The Miracle of the Incarnation
December 16th, 1973 @ 8:15 AM
THE MIRACLE OF THE INCARNATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
John 1:1, 14
12-16-73 8:15 a.m.
We welcome you who share with us this service on the radio. This is the pastor bringing a message at Christmas time entitled The Miracle of the Incarnation, or, The Miracle of the Virgin Birth. In the passage that we read together a moment ago, "And the Word was God . . . and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." The Miracle of the Incarnation: "And the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us" [John 1:1, 14].
There are two bastions of the Christian faith that the liberal critic, the rationalist, has beat against for now hundreds of years. One is the inspiration of the divine Word [2 Timothy 3:16], the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible; the other is the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25]. You can take it for granted that if a man has any tendency to liberalize the message of Christ, to make it less than what the Bible presents it as being, that his attack will be against the miracle of the virgin birth. There is not a liberal in the world, not one, who believes that Jesus was born of a virgin. For example, the headmaster, Matthew Arnold, and great literary genius of the last century in England, quote, "I do not believe in the virgin birth, for that would imply miracles; and miracles do not happen." Or, take again, from Professor Loofs, who is speaking for all the rational critics, quote, "I think it the duty of truthfulness to state openly that the virgin birth arose out of fabulous tradition." You could multiply those quotations by the number of liberal theologians who have lived and presently live in the world; they are legion.
Then when those who seek somewhat to explain, to extenuate, to rationalize the glorious story of the birth of our Lord, they do so in ways that astonish me as I read them. For example, there are those who worship at the shrine of science, and they seek natural explanations for all of the supernatural in the Bible. So, in scientific research, they have come across a phenomenon in nature that they call parthenogenesis, where the female fertilizes herself, parthenogenesis. And they find that among some algae, and fungi, and plant lice, which propagate by self-fertilization of spores; so they think in parthenogenesis, there might be an explanation of the virgin birth in the womb of Mary. When I read things like that, the sensibility on the inside of me is violated, to compare Mary with a plant louse, or with a fungus, or with an alga.
Or again, there are those who seek to adduce examples in Roman and Greek mythology of miraculous births. And they think in those mythological fantastic presentations, they see examples of what we find here in the Bible. But when you read those accounts, mythological, of the miraculous births of the heroes of the ancient world, they are manifestly fictitious, and they have no theological relevancy at all. For example, Alexander the Great came to say that he was miraculously born, that a serpent had cohabitated with his mother. Augustus Caesar said that he was miraculously born; that his mother, worshiping in the temple of Apollo, that the god assumed the form of a serpent, and he was born. I don’t know why in the world the mythological world seems to love to present a serpent, a snake, as the father of their heroic life. Or, take the story of Hercules. The mythological story of Hercules is that Jove, Jupiter, assumed the form of the husband of Alcmene, and Hercules was born. When you read those stories that these critics say explain the fabulous tradition that you find in the Bible, they are not in the same world; they don’t move in the same feeling, nor is the story of the same piece or fabric of the wonder of the glory of God that I read on the pages of the Holy Scriptures.
When I turn to the story of the birth of our Lord, it is manifestly and patently a work of the Holy Spirit of God. When the angel Gabriel announced to the virgin Jewess that she should be the mother of this foretold and foreordained Child [Luke 1:26-33], she answered, "But how could I? for I know not a man, I am not married" [Luke 1:34]. And the angel replied and said unto her, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; wherefore also that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" [Luke 1:35]. The resurrection of our Lord [Luke 24:1-7], the great stupendous event that closed His life in the earth was a work of the Holy Spirit of God. Romans 1:4 avows that He was raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit of holiness. The initial event in the life of our Lord is no less a work of the Holy Spirit of God [Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35]. As all of His ministry in between was an evidence of the power of the Spirit of the Lord upon Him [Matthew 12:28], so the entire fabric of His life was like that.
