Matthew and Luke are the two gospels that contain the most information about the birth of Christ and all the information about His early childhood. As you read the Gospels, you might think you are reading about two different births. Only the names of the parents and child are the same. Even the genealogies they each provide have different names and families. You have to ask why?
The reason is found in the first four verses of Luke. This is where you discover the biography of the author. It is written by Luke—to find out more information about him, you need to turn to Acts (his other New Testament Book) where he introduces himself during the second missionary journey of Paul. In Luke 1:1-4, Luke tells us that he wrote the account of the life of Christ for a man called Theophilus. He wrote it as a research paper so that he could know there was fact behind the things he had been taught. Luke took the time to write this gospel by the word of the eyewitnesses who saw these events in Jesus’ life first hand.
We believe that Joseph had died by the time of Jesus’ ministry so the information could not have come from him. We don’t know if Luke had a chance to talk to any of the shepherds who saw the angel’s announcement of Christ’s birth, but we can be most assured by the content of Luke’s gospel focus that he did have a chance to talk directly to Mary. In fact, church tradition claims that Luke was the painter of the first icon, and its subject was Mary and Jesus as a babe. It seems apparent that Luke received eyewitness statements from Mary. His gospel tells so many stories from her perspective; the most material is from Jesus’ birth.
Luke told us the details behind the story of John the Baptist’s birth announcement and about even the earliest interaction between John the Baptist and Jesus when John was in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. He tells us how an angel came to Mary in Nazareth and quotes a beautiful song attributed to Mary. His gospel is full of songs as he gives a record of John the Baptist’s father Zechariah’s song as well as the details of why and how John was named John after his birth. Luke also contains most of the Christmas story and is the most popular gospel read on Christmas night. It even made its way into the popular Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon. Luke tells us that a very pregnant Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because of the census ordered by Caesar Augustus. We learn from Luke that Jesus’ first crib was a manger (a feed trough for animals) and assume He was born in a barn because there was no room in the inn. He goes into great detail about the experience the shepherds had while watching their sheep; then details their journey to find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger and how they discovered the scene just as the angels had proclaimed, leaving in triumphant praise for all that God had done and told them. He records Jesus’ first trip to the Temple in Jerusalem (not too far from Bethlehem) where His parents met Simeon and Anna, who told them some astounding things about their son.
Later, as Luke reintroduces John the Baptist and Jesus, he gives a different genealogy, mentioning that Jesus was thought to be the son of Joseph. Yet rather than citing Joseph’s father, he starts with a man name Heli (whom we believe to be Mary’s father) and takes the genealogy all the way back to God, who is the true Father of Jesus.
Luke’s gospel is pregnant with information and details, the kind a mother might remember so exactly. In fact he told this one detail that might build our confidence in these events by claiming in Luke 2:19, “But Mary treasured up all these things in her heart.” Which is where I believe is where they were told to Luke.
Advent and Matthew
Advent and the Gospels