READ : Luke 1:35
And the angel said to 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.”
Luke 1:35 RSV
“What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?” So we sing at Christmas. So we ask at other times with awed amazement, “What child is this?”
We don’t ask that about other babies, do we? We admire them, smile at them, speak to them in nonsense syllables, brag about them outrageously, but we don’t puzzle over their identity. We don’t ponder what sort of child this is. Yet Christmas songs are filled with that kind of wonder.
A GREAT DESTINY
For this baby, before His birth, a glowing destiny had been announced. A heavenly messenger had told the mother-to-be that He would be great, incomparably great. He would be so tall, so unique among others, that He would be called the Son of the Most High God. Distinct from all who had ever been born before, He would bear a special relationship to God.
More, He would be given the kingdom of His ancestor David. He would become Israel’s king, reigning over the house of Jacob. In other words, this would be a royal birth, the appearance of a child divinely destined to rule.
His reign also would be totally unprecedented. He, it is said, would be a ruler continually. His kingdom would have no end. He would be the promised sovereign of whom all the kings in David’s line were but a glimpse and a shadow. They reigned, some for decades, some for a handful of days, but His dominion would outlast all history. What child can this be, heralded by heaven, trailing clouds of glory, king forever?
Even the baby’s name is divinely selected beforehand. He is to be Jesus, meaning “God saves.” His birth will be a sign that God is with His mother. She has found favor with God. She has been selected from among all others for the blessing of bearing this child. His appearing on the human scene is now announced as certain, even before He is conceived.
But Mary is troubled, understandably, then puzzled by this word. Who is she? Mary is betrothed, but has had no sexual relations with a man. What can this message mean for a woman in her situation? How will this miracle child be born, born to her? Mary is young, devout, but also intelligent and practically minded. All this sounds surpassingly wonderful, but how can it possibly happen to her?
Heaven’s answer is the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” I’m reading here from Luke, chapter 1. God’s people knew about the ministry of the Holy Spirit from the first chapter of the book of Genesis. Remember how when the earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep how the Spirit of God was moving, brooding over the face of the waters? The Spirit of God is the Creator Spirit. We call Him in the creeds the “Lord and the Life-giver.” He is the One of whom Jesus will later speak, as bringing about a birth from above. The Holy Spirit is the answer to Mary’s question. The miracle will happen by His mysterious life-giving power.
“The power of the highest,” said the angel, “will overshadow you.” That makes me think about the tabernacle in the wilderness. That was the place where God had promised to dwell with His people and to guide them in their wilderness wandering. Over the tent hovered a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When that pillar was lifted up and moved onward, the people broke camp and set out in that direction. That pillar of cloud and fire was like an overshadowing presence, speaking of God’s care, His guidance, His saving power. That presence, that power, will overshadow Mary and bring about this undreamed of happening.
It is repeatedly emphasized here that the power by which the child will be conceived and born is not of man. It’s decidedly not the initiative and intent of any human father, not the life-quickening of a man’s seed, but God’s almighty power. Strikingly, that’s how the apostle John later describes the new birth which Christians experience: “who are born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).
A MIRACLE BIRTH
This is clearly the language of miracle, the announcement of a virgin birth. The wording is delicate but definite. This will be a creative act, something akin to what is described in the first chapters of Genesis. God by His Spirit, by His life-giving power, will give the human race a new beginning.
In one sense, this will be more remarkable than the fashioning of our first human parents. With them it was creation from the dust of the ground. Now a child will be born to a human mother, will grow and develop in her body like any other child. But unlike any other before or since, this baby will have no human father. The child will be God’s own gift to Mary and to the world.
A remarkable sign, we read, will bear witness to this central miracle. Another birth occurring at about the same time will be extraordinary. Listen. I’m reading from Luke 1:36, “And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were both advanced in years. They had long since given up hope of having a child of their own. But Zechariah had been told by a heavenly messenger that Elizabeth would bear a child. It was something like father Abraham and old Sarah all over again – a child of promise, born to aged parents, destined to play a significant role in God’s purpose. This was a sign for Mary that with God nothing will be impossible, that no word from God will be devoid of power. From this marvelous provision for her kinswoman, she is encouraged to believe the startling message that has come to her own heart.
She believes, she rejoices, she commits herself to God. In one of the most beautiful of all prayers of worship, she says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Quite remarkable trust for a humble peasant girl, quite a laudable surrender of her whole person to the service of God. She is ready for the adventure of the ages, giving birth to the Lord of glory.
