The Virginal Conception of the Peace-Child
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, December 13, 2009
Copyright © 2009, P. G. Mathew
Luke 1:26-38 speaks of the virginal conception and birth of the Prince of peace, our Lord Jesus Christ. No one can be a Christian without faith in this cardinal doctrine as taught in this text (see also Matthew 1:18-25). The miracle in this situation is the virginal conception of Christ by the activity of the Holy Spirit on the virgin Mary, not the emergence of Jesus from Mary's womb.
There are some who believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary. They believe in her virginity before giving birth (ante partum); in her virginity in giving birth (in partu); and in her virginity after giving birth (post partum). Even the Reformers "were virtually unanimous in holding to Mary's perpetual virginity."1 But the Scriptures refute this idea. So Matthew tells us, "But [Joseph] had no union with [Mary] until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus" (Matt. 1:25). Scripture also refutes the idea of "immaculate conception" (that Mary was born sinless), as proclaimed December 8, 1854, by Pope Pius IX: "The Most Holy Virgin Mary was, in the first moment of her conception . . . in view of the merits of Jesus Christ . . . preserved free from all stain of original sin."2 The truth is, Mary was conceived and born in sin like we are. Like us, she was made holy by the grace of God, but she was never sinless. Mary and Joseph were blameless and righteous, like Zechariah and Elizabeth. They were all believers in God our Savior.
Mary was holy by grace. Notice, God did not choose a loose, promiscuous woman to be the mother of our Lord. Premarital virginity was highly esteemed in the holy Scriptures. About Rebekah, the wife God himself chose for Isaac, we read, "The girl was very beautiful, a virgin." Then it adds, "No man had ever lain with her" (Gen. 24:16).
Even the pagan king Xerxes did not marry a defiled woman after the removal of Queen Vashti. In Esther 2:2 we read the counsel, "Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king."
Virginity is a virtue, not a shame, in biblical culture because it is rooted in the creation law order. Virginity keeps the monogamous marriage relationship undefiled. The value of virginity is clearly seen in Leviticus 21: "The woman he marries must be a virgin. He must not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a woman defiled by prostitution, but only a virgin from his own people" (Lev. 21:13-14).
It was the special responsibility of the father to guarantee his daughter's sexual purity to the bridegroom and his family. "If, however, the charge [of premarital promiscuity] is true and no proof of the girl's virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house. You must purge the evil from among you" (Deut. 22:20-21).
Fathers were also responsible for the virginity of the bridegroom. Chastity in its grandeur is written across the history of Joseph because it was part of the patriarchal moral instruction he received from his father Jacob. Therefore, when tempted to commit adultery with Potiphar's wife, he told her, "How . . . could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" (Gen. 39:9).
People sin because they do not fear God. They do not fear God because they did not fear their fathers. They did not fear their fathers because the fathers did not demand that fear. This can be traced back from generation to generation. That is why the father's discipline is so essential to the spiritual wellbeing of his children.
In New Testament times, the minimum age for marriage for a girl was twelve and a half, and fourteen for a boy. First there was the betrothal, the marriage contract. Then after about twelve months, the bride would go from her father's house to the house of the bridegroom to live her married life.
Mary was betrothed to Joseph, who was of the house of David. While she was still in the house of her parents, before her marriage, the angel Gabriel appeared to tell her of her forthcoming virginal conception. We want to look at the promise of this virgin birth in the Old Testament, the fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and further explanation of this virgin birth.
I. The Promise
The Old Testament predicted the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Psalm 40:6-8 discloses that God does not accept heartless, bloody sacrifices of man but willing obedience to his holy will, obedience born out of love for God. Psalm 40 also states that in the fullness of time, one would come who would obey God perfectly, doing what Adam failed to do. Adam failed to listen and do the will of God. But this one will listen and do God's will perfectly and joyfully. This second Adam would be the Savior of the world.
