THE MARVEL OF JESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-15-74 10:50 a.m.
On the radio, on television, you are rejoicing with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Marvel of Jesus, or An Accounting for Christ, or The Virgin Birth. I am going to read, just in one leaf of the Bible, and you will see the impression that the Savior made upon the people who saw Him. In Matthew 8:27, “But the men marveled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” In Matthew 9:8, “But when the multitudes saw it, they marveled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.” And in verse 33, “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]. From that one leaf in the Bible you can easily gain the impression, marvelous and wondrous, that the Lord made upon those who saw Him. And not only in the days of His flesh, but in the preaching of the gospel in the Roman Empire, after the Lord was ascended up into glory [Acts 1:9-10]; the same wonder obtained, continued, characterized the Christian faith, the marvel of Jesus.
For example, Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle [Acts 13:9], in a marvelous conversion [Acts 9:1-18], said to the young pastor at Ephesus, to Timothy, “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]. There is a word I want you to look at in that: “And without controversy, great is the mystery of eusebeia, eusebeia,” translated here “godliness” [1 Timothy 3:16]. Eusebeia is the word for “worship, worship”; so eusebeia would be worship itself. For example, in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts, Paul, walking through Athens, said to the Athenians, “I perceive that in all things you are very,” not superstitious, but, “very religious, very reverent. For as I walked through your city I beheld an altar with this inscription, To the unknown God. Whom therefore ye eusebeia, whom therefore ye worship not knowing, Him I declare unto you” [Acts 17:22-23]. What Paul wrote here is, “Without controversy, great is the mystery of our worship” [1 Timothy 3:16], bowing down before the Lord Christ, worshiping at the manger [Luke 2:11-16], worshiping in His divine and holy ministry [Matthew 11:4-5; Acts 10:38], worshiping Him dying on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50], worshiping Him raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-6], and worshiping Him as Mediator [1 Timothy 2:5], and Intercessor in glory [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25]. “Great is the mystery of eusebeia, our worship” [1 Timothy 3:16]; the marvel and wonder of Christ.
Now how do you account for Him? How do you explain Him? The greatest fact in human history, to me, is the fact of Jesus Christ. Whether you believe Him or no, accept Him or no, whether you worship Him or no, whether you blaspheme Him or no, makes no difference at all. The one astounding, marvelous, wondrous, all-inclusive, horizon-to-horizon fact of human story is the fact of Jesus Christ. How do you explain Him? There are many, many attempts. The oldest that I know of is in the Talmud. In the Talmud there is the story, believed by so many who follow the teachings of the Talmud—there is the story that Jesus was born an illegitimate offspring of a Jewess named Mary and of a dissolute Roman soldier. It makes Mary a child of the gutter, and it makes Jesus an illegitimate son of a dissolute, dissipated union.
Another explanation of our Lord can be found in the pseudoscientist. He came across a phenomenon in nature called parthenogenesis. Among some algae and fungi and plant life there is self-fertilization. The species is propagated by self-fertilization. So they say a phenomenon like that happened in the case of Mary: she self-fertilized herself like lice, and like spores, and like fungi, and algae. What an insult, both to intelligence and to the beauty of God’s way of making us, creating us in His divine image [Genesis 1:26-27], to liken Mary to a fungus or an alga.
There are those who seek to explain the marvelous mystery of the coming of this Lord into the world by examples they find in literature. Going back into Roman and Greek mythology, they find there the stories of the miraculous birth of ancient heroes, and they say, “And this is just another instance of it.” For example, in Greek mythology Jove, or Zeus, or Jupiter, all the same name of the same king of the gods, he transformed himself into the likeness of the husband of Alcmene, and Hercules was born. Alexander the Great, when he conquered the world, didn’t want to be classified with mortal men, so he said that he was born by a serpent cohabiting with his mother. Augustus Caesar said that he was born like this: his mother fell asleep in the temple of Apollo, and Apollo assumed the form of a serpent and cohabiting with her, Augustus said, he was born. All of these things on the face of them, all of them, are fictitious and crude. And to liken those stories, so mythological and so unthinkable, to the beautiful, glorious narratives of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is beyond anyone’s imagination.