WHY I BELIEVE IT
I’m sometimes asked by people, “Just how important is this matter of the virgin birth?” To some, it seems an awkward appendix to the gospel story. It sounds to them like a legend which gathered around the career of Jesus long after people had come to believe in Him for other reasons. They contend that somehow this was read back into Jesus’ past by a generation of sincere, yet gullible followers. They talk as though the Christian faith would be intact even if Jesus had been born as any other child. What can we say about that?
Listen again to the heavenly message which came to Mary, “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.” Did you notice that “therefore”? It’s because the conception of this child is the creative work of God, because this birth will come about uniquely through God’s creative power, that the child will be called, that the child will be, Son of God.
The language of sonship is used frequently in the Bible. The nation of Israel in Old Testament times was referred to as God’s child, God’s son. “Out of Egypt, I have called my son . . . Israel is my firstborn son” (Matt. 2:15; Exod. 4:21). In the New Testament, believers in Jesus Christ are referred to frequently as “the children of God.” “We are all the sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” But this relationship to God as beloved children is always linked to being in Christ, joined to Him in a living faith by the power of the Spirit.
Jesus, on the other hand, is spoken of as “the” Son of God. The New Testament writers called Him the “only begotten Son of God.” He calls God “my Father.” He makes the astonishing claim, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). And the words spoken before His birth suggest strongly that this unique sonship is somehow related to the virgin birth.
Let me tell you why I believe that Jesus was truly virgin-born. I believe it first of all on the basis of the Bible’s witness. It is clear in the way the evangelists Matthew and Luke describe Jesus’ birth that this was their conviction. The apostle John, though He does not explicitly teach this truth, implies it at several points, as does the apostle Paul. There’s not the slightest bit of evidence in any of the New Testament books that the apostolic church ever believed anything less about the birth of Jesus. And, obviously, Luke and the other gospel writers received all that they knew about this from Mary herself. Loyalty to the revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures calls us to see Jesus as a miracle baby in this sense.
Further, I believe that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary as the gospels relate it because of everything else I know about Jesus. I would be no more inclined than the most blatant skeptic to accept the idea of a virgin birth if it were affirmed of anyone besides Jesus of Nazareth. You see, I have come to believe in Him through the witness of the prophets and apostles and by the power of the Spirit. I have come to know Him as the Son of God and as the Savior of the world. I have read about His matchless life, His words of grace, His works of power, the devotion to God and self-giving love for people in His life. I’ve come to believe that He died for our sins and was raised again on the third day and is now exalted at God’s right hand as Lord of the universe. It’s the deepest conviction of my life that in Jesus of Nazareth, God truly came in love and power to save us. Now having believed those things about Jesus, the doctrine of the virgin birth seems to me eminently fitting. It has the ring of truth about it.
If we believe that Jesus departed from this world by way of an atoning death and a triumphant resurrection, that God’s power was there to restore Him from death to endless life, it’s not hard to believe that His entry into human history was equally miraculous.
Sometimes people say to me, “You mean I have to believe in the virgin birth in order to be a Christian?” To them I say: “The Bible never puts the issue quite like that.” I would ask such a person a question in response: If you want to become a Christian, what reason could you possibly have for rejecting this doctrine? To trust in Christ as the One who died for your sins and rose again is to throw open the doors to belief in God’s miraculous intervention in history, that’s what that is, and especially in the person of Jesus. Why then should it be thought a thing incredible that this same Jesus should be virgin-born? I will not say to you that you cannot be a Christian if you do not accept the virgin birth. But I would have to say that I wonder if the rejection of what is clearly taught about Jesus in the Bible can be consistent with true faith.
One of my professors in seminary once addressed a similar question. He said something like this, “One day all of us who name the name of Christ are going to swing out over the chasm of eternity on the rope of the Christian faith.” To ask, “How little can I believe and still be saved?” is like asking, “How small a rope can I have to bear my weight?” God has given us in His Word a marvelously rich and full revelation of His Son Jesus. To rest on all that Scripture says about Him is to venture into life here and the life to come with solid confidence. The mighty one who came as a miracle baby will never let us go, never let us down.
My desire today is to focus your attention upon Jesus Christ Himself, that you may accept His claim to be the unique Son of God and the world’s one Savior. Look to Him. Place all your confidence in Him. Rely upon Him as the One who died for your sins and rose again. Then, as you receive the gift of God’s Spirit, ask Him to teach you from His Word what you are to believe about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. He will give you light. God bless you!
Prayer: Father, we thank You today for Jesus Christ, marvelous in His birth, marvelous in His matchless life, marvelous in death and resurrection, in risen, reigning glory today. Let everyone sharing this program put his or her whole trust in Jesus the Savior. Amen.