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Why I Believe

Luke 1

It is fashionable in our day to regard the Bible as being a quaint collection of fairy tales – from which you can tell that the mavens of fashion have never read it. But many Christians are ignorant of the solid factual foundation of the Scripture. To this point we must now attend.


Luke lays out the purpose of his writing quite concisely:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

(Luk 1:1-4 NASB)

There is some debate about who “Theophilus” might be; some say it is a general title of those who love God, for that is what it means in the Greek. Others, citing the title “most excellent” as being commonly used of the nobility of the time, think this is written to a particular individual. Who can say?

Luke, the writer

We do know something about Luke himself.

  • He is definitely not a Jew, but one raised in the Greek culture of that time and place. Church history places him in Syrian Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians. He has a complete grasp of Greek, but is also well versed (or researched) in Hebrew custom.
  • He is certainly a doctor of the time. Several of the expressions are those which are found in the medical literature of the time, and no where else.
  • He is the companion of Paul, and he is the writer of Acts of the Apostles. Only fitfully has this been challenged; the evidence is overwhelming, both internal and external.
The character of this Gospel

It is overwhelmingly clear that this is the authentic Gospel.

  • The internal evidence – such things as the style of the Greek, the names and places mentioned (especially in Acts) and the references to Luke by Paul make it clear that this book is just what it appears to be.
  • There is also the external evidence. The writers of the early church, particularly Eusebius, Iraneus and Origen , all testify to the writer being who he claimed to be, in the method he claimed.
  • Particularly with regard to Acts, the archeological evidence is very firm. Luke describes places with names of local rulers who have been confirmed by the archeologists. (Kindly remember: “there is no evidence” in archeology may mean simply that we haven’t dug it up yet.)

The integrity of the work has been challenged only by those intent on denying the doctrine of the Incarnation. Virtually all scholars of the Scripture accept Luke as being not only accurate, but also as being the one which provides the correct chronology. Since Luke is not an eyewitness of the Resurrection, he has been obliged to carefully deal with conflicting memories.

Purpose of the work

Luke did not do this out of an amiable thought and too much spare time. His purposes are clear.

  • First, to solidly ground the faith as taught in the facts as they happened.
  • Next, to be the clear Gospel to the Gentiles – those with no experience in Judaism.

This is extremely important. These are not the personal recollections of John; nor the notes from Peter’s preaching (Mark), nor even the shorthand taken at the time by Matthew. This is a scholarly work in the best academic tradition of the time.

Why is this important? Because he begins his account with the most important miracle ever to impact human history: the Incarnation of the Word of God. This is such an important – and unique – fact that it is going to be met with doubt. Indeed, Joseph and Zacharias both have their doubts – it is only in the humility and obedience of Mary and Elizabeth that we see the faith in action. Doubt comes from the pride of the strong minded; the cheerful humility of the obedient is shown to triumph over it.

God provokes poetry

No one, to my knowledge, has ever been lukewarm when encountering the Almighty – even in the form of one of his messengers (angels). Zacharias, like Gideon of old, doubted.

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. "You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother's womb. "And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. "It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Zacharias said to the angel, "How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years." The angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. "And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time." The people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home. After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, "This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men."

(Luk 1:5-25 NASB)

We might wonder why Zacharias was hit with a gag order. But consider what God would have expected of him: he is a priest, one knowledgeable in the Law and the Prophets. He has been selected to serve in the inner sanctum of the Temple. All the people would look up to him as an example. He has the greater knowledge and position, and therefore the greater responsibility.

His failure, for such it is, shows us the difficulty of the learned and intellectual. He knows so much – including all the reasons why it can’t happen. Of course, he also has the example of Abraham and Sarah – which he will remember in due course. He has been faithful in little things; but his doubt rises up at the moment of the big thing. It is proof once again: if you would follow the Lord, obedience must triumph over doubt.

Note, however, that his failing does not stop God’s purpose. Gabriel does not set out to find somebody better at this. He simply tells him of the discipline God will impose – and the fact that the purpose of God cannot be thwarted by our failures.


Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. "And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. "For nothing will be impossible with God." And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! "And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? "For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord."

(Luk 1:26-45 NASB)

We will, for the sake of brevity, skip over the meeting of Gabriel and Mary. Less known, but still important, is the reaction of Elizabeth. The meeting with God inspires poetry in some, and here it begins. May I point out to you the three “blesseds” she shows us?

  • First, blessed is Mary, the mother of our Lord. We must not let Roman Catholic excess conceal the fact that this one woman, above all other women of all time, was blessed by God. She had the unique privilege of bearing the one man who is the Son of God.[1] If you would know why she was chosen, the words “humility” and “obedience” should come to mind.
  • Next, blessed is the Christ child to come. In all generations since we have cried, “Bless the Lord!” Here is the first such cry.
  • Finally, as a lesson to us, blessed is “she who believed.” God told her the impossible was about to happen. She did not doubt (though she did question). Like Abraham, she had faith – and it was imputed as righteousness.

