Christmas 2010 – Jesus B.C. 4. Born of a Virgin
Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23 Christmas is an amazing time of year. We Christians ought to enjoy Christmas more than anyone. Remember, it was our holiday first! Christmas is the first great miracle of the Christian faith - the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. It is taken for granted in our circles, yet from the very beginning there have been the doubters. One Short Step It’s only a short step from denying the Virgin Birth to denying the deity of Jesus Christ. First you attack the birth, then you attack the baby. First the miracle, then the man. Once you deny his miraculous entrance into this world, it’s short work to deny his deity, or that he ever existed at all. That’s the ultimate goal of liberal, secular theology – to say that Jesus is not the Son of God from heaven who came to earth as the God-Man to die for our sins. When these so-called scholars are finished, the Jesus of the Bible will be replaced by a pale imitation who is neither Saviour nor Lord. The Apostles Creed “I believe in Jesus Christ who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” Points to a fundamental fact of the Christian faith: in Jesus Christ, God became one of us. The NT clearly declares that the Virgin Birth actually happened in time and space. Matthew and Luke both tell the story as reality. You can say it isn’t true if you want to. But you can’t deny that the Bible clearly teaches it. You can’t deny that the early church believed it. This doctrine has always been considered one of the fundamental doctrines of the faith - something that all Christians have always believed. So it’s time for an update - Can we still believe in the Virgin Birth? 1. Reasons to Doubt Why does anyone doubt the Virgin Birth? A. It’s a miracle By definition miracles are beyond human explanation. They are hard to understand and even harder to believe. After 2000 years, we tend to forget how strange it must have been. Joseph didn’t understand at first. That’s why he intended to give Mary a private divorce. He assumed she had been unfaithful to him. But the angel informed him in a dream that he could accept the truth. Mary didn’t understand either - she was completely baffled and even frightened by the Gabriel’s amazing announcement. No one really knows how it happened. Gabriel uses very discreet, non-specific language to describe the actual conception. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1: 35). “Overshadow” speaks of the direct, personal presence of God. Same word - Transfiguration - describes the cloud that enveloped Jesus, Moses and Elijah (and Peter, James, and John) on the mountain. From that cloud came a voice saying, “This is my Son.” Gabriel told Mary, “The holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Physically, how did the conception happen? No one knows. During the “overshadowing” the Holy Spirit created within Mary’s womb the unborn (yet fully human and fully alive) Person of Jesus Christ. It is a pure miracle of the highest order. No one can explain it or duplicate it. The Virgin Birth of Christ stands absolutely alone. Nothing can be compared to it because no other birth has been – or ever could be – like it. B. It’s an unexplained miracle Nowhere are we told exactly why Jesus was born this way. Could Jesus have been conceived through natural means if God had so desired? We simply don’t know. We know the Virgin Birth happened, but the Bible nowhere tells us why it had to happen that way. There is much speculation, but we aren’t 100% certain. C. It’s not mentioned outside of Matthew and Luke Only 2 gospels mention the Virgin Birth. It’s never explicitly mentioned in Acts or the letters of Paul, Peter or John. While there are certain texts that seem to imply the Virgin Birth (Galatians 4: 4) and it is certainly compatible with the picture of Jesus in John 1 - never directly mentioned outside of Matthew and Luke. D. The message matters more than the details This is liberal Christianity. They say that the early church simply made up the story of the Virgin Birth to enhance the uniqueness of Christ. They wanted to believe he was the Son of God so they created this story to prove he was more than a man. Let’s stop and ask what remains if you deny the Virgin Birth. You really only have 2 choices. 1. You can say that Joseph was the real father of Jesus and that the Virgin Birth was invented to make Jesus seem divine. 2. You can argue (as certain Jews did) that Mary had an affair. These lies have floated across the centuries and still find currency today in the evil minds of unbelievers and liberals who still hate Jesus 2000 years after his birth. If you deny the Virgin Birth, you still have to account for Jesus? Where did he come from? Whose son is he? 2. Reasons to Believe Having stated the case for doubt and unbelief, let me now lay out the positive reasons to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. A. It was universally believed by the church for 1800 years I have already quoted the Apostles’ Creed. Every other major Christian creed of the first 1800 years also contains the Virgin Birth. No Christian denomination even thought to question it until the rise of scientific rationalism during the Enlightenment. Men such as the French philosopher Voltaire led the charge against the Virgin Birth. The fight continued during early years of 20th century. Denominations split and new churches were formed in a dispute over whether this doctrine was essential to Christianity. B. Every major branch of the Christian church still believes it Evangelicals of every stripe believe in the Virgin Birth. The Catholic church strongly affirms this doctrine. So do the various Orthodox Churches. The only churches that don’t believe it are the denominations that have capitulated to liberalism and politically-correct theology. C. The NT explicitly says Jesus was born of a virgin Both Matthew 1 and Luke 1 clearly say that the conception of Jesus Christ took place while Mary was a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is not open to question. “It is extremely difficult to make the terminology of the Virgin Birth refers to something other than the Virgin Birth.” I would simply change “extremely difficult” to “impossible.” D. This agrees with the rest of the Bible I have already referred to Matthew and Luke. The Bible implies it in other passages. Genesis 3:15 - the Messiah will be born of the “seed of the woman.” But women have no seed in themselves. That must come from the man. Isaiah 7:14 - a virgin will conceive and bear a son called Immanuel. The angel who appears to Joseph in a dream quotes this passage as proof that the Virgin Birth is a fulfilment of OT prophecy. John 1:14 - the “Word became flesh” - refers to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God in human flesh. It implies a supernatural entrance into the world. 