The Virgin Birth, Part 2
March 22, 2015
Open your Bibles to Luke Chapter 1. Luke Chapter 1. We’re continuing our study of Gabriel’s announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ to the virgin Mary. This is what Gabriel the angel spoke to her about the miraculous conception of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in this announcement, we see Jesus’ true nature and the significance of his life, his ministry. You’re going to find the section we’re studying in Luke chapter 1, verses 31 to 33. Luke, chapter 1, verses 31 to 33. We said last time that this is nothing less than the Gospel message in seed form. It’s really just a packed expression of the Gospel. It’s going to be unpacked throughout the rest of the Gospels, the rest of the New Testament. But these are eternally profound sentences from the angel who visited the virgin Mary.
Just by way of introduction to our text this morning, back in the early part of the 1900’s there was a famous pastor in New York City named Harry Emmerson Fosdick. This man was a very popular preacher, a very powerful preacher, and also an unapologetic and self-avowed liberal. Fosdick led the fight of the modernist cause against the fundamentalist. And he was leading the way for liberal Protestants in the early part of the 1900’s all the way. It’s affected us all the way up to today, this influence of liberal Protestants who want to downplay anything supernatural in Christianity because they want to accommodate to and cater to a more enlightened, modern age that doesn’t accept things like miracles, things like the supernatural. So, like many liberals, many modernists of his day and our day as well, Fosdick hoped to recast the old faith in the die of the modern world. He felt we needed to update things a little bit. So, Fosdick’s brand of fashionable and academically respectable Christianity was very popular, very popular. He would have been happy to drive the orthodox element in his church, the fundamentalists, right out of the church if he could, but he contented himself with a more subtle approach. He simply asked for open-mindedness, just be open. He simply wanted the cause of magnanimity and liberality and tolerance of spirit to prevail in the church. In truth, that kind of tolerance muddied the waters so much it killed the church.
On May 21, 1922, Fosdick preached his most famous sermon called, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” He voiced what most liberals thought. He voiced it publicly; most liberals thought these things, but they didn’t dare say these things out loud. He was bold enough to say it out loud. Why, he asked, must the fundamentalist insist on agreement with certain doctrines in order to maintain Christian fellowship? Why is that such a priority? It seemed a bit narrow-minded to him. Quite low-brow, premodern, not sophisticated. And yet, Fosdick claimed his primary protest was not against holding these opinions. But that wasn’t true at all. He did have a protest against those because he proceeded in that sermon to undermine confidence in several core doctrines of the Christian Faith—divine inspiration of the Bible, the second coming of Jesus Christ (as we read about this morning out of 1 Thessalonians 4), our hope as Christians, and the miracle of the virgin birth. Here’s how he entered into the main body, the content of his sermon. This is what he said,
“We may well begin with the vexed and mooted question of the virgin birth of our Lord. I know people in the Christian churches—ministers, missionaries, laymen, devoted lovers of the Lord and servants of the Gospel—who, alike as they are in their personal devotion to the Master, hold quite different points of view about a matter like the virgin birth. Here, for example, is one point of view: that the virgin birth is to be accepted as historical fact, it actually happened, there was no other way for a personality like the Master to come into this world except by a special biological miracle. That’s one point of view. And many are the gracious and beautiful souls who hold it. But, side by side with them in the evangelical churches is a group of equally loyal and reverent people who would say the virgin birth is not to be accepted as historical fact. So far from thinking that they’ve given up anything vital in the New Testament’s attitude toward Jesus, these Christians remember that the two men who contributed most to the Church’s thought of the divine meaning of the Christ were Paul and John, who never even distantly allude to the virgin birth.”
Is that true? No. I won’t take the time right now to show you that last statement is patently false. Paul and John most certainly alluded to the virgin birth, taught it with strength and power. Whatever they wrote about the full humanity and the full deity of Jesus Christ is absolutely impossible to reconcile if it’s not predicated on the fact of the virgin birth. The virgin birth is a necessity if you’re going to affirm the full humanity and the full deity of Jesus Christ. And that fact is firmly and unquestionably established in the Gospels right here in our text, Luke Chapter 1:31 to 35. And in Matthew 1:18 to 25 as well. But Fosdick didn’t worry about backing up assertions like that with evidence. Many people are like that. They just make pronouncements and move on. His tactic was to use clever rhetoric. He appealed for the respect of the “equally loyal and reverent people” who hold different points of view. Is that all it is? Just a different point of view? Or, is it something else? Is it rebellion against the truth? Because that’s what Fosdick did. He liked to chide people who fretted over minor points of doctrine. Minor things like the virgin birth. Minor things like the divine inspiration and authority of the Scripture. Minor things like substitutionary atonement that paid the purchase for our sins. Minor things like that.
