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Preaching on Luke

An overview of the historical background and theology of Luke to help you develop your sermon series and apply it to your hearers.
Preaching on Luke
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Of all the books in the New Testament, Luke’s Gospel is the longest. The life of Jesus is chronicled similarly to Matthew’s and Mark’s portrayal. He devotes more ink to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, about ten chapters. In addition, one finds parables and other material not included in the other Gospels. This Gospel account is the first installment of a two-volume set: Luke’s account of the life of Jesus, the Gospel of Luke, and the chronicling of the birth of the church, the Book of Acts. Luke begins his Gospel with the following purpose: that Theophilus “may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4). Luke wanted Theolphilus—and other followers of Christ—to be convinced about what the Father has done for the world through Jesus Christ.

Historical Background

Luke, a gentile Christian, the historian-physician, sets out to write an account of the life of Christ. Written most likely between the mid to late 60s, internal and external evidence underscores the book’s authenticity, as well as affirmation in this regard by the early church fathers, Irenaeus and Tertullian. Scholars observe that Luke used various sources, including drawing from Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts, with some material shared from John. “Many have undertaken to draw up an account” of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, notes Luke (1:1), and it is from these sources he draws. But his account interestingly does not include some material that are in Mark and Matthew.

The central purpose of the Gospel of Luke is, along with the Book of Acts, along with Theophilus, and other converts like him, that they might be certain of what God has done in Christ (Luke 1:4). The early church, now separating from Judaism, needed an apologetic as they were experiencing rejection from their Jewish roots and hostility from the culture of the Greco-Roman world.

Sermon Series

The Book of Luke contains these broad sections:

  1. The Prologue: Luke 1:1-4
  2. The Births of John the Baptist and Jesus: Luke 1:5-2:52
  3. Jesus’ Preparation for Ministry Luke 3:1-4:13
  4. Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee: Luke 4:14-9:50
  5. Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem: Luke 9:51-19:44
  6. Jesus in Jerusalem: Luke 19:45-21:38
  7. Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection: Luke 22:1-24:53

The seven sections above chart out the development of the book. The seven sections can be apportioned into combined shorter series if the preacher prefers not to preach through the Gospel of Luke at one time. However, the book can be approached as a biography of the life of Christ, followed with a biography of the life of the church, as depicted in the Book of Acts, both authored by Luke.

The big idea for the Book of Luke is: We can be confident that Jesus is the Christ.

Sermon Series Outline

This thorough outline shows you how preaching through Luke can be divided into different pericopes with suggested titles, exegetical ideas, and big ideas.

Download: Luke Sermon Series Outline


The subjects on which Luke writes and focuses are broad and wide. This narrative of Jesus’ life touches on all of us who need confidence in who Jesus is. The various topics covered in this Gospel challenge every preacher and listener to applying Jesus’ teachings to life. The careful preacher will want to discern the thrust of the text and then connect that thrust to the everyday life of the listener. Each pericope in Luke has immediate importance to the life of the listener, and it’s the preacher’s responsibility to hone in on the text and attach it to those who hear it.

This section on application cannot address fully the applicational aspects of all the pericopes presented in this article. Suffice it to say that what Luke sets out to do from the very beginning, “to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (1:3-4), can be demonstrated in application of each preaching passage.

Luke’s readership was comprised of Gentile Christians of whom Luke wanted to be convinced of salvation in Jesus Christ and have the capacity to understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Therefore, as we preach the Gospel of Luke we will want to be aware of some of the repeated application themes that stand in the background of our preaching:

Salvation: That Gentiles—all people—are included in the grand plan of God by means of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.

Discipleship: This was key for Gentile followers of Christ, to be one who gives of him or herself wholly to follow Christ and this is seen in how one lives.

Identity of Christ: To know who Jesus is and be convinced of his identity and divinity.

The Spirit’s Work in Believers: To be convinced of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all disciples.

The Gospel of Luke is a grand account of the life of Jesus Christ written for Gentile believers and nonbelievers. In essence, all of the Gospels were written to create faith in the lives of the readers who may or may not be believers. This Gospel determines to persuade Gentiles to embrace and continue in a life of faithful discipleship in Christ.

