In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod [a son of Herod the Great, king when Jesus was born] being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…(Luke 3:1 – 2)
The first quotation from Luke relates to the birth of Jesus Christ; the second quotation relates to the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus Christ. Roughly 30 years separate these two historical events; Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph…(Luke 3:23)
Jesus Christ was born in time and space, His birth is a fact of history; the location of His birth is a fact, the time of His birth is a fact, the time when His ministry began is a fact, His death and resurrection are facts, as are His ascension and His many-faceted coming again.
If I begin a story with the words, Once upon a time, the hearer or reader immediately knows that I am likely going to share a fictional account. However, if I begin a story with words such as, During World War II, when Franklin Roosevelt was President of the United States, Winston Churchill Prime Minister of Great Britain, and Joseph Stalin Premier of the Soviet Union, the hearer or reader assumes that I’m about to share an historical account.
Luke begins his Gospel with these words, Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 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, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
This is not an Once upon a time introduction. It is a clear statement that the account which follows is true, has been researched, has been recorded from eyewitness accounts, and that it can be relied upon.
Why then are Christians reticent about sharing the story of Jesus Christ? Why are they apologetic about the most astounding event in the history of the world? Why are they reluctant to actually follow the One who the Gospel is all about?
One of the great historical facts that supports the historical dating that Luke and his Gospel-writing colleagues provide us is the collective life of the men and women who followed Jesus Christ. Their lives bear suffering testimony that Jesus Christ was born, lived, was crucified and rose from the dead. Their lives also bear witness that on the Day of Pentecost the promised Holy Spirit came to indwell those who believe in Him. Furthermore, the character of their lives testifies to the truth of the Gospel, that men and women can find forgiveness, peace, love, and joy – and that they can experience a love so deep and powerful that they gladly give their lives for Christ and others, even to death. Their lives testify that women and men can be at peace in relationship with God through Jesus Christ rather than engaging in a perpetual search for cleansing and enlightenment.
The birth of Jesus Christ is fact; the Gospel is fact; and yet the professing church tends to treat it as fiction, as functional fiction. The proof? A proof that the early Christians treated it as fact is that they told others. Who have we told this Christmas season?