The Great Exception
December 23rd, 1956 @ 8:15 AM
THE GREAT EXCEPTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-23-56 8:15 a.m.
The title of the message this morning is The Great Exception or An Accounting for Christ. And in your Bible, turn to the first chapter of Matthew, and I want you to notice, may I point out, The Great Exception. The first chapter of Matthew – it begins with the first verse:
The book of the genealogy –
the role, this is the role, this is the genealogy –
of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judah and his brethren;
And Judas begat . . .
and on and on, until finally: "Boaz begat Obed; and Obed begat Jesse; and Jesse begat David; and David begat Solomon" [from Matthew 1:5-6] then on and on and on. And finally, "Matthan begat Jacob [Matthew 1:15]; and Jacob," in the sixteenth verse, "and Jacob begat Joseph" [Matthew 1:16].
And you would ordinarily have expected, as all of the rest, "And Matthan begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Joseph; and Joseph begat Jesus." That’s what you would have expected. That’s what normally would have been written. But there is a great exception made for the sixteenth verse reads: "And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ" [Matthew 1:16]. Now that demanded an explanation – that exception there in the sixteenth verse. So the author of the Gospel of Matthew begins at the eighteenth verse to explain that exception:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: –
this is the reason for the exception –
When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: –
thy espoused wife, thy engaged wife –
for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.
And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people –
Joshua, Jesus, Savior – in our language, "thou shalt call His name Savior" –
for He shall save His people from their sins.
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet –
the prophet Isaiah –
in Isaiah 7:14 –
"Behold, a virgin shall be with Child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel," which being interpreted is, "God with us." –
Immanu, "with us," el, "God": "God with us" –
Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn Son: and he called His name –
"Savior, Joshua, Jesus" in different languages, but all of it meaning "Jesus, Savior."
Now, from the beginning, it isn’t just any development. From the beginning, the life of the Lord precipitated tremendous controversy concerning who He was – His person. That’s not a development. That’s not something that happened with higher criticism. That’s not something that developed in these modern generations, but the fierce controversies of the church are Christological controversies.
When you read those church histories – big heavy tomes, volumes heavy with reading, names you never heard of, times and seasons and places you never heard of – they’re in a tremendous turmoil. You find yourself in the midst of a maelstrom, and it concerns the person of Christ – who is He. They’re called "Christological controversies": controversies around the person of Christ. That began in the beginning.
In the two accounts that you have of the Nativity of Jesus – of which we will speak at length a little later – of those two accounts, Matthew, the first one, writes from the viewpoint altogether of Joseph, and you have the story as I read it here. And in the second chapter [Matthew 2:1-12], you have the story of the wise men coming to visit the Child when He was toward two years of age.
Now, Luke writes the story as a physician from the standpoint of Mary the mother, and you have those stories here as a component, intricate part of the Scriptures. They are as much the Word of God as the story of the resurrection, as the story of the crucifixion, as the story of the institution of the Lord’s Supper: written by the same Hand, inspired by the same infinite Holy Spirit of God [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21]. But there has been no part of the Bible that has been as fiercely assailed as these stories written in Matthew and Luke of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, and that has been from the beginning.
I copied out a sentence which is so typical. One of those men, speaking for all of those who have attacked this part of the Bible, says, and I quote, "I think it the duty of truthfulness to state openly that the virgin birth arose out of fabulous tradition." Now, last Sunday morning, in the sermon, we went through some of those fabulous traditions, and we compared the Nativity stories that we read here in the Word of God with those fables and myths and legends that arose around typical heroes in the ancient world: around Caesar Augustus and Alexander the Great and around Gautama the Buddha and around Hercules and Achilles. They are in a different world. They are in a different category. On their face, fiction is written. It is manifest legend. It does not commend itself in any wise to something that is normal and natural and human.
When you enter the stories of the Nativity of Christ, you enter a different world – like coming out of the mire and the mud and the dirt and the filth and the corruption and the immorality and walking into the pure, celestial, angelic light of heaven itself. You don’t read in the same word. You don’t think in the same thought. You’re not in the same world. It is altogether of light and glory and beauty and holiness and yet natural and human.
When you read the stories of the Nativity of our Lord, they are not to be compared – they are not to be compared with what they say when they classify this literature in the Bible with those fabulous, legendary myths that grew around some of the fabled heroes of ancient day. But that does not stop the tremendous attack upon these stories of the birth of Jesus.
