A Miracle In Bethlehem
December 25th, 1977 @ 8:15 AM
A MIRACLE IN BETHLEHEM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-25-77 8:15 a.m.
his is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled A Miracle in Bethlehem. Our reading will be in the first chapter of Luke, beginning at verse 26. Luke chapter 1, verse 26, “And in the sixth month” [Luke 1:26], that is six months after the announcement of the conception of John the Baptist, six months after the angel Gabriel announced the coming birth to Zechariah and to Elizabeth, the same angel Gabriel
…was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was
Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name
And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that
art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying . . .
But the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast
found favor with God.
Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring
forth a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus, Joshua, Savior.
He shall be great. He shall be called the Son of the
Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne
of His father David:
And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and
of His kingdom there shall be no end.
Then Mary said unto the angel, How could such a
thing be, because I am a virgin, seeing 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 Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall
be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
And against such a miracle is the wrath of the liberal, intellectual, academic world unanimously and constantly focused. There is not a liberal in the world that believes the story I have just read—not one. There are two things against which the liberal mind is everlastingly devoted in rejection, in ridicule: one, the infallibility of the Scriptures, the inspiration of the Word of God [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]; to them, it is a man-made book. It is not a God-made Book. It is a man-made book, and, as such, has all the errors and foibles and mistakes of human hand. Now that’s the first, and the second is the miraculous, virgin conception of the Lord Jesus [Luke 1:26-35].
For example, Matthew Arnold—and there is not a youngster that goes to school but that has been introduced to this great literary and intellectual figure of England. Matthew Arnold said, quote, “I do not believe in the virgin birth, for that would imply miracles. And miracles do not happen,” end quote. Then, Professor Loofs, speaking for all rational critics said, quote, “I think it the duty of truthfulness to state openly that the virgin birth arose out of fictitious tradition.” That is a unanimous opinion of the rational critic.
But there is a great fact to be accounted for. I think—this is just my personal opinion—but I think the greatest and most stupendous fact in human story [is], namely, the fact of Jesus the Christ. How do you account for Christ Jesus, the greatest fact in human history?
Well, those who worship at the shrine of pseudoscience feel compelled to take all of the miracles of the Holy Scriptures and to explain them, and to make them conform to the latest sophisticated infidelity, and they give themselves to that constantly. For example, to them, it is no longer the Red Sea, and the waters piled high on either side, and the Israelites going through dry-shod, then the Egyptians pursuing them are drowned in the waters [Exodus 14:21-31]. It is no longer that. To these sophisticated infidels, my word for them—theologians, to them—it is the Reed Sea, and the Israelites splashed through, walked through the Reed Sea. Or, while Elijah is praying on top of Mt. Carmel [1 Kings 18:1, 36-39], even though it has not rained in three and a half years [James 5:17-18], and even though there’s not a cloud in the sky, even though the heavens are brass and the earth is iron, yet they explain that marvelous fire that came down from God’s heaven [1 Kings 18:24, 38], as being a bolt of lightning, natural phenomenon; it just happened to lightning, it just happened to strike at that particular time.
Or the wonder of the resurrection of our Lord [Matthew 28:1-7]—they explain that psychologically: it was mental hallucination, and the faith of the Christian world is based upon the aberrations of the perverted minds of those disciples who said they saw the Lord. It staggers the imagination! So this marvelous miracle of the birth of our Lord; they seek to explain it in natural phenomena. Some of them will say, for example, “There is such a thing in the natural world as parthenogenesis, self-fertilization. Certain algae and certain fungi and certain plant life are self-fertilized in their spores,” and they liken this virgin girl, Mary, to plant life and algae and fungi. They stagger me!
Let me read to you one that I came across this last week. Here is a godly professor who is writing, and I quote, “After I had read a paper on the virgin birth at a theological society meeting, a university professor stood to offer his peculiar defense of the doctrine. He said that female rabbits have been known to be shocked into conception without the male, and that Mary might well have conceived through the shock caused by the angelic announcement.”
You’re just as I. These things amaze you! But they are done in the name of academia, of intellectual, sophisticated research, and it is universal; it isn’t peculiar or strange. There’s not a liberal theologian in the world but that follows some kind of a peculiar explanation like that.