God requires obedience. Samuel told Saul, "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams" (1 Sam. 15:22). Elsewhere we read, "When they go with their flocks and herds to seek the LORD , they will not find him; he has withdrawn himself from them" (Hosea 5:6). God withdraws from us when our hearts are wicked. The Lord himself declares, "I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them" (Amos 5:21-22). The psalmist tells us, "You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Ps. 51:16-17).
This coming Messiah of Psalm 40:6-8 would treasure God's word in his heart. He would delight in the law of the Lord and do it. So we read, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly (Col. 3:16).
In Hebrews 10:5-7 the writer quotes Psalm 40:6-8 from the Septuagint, interpreting this psalm to refer to Jesus the high priest. Thus, the sentence, "My ears you have pierced" (Ps. 40:6, NIV) appears as it does in the Septuagint: "A body you prepared for me." The Hebrews writer sees the psalmist as speaking of Christ's incarnation. God prepared a body for Jesus, and this body was the direct work of God. The Messiah needed a body like us so that he could obey God fully both actively and passively (passively in the sense that he would die for our sins on the cross). Unlike Mary, Jesus was sinless. He obeyed God fully in life and death so that our two fundamental needs of forgiveness of sins and being clothed with his perfect righteousness might be met.
God prepared a body for the coming Messiah in Mary's womb, and the Scriptures spoke of him. The Davidic kings were given a copy of the Scriptures at their coronation. But they never fully obeyed God's will revealed therein. The Messiah, however, the final and forever king, the Son of David, did fully obey what was written in the scroll about him.
After his resurrection, Jesus Christ said, "'Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to [the disciples] what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. . . . 'This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms [that is, the entire Old Testament].' Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, 'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day'" (Luke 24:24-27, 44-46). Elsewhere he said, "If you believed Moses, you would believe me for he wrote about me. . . . My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. . . . The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone for I always do what pleases him. . . . I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do" (John 5:46; 4:34; 8:29; 17:4).
In the garden of Gethsemane Christ prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). In Isaiah we read, "The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting" (Isa. 50:4-6).
Mark 1:35 says, "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." It was through this prayer that the Father instructed him. Then he would get up and do the will of the Father, including being crucified on the cross for our sins.
Christ's self-sacrifice put an end to the Levitical system of sacrifice. The blood of bulls and goats failed to atone our sins. Christ's sacrifice alone can cleanse us from all our sins. So we are told that God would prepare him a body through the virginal conception. Romans 8:3-4 gives more enlightenment: "For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for a sin offering" (author's translation). The Hebrews writer says, "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil" (Heb. 2:14). Then we read, "Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered" (Heb. 5:8).
II. Fulfillment of the Old Testament Prediction
In Isaiah 7:14 we read, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel," that is, "God with us." The fulfillment is found in Luke 1 and 2. In the fullness of time, Jesus came, and the promise of Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent was fulfilled.
God is faithful to all his promises. Not one shall ever fail. People make many promises yet often break them. We can trust people only with some reservation. But we can fully trust God and his promises. So God sent Gabriel in the fullness of time to the city of Nazareth to the house of the holy teenager Mary. God must prepare a body for his own Son in her womb so that in the body he may live and die to accomplish our redemption.
Gabriel was not sent to the palace of Herod in Jerusalem, but to Nazareth, in the unclean territory of the Galilee of the Gentiles. Remember what Nathanael said of Nazareth? "Can anything good come from there?" (John 1:46). Yet God chose the despised Galilee and the despised city of Nazareth, and the lowly Mary, whose family is not mentioned in the Scripture because they were poor and despised. So Mary sang in the Magnificat, "For he has been mindful of the humble estate of his servant. . . . [He] has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things" (Luke 1:48, 52-53). God chooses the lowly things of the world, as Paul explained: "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him" (1 Cor. 1:26-29).
Gabriel came to holy Mary, not to a loose woman. Three times Luke states that she was a virgin (vv. 27, 34), in fulfillment of Isaiah's prediction (Isa. 7:14). He greeted her, saying, "Rejoice!" When God greets us, we can rejoice. We should be happy. God is taking the initiative to save us miserable sinners.
