Mission Incarnate II: That You May Have Certainty

Christmas is a season in which we pretend to believe a great many things that we know aren’t true: toymaking elves, flying reindeer, a very fat man fitting down a very thin chimney. But even our grown-up behavior shows that we are clinging to some lies – that money can buy happiness, that all this Christmas food won’t make me fat, or even just that we are buying into a romantic ideal of how the holidays should go: no relational hiccups, decorating disasters, or unmet expectations. We act as if these things are true because we badly want them to be true. We like the world of giving and loving that an idealized Christmas portrays, and we want to live in it even for a few short weeks until we grudgingly return to the real world in the middle of a cold and wet January.

This is why the beginning of Luke’s gospel is one of the greatest gifts ever given to mankind. If Santa Claus still means a lot to you in March, you have a real problem with reality, but because of Luke’s work, if you are just as excited about Jesus in July as in December, you are not in love with a fantasy or a delusion; you have been captivated by the truth. Luke wants you not just to have good Christmasy feelings, but certainty that what you have been taught about Jesus is true.

Luke is engaging in the part of mission called apologetics, that is, commending or defending the Christian faith. By claiming to offer certainty, Luke challenges two kinds of people: if you come like the centurion: “I believe, help my unbelief”, then Luke offers you a faithful account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. But if this is not enough for you, Luke has a humbling message – you’re not looking for certainty any more; you are simply trying to prop up your unbelief. The evidence that Luke presents renders you inexcusable. In John 9:39, Jesus says: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind. Apologetics as part of God’s mission never does nothing; it either reveals and hardens one in blindness or it gives light to those walking in darkness.

As we encounter these verses, we see three ways that Luke’s example teaches us how to commend and defend the faith in a way that produces certainty about Jesus: Eyewitness testimony (v.2) + paying close attention (v.3a) + an orderly account (v.3b) = certainty (v.4).

First, eyewitness testimony is crucial. Many people have been saying all sorts of things about Jesus, but Luke has done the hard work of separating truth from hearsay. Hearsay produces rumors, not truth, and rumors result in suspicion, not certainty. But Luke didn’t copy this stuff from Wikipedia; he has talked to Mary, to disciples, to apostles, and has recorded their testimony.

Next, Luke has paid close attention for a long time (3a). These are the considered words of someone who has spent a long time becoming familiar with the persons, places, and events that he talks about. We all know that images get blurrier at greater distances, and so Luke has taken great pains to get close to the truth so that he can present a story accurate down to the details, not just vague impressions.

Luke also stresses that he has written an orderly account (3b). Disorder produces chaos, not truth, resulting in confusion, not certainty. But Luke has told a coherent story, moving from the birth of Christ to His death and resurrection. Rambling through the gospel only leaves the hearer confused, not convinced, and so every detail of Luke’s account is put in its proper place in order to provide certainty.

Here’s how to do apologetics and provide certainty: give verified testimony, not rumors. Pay close attention and be specific, not vague. State the truth clearly and in order, without rambling. In order to bring about this certainty, this settled assurance, this confident trust, the Holy Spirit guided Luke to carefully present the results of a diligent investigation.

And in the way that He gives us this gift, He teaches us how to give this gift to others. Luke shows us how to carry out the mission of God by commending and defending the “things we have been taught”: the great truths about the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our calling as His people is to share the certainty we have as a shining light to those in darkness.

Posted on Wednesday, December 10, 2014 by CJ Bowen