On occasion, when for some reason our minister was away, I have taken the Sunday Morning worship service.
The following are two of those messages.
Most of the information was researched at various on line sites.
The Dear Physician
When it came to naming the 12 disciples, I seemed to generally end up with 13 - I always put Luke in. I guess that comes from having learned the books of the New Testament, you know - Mathew, Mark, Luke, John, etc., or perhaps simply because Luke was so strongly connected to everything I knew about Jesus life.
Of course, Luke was never one of the twelve disciples! In fact, Luke never met Jesus!
We have been using texts from Luke for several weeks now in Sunday services. His name is completely familiar to us but how many of us know anything about him?
In the early 80s I read a book by author Taylor Caldwell called “Dear and Glorious Physician”. It was the story of Luke, and while it was fiction, it made me realize that until then I had absolutely no idea who Luke was.
Did you know that he is only briefly mentioned 3 times in the whole new testament?
Did you know that evidence indicates he was Greek, not Jewish.
Who was he then, and why is he important to us?
I want to take a few minutes today to share with you my research on this great early Christian. There is a lot to tell, but I will make it very brief.
Luke has been the subject of study and controversy for almost 2000 years. The story I am going to tell this morning is that which is agreed upon by the majority of scholars and backed by solid information.
Luke was a physician who lived in the Greek city of Antioch in Ancient Syria. He likely studied medicine at the famous school of Tarsus. From the intimate knowledge of the eastern Mediterranean that he shows in his writing, he probably had lengthy experience as a doctor on board ship.
How he became a Christian, and how he met Paul is not known, but we do know that he became a disciple of Paul, and was his frequent companion until Paul was martyred. Luke himself is often called Luke, The Evangelist. He died at the age of 84.
Luke is first mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Colossians where he includes Luke in his greeting –and he uses these words “and Luke, the most dear physician, saluteth you”. The most dear physician!
The second mention is in Paul’s letter to Philemon, where he again includes Luke in the greeting.
Finally, in his 2nd and final letter to Timothy, he writes the triumphant paragraph that we know so well, - “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith”, but he ends it on a note that I find very sad – he says to Timothy “Make haste to come to me quickly. For Demas hath left me, loving this world. . . . Only Luke is with me”.
The Gospel of Luke starts with his greeting to Theophilus. Theophilus was most likely the code name of a sitting Roman senator, Luke’s patron, and a convert to Christianity. In fact, it may help to think of the whole book of Luke as an objective report to him. The name Theophilus means Lover of God. Luke’s opening statement tells us exactly why and how he wrote this report. He says “Dear Theophilus – many people have done their best to write a report of the things that have taken place among us. They wrote what we have been told by those who saw these things from the beginning, and who proclaimed the message. And so, your excellency, because I have carefully studied all these matters from their beginning, I thought it would be good to write an orderly account for you. I do this so that you will know the full truth about everything that you have been taught.”
Luke then continued with the story of Jesus and his disciples in a straight forward chronological report.
He had two sources of information - eyewitnesses (which included the Apostles and Mary, but there were also many others) and written documents taken down from the words of eyewitnesses. He was in a position to test the accuracy of the documents by his knowledge of the character of the writers, and by comparing the documents with the actual words of the Apostles and other eyewitnesses that he had talked to at length.
In other words, Luke interviewed the disciples and others extensively, he reviewed the two preceding gospels and interviewed the writers Matthew and Mark, he reviewed other written accounts, and he also met with and interviewed many others who were eyewitnesses.
Perhaps his most important witness was Jesus Mother. A very early historian writes that Luke spent much time with Mary, mother of Jesus. He wrote these words - “Luke had recourse to Mary, like as to the ark of the Testament, and was certified of her many things, and especially of such things as appertained to her, as of the salutation of the angel Gabriel, of the nativity of Jesus Christ, and of such other things as Luke speaketh only”. Luke was totally convinced that the information he wrote in his gospel to Theophilus was absolutely true.
We owe a great deal to the industry of St. Luke. Out of twenty miracles which he records six are not found in the other Gospels: draught of fishes, widow of Naim's son, man with dropsy, ten lepers, Malchus's ear, spirit of infirmity.
