When God Became Man
December 15th, 1963 @ 10:50 AM
WHEN GOD BECAME MAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-15-63 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock message on The Miracle, The Mystery of the Incarnation, When God Became Man. And I have more time to preach this morning than any time I can remember. I just feel so good. So everybody be comfortable, open your ears and your heart, and we are going to look at some things together in God’s Word that bless my soul in its preparing.
In the Third Gospel, the first chapter, at the twenty-sixth verse, beginning:
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And the angel came unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God.
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus, Joshua, Savior.
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David:
And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
– wonder if God will keep that promise –
And of His kingdom there shall be no end.
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I am not married, I know not a man?
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
There are two things against which the rationalist and the higher critic inveigh unwearyingly. They never cease their attack, they never let down in their polemics. For the years, and now for the centuries, these two things have been the great objects of contempt and ridicule. All kinds of arguments, all kinds of elucidations and explanations and rationalizations have been made against these two things. One: the inspiration of the Scriptures; that attack never ceases. Their thrust and their barbs, their artillery against the Word of God never lessens. They find in the Book, they say, all kinds of man-made inaccuracies, inconsistencies, errors; it is no more inspired than any other piece of ancient literature is inspired. That’s one. The other is this miraculous story of the virgin birth of our Lord. It is a strange thing, in modern times, the touchstone of a man’s orthodoxy will largely lie, flagrantly, openly, lucidly, patently, it will largely lie in his attitude toward the miraculous story of the birth of our Savior. There is no modernist, there is no rationalist, there is no higher critic who persuades himself that he knows more than God, but that looks upon the story of the virgin birth of our Savior in the same category as he looks upon the mythological legendary story of the heroes who were born of old.
Now the sermon this morning, which meant so much to my heart in preparation, the sermon is made up of four avowals concerning this miraculous, marvelous, incomparable story of the incarnation of the preexistent Prince of Glory. The first avowal is this: we have here in the Word of God, we have a record of the work of the Holy Spirit of God, avowedly so, plainly so, scripturally so. "And Mary said unto the angel, How could such a thing be, for I am not married, I have no husband, I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee" [Luke 1:34-35]. The eighteenth verse of the First Gospel, of the first chapter of Matthew is just like that: "Before they came together, Mary the espoused wife of Joseph, was found with child of the Holy Spirit." And the twentieth verse, the same reiteration: "And the angel said unto Joseph, Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for this Child is conceived of the Holy Spirit." And that avowal of the miraculous Holy Spirit birth of Jesus is a pattern followed throughout the entire life of our Lord, all the way through: what He did, what He was is presented to us as a work of the Holy Spirit of God.
When He grew to be of age and began His messianic ministry, there came upon Him the power of the Spirit of God, descending from heaven in the form of a dove, and abiding upon Him [Matthew 3:16]. When He was driven into the wilderness, there to be tried by the devil, He was thrust into that conflict by the Holy Spirit of God [Matthew 4:1]. When He went to Nazareth to preach His first sermon and to declare the announcement that the prophecy in the sixty-first of Isaiah was fulfilled in Him, that the day of redemption had come, He said, quoting Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me" [Luke 4:18]. The Gospel of Matthew presents the miraculous healing ministry of our Lord as a ministry of the work of the Holy Spirit of God in Him. In the fourth verse of the first chapter of Romans, Paul says that our Lord was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit of God. This miraculous birth of our Savior is no different from the rest of the marvelous, incomparable works of God in Christ Jesus our Savior. The resurrection at the end, wrought by the Holy Spirit of God that climaxes His life, is no more astonishing than this miraculous birth at the beginning of His life and all of His ministry in between. It is a work of the Holy Spirit of God.
These apologists who seek to find, in scientific discoveries, observations, biological occurrences, examples to bolster up this story of the miraculous birth of Jesus, are beside the point. I’m referring to such things as the observation of parthenogenesis, the propagation of certain algae and spores and fungi that do not need a partner to propagate, but they are able to multiply of themselves. To me it is beside the point to liken Mary to a fungus, or an alga, or a spore. It’s to miss the truth and the revelation of God altogether. This is a work wrought by the Holy Spirit of God and is not subject to such scientific analyses or parallels.
I feel the same way regarding the stories that they conjure up and adduce to say that this marvelous miracle is not unique or new, you will find it in Greek mythology, or you will find it in Roman legend. Read those Greek myths, read those Roman legends: they are manifestly legends and myths, and they have no theological context whatsoever! This is a work of the Holy Spirit of God. "And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee" [Luke 1:35]; a work of the Spirit of God.
