The Miracle of the Incarnation
December 16th, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
THE MIRACLE OF THE INCARNATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-16-73 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are worshiping with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Miracle of the Incarnation or The Miracle of the Virgin Birth. In the passage of Scripture that we read together, "And the Word was God" [John 1:1], and the fourteenth verse,
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.
And the Word was made flesh – the Word was God –
There are two great bastions of the Christian faith against which the rationalistic critic has battled through all of the centuries. One is the inspiration of the Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16], the divine inerrancy and infallibility of the recorded Word of the Lord; and the other is the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25]. There is no liberal who has ever lived, who has died in the days past or who lives today; there is no liberal in the earth who believes in the virgin birth. These are typical, Matthew Arnold, the headmaster and the literary critic, the great famous genius of England of the last century, Matthew Arnold wrote, "I do not believe in the virgin birth, for that would imply miracle, and miracles do not happen." I quote also from Professor Loofs, who, speaking for all rational critics said, I quote, "I think it the duty of truthfulness to state openly that the virgin birth arose out of fabulous tradition."
Yet we have to account for a great fact. To me the most stupendous fact in the history of mankind is the fact of Jesus. How do you account for Him? Well, among the efforts, there are those who worship at the shrine of science, and they’ll say something like this – if they have any inclination to explain it at all, they will say that, "In our study of research, scientific observation, there is a thing called parthenogenesis, and it is found among certain plant lice and algae and fungi, where they propagate – these species, these cells propagate through the self-fertilization of spores." And they find in that a possible explanation of the miracle of the virgin birth. But there’s something about just saying it that is offensive to my heart; to compare Mary to plant lice or to fungi or algae is not even in good taste.
Then there are those who would seek to explain it by the adducing of examples, parallels so-called, in the mythologies of Greece and of Rome. There were great heroes back there who claimed to have been miraculously born. Yet when you read them they are manifestly, patently fictitious, and they have no theological relevancy whatsoever. Alexander the Great, for example, said that he was born when a snake, a serpent, cohabited with his mother. Augustus Caesar said that he was miraculously born when his mother went to worship in the temple of Apollo, and the god assumed the form of a serpent, and he was conceived. The mythological story of the birth of Hercules is that Jupiter, Jove, assumed the form of the husband of Alcmene, and Hercules was born. All of those are patently fictitious, and they have no theological pertinency or relevancy at all. The story of the birth of our Lord is in a different world, it’s in a different era, it’s in a different feeling, it is in a different setting.
Well, what is it, this amazing thing of the coming of Christ Jesus into the world? How do you explain it, and what is it? First of all, it is manifestly a work of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35, 2:1-16], as the end of His life is found in the glorious resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7; Luke 24:1-7], which is a work of the Holy Spirit of God. Romans 1:4 avows that "Christ was raised from the dead by the Spirit of holiness"; so the same Holy Spirit of God is the initial great fact in the life of our Lord. All the way through His life is like that [Matthew 12:28]. He began in the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35]. His great ministry was wrought in the power of the Holy Spirit. And the great, climactic, consummating fact of His life, His resurrection from the dead, is a work of the Holy Spirit of God [Romans 1:4]. What we find in the story of the virgin birth of our Lord is a demonstrable work of the Spirit of God.
And the angel Gabriel came and spake to the virgin, Jewess, and said that she should be the mother of this foretold, foreordained Child. And she replied, But how could it be? I know not a man; I am not married. And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; wherefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
[Luke 1:30, 3134-35]
It is a work of the Holy Spirit; it is something that God did [Luke 1:35].