Eighteen parables that we are so familiar with came only from Luke. They include the - Good Samaritan, - the Rich Fool (today’s reading), and - the prodigal son. We also have a well known passage found only in Luke. –he alone tells us "Jesus as He gave up His Spirit upon the Cross said, Father, into thy hands I commend my Spirit'
Luke also wrote the Book of Acts (the Acts of the Apostles). It too was addressed to Theophilus, and again, it came from interviewing the apostles, and also from first hand involvement with his own ministry of evangelism over a broad area, and his accompaniment of Paul until Paul’s death. During the two years that St. Paul was kept in prison, Luke was frequently at his side, and this is obvious from Paul’s letters. It is likely that it was during these two years that Acts was written. Some theologians believe that Acts was specifically written to aid Paul in his trial before Caesar.
Luke is the only writer of the New Testament who can clearly be identified as not being Jewish. He is the only writer to do a sequel to his gospel – The book of Acts.
He is one of the most extensive writers of the New Testament. His Gospel is considerably longer than St. Matthew's, his two books are about as long as St. Paul's fourteen Epistles: It is said that the style of the his Gospel is superior and that it is the most literary of the Gospels. Someone said that Luke was a painter in words.
Luke apparently painted not only with words. It is believed that Luke actually painted icons of Mary and Jesus. The Saint Thomas Christians of India still have one of the icons, a painting of Mary, that they claim Luke painted and that St. Thomas took with him to India. As a matter of interest, Thomas (doubting Thomas!) was martyred there.
Archaeologist Sir William Ramsay, a Nobel prize winner, wrote that "Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy...he should be placed along with the very greatest of historians! The Acts of the Apostles is not a shoddy product of pious imagining, but a trustworthy record...”
While Luke is seen as the historian of the apostolic age, he is not fully recognized as a theologian as well. He develops many themes in his Gospel, Jesus as being sympathetic towards Samaritans and Gentiles - peace, - the plan of God, - emphases on individuals, - importance of women, - children, - the poor, - the disreputable, - and the value of prayer and praise are all important parts of Luke's theology.
It is important for us to understand, and important to our understanding, that the Gospel of Luke, and The Acts of the Apostles were written only 20 to 30 years after the death of Christ. That is like someone today writing about events that took place in the 1970’s and interviewing people who were there. These were fresh memories!
Today we live in an age of great skepticism. Oh, we are easily convinced that advertisers and charlatans are telling us the truth, but when it comes to politicians and business leaders, we are extremely cynical (and with good reason).
Religion, specifically Christianity, (not so much with the other great religions), is another area of skepticism,. We Christians are educated and technical and scientific and sophisticated. We have been allowed and perhaps even encouraged to think of the gospels as interesting moralistic fables. They are useful in giving us examples of right thinking and moral and ethical conduct. This is particularly true in the mainstream Christian churches, and we tend to look with pity or scorn on those naïve souls that take the gospels literally.
There was a report in the Toronto Star recently – perhaps some of you read it – regarding the almost total lack of knowledge of the bible on the part of North American Youth. This is just the opposite for Islam and other religions!
Unfortunately, skepticism does not fill churches. Faith does! And the disciples and apostles had faith!
I want to read to you part of a letter from Pliny the younger (a Roman Magistrate) to Trajan, Emperor of Rome.
He writes “in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished”. In other words, he was saying that whether Christianity was good or bad, those people deserved to die simply for being so stubborn!
Most of the disciples were martyred, and in terribly cruel ways. Many other early Christians also met a martyrs death because they would not deny Christ. Yet they all had the chance -in fact three chances- to recant as evidenced by Pliny’s letter.
Why would they choose to die then, knowing how other martyrs had died, when a simple denial would have set them free?
Of the disciples, Andrew – crucified
Bartholomew – crucified
James (son of Zebedee) – beheaded
James (son of Alphaeus) – stoned
Simon Peter – crucified
Philip – Crucified
Thomas – Speared with 3 spears
One theologian explained it this way
- The simple fact is, they believed completely and would rather die than deny their lord – Jesus Christ.
- if you see someone back alive after seeing Him die and be buried, the event can really change your life
At one time there was a poster in the Narthex – some of you may remember it – it showed a hangman’s noose, and the words “if you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” That question has stayed in my mind!
