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Minor Men With a Major Message: Luke – The Man Who Majored In Modesty

II Timothy 4:11, Colossians 4:14, Philemon 24

On these summer Sundays, we are looking at minor characters from the New Testament who pack a major message for our lives. We have chosen to focus on unlikely people who have unlimited possibilities. Today, I want us to search out something of the forgotten greatness of a man named Luke. His significance lay in his modesty.

Remember, please, that here was a man who wrote one-fourth of the New Testament. He wrote the longest Gospel—the Gospel which bears his name. And he wrote the longest history of the early Christian church—the Book of Acts. Taken together, they are more than the contribution of any other single writer to the material of the New Testament. They constitute the heart, the center, and the bridge of the New Testament. They link the Gospels and the Epistles. They bind together the life of Jesus in the flesh and the ministry of Jesus in the Spirit. Luke gave us all that, yet there is not so much as a signature on the corner of the title page. There is no boasting or self-aggrandizement. There is no credit or attention or publicity sought. What a rich spirit. He was the man who majored in modesty.

Now the fact is that we know precious little about the remarkable man who played such a pivotal role in the Christian faith and the Christian church. He is mentioned only three times in the Bible—and each time he is mentioned in less than a verse. In every case, he shares a verse with other people. If you count all of the words which apply to Luke, including the “the’s” and the “a’s” and the “and’s,” you come up with a little more than a dozen, only nine of which are significant. However, even though we have just a handful of words about him, taken together, they provide us with a composite portrait of a most remarkable man. He is the kind of person we can identify with, the kind of person we would do well to imitate. To show you what I mean, I want us to take a look at each of these three references to Luke in the Bible…

The first reference is found in Colossians 4:14.

It is there only because Paul, at the conclusion of his letters, always liked to share greetings. So here is what we read: “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demos greet you.” Now what I want us to focus on are the words Paul used to describe Luke: “beloved physician.”

“Physician.” Luke was a doctor, yet he was a doctor in the midst of a missionary campaign. What does that say? Then, as now, of course, medical service was a terribly demanding career. Then, as now, a doctor required exacting training and specialized skills. Then, as now, a physician was constantly surrounded by the sick crying out: “Help me! Heal me!” Then, as now, a physician could not calculate or control his schedule each day.

So Dr. Luke would have been quite justified in saying: “Look, I am too busy to take on a big job for the Lord. Just let me be a doctor. That is all I can handle.” But Luke did not say that. He did not say: “I have got no time for the work of the church.” He did not say: “All the energy and effort I can offer you is my leftover energy and effort.” In other words, Luke did not draw a distinction between what he did for a living and what he did for the Lord. He did not separate his sacred faith from his secular work.

Make no mistake, his secular work, his medical practice, was good. We have to have doctors. In fact Paul had to have doctors. Paul had what he called his “thorn in the flesh.” We do not know precisely what it was. Some have suggested that Pual was an epileptic, occasionally stricken by debilitating seizures. Others have suggested that after his experience on the Damascus Road which temporarily blinded him, he was left with continuing eye trouble and migraine headaches. Still others have suggested that Paul had contracted malaria, and that its recurring nature would periodically plunge him into serious illness. We do not know Paul’s dilemma, but we do know that he was bedeviled by physical frailty and he needed a doctor. In fact, that is why Luke was so constantly with him. So let us never put down the importance of what a doctor can do for humanity in general and for God’s apostles in particular.

You see, while it is true God occasionally brings healing in miraculous ways, He most frequently brings healing through the normal channels of medicine and surgery. I believe that God uses all doctors in one way or another, at one time or another, to accomplish healing. But I also believe that when you find a doctor who is a committed Christian, you find a doctor whose healing powers are dramatically increased. You have heard me say that this church is blessed with a great number of committed Christian doctors. They are the kind of doctors who say: “I am going to complete my rounds in time to get to church at 11:00″…or “I am going to go to early church and then make my rounds.” They are the kind of doctors who are sensitive to the partnership that exists between the practice of prayer and the practice of medicine. And consequently they are the kind of doctors who possess an extra dimension of power in their work.

How can I ever forget visiting the Kwangju Presbyterian Hospital in Korea? I was taken to the operating room to participate in what is normal surgical procedure in that hospital. There was a woman on the operating table about to undergo serious cancer surgery. Before the anesthetic was administered, everyone in the room—the surgeons, the anesthesiologists, the nurses, the aides, the patient and I—all joined hands and all prayed. Only then did the surgery begin. Luke would have understood that, and would have appreciated it. He drew no distinction between what he did for a living and what he did for the Lord. Luke was a physician in the Lord’s service.

“Beloved.” That is also what Paul called him: “beloved physician.” My friends, you do not become beloved with pills and needles and scalpels. “Beloved” refers to people, not pills. It refers to relationships, not techniques. It means that Luke was engaged in the practice of encouragement as well as the practice of medicine. It means that he was influencing people for good and for Christ. He was not just a doctor. He was something more. And that is the beauty of it. You do not have to be just an accountant, just a salesperson, or just a teacher, just a homemaker, just a business executive—you can become beloved. That is, you can use your vocation to make an influence on people, to shape other people’s lives, to encourage other people to become what God wants them to be.

I looked up the word “beloved” in Scripture. It is used many times, but this is the only time where it is used to modify a job. Beloved brother, beloved sister, beloved friend. Yes. But here we read: “Beloved physician.” So many of us make the mistake of thinking that we do our secular work, punch the clock, get that over with—and then we do our Christian work. Luke never made that mistake. He said: “I will do my work as a physician in such a way that the Lord will be glorified and that people will be blessed.” That is why Paul called him the “beloved physician.”