Now, we have to account for a great fact. You can’t deny the fact. You can’t deny this pulpit desk for here it is. You can’t deny the watch for here it is. And you can’t deny this world: here it is. And you can’t deny the stars: there they are. There must be an accounting for a great fact.
So let’s turn aside now for just a moment. Let’s turn aside from the biblical accounting of the great fact of Christ. I have His words here: "No man ever spoke like that man" [from John 7:46]. I have the deeds of His life here: "No man ever did like that man" [from Matthew 9:33]. I have the effect of that life: after two thousand years, all around me, no man ever affected human life like this man Jesus.
I have a great fact before me. Now, I must explain that fact. Where did it come from? How was it achieved? Who wrought it? So, the materialist, the infidel, the unbeliever, he faces this great fact, and what he says about it to me is more legendary and more hypothetical and more ridiculously impossible than anything that I could ever think of in unbelief.
The materialist, taking the great facts that he sees about Him, his first thesis is that there’s no God back of it. There’s no design that shapes it. There’s no superior intelligence that creates it. It just happens. It’s a result of the fortuitous conglomeration of circumstances. So he says, when he looks at the great fact of the creation I see around me, he says that all of that came out of nothing. It created itself out of nothing. There was nothing here, and it created itself. What I see came out of nothing.
Oh, how a man in his mind who purports to be a scholar and a scientist, how he can think that all of this just was – came out of nothing of itself. Why, he’s capable of believing things that to me are absolutely impossible. He looks upon me with scorn and with superiority because he thinks I’m superstitious and gullible because I believe the Bible. I look at him in return, and out of all that I might believe and of all that I might accept, it is nothing compared to the impossible monstrous conclusions that he accepts. So he says all of this just came to pass out of nothing.
Then, when I see the fact of life all around me, that has to be explained. Where’d it come from? Where did life come from? You and all of our fellow creatures that are sentient, where did we come from? Well, his explanation is the same thing: "It just happened." Inert matter – rocks, dirt, matter – gave birth to life, and here we are. Oh! He scorns me for my gullibility, for my capacity to believe things that are unscientific because I believe the Bible. But what things he believes, what things he accepts – oh! Did you ever see a rock giving birth to life or even another little rock? Did you? Did you ever see life come out of deadness, out of nothing? Why, it’s the most impossible conclusion that you could think of.
Now, when he approaches this story, then he does the same thing. He says this just happened one of two ways. Either they deny the truth of the inspiration and say that what you have here is an explanation of a natural-born, illegitimate child – and they name the soldier with whom Mary was a consort. They either do it that way, or, some of them, seeking to be highly scientific and technical, say this thing came to pass through a process they observe sometimes in nature called "parthogenesis" [parthenogenesis].
The Greek word for "maiden," for "virgin," is parthenon. The Greek word for "beginning" is genesis. So, they coin a word "parthogenesis" which means the offspring of a parent of itself without the conjunction of two of the sexes: just one sex has the offspring. And you’ll find things like that. You’ll find parthogenesis. You will find it in such things as algae, fungi, plant lice. They propagate by unfertilized spores, eggs, division – things like that.
So when they read the story here, why, they say that might have been possible through the process of parthogenesis. Mary fertilized herself in the same way that plant lice, some of it, or a fungus, or an algae. Well, when you enter that kind of a world, it gets, to me, ridiculous. To classify Mary in the same category with fungi, and algae, and plant lice, and toads, and frogs – you just don’t do those things. They’re not in the same world. When you go into this world and then look at the world they say this came out of, they don’t go together.
There’s only one explanation for the Lord Jesus Christ – only one – and that explanation lies in the marvelously-inspired and beautifully-recorded stories from Mary in the Book of Luke [chapters 1-2] and from Joseph in the Book of Matthew [chapters 1-2]. And you will find, as you read them, that they’re all of the same pattern. It’s of the same cloth. Like your suit, this part of it here is like that part of it there and that’s like this part of it here. It was all cut from the same bolt. It’s all of the same fabric. It’s of the same woof and warp. That’s the way with the Word of God.
The man who takes his scissors and he says, "This is inspired," and then, "This is legend," and then, "This is the word," and then, "This is fable, this is fiction, this is truth" – the man who does that does the same thing as a man who would look at your suit and he would say, "This is from the bolt, but this is not" when manifestly I can look at it and tell it is all of the same weave and of the same warp. Even I can do that. With my eye and with my hands, I can look at it and say it is all the same piece; it is of the same cloth.
