Reflection: Luke 1:5 – 80; Rom 4:19 – 21.
The intention of Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles was to persuade Theophilus, a skeptical Roman official, that what he had heard about Christian teachings are true. Luke dived straight into the birth stories of John the Baptist and Jesus; juxtaposing the ensuing events with the support of eye witnessed accounts. He described the foretelling of John’s birth to Zechariah, his father (vv.5-25), followed by that of Jesus to Mary (vv.26-38); then Mary visited Elizabeth, and her spontaneous Messianic revelation (vv.39-56); a few months later, John was born (vv.57-80), and he capped it with the birth of Jesus. The comparative pattern of these events is obvious, as his apologetical objective to one who probably was not unfamiliar with the trial and ignominious execution of both men, was to project the reality that God had conceptually planned these two incredibly unusual births to fulfill His purpose.
An angel declared to Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to his son, and months later, she did (vv. 13, 24). Similarly, with the angel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary and the birth of Jesus (vv.26, 2:7). They were not coincidences. Only God is able to send an angel to predict a birth and then follow through with it. Furthermore, these women’s childbearing statuses were humanly challenging, but just the sort of circumstances God takes on; ‘They had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and advanced in years’ (v.7), while Mary was a virgin engaged to a man (v.27). God is uniquely at work and was in control. Besides, Luke also wanted to draw Theophilus’ attention to the fact that Jesus was far greater than John, as the latter is to be the forerunner to Jesus (v.17), the Son of the Most High, who shall reign forever (vv.32-33).
Quite apart from attesting to Theophilus on the power of God and the primacy of Jesus, Luke was drawing out the differences in the way Zechariah reacted to the angel’s declaration to him on John’s birth, and Mary’s reply to Gabriel; viz., their responses to God’s promises. Zechariah’s ‘How shall I know this?’ was in sharp contrast to Mary’s “How can this be since I am a virgin?’ The angel discerned beyond his question, that he actually did not believe his announcement and was demanding for more evidence, while Mary requested for an explanation. He received a rebuke and the sign was that he would remain dumb till the birth of John. As a priest, he had no excuses, and ought to have known what God is capable of from Old Testament chronicles. Mary believed and was blessed (v.45). Luke’s emphasis to Theophilus was between belief and unbelief; to be like Mary when you hear about Jesus, do not be like Zechariah!
Although it is not wrong to want verification for our faith as belief is not often unsupported, but demanding signs beyond what a humble and open spirit would require, positions us with Zechariah. We have even fewer reasons to doubt God’s capabilities having possessed the whole counsel of God in His Word. Hence, processes of unbelief are irrational. Further into his Gospel, to emphasize this, Luke quoted Jesus strong words as a warning; ‘this generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah. For Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation’ (Luke 11:29-32).