Preaching from Luke

James G. Harris  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 10 - Fall 1967

Over twenty years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention calendar made room for an annual Bible study week in early January. The Sunday School Board promoted the study and published a text book on a book of the Bible.

The emphasis met with immediate success. This was Southern Baptists’ answer to “The Bible Conference,” which flourished chiefly in independent churches. Instead of a professional Bible conference teacher or preacher, Baptist churches were encouraged to use their pastor or a teacher from a nearby Baptist college or seminary. Instead of a prophetic study, which was often dispensational and millenarian in its emphasis, a middle-of-the-road book of the Bible was prescribed. This seemed to be the perfect answer to a great need, and Southern Baptist churches responded enthusiastically. Bible study week has consistently grown, and next January over one-half million people will be studying the Gospel of Luke in more than 15,000 churches.

One year, the Sunday School Board promoted a topical study of “Prayer” for Bible study week. The reaction must have been overwhelmingly against a topical study, for ever since we have studied a specific book of the Bible.

The study of the Gospel of Luke should generate a surge of spiritual inspiration and knowledge that will get our churches off to a great year in 1968. Luke was a Gentile. He wrote primarily to Gentiles. He was a physician, a scientist, and a careful historian. He wrote to an earnest inquirer, Theophilus. He tells us many things about our Lord that we would not know today, had he not written.

Dr. James Denney was once asked to recommend a good life of Christ. “Have you tried the one Luke wrote?” he inquired. Beyond dispute, this is the greatest life of Christ ever written. A physician writes about the Great Physician! Someone has said, “A minister sees a man at his best; a lawyer sees a man at his worst; a doctor sees men as they are.” The Gospel of Luke reflects the insight, the precision, and the research of the dedicated historian.

The question obviously arises, “How may you really study the Gospel of Luke in five brief nights? Do we really teach this book when we skim over epochal events and profound statements of our Savior?” A brief study is better than none, but it cannot do justice to this exciting and inspiring history of the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Do we have to restrict our study to these five nights? Do we need to slavishly follow the outline and time table of the author of the study course book, who has tried to fulfill an impossible assignment? Why not slow down the material covered that week, and finish the teaching of the book during the mid-week prayer services of the succeeding Wednesdays? Why not also preach from Luke on Sundays, introducing the Gospel before January and continuing to preach from Luke for a reasonable time after the week’s study?

The absurdity and impossibility of trying to teach so much in so little time was especially impressed upon me some years ago when we studied the Gospel of Mark. Although this is the briefest of the Gospels, it still became necessary for the author of the authorized text book to advocate that we teach Mark 6:14-9:29 (almost one fourth of all the chapters in Mark) in one forty-five minute period. In one study of the Gospel of John (1949), the author recommended that four chapters be taught in one forty-five minute period, and twice the same week, three chapters were to be covered in a class session. With two such periods per evening, it was advocated that seven chapters of this profound and intimate gospel should be “covered” in one night’s teaching. Is it not possible to skim so superficially over a book as to discourage rather than inspire real Bible study?

Unless the teacher offers additional time in pulpit preaching and Wednesday evening teaching, so many of the treasures of the Gospel of Luke will be neglected and overlooked.

A good time to introduce the Gospel of Luke is on the Wednesday night before Bible study week. Several times I have used the New Year’s watchnight service for this introduction. This is the occasion to tell something about Luke, the author, to discuss the approximate date of the writing, the circumstances that motivated the writing, and the purpose of the book.

The Gospel of Luke should be featured at all the services on the Sunday before the Bible study. This creates interest in the study and should increase the attendance for the week nights. After the evenings of study, one may profitably continue to preach from Luke, even up through the Easter sermons.

If you have never preached through a book of the Bible, you have missed a great inspiration, and your church has missed a great experience. A pastor should preach through at least one book of the Bible each year, and no book promises more challenge and rewarding satisfaction than preaching from Luke.

Frederick W. Robertson became pastor at Brighton at the age of thirty-one. He died when only thirty-seven years of age, but in those six years he became recognized and established as one of the great preachers of all time. He preached through several books of the Bible. Two books of his sermons illustrate his method. One dealt with thirty chapters of Genesis, and the other includes I and II Corinthians.