Paul was persecuting Christians before his conversion.
Luke reports in Acts, that Paul, according to his own words, met Jesus while on his way to Damascus (where he was going to round up Christians) and his life was no longer the same.His belief in Jesus was ultimately backed by his martyrdom in Rome. He was beheaded. He could not be crucified as he was a Roman Citizen.
That's quite a turn around for someone who condemned and persecuted Christians, who stood by while Stephen, the first martyr was stoned to death, to someone who would give up his own life for the belief.
The explanation must be that Paul knew it was Jesus he met on that road to Damascus...
Whatever your personal views, or mine, there is one thing of which there is no shred of doubt. The Author of the book of Luke, and The Book of Acts believed.
Luke believed! He believed everything he wrote, and he believed because he felt that he had proved to himself that everything was true.
Luke - well educated, very intelligent, scientific in approach, Luke – who had the chance to interview those who were there, Luke, who I doubt would be easily fooled - Luke -- had no doubts! He believed in the Apostles Creed!
He believed in the virgin birth. He believed in the resurrection. He believed in the miracles. And he passed those beliefs on in his gospel and in Acts for all future generations, so that we could know, as he told Theophilus – “the full truth about everything that you have been taught.”
Far From Perfect
I knew and loved the stories from the bible, and I loved the pictures that went with them. From the felt art at Sunday school, from the illustrated Bible in our home, from the Sunday school papers we received each week, and from the little gifts we received for learning bible passages (book marks and plaques etc) those images were planted deeply and indelibly in my mind - and the scripture passages that went with them.
Do you remember some of those pictures? -
From the old Testament
-you might remember the picture of that beautiful and brave boy David as he faced the giant Goliath, all alone with only his slingshot.
-The picture of Daniel showed him surrounded by a heavenly light when he was cast into the den of lions.
-Joseph, wearing his beautiful coat of many colours
-Abraham, standing at the alter, knife raised, ready to sacrifice his son.
-Jonah, and the whale – which always made me think of Gepetto and Pinochio -
And so many more.
From the new testament could anyone ever forget the pictures illustrating the magical nativity story. Far better than anything Walt Disney ever came up with - Joseph leading the little donkey while Mary, being great with child, rode serenely on its back. They were going to Bethlehem because he was “of the house and lineage of David”.
The wise men and their camels following the star – that magnificent star of the east.
The shepherds watching their flocks, the angels filling the sky and proclaiming “Peace on Earth – good will to men.”
And of course, the manger scene – and the baby Jesus
I loved the Christmas story and I loved Christmas – not for the gifts (which were very few) but for the anticipation, the waiting, the tree, the pageant, --and for the carols - Silent Night, - Oh little town of Bethlehem, O Holy night, and all the others. Those carols still move me in a way that is different from any other experience!
Then there were the pictures of Jesus and the disciples.
Jesus telling the disciples - “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus standing at a door – holding a lamp in one hand and knocking with the other – “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” .
Jesus, cradling the one little lost sheep – perhaps you remember the hymn “there were ninety and nine that safely lay, in the shelter of the fold”
Jesus, calming the raging sea – “peace be still”
And near the end - Palm Sunday, that triumphant entry to Jerusalem, and then the somber images of the garden of Gethsemane, the trial, and finally Golgotha – the place of the skull.
But there was another picture - Jesus – calling Peter to walk to him on the water during one of the storms on Galilee – this morning’s gospel reading. In the picture in my memory, Peter was sinking and had a look of terror, (I doubt Peter could swim) but I knew it was alright – Jesus would save him from the savage sea.
This morning for a few minutes I would like us to think, not so much about this story, but about Peter himself.
Peter the man
Peter the fisherman
Peter the disciple
Peter the brave one
Peter, the coward
Peter, the martyr
Peter, the impulsive and sometimes violent one
Peter the saint
Peter – the rock on which the church was built.
I have had the privilege to know some fishermen. Hard as it is to believe now, at one time not so many years ago there was a thriving fishing industry on Lake Ontario. I grew up knowing some of these fishermen, and I think of one in particular. Roy and his wife Gladys were family friends, and he lived and fished from the furthest eastern Point of Prince Edward County. I thought his boat was huge then, but now I know it was a small craft, probably less than 30 feet in length. In the summer he fished, and in the winter he mended nets and made cedar floats for the nets. He cut the trees down, cut them into short lengths, turned them on a foot operated lathe, drilled them, sanded them, varnished them, and then sold them to Leckies in Winnipeg for ---$127.00 per thousand!