And the purpose of that work is described in the tenth chapter and in the ninth chapter of the Book of the Hebrews. From before the foundation of the world, God said, God intended, God purposed a sacrifice for our sins. And every altar ever built in the earth, and every flame of fire that reached up toward heaven, and every sacrificial animal that was slain and offered on a sacrificial altar, every one was a type of that great and ultimate sacrifice God said He would make for the atonement, the expiation, the washing away of the sins of the world. And the Book of Hebrews says it like this, quoting the psalmist:
Sacrifice and offering, the blood of bulls and goats, cannot take away sins,
but a body hast Thou prepared for Me,
Then said I, Lo, I come (In the volume of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God
[Psalm 40:6-8; Hebrews 10:4-9]
A spirit could not make atonement for our sins; the sacrifice had to be a body, a material, corporeal atonement. And the way God did it was by the Holy Spirit forming in the womb of this Virgin Mary a body for the preexistent Christ. "A body hast Thou prepared for Me. Then said I, I will do it. Lo, I come (In the Bible it is written of Me) to do that will, O God." And in the ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the author says that Christ through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, to purge our sins away [Hebrews 9:14]. The Holy Spirit formed in the body of Mary the tabernacle of flesh, the house of this body, in which the preexistent Son of God found His life among men [Luke 1:30-35]. And that body, according to the eternal Spirit, was offered unto God as an atonement and as a sacrifice for our sins. All of it is a work of the Spirit of God: the formation of His body, His messianic anointing, His trials in the earth, His marvelous miracles of healing, His resurrection from the dead; all without exception, all of it is a part of the Spirit of God, even the offering of His life and blood as a sacrifice for our sins.
When I read therefore in the text, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee," this birth is a pattern and a piece with all of the rest of the holy, divine, expiatory, saving, redemptive ministry of our Lord. That’s the first avowal; His birth is a work of the Holy Spirit of God.
Now the second avowal: the second avowal is that this miraculous, incomparable incarnation is an intervention of God in human history, in human life, in human story. It is an apocalyptic intervention, visitation from heaven. It is the beginning, it signals the opening of a new era, a new age, a new dispensation, a new remembrance, a new visitation from God. This is the outward sign of Immanuel, "God Is With Us" [Matthew 1:23].
I am persuaded in my own heart that the reason the Gospel writers say, "When the Spirit of Jesus, when the Spirit of God fell upon Jesus at His baptism, anointing Him for His messianic ministry, that the Spirit of God descended in the form of a dove" [Matthew 3:16] – the Holy Spirit is not a dove, but it was a symbol; and back of that type and similitude lies a tremendous truth. It is this: in the second verse of the first chapter of Genesis, God wrote that when the earth became waste and[without] form and void, that the Spirit of God hovered, brooded over the face of the deep and the dark [Genesis 1:2]; and out of it God wrought a new creation – I think that is the great symbolism that lies in the similitude of the Holy Spirit to a dove: the brooding, hovering power of God, creating out of the waste of this matter, this earth, a new creation; so the Spirit of God anointing Jesus for a new humanity, a new and redeemed people [John 1:33]. This is the work of the intervention and blessing of God. And God works like that. That’s God’s way through the centuries and the millenniums: intervention, apocalyptic visitation, God does that. He always does it like that.
He intervened in the days of Noah and the judgment was of God, an intervention of God [Genesis 6, 7, 8]. He intervened in the days of the building of the tower of Babel; a visitation of God [Genesis 11:1-9]. He intervened in the days of Moses, when He appeared to Moses in the burning bush, for the deliverance of His people in the land of Egypt [Exodus 3]. He intervened in the days of Samuel, when after there had been no vision, He spake unto Samuel and instituted the beginning of the series of prophets [1 Samuel 3:1-21]. After four hundred years, He suddenly appeared by the angel Gabriel to Zacharias [Luke 1:11-13]. He intervened at Pentecost, an apocalyptic visitation from heaven [Acts 2]. And we’re told in the Book there is yet to be a great and ultimate apocalypse, when God shall once again intervene in the life and history of this world [Revelation 4-20]. That’s the way God does. That’s the way God works. And this is an intervention, a visitation of God from heaven.
We could expatiate on that world without end. God works that way; He does a thing suddenly, and all of the years and centuries following thereafter [are] the results of what God has done apocalyptically, suddenly. For example, the eight verse of the third chapter of 2 Peter, says, "With God a thousand years are as a day; and a day as a thousand years." A thousand years, a thing will flow along, move along, and then suddenly God intervenes in a great apocalyptic visitation. All of life and all of history and all of the story of God are like that.
