No one wants to chart a course in life with half assurances, especially in the Christian life. No Christian wants to take up their cross and follow Christ on the road of suffering half convinced that He is indeed the Savior King. We all long for certainty—certainty that promises to remain even as the seasons and circumstances of life change. We all itch for certainty concerning Christ that extends beyond the horizons of what can see, that confounds the conventions of cultural givens and defies the limits of our personal wisdom.
The gospel of Luke is written that we might have this certainty. Writing to Theophilus, Luke presents an orderly account of the narrative of Jesus that Theophilus, and we with him, might “know the certainty” of the things we have been taught—things, as implied, about Jesus. What Luke opens to us in his orderly account is the source of true and lasting certainty—the revelation of God in Jesus.
In the opening chapter, Luke recounts the annunciations of John’s and Jesus’ births. While Luke presents these stories in parallel and with much similarity, these stories diverge in the responses of Zechariah and Mary to the good news announced to them. In Luke’s telling these stories, there is something profound connected with his purpose of writing—that we might know the certainty of Jesus.
There is a way to pursue the accumulation of facts and miss the self-revelation of God in the story of Jesus.
Zechariah, a learned priest, and Mary, an obscure teenager, are both presented with the good news of the Lord’s deliverance. Zechariah and Mary both respond with a similar question. Zechariah with “How shall I know this?” Mary with “How will this be?” Yet Zechariah is condemned for his unbelief. “And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time” (Luke 1. 20). So where did Zechariah go wrong? And what can we learn from him and Mary about the source of certainty?
Zechariah, surely learned in the Scriptures and well acquainted with the stories of Sarah and Hannah, had been praying for a son (1.13). Thus, when it is announced that his prayer has been heard and his wife will bear a son, the expected response would not be a question of doubt. Yet his question, “How shall I know this?” (1.18) is, as mentioned, evidence of his unbelief (1.20). In the angel’s rebuke and affliction of muteness, the echoes of Exodus 14.14 (“The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent”) and Isaiah 30.15 (“In quietness and trust shall be your strength”) ring clear. In the end, however, it is not his question that earns rebuke but his lack of faith and humility before his all-sovereign God.
It seems obvious that Luke, in his labor to give Theophilus and us a certainty of Christ, presents Zechariah as an example of one who possesses knowledge only in theory but lacks it in practice. True certainty, as Luke will show us, arises not from right knowledge alone but from a right response to the revelation of God. The warning for us in the response of Zechariah is that there is a way to pursue the accumulation of facts and miss the self-revelation of God in the story of Jesus.
It is not the priest who knows much that Luke presents as one who knows the certainty of Jesus, but the young girl who “has not known” who receives the revelation of God with humility.
Contrasting with Zechariah is Mary who lacks knowledge but humbly receives the revelation of God. Upon hearing of the good news that she will bear a son, indeed the Son of the Most High God, Mary responds, “How will I know this since I have not known a man?” While this may seem at first glance to mirror Zechariah’s question of doubt, Luke makes it clear that Mary’s response is one of humility as evidenced by her statement, “I am the servant of the Lord” (1.38). It should be freeing for us to see here that questions aren’t always indicators of distrust. There is space in humility to ask questions.
In perhaps an unexpected twist, it is not the priest who knows much that Luke presents as one who knows the certainty of Jesus, but the young girl who “has not known” who receives the revelation of God with humility. This response of humility is the origin and essence of true certainty. It is only in the posture of humility that certainty will come. Indeed, Proverbs instructs us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Further, Luke shows us that proclamation and praise are the proper response to God’s revelation in Jesus. Mary and Zechariah both burst forth into songs of blessing that recognize the gracious action and covenantal faithfulness of the Lord. Despite Luke’s presentation of Zechariah as one who initially did not respond to the revelation of God rightly, chapter one ends with him prophesying that his son will give knowledge of salvation to God’s people—that they might know the truth of Jesus. Even in affliction and discipline, the Lord has acted so that we might rightly respond to him.
Luke is inviting us to not simply be acquainted with their story, but to recognize that we with them have been swept up into this story and, further, to live in this story—to respond rightly to the revelation of God in Jesus
The first chapter of Luke’s gospel ends with Mary and Zechariah both recognizing that they have been swept up into the divine drama to bring long-anticipated redemption to God’s people. Luke is inviting us to not simply be acquainted with their story, but to recognize that we with them have been swept up into this story and, further, to live in this story—to respond rightly to the revelation of God in Jesus. This is what the apostle Paul has in mind when he writes to church in Rome, “By the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12.1)—our whole lives offered up as a proclamation of praise in response to what God has brought to light in Jesus. With a view of Christ thrust before our view, how could we respond otherwise?