Below is my summary of the sermon, He Came to Us: Knowing we are skeptics, preached by Jim Applegate out of Luke 1. It is the third part in a four part series of the significance of Christmas in each Gospel, with the theme of “He Came to Us” throughout the series.
Luke 1: 1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (ESV)
Luke goes on to explain the birth of John the Baptist being foretold to Zechariah and Elizabeth, the birth of Jesus being foretold to Mary and Joseph, Mary visiting Elizabeth, Mary’s Magnificat (song of celebration), the birth of John the Baptist (who goes ahead of Jesus), Zechariah’s prophecy, the birth of Jesus, the shepherds and angels, and then Jesus presented at the temple.
In Jim’s opening prayer, he thanks God for his goodness in creating us to be thinkers and skeptics, with minds that can diligently, safely think things through, with a healthy sense of skepticism that is not easily duped, or prideful. The recent tragedy in Connecticut gives us reason to be skeptical. Jim asks Jesus to give us wisdom to speak truth as we ask and are asked the hard questions.
Returning to Luke, Jim explains that Luke gives us the detailed events leading up to Christ’s birth.
Who is Luke? Luke is the author of Luke and Acts. In Colossians we learn he is a doctor (“beloved physician”). He is educated through the Roman system, great with vocabulary and detailed explanation. He is credited with being not only a doctor, but a historian. Josephus confirms details Luke writes about.
Why did Luke write his gospel? Luke wrote his account in order to 1. compile a story, 2. write an orderly account, and 3. give certainty. There are different theories as to who Theophilus was. Luke is interested in giving serious thinkers (skeptics—“show me the money” people) the facts.
Is skepticism good or bad?
There are two skeptics in Luke 1: Zechariah, and Mary. Neither of them believe they will be able to have a baby, Zechariah because his wife is “advanced in years” (old), Mary because she is a “good girl” (virgin). Although the angel makes Zechariah unable to speak for a while, Zechariah and Mary are given the answers they need.
Double-edged sword of skepticism:
1. It keeps us from not being easily duped/deceived.
2. It protects us from being given over to false thinking.
1. Foolish: We are easily duped by our own leanings.
2. Prideful: We don’t believe anyone but ourselves.
Bumper stickers that illustrate the unhealthy side:
From the religious:
“God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”
What if you misunderstood him?
“Darwin is dead, Jesus is alive, which one do you trust with your eternal soul?”
So, if someone is dead, everything they said is irrelevant?
From the irreligious:
“I’m a creationist. I believe man created God.”
Do you believe you created the lack of God?
“I was an atheist until I realized I was God.”
Do you really define reality?
Two heart-based reasons people go to the extremes of skepticism:
1. Overly needy. I doubt or am unaware that I am loved and so attempt to fill that hole with alternatives that ultimately never satisfy.
2. Overly protective. I was wounded and will never trust anyone but myself.
The Gospel: In God, because Jesus demonstrated God’s love and complete acceptance, we can be confident that we are cared for, so we can be completely vulnerable and safe to have a healthy skepticism. I don’t need to be easily duped by alternatives, or protect myself from the possibility that I am wrong.
What does this have to do with Luke?
Luke is about having a healthy sense of skepticism. He writes down an orderly account so that we can have certainty. Luke doesn’t want us to be duped or prideful. God, through Luke, calls us to be thinkers who have the facts about the complete acceptance Jesus has demonstrated.
This emphasis on being thinkers didn’t start with Luke. It’s all throughout the Bible.
Proverbs 13:16 The prudent acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly.
Proverbs 15:2 The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool pours out folly.
We see this not only in specific verses of the Bible, but in the way the Bible is set up from Old Testament promises and prophecies to their New Testament fulfillment. This shows us that God did not just want us to believe any old person who shows up saying, “I am God.” Jesus did not arrive out of the blue, but according to exact prophecies, so that we could confirm he was really who he claimed to be.
Contrast that with Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Completely out of the blue, much of it self-serving so Joseph Smith could feel good about himself.
Old Testament prophecies and pictures of Jesus, seen in Joseph (Genesis 37-50), the Passover lamb (Exodus) and so on, foreshadowed Jesus so that we would recognize him.
Luke lists some of the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Jesus: Jesus will be from the line of Judah. Promise: Genesis 49:10. Fulfillment: Luke 3:33. Jesus will be born of a virgin. Promise: Isaiah 7:14. Fulfillment: Luke 1:35. Jesus will be born in Bethlehem. Promise: Micah 5:2. Fulfillment: Luke 2:1-7. Jesus will enter the temple (before it was destroyed in 70 A.D.). Promise: Malachi 3:1. Fulfillment: Luke 2:25-27.
Things we glean from Luke:
1. We are encouraged to be critical thinkers.
2. If we keep reading, we will find the facts. Check this out.
3. The point: Luke is written and orderly so that we can walk in certainty.
We’re not going to know everything. We’ll still have questions. But about the things Luke lays out for us, we can have certainty. Resting in that certainty, we don’t have to be afraid of questions.
Consider the level of certainty you have when you drive down the freeway in a world of drug addicts and teenagers with licenses. You believe that most of the time, people follow the traffic laws, and so you drive without worrying about someone plowing into you. That is the sort of certainty Luke says you can have that Jesus really did demonstrate God’s complete acceptance, despite nagging doubts about problem passages and so on.
Are you easily fooled by alternatives? Become a Gospel-centered skeptic. Believe the truth that fully satisfies, and doubt the alternatives that don’t.
Have you closed yourself off from the possibility you are wrong? Who wounded you? Become a Gospel-centered skeptic. Jesus can heal old hurts.
Have you ever noticed:
If someone’s skepticism is based on neediness or woundedness, intellectual arguments (which are only part of Luke’s Gospel) are not going to work.
Can you listen, and let the Gospel love people? Or are you so prideful and self-protecting that you would call someone an idiot, completely missing the point of the Gospel yourself? If you get the Gospel, you will not be calling anyone idiots, because they will not be threatening you—you will be secure and safe to be vulnerable and have a healthy skepticism.
If you think you’re not easily duped, or that you’re not prideful—you probably have the unhealthiest skepticism of anybody. We all find ourselves on one end of the pendulum at different times, needy one week, over-protective the next. Become a Gospel-centered skeptic.
No matter where you are at on the pendulum of neediness and guardedness, knowing you are secure in God will bring you back to the healthy center.
Be a skeptic—just be a healthy one.
When considered in the light of Carson Weitnauer’s 6 Easy Ways to Add Apologetics to Your Sermon, Jim’s sermon does a good job of 1. explaining the historical context, 2. contrasting worldviews (healthy/unhealthy skepticism, Mormonism), 3. asking great questions, 4. being full of clues, 5. hinting that only the Gospel being true explains the clues (including our neediness), and 6. communicating that it is okay to have questions because we are completely accepted.
Resources for those with questions: