In many ways the majority of our Christmas traditions are characterized by there unapologetic desire to claim the impossible as truth! Santa Claus, a diabetic fat man with an incredible appetite for milk and cookies, who lives with his wife year round at the North Pole is an impossible claim... In case you were unaware the average winter temperature for the North Pole ranges anywhere between -45 and -15°F.
One elven workshop that manufactures all the toys for the world’s children being buried beneath the same frozen tundra is also an impossible claim... Everyone knows elves live in the middle-earth outpost known as Rivendell (yes, that was a Lord of the Rings joke)!
Good old St. Nick possessing omniscient knowledge of who’s been naughty and nice and then custom tailoring rewards based upon this judgment is also an impossible claim... The sad reality is that only Google and Facebook have that kind of intrusion into our lives?
One man flawlessly distributing gifts in one night for the world’s seven billion residence is an impossible claim... Give Amazon a few more years and this might end up being possible.
Mistletoe providing this supernatural force-field by which a women will surrender all will-power and be magically compelled to kiss a man regardless of looks or breath is an impossible claim... Reports are that Al Franken had mistletoe all over his office to no avail!
I could go on and on, Christmas lore is full of these type of outlandish and impossible claims, but the one that clearly takes the cake is the notion that little over 2000 years ago, in a little town of Bethlehem, a young virgin girl named Mary who’d supernaturally conceived actually bore the Son of God! R.C. Sproul observed, “What we celebrate at Christmas is not so much the birth of a baby, but the incarnation of God Himself.”
And yet, as impossible a claim as the virgin birth of Jesus might appear to be on the surface, the fact is Christians not only believe the impossible became a reality, but we’ve established this very truth as being the foundation of our faith!
Famed author C.S. Lewis called the incarnation “the central miracle asserted by Christians.” Think about it… The miracle of the Resurrection is only possible with the incarnation. As it pertains to the foundational nature of the Virgin Birth one author commented, “Without the incarnation, Christianity isn't even a very good story, and most sadly, it means nothing.”
Some people seemingly overlook this fact. In his first book “Velvet Elvis” and before most had come to see him as a heretic, author Rob Bell called into question the Virgin Birth and then seems to imply the incarnation was not an important doctrine essential to Christianity.
Bell writes, “What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythology the Gospel writers threw in... What if, as you study the origin of the word ‘virgin’ you discover that the word ‘virgin’ in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language the word ‘virgin’ could mean several things…” He writes, “Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart?”
Right from the beginning of our study I need you to know… If the virgin birth did not happen and Jesus was no different than you or I, you can go ahead and call the fight, close up shop, and move on to something else! G. Campbell Morgan sums it up this way, “If Christ is only man, then I’m an idolater. If he is very God, then the man who denies it is a blasphemer. There can be no union between those who hold His deity and those who deny it.”
In examining the Doctrine of the Incarnation and in light of the skeptic we’re going to take a three-fold approach: First, I want to analyze what the Bible actually claims concerning the incarnation. Then I want to examine the historical validity of the virgin birth. Before ultimately concluding our time together explaining why the incarnation is so significant.
So… What does the Bible claim happened so many years ago? For starters, the Bible clearly states that Jesus was born to a virgin mother named Mary. Let’s kick things off by reading the backstory of Jesus’ birth provided by two of the Gospel authors.
Luke 1:26-35, “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, ‘Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’ But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was…’
Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’ Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?' And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.’"
Matthew 1:18… “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying... ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying (Quote: Isaiah 7:14) 'Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’ Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.”
It is undeniable from a literal, simplified reading of the historical text provided by both Luke and Matthew that while betrothed to be married to Joseph, Mary was a virgin! Within the verses we just read, on three separate occasions, Mary is described by the authors as being a virgin who's had no sexual interactions with Joseph or anyone else at this point in her life.
Furthermore, in response to the news that she would become pregnant, Mary even confirms her innocence by asking the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” Following the angelic pronouncement even Joseph finds it essential to maintain Mary’s virginity.
Aside from this the text also states that as a virgin Mary’s pregnancy would therefore be of a supernatural origin! In Luke’s account the angel Gabriel tells her that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you.” In Matthew’s account the angel tells Joseph “for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”
Though we aren’t provided with the specifics of how this exactly happened by either author, these passages affirm that God supernatural fertilized an egg within Mary to form a living embryo! Human DNA was fused together with the divine to produce a unique genetic code.
