in the Cross and Resurrection of his Lord.

And, oh, what a delight it must have been to record those precious Words of Jesus: “This is My Body.  This Cup is the New Testament in My Blood.”  For here is the Medicine of Immortality, which the crucified and risen Lord Jesus shares in table fellowship with sinners.  He gives to you His Body to eat, He pours out His Blood for you to drink, that you should live forever with Him.

These words from the Gospel According to St. Luke, and the preaching of those words to this day, are the living and active Word of Christ Himself, the Beloved Physician of body and soul, according to His promise:  He who hears you, hears Me; and He who receives you, receives Me.

This divine Doctor of the Gospel has already gone so far as to lay down His life for you, taking your place on the Cross and making His bed in your tomb, in order to remove all of your sickness and death.  And now He comes to visit you with His Word, with His own Body and Blood, in order to heal you with His mercy and forgiveness, and to feed you with Himself unto the Life immortal.

Especially in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke points to the continuation of this healing work of Jesus in the Ministry of His Gospel–Word and Sacraments within His Church on earth.  All that He began to do and teach and accomplish — by His Nativity in the flesh, by His Life, His Cross, and His Resurrection — He now continues to do and teach through the ministers of His Word.

And this must be the case.  As Jesus says to His disciples following His Resurrection, it is divinely necessary that repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in His Name to all the nations.  The Gospel must be delivered to the world: As it was by the Apostles, and as it is to this day in the Gospel of St. Luke, so shall it be to the close of the age through the Office of the Holy Ministry.

And wherever this Ministry of Christ in His Word and Holy Sacrament is found, there is the new Temple of His Christian Church, which is the new Jerusalem on earth, in which you are gathered in peace and with great joy to receive the gifts of Christ Himself: To hear His Holy Gospel of forgiveness, life, and salvation; to remember and return to the significance of your Holy Baptism; and to be nourished in the Holy Communion with His holy Body and precious Blood.

In receiving these gifts of His grace with thanksgiving, you worship the Lord in His Temple, week after week throughout your life.  United with Christ Jesus, anointed by His Holy Spirit, a dearly beloved daughter or son of God the Father, you praise and bless the Holy Triune God for all His many gifts and benefits — and, not least of all, for His servant, St. Luke.

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

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