4 Reasons You Should Preach through the Gospel of Luke

Article
09.06.2019

Almost all pastors have preached from Luke’s Gospel, but only some have preached all the way through. Consider how many times you’ve heard a sermon on the Prodigal Son. Or consider the birth stories of Jesus; they’re preached every year during Christmas.

Pastors, even though Luke is the longest book in the New Testament, I want to encourage you to preach through the whole book. We planted our church in 2014, and I chose Luke for our first sermon series. I knew that if I preached a sermon on every paragraph that I’d still be going through it now, almost five years later. Instead, I chose to take a 30,000-feet view and I preached 15 sermons through all 24 chapters. In other words, don’t allow Luke’s length to prevent you from preaching through it.

Whether it takes you five months or five years, preaching through Luke will help your people see how the story of Jesus fulfills the story of God and Israel in order to bring salvation to the whole world. Additionally, preaching through Luke’s Gospel will help your church:

1. Understand familiar passages in their larger context.

One of the common pitfalls of preaching selected passages like the birth of Jesus during Advent or the Prodigal Son during a sermon series about God’s grace is that we often miss the context. Here’s what I mean: when we zoom out and see all of Luke-Acts, we should notice several similarities with 1 & 2 Samuel. The story of John the Baptist’s birth is similar to Samuel’s birth, and the story of Jesus’ rise to the throne parallels David’s rise to the throne. This is intentional: Luke presents Jesus as both the king of Israel and the king of all creation who ascended to his Father’s throne, having defeated his enemies through his death and resurrection.

The Prodigal Son is another example of how texts are better understood in context. Luke 15:1–3 provides crucial details about the setting of Jesus’ parable. Two sets of people had gathered around Jesus: welcomed sinners and angry Jewish leaders. Preachers shouldn’t neglect these details—nor should they ignore the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin. These three stories in Luke 15 function as a single parable about God’s great joy in receiving repentant sinners. In the final scene of the last story, the father entreats the older brother to come home. The older brother represents the nation of Israel and the younger brother represents the tax collectors and sinners. Zooming out and preaching the whole book helps preachers and church members better understand familiar passages in their larger context.

2. Observe God’s opposition to the proud and grace to the humble.

One of the key themes throughout Luke’s Gospel is the reversal of the world’s values. Church members will notice this theme in Mary’s song, and in the details surrounding Jesus’ humble birth. They’ll hear it in Jesus’ first sermon as he declares good news to the poor from Isaiah’s scroll, and in the beatitudes found in his sermon on the plain. They’ll see it powerfully illustrated when Jesus heals the sick and invites “the outcasts” to join his new covenant community.

The long middle section of the book (Luke 9–19) is often called the “travel narrative.” In this section, Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem and teaches his disciples, often through parables, about the upside-down nature of God’s kingdom. Jesus repeatedly explains how his disciples should use their money and possessions for the good of their neighbors. Forget about doing that sermon series on tithing and preach through Luke instead!

Once Jesus finally arrives in Jerusalem, Luke records his climatic conclusion (Luke 20–24) as the ultimate demonstration of how God’s kingdom flips the world upside-down. Jesus fulfills the story of God and Israel not by killing the Jews and the Romans, but by being killed by the Jews and the Romans. Through Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, God displays his fierce opposition to the proud and his amazing grace to exalt the most humble man to the most honorable position.

3. Witness Jesus welcoming sinners to his table.

Robert Karris observes, “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.”[1] This begins in Luke 5 when Jesus eats with sinners at the home of Levi, and it ends in Luke 24 when the resurrected Christ eats fish with his disciples to prove he is not a ghost. In between these two stories are about a dozen references to Jesus eating meals or giving parables that include a great banquet (Luke 14) or a large party (Luke 15).

A couple years after I quickly preached through Luke in 15 sermons, I wanted to dive deeper into the book and build upon my previous studies. I chose to preach through these meal passages, and I called the sermon series “Meals with Jesus.” It was a deeply satisfying time for our church. The Scriptures freshly reminded us of how hospitality can be a powerful tool to accomplish our church’s disciple-making mission. Luke invites us to witness Jesus welcoming sinners to his table so that we will welcome sinners to our tables.

4. Depend upon the Spirit’s help through prayer.

Luke explains his purpose of writing is to present an orderly account of all that Jesus “fulfilled” or “accomplished” (1:1–4). How was he able to do this? He fulfilled the story of God and brought salvation to the whole world because of the power of the Holy Spirit through prayer.

If you preach through Luke, your congregation will encounter this reality at every major point. The presence of prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit are seen in the births of both John the Baptist and Jesus. These themes show up over and over again: Jesus’ dedication at the temple, his baptism, the wilderness temptations, his first sermon, and the selection of the 12 disciples.

In Luke 11, he teaches his disciples to pray “your kingdom come,” even as Jesus himself prays “not my will, but yours be done,” as he sweats blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. God’s answer to this prayer leads to Christ’s death, which in turn brings salvation to the whole world. Preaching through Luke provides breathtaking portraits of Jesus depending on the Spirit’s power through his prayers.

Suggested Resources On Luke:

1) Darrell Bock’s Commentaries – For verse by verse exegesis and preaching I recommend Bock’s well-known two-volume set, but I also recommend his shorter and more pastoral commentary for those who decide to preach Luke in larger units.

2) Biblical Theology Books – I’ve often found it helpful to consult biblical theology books in addition to one or two good commentaries. Some biblical theology books work through each book of the bible like Jim Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment and Tom Schreiner’s The King In His Beauty. Whereas other thematic theology books like G.K. Beale’s A New Testament Theology can be a great resource for preaching if you use the scripture index to find the passage you are preaching.

3) Tim Chester’s Book – A Meal with Jesus is a great resource to hand out to church members. It also helped me prepare for the thematic series on Jesus’ meals through Luke that I mentioned above.

* * * * *

Editor’s note: You can read the rest of the articles in this series here.

* * * * *

[1] Robert J. Karris, Eating Your Way through Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2006), 14.

By:
Phill Howell

Phill Howell is the Pastor of Preaching for Embassy Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.