The Miracle of Bethlehem
December 14th, 1969 @ 10:50 AM
THE MIRACLE OF BETHLEHEM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-14-69 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Miracle of Bethlehem.
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 Child, a Son, and thou shalt call His name IESOUS –
in the Old Testament, it’s called "Joshua." Whether in Hebrew or in Greek or in English His name is "Savior" –
Thou shalt call His name IESOUS, Savior: for He shall save His people from their sins.
That’s why you ought to bring your children to church, they listen more than you realize. I received a letter from a sweet mother in our church, and she said she overheard her little boy in the garage just, oh, he was talking away. And she went out there to listen, and he was repeating, though he was just a little fellow, one of my sermons, and doing it zealously.
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, with us, God, which being interpreted is, God with us.
Now, out of all of the miracles of the Bible – and the Bible is filled with miracles – out of all of them, the one that is more universally repudiated by the liberal is the miracle of the virgin birth. They do not believe it, period! And in no uncertain terms they scorn it and repudiate it. There is not a liberal preacher, there is not a liberal professor, there is not a liberal teacher of divinity in the world that believes in the virgin birth. Matthew Arnold, the great English literary critic said, and I 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 from Loofs, who is a higher critic, and he speaks for all rational critics, quote, "I think it the duty of truthfulness to state openly that the virgin birth arose out of fabulous superstition." They are very blunt, and they are very plain; they think it to be a piece of fictitious legendary mythology; it has no basis in actual truth or fact at all.
Very well; we still have the fact of Christ to explain. To me the greatest fact in human history, and to me the greatest fact in creation, in everything you see, and know, and read, and experience, and feel, and touch, and hear, to me, the greatest fact of all experience of history is the fact of Christ! How do you explain Him? Where did He come from?
Now, the critic in seeking to explain that will do things like this. Some of them worship at the shrine of pseudoscience, and they seek to make everything conform to the latest facts, fads in research. So they adduce, they find parallels in natural life. They call it parthenogenesis, self-fertilization. There are algae, there are fungi, there are plant lice that propagate themselves by self-fertilization. So they think that they find in this story an example to be exhibited in natural science, such as you find in fungi or lice. Now, I cannot help but say that such things as that offend my deepest soul! Such explanations and such discussions are offensive in the extreme; to compare the virgin Jewish Mary with plant lice or algae or fungi is, of all things impossible, not only unimaginable, but uncouth, rude, unthinkable!
Then there are others who say that this is of a piece and of a pattern in the legendary birth of the heroes of ancient days. And they turn to the stories of mythology and there read about these miraculous births, and they classify the birth of our Lord with those mythological heroes. But when you read those births in mythology and in fictitious secular history, they are absolutely religiously theologically irrelevant! Alexander the Great felt called upon to explain his miraculous birth. So he said that a serpent cohabited with his mother, and he was born. And Augustus Caesar, feeling called upon to explain his miraculous birth, said that his mother was worshipping in the temple of Apollo, and the god in the form of a serpent visited his mother, and he was born. And in the legendary story of the birth of Hercules, the mythology says that the god Jupiter, the Greek name Jove, disguised himself in the form of the husband of Alcmene, and Hercules was born. And they say that this story of the miraculous virgin birth of our Savior is just one of a piece with those mythological legendary fictitious stories. And on and on and on do they go. And each explanation is a little more absurd and far fetched than the one before.
What is this that I read when I open my Bible and I see from the sacred page the glorious, beautiful, startling, amazing, splendid, heavenly, celestial visitation of God in human flesh? What is this? What is this miracle of Bethlehem? It is three things. One, and first: it is a work of the Holy Spirit of God. "And the angel answered and said unto Mary, 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" [Luke 1:35]. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. As at the end of His life, the Spirit of God raised Him from the dead [Romans 1:4], so at the beginning of His life, the Holy Spirit created for Him in the womb of the virgin Mary a body to be offered for sacrifice [Luke 1:35]. I haven’t time to expatiate upon it, but the Book of Hebrews so marvelously and gloriously presents the reason for the incarnation of God, God in human flesh. The author says in chapters 9 and 10 that by the eternal Spirit Jesus offered Himself a sacrifice, an expiation, an and atonement for our sins. But the author would avow, the author of Hebrews, that a spirit cannot offer himself in sacrifice, nor could a spirit be crucified on the cross. And in the eternal Spirit, God, by the Holy Spirit, formed in the womb of the virgin Mary the body of Jesus our Lord [Luke 1:35], and that body was offered as an all sufficient sacrifice for the washing away, the expiation of all of our sins [Hebrews 10:4-14]. This work is the work of the Spirit of God [Hebrews 9:14]. The virgin birth is a work of the Spirit of God for the purpose of atonement, expiation, [to] take our sins away [Luke 1:35].
