The Virgin Birth - Luke 1:26-38; Matthew 1:18-25
(I gave this message Sunday December 18, 2016 at Faith Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Pembroke Pines Florida)
The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin named Mary. Some reject the Biblical account of the virgin birth denying that it is historical fact. For example, they consider it to be a "legendary development of the early church." In other words, it is a fable rather than historical event.
Patrick Campbell, author of The Mythical Jesus and Episcopal Bishop J. S. Spong suggest that, "...the virgin birth account [is a]...clearly recognized mythological element in our faith tradition whose purpose was not to describe a literal event but to capture the transcendent dimensions of God in the earthbound words and concepts of first-century human beings."
In other words they argue, it is not important that Mary was a virgin. What is important is the message such a myth conveys to us about God. This explanation often springs from a naturalistic presupposition that rules out the possibility of anything supernatural. The virgin birth of Jesus Christ is rejected not because of insufficient evidence, but because of the belief that miracles are impossible.
When you rule out miracles, you are making an unwarranted philosophical assumption. The only way you can rule out the existence of miracles is by proving that there is no reality outside of the natural world. Ultimately, whether or not your philosophical presuppositions allow for the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, it remains the clear teaching of the Scriptures.
Explore with me what the Bible teaches about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, and the implications that follow from it.
First of all, what do we know about the virgin birth? The virgin birth of Jesus Christ was prophesied. There are about 60 Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah Jesus Christ written hundreds of years before His birth. Isaiah's prophesy of the virgin birth was made about seven hundred years in advance.
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14 ESV)
But God's plan for salvation through Jesus Christ was put into motion even before that. According to Ephesians 1:4a, 5a, "...he chose us in him before the foundation of the world...In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ." (ESV) Back before time as we know it, in the timelessness of eternity, God had established His plan of salvation through Jesus Christ that was carried out, as we shall see, through the virgin birth of the Savior.
But secondly, the virgin birth of Jesus Christ was explained. As we read earlier in Luke 1:26-38, it is no wonder that Mary's first spoken response to the angel was "How can this be...since I am a virgin?" After all It is safe to assume that if anyone should know whether or not Mary was a virgin, it would be Mary!
It is possible that Mary received the angel's reply with mixed feelings, while at the same time being relieved that the angel gave her an explanation as to how she would become pregnant. She might have pondered, however, how widely this explanation would be accepted. You can imagine the dilemma Mary found herself in.
First of all, we have no reason to believe that the angel had spoken to anyone other than Mary on this occasion. There is no reason to believe the announcement was heard by others in her family. In other words, the burden of explaining her pregnancy to her family fell on her. If the angel had gathered Mom and Dan together and made a family announcement it would have taken a lot of pressure off of Mary.
Her mind must have been swirling with unanswered questions. How could she explain it to her parents? How would she explain it to Joseph to whom she was engaged to be married? How would she explain this to her neighbors? How many who heard the story of the angel would believe such an explanation?
She saw the angel and heard his message. She then faced this dilemma; do I believe the angel's explanation and act accordingly? There is a sense in which we face that very same dilemma. Do I believe the angel's explanation and act accordingly? True, none of us personally saw nor heard the angel as Mary did. But we have the witness of Luke's gospel that claims to be a historical account of what she had seen and heard.
The gospel of Luke was written by Luke the physician. He wrote it to a man by the name of Theophilus. Listen to what Luke writes at the very beginning of his gospel account.
"In as much 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." (Luke 1:1-4 ESV)
Luke makes it clear to Theophilus at the outset that he had done his homework. He had carefully researched the events of which he was writing. The accuracy and trustworthiness of his account was of paramount importance to Luke as an author and historian. Luke was writing to us as well. Today we have the witness of this document. We have no reason to doubt the credibility or authenticity of Luke's account of the angel's appearance to Mary. We have the same opportunity that presented itself to Mary to believe or not believe the angel's words and ultimately all the critics down through the ages face the same question.
Aside from the issue of historical evidence and the credibility of witnesses and sources, the real issue is uncovered by the last six words of the angel to Mary, "For nothing is impossible with God." That is ultimately all Mary needed to hear. Sure, she had seen and heard the angel, but did he speak the truth?
In her second response to the angel we see into the heart of Mary, verse 38, "I am the Lord's servant...May it be to me as you have said." That says it all! That God had spoken settled it for Mary! Please don't underestimate the faith of this young teenager. If "faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" as the writer to the Hebrews wrote, then she was faced with a great challenge of her faith.
Today we are still trying to figure out how God's Holy Spirit impregnated a virgin. It still remains a mystery after all these years. But for Mary, all that mattered was that God was in it. It was God's design. It was God's doing. It was God's will. It was part of God's plan for the salvation of a nation and the world.