The Gentiles were unlikely candidates for the salvific work of Christ, yet one notes that Luke presses this theme throughout the Gospel. Application works in opposite. For example, in Luke 18, there are four short stories of application in the opposite: the persistent widow (18:1-8) who gets justice from the judge; the Pharisee as opposed to the Tax Collector (18:9-14) who demonstrates true piety; adults not children who are enabled to come to Christ (18:15-17), and the pious young ruler (18:18-30) who is prevented from salvation because of his commitment to riches. These are not what one would expect as wealth and community position would give other results. But Luke writes regularly capturing and communicating such gospel irony. As preachers, our task is to help our listeners come to terms with this irony, an irony that exists even in the twenty-first century.

Theological Themes

The Gospel of Luke is the first of a two-volume set written to chart the history of the church. Luke carefully explains the relationship between the things about which he writes with the events taking place in Roman and Palestinian life. Theologically, Luke considers the life of Jesus (his Gospel) and the life of the church (Acts) as a fulfillment of God’s plan as people experience salvation.

This “theologian of salvation” demonstrates that salvation is for all kinds of people—sinners, tax collectors, women, poor people, children. Additionally, the place of prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit are shown in this Gospel, and continues in the Book of Acts.

In his Gospel, Luke highlights the importance of discipleship and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, in light of his death and his ultimate return. The Cross is considered by Luke to be a fulfillment of God’s plan but gives little insight on the relationship between Jesus’ death on the Cross and the forgiveness of sins.

This is an account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the One in whom salvation is found. This Jesus is described by Luke as the Messiah, Lord, Son of God, Son of Man, Savior, servant, king, prophet, healer, physician, rabbi, and Son of David.

Below are some of the theological themes that emerge in Luke:

Luke 1:1-4: An apologetic for Christ

Luke 1:5-25: Prophecy of a coming Christ

Luke 1:26-38: Incarnation and Soteriology

Luke 1:39-45; 1:39-56; 1:46-56: Work of the Holy Spirit

Luke 1:57-80; or 1:57-66; 1:67-80: Providence of God

Luke 2:1-20: Incarnation

Luke 2:21-40: Angels and Prophecy

Luke 2:41-52: Humanity

Luke 3:1-20: Prophecy

Luke 3:21-37: Baptism, Providence, Messiahship, Kingship

Luke 4:1-13: Humanity and Divinity of Jesus

Luke 4:14-30: The roles of Jesus the Christ

Luke 4:31-37: The power of Jesus over evil

Luke 4:38-44: The power of Jesus to heal

Luke 5:1-11: Discipleship, calling

Luke 5:12-16: The power of Jesus to heal

Luke 5:17-26: The power of Jesus to heal, omniscience

Luke 5:27-32: Righteousness

Luke 5:33-39: Fasting, the nature of Jesus’ ministry

Luke 6:1-11: Sabbath, the Law, healing, the Son of Man

Luke 6:12-16: Prayer

Luke 6:17-26: Kingdom of God

Luke 6:27-36: Love of enemies

Luke 6:37-42: Judging others

Luke 6:43-45: Good fruit and evil fruit

Luke 6:46-49: Lordship

Luke 7:1-10: Faith, gentile salvation

Luke 7:11-17: Jesus’ power over death, messiahship

Luke 7:18-35: The role and place of John the Baptist

Luke 7:36-50: Forgiveness of sin

Luke 8:1-15: Nature of the kingdom of heaven, word of God, devil, nature of following Jesus

