The Virgin Birth of Christ
Copyright © 1995, P. G. Mathew
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”— which means, "God with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
At Christmas time we hear many people speaking about giving and receiving gifts. But did you know that there is a gift which God the heavenly Father is giving the world during this season? It is the unspeakable gift of a Savior, Jesus, the eternal Son of God. Today I would like to ask you: Have you received this gift?
Jesus Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. During this season the true church celebrates the birth of this virgin-born child, whom God promised over seven hundred years earlier through the prophet Isaiah, as we read in Isaiah 9:6, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
The Gospel Introductions of Jesus
We read about Jesus Christ in the four gospels of the New Testament. In their narratives of his birth, Matthew and Luke call him the virgin-born Savior, the Lord Christ Jesus, the Holy One, the Son of the Most High, the Son of God, and Immanuel, which means "God with us.” Mark does not give us an account of Christ’s birth, but he does introduce him as Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
What about John? Like Mark, he does not record a history of the birth of Christ. But in the first chapter of his gospel, the apostle John introduces Jesus Christ . He begins with these words, "In the beginning was the Word …” By that statement John is telling us Jesus Christ is eternal, according to J. I. Packer in his book, Knowing God. When other things began, Christ was. He was from all eternity and he is for all eternity.
Then John continues, "and the Word was with God…” That speaks about the personality of Jesus Christ. This Word is a personal being, an eternal personality, distinct from the God the Father and yet eternally in fellowship with Him. Then John says, "and the Word was God.” That speaks about the deity of this Word. He is God and yet he is personally distinct from the Father.
In verse 3 we read, "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John is telling us the Word is the Creator of all things, visible and invisible. Christ created all for the Father yet he himself was not part of creation. Then we are told in verse 4, "In him was life,” and by this John is again affirming that the origin of all life—angelic, human, animal, vegetable—is in Jesus Christ. Additionally, he is saying that all life which exists today does so because it is sustained by Jesus Christ.
In John 1:4 we read, "In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” Not only is Jesus the author of all life, but he also is the author of all true revelation. The knowledge of God comes to us only through Jesus Christ. There is no other way anyone can know God except through him.
In verse 14 John tells us, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John understands that Jesus Christ is the eternal Word, a personal being distinct from the Father but God himself, the Creator and Author of all life and the Author of all the revelation of God. This God, this Creator, this Word became a human being. Mighty God lay helplessly as a baby in a cattle feeding trough. But John has no doubt as to who this one is. In verse 14 he continues, "We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And finally, in verse 18, John writes, "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” Thus John introduces Jesus Christ to us as God who became flesh.
Matthew’s Account of the Virgin Birth
he accounts of the birth of Jesus Christ as found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke are quite detailed, and when we examine them, we notice that they are totally independent of each other. Yet both accounts concur in this great doctrine of the virgin birth.
First, in Matthew’s account, Matthew tells us that Joseph had nothing to do with the begetting of Jesus. Matthew 1:16 refers to Joseph as "the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.” He explains this in verse 18, "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph. But before they came together, she was found to be with child” ek pneumatos hagiou in the Greek "through the Holy Spirit.” And in verse 20 we read that the angel was commissioned to come to Joseph at night in a dream. Contrary to what Joseph had thought, the angel tells him again about the supernatural aspect of this pregnancy: "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife because what is conceived in her is,” again, ek pneumatos hagiou, "of the Holy Spirit.”
In verse 22 Matthew continues, "All this took place so that the word of the Lord might be fulfilled.” The "word of the Lord” Matthew refers to is found in Isaiah 7:14, "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means ‘God with us.’” I agree with James Orr and J. Gresham Machen and a number of others that the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 has a singular reference. This prophecy is speaking about the birth of Jesus Christ through the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Thus Matthew, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit who inspired Isaiah to write his prophecy, says that these events took place in fulfillment of what the Lord had spoken through Isaiah seven hundred years earlier. Jesus was born of a virgin, and in verse 25 Matthew goes out of his way to let us know that Joseph did not have any sexual relationship with Mary until this son was born.