Now there is come to pass in our generation and in our time a whole host of liberal theologians. There are two great things about the Christian faith that the liberal denies, they deny universally: one, they deny the inspiration of the Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]; second, they deny the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25]. Those two things are universally denied by the modern liberal theologian. In 1892, there was a German rationalist, a teacher of theology in Germany, by the name of Adolf Harnack. And he said to his students, “I don’t believe in miracles. The virgin birth would be a miracle; therefore I don’t believe in the virgin birth.” And they took the supernatural out of the Bible. In 1926, Emil Brunner, one of the founders of neo-orthodoxy, said, “There is a wonder in Jesus, but the story of the virgin birth is nothing but a carnal attempt to explain where He came from.” And in about 1948, a Rudolf Bultmann demythologized the Bible, as the liberal world calls it. He said that the New Testament is full of myths, and the purpose of the myth was to explain the wonder of the character and personality of Jesus. But there’s no factual element in the story at all, it is mythological, just an attempt to explain the faith of the early Christians. And to my great surprise, so rampant and universal in Christendom is liberal theology, denying the virgin birth, that even modern Catholic theologians have been swept away in that tide of intellectual perversity and aberration; and there are great liberal Catholic theologians today that say that the story of the birth of our Lord, virgin born, is nothing but teaching stories, not grounded in fact, but just teaching stories for the early converts. These things are astounding and astonishing to us!
When we turn to the Word of God, there could be nothing more beautifully presented, nor nothing more actually inspired, than the glorious appearing of the great God and Savior Jesus Christ. “Without controversy great is the mystery of eusebeia, our worship, our faith” [1 Timothy 3:16]. In the first chapter of the Gospel of [Matthew], the New Testament starts off, “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, A virgin shall be with child . . . and they shall call His name Immanuel, God with us” [Matthew 1:22-23]. Or when I turn to the first chapter of the Book of Luke, and the girl says to the angel, “How could such a thing be, for I am not married? I know not a man. And the angel answered and said, The Holy Spirit 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 1:34-35].
From the beginning, the beginning of the beginning, and down through all of the centuries since, the heart of the Christian faith has been that our Lord Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16], and that He was born of a virgin [Matthew 1:20-25], conceived of the Holy Spirit of God [Matthew 1:20]. As far back as Christendom can search has been the Apostles’ Creed; doubtless its theme arose in the days of the apostles themselves. It has been repeated by the churches through the centuries. And I would not be adverse to our repeating it every time we gather together. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, our Lord, conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.”
In the Bible, there’s always that great messianic theme: that a Child is to be born, a Child, a Child, a Child! In Genesis chapter 3, verse 15, is the protevangelium, “And the Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head” [Genesis 3:15]; the mother and the Child, the Child, the Child! In the forty-ninth chapter of the Book of Genesis, “And thou 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 2 Samuel chapter 7, God said to David, “Thou shalt have a Son who 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, a Child! In the seventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah, verse 14, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23]. In the ninth chapter of Isaiah and verse 6, the passage we read together,
Behold, behold, a Child is born, 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, to establish it upon the throne of His father David forever. . .The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it [Isaiah 9:6-7], A Child, a Child, a Child!
In the fifth chapter of the prophet Micah and verse 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 the Ruler of My people Israel; whose goings forth are of old, even from everlasting” [Micah 5:2]. Not beginning there, but from the beginning of the creation, from all eons and eternity, a Child, a Child, a Child! The whole flow of the messianic stream has been just that: a Child is to be born, a Child is to be the great hope and promise and Savior of the world. “Without controversy, great is the mystery of our eusebeia, our worship” [1 Timothy 3:16]; the miracle of the birth of our Savior into the world.