I remember particularly that Roys hands were as hard as old leather from handling the ropes and nets.
In later in life I met other fishermen in the Maritime provinces and Newfoundland. Some were big and some not so big, but I never met a fat fisherman. Without exception they were lean and wiry, their faces dark from facing the elements, and their hands were hard.
Fishing is a hard life, and I imagine that it was equally hard or even harder back then on the sea of Galilee.
In my imagination I see Peter similar to the fishermen I have known, a big man, weathered and tanned, with muscles like ropes, callused hands, not well educated exept in the customs of the sea and the Jewish traditions. A rough and ready kind of guy.
Peter was born in Bethsaida, a village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee- (actually Galilee is a fresh water Lake – not a sea). In those days, there was a continuous line of settlements and villages around Galilee.
You might know that Galilee is also known as the Sea of Genneseret, or sometimes as Lake Kinneret or Lake Tiberius. It is Israel's largest freshwater lake at about 13 miles long, and 8 miles wide. The deepest part is approximately 150 ft. and the lake lies at around 700 ft below sea level, making it the lowest freshwater lake on Earth.
Due to its low-lying position in the rift valley, surrounded by hills, the sea is prone to sudden very violent storms.
It is still known today, as it was in New Testament times, for its rich fish stocks.
Galilee plays an important part in the story of Christ. Much of the ministry of Jesus occurred on and around it.
Jesus recruited four of his disciples from it’s shores: the fishermen Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew and the brothers John and James. The Sermon on the Mount, was given on a hill overlooking the lake. Many of Christ’s miracles also took place there, including walking on the water, calming the storm, and the feeding of the five thousand.
Peter was originally named Simon, or Shimon, and was the son of Jonah, (also known as John), and was the brother of Andrew. As a child I supposed that Jesus recruited the 12 disciples pretty much all at once, and then the 13 of them were together until his death. The gospels of course disprove that and we know that the disciples were often apart from Jesus and each other. I have no doubt that Peter continued to fish and support his family, but met with Jesus and the others, perhaps on holy days, or as requested by Jesus. We know that Peters wife was a believer, so she must have either met Jesus at some time, possibly over dinner in their home, or Peter convinced her of Jesus divinity. We do not know how old Peter was when he joined the apostles, nor if he was married at that time, but he must have been a young man.
Luke tells us that Peter owned the boat that Jesus used to preach to the multitudes who were pressing on him at the shore of Galilee.
Up to this time, Peter was still called Simon, and now Jesus gave him a new name.
He called him "Cephas," which means 'rock', in Aramaic. 'Petros' is the Greek equivalent. Peter had not previously been used as a name, but it later became a very popular name after became known as the saint on which the church was founded.
What was his legacy – how is he remembered in history
Peters life and ministry have accorded him one of the most prominent places in the history of Christianity.
His life is prominently featured in the New Testament Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.
Peter was assigned a leadership role by Jesus himself.
He was with Jesus during events witnessed by only a few apostles, such as the Transfiguration
His memoirs are thought to be the source of the Gospel of Mark.
In art, he is often depicted holding the keys to the kingdom of heaven
Peter is always mentioned first in the lists of the Twelve.
Peter’s statement "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" is the very foundation of the Christian faith
Paul affirmed that Peter had the special charge of being apostle to the Jews.
Peter was the first person to enter the empty tomb, In Luke's account, the women's report of the empty tomb was dismissed by the disciples, and Peter is the only one who goes to check for himself
Peter undertook a missionary journey to Lyddia, Joppa and Caesarea and was instrumental in the decision to evangelise the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
Clement of Rome, in his Letter to the Corinthians (Chapter 5, speaks of Peter's martyrdom in the following terms: "Let us take the noble examples of our own generation. Through jealousy and envy the greatest and most just pillars of the Church were persecuted, and came even unto death… Peter, through unjust envy, endured not one or two but many labours, and at last, having delivered his testimony, departed unto the place of glory due to him."