G. Campbell Morgan preached through book after book in his long and distinguished ministry as an expository preacher. Several of his commentaries, still in print, are just sermons in which he preached through a book of the Bible. Joseph Parker cultivated the gif t of preaching through the books of the Bible. His “People’s Bible” illustrates the skill he developed in this satisfying discipline. Alexander Maclaren did not have a sermon in print until he was thirty-three years of age. He was fifty-seven years old before his book of sermons, “Sermons Preached in Manchester,” was published. This was composed of sermons from texts at random. Only in his last year of ministry did he discover the delight of preaching through the books of the Bible to his people. It was after he retired that he began to put those sermons of his important “Expositions” into print. God spared his life until he was eighty-four years of age, or we would not have much of his consecutive expository preaching today.

The Advent season in December is designed to get us ready for the proper observance of the Christmas season. Why not use the month of December to begin preaching from Luke?

A sermon on the forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist, could start the series. Luke records the annunciation (1:8-23), his birth (1:57-66), and his childhood (1:80). Luke also records the early ministry of the Baptist (3: 1-20). The passage includes his announcement of the coming Messiah (3:16-17) and his courageous confrontation with Herod, resulting in his imprisonment (3: 18-20).

I always try to preach one sermon a year on the virgin birth of Christ. Luke, the physician, gives an account of this delicate circumstance (1:27, 34, 35) followed by the annunciation to Mary (1:28-35), and the Magnificat (1:46-55). This may be a good time to preach a sermon on Joseph, the “Most Neglected Man of the New Testament.” He was a good and holy man, or God would not have chosen him to fill the role of father in the home where Jesus was reared. He had to be a man of faith to accept the holy conception of Mary. He was a good father in the home in those early years, or Jesus could not have compared God with our earthly fathers, and He could not have taught us to address God as “Our Father.”

The Christmas story told by Luke is the most beautiful, and moving in all of literature. How beautiful is the song of the angels, and how moving is the homage of the shepherds. What greater passage could one choose for the Christmas sermons? The Sunday following Christmas would be an appropriate time to preach on “The Hidden Years.” The gospels were not primarily written as biographies of Jesus, but were tracts that were written in response to the questions men asked about Christ in their day. They do not tell us all we wish to know of his early years upon the earth, but they tell us all we need to know. A glimpse here and there in these years reveals that his was a normal and exemplary childhood.

Only Luke gives us the account of the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple (2:21-38), and the praise of Simeon and Anna. Only Luke tells us of his visit to Jerusalem and the Temple at the age of twelve (2:41-50), and of his obedience and subjection to Joseph and Mary in their home (2:51). Like a true physician he records the growth in stature, and like the true Christian historian he records his advance in wisdom and favor with God and men. The hidden years provide a challenging preaching assignment. A large part of the material in Luke also appears in one or more of the other gospels. But there is much about the life and teachings of our Lord that only Luke preserves for us. How much poorer we would be if Luke had not been inspired to write this gospel.

If you are saying, “I cannot preach on all of this gospel,” then how about preaching on the general theme, “Passages Found Only in Luke.” We could keep before our people the sense of indebtedness to Luke for our only record of:

The Beginning of the Ministry of Jesus-

-His Rejection by His Home Town (4:16-30)

The Anointing of His Feet by the Sinful Woman in the

House of Simon the Pharisee (7:36-50)

The Mission of the Seventy-

-Christ’s Joy in Their Return (10:1-24)

Martha and Mary and Their Distinguished Guest-


The Cost of Discipleship (14:25-35)

How Jesus Dealt with Men-Zacchaeus (19:1-28)

How Jesus Dealt with Men-The Thief on the Cross-


(You may wish to extend this series, “How Jesus Dealt with Men,” to include Simon Peter (5:5-11; 22:31-34,54) , Judas (22:3-6,21-22,47-53) , Levi ( 5:27-28,29-39 ) , the Gadarene Demoniac (8:26-39), and the Rich Young Ruler ( 18:18-23) , although these accounts also appear elsewhere in the Gospels.)

Three of the seven last words of Christ on the cross appear only in Luke. If it were not for Luke, we would not be stirred by His cries:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”


“Verily, verily I say unto Thee, today shalt Thou be with

me in Paradise” (23:43).

“Father, into Thy Hands I commend My Spirit” (23:46). Sermons on these three arresting texts would make great preaching on the Sundays approaching Easter Sunday.

