How real is your faith? Is it anchored in reality? Were you made for a relationship with God? Do you need forgiveness? Is there hope for sinners? Does any of this matter? These are some of the questions Luke wants us to tangle with.
The third chapter of Luke’s Gospel really drives home his earlier statement that this book would be an “orderly account” of the life of Jesus. The chapter opens with an historical point of reference—the 15th year of the reign of Caesar Tiberius, when Pilate, Philip, and Lysanias were all tetrarchs, and Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests—and it ends with a genealogy that reaches all the way back to the first man, Adam.
This stuff really happened. That’s something Luke wants us to know. He is not telling fables, parables, or fantasy. He is writing truth. We are reading truth. This chapter marks the beginning of Jesus’s earthly ministry. No one knows who He is yet. There are rumors floating around that some believe the Messiah has been born, but few have zeroed in on Jesus as the Christ.
Luke sets us up for this chapter by telling us in the chapters before about the miraculous nature of John the Baptist’s birth—coming from old, barren parents and leaping in Elizabeth’s womb in the presence of the pregnant Mary. Now, John emerges as a man stepping out of the wilderness to do what he was born to do: proclaim the Messiah’s coming and call all people to repent.
It can be so easy to regard our spiritual ideas and habits as some sort of mystical soul-care that has little to do with our present reality. We can take on devotional practices because they make us feel better, or ease our consciences, or make us feel enlightened. And we can just as easily begin to treat our spirituality as something that belongs to another realm, serving as some kind of escape from the here and now.
But the Gospels don’t treat faith in this way. Rather than being some ethereal concept floating in spiritual energy, Luke nails faith in Christ to the floor. He anchors it in real time, and sets it in real geography. Jesus did not come to inspire us. He came to live a life of perfect righteousness in our place, die the sinner’s death we deserve, and give us life in His name through His real cross and real resurrection.
When John the Baptist came on the scene, he did not call us to positive thinking, or quiet times, or joining up with a social cause. He called us to repent and to believe in true forgiveness, made possible by the One more powerful than him (Luke 3:16). Forgiveness would come through the real, historical, atoning work of Jesus—which, again, really did take place during the reign of Tiberius, when Pilate, Philip, and Lysanias were all tetrarchs, and Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests.
Really. Do you believe it?
Written by Russ Ramsey