Popes wear the Fisherman's Ring. The ring bears an image of the Peter casting his nets from a fishing boat.
The keys which are used as a symbol of the Pope's authority refer to the "keys of the kingdom of Heaven" which had been promised to Peter.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells Peter: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church."
Lets look at the not so perfect side of Peter
A few years ago, Lee Trevino – Super Mex – absolutely duffed 3 golf shots in a row. I was playing quite a bit of golf at the time (although not very well), and it was great to see that an accomplished professional could make those kinds of errors. It gave me hope.
Peter, like Lee, was not perfect either, and despite all the glory now attached to him, there were times when he would have seemed to be the last person Jesus would name as the rock on which his church would be built.
Peter was impulsive. He was often the first one to answer questions, whether or not he was right.
He was the one that got out of the boat and tried to walk on the water.
Peter may have been prejudiced! In Galatians Paul rebuked him for treating Gentile converts as inferior to Jewish Christians.
Peter could be violent. It is believed it was he who cut off Malchus ear when Christ was arrested. At that moment there is no doubt he was brave, and would have given his life for Jesus.
And yet, later, he denied Christ 3 times. Jesus had said to him, "Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice." Peter swore that he would never deny his Lord, not even on pain of death, but when the moment came, he denied Jesus with cursing and swearing!
There was -
1. A denial when a female servant of the high priest spotted Peter in the crowd, and said that he had been with Jesus.
2. Another denial when Peter had gone out to the gateway, away from the firelight, and was again accused.
3. The third denial came when Peter was recognized as a Galilean, likely because of his accent.
At that point, Peter was not only denying Jesus, but he had slunk out of the firelight and gone to the gateway where he might not be seen. The act of a coward, or perhaps simply the reaction of a man terrified by what might happen to him. The fight or flight decision was called for and his response was flight! But it happened not just once, but 3 times. From Mathew, chapter 26 we read that Peter said --
I swear I am telling the truth. May God Punish me if I am not. I do not know this man!
Can you imagine the mental agony he must have gone through after? He had denied his Messiah and he had denied his best friend.
And yet – Peter was the first one to enter the open grave.
Peter was the first to see the resurrected Christ
Peter was one of the few to see the transfiguration
Peter was the one that Christ said would be the foundation of the church
And Peter, Peter was the one, who when Christ asked him – Do you love me Peter – 3 times, Peter said “Lord, you know I love you”, and Christ responded –feed my sheep.
I am afraid I would have asked him very different questions – Why did you deny me Peter, or, perhaps – Peter, are you at least sorry you denied me, or even – get away from me, I want nothing more to do with you.
But not Jesus --he said -
Peter – son of John, do you love me. Lord, you know I love you. Feed my lambs!
Peter – son of John, do you love me. Lord, you know I love you. Feed my sheep!
Peter – Peter, son of John, do you love me. Lord, you know everything - you know I love you. Feed my sheep!
And with this exchange, Peter was forgiven and redeemed.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus hints at how Peter would die "'…when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and take you where you do not want to go.'
The year of Peter's death is thought to be either 64 or 67 A.D., so if he were 20 when he became a disciple, he would have been either 84 or 87 when he died.
It is believed that Peter had been leaving Rome to avoid execution, when he met a vision of Jesus.
"Quo vadis, Domine?" Peter said -, . ( "Whither goest Thou, Master?), to which Jesus responded "I am going to Rome, to be crucified again”. When he heard that, Peter decided to return to the Rome and accept certain death.
Roman authorities sentenced him to death by crucifixion. According to the apocryphal Acts of Peter, he was crucified head down at his own request because he did not wish to be considered equal with Jesus.
There are many characters in the bible that I could not hope to emulate. But in Peter, I can recognize and relate to his very human weaknesses.
In Peter, I can see actions that I might have taken in similar circumstances.
And in Peter, we see that in the end, with all his faults, with all his frail humanity, he rose above it all, and with the love and support of Jesus, became the rock, and became the saint.
Do you love me Peter? Lord, you know I love you. Feed my sheep!
Such a simple exchange. Perhaps it means that love is enough!
There is hope in this for us.
Thank God we are not called to be perfect!