Born to a what?
Advent, Mary, Joseph, Virgin birth, Objections
It is not uncommon when you get a group of mothers together that they begin telling the stories about the birth of their children. There are horror stories of labor that lasted for days. There are the seemingly unbelievable stories of how babies just seemed to magically appear with barely any effort. There are stories of crisis births and the panic, pain, relief or devastation that followed. You will hear about pregnancies that are artificially brought to pass by fertilizing an egg outside of the womb and then putting it back in the womb until delivery. There are those who point to fertility drugs as they means of “getting pregnant”. . .but no matter how wild the stories, no one has a story like Mary the Mother of Jesus.
Mary was a teenager engaged to be married to a man named Joseph. One day an angel appeared to Mary and told her she was going to have a baby. Mary (she may have been young, but not stupid) commented on the fact that she was not sexually active and was not married. The angel knew this information. He said that Mary was going to become pregnant in a unique way. She would be pregnant by God’s Spirit. She would be pregnant even though she was not and had not been involved with a man.
Did you know that there is an entire area of science that deals with “virgin births” or births that do not involve a male and a female? This process is called parthenogenesis (which means “self genesis”). Parthenogenesis is the study of the growth of an organism from an unfertilized cell. The name comes from the Greek word “parthenos” which is the word used in the Bible to describe Mary. John MacArthur reports,
Laboratory experiments have revealed that in some cases parthenogenetic life can be generated in some animals. Among honeybees, for example, the unfertilized eggs develop naturally into drones. Artificial parthenogenesis has been used to produce silkworms since 1888. Many forms of invertebrates and plants may be reproduced fairly easily through parthenogenesis. In recent years frogs and rabbits have been reproduced by parthenogenesis in laboratory experiments.
But parthenogenesis can reproduce only genetically identical species. Frog eggs, for example, might be stimulated to develop by parthenogenesis into living frogs, but all of them will be female frogs genetically identical to the mother who laid the eggs. Also, parthenogenesis, cloning, and other experimental forms of reproduction have all proved impossible on the human level.
Even in the face of modern science, Christ’s conception remains unique. Science can never explain how a virgin, a woman who had never had a sexual relationship with a man, could give birth to a male child. It was a miracle of God, the greatest miracle of conception the world has ever known. (MacArthur, GOD WITH US p. 44-45)
But not everyone believes in the Virgin birth of Jesus. If any of you watched the “investigative report” by Peter Jennings on the Historical Jesus that aired some time ago, you may have been surprised at how easily the so-called “scholars” dismissed this claim to a virgin birth. What is even more surprising is the fact that many of the scholars were theologians! I’m saddened to report that a recent statistic that said 56% of Seminary students do not believe in the Virgin Birth.
So, is it true? Does it matter? And if so, what about those who claim “it isn’t so.” This morning we are going to look at this issue. We will look at the importance of the doctrine, the objections to the doctrine and the lessons from the Virgin Birth.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE VIRGIN BIRTH?
The Bible teaches that Mary was a Virgin when she became pregnant.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly . . . . When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. [Matthew 1:18-19,24-25]
In Luke we read,
In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” . . .“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “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. [Luke 1:26-28, 34-35]
In Isaiah 7:14 we read,
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
And in the very first book of the Bible God tells the serpent,
Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring (seed) and hers (seed); he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
This may not seem like a verse that has anything to do with our topic. But it says a great deal. Every other time in the Bible when it talked about seed, it referred to the male seed. Only one time does the Bible speak about the seed of a woman. That one time is here. Why is that? We would contend that it is because even in these opening days of human life on earth, God already was telling us that the Messiah would be born of a Virgin.
Why was the Virgin Birth Necessary?
There are several reasons the Virgin Birth was necessary? First, the Virgin birth was a sure sign that this child was from God. If Jesus was God become man (and we believe He was) then you would expect that He would be born in some extraordinary way. From the moment of His conception it was obvious that this was no ordinary child.
But there is another reason: the Virgin birth made it possible for a human to be born with a sinless nature. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes,
If you do not believe in the virgin birth, how do you account for his sinlessness? Are we not entitled to put it like this: If He had been born in the ordinary way, of a father and a mother, then surely He would have been like every other person, He would have been in direct sequence, in the direct line, from Adam, and therefore it would be true to say of Him also, ‘as in Adam all die’ (1 Cor. 15:22) [God the Father, God the Son p. 264]
Let’s try an illustration. Suppose you had a deadly disease that was hereditary and passed along in the blood. Now suppose this same disease could only be treated by transfusions. When it came time for those transfusions would you turn to your family for donor blood . . .No . . . because that blood carries the same disease. You would need blood that is from an outside, unique source. The same is true in the realm of sin. We are born with a predisposition and inclination to sin. The only way to be cured is to have someone die in our place (thus paying for our sin). The problem is that everyone has the same disease. We need a substitute that is not “contaminated”. This necessitates the Virgin Birth.