In verse 25 Matthew also writes, "He [Joseph] gave him the name Jesus.” Giving Jesus his name meant that Joseph was adopting Jesus as his son and becoming his legal father. Joseph is addressed here as the son of David, which means that he was a prince, although the Davidic dynasty had declined and was in an eclipse. But now we see another prophecy fulfilled. In Isaiah 11:1 we read, "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” This branch is Jesus. By being named and adopted by Joseph, Jesus became the legal heir to the throne of David the son of Jesse. Jesus is the king.
Luke’s Account of the Virgin Birth
Luke also gives us clear evidence of his belief in the virgin birth of Christ. In Luke 1:27 we are told that Mary is called a virgin, parthenos. Luke uses the word twice in that verse. And in Luke 1:34, this young girl, this virgin Mary, asks, "How will this be since I am a virgin?” And the angel’s answer is that the Holy Spirit would come upon her. "The power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Then Gabriel added that there is nothing impossible with God.
When we read these things, we might ask ourselves: Was Luke making all of this up? By no means. Luke was a historian who was interested only in the truth. In Luke 1 we read, "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us… ” Luke was not setting out to write a mythology or a collection of legends. He was a historian whose purpose was to write "the things that took place among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses.” There is no question that the source for this account of the virgin birth was Mary herself, the mother of Jesus. Luke clearly states that he interviewed eyewitnesses—those who saw the events he was recording.
Not only that, Luke also says, "Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning…” Here again is evidence that Luke’s intent was not to write a novel by creating everything out of his own head. He personally investigated all things about Jesus Christ "from the beginning,” which included the virgin birth of Christ. And because of his investigations, Luke says to his readers, "it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you.” Why? "So that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Luke wanted his readers to know that what they have been taught was true, certain, factual.
Thus Luke began his gospel account first with the narrative of the supernatural birth of John the Baptist and second with the account of the supernatural virgin birth of Jesus Christ. We must understand, then, that the virgin birth of Christ is historical and factual, recounted by eyewitnesses and investigated carefully. And why do you think that it is recorded so carefully? So that we may have certainty of the gospel.
The doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ is essential to our salvation. The church of Jesus Christ believed in it from the first, as revealed by its creeds, and continues to believe, teach, and glory in this biblical doctrine. We must do so, for if we deny the virgin birth, we will reduce Jesus to being a mere man, albeit a nice, ethical one. Even if we say he is the best man, we will still be considering him just a man and, therefore, he will be incapable of saving anyone. Such reductionism removes the joy of Christmas by removing the Savior.
Joseph Makes a Decision
Luke’s detailed account of the birth of Jesus Christ gives clear evidence of his belief in the virgin birth. After the angelic announcement to Mary in Nazareth, she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and she conceived. Mary then went from Nazareth to Judea to visit Elizabeth and receive spiritual encouragement and fellowship from her. After three months, Mary returned to Nazareth and Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy. In my view Mary did not give Joseph any explanation for her state, and thus he found himself facing a grave decision.
In Jewish society of that time marriage consisted of, first, a betrothal in which the couple exchanged vows of fidelity before witnesses. From that point on the man was known as husband and the woman was known as wife. This was the first phase of marriage. But there was a space of one year before the couple lived together. At the end of the one year period, the husband would come and ceremoniously take his bride to his home in a celebration such as we read about in Matthew 25. After the marriage feast, the couple would live together as husband and wife.
Mary became pregnant before she lived with Joseph and before any sexual relations took place. And in Deuteronomy 22 there were very clear instructions for dealing with a person who became pregnant outside of marriage. Deuteronomy 22, beginning with verse 23, says "If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death.” Whether the Jews practiced this during the New Testament times or not, we do not know, but that was the punishment stipulated by the Old Testament.
Mary informed Joseph that she was pregnant. Being a just man Joseph refused to marry her, but he desired to divorce her privately. No doubt he planned to do this by writing her a bill of divorcement in front of two witnesses as permitted by Deuteronomy 24:1.