Luke 8:16-18: Listening faith

Luke 8:19-21: The character of one’s relationship to Jesus

Luke 8:22-25: Jesus’ power over nature

Luke 8:26-39: Jesus’ power over demons

Luke 8:40-56: Jesus’ power over illness

Luke 9:1-9: Discipleship, kingdom of God,

Luke 9:10-17: Miracles

Luke 9:18-27: Confessing Christ

Luke 9:28-36: Transfiguration

Luke 9:37-45: Power over evil, prediction of death

Luke 9:46-50: Greatness in the kingdom

Luke 9:51-56: Heaven, rejection of Jesus

Luke 9:57-62: Cost of following Jesus

Luke 10:1-24: Evangelism, kingdom of God, Satan, Holy Spirit, the Father

Luke 10:25-37: Mercy

Luke 10:38-42: Honoring Christ

Luke 11:1-13: Prayer

Luke 11:14-28: Demons, kingdom of God, evil

Luke 11:29-32: Prophecy, signs

Luke 11:33-37: Being a genuine follower of Jesus

Luke 11:38-54: Hypocrisy

Luke 12:1-12: Secrets of the heart, provision for witness

Luke 12:13-21: Foolishness, greed

Luke 12:22-34: Confidence in God’s provision

Luke 12:35-48: Coming of the Son of Man, Son of Man

Luke 12:49-53: Mission of Jesus

Luke 12:54-59: Misinterpretation

Luke 13:1-9: God’s patience

Luke 13:10-17: Sabbath, healing

Luke 13:18-21: Nature of the kingdom of God

Luke 13:22-30: Salvation, kingdom of God

Luke 13:31-35: Authorities, passion of Jesus

Luke 14:1-14: Sabbath, pride, humility

Luke 14:15-24: Kingdom of God

Luke 14:25-35: Discipleship

Luke 15:1-7: God’s care for lost humanity

Luke 15:8-10: God’s care for lost humanity

Luke 15:11-32: God’s care for lost humanity

Luke 16:1-18: Judgement, God over money, the Law

Luke 16-19-31: Hell, salvation

Luke 17:1-10: Sin

Luke 17:11-19: Salvation, thanks for salvation

Luke 17:20-37: Kingdom of God

Luke 18:1-8: Prayer

Luke 18:9-14: Humility and pride

Luke 18:15-17: Humility, kingdom of God

Luke 18:18-30: Discipleship, kingdom of God

Luke 18:31-34: Son of Man, death of Jesus, prediction

Luke 18:35-43: Mercy, healing, Jesus’ authority to heal

Luke 19:1-10: Jesus’ mission to save what was lost

Luke 19:11-28: Kingship of Jesus

Luke 19:29-44: Prophecy, Lordship, Peace in heaven

Luke 19:45-48: Jesus’ Lordship over worship

Luke 20:1-8: Jesus’ authority

Luke 20:9-19: Jesus’ lordship

Luke 20:20-26: Government and the Christian

Luke 20:27-40: Resurrection, marriage

Luke 20:41-47: Sonship of Jesus

Luke 21:1-4: Giving

Luke 21:5-38: Signs, prophecy,

Luke 22:1-6: Betrayal, cost of discipleship

Luke 22:7-38; or 22:1-23 and 22:24-28: The Last Supper

Luke 22:39-46: Prayer, messiahship, angels, role of Christ

Luke 22:47-53: Authority of Jesus, peace

Luke 22:54-62: Betrayal

Luke 22:63-23:25: God’s providential provision of a Savior.

Luke 23:26-43: Crucifixion

Luke 23:44-49: Death of Jesus

Luke 23:50-56: Burial of Jesus

Luke 24:1-12: Resurrection of Jesus

Luke 24:13-35: Resurrected Jesus

Luke 24:36-53: Ascension

My Encounter with Luke

Luke is the longest of the Gospels and presents challenges, the least of which is sustaining listener interest and focus. Personally, I have found Luke to be an engaging read and quite preachable. The pericopes are like scenes in a movie, throughout the chapters we become increasingly familiar with the lead character, Jesus. Luke’s focus on Jesus—his birth, calling, miracles, and repeated recognition that he is the Christ—gives a beautiful, textured portrait of the Savior. Each time I preach from this Gospel I am further drawn into the wonder of Christ and his supreme sacrifice for us. No doubt Theophilus was able to know with certainty—like me—that Jesus is the Christ.

Preaching the rich life of Christ from the Gospel of Luke gives a panoramic defense of faith in him. The preacher wants to keep in mind Luke’s purpose: to provide an accurate account so that all disciples will be certain of the things about this Christ (Luke 1:4). When we do that, our listeners will be encouraged to live confident lives as disciples of Jesus.


Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., Matthew-Luke: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984).

David E. Garland, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Volume 3 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).

Robert H. Stein, The New American Commentary, Volume 24 (Nashville: B&H, 1992).

Sermon Example

Text: Luke 18:1-8

Subject: How does Jesus tell his disciples in Luke 18:1-8 how to pray in light of his second coming?

Complement: Like a widow who persistently asked for justice from her adversary before a judge who eventually granted her request because he was tired of hearing her request and Jesus said that God is better than the judge who will grant justice quickly but Jesus asks if there is anyone who has such faith as the widow.

Idea: Jesus tells his disciples in Luke 18:1-8 to pray in light of his second coming like a widow who persistently asked for justice from her adversary before a judge who eventually granted her request because he was tired of hearing her request and Jesus said that God is better than the judge who will grant justice quickly but Jesus asks if there is anyone who has such faith as the widow.

