Introduction: For many years I thought that “faith” was primarily an intellectual and a spiritual commodity, but in the last ten years or so I’ve come to realize it has a great emotional quality to it. When we trust God and His promises, it relieves us of so much worry and heavy-heartedness. Faith is intellectual, for we make a rational decision about what is trustworthy; it’s spiritual, for it gives us access to all God’s blessings; but it’s also emotional because it brings peace into our hearts. We see all those elements in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. We want to begin studying Luke, chapter-by-chapter, week-by-week, and we begin with chapter 1. I have a very simple outline for this chapter that I’ll give you. This is a very long chapter, and we may not read every word of it; but we can survey it quite easily.
- It is Rational to Believe (Luke 1:1-4). Every book of the Bible has its own distinct purpose, and sometimes the purpose is overtly stated somewhere in the book. John’s Gospel ends with the purpose statement in John 20:31. Luke begins his Gospel with the purpose statement. He told us that at the time of his writing many accounts of the life of Christ were showing up in the bookstalls of the ancient world, and many of them were fanciful. We have some later Gnostic Gospels that fit into that category. Luke tells us that as a historian, he carefully investigated everything, talking to eyewitnesses, seeking out the historical facts, and writing it down in an orderly, dependable, chronological way. He addressed his book to Theophilus and told us that he had written this book so that we would know the certainty of the things we have been taught. Faith is a rational decision of the mind and will based on credible evidence. It isn’t believing in spite of the evidence, but because of the evidence.
- It is Easy to Doubt (Luke 1:5-25). Luke begins his Gospel with an account of the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist. The angel Gabriel appeared to an old priest named Zechariah who was serving in the Temple in Jerusalem. As he entered the Holy Place alone to burn incense, he was astonished when Gabriel appeared to him and told him that he and his aged wife Elizabeth would have the son they had prayed for long ago. Despite the fact that Zechariah was a humble lifelong servant of the Lord and despite the startling appearance of a heavenly angel, Zechariah’s instinctive reaction was to doubt. “”How can I be sure?” he asked in verse 18. Compare these two phrases side by side: “…so that you may know the certainty…” in verse 4, and “…how can I be sure?” in verse 18. It’s an intentional contrast, teaching us that it’s always sensible to take the Lord at His word.
- It’s Better to Trust (Luke 1:26-45). Six months later, the angel Gabriel was dispatched again, this time to Nazareth to Mary, to announce to her the birth of the Christchild. She did ask him, “How will this be?” in verse 34, but she was full of faith. Her response was in verse 38: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” And in verse 45, we have one of the most succinct definitions of faith in the Bible: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” Faith is believing that what God has said to us will be accomplished.
- Doubt Leaves Us Silent, but Faith Leaves Us Singing (Luke 1:46-80). Because of his doubt, Zechariah was struck with dumbness and his mouth was silent. But because of her faith, Mary bursts into song, which we call today the Magnificat (v. 46-56). When John is born and Zechariah follows the angel’s instructions regarding his name, his tongue is also loosed, and he bursts into song, which we call the Benedictus.
Conclusion: This sets the stage for Christmas, in Luke 2. Faith is rational; it’s easy to doubt but it’s better to trust, because doubt leaves us silent but faith leaves us singing. That’s the lesson on Luke, chapter 1.