The Miracle of Bethlehem
December 14th, 1969 @ 8:15 AM
THE MIRACLE OF BETHLEHEM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-14-69 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Miracle of Bethlehem. I read the Christmas story from the first chapter of Matthew:
Now the birth of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, was on this wise: 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, a good 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 unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy 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 Iēsous, 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, saying,
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, Immanu, with us, El, is God.
There are two things that all of the liberals in the world repudiate. They don’t agree among themselves on anything else, but they agree on this: one, that the Bible is not inspired, it’s level of inspiration is of the same human denominator as Shakespeare or Dante or Milton or Homer, it is not the inspired Word of God, that’s the first thing; the second thing, they all agree that there is no such thing as the virgin birth. Matthew Arnold, the great English literary critic, said, quote, "I do not believe in the virgin birth; for that would imply miracle, and miracles do not happen." Then I have taken a sentence out of another higher critic who speaks for all rationalists, and I quote from him, Dr. Loofs, quote, "I think it the duty of truthfulness to state openly that the virgin birth arose out of fabulous superstition." This is the universal verdict of the liberal. The liberal preacher, the liberal theologian, the liberal divinity professor, they’re all alike; there’s not a one that lives that believes in the virgin birth. To them it is sheer unadulterated superstition; it’s a tale like you would read in any other mythology or legendary story.
But you have a great fact to account for: to me, the greatest fact in the universe is the fact of Jesus the Christ; and certainly, the greatest fact in human history is the Lord Jesus. How do you account for Him?
There are those who worship at the shrine of science and who feel called upon to explain everything in terms of natural reason and natural development. So they point out that in the world of nature there are algae and fungi who propagate by unfertilized spores. There are also species of plant lice that propagate without fertilization. So they adduce a correspondence in the world of the natural like algae and fungi and plant lice: they call it parthenogenesis, fertilization without the two species, without the two sexes, male and female. Now I don’t know how you feel about things like that; but to me – and let me just speak for myself – to me that’s a gross insult to liken Mary, this virgin Jewish girl, to lice or to fungus or to algae. I am offended by it. And the parallels do not obtain. Mary is in another world from the world of lice and fungus and algae.
Then there are those who adduce the examples of mythology, presenting here the wonderful story of the birth of the Christ child. But when you read those stories, and all of us have, they are manifestly and patently fictitious; and they have no theological relevancy whatsoever. For example, Alexander the Great, when he conquered the world, felt called upon to present himself as a child of unusual birth. So he said that a serpent cohabited with his mother, and he was born. Caesar Augustus said that his mother was worshiping in the temple of Apollo, and the god visited her in the form of a serpent and he was born. And I suppose every school youngster knows the story of the birth of Hercules: Jupiter, Greek Jove, the Greek god Jove, disguised himself as the husband of Alcmene, and Hercules was born.
But when you read the story of the birth of Christ, again you are in a different world from the story manifestly fictitious and irrelevant of a Caesar or an Alexander or a Hercules. What is this then that I read on the sacred page of God’s Holy Word? What is this, the story of the birth of the Son of God? I have three answers from the Book. First: it is a work of the Holy Spirit. In the Christmas story of Luke, Luke 1:35, "And the angel said unto her, Behold, the Holy Spirit 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." It is a distinct work of the Holy Spirit. As Romans 1:4 avows that the Lord was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit, so the sacred Scriptures say that He was conceived and He was born as a work of the Holy Spirit of God [Luke 1:35]. I haven’t time to enter into it this morning, but when you read the ninth [Hebrews 9-10] and the tenth chapters of the Book of Hebrews, we are taught the meaning of the incarnation of God in heaven. When the Word that was made flesh, when God humbled Himself, became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross [Philippians 2:8]; there in the Book of Hebrews the author avows that, by the eternal Spirit, Christ offered Himself as an atonement for our sins. But to offer Himself, he first must have a body; for a spirit cannot offer himself, it is only a body that could be crucified, laid on an altar, offered unto God, blood poured out [Hebrews 10:4-14]. And there the author states that a body was formed for Jesus, for God; and the Holy Spirit formed that body in the womb of the virgin Mary [Luke 1:35]. And in that body, God suffered in our stead [2 Corinthians 5:21], and died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], and was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25], and ascended into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], and is our Brother, and our Advocate, and our Mediator, and our Savior forever and ever in glory [Hebrews 7:25]. This is a work of the Holy Spirit of God who created a body for atonement, for sacrifice of sins, that we might be saved and that we might have an Advocate in heaven [Luke 1:35]. You move into another world when you open the Book and begin to read of the miraculous birth and coming of the Son of God [Luke 1:27-35].