Second: this story, this miracle in Bethlehem 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" [Matthew 1:23]. The Lord is beginning a new age, a new dispensation, a new era; it is a new day, glorious, splendid, triumphant, "Immanuel, God with us." Now, that is of and like the Lord. In the beginning, when the earth became chaotic, and sterile, and barren, and void, and the water, and the matter, and the night, and the light were all chaotic, the Spirit of God brooded over the face of the deep, and God began a new era, a new day, and a new creation [Genesis 1:1-2]. So God’s Holy Spirit did the same here. In the womb of a virgin girl, the Spirit of God wrought a marvelous work [Matthew 1:20-23; Luke 1:26-35, 2:1-16]; and in that work, God intervened once again in human history. And God does that. In the ages, in the centuries, in the millennia, from time to time, God will greatly, apocalyptically intervene in human story. He did so in the days of Noah [Genesis 6:1-8, 7:13-24]; He did so in the days of Babel [Genesis 11:1-9]; He did so in the days of Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4]; and the whole apocalyptic revelation is an unfolding of the vast climactic consummating intervention of God in human story. This is an instance of that apocalyptic visitation [Matthew 1:23]; for God works like that. The apostle Peter said that in the course of life, in the course of history that a thousand years sometimes is as a day, and a day is as a thousand years [2 Peter 3:8]. History will flow along, the story of humanity will flow along, the whole creation will move along, then there is a great apocalyptic intervention of God, suddenly, creatively, fiatly by the word and power of the Holy One!
For example, creation was that way. Somewhere, sometime in the vast unnamed dim vistas of the past, God spoke matter into existence, the creation that you see [Hebrews 11:3]. And from that day, from that moment in time until this, it has remained the same. No man is able to add to matter or take away from it. It is, after God’s hand of creative power, everlasting. You can destroy nothing. You may change its form into a liquid, into a gas, into a flame, into a fire; but it still exists. Matter is everlasting from that apocalyptic moment wherein God created it; a great act, a great moment in history. Same way about life; when God spoke life into existence and created life, He fixed it in a tremendously, significantly meaningful apocalyptic act! And thereafter all of the species of life are fixed! And we cannot change them; God did it! And for the everlasting years that follow after, that is the work of God that remains. We live in a strange age, and we listen to strange things. The Scriptures say that life is fixed, that those generations are fixed! And what I read in the Bible is what I see out here in the world; they are fixed [Genesis 1:1-25]. I have never yet seen bramble bushes and thistles turn into orange trees; I haven’t seen it because brambles and thistles have seed that raise brambles and thistles, that have seed that raise brambles and thistles, that have seed ad infinitum. And orange trees grow oranges; and when the seeds are planted, they grow orange trees that grow seed, that, when they’re planted, they grow oranges, just right on through. And dogs have puppies, and those puppies grow up to be dogs, and they have puppies; and those puppies grow up to be dogs, and they have puppies, and it just goes on through the years and the centuries. I haven’t seen any dogs yet that gave birth to cats or parakeets. I just haven’t seen it. Yet these pseudoscientists say that this is not so; that all of life is in some kind of a fluid evolutionary estate.
There breezed into the city of Dallas one of those pseudoscientists, one of those men, you know, great. And all the reporters gathered around him, and they had their notebooks. He’s a great evolutionist. And he says, "We have demonstrated, and we have proved the theory of evolution!"
One of the reporters had sense enough to say, "How? What have you done? How is it?"
"Why," he said, "we have done that by the fly Drosophila, Drosophila."
Oh how fine. Now this is what they have done. For about a half a century now, for a half a century, these biologists, these zoologists have taken fruit flies, Drosophila, fruit flies, and they have bombarded them with X-rays. They have learned that X-rays can mutate those genes, do all kinds of things with them. So by bombarding the genes of Drosophila, they can speed up the possibility of mutation, of change. Now, they’ve been doing that for fifty years. But the bombardment of those genes for fifty years in generations – and the fruit flies generate often – they have so speeded up the possibility of mutation that, in that half a century of X-ray bombardment, it is the same as if they had a history of the fruit fly for a billion years! the possibility of change.