Gabriel continued: "You highly favored one" or "highly graced one." Kecharitômenê is a perfect passive participle. It is called a divine passive. The meaning is that God chose Mary from all eternity, a choice of grace. He had shown favor to her and now he would continue to show grace to her. What grace begins, grace continues, and grace will complete. All that is in the verb. Mary was truly full of grace, a grace sufficient for all her needs, a grace that enabled her to do God's will and abound in good works.
Then Gabriel said, "The Lord is with you." This is an indicative, meaning it was reality. God was present with Mary at that moment. We all need God's presence, for it is useless to go anywhere without God. Moses did not want to lead Israel unless God went with him. Jesus himself said, "Go ye into all the world . . . I will be with you always. . . I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Matt. 28:19-20; Heb. 13:5, author's translation). Love never leaves.
When Gabriel said, "The Lord is with you," he was telling Mary, "The Lord is with you to provide for you, to protect you, and to solve all the problems that will come about as a result of this virginal conception. The Lord is with you to guide you every step of the way." Praise God, this is true also of us.
Mary was deeply troubled, yet she tried to understand God's word to her. The answer to our fear is to exercise our minds and believe what God has said. (PGM) So the angel comforted her. He told her, "Fear not!" This was an imperative from God himself. Then Gabriel gave reasons why Mary should not fear (vv. 30-33).
"You will be with child." Mary would conceive as Elizabeth had but without the intervention of a man.
"You will . . . give birth to a son." This was the body God had prepared.
"You are to give him the name Jesus," which means, "The Lord is salvation." In other words, Jesus is Lord as well as salvation for us sinners, his people.
"He will be great." Jesus would be infinitely greater than John the Baptist, greater than Caesar Augustus, and greater than all the petty rulers of the earth. Consider his greatness: "[God] seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way" (Eph. 1:20b-23). Paul writes, "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11). He is King of kings and Lord of lords, a mighty Savior and a mighty Judge.
"He will be called the Son of the Highest," (author's translation), that is, the Son of God. He is the eternal Son of God, without beginning, yet he is God's Son with a beginning.
"The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David." He will be given his father's throne. He is born a king.
"He will reign over the house of Jacob forever." This king is forever ruling. He is the final king of David's line. No one will succeed him because he will never die. He will rule Israel and the world forever and ever.
Isaiah prophesied, "Of the increase of his government and peace there is no end" (Isa. 9:7). If you want peace, you must embrace his rule. Without his rule, you can have no peace. In Daniel 2:44 we read, "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever." This is the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. And in Daniel 7:14 we read, "He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." In the Davidic covenant it is stated this way: "Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever" (2 Sam. 7:16).
Then Mary asked, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" She was betrothed, but she was not yet living with Joseph. So she asked, "How can this be, because I have not known a man?" These were not questions of unbelief but requests for further elucidation. Mary was not like Sarah, who doubted when God said she would have a son next year at the same time. She was not like Zechariah, who asked, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is old too? Gabriel, don't you know that old couples do not have children? It is a biological impossibility."
Mary was saying something else: "I am a virgin. How can a virgin conceive without the aid of a man? It has never happened since the world began." The answer is God. How did creation come to be? God is the answer. How can Jesus rise from the dead? God is the answer. How can we rise from the dead with an immortal, glorious body? God is the answer. If we believe that, we are Christians. If we do not, we are not.
How can a virgin conceive without a man's intervention? God is the answer. God! So Gabriel explained, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." God's presence would do the impossible. There is nothing too hard for the Lord. As the cloud of God's glory covered the Tent of Meeting, the shekinah glory, the presence of God, would come upon Mary and perform this miracle to bring about the virginal conception of the peace child.
The Spirit was present at creation. The Spirit was present at the conception of Jesus. The Spirit came upon Jesus to enable him to minister. He was anointed and baptized in the Holy Spirit. Through the aid of the Holy Spirit, Jesus offered himself as atoning sacrifice on the cross. God raised Christ from the dead by the operation of the Holy Spirit. So when Mary asked, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" the answer is, the Holy Spirit.
