THE MARVEL OF JESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-15-74 8:15 a.m.
You who are listening on the radio, this is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor inviting you to share with us this glorious paean of praise for our Lord and His coming into the world.
At seven-thirty tonight and every night through Friday night at seven-thirty there will be the songs of praise and glory of our Living Christmas Tree, which is already here in the sanctuary and will be filled with the Sanctuary Choir. And they will sing out of this Living Christmas Tree these glorious carols, songs and anthems that exalt our Lord. One of the reasons we have a tremendous program is to give our people an opportunity to share in the spirit of helping someone else. I noticed the pews on each side of the auditorium have been taken out, and I presume this is to help us in finding an area for all of our white gifts.
We have seven chapels, and at the mission banquet this last week, Mr. Ira McCollister, our mission chairman, said to me, “Pastor, you are behind the times. We have eight now.” We have eight chapels in which and through which we distribute food and clothing for the poor. These are missions in sub-marginal areas of our city. And all of us are encouraged to bring something wrapped in white. You may not have white paper at home. It will be in Coleman Hall. And you go through the house and what you do not need, wrap it in white or bring it down here and wrap it in white, and then we will bring it here at this Living Christmas Tree tonight. And may the Lord grant it stacks up to the top of this ceiling. Then during the cold of the winter, we will give out the gifts to those who will be blessed by our remembrance.
The title of the sermon this morning is The Marvel of Jesus, or An Accounting for Christ, or The Virgin Birth. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Matthew, in verse 33 it says, “And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake; and the multitudes marveled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel” [Matthew 9:33]. And in the eighth verse of that same chapter 9, “But when the multitudes saw it, they marveled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men” [Matthew 9:8]. And in the eighth chapter and the twenty-seventh verse, “But the people marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” [Matthew 8:27].
I have read those passages all from one leaf in the Bible. The impact of the life of our Lord upon those who saw Him was unbelievably marvelous and glorious and wonderful. Nor did that wonder diminish as the days multiplied, and the disciples of the Lord went out, and the apostles, who proclaimed the glorious story of Jesus. One of them, named Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle [Acts 13:9], wrote of the wonder of our Lord like this: “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, and received up into glory” [1 Timothy 3:16].
I want to look at one word of that, “And without controversy great is the mystery of eusebeia, eusebeia.” Eusebeia is the word for worship. Eusebeia is the word for “worship,” eusebeiō, “to worship,” eusebeia, the word for “worship.”
For example, in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul says, “You Athenians, as I walk down your streets and was visiting in your city, I noticed that you are of all people most reverent.” Translation here is “most superstitious” [Acts 17:22]. That would be unthinkable. He’s complimenting the Athenians, “I see that you are most reverent, most worshipful. For,” he says, “as I passed by I saw an altar with this inscription on it, To the unknown God. Whom therefore you eusebeiō, whom therefore you worship, Him declare I unto you” [Acts 17:22-23].
So if I could take that word and translate it in a way that would be meaningful for us also, it would be this, “And without controversy, great is the mystery of our worship” [1 Timothy 3:16]. When we bow before the Lord Jesus and pray in His name and believe that He is seated on the throne of the universe in heaven, “great is the mystery of our worship: God manifest in the flesh” [1 Timothy 3:16].
Now the sermon this morning concerns an accounting for Christ. Where did He come from? What are His roots and genealogy? The marvel and the wonder of Jesus: to me, the greatest fact in time and in history is the fact of Jesus Christ. Whether a man believes Him or not, whether an infidel blasphemes Him or not, whether the world accepts Him or not makes no difference. The greatest fact in human story is the fact of Jesus.
Now where did He come from, and how do you account for Him? There are many explanations, and I name some of unbelief. The most ancient one you will find in the Talmud. There the Lord Jesus is explained in a sordid and immoral story. In the Talmud, Jesus is the illegitimate son of a Jewess named Mary and a Roman soldier, dissolute and dissipated in his life. Mary there is a woman of the gutter, and her child is without name, illegitimate.
Another of the explanations of where Jesus came from is found in the words of certain pseudoscientists. In their study they came across a phenomenon in nature called parthenogenesis. Certain algae and fungi, they propagate by self-fertilization. The spores and the seeds are fertilized in themselves; and they call that self-fertilization “parthenogenesis.”
And so they say that Mary is a part of that unusual phenomenon, as a specimen, of say, an alga or a fungus. Why, Mary also experienced that phenomenon of parthenogenesis, self-fertilization. Such an explanation to me is crass and crude. The similitude, the likeness, the comparison of Mary to certain plant lice, or a fungus, or a water alga is to me unthinkable!