Now, the Bible plainly explains to us by revelation and by inspiration the purpose of that work of the Holy Spirit. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the inspired author says that we are washed from our sins; we are purged from our sins by the blood of Jesus Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unto God [Hebrews 9:14]. But how could a spirit offer blood of sacrifice and atonement unto God? In the tenth chapter, the next chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the explanation is given: the Lord says, "Sacrifice and offering Thou would not, the blood of bulls and goats cannot suffice the sacrifice to make atonement for sins" [Hebrews 10:4-5]. Then the inspired author says, quoting the Lord in the beginning, "But a body hast Thou prepared for Me" [Hebrews 10:5]. The miraculous birth of Christ is a work of the Holy Spirit, fashioning a body that could be offered in sacrifice for our sins [Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35]. A spirit does not have blood, a spirit does not have flesh and bones, a spirit could not offer himself as atonement for our sins; and the work of atoning grace was wrought by the Holy Spirit of God in offering a sacrifice, which demanded a body, and that body of sacrifice was framed in the womb of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit of God [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35]. The purpose of the coming of our Lord into this world was not to live the life of a hero or even to offer Himself as a great martyr; but the purpose of the Lord’s coming into the world was to die for our sins [Hebrews 10:5-14]. And the purpose of His resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7; Luke 24:1-7], was to be the great Mediator in heaven who stands before God to justify us; that is, to declare us righteous [Hebrews 9:15-24]. And all of this is a work of the Holy Spirit of God.
Second: how do you explain the virgin birth of Christ? First, it is a work of the Holy Spirit, creating a body that can be offered as sacrifice, as atonement, as expiation for our sins [Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35]. Second: this is the great apocalyptic intervention of God in human history [Matthew 1:23; Luke 2:1-16]. There is no more stupendous descent of God in all of the sacred record than that He should assume flesh, bone, blood, manhood, and walk in our midst [John 1:14]. And the great apocalyptic sign of that, the intervention of God, is the sign of Immanuel that God is with us [Matthew 1:23]. The angel said, "Thou shalt call His name Savior, Iēsous, Savior; for He shall save His people from their sins [Matthew 1:21]. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet saying," then he quotes Isaiah 7:14, "Behold! Look! Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son; and thou shalt call His name Immanuel, with us God; Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" [Matthew 1:21-23]. The great sign that the Lord is beginning a new age and a new dispensation is His entrance into human life in the incarnation of Christ [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 2:1-16]. The Word of God became flesh [John 1:14].
Now this is typical of how God does. God enters the human story apocalyptically from time to time; He intervenes. For example, the Lord intervened in the days of Noah [Genesis 6:11-13, 7:13-23]. God intervened at the Tower of Babel, when He confused the languages of the people [Genesis 11:7-9]. God intervened at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4]. God shall intervene at the great consummation of the age, in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, when the Lord shall appear with the hosts of heaven [Revelation 19:11-16], and with ten thousands and thousands of His saints [Jude 1:14]. The Lord also apocalyptically intervened in human story when He assumed human form, when He became flesh, when He was born of a virgin in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:23; Luke 1:32-35]. Now the Lord, I say, is like that. When you observe what God does, that’s what you observe. The Lord will do a thing just suddenly, apocalyptically, He will do a thing. And then thereafter the repercussion of it follows through the centuries and through the millennia. The Scriptures will say that, "A thousand years in His sight are but as a day, and a day as a thousand years" [2 Peter 3:8]. The Lord will do something, and thereafter the repercussions follow.
Look, there was a time, a moment, when by fiat all matter was created, all of it [Genesis 1:1-23]. And from that time, in the ages of the ages past, in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, when God formed matter, from that time it has remained ever the same. There is no more creation of matter. There is no thing added to that creation. It was done, and done forever [Genesis 1:1-23]. Sometimes atomic formulae can be shifted and changed, and sometimes atomic rearrangements can be made, and sometimes molecular structure can be changed; but there’s no addition to matter. What was made in the beginning is made thereafter and forever. That’s how God does things.
Here is another apocalyptic intervention of God that remains forever fixed, it is not changed: and that’s life. When God made life in the beginning He fixed the species, and that chain is unbroken through the ages [Revelation 1:24-31]. Now there are pseudoscientists, who call themselves "evolutionists," who say that we can demonstrate that that fixedness is not there. We can demonstrate, they say, that these species can be changed one into another. I remember there flew into the city of Dallas one of those pseudoscientists who styles himself as a learned evolutionist, and so there gathered around him the reporters of our newspapers, and he was talking to them. And he said that, "Absolutely positively" – and he emphasized it – "Absolutely and positively evolution can be demonstrated by Drosophila." And when I read that in the daily newspapers of the city of Dallas, I laughed out loud. So we have this famous pseudoscientist, a false scientist, who says we have demonstrable proof of the breaking of that fixedness that God placed in these species back there in the beginning when He created life, by Drosophila.