Finally, as a result of both of these things (Mary’s virginity coupled with her child’s supernatural conception), the Bible claims Mary’s Son (to be named Jesus) would be God! Luke writes Jesus “will be called the Son of the Highest... He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of His kingdom there will be no end... Therefore, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” Matthew adds that Jesus “will save His people from their sins and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us.’"
Note: This phrase “Son of God” doesn’t mean Jesus was God’s Son. In the ancient language the phrase “son of” was used to say Jesus was of the same nature as God - That He’s God.
Sadly, though our text seems to leave little doubt, there are those who try to dismiss the divinity of Jesus by claiming the Bible never actually stated Mary was a virgin. To do this skeptics point out what they perceive to be a discrepancy in Matthew’s quote of Isaiah 7.
They argue that when Isaiah writes “behold, the virgin shall be with child” he uses the Hebrew word “alma” - which while it can mean “virgin” is more often translation as a “young maiden”. The claim is that Isaiah was describing Mary as being a young woman not necessarily a virgin. In order to strengthen their argument these skeptics also claim that if Isaiah intended to describe a “virgin” he would have used the Hebrew word “bethulah.”
Tragically, these naysayers overlook a couple of key details… Though “alma” can be translated “young maiden,” it is difficult to claim “alma” refers to someone who wasn’t a virgin. Ironically, not once do we find “alma” used to refer to a married woman in the Hebrew Old Testament. The cultural assumption was that all “young maidens” were virgins.
Aside from this the Greek translation of the Old Testament (known as the Septuagint) translated “alma” in Isaiah 7 using the word “parthenos” which can only mean “virgin.” What this means is that Jewish translators, transcribing the writings of Isaiah years before the advent, believed the Prophet was predicting the virgin conception of the Messiah.
It should also be pointed out that when Luke (who was writing in Greek) twice describes Mary as a “virgin” in chapter 1 verse 27 he uses this word “parthenos.” While Matthew implies Mary was a virgin in his quoting of Isaiah, Dr. Luke’s statement is unquestionable.
Beyond the fact Matthew and Luke believed Mary was a virgin when she conceived a child, central New Testament doctrines demand this reality. Theologically, the doctrinal position of the virgin birth of Jesus is known as the Incarnation. The term Incarnation literally means “to become flesh.” Doctrinally, the Incarnation states that Jesus (the second person of the Trinity) added flesh to His deity when He was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
John opens his Gospel (1:1-14) writing, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
As we’ve recently read in Philippians 2:5-8 Paul writing, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
Because the Bible argues the incarnation was the only way in which God could save mankind from sin, the New Testament authors further substantiate the Biblical claim of the virgin birth as being an essential Christian doctrine and fact of history.
Here’s the point… Asserting the Bible does not present the virgin birth of Christ as a literal, historical event or that the incarnation of Jesus isn’t important is simply ignorant, dishonest, and rather disingenuous to the text. Though you can doubt the Biblical claim of a virgin conceiving, you cannot doubt the Bible makes the claim a virgin indeed conceived!
The Bible is absolutely clear: Mary was a virgin betrothed to Joseph, her pregnancy was of a supernatural origin, and her son Jesus was both God and man!
Honestly, the reason some people reject the incarnation really boils down to the fact they reject the supernatural. In order to make Scripture more friendly to the scientific mind, liberal scholars have attempted to rationalize the miraculous by proposing natural explanations.
And yet, aside from the reality the Bible makes no sense without the miraculous, the position itself isn’t even logical. Simply stated... If there is a supernatural God who can act, then it is completely logical and rational to conclude there can be supernatural acts of God!
Though the Biblical argument for the incarnation is convincing enough, you should also note there is a strong historical case for the virgin birth being a fact of human history. Consider that when trying to validate the veracity of a historical event (like the virgin birth or the conquests of Alexander the Great), historians typically ask two fundamental questions:
(1) Are there any ancient manuscripts documenting the claim? And (2) How quickly was the event accepted by society as factual history? The more documentation and the closer the authors were to the event itself the less time there could be for embellishment.
