“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.”
As I was preparing for my upcoming sermon on Luke 3:1-6 on December 2nd, 2018, my attention was drawn to these two verses. For a while I seriously considered going into greater depth on them. I even had a good two hundred or so words typed out. But alas, I recognized that it would’ve interrupted the flow of the sermon, and so those words met the delete button. I didn’t even hang on to them for this little devotion.
One of the many accusations leveled against the Christian faith is that the stories we hold to are nothing more than fiction, fairytale, or myth. More often than not, though, these dismissive arguments come from people who may have a strong gut reaction against the Bible, but have not arrived at their conclusions through any serious legwork. Had they done the legwork to investigate the Bible’s claims, they would agree with numerous trial lawyers (Craig Parton being one of them), who have said that both the internal and external evidence for the Bible’s claims passes the bar for reasonable doubt. Some trial lawyers have even gone on to say that they have won convictions with less evidence that what there is for the central truth claim about Christianity: That Jesus rose from the dead.
Legwork…That’s what stands out to me in this reading. At the onset of Luke’s gospel, Luke makes this statement: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)
I absolutely LOVE the historian in the person of Luke. In preparing his letter—his account of the life and ministry of Jesus—for Theophilus, he wasn’t content with hearsay or the passing down of stories, the latter of which was common in oral societies. He investigated—i.e. he interviewed eyewitnesses, corroborated stories, got his facts straight.
One of the fruits of that labor was pinpointing the time when John the Baptist began his ministry. It was in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. And then he goes on to list another four local rulers. Taking these statements and pairing them up with other, non-biblical ancient documents that we have, we can say with certainty that John’s ministry began either in the year 28 or 29 A.D.
And here’s the great thing about this. It’s not fairytale. Verse 7 says that crowds came out to be baptized by him. Matthew’s gospel reports that people from all over the region went out to see him. Even the religious leaders of the day, Pharisees and Sadducees—i.e. his enemies—could not deny Luke’s report about John.
This is what I value so much about my faith. It’s rooted in reality, not mere philosophy or speculation. It isn’t something that a small group of people conjured up in their minds for the sake of prosperity and gain. The Christian faith is not divorced from history. It’s a part of the history of God’s people—in the days when Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census (Luke 2:1); in the days when Tiberius was Caesar of Rome (Luke 3:1); in the days when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea (Luke 3:1)—a claim Bible critics disputed for centuries until evidence of Pilate’s existence was unearthed at Caesarea Maritima. It is HIS-story: The history of God becoming also man. The history of his teaching and his miracles, both of which even his enemies couldn’t deny. The history of his crucifixion and resurrection.
What is this SO BIG for me? It gives me confidence: Confidence that my faith is not based on a lie or deception. Confidence that I’m not backing the wrong horse. Confidence that “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness…” And so “On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.” (CW 382)