God had chosen a very unlikely method to make a personal appearance into our world, Intervening in the life of a young teenage virgin from an obscure village in Palestine. Whether she grasped the eternal consequence of this event at that very moment or not, there is a simplicity to her response that instructs each of us living two thousand years later; a submissive trust in God's revelation; an acceptance of the explanation given.
A virgin will be with child because God the Holy Spirit would reach down and touch her womb implanting everything necessary for her to give birth to the God Man, the Messiah and Savior, who would bring salvation to a lost world.
How do you respond to God's invitation to be His channel of blessing? What is your reaction to God's tap on the shoulder? "Would you serve me over there?" "Would you be my instrument in so and so's life?" Would you reach that neighbor next door who is without Christ?" Mary's words, "I am the Lord's servant, may it be as you have said" should be the response off each of us when He speaks to us.
How could Mary respond with such -- almost resignation? There was hesitation at first, verse 34, Mary asking, "How will this be...since I am a virgin?" But it was resolved after Gabriel's response, verses 34-35, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."
Thirdly, notice that the virgin birth of Jesus was fulfilled. As we read in Matthew 1:18-25 the miracle birth happened just as it had been prophesied. Matthew records the historical account of the virgin Mary giving birth to a child who was the Son of God. And notice that Matthew sees this as the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy that we noted earlier. This is significant because of the audience to whom Matthew wrote.
If you compare Matthew's introduction to his gospel to that of Luke you see two different audiences. As we have noted Luke was writing to Theophilus, in all likely hood a Gentile, while Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience.
So Matthew begins his account of the life of Jesus with a genealogy. He demonstrates that Jesus Christ was from the house of David as the prophets had prophesied. And he narrates the story from the vantage point of Joseph rather than Mary as he speaks of prophesy being fulfilled.
There are over 500 specific prophesies in the Old Testament regarding Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection, some of them made 2000 years before His birth. It was prophesied that He would be an ancestor of Abraham; He would be from the tribe of Judah, specifically from the house of David. Matthew shows the fulfillment of this in his introductory genealogy. But, there is further significance attached to the virgin birth of Jesus. It declares to us in unambiguous terms who Jesus was! It helps us understand that Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man, in other words, God incarnate.
Notice secondly how the virgin birth explains four things about Jesus Christ. First of all, the virgin birth explains Jesus' pre-existence. The Bible makes the claim that Jesus Christ existed before His incarnation. In other words, before Jesus was conceived in the womb of His mother Mary He existed. John's gospel makes this very clear. Speaking of Jesus Christ he writes, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning." (John 1:1-2 ESV) The Son existed with the Father and the Holy Spirit in His pre-incarnate state.
The apostle Paul, explains it in this way "...who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." (Philippians 2:6-7 ESV)
The virgin birth was the means by which God revealed the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, to mankind. God became flesh and blood, through the virgin birth. The virgin birth was the means by which God could enter our space and time dimension to become one of us.
Secondly, the virgin birth explains His humanity. How could God who is Spirit become a man? He chose to do it through the virgin birth. That is another reason the virgin birth is so significance to us. It is the means God chose to become one of us, sharing in our humanity while at the same time remaining God. That is what incarnation means, to be in the flesh. God was incarnate, became a man with flesh and blood through the virgin birth. Matthew quotes the prophecy from Isaiah that we noted earlier, writing, "They shall call his name 'Immanuel (which means, God with us)." (Matthew 1:23 ESV)
The Apostle Paul writes, "He [that is God] was manifested in the flesh..." (1 Timothy 3:16 ESV) The incarnation was indispensable to God's plan of salvation. If Jesus had not become a human being, He could not have died on the cross in our place. He had to become one of us before He could die for us. This is at the very core of the Gospel. Jesus could not have died a substitutionary death on the cross without the incarnation.
The efficacy of the cross hinged on Jesus' identification with man's humanity through His incarnation. Without incarnation there is no means of justification. C. S. Lewis has written, "The Son of God became a man so that men could become the sons of God." (ESV)
Hebrews 10:10, "...we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." As Pastor Maurice Irvin said, "A measure of His sufficiency as Savior rests upon the reality of His humanity." ("Alliance Life", pg. 8 , 12-14-94)
The author of Hebrews has written, "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brother in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." (Hebrews 2:14-18 ESV)
Max Lucado, in his book God Came Near, writes, "Let him be as human as he intended to be. Let him into the mire and muck of our world. For only if we let him in can he pull us out."
How serious is the denial of Jesus' incarnation? Pastor Rusty Lee Thomas writes, "The denial of the incarnation is what actually constitutes the dreadful designation the Bible calls Anti-Christ. Any person, religion or philosophy that denies Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is Anti-Christ."
