Theology in 3D

Christmas and the Reliability of God’s Words

Layton Talbert | December 4, 2023

Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he reads, even when it’s a passage he has seen many times before. As I was rereading (for the fifth or sixth time this Christmas season) Luke’s nativity narrative, I was surprised by a repeated emphasis on the utter certainty of God’s words. Over the years, I’ve given a good deal of attention to that passage, and to that theme.1 But Scripture has the unique capacity to delight even the long-time reader with previously unnoticed details, sometimes in the most familiar literary terrain.

What I had never noticed before is that when you read Luke’s nativity narrative attentively, a mosaic emerges that repeatedly depicts the reliability and trustworthiness of God’s words. Where in this most familiar of biblical stories does Luke underscore the fidelity of God’s words?

The first occurrence was when the angel Gabriel delivered an astonishing promise to the aged priest Zacharias: he and his wife would have a son (Luke 1:11–17). But Zacharias “wavered concerning the promise of God” (unlike Abraham, Rom 4:19–20), and asked the angel for some kind of confirmation that this was really so (Luke 1:18). Gabriel clarified that he was relaying God’s words, not his own (Luke 1:19), and consequently pronounced the old saint speechless until those words from God were fulfilled. Why? “Because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their own time” (Luke 1:20). And so they were (Luke 1:57–66).

A second assertion of the infallibility—and therefore the reliability—of whatever God says also comes from Gabriel, in his words to Mary: “For with God, nothing shall be impossible” is not so much an assertion of divine ability as an assurance of divine reliability: “For with God, no saying shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37, literal).2 Nothing God says will prove impossible for him to do—an assurance that comes on the heels of God’s promise to do the impossible. Joel Green translates Luke 1:37, “For no word from God will be impossible,” signifying “Gabriel’s denial of the impotency of any word of God; this point is taken up immediately by Mary (“let it be to me according to your word,” v. 38).”3 And so it was (Luke 2:7).

The third time the theme surfaces is in the words of Elisabeth to Mary (1:45). The wording is variously translated: “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord” (KJV, NKJV) or “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (ESV, NAS; cf. NIV). Either way, the statement affirms the certainty that what God has said is exactly what will happen.

Fourth, Mary reaffirms this truth in her Magnificat. In sending his Messiah through her, she exulted, God was helping his servant Israel, just “as he spoke to our fathers” (Luke 1:54–55). Fifth, Zacharias blessed the God of Israel, “for he has visited and redeemed his people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us,” just “as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets” (Luke 1:68–70). Sixth, he did this in order “to perform mercy to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, and the oath which he swore to our father, Abraham” (Luke 1:72–73).

The seventh piece of this Lukan mosaic surfaces in the shepherd pericope (Luke 2:8–20). In announcing the birth of Christ, the angel gives them a confirming sign so familiar to us that we forget how unique and bizarre it was: “you will find a babe . . . lying in a feed trough” (Luke 2:12)! Sure enough, “they came with haste, and found . . . the babe, lying in a feed trough” (Luke 2:16). To underscore the point unambiguously, Luke adds that the shepherds “returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had seen and heard, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20).

The eighth and final reference to the reliability of God’s words comes from the aged Simeon. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him “that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). True to his word, the Spirit providentially led Simeon to the temple on the very day of the infant Christ’s dedication (2:27). Taking the Child up in his arms, he blessed God: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29–30).

God not only does amazing and miraculous things all the way through the nativity narrative; he regularly announces ahead of time the amazing and miraculous things he’s going to do, and then does them. That is the very criterion God offers to differentiate himself from every pretend god and wannabe deity (Isa 41:21–24). He is determined that all the nations will come to know that he is the God who always keeps his words (Ezek 36:36).

Put another way, divine ability (omnipotence) is one thing; but divine reliability is quite another. The Christmas story is just one more evidence and reminder of that.


1 A biblical theme that has repeatedly captured my attention over the last several years is developed in The Trustworthiness of God’s Words (Christian Focus, 2022). See Scott Aniol’s review of The Trustworthiness of God’s Words.

2 The Greek term rhēma, like the Hebrew dabar, is routinely glossed as “word” or “thing.” But that secondary nuance is sometimes too hastily relied upon. If you take the time to poke around in the passage, you’ll often discover that the “thing” being referred to is a spoken thing. For example, trace the usage of rhēma in Luke 1:37, 38, 65 and 2:15, 17, 19, 50, 51; in every case where it is translated thing(s) it is referring not to generic “stuff” but specifically to something spoken right in the context.

3 Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke (NICNT, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 97, emphasis added. John Frame vouches for the significance of this literal rendering as well in The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), 51.


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