What is he talking about? This is it. Drosophila is a fruit fly; when you buy a banana you’ll always buy two or three of those little things extra, they don’t charge you for that, they’re always, you know, flying around a banana. That’s a little Drosophila, that’s a little fruit fly. For scores of years, for scores of years, when I was a youngster in Baylor, seventeen years old, they were experimenting with a thing at Texas University; for years and years they’d been doing it, and in other great research centers. They’ve been bombarding the chromosomes, and I think there are about two in each one of them, they’ve been bombarding the chromosomes of Drosophila for scores and scores and scores of years. They’ve been bombarding them with X-rays. Now what they’ve been doing is they’ve been mutating them; they’ve been tearing them up, they’ve been rearranging them and changing them. They’ve been bombarding them with X-rays. Now the reason for that is that they are trying to mutate that little fly as though he had lived through billions and billions and billions of generations. Now what have they done with the bombardment of the chromosomes of Drosophila? Well, they’ve done lots of things, mutating the little creature. Sometimes they’re born without eyes, sometimes they’re born without feet, sometimes they’re born without wings, sometimes they’re born all kinds of ways; so because of that, this pseudoscientist blowing into Dallas, he proudly announces to the world and to the press here that, "We have demonstrable proof of evolution because of what we’ve been able to do with the mutating of Drosophila." What I can’t understand is what any schoolboy would understand. He could say to the pseudoscientist, "You’ve got Drosophila all kinds of shapes by the mutation of those genes, bombarding them with X-rays; but the point is, you may make him tri-cornered, square, oblong, two wings, six wings, no wings, feet, no feet, eyes and no eyes, but the point is, after these scores and scores and billions of mutated generations, he’s still Drosophila. You haven’t changed him into a bumblebee or a gnat, or any other kind of an insect. He’s still Drosophila."
You see, God did that! He fixed that back there in the beginning. And those species continue on, and you’ll never see one of them broken, never. It’s something God did. You will never see a cow giving birth to a mule or a horse, you never will. And you’ll never see a dog nursing kittens to which it has given birth, you’ll never see that. And you will never see a thorn turn into an orange tree, you don’t see that. You’re not going to see that. Why are you not going to see that? That’s God! God does things like that. In the beginning He will make matter, and thereafter you don’t add to it. In the beginning He will make life, and He will fix the species; and you don’t change it thereafter. That’s the Lord [Genesis 1:11-12, 21, 25].
And that’s the way God does in the revelation of Himself. You will have the Lord God waiting for centuries, maybe, as in the first chapter of Samuel, "And there was no open vision" [1 Samuel 3:1], then God will speak to little Samuel, little "Asked of God" [1 Samuel 3:2-14]. There’ll be centuries go by, and then God will speak in the days of apostasy to an Elijah [1 Kings 17]. There’ll be four hundred years go by, and there’s no open vision; then God will speak through a John the Baptist [Matthew 3]. That’s the Lord. And one of those great apocalyptic interventions in human history was when God came down in human flesh [Hebrews 10:5-14], in the miraculous story of the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:31-35, 2:1-16].
How do you explain the virgin birth? It’s a work of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35]. It’s an apocalyptic intervention of God from heaven. Finally though, and ultimately, it is a mystery into which our finite circumscribed human minds cannot enter. For example, the apostle Paul will write in 1 Timothy 3, verse 16, "And without debate, without discussion, without controversy, great is the musterion of eusebeia. God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the nations, believed on in the world, received up into glory" [1 Timothy 3:16] What is the great musterion of eusebeia? What is the great mystery, the great secret of eusebeia? The word for "to worship" is "eusebeio"; to worship, to bow down, to have faith, to be religious, eusebeio. "Eusebeia" is the faith; it’s the worship, it’s the coming before God. What is the great mystery of eusebeia, of the faith, of the religion? What is it?
