This last week I listened in on a study on this passage. It was an advent series and the leader was kindly trying to help people prepare for the season of Christmas. The only thing is that his study was quite poor, or at least I deemed it was.
The reason why I thought this was because his study focused on Mary. Now the leader of the study was not a Catholic priest or anyone associated with the Roman church. He was a Protestant and a well meaning fellow. I don’t doubt that we can say a lot about Mary from this passage. We certainly can deduce much. But we must always remember that we do not celebrate Marimas. Neither do we celebrate Josephmas. We celebrate Christmas.
What we all must remember is that all the people mentioned in the Bible play secondary roles. Jesus is always the primary figure in every story. That holds particularly true for this passage. Mary is not the central figure here. Neither is the angel who comes to her. When we read this text, our eyes should be thrown upon Jesus and what he is doing to accomplish our salvation.
What makes this passage so great is that it is about Jesus and his redemptive work. As a matter of fact, it tells us about the first step of his redemptive work. They say that ever journey begins with a first step. That is true, you cannot go on a journey without that initial stride. Here in this text we find the first step of Christ’s journey. What is remarkable is that his first step was downward. The road that would eventually lead back to heaven began with a descent into the virgin’s womb.
To put it succinctly, our Savior’s redemptive work begins with his holy conception. And as we look at this passage I want us to consider what it teaches about Jesus’ being “born of the virgin.”
The first thing that we must mention is that Jesus was indeed, born of a virgin. It is a fact that we are required to believe.
I. The fact of it
When we read this passage there are no indications that we are to believe otherwise. What is recorded here is put forth as an actual, historical event. It is not something that has been made up, nor is it a symbolic story that is trying to communicate something deeper than what it actually says. The account here tells us simply that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and He was born of a virgin.
Now that is something that the church has historically confessed throughout her existence. We affirm it every time we say the Apostle’s Creed. And when we do, we are acknowledging the truth of this Scripture right here.
I believe that I need to bring this out because so many in our day do not recognize the factuality of this passage. This passage has been put under scrutiny like no other passage in the Bible in the modern era. Al Molher has even gone so far as to say, “Of all biblical doctrines, the doctrine of Christ's virginal conception has often been the specific target of modern denial and attack.”
Ever since the Enlightenment (I rather call lit the Endarknement!) which began in the 18th century, people have struggled with or outright rejected that this event ever really happened. That is because at that time men started being guided more by reason and science, rather than revelation and the Bible. So all things that were supernatural began to sound absurd. And that is why to modern man a virgin birth and a miraculous conception is the most ridiculous thing that has ever happened.
But you know, Mary had the exact same question. She asked, “How can this be?” She wasn’t any neanderthal. She knew this stood against all reason and experience. But the difference is that she believed what the Angel said, “Nothing is impossible with God.” When you deny God, something like this is impossible.
Now you can understand why this passage has been the front line of the attack. This doctrine is the foundation for the rest of the supernatural events in the Scripture. If you can brush this one aside, then you can brush the rest of Jesus’ life and work aside. Jesus’ miracles and resurrection can be flushed right down behind it. So you can see why Satan attacks it with such vehemence. If you doubt this event, the rest of Jesus’ life and work can be erased. Ultimately, the whole of the gospel can be destroyed.
That’s what makes it so important to affirm what the Bible says here. As a matter of fact, we can go so far as to say that if you deny the holy conception of our Lord and the virgin birth, you cannot be a Christian in the true sense of the word. You can call yourself a Christian and go by that tag. But if you deny what the Bible says here, you cannot be a Christian inwardly. What it amounts to is a rejection of the authority of Scripture. And the essence of faith is that you receive as true of all that Christ as said in his word.
You not only reject Christ’s word, you reject Jesus Himself! When you throw out the fact that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, you end up dispensing with his deity. You cannot affirm Jesus’ deity that without a virgin birth. If his birth was not miraculous, he was just a man like everybody else—just like you and me. So what happens is that you end up compromising the whole of the gospel. And if you don’t believe the gospel, then you are not a Christian.
So that is where we must begin: The virgin birth, the Holy Spirit’s work of conceiving the Christ child is to be upheld as a fact of history. It is a vital part of the gospel. It is a truth that cannot be denied if you want to be a Christian.
Now that we have affirmed the factuality of it, let’s talk about its necessity.
II. The necessity of it
To a degree we have already said something of its necessity because we said that it is an integral part of the gospel. Why is it so integral though? The virgin birth is needed because it solves the problem that Adam started.
It is sort of funny how this passage brings this out. When the angel announced that marry would conceive and bear a child, Mary immediately asked, “How can this be since I am a virgin.” As I said before, she was no fool. She knew a little about the reproductive system. But what was a simple question of biology gave birth to one of the most profound theological teachings.
The angel response satisfies her curiosity, but it also provides us with an answer to the problem of our depravity. The real problem is that the best of men are men at best! In other words, we are all sinners. When Adam fell, we all fell in him and with him. As a result, when we are born we inherit a sinful nature from him. It has been passed down from generation to generation. So when a child is born we can say, “Oh he has your nose. He has your eyes.” And we can gush all over the little thing. But we also confess that he’s got your attitude. He’s got your corruption. He’s got your sinful nature.
When we see that Jesus is conceived in purity, it should remind us of what David said in Psalm 51, “We were conceived and born in sin.” Each one of us was. We got it from our parents. And they got it from their parents. We can go on and on like that until we get back to our very first parents, Adam & Eve.