1 Timothy 3:16 summarises Jesus’ birth - he “appeared in a body” - sounds like Jesus did not come into the world the usual way. Galatians 4:4 - Jesus was “born of a woman.” Indeed he was, but why use such a strange expression unless there was something unusual about his birth. E. The Bible focuses on the baby, not on his birth There is much left unsaid that we would like to know. The Bible tells us just enough to anchor our faith, but not enough to satisfy our curiosity. The important fact is who this baby is and why he came to the world and what he will accomplish on the earth. The miraculous conception of Christ lets us know that this is not some ordinary baby like any other baby. Therefore, we are on solid historical and biblical ground when we assert our belief that Jesus was indeed conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. It is a thoroughly Christian doctrine that all true Christians have believed and still believe today. 3. What Does It Mean for Us Today? Why is it important to believe this truth? What does it teach about who Jesus is? What are the implications of denying this truth? A. It is a mystery After all is said and done, we still don’t understand how it happened. We can no more explain the Virgin Birth than we can explain walking on water. It is a reversal of all known human processes. It is a direct miracle of God that can never be duplicated in any laboratory. B. It is presented in the Bible as sober historical truth Read it for yourself. Luke ties the event down to certain specific historical indicators. The Virgin Birth happened during the reign of Caesar Augustus, when he issued a decree for a census of the entire Roman Empire. This census took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. These are facts that can be checked in secular history. Luke doesn’t say, “Once upon a time in a land faraway a young virgin gave birth …” No, this isn’t a fairy story. This is the truth! It really happened exactly as the Bible says. C. It fits with everything we know about Jesus The Bible presents Jesus as being a fully human person. He was born like us, lived us and died like us. He was as much as man as any man who ever lived. He was not an alien or an angel or a half-man, half-God creature. A Miraculous Beginning The miracle of the virgin birth took place 9 months earlier at the moment of conception. There was nothing mysterious about his delivery. He developed in the womb as all babies do, was delivered in the same way babies are delivered, suckled at his mother’s breast like other babies. That is only one part of the story. He was also fully God. Miracles marked his entrance and his exit from this world. He lived on the boundary between 2 worlds – the one we can see and the one we can’t see. He was hungry and thirsty - yet he fed the 5000. He slept in the boat - yet he walked on water. He wept at the tomb - then raised Lazarus from the dead. He ate with Zaccheus -then healed blind Bartimaeus. He died on Friday - then rose on Sunday. The 2 Sides of Jesus It fits perfectly. He was born of a woman - he was born of a virgin. He was just like us - He was nothing like us. He walked among us - He came from God above. He was the Son of Mary - He was the only-begotten Son of God. He grew up in Nazareth - “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He is our friend - He is our Saviour. Little children love him - He baffles the greatest minds. He was called “son of Joseph” - He is indeed the “Son of God.” Read the Bible. See for yourself. Don’t take my word for it. It is there again and again. If God Became a Man …? If God should decide to become a man, how would he choose to do it? Many answers - but we would expect him to make an unusual entrance into this world. Becoming a man means he must be born. Yet because he is God, his birth must be miraculous. So we have - a miraculous conception - and a normal birth. Put them together and what do you get: The Virgin Birth! The Virgin Birth fits with everything we know about Jesus. Before it happened, no one would have expected it. After it happened, we say, “Sure, that makes perfect sense.” It’s just like God to think of something like the Virgin Birth! There’s a miracle here which we may believe or we may deny. There is enough to believe for those who wish to believe. There is enough to doubt for those who care to doubt. Miracles are like that. They don’t force us to believe. They invite us to make our own decision. The explanation of the birth is not in the birth; it’s in the baby! “What Child is this, who laid to rest; On Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet; While shepherd’s watch are keeping? This, this is Christ the King!” “Who is he in yonder stall? At whose feet the shepherds fall. Tis the lord, the King of Glory. Tis the Lord O wondrous story At his feet we humbly fall Crown him, Crown him Lord of all.” The wisest scholars and the simplest believers bow before the manger of Bethlehem. Together they proclaim that the infant Jesus, born of a virgin and laid in swaddling clothes, is their Lord and Saviour. Immanuel … God with us … Joy to the world, the Lord is come!