1 John 4:2-3, "...every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already." (ESV)
But the humanity of Jesus Christ was also necessary that He might both sympathize with us and intercede for us. "Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)
Jesus can sympathize with us because he shared in our humanity. He understands what it is like to be tempted. He understands our struggles as human beings. This was possible because He was born of a virgin becoming a man with flesh and blood like ours. And as our high priest, he can intercede on our behalf as one who identifies with out weaknesses.
Thirdly, note the virgin birth explains Jesus' sinless nature. As we just read in Hebrews 4:15 Jesus was one "...who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." John refers to Him as "Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1 ESV) Peter declared, "He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth." (1 Peter 1:22 ESV)
If Jesus had committed even one sin, He could not have died a substitutionary death for our sin. But as the angel told Joseph, as was read earlier, "...that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She shall bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:20b-21 ESV)
Lastly, the virgin birth explains His Deity. As we read earlier, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child will be called holy-- the Son of God." (Luke 1:35, ESV) Therein lies the secret of Isaiah calling Him Immanuel, "God with us" (Matthew 1:23) There is no other explanation to God becoming man. It is a mystery difficult to explain but clearly spoken of in the Scriptures.
Jesus' own testimony, John 10:30, "I and the Father are one." (ESV) John chapter 14:9, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. " and verse 11, "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me."
Colossians 1:15, "He is the image of the invisible God..." verse 19 "For in him all the fullness of God is pleased to dwell." Hebrews 1:3, "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature."
The virgin birth explains Jesus Christ's pre-existence, His humanity, His sinless nature and his Deity. To what end? Jesus Christ became a man to save us from the penalty of our sin. Paul put it this way, "By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:3 ESV)
Let me close with this illustration. In his book, The Lotus and the Cross, Ravi Zacharias creates an imaginary conversation between Jesus and Buddha.as they take a ride on a boat. In that conversation he also includes a young woman named Priya.
In the prologue of his book, Ravi states that Priya's character was based on a newspaper report he read while on a visit to Asia. At the age of seventeen, Priya left her parents and village and moved to the city to find work. By the age of twenty three she was working as a full-time prostitute; had given birth to an illegitimate child; and contracted AIDS but continued her trade putting her clients at risk. She attempted suicide several times, and according to the news account was finally successful having poisoned herself and set her house on fire. Before beginning the imaginary conversation between Jesus, Buddha and Priya, Ravi asks this question, "What, Lord Jesus, would you have said to Priya, had she brought her decrepit body and aching heart to you?"
In that conversation between Jesus and Buddha among other things, Jesus contrasts what He can offer Priya with what Buddha can offer her. As you can imagine the contrast is significant. Towards the end of the conversation Priya realizes that her salvation lies beyond herself. Listen to some of the closing dialogue between Jesus and Priya as the book comes to an end. It captures the significance of Jesus coming into our world through the virgin birth as we have noted this morning.
Priya: So … I cannot bring salvation to myself?
Jesus: No, Priya. Salvation is from above.
Priya: May I … may I ask about myself, here? What then happens to all the evil that I lived with in the past, if I cannot do anything about it?
Jesus: I have paid for it, Priya. I have paid for it. Old things can pass away and I can make all things new. I took the evil and suffering of this world. I bore it on my body. I carried your heartaches and your sorrows so that you can remove the weight of wrong and put it on my shoulders. I came into the world to bear those very sins. You may be like a lotus seedling still submerged under the water; someone else may be a full-grown plant. It makes no difference. The Cross is for everyone who thirsts for forgiveness and for eternal life. A child can come to me, as can the most learned. There is only one way….
Priya: So you’re telling me that as I place my trust in you, I can go back to my room knowing that I’ve been completely forgiven?
Jesus: I’m telling you more than that. Though this body of yours will die, you will rise again and live forever, because I rose from the dead and offer eternal life to everyone who believes in me…."
In his Epilogue Ravi continues, 'Jesus Christ came to give us a life of fullness, not detachment, a life that will be eternal, not impermanent. His name is Jesus, the Scriptures say, because He saves us from our sins. His name is also Emmanuel — God with us. He is called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
Priya died feeling orphaned by this world — she needed a Father. She died overwhelmed with questions — He is the Wonderful Counselor. She died distraught — He is the Prince of Peace. She died alone — He is Emmanuel, God with us. He promised never to leave us or forsake us. Jesus is who Priya needed. In that sense, He was very much in that boat and is not far from any of us. That each one of us can know Him is not a stretch of the imagination."
In this Christmas season, there is no question I can ask you, more important than this -- do you know the Jesus Priya never knew? If not, today you can respond while there is still time. The Gospel would call you to repent of your sin and believe in the Jesus of Christmas and follow Him.
It was because God became one of us through the virgin birth, that Paul could write the Romans, "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 8:8 ESV)
© James P McGarvey, All Rights Reserved