Now, the Bible carefully explains to us why it is, this unusual and miraculous and amazing work of the Spirit of God. In the ninth chapter of Hebrews, for example, the author will say that "We are purged by the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unto God" [Hebrews 9:14]. How could such a thing be, that the eternal Spirit could offer Himself to God in blood? The next chapter, the tenth chapter of the Book of the Hebrews explains it to us: "Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldst not, but a body hast Thou prepared for Me" [Hebrews 10:5]. If the eternal Spirit is to offer blood and sacrifice, atonement for our sins, then it necessitates, obviously, the creation of a body to lay before God in atoning grace, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary. The Holy Spirit fashioned a body of sacrifice, blood and bones and flesh, that there might be atonement made for our sins [Luke 1:35]. Spirit could not make atonement for us; body must make atonement for us. Sacrifice, blood, offering, propitiation, expiation, the death of our Lord; and for that death to be accomplished according to the prophecies, there must be a body [Hebrews 10:4-14]. And the Holy Spirit created that body for sacrifice in the womb of the virgin Mary. It is statedly, manifestly a work of the Spirit of God [Matthew 1:20-23; Luke 1:27-35].
Second: the incarnation of our Lord is an apocalyptic intervention of God in human history. The sign of it is Immanuel, "with us is God" [Matthew 1:23]. That I think is the most stupendous fact in the story of mankind: that the Word should be made flesh, that Immanuel should walk among us [John 1:14]. "Thou shalt bring forth a Son, and call His name Savior, Jesus, Savior; for He shall save His people from their sins [Matthew 1:21]. And all of this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet," Isaiah, in 7:14, "which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Look, behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, Immanuel, with us is God, which being interpreted is God with us" [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:21-23]. This is an intervention of God in human history, and I think the most stupendous in the story of mankind, that God should assume human flesh, be incarnate [John 1:14].
The moving of the presence of God in the world is seen from time to time. The apocalyptic intervention of God in human history is recorded again and again. In the beginning when the world was chaotic, the Spirit of God brooded over the face of the deep and brought light and cosmic order out of the dark chaos. It was an apocalyptic intervention of God in the earth [Genesis 1:2-3]. Again, the Lord entered human history apocalyptically in the days of Noah [Genesis 6:11-13, 7:13-23]. The Lord apocalyptically entered the story of human history in the days of the tower of Babel, when He confused the languages of the people [Genesis 11:7-9]. The Lord apocalyptically entered the story of humankind at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4]. And the Lord shall do it again, apocalyptically, gloriously, interveningly, when Christ comes in the Revelation in the nineteenth chapter of that glorious opening, coming with the hosts of heaven [Revelation 19:11-16], and ten thousands of His saints [Jude 1:14]. And this is an instance of the apocalyptic entrance of God in human history: when the Lord God became flesh, Immanuel, God is with us [Matthew 1:23; John 1:14].
When you look at the story of God’s revelation in the Bible, you will find that to be true, that God will do something, maybe millennia will pass, centuries added to it, everything will follow a certain stream in a certain channel, in a certain order, then something God does, and thereafter it is never the same. For example, there was a time when matter came into being, when the creation was flung out into this vast illimitable infinitude of space, and everything that was made was made then [Genesis 1:1-23]. And from that apocalyptic moment, there has never been anything made since. There could be changes of atoms and rearrangements of molecules, but there is nothing added, and there is nothing taken away. The great mighty act of God in creation was done by fiat [Genesis 1:1-23], just like that; and then thereafter for however long the ages have gone and run, it is just the same.
Or, take again; when God created life, all of those species were fixed back there in the beginning [Genesis 1:24-31]. And for the ages since, life has run in those fixed channels. These pseudoscientists, who call themselves "evolutionists," think that by probing and searching, and by cross breeding and by X-rays and mutations, that they can change that fixedness. It’s a lie! It’s a pseudoscientific hypothetical impossibility! They can’t do it! Nor is it demonstrable. God did that in the beginning, and forever those species, those family chains are fixed.