Second, what is this? It is not only a work of the Holy Spirit, but it is an intervention of God in human history. "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son; and they shall call His name Immanuel; which being interpreted is, God with us, God with us" [Matthew 1:23]. This is the inauguration of a new dispensation, of a new day, of a new age. This is a new beginning. "Immanuel, God with us"; this is the intervention of God in human history. When the world in the beginning was chaotic and dark and the night covered the deep, the whole earth was one vast abysmal chaos. Then the verse says, "The Spirit of God brooded over the face of the deep" [Genesis 1:2], and we have a new beginning: the intervention of God in the works of creation. So and exactly is this: this is an intervention of God; it is a new beginning, a new age, a new day, a new era, a new dispensation, and a glorious one! [Matthew 1:23]. From time to time, you will read of the intervention of God in human story. God intervened in the days of Noah [Genesis 6:1-8, 7:13-24]. God intervened in the days of Moses when He appeared to Moses in the burning bush [Exodus 3:1-8]. God intervened at Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out without measure [Acts 2:1-13, 33]. We have a record of the coming great intervention of God in the Apocalypse, in the Revelation, at the denouement of the age, at the consummation of history. This is an intervention of God in the story of mankind, for God seems to work in apocalyptic eras. I am not able to explain why, but He just does. Simon Peter will say of the works of the Lord and our involvement with God that "a thousand years is as a day, and a day as a thousand years" [2 Peter 3:8]. That is, things will go along, and they’ll drift, and they’ll follow a pattern or a course or a channel, then in a moment of time, there will be a cataclysmic apocalyptic intervention from heaven, and it is done just like that. And then thereafter the days and the centuries, the millennia pass, a whole vast incomparable era, epoch, condensed in one great, mighty apocalyptic act: God does that; that’s the way God works.
Look at it just for a moment. There was a time in the beginning, a moment at the start of all that we see in the universe, when God made matter, created the universe, when God made what you see [Genesis 1:1-31]. Then thereafter, it is never changed; you cannot add to matter, you cannot take away from it, you cannot destroy it, it is here forever. When God created matter – a great apocalyptic moment in the beginning of time at the creation of the things in heaven and earth – and then thereafter, after that great apocalyptic act, you have what you see in the universe. Take again: there was a great apocalyptic intervening act of God when He created life and fixed it. He created a species and fixed them [Genesis 1:24-25]. And thereafter, they continue in their generations for the centuries and for the millennia, fixed. There was a day when God did it; then the great massive afterflow is but an outworking of what God did when He created life and fixed it.
Now these pseudoscientists laugh at that; but for the life of me, I cannot understand at what they are ridiculing and scorning, for what I read in the Bible is exactly what I see in the earth, and what I see in the earth is exactly what I see in the Bible. Dogs will have puppies, and they grew up to be dogs; and those dogs have puppies, and they just keep on having more puppies that turn into dogs, that have puppies, just turn into dogs, I don’t see any exception to that. I haven’t seen a dog yet that gave birth to a cat or a mouse or a parakeet. I haven’t seen it. I have never yet seen a thorn bush turn into an orange tree. And these fellows, oh; there came one into Dallas, I remember. He was a great scientist. He came into Dallas, he breezed into our city; and all of those reporters were around him with their notebooks, and of course he said, "We have proved evolution; we have proved it." And one of the men said, "And what is that proof?" And he said, "We have proved it by Drosophila." Well, Drosophila, that’s that little fruit fly. We have learned that by bombarding the genes with X-rays that we can mutate those genes. And the fruit fly, which the scientists have bred under those X-rays for, I think now, about fifty years, they have speeded up the possibility of mutation by bombarding the genes, the chromosomes, the inherited material that makes for inheritance. They have bombarded that with X-rays for half a century; and they have so speeded up the possibility of mutation as though those fruit flies had lived for billions of years. That’s what he was referring to. And he said, "We have demonstrated by Drosophila the fact of evolution." Well, let’s look at that just for a moment. It is true that by the bombardment of those genes with X-rays for a half of century they have Drosophila, they have fruit flies that are with wings and without wings, with legs and without legs, all kinds of them. But the point that they don’t understand and won’t see is this: by bombarding those genes and by speeding up that mutation, you may have fruit flies, Drosophila, that are cross-eyed, tri-cornered, bowlegged, any way that you want to describe him; but the point is he is still a fruit fly, he is not a June bug or a bumblebee, not yet, not yet. God did that! God did that! In a great apocalyptic intervention, God created life, and He set it in those fixed orders; and it has flowed thereafter through the generations and the centuries ever since.