In regards to the historical validity of the virgin birth, the amount of reliable, ancient manuscripts documenting this claim as factual history is astounding. Aside from the fact both Matthew and Luke were educated men and meticulous historians who wrote their biographies of Jesus’ life to withstand the scrutiny of a court of law 30 year after the fact…
Beginning with the first generation of Christians, the church has universally accepted the incarnation as a historical reality. Most amazingly, while the incarnation was never seen to be a time for celebration, the event was affirmed repeatedly. For example… The Apostles' Creed, which was thought of as a summary of the Apostles' teaching during the first century, stated that Jesus “was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary…”
The Nicene Creed written in 325 A.D. stated “by the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man…” The Westminster Confession written in 1647 A.D. stated that Jesus was “conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary…” And note: These are just a few of the many examples.
Ignatius writing in the early 100’s… “And God the Word was truly born of the Virgin, having clothed Himself with a body of like passions with our own. He who forms all men in the womb, was Himself really in the womb, and made for Himself a body of the seed of the Virgin, but without any intercourse of man.” Justin Martyr also writing in the 100s… “But now in the times of your reign, having, as we before said, become Man by a virgin, according to the counsel of the Father, for the salvation of those who believe on Him.”
To this point, some have argued the incarnation was introduced to the Gospel narrative in order to add more mystique to the legend of Jesus which made Him more appealing to the Greek and Roman cults who already accepted the concept of a virgin birth in their mythology.
And yet, these so called scholars overlooks three glaring issues: (1) Because the persons, places, and events of Christ’s birth are so precise and historically substantiated, they do not show any of the standard literary marks of the mythological genre.
(2) Since the Greeks and Romans were fundamentally polytheistic, no mythology even remotely corresponds to the literal incarnation of a monotheistic God. Basically, aside from being poor mythology, there simply exists no precedent for this correlation.
(3) The stories of Greek and Roman gods becoming human via miraculous events like a virgin birth actually post-dated the time of Christ. As one scholar wrote, “If there is any influence between the two... It is Christianity influencing mythology, not the reverse.”
Aside from the fact the Bible is clear “the virgin conceived” to deny the virgin birth as a fact of history would be to deny all verifiable history. Apologist Norman Geisler put it this way, “There are more eyewitness contemporary records of the virgin birth than for most events from the ancient world... Thus, there is no reason to believe Jesus was not literally born of a virgin just as the Bible claims he was!” In other words if you question the historical nature of the virgin birth, you might as well question every other claim presented in antiquity.
In closing… My point this morning is really two-fold: (1) This theological position known as the Incarnation, that the virgin Mary conceived and bore Jesus, while admittedly incredible is not only undeniably Biblical, but is substantiated historically. In a season full of impossible claims that aren’t true, the virgin birth of Jesus stands apart!
(2). More than proving that the incarnation happened, the larger reason for this study is to explain why the incarnation is so significant to your Christian faith? For example… It’s a waist of time to explain why an event is important if you don’t believe the event happened.
In writing in his book “Mere Christianity” C.S. Lewis summed up what occurred on Christmas Day this way… He wrote, “The Son of God became man to enable men to become the sons of God.” Understand, the incarnation is significant for two fundamental reasons:
First, the incarnation establishes Jesus as being the Son of God. Once again quoting the Prophet Isaiah some 600 years beforehand, Matthew writes, “‘The virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ translated, 'God with us.’”
Secondly, the incarnation presents Jesus as the perfect sacrifice by which permanent atonement could be offered for the sins of the world. “And Mary will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Please understand this all encompassing reality... If Jesus had not been born of a virgin and was instead born the bastard child of some unknown man Mary successfully concealed from everyone, we would be able to say with absolute certainty His claim to be God was bogus and His promise to save humanity from their sins tragically inaccurate!
Though Jesus could still have been a great, moral teacher and even an example to immolate, without the incarnation the fact would remain that Jesus was a normal man unable to save Himself from the “wages of sin”, yet alone atone for the sins of the entire world!
That said... If the incarnation is true it establishes Jesus’ divinity making His life on earth the supernatural intervention of a God seeking to save mankind from their sin!