One of the richest sources for preaching is a series of sermons on the graphic parables of Jesus. The preacher’s library should have the old, classic volumes on the parables, and the new contemporary books on the parables written by some of our most exciting preachers of today.

The theme for these parables could be “Parables of Our Lord Found Only in Luke”: The Two Debtors (7:41-50), The Good Samaritan (10:25-37) ( Excellent for Race Relations Sunday), The Friend at Midnight (11:1-13), The Rich Fool (12: 1-21), The Wedding Feast (12:36-38), The Wise Steward (12: 42-48), The Barren Fig Tree (13:6-9), The Great Supper (14: 16-24), The Lost Coin (15:8-10), The Prodigal Son (15:11- 24), The Elder Brother (15:25-32), The Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31), The Unjust Steward (16:1-9) , The Unprofitable Servants (17:7-10), The Unjust Judge-The Importunate Widow (18:1-8), The Pharisee and the Publican (18:9-14), and The Pounds (19:12-27).

How tragic would have been our loss if Jesus had impressed his hearers, and then these glorious parables had died with the telling of them. How we thank God that he led Luke to preserve these masterful stories. Here is challenging preaching for several Sundays. And what a selection to choose from!

A few weeks ago I preached one Sunday morning on “The Elder Brother” and that night on “The Prodigal Son.” “The Elder Brother” actually applies to the respectable church member more than to the one who indulges in the more vicious social sins. “The Prodigal Son” offers a more evangelistic theme, featuring the gracious forgiveness of God. “The Rich Man and Lazarus” offers an opportunity to preach an evangelistic sermon on the punishment after death of the impenitent. “The Parable of the Rich Fool” forms the basis for a sermon on the stewardship of our material possessions. Never has an age reflected the affluent, arrogant, humanistic side of the prosperous farmer as our generation. The parable of “The Pharisee and the Publican” could be featured in a sermon, “The Kind of Religion God Honors.”

Since Luke was a physician, one might expect an equal number of otherwise unrecorded miracles of healing. However, to our surprise, we only find five miraculous healings not mentioned by any other gospel. These five are: The Raising of the Widow’s Son (7:11-17), The Woman With the Spirit of Infirmity (13:10-21), The Man with Dropsy (14:1-6), The Ten Lepers (17: 11-37), and Malchus’ Ear Restored (22:50-53). Luke records eleven other miracles of healing also recorded by other gospels. Since the miracles recorded exclusively by Luke are so few, and since some of the other miracles he shared with other gospel writers are so moving, you might wish to include some of them in a series, “The Doctor’s Diary.” Here is a list: The Demoniac Healed in Capernaum (4:31-37), The Healing of Peter’s Wife’s Mother (4:38-39), The Leper Healed (5:12- 16), The Paralytic Healed (5:17-26), Healing the Withered Hand (6:6-11), Healing the Centurion’s Servant (7:2-10), The Gadarene Demoniac Healed (8:26-39), The Woman who Touched His Garment (8:43-48) , The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter (8:40-56), The Healing of the Afflicted Son (9:37-43), and The Blind Beggar Healed (18:35-43).

Perhaps you are primarily a textual preacher. Or you may prefer to preach textual evangelistic sermons on Sunday nights. Some of the great texts of Luke provide resources for great sermons: Soul Winning-“Let down your nets” (5:4); Sabbath­ “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (6:5; also 6:9); Obedience-“Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (6:46); The Hard Command of Jesus-“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (9:23-24); Profit and Loss-“For what is a man profited if he gain the whole world and lose himself?” (9:25); Stewardship-“Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (12:15); Repentance-“Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (13:3); The Narrow Way-“Strive to enter in by the narrow door” (13:24); The Mayor’s Wife-“Remember Lot’s wife” (17:32); Why Christ Came-“For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (19:10); Compassion For A City-“And when he drew nigh, he saw the city, and wept over it” (19:41); and Missions-“And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning in Jerusalem” (24:47).

God grant that you may approach the annual period of Bible study with a sense of excitement and expectancy, sharing the inspiring truths of the Gospel of Luke with your people, by both your teaching and your preaching. Then you may say to them what Luke wrote to Theophilus, “That thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou has been instructed” (1:4).

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