What was Mary doing during this time? She trusted in the Lord with regard to this issue. In my view, she probably reasoned, "Nothing is impossible with God, and as Gabriel stated, I am pregnant with the holy Child by the supernatural work and power of the Holy Spirit. Additionally, I know that the barren Elizabeth of Judea is about to deliver a son named John as Gabriel also foretold. In fact, I myself just visited Elizabeth and saw that everything was just as the angel had said.” So Mary probably came to this conclusion: "This problem with Joseph is God’s problem. He must solve it, and he will solve it. I must trust God.”
The Decision of God
Sure enough, God sent an angel to Joseph. I am sure Joseph loved Mary and yet, because of her pregnancy, he felt he could not go ahead with this marriage. So one night, after making the decision to divorce her privately, he went to bed. I am also sure that before Joseph went to bed, he probably prayed, "O God, take care of this matter.” Why? He was a believer and a just man.
The angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph in a dream that night. He brought a command from the Lord, which we read in Matthew 1:20-21. What was it? First, the angel told Joseph, "Do not fear to take Mary as your wife.” God was encouraging Joseph to go ahead with the second part of his marriage. He wanted him to bring Mary ceremoniously to his house, have a marriage feast and to begin to live with her. And then God revealed the truth to Joseph about Mary. The angel continued, "because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” When Joseph heard these words, the darkness was dispelled from his mind and heart. The angel was telling Joseph that this pregnancy was a special work of God. In other words, the angel was saying that Mary was not an adulteress, but a virgin— innocent, just, righteous, and pure. Can you imagine the joy that filled Joseph’s soul as he heard these words about the woman he loved?
Then the angel gave further instructions to Joseph, "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” In other words, God wanted Joseph to protect, honor and provide for Mary. He must adopt this son through naming him, which was an official act. When Joseph did this, he would become the legal father of Jesus.
Notice how Joseph went to bed with one decision and woke up with God’s decision. How many times do we decide without facts or understanding? But God intervened, and Joseph accepted God’s guidance. He changed his previous decision to divorce Mary, took her for his wife, protected her, provided for her, and honored her. And when she gave birth, he dutifully adopted her son and gave him the name Jesus.
The Purpose of the Virgin Birth
Why do you think God caused Jesus to be born of a virgin? The angel told Joseph "you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1: 21). In the Greek text it is he himself, he alone, will do it, meaning there is no other savior. Jesus alone can save his people. Here, then, is revealed the purpose of this virgin birth. God desired to give us a Savior who is capable of saving his people from their sins.
In Psalm 49:7, 8 we read, "No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough…” And verse 15, "But God will redeem my life from the grave, he will surely take me to himself.” And in Psalm 130:7, 8 we find another reference to what is reflected in Matthew 1:21: "O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.” In the fullness of time, then, God, through the virgin birth, gave us a Savior who is both God and man to redeem us from our sins. Jesus alone is able to save his people from their sins.
The name Jesus is taken from the Hebrew verb yasha, which means to save and deliver people, especially from danger, sickness, and death. But can any person save another from these problems? And who can deliver us from the greatest problem of man, which is sin?
Man’s Fundamental Problem
In Acts 4:12 Peter tells us there is no other Savior than Jesus Christ. What does Jesus save people from? Their sins. Let me assure you, the fundamental problem of man is not political, economic, social, medical, or educational. The fundamental problem of man is sin. It is the cause of all human sufferings and all other problems.
In Genesis 3 we see how sin came into humanity. Adam sinned, and through him we all are sinners. The human heart is the problem. In Jeremiah 17:9 we read that our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and in Romans 3 we read that no one seeks God and all have turned astray. There is no fear of God in man.
Jesus also spoke about the human heart. "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matt. 15:19). In the depths of his heart, man is an enemy of God and cut off from the life of God. Sin has separated man from God. Jesus came to solve the sin problem and reconcile us to God through the cross.