And it is the same way in the intervention of God’s Spirit and His working in human life. Do you remember the Book of Samuel begins: there was no open vision [1 Samuel 3:1]; the heavens seemed shut, and God didn’t speak? Then, He spoke to little Samuel, and established him as a prophet of the Lord [1 Samuel 3:2-21]. And the days passed and the centuries and God spoke to Elijah [1 Kings 17]. The days passed and the centuries and God spoke to John the Baptist [Matthew 3:1-12; John 1:33]. I’m just trying to show that God works apocalyptically. There will be years and generations and millennia that pass, then suddenly God moves, and God intervenes. And that’s exactly what happened here. There was the most stupendous and meaningful of all the interventions of God in human story: when the Lord came down in human flesh and the angels sang [Luke 2:13-14], and the shepherds worshipped [Luke 2:8-16], and the wise men journeyed [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11]. God with us: a new day, a new era, a new age, a new dispensation, God purposing some glorious thing for us [Hebrews 11:40].
Third, what is this? It is a work of the Holy Spirit [Luke 1:35], it is an intervention of God in human story [Matthew 1:23], third, it is a mustērion, it is a secret that God kept in His heart until the day that He revealed it on these sacred pages. First Timothy 3:16: "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory" [1 Timothy 3:16].
Now, look at the first one. The great mustērion of, and it’s translated here in the King James Version "godliness, piety." Well, that word there, eusebeia, "Without controversy great is the mustērion of eusebeia?" Now eusebeiō is "to worship"; and from that came the word "piety," I mean the idea of piety and godliness from worship. Well, let’s keep that first primal meaning; "Without controversy great is the mustērion of religion, true religion, true worship." First, "God was manifest in the flesh" [1 Timothy 3:16]. The first great mustērion, the first great secret that God reveals to us of Himself is this: that God is manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16]. Now, that is a miracle; that is a wonder that our minds will never be able to encompass. We can’t enter into it; it is unfathomable to finite understanding that God could be incarnate in human flesh, a musterion, something that God reveals to us. And we just look in amazement and adoration and worship and wonder. That’s why, "great is the mystery of eusebeia," adoration, wonder, amazement.
Now, again, the liberal and the critic reading these things in the Bible, he will try to purge them from the sacred Scriptures. He’ll try to lop off these nativity stories. "They are not a part," he says, "of the real actual story of Christ. They are inventions, they are legends, they are myths that have been added." But there is not a manuscript in existence that does not have the story of the birth of Christ as an integral part of it; there’s not one, not one. Wherever you find Matthew, there you will find the story of the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25]. Wherever you find a manuscript of Luke, there you will find the story of the virgin birth [Luke 1:20-35, 2:1-16]. It all fits. The story of the birth of our Lord is like the story of the life of our Lord [Matthew 28:1-7; Luke 24:1-7], which is like the story of the resurrection of our Lord and the ascension of our Lord [Acts 1:9-10]: it is all of a piece, and it fits together. When you pass from the story of the virgin birth into the story of the life of Christ, into the story of His death [Matthew 27:32-50; Luke 23:26-46], and glorious resurrection, it is all congruous; it fits beautifully. It is a miracle how He was born; it is a miracle how He was raised from the dead; it is a miracle, His ascension into heaven; it is all of a piece, for you cannot get rid of the miraculous in the Bible, nor can you rid yourself of the miraculous in the world around you. There are eighty-nine chapters in the four Gospels; and if you take the miracle out of them, you destroy fifty-two of those eighty-nine chapters; you have nothing but a fragment, a shred, a potsherd, a piece. And it is the same in the whole universe. The signature of God is miracle, unfathomable, unsearchable, un-understandable. If God has been there, His tracks are miraculous; His signature is miracle; if God has done it. And the whole universe is like that.