And the whole earth at that time, the whole civilized world was great with expectancy of the coming of a Messiah, a Savior, a great Ruler out of the East. You can read that in Tacitus and Suetonius, two of the great early historians of the Latin language. And you can read it in the poetry of Virgil. One of the tremendous poets of all time is Virgil, the greatest Latin poet who ever lived. When Dante wrote his Divine Comedy, it was Virgil who accompanied him into the netherworld in that beautiful and sublime Italian poem. Virgil died 19 BC, about thirteen or fourteen years before the birth of Christ. I’m going to read out of the fourth Eclogue. I’m illustrating the fact that the whole world was aglow with the expectation of a Child that should be born a Messiah. In one translation this fourth Eclogue is called the messianic Eclogue. Listen to the words of Virgil, written about 19 BC:
Come, dear child, claim thine honors, for the time draws nigh;
Babe 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 eon dawns,
And from high heaven descends the firstborn child of promise
Smile softly on this babe, the age of iron in his time shall cease,
And gold and 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 herb shall die, and Syrian spikenard blow on every bank.
O, O 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, come, little child.
A Child, a Child, a Child! The great messianic stream of the Holy Word of God and the vast, eager, anticipating expectation of the whole civilized world; “And there came from the East, Zoroastrians, magi, Parsee priests, wise men, and said, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and are come to worship Him” [Matthew 2:1-2]. A Child, a Child, a Child!
What does this mean? “Without controversy, great is the mustērion of our eusebeia” [1 Timothy 3:16], without controversy, great is this secret that God kept in His heart until it came to pass, in prophecy, in the Babe of Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-25]; God manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16], seen, sung about by angels [Luke 2:13-14], and received up into glory [Acts 1:9-10], the wonder of our worship. Lew Wallace, in his incomparable novel Ben Hur, writes, “The shepherds cried to one another, Awake, Awake, the sky is on fire,” a Child, a Child, a Child. And through these ages and through these centuries, and through these now two thousand years, the faithful of the Lord have never wavered in their persuasion that this Child had His beginning in the days and in the eons before the creation was flung out into space. As one of the disciples began his Gospel,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. And the Word was made flesh . . . without controversy, great is the mystery of our eusebeia, our worship. . .
[1 Timothy 3:16]
. . . and the Word was made flesh, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full, full, full of grace and truth.
[John 1:1, 3, 14]
And in that faith, the Christian preacher, and missionary, and apostle, and evangelist, and pastor, and teacher, and proclaimer, and announcer, and herald, through all of the years, in that faith they have invited those to come and to bow down before this Savior who is God manifest in the flesh [Matthew 1:23; 1 Timothy 3:16]. One of the ancient, ancient, ancient hymns of the church goes like this:
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem
Come and adore Him,
“Without controversy, great is the mystery of our eusebeia” [1 Timothy 3:16].
Come and adore Him, born the King of angels.
O come let us adore Him, O come, come, come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.
[“Adeste Fideles,” John Francis Wade]
Conceived of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 1:20], born of the Virgin Mary [Luke 1:26-35], the Savior of the world [1 John 4:14]; the marvel of Jesus, the glory of the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25].
In a moment we shall stand and sing our hymn of appeal and invitation, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple, or just one somebody you, “Today, I give my heart to the Lord of the earth and the Savior of my soul.” As God Himself shall press the appeal upon your heart, make the decision now. If you’re in the topmost row of the topmost balcony, there’s time and to spare, come, come, come. Share with us the glory of God’s gift to the world [John 3:16] and to us, and rejoice in Christ our Savior. To give your heart to Him in faith, or to put your life in the fellowship of this dear church, make that decision now in your heart; and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand walking down one of these stairways, coming down one of these aisles. “Pastor, today, I made the decision, and here I am, here I come.” Do it now, make it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.