The second reference is found in Philemon 24.

Once again, Paul lists the names of those sending greetings. There is Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, and Demas. Then there is Luke. And Paul labels him “my fellow worker.”

Now the word “worker” Paul uses here bears a literal interpretation because they were not just missionaries supported by some church or denomination. They were people who had to ply their trade during the day. So Luke was not an honorary member of Paul’s medical team. Luke was a worker with a hard job to do. Yet notice, as I have said, he was never praised for it. This is the only tribute Paul ever paid to him for his effort. Paul called him a “fellow worker”—a partner in labor. We need that kind of worker today. Understand me please, I am not suggesting that we withhold praise for people who do good work. Heavens no! We ought to praise—we ought always to praise a job well done. But what I am saying is that we need workers like Luke who work for the sheer joy and glory of working and not for any praise or gratitude they might receive.

Anyone who has been to Denmark knows the work of the sculptor Thowaldsen. His sculpted works of art are magnificent. However, he did much of his work in Italy because that is where he could find the huge blocks of marble he needed. On one occasion when he had completed a huge and very beautiful statue, he had it crated up to ship back to his beloved Denmark. In the process of packing, in order to cushion the huge statue, a kind of grassy straw available in Rome was used. When the statue arrived in Denmark, it was uncrated and that straw—there was a lot of it—was scattered about to make mulch wherever it was needed. What was not known was that down in the straw were seeds which had been carried on the winds in Rome. So after workers spread all that straw about Copenhagen, the next spring for the first time, the flowers of Rome began to bloom along the streets of Denmark.

Luke’s work was like that. He did not get all the attention and the acclaim. Peter and Paul got that. Luke was just a “fellow worker.” He was the straw, the wrapping, the packing, the kind of person who makes the whole thing fit. But you know, I almost feel that as Luke quietly moved up and down the Mediterrean world, the beautiful flowers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ began to grow and bloom surprisingly, inconspicuously, like an afterthought.

Feed that into the super-computer which you call your brain. We do not have to be spiritual giants to serve the Saviour. We do not have to be the superstars of the faith in order to help God build His kingdom on earth. We are not called to be high-powered executives of things spiritual whose purpose is to lead lowly bunglers to glory. Not at all. We are simply called to be servants, to be fellow workers with Jesus Christ who very quietly, very lovingly, very faithfully speak and live the Gospel every day. Luke was that kind of person. That is why Paul called him “my fellow worker.”

The third reference is found in II Timothy 4:11.

This comment about Luke may be the most touching and beautiful of all. Paul was in prison in Rome. He was under the sentence of death. All around him Christians were being mauled to death by wild animals in the arena or they were being tied to stakes and set on fire to light up Roman gardens. It was a time of bloody persecution for those who carried the name of Jesus and Paul knew that his time would soon come. So he wrote this plaintive note to Timothy. He said: “Do your best to come to me soon. Demas has deserted me…(Demas. Remember he was mentioned in both the Colossians verse and the Philemon verse). “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me, Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.” Then Paul writes: “Only Luke is with me.”

We need to remember here that Luke did not have to be there. He was a doctor. His services would have been much in demand in Rome. He did not have to languish away in that jail with Paul. Sure Paul still had his “thorn in the flesh,” sure Paul still needed a doctor. But Paul was a condemned man. He was going to die soon anyway. Luke could well have said: “Let me go to those who can use my healing skills. Let me treat a more hopeful situation. Let me get out of this dank prison. Let me save my skin.” But Luke did not say that.

“Only Luke is with me.” You know there is a quiet courage that is its own best witness in life. There are times when the world sort of goes insane and you get boxed in a corner and there are problems that even a great apostle like Paul cannot solve. But John Milton was right. “They do serve who only stand and wait.” There is something very beautiful, something truly glorious about Luke just being there, standing by his leader and friend, loyal to the end, faithful to the uttermost, “Only Luke is with me.”

In America, we have a winner psychology. I understand that. I want to win as bad as anyone. I do not suffer failure gracefully or graciously. And I want Christianity to be the most popular thing in the world. I want churches crowded to overflowing. I want people being drawn to Jesus Christ. I want Christian beliefs accepted in society. But I also know that it is easy to be a Christian in circumstances like that. Paul understood that. When he was in Ephesus, they filled up the coliseum to hear him speak. The Word of the Gospel fell on eager ears. Christianity was booming in popularity. And that was when Mark and Demas and Aristarchus and the others were with him. But later on when the going got tough, when Paul was in jail, when the end was near, and when hope was dim, the others disappeared. “Only Luke is with me.”

I think that is what Jesus wants to know from you and from me. Not will we be with Him when living the Christian life is easy and we are free to worship God as we please. No. He wants to know if we will be with Him when the going is tough and when we think we are alone and when hope seems dim? “Only Luke is with me.”

That is what made Luke so great. That is why he could write two books of the Bible. That is why he could be such a spiritual giant. It is because when he did not have to stick, he could not be pulled away. It is because when his commitment became costly, he paid the price. It is because his loyalty to Jesus Christ and his loyalty to Christ’s servant, Paul, ran so deep. “Only Luke is with me.”


That is every last word written in the Bible about Luke. Anything else is hearsay. Anything else is tradition. Just nine words. “Beloved physician…Fellow worker…Only Luke is with me.” We do not know much about him. But, oh, if we could just live like him…

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