There will be those who fortify their positions by adducing so called miraculous births in Greek and Roman mythology. That’s as common as the other. They say, “This is just a piece and a pattern of that ancient world.” If you had a great man, why, he had to be miraculously born. Well, there’s not a child but that is acquainted with Greek mythology, and you find those miraculous births in Greek mythology. Hercules is supposed to have been born when Jove—Jupiter, the head god—when Jove assumed the likeness of the husband of Alcmene and committed adultery with her, and she became the mother of Hercules: that’s his birth. Alexander the Great said that a serpent cohabited with his mother, and he was born. Augustus Caesar said that his mother went into the temple of Apollo and fell asleep, and while she was asleep, the god cohabited with her, and Augustus was born. But there’s no right-minded, fair-thinking individual in this world who could read those mythological stories and not see that they are manifestly, ridiculously, fictitious. They are immoral, and they have no theological meaning. They are cheap stories.
When I come to the story of the birth of Christ, I move into an altogether different world. This is highly spiritual. It is deeply beautiful and moving, and it has everlasting theological repercussion.
What is it then that has happened in Bethlehem?
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 that
shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
First, this is manifestly and plainly a work of the Holy Spirit of God, just as the end of His life is found in the resurrection [Luke 24:1-8]. And Romans 1:4 avows that He was raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit of holiness; the Holy Spirit of God raised Him from the dead, so this initial beginning event in His life is a work of the same Holy Spirit of God. He is born, He is conceived by the Holy Spirit coming upon the virgin Mary [Luke 1:35].
You see, this is how God intervenes in human history—not just one time, but again, and again, and again. It starts off like that, the whole story. Genesis 1:1 says, “God created the heavens and the earth,” and the second verse avows that the earth—being dark and void and chaotic, waste—the Holy Spirit of God brooded, hovered over the face of the deep [Genesis 1:2]. That’s God.
And the Lord in the Holy Scriptures say that the same Holy Spirit is hovering, overshadowing, in another initial and tremendous departure—a new creation! [2 Corinthians 5:17] That intervention of God in human story is repeated again and again and again. The Lord did it in the days of Noah; He intervened [Genesis 6:6-8, 17; 7:17-24]. God did it in the days of Abraham; He intervened [Genesis 18:1]. God did it in the days of Elijah; He intervened [James 5:17]. God does it here, in the days of John the Baptist; He intervenes. And God is not done. God shall do it at the great consummation of the age and the establishment of this millennial kingdom; He intervenes! And that same apocalyptic intervention of God is seen here in the story of the birth of our Lord [Luke 1:26-35].
Now, as we bow before this beautiful and meaningful story [Luke 1:26-35], here again we find what has happened in the birth of our Lord. It is of one piece. It is of the same kind of all of that unfathomable and unsearchable mystery of God that lies beyond the veil of human understanding or analysis.
Do you remember that verse in 1 Timothy 3:16? “Without controversy great is the mystery of eusebeia: God was manifest in the flesh.” What is that? Eusebeia, translated in the King James version “godliness”: “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness,” eusebeia.
Well, let me translate it in another way: eusebeiō is the word “to worship,” eusebeiō so eusebeiō would be “worship, true religion, the true faith.” So let me translate it that way: “Without controversy great is the mystery of the true faith”—of the true religion, of true worship, namely, “God was manifest in the flesh” [1 Timothy 3:16]. It is beyond our comprehension.
And that is one with God everywhere! If it is of God, it is miraculous and inexplicable. If it is of God, all that a man can do is just look, and describe, and observe; but he cannot explain—never, ever! The signature of God is miracle, and the sign of God’s presence is always and everlastingly miraculous! We don’t have the five hours or the lifetime to expatiate, but just look, just for example. [I’m] thinking of the wintertime: around this central sun, our earth in orbit ninety-two million miles that way—then why doesn’t it continue on? Ninety-two million miles that way; there’s an invisible hand that seizes this planet and pulls it back around to ninety-two million miles that way. Then why doesn’t it continue on out into space, infinitude? There is an invisible hand that seizes it and pulls it back, and so the orbit of this earth around that central sun.