So, this pseudoscientist, breezing here into Dallas, saying all kinds of things, he said, "We have demonstrated evolution by this Drosophila. For," he said, "we have bred them with wings and without wings; with legs and without legs; with eyes and without eyes; we have demonstrated evolution."
Very, very fine. That’s very fine. But that’s not the point! The point is this: you may have bred Drosophila tri-cornered, bowlegged, with eyes, without eyes, with feet, with no feet, but the point is, after half a century of the bombardment of the genes with X-rays, he is still Drosophila! He’s not a bumblebee or a June bug. He’s still Drosophila. You see, God did that. And in these great apocalyptic acts of God, He intervenes; God does something and it is marvelous to behold!
God did that in human story again and again. There was no vision opened, God didn’t speak aloud; then in the days of Samuel, He spoke to that little boy, to little Samuel and God established him for a prophet in the land [1 Samuel 3:1-21]. God spoke to Elijah in the days of Israel’s apostasy [1 Kings 17]. God spoke to John the Baptist when there had not been a voice heard in prophecy for over four hundred years [Matthew 3:1-12; John 1:33]. God does it apocalyptically again and again and again through the flowing of the centuries. And God did it here. This is an intervention of God in human history; a great descending apocalyptic act of the Lord [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35, 2:1-16; Hebrews 9:26].
What is this that we read, this miracle in Bethlehem? It is a work of the Holy Spirit [Luke 1:35], it is an intervention of God in human history [Matthew 1:23]; it is something else. It is an unfathomable, worshipful, heavenly mystery into which our minds cannot enter. Look! In 1 Timothy 3:16, the inspired apostle writes to his young son in the ministry, "And without controversy great is the musterion of eusebeia," then he names them. First, "God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up into glory" [1 Timothy 3:16]. Look at that: "Without controversy great is the musterion," the secret God kept in His heart until He revealed it, "the musterion of eusebeia," translated here "godliness, piety" [1 Timothy 3:16]. You know what that word is? Eusebeiō is "to worship, to worship, to adore God." Now, let me say it like this instead of in the language of the King James Version: "Great is the musterion of eusebeia, worship, religion, the faith, the mystery of it." And the first that he names is the musterion of, "God was manifest in the flesh" [1 Timothy 3:16]. It is a matter of wonder and adoration, of worship, of bowing, of rejoicing, of singing, of being glad, of praise, of thanksgiving, of everything outflowing that He has denominated religious love and fervor and worship. That’s what that is. This miracle of Bethlehem, the musterion of worship, God manifest in the flesh [Matthew 1:23; 1 Timothy 3:16].
Now, here comes that vast abysmal difference between us and the higher critic and the liberal. And we live in different worlds. You wouldn’t know we belonged to the same religion. What they do is they cut it out, they make pericopes, they cut it out, they cut it off. And the story of the virgin birth of Jesus in Matthew [Matthew 1:20-25], and the story of the virgin birth in Luke [Luke 1:26-35, 2:1-16], they cut it off. "This is no part of the divine revelation, this is legend and myth"; and they cut it off. But when I open the Book and when I read this story, the glory of the virgin birth is like the glory of the life of our Lord, which is like the glory of the resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7; Luke 24:1-7], and ascension of our Lord [Acts 1:9-10]; it’s of a piece, it is congruous. And I feel no difference when I pass out of the miraculous story of the birth of Jesus into the miraculous revelation of His life, into the glorious triumph of His resurrection; it’s all one piece. It is the same. It is as congruent, it is as right, it is as fitting that the Lord be born so miraculously at the beginning of His life by the power of the Spirit [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35], as it is that He should be raised from the dead at the end of His life by the power of the Holy Spirit [Romans 1:4]. Matthew unvaryingly writes the story from the viewpoint of Joseph. And Luke unvaryingly writes the story from the viewpoint of Mary. And both of them unvaryingly reflect the loving grace and the miraculous power of Almighty God. These who disavow these stories in the Bible, they seek to take all of the supernatural and all of the miraculous out of the Bible. If you do that, you have nothing left; it is a shred, it is a potsherd, it is a piece. Out of eighty-nine chapters in the four Gospels that tell the story of Jesus, fifty-two of them, fifty and two of them are filled with miracles; for miracle is a sign of the presence of God. If God created it, if God made it, if God wrote it, God’s signature is the miraculous, the amazing, the unfathomable, the un-understandable, the inexplicable! If God did it, it is miraculous, it is mysterious, it is inexplicable; we cannot fathom it!