Fosdick asked what can you do with folks like this, who in the face of colossal issues play with the tiddlywinks and peccadillos of religion? That’s what he said. After all, aren’t there weightier matters in the world? Was Fosdick right? Does it really matter what we believe about the virgin birth? Here is how Albert Mohler answered that question in an article entitled, “Can a Christian Deny the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ?” He poses that question, “Can a true Christian deny the virgin birth? The answer to that question must be a decisive no. Those who deny the virgin birth reject the authority of Scripture, deny the supernatural birth of the Savior, undermine the very foundations of the Gospel and have no way of explaining the deity of Christ.” Later in the article he says, “The virgin birth does not stand alone as a biblical doctrine. It’s an irreducible part of the biblical revelation about the person and work of Jesus Christ. With it, the Gospel stands or falls.” That’s a pretty strong statement, but it’s true.
And that’s what we’re going to study this morning—the vital significance of the virgin birth, how it is consistent with incarnation, and why it’s essential to the Christian faith. My hope is that after today you’ll see why it’s vital; not only that, but you’ll see how much God did to secure your salvation—and you’ll worship Him for it! These doctrines are not to be merely academic. These doctrines we teach here are not to be received with a cold, indifferent heart. The doctrines we talk about, we preach about, we raise out of the Scriptures are to ignite your heart with a flame of passionate desire and devotion for Jesus Christ, and I hope that’s what it inspires in you today.
Let’s start by reading the account just to remind ourselves once again what it says. I’m going to start again in Luke 1, verse 26.
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings O favored one, the Lord with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And 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 bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to 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.” And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.”
Let’s stop there. We’re going to focus our attention today on really verse 32, and it’s in that section verses 31 to 33; and then Mary asked this clarifying question, “How will this be, how’s this going to happen because I’m a virgin, what’s going on?” Gabriel then gives a clarifying statement that just further reinforces and works into the fabric of the New Testament an affirmation about the virgin birth—the full humanity, the full deity of Jesus Christ. And you’re going to see these verses—verses 31 to 33—they divide well into three simple points on the humanity, the divinity and then the sovereignty of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those are the three points we’re going to use as a framework for our outline. I gave it to you last week, but here’s the outline again in case you missed it. First point, “real pregnancy equals full humanity,” “real pregnancy equals full humanity” in verse 31. Point number two, that’s where we’ll be today, “unqualified greatness equals full divinity,” “unqualified greatness equals full divinity,” verse 32. And then the last point, number three, “divine purpose equals full sovereignty,” “divine purpose equals full sovereignty,” and you can see that in verses 32 and 33.really
Well last week we unpacked verse 31 and that’s the first point: “real pregnancy equals full humanity,” verse 31. “The angel said, ‘Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.’” As we said on one level, that’s simply a promise that Mary will get pregnant and give birth to a son. Being betrothed to Joseph, she would’ve anticipated pregnancy and childbirth. After they were wed, they would plan to consummate their marriage. Pregnancy could result. Nothing was certain. Just as it is today, nothing is certain in a world where incidents of barrenness and infant mortality were very high. But now, with this announcement, Mary could look forward at least to conceiving and giving birth to a child. But, really at his point, we’re thinking only of a natural course of life. Even if you were to stop short of affirming a virgin birth here, at the very least, this is an affirmation that Jesus would be one hundred percent human. He would be fully man. In fact, on that point, Gabriel is more detailed here than even he needed to be. He could’ve just said, “You’re going to have a baby,” and that would have been enough. But he gets more explicit than that and he says, “You will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son.” Yeah, I got it, I got it. This is a real pregnancy. This is normal prenatal development of a baby in Mary’s womb, and therefore no one would even question that this baby was anything less than a human being.
Gabriel’s announcement said far more than that, didn’t it? We talked about that last week. Mary recognized some very familiar language in Gabriel’s words. The angel here virtually quoted from Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin birth when he made his announcement. And he took it directly from the text of Isaiah 7:14. Isaiah had prophesied in that verse more than 700 years before, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and you shall call his name Emmanuel.” Gabriel, quoted that, but he restated the prophecy, applying it directly to Mary. And he made two specific and intentional changes when he applied it to her. Instead of saying, “the virgin,” he said, “‘You will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus.” Not “Emmanuel,” but “Jesus.” Who is Emmanuel? Who is God with us? Absolutely astounding. We said last time, “Jesus,” the common Old Testament name, “Joshua,” it means “Jehovah Saves,” “Jehovah is salvation”; this Jesus is none other than Emmanuel, God with us. We read over in Matthew about the promise of the virgin birth as well. “An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his Jesus for [here’s the reason why], he will save his people from their sins.’ All of this took place”—Matthew said—“All of this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet [Isaiah 7:14], ‘Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they call his name Emmanuel,’ which means God with us.” There you have it. Just like we saw in Luke, He’s the son of David, the Messiah; He’s Jesus, the Savior; He’s the son of God. So, the virgin birth means the full humanity and full divinity in one person.