Homiletical Idea: Pray persistently with faith because God hears your prayers.

Purpose: As a result of hearing this sermon, I want my listeners to pray and never give up.

Title: A Spiritual Pain in the Neck


I have a confession to make: I don’t understand prayer. Yes, I know it’s “talking to God,” but I’m no expert. Back in seminary I was instructed that prayer is a “second cause” in the great work of God—I’m still not clear on what that means. I know that we’re instructed to pray in the Bible, but I’m not quite sure how it works.

With prayer I feel more like an amateur, not a professional. I feel clumsy and cautious and fumbling.

We pray. We get an answer. We pray. We don’t seem to get an answer. We feel like giving up. Have you ever felt that way? Maybe you’ve talked to God about your finances—and the windows of heaven haven’t opened and poured down any results. Or, you’ve knocked on God’s door about your health. You’ve asked him to heal you, to relieve you of your pain or discomfort. But the nagging reality is you’re still sick.

You might have asked God to make right a relationship that has gone sour. It might be with your son, daughter, mother, father, friend, co-worker, or even your spouse. But heaven seems silent and you feel like writing off prayer.

I can understand. Why pray when prayer seems worthless? Why pray at all? Really. Why spend your time talking to the air? You feel like giving up. Men and women throughout the centuries have sometimes felt that way, too. Jesus knew that we would face those kinds of roadblocks in our relationship to God. He knew that believers would wonder where he is, why he’s taking so long, or, if he’s even there to hear our prayers. And Jesus has some encouraging words for his disciples—and for us—whom he knew might want to give up praying. His words are recorded in Luke 18:1-8, in a little story, a parable.

Turn with me to Luke 18:1-8 and as I read the passage, ask yourself, “what does Jesus tell us about prayer?”

(What does Jesus tell us about prayer in this passage? What is he instructing us to do?)

I. We are to pray persistently.

  1. We are to pray persistently like a widow.
  2. Widows know what I’m talking about.
  3. Persistent praying doesn’t mean that we are nagging and bothersome to God.
  4. We are to pray persistently.

(If we pray persistently, what’s the promise? What’s the promise that this texts show us? It is this …)

II. God hears your prayers.

  1. God is not like the unjust judge.
  2. God’s timing is not our timing.
  3. We may think that God doesn’t hear or answer our prayers.
  4. God hears our prayers.

(So, what, then, is Jesus teaching us about prayer? What is this text telling us? It is this …)

III. Pray persistently with faith because God hears your prayers.

  1. We pray persistently because we have faith.
  2. The faith we want to remain faithful in prayer is simple trust in Christ as God.
  3. We wouldn’t want it any other way.
  4. Pray persistently with faith because God hears your prayers.


One of my former students, was on the 2010 US Olympic bobsled team. He worked hard every day, consistently and persistently training. He lifted, ran, pushed a sled on a track, and ate a disciplined diet—no matter what. He knew who he was, an Olympian, and he trained no matter the weather, no matter how he’s feeling, no matter the circumstance. If you were to ask him what is more difficult, what is more challenging, training for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 or praying consistently with faith, I’m confident he’d say prayer. He knows the devastation of spiritual landmines, material landmines, financial landmines, sexual landmines, and the soul-challenging obstacles to daily faithfulness in Christ. But he also knows that Christ is God—and with that truth, it got him through the challenges of being an Olympic bobsledder and put him on the road to being an Olympian of faith.

You may think, “I’m not an Olympic athlete, I’ll never be able to pray like that.” I’m not, either; I’m an amateur. Faith here isn’t hoping against hope. Faith is putting your trust in a God who is faithful and you depend on him no matter what and let him know about it through prayer. The widow in this text could out compete any Olympian from any country in the world when it comes to praying to the God who cares for her. And you can, too. We want this kind of determination—God-given faith—to run the distance, to the end till Christ’s return, don’t we? Persistent prayer underscores our dependence upon God and it demonstrates our faith in him and he says he’ll always care for us. God, give us this kind of faith! Pray persistently with faith because God hears your prayers.

Scott M. Gibson is the Professor of Preaching and holder of the David E. Garland Chair of Preaching at Baylor University/Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. He also served as the Haddon W. Robinson Professor of Preaching and Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, where he was on faculty for twenty-seven years.

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