The clearest picture of Mary’s thinking is in what is called the Magnificat[2], her praise to God.

And Mary said: "My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. "For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. "For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. "AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM. "He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. "He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. "HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; And sent away the rich empty-handed. "He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever." And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.

(Luk 1:46-56 NASB)

Mary exalts the Lord; she does not proclaim how wonderful and deserving she must be to have achieved all this. In fact, she proclaims quite the opposite.

  • Her first praise concerns the fact that God has exalted her – by granting her the unique privilege of being the mother of Jesus, the Christ. There is no thought of, “I’m so humble, that’s why I’m worthy.” You see know sign of Mary thinking of herself except in the context of being an ordinary peasant selected by the sovereign grace of God.
  • Indeed, she tells us that this is exactly what to expect of God – that he grants mercy and grace to the humble, but brings down the proud. God’s character, not Mary’s, is the subject of this psalm of praise.
  • God is the one who brings down the proud; the humble need not trouble themselves with it. In this He is to be praised.
  • Finally, God is faithful to his promises. The Messiah was promised long before, the Holy One of Israel. God does not forget his promises, but brings his words to fruition in his own, precise time.

Mary, it seems, knew God well.

The doctrine of the Incarnation

We began this lesson by stating that Luke’s factual nature is important to the Christian. In the song of Zacharias we can see the prophetic nature of Christ’s coming – and much else of sound doctrine as well.

Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her. And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. But his mother answered and said, "No indeed; but he shall be called John." And they said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name." And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, "His name is John." And they were all astonished. And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, "What then will this child turn out to be?" For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him. And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of David His servant-- As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old-- Salvation FROM OUR ENEMIES, And FROM THE HAND OF ALL WHO HATE US; To show mercy toward our fathers, And to remember His holy covenant, The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS; To give to His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins, Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, To guide our feet into the way of peace." And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

(Luk 1:57-80 NASB)

Please note these six prophecies:

  • God “has accomplished” the redemption of his people. The atonement of Christ is so sure, so much in God’s will, that it is described as a future fact.
  • God has sent the “horn of salvation.” The horn (think of an ox horn) was the symbol of power and strength. This salvation is not one which must be achieved by our muscle and sweat – but by the power of God.
  • This is done by the forgiveness of sins. Even here we see that the Cross will sweep away the barrier between man and God.
  • This is in fulfillment of the words spoken by the prophets. This is no sudden thing; God has planned this from the beginning of the universe.
  • We shall not be left out of this; he has given us a part in which to serve Him in holiness and righteousness. By his power and grace we can become the servants of the most high God.
  • He will guide us by his light – into the path of peace.

That was a mouthful, wasn’t it? And a solid description of the Incarnation – and its results.

Challenge to doctrine

Let’s put this simply: all significant heresies for the last two thousand years have challenged either the humanity of Christ or the divinity of Christ. Why? Because Satan knows the truth: only the one who was fully God and fully man could make the atonement for our sins. If Christ is not human, there is no atonement – for the sacrifice must be from among one of us. If Christ is not divine, there is no atonement – for only the divine could keep him from sin, and keep him perfect to be the sacrifice. If there is no atonement, there is no reason for the church – whose mission is to spread the Good News (“Gospel”) of the reconciliation of God and man – through the atonement of Christ. All depends upon this. Therefore we are given the work which was carefully researched, reviewed with eyewitnesses and diligently ordered – so that we might know and believe the truth.


Let me be perfectly clear with you. I believe.

  • I believe – because of the overwhelming evidence found in history.
  • I believe – because the evidence of my own eyes shows me the power of Christ to change lives.
  • I believe – because I know the changes he has made in me, changes I could not have done in my own power.

You may ask, just what do I believe? May I point you to the first and oldest of the creeds – summaries of the faith given to the believer to be memorized so that they might be kept in the faith. It is called the Apostles’ Creed – not because they wrote it, but because it teaches what they taught.

1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:

3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:

4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:

5. The third day he rose again from the dead:

6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:

7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:

8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:

9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:

10. The forgiveness of sins:

1l. The resurrection of the body:

12. And the life everlasting. Amen.

God helping, I can do no other.

[1] There is much confusion over this. Protestants tend to overreact to Mary and diminish her importance. She is not important for what she did as much as for what she was chosen for. If you strip away the idolatry of the worship of Mary so common in the Roman Catholic church you will find a model for the Christian in one sentence: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.” Obedience is still the way to God’s heart.

[2] From the first word of these verses in the Latin Vulgate translation.

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