Well, let’s keep moving. I’ve just been giving you a quick review of our first point. We covered that last time, “real pregnancy equals full humanity,” verse 31. Let’s look at the next part of Gabriel’s annunciation, second point, “unqualified greatness equals full divinity,” “unqualified greatness equals full divinity.” Look at verse 32: “He will great and will be called son of the Most High.” That seems—knowing what we know about the Gospels, knowing what we know in the New Testament about Jesus Christ—that seems so understated, doesn’t it? So mild and yet it hints at, it points to Jesus’ unparalleled greatness. Gabriel had told Zechariah, Luke 1:15, that John the Baptist would be great before the Lord, but Jesus, He’s just great. Period. He’s great. Not He shall be called great, He shall be great. There is an emphasis in the original language here. You see the pronoun there, “he.” The word, “he,” that’s called a personal pronoun, remember that from grade school? Depends on what grade school I guess you went to or how long it’s been. But instead of using the personal pronoun “he” in the original language, the angel uses a demonstrative pronoun, remember “this” and “these,” “that” and “those,” demonstrative pronouns, they point to something. Here’s what the angel says,”This one shall be great.” That is what he’s saying falling on the heels of the announcement of the birth of Christ. He’s saying, “Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the baby born in a normal human way, coming into the world as a human being, don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s all he is. This one will be great. The Son of the Most High.”
This unqualified reference to greatness prepares Mary, really, for that second identifying phrase, which is about Jesus’ full divinity. The whole announcement, all of this, as we said, calls to mind not just the virgin birth prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, but also what Isaiah said just two chapters later. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be on his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor [and then what] mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” That’s what’s being pointed to here. It’s that second phrase there in verse 32 which is joined to first by this conjunction “and he will be great, and he will be called the Son of the Most High.” That is what helps us understand the true nature of Jesus’s greatness.
Let’s start by considering “the Most High because it’s in relation to that title that we understand what it means to be the Son of the Most High. The Most High refers to the Hebrew, it’s the Hebrew El Elyon, God Most High. God Most High. The first time that title is used in the Bible, it’s in association with Melchizedek, that mysterious priest who wandered up to Abraham after the battle that Abraham had had with Kedorlaomer and the five kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and others. Abraham defeated those kings, came back with spoils of war, and Melchizedek met him. He was a priest of God Most High, priest of God Most High. Well, there’s no priesthood set up. Where’s this coming from? The writer to the Hebrews makes much of that, talking about Jesus. Melchizedek is a type of Jesus who has no beginning, no end of days. He comes in, Melchizedek, blessing Abraham. That title, God Most High, pictures God in His absolute universal sovereignty, ruling over the entire earth.
In fact, it’s interesting that in many cases when people refer to God as God Most High, El Elyon, they’re not necessarily worshippers of God. Often folks who are outside the covenant—non-Israelites, pagans, some who are utter rebels against God like the false prophet Balaam, Numbers 24:16—commonly refer to God as God Most High. Kings of Babylon knew God by that title, God Most High. In fact, God Most High is used of God 20 times in the Psalms, and in the book of Daniel, a close second—14 times in that short book. God Most High, God Most High. God Most High, the thinking about him, is throughout the Babylonian Empire; they learned about the true nature of God Most High. In Daniel 3 and 4, we find Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, referring to God as God Most High. He noticed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they were in the fiery furnace where he threw them. They weren’t consumed by any of the flames, and he addressed them in Daniel 3:26 with fear and trembling as servants of God Most High. He was repenting of his actions. He was repentant of what he did. How could he do that to the servants of the Most High God?
Later, Nebuchadnezzar became personally acquainted with God Most High. You remember in Daniel Chapter 4, 5, God Most High humbled him to scratch the earth like an animal. Remember, he humbled him from his high and lofty position. His hair grew like feathers, and his nails grew like claws, and he rooted around on the earth like an animal. When the Lord finally restored his senses, the king called the entire Babylonian Empire to reverence and worship guess who? God Most High. He recognizes God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as God Most High—high over all the earth. Unfortunately, that message wasn’t received by Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, Belshazzar. He refused to revere God as God Most High on the eve of his downfall while the Medes and Persians were outside the gates. Daniel reacquainted Belshazzar with God Most High, Daniel 5:18 and 21. Look, all this is to show that to the Babylonians, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is not just the God of the Israelites, his jurisdiction isn’t just limited to Canaan, Palestine; He’s God Most High. He’s sovereign over all the earth.
The New Testament, apart from these uses in verses 32, 35, verse 76 in the same chapter—you see the same emphasis on the universal sovereignty of God in the title God Most High. When Jesus called his true disciples to love their enemies, Luke 6:35, God’s exercise of sovereign goodness is their example. Jesus said, “Do good, lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Most High—there is a title that emphasizes God’s sovereign care over all mankind, even over those who do not acknowledge Him as God, even over those who don’t give Him thanks. Demons are terrified of Jesus and his apostles because of their association with God Most High, Luke 8:28, the demon who inhabited the Gerasene demoniac. He cried out, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? I beg you do not torment me.” Acts 16:17, same thing. The demons who possessed a slave girl identified Paul as a servant of the Most High God. Demons know who’s Lord over all, and they tremble. God Most High—a picture of God as absolute sovereign over all the earth. He rules beneficently, dispensing his common grace on the evil and the good, but God Most High is also judge of all the earth, and He’s the executioner as well. He’s to be revered, He’s to be feared—and that gives us some real insight, taking all that back into the text here to what Gabriel meant when he announced this news to Mary. In fact, it points ahead to Jesus’ sovereign rule, which is outlined briefly there in verse 33.