You see since Adam sinned against God in the garden thereby falling short of His perfect standard, mankind had been left with only one of two options to remedy sin: He could atone for sin himself or provide a sacrificial substitute to atone for sin on his behalf!
Sadly, the limitations of both options have always been glaring… Because of man’s continual sinful nature, a sacrificial substitute offered to atone for sin could only provide man a temporary reprieve. Such a sacrifice was never able to yield a permanent solution - which is why the law demanded sacrifices every year on the Day of Atonement.
Aside from this since an imperfect man would have to spend an eternity paying off a perfect debt, permanent atonement (or the complete satisfying of one’s debt before God) has always proven unattainable! On a side note this is why hell is an eternal punishment. It’ll take an eternity for an imperfect man to complete his payment for a perfect debt.
You see logically speaking the Bible has always claimed it would take a perfect man to ultimately satisfy a perfect debt! Only a sinless man born apart from Adam (the first man) would be able to permanently atone for man’s sin as a sacrificial substitute. For more reading on this I’ll refer you to Paul’s commentary recorded in Romans 5.
This is why 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.” How interesting that even in Genesis we have mention of the virgin birth.
This is why the incarnation of Jesus (God becoming man) becomes fundamentally essential to the Christian doctrine of salvation as it presents a third option. For the first time since the creation of Adam in Eden, in that mangy manger out in the countryside of Bethlehem rested in swaddling clothes the second sinless man - Jesus the Christ.
As God... Jesus was without sin! As Man... Jesus could effectively represent humanity. The incarnation (Jesus being both fully God and fully Man) produced the perfect conditions whereby a permanent sacrifice could permanently atone for the sins of the world!
Above and beyond every other meaning you can draw from Christmas (and there are many), the birth of Jesus is most significant for this reason... In laying aside the glory of heaven as God and by coming to this rotten planet as a babe - completely and utterly vulnerable…
Jesus came with the specific mission “to save His people from their sins!” He came not for Himself. He came to accomplish a work you couldn’t. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” so that through His life and His sacrificial death it would possible that “whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life!”
Let me bring it home… There are only three options to atone for sin. You can reject God’s gift of salvation and spend eternity in hell seeking to pay off a debt you never can. You can reject God’s gift of salvation and instead offer inadequate sacrifices… You can live a moral life, give money to the poor, take care of those less fortunate all the while overlooking the reality the “wages of sin” is death - meaning none of those things can ever suffice.
Or… You can accept the third option made possible by the incarnation and one in which Christmas intends to celebrate… That God came to earth in order to offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for your sin… That God came knowing His death would once and for all provide a permanent atonement for every one of your sins.
Friend, a Christmas season filled with Santa, Gingerbread Men, Rudolf, Frosty, lights and decorations, a Trans Siberian Orchestra playlist, presents under the tree, eggnog, and the movie Elf can be fun, but a Christmas without knowing Jesus will never be significant!
This morning, before you find yourself swept up in the hustle and bustle of the season… Before your time and attention becomes consumed with family trips and Christmas parties, I encourage you to take a moment and consider the real reason for the season… Jesus loved you enough to join your plight because He knew it was the only way you could be saved. There are many reasons to celebrate Christmas, but the most important is the fact that without Jesus in a manger there could never have been Jesus on a cross!
In 1739 Charles Wesley wrote a “Hymn for Christmas Day” that perfectly articulated not only the amazing nature of the incarnation, but what this doctrine enabled Jesus to accomplish for us all. Ironically, Wesley’s “Hymn for Christmas Day” was later trimmed down and rebranded by George Whitefield as “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” I’d like to close this mornings service by reading the original version that came directly from Wesley’s pen…
Hark how all the Welkin rings,
“Glory to the King of Kings,
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
Universal Nature, say,
“Christ the Lord is born to Day!”
CHRIST, by highest heaven adored,
CHRIST, the Everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a Virgin’s Womb.
Veil’d in Flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail the Incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with men to appear
Jesus, our Immanuel here!
Hail the heavenly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born—that man no more may die,
Born—to raise the sons of earth,
Born—to give them second birth.
Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruin’d nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thy image in its place;
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the Inner Man:
O to all Thyself impart,
Form’d in each believing heart.
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