As a matter of fact, if you read in Genesis 5 you read some eerie words. In Genesis 5 it says that Adam and Eve had a child. But the child was “born in the image of Adam.” You remember that Adam was created in the image of God. But after his fall, he lacked that original righteousness with which he was created. So every child after that was born in the image of Adam and after his likeness.
But what we see going on in this passage is that this pattern of ordinary generation is being broken. The angel explains that the Lord is going outside the normal means of reproduction.
Even the imagery the angel uses is great. The Angel says that the Holy Spirit is going to come upon her and the power of the Most High is going to “overshadow her.” It hearkens back to the very first words of the Bible. You remember that in the beginning of the creation account the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. The world was formless and without shape, but the Spirit was “overshadowing it” and getting ready to bring life to it.
Here the Holy Spirit hovers over the lifeless, formless womb. It is by the power of the Spirit that a child is going to be created within her womb. This will be the child of the new creation. This child will not be made in Adam’s image, but will be free of the corruption of Adam. He will be a sinless child and the first since Adam to have the original righteousness.
The one thing that every good Jew knew was that they needed a spot free redeemer. They were faced with it every time they went to the temple to present a sacrifice. When you came to the temple the lamb you brought had to be without blemish. It had to be without defect. Otherwise it would not be accepted. If it had a limp or a rash, you had to go out and find another one. Every time you presented a sacrifice, this would have been brought home. And it all pointed to the fact that the one who would eventually come to satisfy for sins would be a spotless Lamb of God. You needed one who was pure who could take your sins and give you his righteousness. And that is what we have in Jesus.
I love what the Heidelberg Catechism says about this. It asks the question, “What benefit do you receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?” In other words, what consolation is it to you? It answers by saying, “[Our consolation lies in the fact that] he is our Mediator, and with his innocence and perfect holiness covers, in the sight of God, my sin wherin I was conceived and brought forth.”
This passage is so necessary because it deals with that very need. This passage is here so that you may rest in Christ, and by resting in Christ you can rest assured that heaven is yours. What you most need is found only in him. The problem in your soul is solved through his perfection. When you trust Christ the perfection with which Christ was born is imputed to you. God no longer sees you in Adam. He sees only the righteous, purity of Christ.
Now, you see why the virgin birth is so important. This is why we believe in it. It is because our sinful nature needs it. But now that we have seen its factuality and its necessity, we need to talk about the consequence of it.
III. The consequence of it
Our passage makes it clear that the result of this conception would be that a King would be born. The messianic king, in the line of David—the one who was to rule over the house of Jacob, was going to enter the world. And that is exactly what happened.
We rejoice in God that Christ was the one who could make satisfaction for our sins, but that’s not the end of the gospel. The consequence of this birth is that an eternal kingdom would be established.
Christ came into this world to establish that kingdom. So from this passage we understand that Jesus didn’t come just to give up his life. Christ was on a conquest. His incarnation was, above all things, a military maneuver. It was an invasion of enemy territory. Christ was going behind enemy lines so that he might defeat death, crush Satan’s rule, and conquer hearts.
Now this same Christ is in heaven, and he continues his rule there. From his throne on high he continues to rule over his people. He defends them and cares for them. What’s more is that He continues to establish His kingdom by subduing more and more souls. He is always coordinating more attacks and he is sending his ministers, who are his special agents here in the world, to proclaim the reality of this kingdom. And one day he is coming back to finalize the work that he has begun. He is going to come back to sit upon the throne that is rightfully his.
It is for that reason that I am here today, to proclaim the kingdom of Christ to you. I have the privilege of telling you that the King comes offering terms of peace. If you surrender to him, he will gladly give you a place in his kingdom. You can enjoy all the blessings of citizenship in that kingdom for all eternity if you submit to Him. But if you refuse the terms of peace and you do not submit to him, then you must face the king on your own terms when he comes again.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that my daughter and I had been studying life in the Middle Ages. One of the things we studied was how wars were conducted. What would happen is that both sides would line up on either side of a plain or one army would surround a castle. Before the war commenced messengers would be sent to the opposing army to propose terms of peace. You had the opportunity to accept or reject those terms. If they sounded good, you could accept them. If you refused, then the war would commence.
That is exactly what is happening now, and whenever the gospel is preached. Christ offers you terms of peace. And what great terms they are! No army in the history of man has offered terms like these. If you pledge to honor King Jesus, you get to live forever in the most glorious kingdom that ever existed. You even become a prince in his land.
But be assured, this king cannot be stopped. In our passage it makes that clear. He is called “great” and the “Son of the Most High.” From those two terms you can understand that he is nothing other than God. Moreover he is invincible and there is nothing that will keep him from conquering the whole world.
You have all heard of Alexander the Great. Perhaps you’ve heard of Akbar the Great or Antiochus the Great. Why were they called “the Great”? it was because they were men who were great military forces. The lands they conquered stretched far and wide. The only thing is that these men were just that, they were men. As a result, their military might was eventually exhausted and their kingdoms came to an end.
Not so with the Son of God. His greatness will continue for all eternity. His kingdom will never end. And when it comes to deciding what to do with his terms, the answer should be obvious. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has opened the doors of his kingdom to you. That is why he came into this world. He despised not the virgin’s womb because he knew you could not enter his kingdom on your own. He knew that you were unfit for his kingdom. But he came down from heaven so that you might possess that which you lack. Now he offers it to you. He says, “Come to me, poor sinner, and all will be well. I want to be your king. I want to have you rule along side of me in my kingdom.”
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.