Now, when I pick up the Word of God, even I just looking at it, just reading it, you can tell this is of a piece: it’s the same fabric; it’s the same stuff; it’s the same woof and warp; it’s the same material. When you read Shakespeare – this is Shakespeare and right on through, talk like Shakespeare – the front part of Hamlet will be by the same author as the last part of Hamlet – all of it the same. So with the great beautiful life that is presented here in the Word of God: it is all of a piece.
I should not stumble at the virgin birth of Jesus [Matthew 1:18-25] when I can believe the resurrection of the Lord [Matthew 28:1-10]. I do not need to stumble at the resurrection of the Lord [Mark 16:1-8] when I can see His power to raise Lazarus from the dead [John 11:1-45]. I don’t need to stumble at the resurrection of Lazarus when I can see for myself the great words of wisdom and of God, the revelation that He spake [Luke 2:46-47; John 7:14-16]. It’s all of the same: God breathed from the beginning to the end [2 Timothy 3:16-17].
And if I cannot accept this, then I cannot accept that. And if I cannot accept that, I cannot accept this. If the man who wrote this was mistaken, I have no assurance he was not mistaken when he wrote that. It’s all of the same piece. If this is a prefabrication, then this can be a prefabrication. The thing lives or dies together. It rises or falls together.
I think all of us ought to set our hearts to this great principle: that I shall believe the Word of God or I shall not believe it – one or the other. If I have set my heart to believe it, then I’ll do my best to let God enlighten my mind to understand it. And if there are things in it I cannot understand, then I will trust God to make them plain to my heart by and by.
But my thesis is, my foundation is, the great basis upon which I build my life is this: I believe the Word of God. Therefore, when I come to the stories of the Nativity of our Lord, I don’t see any difference in the virgin birth than I do in all of the other marvelous things that I read here in the Book. And then, when I close this Book and look into the God’s open book around me, I see the same infinite power.
That’s why these 8:15 services we’ve been dedicating these hours to looking at God’s Book here and at God’s book there. They’re all the same. Wherever God works, there will be a miraculous thing brought to pass – something that only God could do.
Now, this thing that Matthew says was done was in keeping with the prophecy 750 years before:
All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
"Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel," which being interpreted is, God with us.
All of it a part of one great life giving stream and that’s the way God has worked through the centuries: out of the dust came the man [Genesis 2:7]; out of the man came the woman [Genesis 2:21-25]; out of the woman came the Son [Genesis 3:1; Luke 1:30-37]; out of the Son came the church [Matthew 16:18]; and out of the church shall come the body of Christ – the arm of His conquest [Acts 1:8], the fullness of Him that filleth all in all [Ephesians 1:22-23]. God works that way on and on and on: out of the dust, out of the man, out of the woman, out of the Son, out of the church until the great final conquest of the by and by. Like Paul says: "Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness . . . " [1 Timothy 3:16].
Now in the little moment remaining, I want to look at these people here, just for a moment, and especially one of them – Joseph. Joseph apparently was an old man – apparently. You have the feeling that he is – that he’s older than Mary. Joseph, in these pictures that we have, the pictures seem to reflect the feeling of the Scriptures though you don’t have that. "Joseph, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example . . . " [Matthew 1:19]: he seems to be a mature man.
Joseph was God’s good, working carpenter – a humble peasant laborer [Matthew 13:55]. And he’s like all the rest of us: misunderstand the great things of life. But God helped him. And when God helped him, he was true to the commitment of the Lord, and he cared for Mary and provided for her [Matthew 1:18-25, 2:13-23] until, when Jesus dies, Joseph isn’t there. Joseph seems to have died for when Jesus committed his mother, He did it not to Joseph, but He did it to John [John 19:25-27]. So apparently Joseph died somewhere before Jesus began his ministry. He’s never mentioned after the Nativity except that Jesus was known as the son of Joseph [John 6:41-42].
Now, the other character here is Mary. Oh, I debated about this! I started to devote a whole service to Mary. Enough is said about Mary to exhibit her, to present her, to attest her. She was a beautiful, pure-hearted, devout, reverent, humble girl – a peasant girl [Luke 1:28, 38, 45-55; 2:4-7, 21-24]. Enough is said about her to present her. The office that she held, her choice of God: enough is said about her to attest the beauty of the character of Mary.