We must recognize that Jesus alone is perfect God and perfect, sinless man, and, as such, only Jesus can give his life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). In Matthew 26:28, while instituting the holy supper, Jesus said, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” There is no other way to save people from their sins except the sinless God/man coming into the world and dying on the cross. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul wrote, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And in 1 Corinthians 15:3 he simply wrote, "Christ died for our sins.”
I want you to know that the one who lay helplessly in the cattle trough in Bethlehem is the Almighty God become flesh. He died on the cross for sinners that he may redeem his people, Jews and Gentiles, from their sins. The covenant with Abraham is that in his offspring all the families of the earth be blessed. And just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for his elect people, the elect people of God will surely repent, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved. Jesus Christ will save all his people.
The Fullness of Salvation
What does salvation mean? First, it means salvation from sin—from the guilt of sin, the power of sin, the punishment of sin, and the presence of sin. Our problem is sin, which separates us from God. Sin is dealt with totally and comprehensively by Jesus Christ.
Not only that, salvation means we are saved to God unto life eternal. The purpose of salvation is that we may have fellowship with God and his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, as we read in John 17:3, "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” The virgin-born Jesus Christ obeyed God fully, died on the cross in behalf of our sins, and gave us eternal life. This is God’s way of saving.
Now, I am well aware that people are always inventing ways to save themselves. A French psychotherapist said people could solve the problem by autosuggestion. One needed only to get up in the morning and chant this mantra: "Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better,” and one’s problems would disappear. Today’s New Age leaders use another mantra to solve the human problem. They tell us to say, "I am God and I can create my own reality.” All New Ageism teaches this lie that man is God. But the problem is, all human diagnoses of the human problem are false, and thus all human solutions fail to solve the human problem.
God looked at man and saw his problem, which is sin. He sent a Savior, his only Son, to solve the sin problem and to bring us back into joyful fellowship with him. And so now God says to us, "I know your problem. It is your heart. You are a rebel cut off from God. The only solution for your problem is through my Son, the Savior, King Jesus. Through his death he will solve the sin problem and reconcile you to me.” That is just what Jesus Christ did. The good shepherd laid down his life for his sheep.
Any efforts of self-redemption by a sinner, therefore, are utter foolishness. But praise be to God, in his great mercy he gave us a Savior from heaven, the virgin-born Lord Jesus Christ.
Receiving God’s Gift
In conclusion, then, I must ask you two extremely serious questions. First, have you received this personal gift of the Father? And, second, have you given this gift to your children? These are vital questions that we all must consider. Why? This virgin-born child whose birth we celebrate is Immanuel, God with us. Jesus himself told his disciples, "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Truly, then, to us a child is born, a son is given—for our salvation and for our joy! The Word became flesh, meaning the eternal Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us. He came to dwell "with the sick,” William Hendriksen says, "to heal them.” He came to dwell "with the demon-possessed, to liberate them.” He came to dwell "with the poor in spirit…to bless them.” He came to dwell "with the care-ridden, to rid them of care.” He came to dwell "with lepers, to cleanse them.” He came to dwell "with the diseased, to cure them.” He came to dwell "with the hungry, to feed them,” not only with physical bread but with the living bread. And above all, he came to dwell "with the lost, to seek and save them.” (William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973] p. 141).
This child is the nobiscum Deus—with us God—in Jesus Christ. We see the reality of God in Jesus Christ. And yet a greater reality awaits at his second coming. The twenty-first chapter of the book of Revelation tells us of this nobiscum Deus in his fullness:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
So I ask you: Can you rejoice because God in Jesus Christ is with us? Or do you still refuse to believe that he is the eternal God who became perfect man and died on the cross for our salvation? If you are not trusting in Jesus Christ, may God have mercy on you! May he help you to hope in nothing else and no one else but in God’s Son alone—the Holy One, the Son of the Most High, our Savior and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
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Copyright © 1995, P. G. Mathew
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