There was a time, for example, when God created matter and flung these universes out into space. And He did it by fiat [Genesis 1]. God said, "Let there be universes," and there were universes. God said, "Let there be the solar system," and there was this solar system. God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. It was done apocalyptically; it was done suddenly by the fiat of God. That’s God; and thereafter all of this matter continues to exist.
Life is like that, all of life. There was a time when God created all of the life that you now see, all of it: vegetable life, animal life, human life. There was a time when God created all of life, and thereafter, after the apocalyptic creation of God, thereafter all of life stays in a fixed course and in a fixed species, by the mandate of Almighty God, and no man can change it.
I read recently, I read where one of these egotistical evolutionists – and we’ve got them everywhere – one of these egotistical evolutionists said, "Why, I can prove evolution to you without any doubt, easily done. Why," he said, "take drosophila; take drosophila, the fruit fly. We have demonstrated evolution by what we have been able to do with drosophila, the fruit fly." And he was so proud of what he was avowing. Well, just what have they done with drosophila, the fruit fly? All right, this is what they have done with our little brother, from whom we evolved; drosophila, the fruit fly. This is what they have done: they have subjected the genes and the chromosomes on the – the genes on the chromosomes; they have subjected drosophila, the fruit fly, to mutation. Through the years, and the years, and the years, and the scores and scores of years, they have subjected drosophila, the fruit fly, to those mutations created by powerful X-rays. And they have speeded up the process of so-called "evolutionary change" thousands and thousands of times by subjecting drosophila to those X-rays; and the mutations that result from those X-rays that change the genes and change the chromosomes and change those little bits of heredity. And after these years, and years, and years, and years, and years of subjecting drosophila, the fruit fly, to those mutating X-rays, in which they have speeded up the processes of evolution and changed by millions and millions and millions of ordinary years; what have they done that proves their theory of evolution, that they have broken the fixed pattern of Almighty God? Why, this is what they have done: they have fruit flies that are cross-eyed, they have fruit flies that are bow-legged, they have fruit flies that are fuzzy-winged. And I don’t care if they have fruit flies that are three-cornered, that are round, that are square, my point is he’s still a fruit fly! He’s not a June bug or a bumblebee yet, not yet, not yet, not yet, not yet. He’s not even an ordinary fly; he’s a fruit fly, he’s a drosophila, even though he’s cross-eyed, bow-legged, and three-cornered, he’s still a drosophila. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t have anything else to say but that.
There was a time when God created this world. And there was a time when God created life; and He set that life in fixed patterns [Genesis 1:20-25]. And for the generations and the centuries and the millenniums since, those patterns obtain. That is how God works! There was a time when our parents sinned [Genesis 3:1-6], and thereafter, after that apocalyptic judgment, thereafter we live in sin. So the whole pattern of the work of God: a thing will go along for centuries, there’ll be four hundred years, no prophetic voice is heard after the days of Malachi, then suddenly there is heard the voice of John the Baptist, crying in the wilderness, "Kerusson , turn ye, turn ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" [Matthew 3:2]; just like that. And God’s Book says this great apocalyptic day that is yet to come shall come suddenly, imminently [Revelation 22:7]. That’s the way God works. And that’s what God did here: this is an intervention of the power and the Spirit of Almighty God in human history
All right, the third avowal. The first avowal was this is a work of the Spirit of God, and we’re not to seek parallels in scientific forms that we can discover in lower life, or in mythologies; this is a work of God for a redemptive purpose. And the second avowal: this is an apocalyptic intervention of God in human history. Now the third avowal, the third avowal: this is a part of, following the pattern of, the miraculous mystery of the work of God that for a finite human mind is always incomprehensible and not subject to analysis. No man’s mind can enter into the infinite mystery and miraculous ableness and power and might of Almighty God.
These critics have sought to delete out of these Gospels, from the beginning, these miraculous stories of the virgin birth of Jesus. But from the beginning, wherever there has been a manuscript of the Gospel of Matthew, wherever there has been a manuscript of the Gospel of Luke, wherever there has been a version of the Gospel of either one, there is in it, these stories of the miraculous birth of the Son of God. Luke will always and undeviatingly describe the virgin birth from the viewpoint of Mary, even her inmost thoughts. Matthew will unvaryingly describe the virgin birth from the standpoint of Joseph, his inmost thoughts. But they are careful to record the simple story of what God did. And any Christian in this world, you, you, you, any Christian in this world is a plain and vivid and potent and powerful and convincing witness. Just read the story, and see if the virgin birth at the beginning of the life of our Lord Jesus is not congruent with the whole chapters of His life that follow after, ending in the glorious resurrection from the dead. It fits. And when one reads it, you will not be conscious of any incongruity when you go from the miraculous story of His birth, to the miraculous deeds of His life, to the atoning death on the cross, to the glorious and triumphant resurrection from the dead, and finally someday, in the grace of God, to His apocalyptic and triumphant, personal return. It is all of the same pattern.