Now, notice in Luke 1:32, it doesn’t say he should be called “the Most High,” but “the son of the Most High, son of.” He’s the son of the sovereign, omnipotent, all-seeing, all-knowing God. So, what would Mary make of that? Would the son of the Most High have any less stature than the Most High Himself? Not in Mary’s mind, not in her mind at all. Her mind would immediately recall one very significant passage. It’s the only passage that her mind would’ve turned to. Let’s go to that passage. Flip over to Psalm 2 in your Bibles. Almost said “Philippians Chapter 2.” Her mind couldn’t have flipped there because it wasn’t written yet, but Psalm 2 was, and that’s where her mind would’ve gone. This Psalm, along with Psalm 1, provides a bit of an introduction to the entire psalter. Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 are like gates that open to the whole Psalms. Psalm 1 makes the distinction between the righteous and the wicked. The righteous love God’s word; the wicked are really indifferent to it. Psalm 2 makes the same distinction between the righteous and the wicked, but here in relation to the Lord’s anointed, the Messiah. Follow along as I read there, Psalm 2, verse 1 to 12. It says,
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst heir bonds apart and case away their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ [Now there’s a break here coming into verse 7, someone else is speaking] I will tell of the decree: The Lord [that is Yahweh] said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in a pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ [The Psalmist comes back to give an exhortation] Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
It’s a very, very significant Psalm, folks. We don’t have time to expound it this morning; perhaps we’ll do that some time in the future. But just notice this, just quickly: God has established His king and that’s past tense. He has established Him. He hasn’t chosen out of the nobility of the nations; He’s not selected one of the earth’s mighty men, not one of the earth’s wise men. He has chosen His own Son. And who is that exactly? Here’s how the New Testament interprets that Psalm. Just a few passages—take a look over in the New Testament. Go over to the Book of Acts. Take a look at Acts Chapter 4. Acts 4 in verse 23. Peter and John had just been arrested, and they were examined before the Sanhedrin. They made their defense, testifying boldly about Jesus Christ, and their defense before the Sanhedrin—before the Jewish rulers—absolutely silenced them. Their defense was impeccable. And all the rulers could do at that point was threaten them and let them go. So, after Peter and John were released, they immediately gathered together with fellow believers; they gave them a debrief there. Exactly as you’d expect, and then they held a prayer meeting. It seems the logical thing to do—an ordeal like that, go right into prayer. Take a look there at Acts 4:23. It says,
“When they were released they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and elders had said to them. And when the heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord,’” [There it is again, you’re looking at God Most High]“’Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and earth and sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, our servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’- for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
Stop there. You see that, after quoting Psalm 2:1 and 2, those early disciples immediately identify those verses with what happened to Jesus Christ. Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, the peoples of Israel—they are the kings and rulers who gathered together against the Lord and his Anointed. And who is the Lord’s Anointed? None other than your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed.
Flip over to Acts 13, Acts 13. While you’re there in the Book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas are preaching in the city of Antioch. Acts 13, verse 32 says, “We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you.’” The writer to the Hebrews interprets the Scripture the same way, applying Psalm 2:7 explicitly and exclusively to Jesus Christ.
You can go back to Luke Chapter 1, but let me just read this. Hebrews Chapter 1, verse 5, says this, “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you’? Or again, ‘I will be to him a father, he shall be to me a son’? But when he brings the firstborn into the world he says, ‘Let all God’s angles worship him.’” Hebrews 5:5, “Christ did not exalt him to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’” So, the apostles—the writers of the New Testament—they were not misrepresenting Jesus here. They weren’t mistaken as they recorded this. Jesus had the same view of Psalm 2 that they did. In Revelation 2:26 to 27, his own personal letter to the Church in Thyatira, Jesus makes this amazing promise: “The one who conquers and keeps my words until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.” Same thing there, right? Jesus Christ the son of God, the Anointed one with the authority to rule with a rod of iron, gives that authority to all those who overcome to rule with Him with a rod of iron. And that shows up later in Revelation as well, in relation to Jesus Christ. Revelation 12:5, 19:15 as well. Son of God, Most High God.