These great planets in their orbits around the sun, some of them will swing a billion miles that way; then they will turn and swing a billion miles this way. And while that billion mile planet is swinging that way and a billion mile planet is swinging this way, there are other planets such as ours that swing ninety-three million miles this way and ninety-three million miles that way, and ninety-three million. Why don’t they swing out into space? Because in their orbits, they are kept on their courses without a second of variation, without a second of variation for the untold ages by the power of Almighty God! You call it gravity. Gravity is a name for something you don’t know; it’s the hand of God swinging in His universe, His planets out there, His stars, His galaxies. If God did it, His signature is miracle!
Yesterday, driving through the city, I looked at these denuded trees undressed, just so bare; their bones sticking out, just looking at them, so unclothed. But you wait, in the springtime, on a May day, drive down that same street there will be buds bursting, there will be leaves foliating, there will be a beautiful emerald of life and glory poured out over the whole earth! Who told that tree it was time to awaken? Who told that little bud to burst? That’s God; the resurrection in the springtime.
There are two great biological miracles, two, two. One: there was a biological miracle when God made Adam [Genesis 1:26-27], the federal head and father of the human race. In a mysterious something that we call mitosis, the multiplication of cells; every cell in your body, and there are trillions, there are a certain set, fixed number of chromosomes, about forty-[six] in us; and every species has its own number. And in the miracle of mitosis, those threads break up into chromosomes in which little genes are; and they split down the middle. And one moves to this side, and one moves to that side, and a cell forms around it, and you have two complete identical cells such as it was before. And the miracle in the ovum of the female: that number of chromosomes is divided; it’ll be twenty-[three]. And in the spermatozoon of the male, it will divide and be one half; it’ll be twenty-[three]. And when the ovum of the female and the spermatozoon of the male come together, there are forty-[six] again; the miracle of mitosis.
And through the age and the age and the age and the generations and the generations, that mitotic process continues and continues until the second great biological miracle, when God intervened in that chain of succession and created, by the Holy Spirit, the body of the blessed Jesus in the womb of the virgin Mary [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35]. And that’s what those Scriptures meant; it was referring to that second biological miracle. When the Scriptures said, Genesis 3:15, "And the Seed of the woman," a woman doesn’t have seed, the man has seed; but the Scriptures said, "the Seed of a woman shall crush Satan’s head!" It referred to that: the miracle of Bethlehem, the second great biological miracle [Matthew 1:23]. Or again, Isaiah 7:14, "A virgin shall be with child, and they shall call His name, God with us," it referred to that. Or Isaiah 9:6, "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," and don’t you like to hear them sing it in the Messiah? "And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." That’s what that meant. That’s what it meant in Micah 5:2, "And thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall rule My people; whose goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting." How could that be? From everlasting, He was; from old, He went out. How could that be? It referred to the incarnation of God! And that’s the passage you so gloriously read:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God [John 1:1] . . . And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, as of the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. For the law came by Moses, but grace and truth, forgiveness of sin, salvation and hope, came by Jesus Christ.
[John 1:1, 14, 17]
What saith the Scripture? I read it again: "Without controversy great is the musterion of eusebeia, of worship, of adoration," oh [1 Timothy 3:16]. As Mary in her Magnificat, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, my spirit doth rejoice in God my Savior" [Luke 1:46-47]. Or like that ancient Latin hymn – they’ve traced it back and back and back 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]
This is the first great miracle of worship and adoration, bowing in the presence of Christ our Savior, born of a virgin; God with us, Immanuel! [Matthew 1:23].
It’s a great season, isn’t it? A great time of year. We ought to be that way, and feel that way, don’t let anybody rob us of it. This is God in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16]. Now we sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, down one of these stairways, into the aisle and here to the front, "Here I come, pastor, I make it now; I choose now. I decide now." Do it, do it; angels themselves will attend you in the way; God will open the door. Trust, come, ask God to forgive your sins, ask God to give you a new life and a new heart; come to the Savior, come. It’ll be the happiest step, decision, you ever make in your life. Make that decision now, and in a moment when we stand up, stand up coming. Into that aisle and down to the front, "Here I am, pastor, I’m coming now," while we stand and while we sing.