Then there are those who explain the coming of our Lord into the world, for there has to be some explanation; He is in this earth by name and worshiped among millions and millions of people. So in explaining Him and where He came from, there are those who pride themselves in their literary, critical approach to the explanation of the coming of our Lord. So they say that His birth which is recorded here in the Holy Scriptures is comparable to the stories that you find of the ancient heroes in Greek and Roman mythology. For example, in mythology it is said that Jove, or in Latin, Zeus or Jupiter, that Jove transferred himself in the likeness of the husband of Alcmene, and of that union Hercules was born. That’s where Hercules came from, in that mythological story. Then, Alexander the Great, as he became conqueror of the world, Alexander the Great said that he was not born as other mortals but that a serpent cohabited with his mother, and he was the child that was born.
And then they also said that of Augustus Caesar; that his mother fell asleep in the temple of Apollo, and Apollo assumed the form of a serpent and cohabited with the sleeping woman, and Augustus Caesar was born. So they use those mythological and egotistical stories of the ancient world and say that the story of the birth of our Lord was like that.
I submit, any stupid idiot could read those stories and see that they are manifestly fictitious. They are inane and silly, and especially those that were conjured up by Alexander the Great and Augustus Caesar in order to set themselves apart from the swarms of other mortal men. Those stories have no theological bearing at all. And when you compare them with the beautiful story of the birth of our Lord in Holy Scriptures, you enter another world; like going from the mud into the glorious vistas of heaven, like coming out of the mire, and the dirt, and the dark into the beautiful city of God.
Just look at it. In the first chapter of Matthew is the marvelous word of the virgin birth. “This was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Look, a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, With us is God” [Matthew 1:22-23]. And when I turn to the wonderful story in the first chapter of Luke:
And Mary said, How could such a thing be? For I am not married, I know not a man.
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the High shall overshadow thee: therefore that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
To compare those beautiful stories of the nativity of our Lord with those crass and manifestly fictitious stories of the birth of those ancient heroes is like comparing heaven with the darkness of the abyss.
This has been the preaching, and persuasion, and doctrine of the church for all of the years and the years, until our present day, until this generation. Now and in this last fifty, seventy-five years, there has come a floodtide of unbelief into the church regarding the virgin birth of Christ [Matthew 1:20-25].
There are two great tenants, two great foundational stones of the faith that a liberal attacks. Number one is the inspiration of the Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21], they read out of it all that is supernatural, and the other is the virgin birth of our Lord [Matthew 1:20-25]. In 1892, a great liberal theologian in Germany by the name of Adolf Harnack began to teach his students this. He said, “I do not believe in miracles, and the virgin birth is a miracle. Therefore I do not believe in the virgin birth.”
And Harnack read out of the Bible all that was supernatural. That was the beginning of the German rationalistic attitude toward the divinity and the nativity of our Lord. Then in 1926, Emil Brunner became one of the fathers of neo-orthodoxy. And those men taught, in continental Europe, that there was no doubt about, they confessed, the divinity of our Lord. But the stories about Him were fictitious. They were just stories illustrating their response to the marvelous personality of the Lord Jesus.
And in 1948, there arose in Germany a liberal scholar, a German by the name of Rudolph Bultmann, and he proposed to demythologize the Bible. And he said the New Testament was full of myths, that is, stories illustrating those first Christian responses to the marvelous presence and personality of Jesus.
And that attitude has swept the entire Christian world. So much so that today there are learned Catholic theologians, who, in their catechisms and in their theology, teach that the stories in the New Testament concerning the virgin birth of our Lord are just teaching stories. It never actually happened, but it is just the way that the early church chose to teach the marvelous beginning of our Lord, where He came from, an accounting for Christ.
When I look at the modern theological world, I am astonished at its persuasion. And one of the things that they so are assured of is that these marvelous stories of the birth of our Lord are mythological, that they are just illustrations. They’re just stories, but they have no basis in fact.
Just for the moment that remains, we’re going to look at this accounting for Christ, where He came from. There are no greater affirmations to be found in human story than the affirmation of how our Savior came into the world, both in heavenly revelation and in human story, in human history.
There is a great gulf stream through the Word of God. It is found from the beginning to the end. Like the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean, laving the shores of the Old and the New World, there is a gulf stream in the Bible; the messianic prophecies that course through it, all the way through the centuries and the millennia; a Child, a Child, a Child, a Child!
In Genesis 3:15, “And the Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head,” a Child, a Child; a mother, a woman and a Child! In the forty-ninth chapter of the Book of Genesis, to Judah, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh be born” [Genesis 49:10], a Child, a Child, a Child! In the seventh chapter of 2 Samuel, God said to David, “Thou shalt have a Son, and he shall sit upon thy throne forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” [2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16], a Child, a Child! In the seventh chapter of the Isaiahan prophecy, verse 14, “A virgin shall be with child, and they shall call His name Immanuel, God with us” [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23], a Child, a mother and a Child. In the ninth chapter of the Isaiahan prophecy, that we read together,
For unto us a Child is born, and 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.
And of the increase of His government there shall be no end, upon the throne of His father David to establish it in justice and in judgment forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it.
a Child, a Child, a Child!