I remember, upon a time, one of those pseudoscientists, evolutionists, flew into the city of Dallas. Newspaper reporters gathered round him, and he mouthed all kinds of things, and one of the things that he foolishly said was this, he said, "Evolution has been absolutely and positively proved by our research with Drosophila." I laughed. Drosophila, that’s a little fruit fly. You know, when you buy a banana, usually you’ll buy one or two of those little Drosophila buzzing around it. They come free, they don’t cost; buzzing around you. For scores of years, for scores of years, for scores of years now, the research scientist has been hammering Drosophila’s chromosomes with X-rays. And the process of mutation, the possibility of changing the chromosome, the gene of heredity has been speeded up thousands and thousands of times. It is as though they had been following the history of Drosophila for millions and billions of generations. So he says, "It is has been demonstrated, evolution, by Drosophila." So, what he’s referring to is this: by the pounding with X-rays of the chromosomes – I think there are about two of them in Drosophila – by the pounding of those X-rays, why, the mutations have been brought to pass in Drosophila. Some of them lose their wings, and some of them lose their legs, and some of them lose their eyes, some of them lose other parts of their body in those mutations. And he says that proves evolution, the breaking of that iron chain that God fashioned in species. What he doesn’t have sense enough to see is a plain thing that a schoolboy can say to him, "But mister, by the pounding of the chromosomes of Drosophila, you may bring about mutations that result in cross-eyed Drosophila, and three-cornered Drosophila, and square and rectangular Drosophila, and without wings and with wings, and with feet and no feet; but the point is, after the pounding of the years, he is still Drosophila! That is, he’s not a June bug or a bumblebee. He’s still just the same." That’s God! The Lord does those things in great apocalyptic interventions or creative acts, and then thereafter it’s forever the same [Genesis 1:11-12, 21, 25].
So it is in God’s intervention in human history. Time and again we will read, as you do in the opening verses of 1 Samuel, "And there was no open vision" [1 Samuel 3:1]; the Lord is silent, then He will speak to a little boy named "Asked of God" [1 Samuel 1:20], little Samuel [1 Samuel 3:2-14]. Or the days pass, and the whole world falls into apostasy, and the Lord will raise up an Elijah [1 Kings 17]. Or, there is a silent four hundred years, then suddenly; the Lord will speak through a John the Baptist [Matthew 3]. That’s God. From time to time, He will enter human story. And this is the most stupendous of all of those entrances: when the Word was made flesh [John 1:14], when God became one of us [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:31-35, 2:1-16; John 1:14].
Once again, this mystery of the incarnation lies in a world that is almost beyond us. Our minds cannot probe it, and our understanding cannot encompass it. For example, look at this passage in 1 Timothy chapter 3, and verse 16: "And without debate, without controversy great is the musterion of eusebeia: 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]. What is the first great musterion of eusebeia? Eusebeia means "to worship." Eusebeia is "religion, faith, worship." "Without controversy, great is the mystery, the unfathomableness of the faith," the religion of our Lord, namely, God was manifest in the flesh. We just bow down like the shepherds [Luke 2:8-16], or we just bow down like the wise men [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11], or we bow down with the angels before so stupendous a revelation [Luke 2:13-14]. Here is God manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16].
People who find that incredulous, "That couldn’t be," they say, "This is not a part of the record. Somebody added that story." But you read it: there’s no manuscript in existence that leaves it out. Any manuscript, any ancient manuscript that tells the story of Jesus will tell that story also. And when you read it, when you go from the virgin birth of our Lord, told undeviatingly by Matthew through the eyes of Joseph, and told undeviatingly by Luke through the eyes of Mary, when you read that marvelous beginning, then begin to follow the rest of the life of our Lord, you’ll find no incongruity; it all fits beautifully. As you begin, so it extends clear to the glorious day of His resurrection. It’s all one fabric and one piece; and it fits.
There are those who looking at it with incredulity say, "I just don’t believe in miracles," such as Matthew Arnold says. "I just don’t believe in the supernatural." That means to destroy the whole revelation of God. Out of eighty-nine chapters that compose the four Gospels, you destroy fifty-two of them if you take out the supernatural. Why would one who could look at the starry skies and look at the world around him, why would he hesitate at the supernatural, what we cannot explain? Why, they’re gazing in the morning now at that comet. And that comet, they say, will appear about once every thousand years. Why doesn’t it shoot off into space and never disappear? Why don’t these planets, as that comet, fall away into the infinitude of the beyond and disappear? They are held by an invisible hand, and they swing in their orbits, like that comet does. Maybe go a million billion miles that way, but a hand will pull it back. And then it’ll swing a million billion miles that way, and an unseen hand will pull it back. And in vast orbits, the whole stellar universe moves. Explain that. What is that invisible hand? Like our moon around our earth, why doesn’t it fall off? Held in an orbit by an invisible hand; Hebrews 1:3 says, "God upholds all things with the word of His power." That’s God.