Now, all of this that we’re talking about here may not have burst upon Mary’s mind like it’s bursting upon ours when she heard it for the first time from the angel. But it wasn’t entirely foreign to her either. She knew the prophecy of Psalm 2, verse 7, that the Anointed one, the Messiah, would have a Father-Son relationship with God. God is Father to the Messiah. The Messiah is Son to the Father, and Mary’s question in verse 34 draws out of the angel this further clarification on that very point. Gabriel says in verse 35, it further unpacks the meaning of that sentence, “He will be great, he will be called son of the Most High.” And notice those verses, “Mary said, ‘How will this be since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.’” Something astounding is going to happen, something unprecedented, something miraculous, something divine. The Holy Spirit—the power of Most High God—would create a holy child and He would the son of Mary and the son of God. Now, just to clarify, Jesus did not become son of El Elyon at his conception, at his incarnation; He’s always been son of the Most High God. At His conception, at His incarnation, what had been eternally true became known to all. Now, all people acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of Most High, the Son of God.
The Trinitarian reality is represented here. It’s not fully explicated in this context, but none of this makes sense apart from the doctrine of the Trinity. Jesus preexisted as the Second Person of the Trinity. As He prayed in John 17:4 to 5, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do, and now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” He’s always been the Son in relation to the Father before the incarnation, before the world began, and He remains the Son of God forever into eternity. There’s so much more we could say about the deity of Jesus Christ—His unqualified greatness as Son of the Most High God. The New Testament is literally filled with propositions and evidences regarding Jesus’ nature, which is both human and divine. As we heard last week, described in the language of the Chalcedonian Creed, Jesus Christ is to be acknowledged in two natures. “Inconfusedly, unchangeable, indivisibly, inseparably, the distinction of the two natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather by the property of each nature being preserved, each nature being in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one in the same son, the only begotten God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.” That statement comes from the fifth century, and it was forged from an earlier defense of orthodoxy against the Arians.
As I mentioned last week, the Arians denied the deity of Jesus Christ, and there was one man in particular, a champion of the Nicene Creed, an Egyptian names Athanasius. He defended the Nicene Creed all his life. He lived his entire life combating this stubborn and obstinate Arian heresy, and he suffered for it too. It’s a big deal. The Arian heretics dogged his every step. They turned political rulers against him. And Athanasius was exiled seven times. He spent more than 17 years either on the run or exiled from his home. It’s probably in honor of his faithful lifelong defense of his orthodoxy on this point—or I shouldn’t say his orthodoxy but the orthodox faith on this point, the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, His virgin birth. A later creed, probably drafted in the seventh century, was named after him. It’s called the Athanasian Creed, and it’s an exceedingly clear affirmation of the Trinity and doctrine of the incarnation. Unlike previous creeds, the Athanasian creed warns the reader, right at the very beginning of the creed and at the end, to take this faith seriously. It says at the beginning, “Unless one keeps his faith whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” Again, at the end, the same warning, this is a catholic faith, small “c”—the universal catholic, meaning universal. “This is the catholic or universal faith which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.” It’s probably for that reason that many today who don’t like doctrinal precision prefer the more benign, toothless Apostle’s Creed. That early creed is a good affirmation of Biblical truth, but it’s very simple, and it lacks the affirmations and denials of later creeds that clarified doctrine in distinction from heresy. That’s why some today who wish to appear both orthodox and faithful to the ancient faith—even though they’ve really in their hearts departed from it—prefer the Apostle’s Creed. They go right back to that and say, “I’m an Apostle’s Creed kind of Christian.”
The Athanasian Creed affirms the incarnation in very clear and unambiguous terms. Each word is carefully, judiciously chosen to guard the doctrine of Jesus Christ, the full humanity and deity of Jesus. It has 44 lines. I’m not going to read you all 44, Amen? You all in favor of that? Just a few, just a few. I want to give you a taste. Here’s line number 30, “For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the son of God is God and man.” Can you say Amen to that? Line 31, “God of the substance of the Father begotten before the worlds and man of substance of his mother born in the world.” All right? Two substances: man and God. Line 32, “Perfect God and perfect man of reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting”—that is to say neither nature lacks in anything. Fully human, fully divine. Line 33, “Equal to the Father as touching his Godhead and inferior to the Father as touching his manhood.” There it’s talking about the relative relationship to the Godhead, both Creator on the one hand and creature on the other. Line 44, or 34, “Who, although he is God and man, yet he is not two but one Christ.” He’s united in one Person—two natures, one Person. Line 35, “One not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh,” that is there is no metamorphosis going on in God to become a man, “but by taking of that manhood into God.” And that affirms there is no essential change in the Trinity. The Trinity did not change; God remains as His attributes stay immutable. “I, the Lord did not change.” Lind 36, last one, “One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.” So, its saying there are two natures unified together in one Person. Two distinct natures, one Person.
