Luke writes his Gospel to a new Christian named Theophilus, “that he may know the certainty of those things in which he was instructed” (Luke 1:4). Try to read Luke as though you are Theophilus, opening Luke’s letter for the first time. Ask yourself how each story helps you to “know with certainty” that Jesus is your Savior. Luke calls his Gospel “an orderly account” (Luke 1:3) of Jesus’ life. His order is somewhat different from Matthew or Mark, but overall it’s still chronological.
It begins with the righteous old priest named Zacharias, who doubts the good news from archangel Gabriel that his wife Elizabeth, past child-bearing age, will bear a son whom they should call John, who will announce the coming of a Savior (Luke 1:5-25). Next, Luke contrasts Zacharias’ doubt with the faith of a young virgin, Mary, who believes Gabriel, when six months later he tells her that she will conceive through the Holy Spirit and give birth to the coming Savior, Jesus (verses 26-39).
Zacharias had every reason to believe, and Mary had every reason to doubt Gabriel’s words. Gabriel appeared to Zacharias on the right side of the altar of incense, the side indicating favor. As priest, Zacharias knew the story of Sarah giving Abraham a son when she was past child-bearing age. But like Abraham, he doubted God’s promise asking Gabriel, “How can I be sure of this?” (Luke 1:18 NIV).
Our own strength or weakness to believe tends to influence our faith in God’s abilities. Gabriel quickly reminded Zechariah not to dwell on impossibilities but on God’s promise: “I am Gabriel, I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news” (Luke 1:19).
On the other hand, when Gabriel came to Mary, he asked her to believe what had never happened before, a virgin birth. Mary simply asked: “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34). After Gabriel’s explanation, Mary responded: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
As you read Luke 1, ask yourself if you really believe “with God nothing is impossible” (verse 37). If, like Zacharias, you are tempted to doubt God’s promises, if some things seem impossible to believe, look for how God’s power is already working in your life. At the circumcision of his son, Zacharias had all the proof he needed . So when they ask him to name his son, he wrote confidently the name Gabriel had already given him, “His name is John” (verse 64). Pray that God will give you faith to also believe the promises of God and the promise of Jesus’ Second Coming.
Douglas Jacobs, D.Min.
Professor of Church Ministry and Homiletics
School of Religion, Southern Adventist University