First, it is "God was manifest in the flesh" [1 Timothy 3:16]. It’s a great mystery that God should have done that, born of a virgin, God incarnate [Matthew 1:23]. When you think of it, that God should be a man, you stagger before it. I can understand why there are uncounted millions of people who reject it. I can understand that, the human mind cannot grasp God, and the human mind cannot fathom and understand God. We’re too limited. "Great is the mystery of eusebeia, the faith, the worship: God was manifest in the flesh" [1 Timothy 3:16]. Consequently I say, I can understand. They haven’t the gift of faith. God hasn’t opened their hearts; there’s a veil over their hearts. So as I read what they say, there are some who say, "It is not a part of the Bible, somebody added it. Somebody just put those chapters in Matthew and Luke, stuck them on." But there are no manuscripts, none, there are no manuscripts that do not have the story of the nativity of our Lord. If the gospel is found in an ancient manuscript, that will be there, the miraculous story of the birth of our blessed Jesus. Matthew will write it unwaveringly through the eyes of Joseph [Matthew 1:18-25]. And Luke will write it unwaveringly through the eyes of Mary, the mother [Luke 1:26-35, 2:1-16]. But it is always there, it never deviates. If there is a manuscript of the Word of God, you’ll find that in it.
Then of course there are those who will say, "We repudiate all the supernatural. If it is miraculous," as Matthew Arnold avows, "we will not accept it, for miracles are not in the order of the world in which we live." If you take the miraculous, the supernatural, out of the Gospels, out of eighty-nine chapters of the first four Gospels, out of eighty-nine chapters of the four Gospels, fifty-two of them are filled with the supernatural, with the miraculous. You tear it away, there’s no gospel left. And isn’t it an astonishing thing that a man as gifted and learned as Matthew Arnold, or any of the other of the academic liberals of the world, that they would say, "We refuse to accept supernatural, miraculous; we refuse to accept it"?
How do you look up into the heavens, and how do you look at God’s handiwork, firmament, God’s handiwork, and say, "I don’t believe in the supernatural"? Why, some of these astronomers get up early in the morning, looking at that comet, comes here once in a thousand years, they say. Why doesn’t that comet go off into space and it doesn’t return in a thousand years, in a million years, in a billion years? Why doesn’t it move off into space? Because there’s an unseen hand that swings it billions of miles that way, and then pulls it back and swings it billions of miles that way in a vast almost infinite orbit. And when you stand under the chalice of the sky and look at those planets in their vast orbits, millions of miles that way, then swing around to millions of miles that way, and then back again, why don’t they swing out into space? Because there’s an unseen hand that pulls them back, and pulls them back in those vast orbits. Even the moon around our little planet, two hundred fifty thousand miles that way, and then swing around two hundred fifty thousand miles that way, why doesn’t it swing off into space? There’s an unseen hand that keeps it in its orbit. Such is our world around the sun: ninety-three million miles this way, and then ninety-three million miles that way. Why doesn’t it move out into the infinitude of the space beyond? Because there’s an unseen hand that holds it, that guides it in the orbit. Hebrews 1:3 says God does that, "Upholding all things by the word of His power." That’s God. Wherever God is, His signature is musterion. "Great is the musterion of eusebeia," the worship, the faith [1 Timothy 3:16]. If God is in it, His signature is mystery everywhere, everywhere.
Two weeks ago I cut my thumb on a jagged can, went clear to the bone. I’ve been watching it heal for two weeks. Those little cells down there growing and growing and growing and growing, they’ve just about stopped, it’s just about healed. Why don’t those little cells grow, and grow, and grow, and grow, and keep on growing, and growing, and growing until finally that scar would stick out there about an inch from my thumb? Who tells those little cells down there, "Now you’ve reached your limit. Now you stop right there, right there." Not only that, but those little cells, they create the same pattern of fingerprints that I had before I sliced the thing wide open; and reproduced just exactly are those little fingerprints there in that thumb. Who tells those little cells, "Now you outline very carefully those same fingerprints, because the police may hang you for a horse thief sometime, and they want to get that fingerprint just right." Isn’t that amazing? Who tells that? That’s God. Wherever He is His signature is musterion. You don’t know. It’s the Lord. And this intervention in history is one of the multitude of the mysteries of God [1 Timothy 3:16].
