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The Virgin Birth
Christmas is coming! I’m sure you knew that. The commercial world had been pumping the message out since at least Labour Weekend. There’s tinsel and Christmas trees galore all designed to get us to open our wallets and purses and to spend, spend, spend. To celebrate what? I don’t think many people really know these days. It’s just a good excuse to have a party, drink far too much alcohol and take a few days off work.
But what about us? Do we grasp the meaning of Christmas? What I want us to do this morning is to take hold afresh the meaning of the stupendous event that we celebrate at Christmas because it has huge ramifications. If it’s just a myth then the whole gospel is a myth. If it’s true then the gospel is true and most importantly it is the defining point of history. If we appreciate what God did in the incarnation of Jesus then God will be glorified, our faith will grow, and we’ll shout with the Heavenly host; “Glory to God in the Highest!”
Our reading is from Matthew 1: 18-25
The Background to the Virgin Birth
I’ll begin with a question. Who is the person who has had the most influence on your life? Some of you may well answer, “my mother” or “my Dad.” Some others may say it was a teacher or a pastor or a family friend. Some of the people who’ve influenced us may have done so positively and unfortunately, some may have been a negative influence on us and affected us quite badly.
Let’s look more deeply. I think it’s fair to say that most people are not satisfied with who they are. If you’ve ever complained to someone else about some inadequacy or other that you have they may have said to you something like ‘well cheer up you’re not alone, we’ve all got our problems.’ Which is true.
Then of course if we look outside ourselves and see all the problems there are in the world whether they’re financial or political or moral or social, or whatever, we can ask ‘Who created this mess?’ Did God screw up when he created the earth? The Bible makes it very clear he did a good job. In Genesis 1:31 we read; ‘Then God saw everything that was made, and indeed it was very good.’ It’s not like that now, so who or what went wrong.
The answer, of course, is ADAM!!! Because Satan deceived Adam and Eve they rebelled against God they were cast out of the paradise God had created for them. Consequently, all Adam’s descendants are a fallen people who live in a fallen world. The loss was huge. The human race had fallen into Satan’s snare and sin and strife came into the world. Diseases occurred and murder and death; along with a separation between God and the people he’d created and worst of all death entered the scene. So Adam really is the most influential person in our lives.
But at the moment of the fall, God made a promise. He promised us a redeemer who would recover his fallen creation but at great cost to Himself. In Genesis 3: 15 God said to Satan “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
It’s as if God was saying He was going to stamp so hard on Satan’s head that he would crush him and destroy him, but in stamping so hard on Satan it would hurt Him too. And it did.
It’s clear that God was prepared for the eventuality that Adam and Eve would blow it when faced with temptation. So the bible tells us that in his loving wisdom God sent a second Adam to the fight to rescue us from the power of Satan. This is what we celebrate at Christmas.
In order to redeem us and free us from Satan’s hold this second Adam had to have two principal characteristics which were;
- To be wholly divine because only a divine person, untainted by sin, would have the power and authority to stand victorious against Satan.
- To be wholly human because it was necessary for the sake of justice for sin to be judged. So a perfect man had to bear the judgement and take the punishment in place of imperfect human beings. Jesus thus had to be made flesh because only flesh can die.
Jesus fulfilled those criteria. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. As a result, he was both wholly human and wholly divine. I realise that is a hard concept for us to grasp but the bible is very clear that is the case. And it is one of the hallmarks of heresy that they deny that Jesus was actually God with skin on. So what’s the evidence?
The Nature of Jesus
Matthew 1: 18-25 (which we’ve just read) is an incredibly concise and profound piece of writing. It states in at least 5 different ways that Jesus birth was supernatural. Prior to the birth of Jesus Mary was most certainly a virgin. Matthew makes it very clear Joseph was not the person who had impregnated her nor had any other man. For example, Matthew wrote in v 18 ‘before they came together i.e. before they had sexual intercourse, Mary became pregnant.’ Joseph clearly knew he was not the father. It’s clear he initially thought Mary must have had sexual relations with another man (what else was he to think? He must have been in a turmoil) the woman he was betrothed to had committed fornication and deceived him. However and this shows his greatness, in his love for her he wanted to avoid putting her to public shame and thought of sending her away to some secret place to have her baby. Then he had a dream and God put him right; the baby in Mary’s womb was conceived by the Holy Ghost! It was miraculous. Then we’re told again Joseph and Mary did not have intercourse until after Jesus was born.
So, without doubt, the second person of the Trinity was conceived supernaturally and became flesh and dwelt among us as God had promised in Isaiah 7:14 and his name was Immanuel which means ‘God with us.’ He was thus wholly divine because he was fathered by God and he was wholly human because he was given birth by Mary. (He was the only child in history who was younger than his mother but as old as his father.)
What does that mean for us
So what does the fact that Jesus was wholly divine mean to us in our walk with Jesus out of 2019 and into 2020? The answer to that is that it affects our attitude to God. Our concept of God is completely determined by our mental picture of God. Therefore it’s of greatest importance to our faith and our whole relationship with God that the mental picture we have of God is in fact, a true likeness of Him. Some people say they have difficulty relating to God because they had a bad earthly father. Therefore they have a distorted mental image of God as Father. Let’s tackle that issue because the answer to it hinges on the virgin birth.
The New Testament makes it very clear that Jesus is the exact imprint of God. In Hebrews 1:3 we read ‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.’ And in John 1: 1 & 1:14 we read; ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God………..the Word became flesh and made his dwelling amongst us.’
In John 14: 6-9 Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” ……. Then Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Then Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I’ve been with you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!”
