An underage teenager who was supposed to be a virgin becomes pregnant. No, I’m not talking about the pregnancy of 16 year old Jamie Lynn Spears, I’m talking about the miraculous pregnancy of the Virgin Mary as described in this morning’s text.
It’s interesting that for all the discussion of Jamie Lynn Spears’ pregnancy, no one has opined that it is the result of a miraculous virgin conception. We need to realize that the story of Mary’s miraculous conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit was just as impossible to believe then as it would be today. Some reject the Biblical teaching of the virgin birth of Christ saying that we cannot believe it in this modern scientific age in which we know that a pregnancy is the result of a female’s egg being fertilized by a male’s sperm. However, people knew then that a pregnancy required a father and a mother. After all, Joseph wanted to end his engagement with Mary when he discovered that she was pregnant. His first thought was not, “Oh, this must be a virgin birth!” (By the way, we talk about the virgin birth of Christ, but the real miracle is the conception.)
As Christians, the virgin birth is key to our understanding of who Jesus is. Christ is the center of our religion. But I’m amazed at how few professing Christians know anything about who Jesus is. The Bible teaches that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. The virgin birth of Jesus is the means by which the full deity and full humanity of Jesus are wedded together in one person. Christians have thought deeply about these matters in the past. In the words of the Chalcedonian Creed of 451:
Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, . . . ; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.
The fact that such a statement seems tedious to our modern ears is evidence of how far we are removed from the heart of Christianity, which is the person and work of Christ.
In this message, I want to ask two questions: Is the virgin birth biblical and is it essential? What exactly is taught? (See Luke 1:26-38)
Is the Virgin Birth Biblical? Is it taught in Scripture?
Several years ago, former Southern Baptist Cecil Sherman stated: “A teacher who might also be led by the Scripture not to believe in the Virgin Birth should not be fired.” (Source)
There are a couple of objections that are commonly raised by those who reject the virgin birth of Jesus. First, they say that the Hebrew word usually translated “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 actually only means a young, unmarried woman. This word, they believe, was then mistranslated with the Greek word for “virgin” in the LXX which was followed by the New Testament authors. In other words, the concept of the virgin birth is a mistake.
The problem with this objection is that although the Hebrew word translated as “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 can mean “a young, unmarried and eligible woman”, the only kind of “young, unmarried and eligible women” who were in that context were virgins. Even if you did translate it that way, it still would refer to the same thing.
The other problem is that the New Testament is explicit that the birth of Jesus was through a miraculous conception. The argument is based upon more than the translation of that word. We have testimony from the angel Gabriel and Mary herself that she was a virgin. Look at the evidence in Luke 1 & 2, and Matthew 1.
Another objection also raised is that the virgin birth is only mentioned explicitly in two places in the New Testament (Matthew and Luke). It is true that Matthew and Luke both announce the virgin birth most clearly. But Mark doesn’t contradict it, only beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist and baptism of Jesus. John certainly implies it with his statement that the Word was eternally co-existent with the Father and “became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1-3, 14).
I believe the virgin birth is also mentioned by the apostle Paul in Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” Which shows that God has kept His promise to send a deliverer who was called in Genesis 3:15 “the seed of a woman”.
The Bible does teach the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. As J. Gresham Machen wrote nearly 100 years ago when facing attacks upon this biblical teaching:
Everyone admits that the Bible represents Jesus as having been conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. The only question is whether in making that representation the Bible is true or false. If the latter alternative is chosen, if the Bible is regarded as being wrong in what it says about the birth of Christ, then obviously the authority of the Bible in any high sense, is gone. (The Virgin Birth of Christ, 382-383).
What’s at stake is nothing less than the trustworthiness of Scripture
Is the Virgin Birth Essential? Must one believe it?
What is the significance of Jesus being both fully God and fully man? Does it really matter? The virgin birth of Jesus Christ was the means by which He acquired a human nature without affecting His sinless deity. Jesus is perfect God and perfect man; 100 percent God and 100 percent man. Some cults emphasize the humanity of Christ to the exclusion of His deity. But the Scriptures teach both. The virgin birth is essential because it is the means by which Jesus maintains His divine nature, while assuming a human one. Both Jesus’ humanity and deity are important to our salvation.
1. Jesus’ Humanity
a. Man needed a representative.
Romans 5:18-19 “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”
b. Man needed a substitute sacrifice.
Hebrews 2:16-17 “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.”
c. Man needed a mediator between him and God.
1 Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;”
Each of these matters are essential to our salvation. Jesus had to be fully human, but He also had to be fully divine.
2. Jesus’ Deity
Only God could achieve our salvation. Because our sins are against an infinitely holy God, they are infinitely heinous and worthy of infinite punishment. The only way a finite human being can pay for his/her sins is by spending infinity (eternity) in hell. Because Christ is infinite God, He was able to bear the infinite (eternal) punishment for all the ones given to Him by the Father in a finite amount of time (as He hung on the cross). Only God could achieve our salvation! As Anselm said in his theological masterpiece, Cur Deus Homo? (literally “Why God Man?” or “Why Did God Become Man?”):
It would not have been right for the restoration of human nature to be left undone, and . . . it could not have been done unless man paid what was owing to God for sin. But the debt was so great that, while man alone owed it, only God could pay it, so that the same person must be both man and God. Thus it was necessary for God to take manhood into the unity of his Person, so that he who in his own nature ought to pay and could not should be in a person who could . . . . The life of this man was so sublime, so precious, that it can suffice to pay what is owing for the sins of the whole world, and infinitely more.
The Sinlessness of Christ
The virgin birth is also essential because it ensures the sinlessness of Christ. The virgin birth is the means by which Jesus is protected in His human birth from the corruption of Adam’s sin. Jesus was fully human, yet without sin. As Romans 8:3 states, God sent His Son in “the likeness of sinful flesh”. It was real human flesh, but not sinful! Without the sinlessness of Jesus, He could not have paid for our sins for He would have had to pay for His own. In order to be our substitute He had to be completely sinless Himself. As Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:18-19,
Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
As Dr. Albert Mohler has written:
Christians must face the fact that a denial of the virgin birth is a denial of Jesus as the Christ. The Savior who died for our sins was none other than the baby who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and born of a virgin. The virgin birth does not stand alone as a biblical doctrine, it is an irreducible part of the biblical revelation about the person and work of Jesus Christ. With it, the Gospel stands or falls. (Source)
I don’t believe that someone has to fully understand the virgin birth in order to be saved. But no one can be saved who denies the virgin birth can be saved!
The story of Jesus is capped by two miraculous events: the virgin conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit and the glorious resurrection. The story of Jesus is a supernatural story that must be believed on the authority of the Word of God. The doctrine of the virgin birth is biblical! It is not optional. It is essential to our salvation! There is no other means for our salvation that the one which God has devised. Acts 4:12 “Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”