How do you explain that invisible hand? Well, let’s give it a name. Let’s call it “gravity.” But what is gravity? That’s just a name for that miraculous, invisible hand that keeps these planets in all of their orbits! That’s God! That’s God, and if it’s God, it’s miraculous.
Or, all of these flowers—I have made it a habit of walking in the morning, and as I walk up and down the street where I live, the trees are defoliated, and in one of the yards I noticed they have plastic covering over their precious azaleas. And it is wintertime. It is denuded. It is barren. The grass is dead, and all the leaves are gone, but did you know, come April, all of those trees will bud and all of those plants will flower? Who told those trees to bud? What unseen language do they understand? And who shows those little plants how to bloom and to flower? That’s God. That’s the Lord. And the whole creation is like that, all of it. If it’s God, it’s miraculous.
Or when I pick up God’s Book and I read this miraculous story of the birth of our Lord [Luke 2:10-16], then I turn the page, it’s congruous. It’s no different from the wonderful life of the Savior that I read in the chapters following. And then I come to the end of the Gospel, and it also is of the same hue and color and kind. It is miraculous! He is raised from the dead [Luke 24:5-7], and then I turn the page, and He is ascending into heaven [Luke 24:51], and a cloud, the shekinah of God, receives Him out of their sight [Acts 1:9-10]. And I turn the page of the Book; and lo, He is coming in that same shekinah glory of God [Acts 1:11]. It is all alike! It is miraculous. It is of God!
May I point out two great biological miracles? Number one: when God created Adam out of the dust of the ground [Genesis 2:7], He also created the first biological miracle; namely, the miracle of mitosis. In all of the somatic, in all of the body cells, and in each one of you, there are not millions, there are not billions, there are trillions of little somatic body cells that make up your physical frame. Every one of those cells has in it a set number of chromosomes—every one of them, every one of them.
If I say they are forty-six in number, there will be one of these students come up to me after the service and say, “Pastor, did you know there are forty-eight?” If I say there are forty-eight, there will be a student come up to me after this and say, “Pastor, did you know there are forty-six?” So we won’t say how many, but in every cell, there is a set number of chromosomes. There is, in every species of life, a set number, every one; and it is in us, every one.
And then the miracle of mitosis: when those cells divide—half for this, half for that—all of them have that same number of chromosomes. Then these reproductive cells: in the ovum there is half the number, and in the spermatozoa there is half the number. If there are forty-[six], there are twenty-[three] in the female ovum, and there are twenty-[three] in the male spermatozoa, and when they come together in conception, you have the forty-[six] again. And that miracle of God, a miracle of God, is seen through the passing of the unending generations. That’s the first biological miracle.
The second biological miracle I have just read out of God’s Holy Word: the Lord intervened in that long chain of generations, and God did the half and the half of His conception from nature and from the supernatural! And the holy thing that was born of this virgin is called the Son of God [Luke 1:31-35]; God-hyphen-man, man-hyphen-God, from heaven and from earth, from God and from Mary—both, both. And that duality in the nature of our Lord is seen throughout His life. It never varies.
Our blessed Lord combined in one,
Two natures, both complete:
A 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, 43-44]
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 God’s eternal Son.
O Child, O Son, O Word made flesh,
May Thy high praise increase:
Called Wonderful, the Mighty God,
The Eternal Prince of Peace.
[“The Man Christ Jesus,” author Unknown, 1914]
That’s our Lord Jesus: God, God in the flesh, God-Man [1 Timothy 3:16], and did ever hyphen mean so much; the miracle of Bethlehem, a work at the hands of the Lord. Sweet people, there’s no time in the world to praise God like Christmastime. Two times in the year above all others is it a marvelous time to sing the praises of God: Christmastime and Eastertime; both the heavenly works of the Holy Spirit of heaven [Luke 1:8-16, 24:1-8].
And no more precious time to give your heart in faith to the Son of God than now [Romans 10:9-13; Ephesians 2:8-9]. In a moment, when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal: “Pastor, I have decided in my heart for God, and I’m coming forward. This is a day of glad confession and acknowledgment from my soul. I feel God’s presence, and I’m coming.”
To put your life with us in the church, welcome; to dedicate your home and family to the Lord, welcome; as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now, come now, on the first note of the first stanza, and God be with you as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.