This is the first in a series of posts which summarize the main points of the Advent 2012 sermon series “Christmas Questions” I delivered at Bethel. This sermon/post was based on Luke 1:26-38.
It’s possible to know a story so well that you cease to be amazed by what it is actually telling you. When you sit down with your favorite book or movie—the one you’ve read or watched a hundred times—then you already know where the ‘good parts’ are, you already know what happens, and you already know the ending, no matter how surprising it may have been the first time. So you breeze right through the pages. You skip ahead to you favorite scenes. You recite the lines with the characters, laugh before the jokes are actually told, and probably stop asking questions.
For many people, the Christmas story is that overly familiar story that we know so well we don’t stop to ask what’s really going on. Even people who’ve never set foot inside a church can probably tell you the basics. We know the characters: Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Herod, the angels and shepherds. We know the setting: Bethlehem, a manger, at night. We know what happens…but I wonder if we could answer the question, “Why?”
Why a virgin?
Why a baby?
Why a manger?
Throughout these posts, the overarching idea is this: The birth of Jesus Christ is absolutely unique because he is absolutely unique.
So, first up: Why a virgin?
Let me offer four reasons:
1. A virgin gave birth to fulfill God’s prophecy and remind us of his faithfulness.
Specifically, it was Isaiah 7:4 that was fulfilled, though in more broad terms, the birth of Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises in the Old Testament (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). This reminds us yet again that God’s purposes and promises are sure. “Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).
We can trust in God’s Word and rest in his promises, because they are grounded in his unchanging purpose and will. If God has said that he will do something, then he will do it. Advent is not only a time to celebrate the arrival of Jesus Christ that first Christmas morning, but is also a time for us to look ahead with joy and anticipation to the time he will come again.
Mary’s miraculous conception shows us that God does not forget his promises, does not abandon his purposes, and will not leave us in the lurch, expecting him to do things that will never be done.
Why a virgin? Because it confirms to us that God is a God of his Word. What he has said he will do, he will do. But there’s more…
2. A virgin gave birth to demonstrate the unparalleled power of God.
In Luke 1:37, Gabriel says “…nothing is impossible with God.” This is a great verse, but is often a misused and abused text. People memorize this with no concern for its context. It gets reduced to meaning: “I can ace this test without studying, because ‘nothing is impossible with God’”.
Calvin wisely commented on this verse: “…it is idle, and unprofitable, and even dangerous, to argue what God can do, unless we also take into account what he resolves to do.” What has God resolved to do?
He has resolved to bring life to the lifeless. God brings life in settings that only he can, and we see this throughout Scripture:
- Creation—life out of nothing. Breathed life into the dust of the ground and made man.
- Ezekiel 37—the valley of dry bones that God brings to life.
- Other miraculous birth stories of Scripture: Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, etc.
All of these, however, pale in comparison to the greatest life-giving event: the resurrection. There, God brings life out of death itself! And this is the great promise for us!
There is no setting so desolate and dead that God cannot bring life into it through the work of the Holy Spirit. God brought life into the nothingness of non-existence, breathed life into dirt, restored dry bones, opened barren wombs, and shattered the cords of the grave. This is what Gabriel meant when he said, “nothing is impossible with God.”
Why a virgin? Because it shows that God is a God who makes and keeps his promises. Because it shows us the unparalleled power of the One who can bring life into any situation. But there’s more…
3. A virgin gave birth to reveal the nature and identity of her son.
Her son was “the holy one to be born” (v. 35), and this holiness is a result of his manner of conception, i.e.: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
This echoes the images and language of Creation (the Spirit hovering over the waters), Mount Sinai (the glory of God overshadowing the mountain), and the tabernacle (God descending in the midst of his people).
Conceived by the Spirit, Jesus was born pure and holy, unstained by the guilt of original sin. Like David, all of us lament: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5).
But not Jesus. He is perfectly holy and sinless, and He is the only one of whom this is true! Jesus was not sinless and holy because of Mary’s good genes, but because of the work of the Spirit. That is why he is called “the Son of the Most High”, and “the Son of God”.
Greek mythology has many stories of gods like Zeus and Apollo coming down and impregnating women who then give birth to children who are half human and half immortal. Muslims reject the idea that Jesus is the Son of God because they think this is what Scripture means—that God physically fathered a child with a human woman.
This is not that! It is more mysterious and more profound than that. Gabriel doesn’t explain how it is going to happen in terms of chromosomes and zygotes and DNA. He just makes clear that it will be the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, and that the child will be the Son of God.
Now, as the second member of the Godhead, Jesus Christ was always and eternally the Son of God (“In the beginning was the Word…”), but when he took on flesh he became the Son of God in a new way (“The Word became flesh and dwelled among us…”). He is the Son of God in a way that no one else ever has been, is, or could ever be.
We must rightly acknowledge and confess Jesus’ identity. Proper Christology is essential, and has been the biggest source of theological controversy throughout the history of the Church.
Jesus is not a spirit who appears to be human, a human who had a little extra Holy Spirit in him, or some mixture of human and divine. He was, and is, fully God and fully man; one person in two natures. In the language of the Nicene Creed, Jesus Christ is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one essence with the Father…”
This is vital for his role as Mediator. If he was not fully human, then he could not be our representative before the Father. If he was not fully God, then he could not fulfill all righteousness in our place and remove the wrath that hangs over our head. He can only do these things if he is the holy one, the Son of the Most High, the Son of God.
Why a virgin? To remind us that God keeps his promises. To demonstrate the power of God to do the “impossible”. To reveal the nature and identity of the child. But there’s one more thing to be said…
Why this virgin?
4. This virgin gave birth to reveal Jesus’ royal lineage.
Mary was betrothed to “Joseph, a descendent of David.” (v. 26). We’ll explore this more in two weeks, but it’s worth remembering that the Jews were expecting a Messiah to be born from the lineage of David. They expected a king, because that’s what God had promised. Jesus is the eternal King.
Jesus was not descended from Joseph genetically, but he was descended from Joseph legally (like kids often take their father’s last name). This particular virgin gave birth because her child had a claim to the throne of Israel.
In the early twentieth century, there was a huge controversy in the Church about whether or not the account of the virgin birth was true or even necessary. Many then—and now—say that it simply cannot be true because it is silly or impossible. Many then—and now—say that even if it was true, it’s not necessary, all that matters is that Jesus was born and later on he did and said all the things he did and said. Yet there were many faithful believers both then and now who recognize how vitally important this doctrine is.
Luke went to great lengths to validate and confirm his reports and eyewitness accounts, and this account was not denied or refuted in the early church. But still it may raise questions with us today. It’s just important to know which questions we can answer.
We cannot answer the question “How?” with any level of scientific specificity—and that’s ok—but we can answer the question “Why?” Our limited understanding cannot comprehend the mysteries of God—and it is the height of arrogance to think that we can—so we’ve got to be OK with our inability to answer the question, “Yeah, but how exactly did this work?” Instead, we are to mediate upon the grace and goodness of God, and rejoice over his works, because we can see why God did this. God may not satisfy all of our curiosity, but he reveals enough for us to marvel at his power, perfection, and purpose.
Why a virgin?
When we wonder whether God will keep his word, the virgin birth shows us that he does, and therefore, he will.
When we think that there is no hope, the virgin birth shows us that God specializes in bringing new life into seemingly impossible situations.
When we wonder who will stand for us and rescue us from the sorrows and struggles of life, the virgin birth shows us that Jesus Christ, the holy Son of God, is the one who seeks and saves the lost, and rules from the eternal throne.