What in the earth holds our world together? What is gravity? Nobody knows; it’s a miracle of God. These great orbiting planets swinging, some of them billions of miles, swinging, swinging, swinging; what is that gravity that holds them in their orbits? That’s the miracle of God! You’ll never know; it’s something of God. Or just the springtime . . . driving along yesterday, I just happened to start thinking about these trees, these deciduous trees where the leaves fall off, and they look so bare and they look so dead. But you wait till springtime, and you will see a miracle. Who tells those trees to wake up? Who makes those buds burst? Who covers the earth with emerald? It’s God. It’s a mystery. It’s a miracle. It’s God. And this is a miracle of the Lord.
I have to close. There are two great biological miracles, two. One, the first biological miracle was when God made Adam [Genesis 1:26-27]. And Adam was given that marvelous gift of mitotic life, a miracle. Mitosis is this: there are a certain number of chromosomes in every cell, and you have trillions of them in your body. And every one of those cells has a certain number of chromosomes. And in the miracle of mitosis, those chromosomes divide into their numbers; there’s a certain number in you, man, about forty-[six]. There’s a certain number in every creature that God has made. Drosophila has two. And they split right down the middle; and half of them move this way, and half of them move this way, and they make little cells around themselves, and you’ve got two instead of one; the miracle of mitosis. All except in the ovum of the female and the spermatozoon of the male; for in the ovum of the female, there is one half of that number, in mankind, twenty-[three]; and in the spermatozoon of the male, there is again one half, twenty-[three]. Then when they are together, when the ovum is fertilized, twenty-[three] from the mother, twenty-[three] from the father, forty-[six] again, and the miracle of mitosis starts, and there is the child; a miracle; and no man can enter into that unfathomable mystery. You, and you and you, the first biological miracle.
And the second biological miracle; when Jesus was born God intervened in that human chain of mitosis. Through the generations and the centuries, God intervened, and Jesus was born of a virgin, created by the power of the Holy Spirit of God [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35, 2:1-16], making a body that we might find sacrifice, expiation, atonement for our sins Hebrews 10:5-14]. Oh, what a wonder! This is the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, "And the Seed of the woman," but a woman doesn’t have seed, the man has seed; but the Protevangelium, Genesis 3:15 said, "And the Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head." That’s what it meant. Or Isaiah 9,let’s take the first one,Isaiah 7:14, "A virgin shall be with child…call His name Immanuel, God with us." And that glorious One that we sing about in Handel’s Messiah, Isaiah 9, "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace" [Isaiah 9:6]. This is the fulfillment of Micah 5:2:
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall rule My people –
and listen to the verse –
whose goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting.
In the beginning, from the everlasting, He is who is to be born in little Bethlehem Ephratah, in a village in Judah [Micah 5:2]. This is the meaning of the passage you read out loud together: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [John 1:1]. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory as of the only begotten of the Father" [John 1:14]. Oh! Eusebeia, the mystery of adoration and worship [1 Timothy 3:16].
The Magnificat of Mary: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit doth rejoice in God my Savior" [Luke 1:46-47]. And I wonder if you youngsters knew how old that hymn was from which you sang a moment ago, "Adeste Fidelis." They can trace that Latin hymn back to the 1200s, to the 1200s.
O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and adore Him, born the King of angels
O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord
["Adeste Fidelis"; John Francis Wade, 1751]
Great is the musterion of worship, adoration, the true revelation of God [1 Timothy 3:16].
It’s a glorious season, isn’t it? Oh dear, it’s a marvelous time for us, praising, loving, adoring our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Now, we sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, somebody you, a family you, a couple you, while we sing it, you, to give your heart to the Lord, to take Jesus as Savior, or to put your life in the fellowship of this precious church, if God speaks to you, come. Come and stand by me. In the balcony round, the throng on the lower floor, this press of people, into the aisle or down a stairway and here to the front, "Here I come, here I am." Do it now, make it now, come now; while we stand and while we sing.