You say, “I don’t understand that.” That’s okay, you’re limited; I am too. We don’t understand all of these things. Listen, if God could be contained in our finite minds, you know what? He would not be God. The infinite cannot be contained inside the finite. The eternal cannot be contained inside of us. We struggle. For those who are interested in the Harry Emmerson Fosdick brand of Christianity, it is a tolerant and liberal Christianity, polite and palatable, academically and socially acceptable. This clarity and carefulness about the Athanasian Creed is rather a bore, isn’t it? Yawn… Why bother? To strengthen conviction about the supernatural birth of Jesus Christ. Listen, if Christianity is nothing more than a shared feeling, if it’s nothing more than a national sentiment, if it’s nothing more than mom, apple pie and our Christian faith, nothing more than fireworks on the 4th of July, and if the church is nothing more than a social gathering, if it’s all about potlucks and red punch and stale cookies—then the virgin birth is truly, at best, just an irrelevant curiosity. It’s just a myth on the level of a Disney fairy tale—quaint, harmless. The greatest sin according, to Fosdick, is to take the virgin birth too seriously, to actually believe it, to insist upon it. That in fact to insist up on it would be downright divisive, be intolerant, the worst of evils.th
In Benjamin Warfield’s essay, “The Supernatural Birth of Jesus,” he writes about the fondness the liberals and modernists have in elevating the parable of the Prodigal Son as the ideal of contemporary Christianity because it’s all about a Father’s love for his wayward son. And, so they say that is the essence of Christianity. Fatherly love, the universal fatherhood of God, and the universal brotherhood of man. Here’s what Warfield points out: The parable of the Prodigal Son says nothing about substitutionary atonement, nothing about the expiation of sin, nothing about the propitiation—that’s a big word for satisfaction of wrath—nothing about the satisfaction of divine wrath. It says nothing about the mediatorial rule of Jesus Christ. Nothing. The parable of the Prodigal Son is a wonderful parable for what it teaches, but it is not the essence of the Christian faith, and Warfield says, “Christianity which refuses to know anything but the Love of God, which is there revealed to us in the parable of the prodigal son as it has no need of a Jesus, can have no need of a supernatural birth for the Jesus whom it totally ignores or for whom it, at best, makes at best an unessential place.” That’s not true for us, is it? It’s not true for us. Those who love the Lord Jesus Christ are eager to affirm His supernatural birth or eager to understand the mystery of His incarnation as much as we can because, get this, the virgin birth—by which God kept intact Jesus’ full humanity and full divinity—the virgin birth was absolutely necessary to secure our full salvation.
So, we want to ask a couple questions here, kind of wrapping this up. First of all, why the virgin birth? I mean we’re all faithful here. We love the Lord, we want to follow His truth—but why is this so important? How did the virgin birth secure two natures of Jesus Christ—one human, one divine—all in one Person? The short answer to that question is well, we don’t really completely know. Sorry to disappoint, but we don’t completely know. That’s what we call the doctrine of divine incomprehensibility, which says, in short, the finite mind of man cannot fully comprehend the infinite God. Ultimately, God is beyond our limitations, and we might expect that from an eternal being. That’s why Paul finally cries out in Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments how inscrutable are his ways!” Yeah, we get that, it’s true.
But that said, here are a few things we do know about the virgin birth. Here are things we do know that help us to understand why it’s so important. God could have caused the Messiah to come into the world apart from any human intervention at all. After all, he created Adam from the dust of the ground. He could’ve created Jesus the same way. Out in the back pasture in Nazareth somewhere—just form him up and there he is, just set him off running. But he didn’t do that. As we said before, the legal connection to Joseph was necessary to secure the legal right to the throne of David. We’ll get to that more next week. It’s there in verse 33. But Jesus wasn’t physically connected to Joseph—only to Mary. The physical, organic connection to Mary was necessary for Jesus to enter into the continuity of the human race. As the writer of the Hebrews makes clear, Hebrews 2:14 to 15, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” He had to share in our flesh and blood. He had to enter into the continuity of the human race; He did that through Mary. At the same time, God wanted to bring into the world the Messiah in a way that required His own special creation of a new man.
Why? Why a new man? Why was that necessary? Why couldn’t Jesus just be the product of Joseph and Mary? Because Jesus came to fulfill what Adam had failed to fulfill. You see, by sinning in the garden of Eden, Adam failed to fulfill the whole will of God and secure eternity for the human race. He acted as the representative head of the human race, and as that representative head, Adam failed, and he passed on to the rest of mankind the guilt of his original sin. We all bear that guilt. He passed on the corruption of the fall. In a word, we didn’t inherit anything good from Adam. Thanks a lot! But that was by God’s design, so that He could send the second Adam into the world. Because it wasn’t about the first Adam; it was about the second. It was about the Lord Jesus Christ. So, God created the last Adam, Jesus, to be the representative head of a new race of people: us. You’re either in Adam, or you’re in Christ. If you’re in Adam, you die. If you’re in Christ, you shall live. Since Jesus never failed to do what God required, since Jesus always pleased the Father, He completely fulfilled the will of God in absolutely everything. In every single point, in though, whether in word and deed, He never committed a sin of omission or commission. He did everything fully to please the Father, and now through Christ, in union with him, God imputes to us what Christ earned for us—that is prefect, spotless righteousness and eternal reward. Why do we have eternal life? Not because we deserve it, but because Christ deserves it. He deserves it and in Him, we share it. You hear the same thing coming through in what Paul wrote in Romans chapter 5:18 to 19, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
I realize this theology stretches some of you, and if you don’t understand that, let’s try some of this. The virgin birth was absolutely necessary because it meant that Jesus Christ could come into the world with a perfect sinless human nature and at the same time an uncompromised divine nature. The virgin birth is the vehicle that God used to incarnate the Son as both fully man and fully God. Two natures, one Person. That’s why the virgin birth is vital and essential to the Christian faith, and you must, understanding it, you must affirm, or you’re not a Christian. Those who understand it and then deny it—it’s like understanding God as very God and denying Him.