There are two great biological miracles in the history of the world, two of them. One, when God created the process of mitosis: back there in the beginning He made a man [Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7]. And on the inside of that man are trillions of cells, and each one of them has the same number of chromosomes, about forty-[six]; all except in a reproductory organ, God had the spermatozoa, and in that spermatozoon there’s just about twenty-[three] chromosomes, one half. Then God took a female, and in her trillions of cells, billions and billions of cells, every one of them with about forty-[six] chromosomes in it. But on the inside of the secret parts of that female there are ova, and the chromosomes are halved, about twenty-[three]. Then God placed the female in the bosom, in the arms of the male, the man that He made, and He blessed them [Genesis 2:21-23]. And when the twenty-[three] chromosomes of the spermatozoon meet the twenty-[three] chromosomes of the ovum of the female, you have those forty-[six] again; the mitotic process that God created through the years and the centuries and the millennia. It’s a miracle, like everything that God has done. You don’t explain it, you just observe it. That’s the first great biological miracle [Genesis 4:1].
The second great biological miracle is this: when God broke that chain just one time, when God broke that mitotic chain just one time, and He took the twenty-[three] chromosomes of the ovum of the virgin Mary, and He added to it the twenty-[three] chromosomes created by the Holy Spirit of God [Matthew 1:20]. And there came forth to walk among men a new creation, the God Man, Christ Jesus [Luke 1:31-35, 2:1-16; Colossians 2:9]. From His mother, the manhood [Luke 24:39], identified with all of us who have flesh, and bone, and blood, and heart, tears, mind, and feelings; tried in every point as we are [Hebrews 4:14-15]; one of us, get tired [John 4:6], get hungry [Matthew 4:2], cry [Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Hebrews 5:7-8], die with a broken heart [Matthew 27:32-50], one of us; and the same time, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the one called Wonderful! [Isaiah 9:6]. He is both [Luke 24:39; Colossians 2:9], the great miracle of God.
That’s why when you read the old prophets, "But thou, O Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be Ruler over Israel" – look, "Whose goings forth have been from of old, from eternity, from everlasting" [Micah 5:2]. How could that be? Why, that’s unbelievable, that’s impossible! Out of little Bethlehem there is to be born a great Ruler who has been from eternity, who has been from everlasting, whose goings forth, whose walkings in and out have been from forever. How could it be? He didn’t know when he wrote it, but when finally we came to understand, it was the great God incarnate, in a little town called Bethlehem.
I have to close. I received a Christmas card from a beloved physician in our church, one of our deacons, Haynes Harville. And I want to read from that Christmas card that I received about two days ago. Listen to it:
Our blessed Lord combined in one
Two natures, both complete –
In perfect manhood, all sublime,
In Godhead all replete.
(John 1:1, 2, 14.)
As man He entered Cana’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.
(Mark 4:38, 39)
Such was our Lord in life and earth,
In dual nature one;
The woman’s Seed in very truth,
And 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]
Both God and man. "And the Word was made flesh . . . and we beheld His glory, the glory as of only begotten of God the Father" [John 1:14]. That’s why for the centuries of the Christian faith we’ve bowed down before our blessed Lord. Back yonder in the 1200s, in the days of Bonaventura, they wrote this hymn that we sing for an invitation:"O Come"
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, O 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 bow down before Him, Christ the Lord.
[adapted from "O Come, All Ye Faithful"; John Francis Wade]
"Great is the musterion of eusebeia," great is the mystery of worship, of the faith: God manifested in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16].
As we sing that beautiful hymn of adoration, you a family, you a couple, or just somebody you, to give your heart to Christ, to come into the fellowship of the church; as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now, and in a moment, stand up coming down that stairway or coming down this aisle. Welcome, God be with you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.