We need one who was without sin, (so He could take our sin upon Himself) and one who is of such great value that His life would be of equal or greater value of all who would believe. We needed both. If Jesus was not sinless, he could not die in our place (He would have his own sin to pay for) if He was not God in human form then He could only be the substitute for one life of equal value.
Dr. James Kennedy summarizes how central the Virgin birth is to the Christian faith.
- If Jesus was not born of a virgin then the New Testament narratives are false and unreliable
- If Jesus was not born of a virgin then he was mistaken about his paternity. He constantly declared Himself to be the Son of God, and He declared that God was His father.
- If Jesus were not born of a virgin, then He was not the Son of God, but merely the illegitimate child of a sinful liaison between a Jewish peasant girl and an unknown man.
- If Jesus were not born of a virgin, then Christ was not born of the seed of woman (Gen. 3:15) but of the seed of man.
- If Jesus were not born of a virgin, then He cannot be the divine Redeemer, because the sacrifice for sin must be perfect.
- If Jesus were not born of a virgin, we have no Savior
- If Jesus were not born of a virgin, we are still in our sins and without forgiveness.
- If Jesus were not born of a virgin, we have no hope after death. [Kennedy p. 52-53]
OBJECTIONS TO THE VIRGIN BIRTH
In light of all of this the question still remains: Why do some reject the Virgin Birth? Why do some say that the whole idea is nonsense. Let’s look some objections.
The majority of people who reject the Virgin Birth do so because of their worldview. They begin with the presupposition that there is no such thing as a miracle. They believe that the laws of nature are in operation and are never violated. They point out no miracle has been scientifically verified. And they are correct. What science CAN do is affirm that a person who appeared sick yesterday does not appear sick today. Science deals with the natural, not the supernatural.
The scientific method is simple: observe something, develop a hypothesis, and then test the hypothesis by repeating and observing again and again. By definition a miracle cannot be repeated again. If it could, it wouldn’t be a miracle! Science will never be able to verify the Virgin Birth (or any supernatural event) unless they can observe it again and again. And that isn’t going to happen. But that doesn’t seem to sink in to some people. They insist on dismissing anything that is supernatural. Consequently, they reject the idea of a Virgin Birth.
In the program by Peter Jennings that I mentioned earlier, he was interviewing “theologians” who had this presupposition against anything supernatural. They were all a part of a group called the Jesus Seminar. This sounds like a scholarly group . . . but it really is not. This is a group of liberal theologians (with an anti-supernatural worldview.) who take “polls” on whether or not a certain passage in the Bible is accurate. They aren’t involved in research, they get together and express their opinions (which are skewed by their presuppositions). Unfortunately the news media reports all their findings as facts.
If you start with the premise that anything supernatural cannot be true you will have to dismiss the idea of a Virgin birth. And you will be condemned to live a very lonely and hopeless life.
The second reason some reject the virgin birth is based on Isaiah 7:14. Matthew quotes Isaiah 7 where is says “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him ‘Immanuel’.” Matthew sees this as a prophecy referring to the Messiah.
Isaiah is giving a sign to King Ahaz to show Ahaz that God’s word is true. Gleason Archer comments,
From the references that follow, it is quite apparent that there is to be a type of Immanuel who will be born in the near future as proof that God is with His people to deliver them. Yet also an antitype will be born in the more remote future who will be both God and man, and He will deliver His people not only from human oppressors but also from sin and guilt. Furthermore, He will reign as David’s descendant and successor forever and ever. Thus the twofold need will be met both by the typical Immanuel and by the antitypical divine Redeemer. [Enclylopedia of Bible Difficulties]
In other words, the passage referred to two different deliverers. The first “sign” would be a child born to either Isaiah or Ahaz that would be unexpected and would be a sign of God’s blessing. The second sign would be the Messiah. It should be noted that scholars do not debate this point.
Where the debate comes in is the word that Isaiah uses for the woman. In the Hebrew the word “bethula” is the word that specifically refers to virginity. That is not the word used in Isaiah. Isaiah uses the word “almah” which more generally describes a “young woman”. So many contend Isaiah never meant to say that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. He intended to teach that a young woman was going to have a baby as a sign from God to the king.
There are is a problem with this reasoning. The word that Isaiah uses is often used as a synonym for a virgin. Of the seven times it is used in the singular in the Hebrew Scriptures, it never refers to someone who has lost their virginity. When talking about Rebekah in Genesis, both words are used synonymously. No one has produced a context in which the word “almah” refers to a married woman.
It should be noted that the scholars who lived before Jesus was born believed that the passage pointed to a virgin birth. When they translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek (called the Septuagint . . the Bible of Jesus’ day) the word used is the Greek word for virgin (parthenos), not the word for “young woman”.