Second question, why? Why was it necessary for Jesus to be both human and divine? Why does our salvation depend on Jesus having a human nature and divine nature? Why is that important. I don’t want to get too detailed in the theology here—we could, but we’d be here another three, four hours, maybe a week. So, maybe have, you’re getting hungry and all that, but let me make a few affirmations here just to put this in your mind. A few affirmations about Jesus’ full humanity and His full deity. This is why the virgin birth is such a vital and essential doctrine in the Christian faith, the full humanity, the full deity of Christ. First, Jesus is our perfect substitute in paying the penalty for our sin. Jesus is the perfect substitute in paying the penalty for our sin. Two things to say: Because Jesus is human, He is able to stand in our place, acting as a substitute for us guilty sinners before a holy God. Because Jesus is divine, He’s able to atone for our sins. He has an infinite capacity for satisfying the full wrath of God that we deserve. No man on his own has that capacity because he’s a finite creature. But a divine nature—full capacity to satisfy the full wrath of God.have,
Second thing, Jesus is not only our perfect substitute, Jesus is our perfect representative, fulfilling the perfect will of God on our behalf. Because Jesus is human, He is able to represent us in fulfilling God’s perfect law. In standing before God’s tribunal to give an answer for sins, Jesus is able to represent us. He’s able to stand before God’s tribunal as perfectly, spotlessly righteous, professing full obedience to God’s law. He’s able to do both. That’s because He’s human. Because He’s divine, his perfect, spotless righteousness is guaranteed forever. The doctrine of divine impeccability is an attribute of God that says He’s unable to sin. He’s unable to violate His own will and nature. Jesus had that in His divine nature and that means, being bound together with His human nature, His divine nature guaranteed that His human nature would never succumb to temptation. His divine nature guaranteed His perfect obedience. Jesus conformed wholly, completely to God’s perfect righteousness. He please God in absolutely everything. And that means Jesus was able to fulfill the mission of humanity, the one Adam had failed to fulfill. And then God imputes that to us, that perfect spotless righteousness—He imputes it to us, to all who believe by faith. And that’s why, with Paul in Philippians 3:9, we rejoice to be “found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but having a righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, a righteousness from God that depends on faith.” As our perfect human representative, Jesus is our perfect righteousness, but as a divine person, that’s the guarantee there will never be a second fall of mankind into sin. For that, we’re eternally grateful.
Third thing, we said Jesus is our perfect substitute, He’s our perfect representative. Third thing, Jesus is our prefect high priest, representing us to God and then teaching us about God. Because Jesus is human, He’s able to identify with us in all our weaknesses, all our struggles, the severity of all our temptations. Listen, there is nothing He has not experienced more fully than we have. You say, in this modern age? Yeah, even in this modern age. Distractions from cell phones, and televisions, and temptations, and billboards and things on the Internet and, yeah, He gets it all. Jesus’ organic connection to Mary means He knows what it’s like to work within human limitations. He knows what it’s like to feel weakness, to feel pressure. He knows what it’s like to struggle, when He’s hungry or tired or in constant demand, or even lonely. Jesus knows the strength of temptation more fully than we ever will because of this point. He never caved into temptation. Temptation—He completely expended all the devil’s temptations, Luke 4, Matthew 4. You and I? We wouldn’t last one second with the devil unleashed on us like that. The devil starts tempting us, a little bit of pressure—boom!—we cave. That’s why Jesus understands us more than you’ll even know because; the devil pressed on him and pressed on him and pressed on him, and He never broke. Because He never broke, He felt more temptation, more pressure, more struggle, more suffering. He did that for you, He did that for me. He felt the forces of the devil’s temptations more fully than we ever will, and that is why He can be a sympathetic and merciful high priest. Our eternal advocate with the Father, 1 John 2:1. Jesus Christ, the righteous, because Jesus is divine, so that’s about Jesus’ humanity. He’s our perfect high priest.