And in Micah chapter 5:2, “But thou Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall be the Governor and Ruler of My people; whose goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting” [Micah 5:2]; a Child, a Child, a Child! And the whole earth was filled with that marvelous messianic expectancy. When you read those ancient Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, they bear record to the fact that in those days the whole earth was great with expectancy that out of the East, out of the East, a Child should be born and a Messiah should appear.
I am going to read a part of the fourth Eclogue of Virgil, one of the great, great poets of all time, the greatest Latin poet who ever lived. When Dante, in his Divine Comedy, was escorted through the netherworld, he was escorted in the poem by Virgil. Virgil died 19 BC, about thirteen or fourteen years before Christ. Listen to a part of his fourth Eclogue, listen to it.
Come, dear child, claim thine honors, for the time draws nigh
Bathe of immortal race the wondrous seed of Jove
Lo, at thy coming, how the starry spheres are moved to trembling,
And the earth below and the widespread seas and the blue vault of heaven,
How all things join to greet the rising age.
Lo, the last age of the seer has come!
Again the great millennial aeon dawns.
. . .
And from high heaven descends
The firstborn Child of promise. . .
Smile sweetly on this babe; The age of iron in his time shall cease, And golden generations fill the world.
For thee, fair Child, the lavish Earth shall spread.
The earliest playthings,
Trailing ivy wreaths the very cradle, blossoming for joy, shall with soft buds caress thy baby face.
The treacherous snake and deadly hurt shall die, and Syrian spikenard flow on every bank.
Oh if but life would bring me days enough, and breath not all too scant to sing thy deeds.
Come, child, and greet thy mother with a smile. Ten weary waiting months her love has known.
Come, little child.
A Child, a Child, a Child!; the whole earth was filled with a glorious expectancy of the birth of a Savior and governor and Messianic Leader of the earth.
That’s why in the second chapter of the Book of Matthew, there came magi, there came Zoroastrians, there came Parsee priests from far, far in the East, saying, “Where is He, where is He that is born King of the Jews?” [Matthew 2:1-2]. The whole earth was filled with a messianic expectancy.
And what is its explanation? None other than the Holy Scriptures avow. “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” [John 1:14]—great is the mystery of our worship” [1 Timothy 3:16]. God was manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16]—“And the Word was made flesh, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of God” [John 1:14]. Or as the apostle Paul preached it, “And when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman,” a mother and a Child, a Child, a Child, a Child. “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem us from the curse of the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” [Galatians 4:4-5].
This has been the faith of the true church from the beginning. As far back as Christian history will go did the people of the Lord gather to recite the Apostles’ Creed. I would not object to our reciting it every Lord’s Day here. “I believe in God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth; and I believe in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son, our Lord, conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary”; a Child, a Child, a mother and a Child. The Word made flesh [John 1:14], God manifest in human form, the virgin birth [Matthew 1:23].
For the centuries and the centuries has the church sung in Latin, in every language of the earth, and in our language: O come, come, come,
O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
O come ye, to Bethlehem
Come and adore Him, born the King of angels
O come let us adore Him
[from “Adeste Fideles” John Francis Wade]
Bow down before Him, “great is the musterion of our eusebeia, our worship, God manifest in the flesh” [1 Timothy 3:16]. Come let us adore Him, born the King of angels.
Not all of the liberal theologians who ever lived, nor all of the pseudoscientists who ever wrote, nor all of the infidels who ever prated their blasphemy, could take away from us the glory, and the wonder, and the marvel of Jesus, the greatest fact in human experience. And where did He come from? As the Book says, “God manifest in the flesh,” born of a virgin [Matthew 1:23], “seen of angels” [1 Timothy 3:16], sung about by the angels” [Luke 2:13-14]. As Lew Wallace describes in his wonderful novel Ben Hur, “The shepherds cried, saying, Look, awake, the sky is on fire.” The whole earth is aflame with the glory of God in the birth of Jesus our Lord.
Our time is spent. And we stand in a moment to sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just you to give yourself to the faith, to accept the Lord as your Savior, to put your life with us in the circle of this wonderful church; while we sing the song and while we make the appeal, out of the balcony round, and there’s time and to spare, on this lower floor, into the aisle and here to the front, “I make the decision now, pastor, and here I come.” “Here I am. I’m bringing my whole family with me,” or, “just my wife.” Or, “I’m coming myself.” As the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, come now. Make it now, be here now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE MARVEL OF JESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
any other man; slept, hungered, weary, thirsty, wept
the life of a common, poor man
Wind and waves obey Him
He feeds 5,000
Raises from the dead
Facing execution, He knew a legion of angels could save Him
Rose again after He died
The marvel of the Man
with which He commanded the forces of nature
astonishing words of self description
essential inherent greatness
The marvelous Jesus
is more than just a historical fact
stands alive before our eyes
is the Lord, He is the Christ