Or, any evidence of the presence of God is musterion, it’s mystery. Find Him anywhere, it’s just the same. Two weeks ago, I cut a deep, deep gash in my thumb on a can. I’ve been watching it heal for two weeks. Yesterday I took off the little Band-Aid; I’ve been watching it. And in that deep cut that went clear to the bone, those little cells in there have been building it back, building it back, building it back. And now they have just about quit. Why don’t those little cells keep on building it back, building it back, building it back, building it back, back and back and back and back, until that scar finally would stick out there one inch from my thumb? Who tells those little cells, "Now you’ve gone far enough. Right there, you quit"? Who tells those little cells to quit? If it’s God, it’s musterion, it’s mystery. Who tells those little cells to put those little thumb marks, you know, those little print marks, right back just exactly as it was before it was cut and torn away? Who tells those little cells to put those little fingerprints right back just the same? If it’s God, you don’t explain it. If it’s God, it’s beyond our comprehension, without debate, discussion, controversy, "Great is the mystery of the faith: God was manifest in the flesh" [1 Timothy 3:16].
There are two great biological miracles: one, the miracle of mitosis. When God made Adam [Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7], and placed in his bosom his wife Eve, the Lord created a biological miracle [Genesis 2:21-23]. Every cell of the trillions in your body has a certain number of chromosomes, about forty-[six]; but in the body of the male, there are cells called "spermatozoa," and the chromosomes are halved. And in the body of the female, there are cells called "ova"; and the chromosomes are halved. And when an ovum and a spermatozoon unite, half of the chromosomes from the male, half of the chromosomes from the female, and you have the forty-[six] back together again; the miracle of mitosis, the first great biological miracle.
The second great biological miracle: when God entered that chain of mitotic process, and the life of the Spirit united with the life of the natural flesh, and the Being that was born was God incarnate [Colossians 2:9]. By nature from His mother, He was a man, with flesh and blood and bone [Luke 24:39]; and by nature from His Father, he was God manifest in the flesh [John 1:1, 14] – both God and Man. "Thou shalt call His name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God is with us" [Matthew 1:23].
Let me take the time to read a Christmas card that came to me yesterday from a beloved physician, Dr. Haynes Harvill, listen to it:
O blessed Lord, combined in one,
Two natures, both complete –
In perfect manhood, all sublime,
In Godhood, all replete.
[John 1:1-2, 14]
As man He entered Canaan’s feast,
A humble guest to dine;
As God He moved the water there,
And changed it into wine.
[John 2:2, 8]
As man He climbed the mountain’s height
A suppliant to be;
As God He left the place of prayer
And walked upon the sea.
[John 6:15, 19]
As man He wept in heartfelt grief,
Beside a loved one’s grave;
As God He burst the bands of death,
Almighty still to save.
[John 11:35, 43]
As man He lay within a boat,
O’erpowered by needful sleep;
As God He rose, rebuked the wind,
And stilled the angry deep.
Such was our Lord in life on earth,
In dual nature one;
The woman’s Seed in very truth,
And also God’s eternal Son.
O Child, O Son, O Word made flesh:
May Thy high praise increase;
Thou Wonderful, thou Mighty God,
Eternal Prince of Peace!
[from "The Man Christ Jesus," quoted by Thomas Baird in Conscience, 1914]
That’s it, two in One: Man from His mother, God from His Father. That’s why that beautiful hymn that goes back to the 1200s, to Bonaventura, "O come, come, come":
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant;
Come ye, oh come ye, to Bethlehem!
Come and adore Him, born the King of angels!
O come let us adore Him, come let us adore Him,
Come let us bow down before Him, Christ the Lord!
[adapted from "O Come, All Ye Faithful," John Francis Wade]
The Miracle of the Incarnation.
Now, sweet people, while we sing our hymn of appeal, a family, a couple, or just you, to give himself in faith to the Lord, put his life in the fellowship of our dear church, as God shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Come now, on the first note of the first stanza, while we stand and while we sing.