Because Jesus is divine, He’s also our prefect high priest. He’s robed in humanity, and He’s able to explain God to me. He’s able to explain God to you—to make the invisible God visible to you, to help you understand who God is, what He’s like. John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God; the only God who’s at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” So by Jesus’ perfect life, which is recorded for us in the Scriptures, by the spirit He’s given to us, we understand God. Is that amazing? Jesus is my perfect substitute, He’s my perfect representative, he’s my perfect high priest. All those roles in our redemption made possible by the full humanity, the full divinity of Jesus Christ, that’s what made the virgin birth a necessity of the Christian faith. That’s why it’s a cardinal doctrine of our Christian faith.
Listen, I realize that’s a lot to digest, but it’s worth your time and effort for the sake of meditation to pause with this knowledge and understanding to worship, to wonder at the immensity of what God did to accomplish your salvation in Jesus Christ. Many brilliant, many godly saints have gathered throughout church history to defend these doctrines we’re talking about today: the virgin birth, the full humanity, the full deity of Jesus Christ. These men and women worked feverishly to defend these doctrines to produce statements like the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Confession, the Athanasian Creed. And for many of them, like Athansius, it meant suffering and exile and even death. A high cost. Why did they endure such suffering? Because they loved the truth of the Gospel, and they understood how vital and essential these doctrines are—that we embrace them.
Listen, the easier route, I’ll admit, is the liberal route. The tolerant religion of Harry Emmerson Fosdick. That kind of religion doesn’t make any demands on your thinking. It’s easy. It doesn’t demand anything from you. Come and go as you please. It can actually be quite rewarding, quite profitable for you—enriching. The religious like to have their ears tickled. For example, Fosdick preached the famous sermon I quoted in the beginning in 1922. In 1923, to the credit of his now defunct denomination, in 1923, that denomination began an investigation of Fosdick’s heresy. The future secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, was the lay elder who conducted his defense at that time. And when it looked certain Fosdick would come under formal censure by his denomination in 1924, he abruptly resigned from his pulpit, left his church, and immediately accepted a call, a better call to pastor Park Avenue Church, where John D. Rockefeller attended. Rockefeller funded a building project, the Riverside Church in Manhattan. And it was designed for Fosdick and the whole church was organized with his brand of liberalism in mind. A 22 story building, it was stunning, stunningly beautiful, with a massive chancel and gallery organs, ornate carvings, expensive art work providing everything a community church would want: a gymnasium, live performance theaters, dining halls, 10 stories of classroom space. In the short term—yes it’s true—heresy pays well. “Broad is the way and many go that way.” Fosdick passed off the scene, and Riverside Church has hosted a gallery of political and theological and cultural stars and icons. You’d know many of the names if I said them. But there is nothing Christian about that church any longer. The organization advocates for all manner of sin and rebellion, including the LGBT movement—everything God hates. It’s no coincidence that it all started by abandoning this fundamental doctrine of the virgin birth. Once they left that behind, nothing Christian actually remained even if you had the vestiges and the echoes of it throughout the halls.
You’ve got to choose; you’ve got to choose. Do you embrace the historic Christian faith, the orthodox Christian faith, or do you want to embrace something a little easier for yourself? That’s what we all face every single day because it’s going to get harder and harder to be orthodox in the days we’re in.
Well, listen those are the first two points in the angel’s amazing annunciation to Mary. Mary’s very real human pregnancy is an affirmation of Jesus’ full humanity. Jesus’ unqualified greatness is due to His full divinity, and those two points we’ve covered lead to the final point, which we’ll cover next week. We’re going to wrap this whole thing up next week because the following week is Resurrection Sunday. We’ll want to give full attention to that, to preach on a different text of Sctpirutre Scripture. The humanity of Jesus, the divinity of Jesus, the true nature of Jesus as the God-man—it guarantees what we’re going to see next time, the divine purpose, which is Jesus’ full, total, universal sovereignty over all. That’s verses 32 to 33. We’ll get to that next time.Sctpirutre
Let’s pray together. Heavenly Father, we pray You would take our meager efforts to proclaim Your truth and Your Word. Though it takes a lot of work for us, they really are meager. It They just illustrate our own finitude, our own weakness, our own frailty as human creatures. And Heavenly Father, we just ask that You would give power and strength to the transforming nature of Your Word; let it go forth and draw all men to Jesus Christ. We pray that as He’s uplifted in His true nature, in His full humanity, in His full divinity, that people would see Him and not just see these as doctrines to be held with academic coldness and indifference and in a dispassionate way. We pray that all men here, all women here, every boy and girl would know Him savingly, would adore Him. We pray that all would rejoice in their hearts with the hymn writer who says,It
“My Jesus I love thee, I know thou art mine; for thee all the follies of sin I resign; my gracious redeemer, my savior art thou; if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, tis now. I love thee because thou has first loved me and purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree; I love thee for wearing the thorns on thy brow; if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, tis now.”
We commit ourselves to You in full devotion and affirmation of Your nature. Jesus Christ, we love You, we give ourselves to You for Your worship and glory and praise among all men. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.