The third reason some reject the Virgin birth is because it is only mentioned by Matthew and Luke. The Virgin birth of Christ is not mentioned in Mark, John, Acts or any of the letters of the New Testament. Some contend that if this doctrine is so central to the Christian faith it would have been repeated more often.
The answer to this issue is quite simple. How many times does the Bible need to repeat something before it is deemed enough? Matthew and Luke not only mention the Virgin birth, they underscore it! If the church did not affirm what these men wrote they would have refuted their testimony!
The Biblical authors were not trying to write complete biographies of the life of Jesus. Mark begins with Jesus at 30 years old. John talks about God becoming man but doesn’t get into the specifics. These authors were less concerned about all the details and more concerned that they tell their first hand account of what they witnessed.
In the other books of the Bible we need to remember that they were written as letters and not as courses on the life of Christ. I don’t give my testimony of how I came to Christ every time I preach a sermon or write a letter. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen . . . it just meant that other information was more relevant for the situation I am addressing.
Dismissing the Virgin Birth because it is not mentioned in other books of the Bible is a weak argument. It comes from one who is looking for a reason not to believe. In truth, this is true of all the arguments we have listed. People resist the idea of the Virgin Birth because they don’t want to believe it. They want Jesus to be an ordinary guy. They don’t like the idea that He was God in the flesh. If Jesus was God then,
- there really is a God and He has power over us
- the problem of sin is real and we must deal with it
- there will be adverse consequences for ignoring God
People don’t like these conclusions . . . it “cramps their style”. They want to believe that they are captains of their own fate. They like to think that the only thing that matters in life is having a good time (even though deep down they want much more from life than this).
LESSONS FROM THE VIRGIN BIRTH
First, the Virgin Birth points to the unique nature of our Savior. Christ’s birth calls us to acknowledge that He has come from God. Larry King is right, it’s not just a historical detail. If Christ was indeed born by the Spirit of God then He was who He said He was and we had better pay attention to what He said, and do what He tells us to do.
It’s easy to drift through the Christmas story and sing the songs and repeat the story. It’s easy to go through the motions. What so many fail to see are the implications of the story. God became man! It was the most significant event of history. It is the event that should be the hub around which everything else revolves. The Lord has come! He has pointed the way to life abundant and eternal. And now He’s left it up to us.
Larry King, the master interviewer of CNN, once appeared as a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman. during the course of their conversation, Letterman asked Larry King, “If you could interview any person from history, who would it be?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Kind responded, “Jesus Christ”.
Letterman, who is rarely at a loss for words, looked stunned. It was clearly not the answer he had expected. Making a halting, stammering recovery, Letterman followed up with this question: “Well, what would you ask him.?”
“I would ask Him,” replied King, “if He really was born of a virgin. The answer to that question would define history.” [Kennedy p. 60]
Larry King was certainly right . . . this issue is not just a theological issue. The truthfulness of the Virgin Birth is the key to everything that follows.
Second, the Virgin Birth shows that man is unable to save himself. Someone unique, someone sent by God, was necessary for men and women to be saved from their sin. The Virgin birth reminds us that our salvation comes from what God has done for us rather than from what we have done for God.
Finally, the Virgin Birth points to the depth of God’s love. We’ve said it before and will say it again: the thing that makes the Christmas story so amazing is the love that motivated the what took place. God doesn’t need us. He could create a whole new world with a just a word. If we were God would we go to such lengths to reach those who have been so indifferent and defiant? Not me. I’d write everyone off as a lost cause. But not the Lord. He continues to reach out in love. The Lord reaches to
- the common shepherds on a hillside
- the smug wise men from the East
- the teenage girl known as Mary
- the aging prophet Simeon and the Prophetess Anna
And He continues to reach out to
- the person who feels they don’t “need” anyone
- the person who is angry and blames God for their pain
- the person who has good intentions but never seems to follow through
- the person who has made really bad choices in their life
- the person who is lost and doesn’t know where to turn.
The Virgin Birth, like the Christmas story as a whole, reminds us that God cares. You may have trouble believing that fact, but it’s true. He cares about you. He came to reach you . . . and to reach me. It took something supernatural, something extraordinary, to make the world take notice. It took an act of love that is so far beyond what we have ever experienced that the risk was that no one would believe it. But that’s what He did. That’s the risk He took. And He did it for you.
You see, the Virgin Birth was not meant to be a fact we sit around and debate. It was a means to a very special end . . . it was God’s way of entering the world so He could do for us what we could not do for ourselves. We can be dragged down by the skeptics. We can engage in endless speculations. Or we can dare to believe. The academic debate may be spirited and interesting. But those who dare to believe the facts and trust the one who came . . . . those people will be changed forever. They will find hope, peace, and joy. And their celebration of Christmas will look beyond the gifts under the tree to the gift that was given by God and delivered by a Virgin.