So the bible is very clear about who Jesus was. He was God with us! Therefore we need to check out our own mental picture of God the Father and compare it with the picture of Jesus which is presented in the Gospels.
In the Gospels, Jesus is presented as one who spends his ministry freeing people from evil and misery.
In the Gospels, Jesus is presented to us as one who wars against spiritual forces that oppress people and resist God’s good purposes.
In the Gospels, Jesus is presented as one who loved the people others rejected – even people who rejected him.
In the Gospels, Jesus is presented as one who had nothing but compassion for people who were afflicted by sin, disease and tragedy.
And in the Gospels Jesus is presented as one who died on the cross of Calvary suffering in the place of sinful humanity, defeating sin and the devil, because he passionately loves people and wants to reconcile them to God.
How does our mental picture of Jesus and therefore God the Father, match with those presentations? All these examples of how Jesus acted were instigated by God the Father. If we carry around in our heads a distorted picture of God we cannot possibly love him and trust him the way we ought to. The New Testament makes it very clear that Jesus was not some sort of human being who lived an extraordinary God centred life, like some sort of supercharged version of John the Baptist, or even an angel, but he was truly divine. God was his Father through the working of the Holy Spirit. If he were only some sort of super-spiritual created being we would never know for sure that such a person exactly mirrored what God was like. But we do know exactly what God the Father is like because we see Jesus who is the exact representation or image of God. And because he was God he was untainted with sin, and because he was human he was the perfect sacrifice for our sin. Which now brings us to the point where we look at the humanity of Jesus.
Jesus the human
Because Jesus was born of Mary he was fully human. In Philippians 2: 6-7 we’re told ‘Who being in very nature God…… made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men.’ The whole incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus are a mystery but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true. When we were at KCC I remember Tom Marshall pointing out that there was a moment in time when God became a single cell.
So he started out in life in the same way we did and he grew up as we did. In the Christmas Carol -Once in royal David’s City – there is a line that says ‘he was little weak and helpless, tears and smiles like us he knew.’
To illustrate just a little of the humility and grace Jesus showed when he took on human likeness Soren Kierkegaard used this illustration;
Once upon a time, there was a wealthy king who was out riding his horse one day when he spotted a peasant girl working in a field and instantly fell in love with her. The question was ‘What was he going to do about it?
He thought to himself ‘I could send some of my soldiers to get her and bring her to me.’ But then he realised you can’t compel love.
He then thought he could shower her with gifts and sweep her off her feet. But then he thought again and realised you can’t buy love.
So what he did instead was he got down and took off his royal robes and put on a peasant’s garb and went to work in the field beside her. There he struck up a conversation and the conversation became a relationship and the relationship turned into love.
When her love for him became so deep that she’d give up her life to be with him, even though he was only a peasant; only then was it that he revealed to her his true identity.
Isn’t that what Christ did for us when he took off his glory and put on the rags of our flesh and lived amongst us in order to prove his love for us? 2Corinthians 8:9 says ‘for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor so that you through his poverty might become rich.’
Yes, Jesus did become human. When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him whilst he was busy baptising people he stopped and announced to the people around; “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” If Jesus had not been a divinely conceived human being born of a virgin, he could not have been the perfect sacrifice. Because of him being made as he was, that is a perfect human atoning sacrifice 2 Cor. 5:21 tells us that “God made him to be sin who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God.”
The Apostle John in his first letter makes it very clear that to deny that Christ came ‘in the flesh’ i.e. to deny he was fully human was heresy. In 1 John 4: 2-3 we read ‘every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist.’
That’s pretty blunt. People who deny the virgin birth are not Christians. Full stop. Rather they are of the Devil!
What have we established?
Regarding the virgin birth we have established beyond reasonable doubt that;
Firstly, His birth was supernatural. The DNA of the child in Mary’s womb was both divine and human. Because Jesus was divinely conceived he is the exact representation of God. Therefore the words and actions of Jesus in the Gospels are exactly representative of God the Father. That should clear away any misconception we have regarding how we relate to God the Father.
Secondly Christ became a wee tiny baby, nursed by his mother Mary. Because he loved us so much, He was made in human likeness, becoming a second, but perfect Adam, in order to redeem us from hell and remove the barrier of sin that had come between man and God.
Thirdly Hebrews 2: 17 tells us; ‘He had to be made like his brothers (i.e. flesh and blood) in every way, in order that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest….to make atonement for the sins of the people.’
Fourthly as a sinless human being he alone was qualified to be an effective sacrifice. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There never was nor will there ever be, another good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.
And lastly, he had to be truly divine because only God has the power and authority to defeat Satan.
All these actions by God including Jesus death and resurrection are sufficient to make us right with God and bring us into his eternal home. What we have to do is recognise how wretched we are in the sight of God, confess our sin and put our faith and trust in all that Christ has done and receive him into our hearts and lives as our Saviour.
But Wait- There is more!
But what of our future because that is really what this whole thing is about? I started by talking about the first Adam. I’ll finish by talking about the second Adam. In 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 we read; ‘For since by man came death by man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.’ And in 1 Cor.15:44-49 we read this; ‘There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written- “the first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit….. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven….and as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly man.’ Hallelujah!! Isn’t that amazing!
As we enter the Christmas season let’s celebrate the great things God has done for us. For being justified by faith we have peace with God. Because he became a little baby we wretched sinners have a great future and so has the whole of creation. Global warming may be a sign of the times but the message of Christmas is that God has a great future planned for the Earth and in essence, Eden will be restored.
Just one last thought. I’ve heard Graham Bull say on more than one occasion “If God fulfilled all the promises regarding the first coming then he most certainly will fulfil his all the prophecies regarding Jesus second coming.