Then Mary was given a sign to help her grow in faith. Gabriel, in effect, said, "Go to your relative Elizabeth. She was old and barren, but she has conceived and she is now in her sixth month." Thank God he helps us to believe his sure promises! "For nothing is impossible with God," Gabriel concluded. Let us believe God's promises and see what God will do for us by his Holy Spirit. Away with doubt and unbelief! Let us have faith in God and see miracles, that we may rejoice in our Savior.
In verse 38 we see the total submission of Mary. She says, "I believe your word. I submit to your lordship. I am your slave girl. May it be to me according to your word." Yet perhaps even then questions were coming into her mind: "What about Joseph? What would he say? Would he divorce me? Would people call me a harlot and stone me to death?" But finally she said, "Lord, all these things are your problem. I submit to you. May you remove all the mountains on my way." And we can imagine that as the angel departed, Mary began to sing and make haste to visit her pregnant relative Elizabeth in Judah.
"Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.
This mountain shall be removed, this mountain shall be removed,
this mountain shall be removed, by my Spirit, saith the Lord."
The mountain was removed for the time being. God sent an angel to Joseph, who had heard about Mary's pregnancy and was planning to divorce her secretly. She did not deceive him. She told him the truth. But God sent Gabriel to Joseph: "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife because what is conceived in her is ek pneumatikos-from the Holy Spirit." And Joseph obeyed. Here, then, was the fulfillment of the prophecy: "A body thou hast prepared for me to do your will of accomplishing redemption for your elect people," including the redemption of Mary, the mother of God.
The Miraculous Conception
The virginal conception was miraculous, John Murray says, in three ways: 3
Supernatural begetting. Mary conceived without the aid of a man. Jesus was begotten by the Holy Spirit. It is the absence of human begetting that made this birth a virgin birth.
Supernatural person. This baby to be born was a supernatural person. The Bible is not speaking about a mere baby supernaturally begotten. The eternal Son of God through supernatural begetting took upon himself human nature. This baby is God/man.
Supernatural preservation. The child was called "Holy Son of God," a better translation. He and he alone was born sinless, unlike us and Mary. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, "What is taught in Scripture is not that Mary had been either born or made sinless, but that that portion of Mary, that cell out of Mary that was to be developed into the body of the Son of God was cleansed from sin; . . . and it is to [this cell cleansed from sin] that the Son of God was joined.4 Jesus was preserved from conception to birth from sin that would otherwise have proceeded from his human mother.
What are some applications we can make?
Without believing this doctrine of virginal conception, our view of the person of Jesus Christ will be highly diminished. Such a diminished Jesus, a mere man, could never save anyone. But we do not diminish Jesus Christ. We proclaim a highly exalted Jesus Christ, God/man, Savior of the world.
Fathers, remember your peculiar responsibility to ensure your children's virginity. Boys and girls are to be brought up in the fear of God, a fear that keeps them from all defilement.
As believers in this Jesus Christ, let us live holy lives, avoiding all spiritual adultery, for we are betrothed to the one husband, even Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. Paul exhorts, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.' 'Therefore come out from themand be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.' 'I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.' Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God" (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). We do not worship Baal in this church. Baalism permits, promotes, and praises sexual immorality. People go to some churches because they want to practice sexual immorality, which Baal worship promotes. But we say with Paul, "I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I betrothed you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2-3).
Therefore, let us live holy lives. Let us be wise virgins, for our bridegroom will soon come, and our wedding feast is fast approaching. Let us put on fine linen, bright and clean. Let us be holy, for our bridegroom is holy. May we walk with all integrity, trusting in God and in his promises. The Lord is with us and he will help us. There is nothing impossible for our God.
1 D. F. and J. S. Wright, "Virgin Birth," New Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, I. Howard Marshall, A. R. Millard, et al, editors (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 1226.
2 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 531, note 3.
3 John Murray, Collected Writings, Vol. 2: Select Lectures in Systematic Theology (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1977), 134-135.
4 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: The Law: Its Functions and Limits, Exposition of Chapters 7:1-8:4 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), 324.
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Copyright © 2009, P. G. Mathew
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