December 15, 2019 The Virgin Birth

The Virgin Birth

Scripture reading: Matthew 1:18-25.

This is Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus. He describes for us the most unique conception and birth in history. Christ was born of a virgin. - the only person to ever have been. What do you think of this story? What you think of this story reveals far more about you than it does about the story itself. The story is a supernatural story. Some people have a difficult time believing in the supernatural. Some people believe that there are never any supernatural happenings. Everything, according to them, can be explained naturally. These people are known as skeptics. Then there are others who think there are ghosts or spirits behind every event. The largest group of people are in-between. They believe that most all events follow natural laws, but now and then miracles occur.

The stakes are high. If Jesus was conceived naturally then two things are true: The Bible is wrong. And, Jesus was born with Adam’s sin and is, therefore, not an acceptable sacrifice for our sins.

To not believe the virgin birth is to deny the Christian faith itself. You may strike yourself as spiritually minded. You may see yourself as a kind person. It could be that both those things are true. Yet, if you disbelieve the virgin birth you are not a Christian and you are still in your sins.

The promise of the virgin birth is one of the areas that liberal scholars like to attack. You see, those who disbelieve in the supernatural have a pre-commitment to deny any testimonies to supernatural events, no matter how strong the testimony for them. They are committed to their own philosophical ideas over that of evidence or testimony.

Matthew quotes from Isaiah chapter 7. Let us read that passage.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.1
 
Take note of three words in this passage.  These words are sign, virgin, and Immanuel, all in verse 14.

A “sign” is something out of the ordinary that portends something will happen. We know what a virgin is and, because a virgin becoming pregnant is not natural, some have tried to criticize the translation of the word.

The Hebrew word for virgin is alma and some have tried to say that it doesn’t mean “virgin,” just a “young woman.” However, Robert Wilson, a professor at Princeton Seminary who has gone on to be with the Lord, was an expert in Semitic languages. (He allegedly knew 44 languages!) He conducted an exhaustive study of the word in all its forms and he is affirms that it always means “an unmarried, virginal woman.” Edward J Young, a professor at Westminster Seminary, also did a study of the word and he affirms that it is never used to designate a married woman.

Yet, some try to say that it just means a “young woman.” Unfortunately, they also have the translators of the Septuagint against them. The Septuagint was the Greek translation of the Old Testament commissioned by Alexander the Great and completed in about 250 BC. The translators were Jewish scholars who were intimately familiar with both Hebrew and Greek. In their translation they chose the word parthenos to translate alma. And parthenos in Greek always means virgin!

With respect to Isaiah 7:14, how is just a wife becoming pregnant a “sign”? It happens continuously in every culture. There is nothing extraordinary about it. It is a sign because virgins do not, in the normal course of events, become pregnant!

The clearest testimony comes from the apostle Matthew himself.  We had just read:

 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 2

How though, some may ask, would this be a sign to King Ahaz when Isaiah wrote? The simplest explanation is the best. Isaiah prophesied to the king and told of this glorious vision he had of the coming of the Messiah, one who would be born of a virgin. He tells him even in the short period of time it would take for the Messiah to know right from wrong – less than three years or so – the other two kings that Ahaz has anxiety over would be removed. Then, in chapter 8, Isaiah fathers a child and before he is able to say “mother” or “father” the wealth of the kings of Syria and Samaria is overthrown (8:4). Hence, Isaiah’s son prefigures the Messiah and less than three years pass until the two kings of trouble are gone.

Isaiah’s vision and words to the king are just as much a part of the sign as the miracle itself.

The third word in the passage is Immanuel. Matthew writes that the name Immanuel means “God with us.” When Jesus walked this earth, God walked. When Jesus spoke, God spoke.

My favorite hymn this time of year is Hark the Herald Angles Sing.  We sing these lyrics:

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; 
Hail, the incarnate Deity: 
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell, 
Jesus, our Emmanuel! 
Hark! the herald angels sing, 
"Glory to the new-born King!

This hymn has good theology! Christ is both human and divine. He had to be a human in order to be a proper sacrifice for our sins. Animals will never do. They were only a temporary measure under the old covenant. But neither will just any human do. An acceptable sacrifice has to be sinless – absolutely sinless! To be sinless he had to be God. Jesus is the God-man!

Do you see the importance of the virgin birth? If Jesus were born through natural generation then, even if he had somehow refrained from sinning his whole life, he still would have been tainted with Adam’s sin, because Adam’s sin and sin-nature are both passed down to all his progeny.

The virgin birth not only must be true, we must believe it to be true. This is because our faith actualizes the merits of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. In other words, if one does not believe in the virgin birth then they have no acceptable sacrifice for their sins.

Believing what God has spoken through both Isaiah and Matthew is evidence that one has been born again.

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.3

Here, Jesus reveals the fact that it was God the Father who revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. The fact that he is the Messiah is a lesser truth than the fact that he was born of a virgin. As we have seen, his virgin birth even encompasses his deity. If it takes a supernatural work on the mind to know that he is the Messiah, then it takes a similar revelation to believe that he was born of a virgin. It takes the Holy Spirit! Do you believe?

What do we do with this knowledge? This is what we do: do not keep it to yourself. The angels proclaimed it. Isaiah proclaimed it to King Ahaz. Matthew proclaimed it. We ought to proclaim it with the angels!

With the angelic host proclaim, 
"Christ is born in Bethlehem." 

With the angelic host…you proclaim!

Let me tell you one simple way to do that. You can ask a complete stranger (or not-so-complete strangers, like your in-laws), “Are you ready for Christmas?” They will reply somehow. It doesn’t matter how. Then you can say, “This is the time of year when Christians celebrate the virgin birth of a man named Jesus Christ. Do you believe in his virgin birth?” (It doesn’t matter how they answer.) Then you can ask, “May I read to you this very short account of how it came to be?” If they reply affirmatively, you just read to them Matthew 1:18-25. You can stop right there if you want. Or, you can go on to explain why we must believe it. Whatever you say, the Holy Spirit will use!

 

 

 

1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 7:14–16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
2 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 1:18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
3 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 16:13–17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.