Little enough is said about her lest she become a paper feminine god. There’s just a little about Mary – a very, very little. She is seen enough to do her office work, then she is taken away and you never see her again. The eye cannot follow the swift movement of her passing. She was buried in an unknown grave, without epitaph, without peroration, without eulogy, without funeral. You do not know.
Was Mary perpetually virgin? The Bible says no. The perpetual virginity of Mary is a figment of the imagination. The children were known as Mary’s children – Mary and the children [Matthew 13:54-57; Mark 3:31-32]. And the Bible says, in the twenty-fifth verse that we read:
Then Joseph raised from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him and took unto him his wife:
And knew her not –
was not her husband –
until she had brought forth her firstborn Son: and he called His name –
according to the angel –
[from Matthew 1:24-25]
Joseph. This is Joseph’s story. "He knew her not until" – he was not her husband until she had given birth to this Firstborn [Matthew 1:25]. There was a second born. There was a third born. There was a fourth born [John 7:3-5; Galatians 1:19]. But this was her Firstborn, and Joseph knew her not until the firstborn Son, Jesus, was given to the world [Matthew 1:25].
Now, the efforts for the perpetual virginity of Mary, for the immaculate conception of Mary born without sin, for the bodily assumption of Mary – that she was bodily assumed up to heaven, that she went up to heaven when she died just like Jesus went up to heaven – all of those things, and that Mary was the mother of no other child except Jesus: all of those come from that old dualistic philosophy that there is inherent sin in marriage, that for a woman to live with a man is inherently evil, and that pure holiness is continency, celibacy, abstention, virginity.
God’s Word says that is not true. "The time will come, in the latter days," says the Scriptures, "when they will forbid marriage" [from 1 Timothy 4:1-3]. When the Bible says the bed is honorable and marriage is honorable [Hebrews 13:4], all of those things are contradictory to the Word of God. The family, the home, marriage, children, the conjugal relationship: all of those things in God’s sight are as holy and as pure as virginity, bachelorhood, celibacy, continence – all of those things [1 Corinthians 7:14; 1 Timothy 4:4-5]. And the reason we meet those things is because of that old dual philosophy that the earth is inherently evil and flesh is inherently evil while God is inherently good.
Now, we have a fallen flesh. We have a fallen soul. We have a fallen family. We have a fallen world. We are a fallen people and sin is in us. But you listen to me: sin is not just in your flesh. Sin is in your soul also. Sin is in your mind also. Sin is in your heart also. Sin is in all of our faculties. That’s the old-time doctrine of total depravity. Total depravity is not the doctrine that a man is as evil as he can be, but total depravity is that sin has entered all of our faculties: our imagination, our mind, our spirits, our souls, our bodies – all of us [Romans 7:18]. Whatever we do, we fall short. There is mistake.
Now, all of those doctrines arise out of a drawing away from Mary being a normal human girl, but the Bible says that she was: she was a girl, a young woman, whom the Lord chose to be the instrument of the incarnation of His Son [Luke 1:26-38]. And she was like a beautiful Christian girl who might live in your house, or who sits with you on this bench, or who might be your neighbor’s child. She was a normal human girl, and God chose her and blessed her, and she lived a normal human life. She became the wife of Joseph [Matthew 1:24-25], and she reared those other children [Matthew 13:55-56], and she was mother to Jesus [Luke 2:4-11].
And God has blessed her, and we’ll see her in heaven some day. But, oh! As the queen of heaven, as the mother of God, which turn is not true to the Scripture though technically, theologically, you cannot find particular fault with it – but the turn of it. And in one of the beautiful churches of this world, I have a picture of Mary on the cross. Oh, those things! God help us and deliver us from them!
There are two extremes. I can be an infidel and reject it all. I can go far to the other extreme and fall into superstition and fancy and all kinds of legendary doctrines. My dear people, long time ago did I learn this: if I would just take the Book – what it says, just the Book – I am free and delivered from it all. I’m not a materialist for I believe the revelation of God, and I’m not a dupe of superstition for I believe just the revelation of God: this and no more – not added to, not taken away, but just receiving the revelation, the witness, and the testimony of the Word of God. Bless our hearts as we give ourselves to this revelation in the Book.
Now, while we sing our song, one stanza, while we sing our song, somebody you, come down this aisle to give your heart to the Lord or to put your life in the fellowship of the church. While we sing this song, you come and stand by me – while we stand and while we sing.