And this incarnation explains all of the other passages that you will read in the Bible. For example, Mark will start his gospel, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" [Mark 1:1]. He starts in the Galilean ministry, but he doesn’t tell us how He came to be the Son of God. He was the Son of God because He was incarnate, the preexistent Lord of glory incarnate in a house of flesh, made in the womb of a virgin girl [Luke 1:26-35]. Take the passage you read a moment ago, "And the Word was made flesh," John 1:14, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." John doesn’t tell us how the Word was made flesh. How was the preexistent Word made flesh: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" [John 1:1]; how did He become flesh? The miraculous story of His virgin birth explains how the Word was made flesh.
In that incomparable promise, the first one in the Bible, in Genesis 3:15, "And the Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head"; how could such a thing be? A woman doesn’t have seed; it’s the man that has seed. Yet the prophecy said, "The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head." The virgin birth is the explanation of God’s miraculous intervention. Or the same thing in the apostle Paul, Galatians 4:4, "When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman." How was the Son of God made of a woman? Paul doesn’t say; it is the story of the miraculous birth of the Son of God. It is the explanation of the marvelous Immanuel passage, Isaiah 7 to 9, "A virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a Son; and they shall call His name, This Is God With Us" [Isaiah 7:14]. And the ninth chapter and all the way through of the incomparable prophecies of Isaiah, "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall rest upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace" [Isaiah 9:6]. How did that come to pass? God wrought it in the virgin birth, the miraculous incarnation of the Son of God.
It is the same kind of a prophecy as you read in Micah: "Little Bethlehem over there, little among the cities of Judah, out of thee shall He come who shall rule My people; whose goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting" [Micah 5:2]. How could He whose goings forth have been from old, even from everlasting, how could He be born in a little town in Judea? The story of the incarnation is the marvelous explanation of God’s intervention. It all fits. It is the work of the Lord God.
Now, the last avowal: the first one, that it is a work of the Holy Spirit of God; the second, that this miraculous birth is an intervention of God, apocalyptically, in human history, a thing God does and does and does, the way God does; the third, that it is a miraculous mystery into which finite mind cannot enter, but the things of God are inexplicable to us, we just observe, we just see – like gravity, what is it? How do you explain it? No man can; we just live in a world of observation, where God has wrought miraculously, as God wrought miraculously in the day of this Child – now the last avowal: our part, our response is to be one of praise, and devotion, and exaltation, and thanksgiving, and adoration. Our part is to be one with the shepherds, with the magi, with the angels of heaven, with the saints of that day, who bowed, who looked in wonder and awe, in love and adoration. Even as Mary, the virgin mother herself responded: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit doth rejoice in God my Savior" [Luke 1:46-47]. So our response is one of love, and thanksgiving, and gratitude, and praise, and adoration. Oh, what God hath done for the blessing of His redeemed people.
That song that you sang, "Adeste Fideles", written in the 1700s by somebody unknown, a Latin poem, a lyric hymn of praise to the coming of the blessed Lord Jesus. Doesn’t rhyme in English; the translation is incomparably precious:
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem
Come and behold Him, born the king of angels.
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.
Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning.
Jesus, to Thee be all glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.
This is our response: one of praise and exaltation.
Whether this be a season commensurate with the actual time of the birth of our Lord is pointless. There was a time, there was a month, there was a day when God was incarnate; and this is the time that we with unanimity of soul and spirit, all of God’s congregation praise the Lord for the unsearchable, unspeakable gift of the love and grace of God in Christ Jesus. It is rightfully a happy, blessed, singing time in the life of the churches of Jesus.
Oh, my heart overflows, overflows when I try to speak of these marvelous things of God. O Lord, that I have the eloquence of an angel. O God, that I could say it as it ought to be said. May the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead bear the words to our hearts, and bend us, and bow us in a new love and adoration to Christ our Lord.
Now, let’s sing that song. Let’s sing that song for our invitation hymn, "O Come, All Ye Faithful," sixty-six, sixty-six, let’s sing it. And while we sing it, somebody you give your life to Jesus, come into the fellowship of the church, while we sing they hymn, make it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.