A Miracle in Bethlehem
December 25th, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
A MIRACLE IN BETHLEHEM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-25-77 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Miracle in Bethlehem. And we shall read our text in the first chapter of the Book of Luke, Matthew, Mark, Luke, the first chapter of the third Gospel, beginning at verse 26. Luke 1:26, "And in the sixth month," that is, after the announcement of the conception of John the Baptist to Zechariah, the priest, and to Elizabeth, his wife, who in their old age were promised a son by Gabriel. Six months after Gabriel was sent to announce the conception of John the Baptist, "the angel Gabriel," the same messenger of the Lord,
was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
To a virgin, to a virgin, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women.
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this was.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God.
Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name, in Hebrew Joshua, in Greek Iēsous, Jesus, in English, Savior, thou shalt call His name Savior.
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David.
He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.
Then Mary said unto the angel, How could such a thing be, for I am a virgin? I have never known a man, and 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: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
And not in all the Bible, and not in human literature, is there anything against which the wrath of the intellectual, theological liberal is so focused as on this story that I have just read. One of the most precious and beautiful, one of the most meaningful and significant, one that has theological overtones and repercussions that go to the foundation of the Christian faith, yet not any miracle in the Bible is so assailed as the one that I have just read. So constantly and so unwearyingly does the liberal theologian diatribe against the virgin birth.
There are two great theological facts, to me, two great theological truths, to me, that are universally rejected by, ridiculed and scorned by, the liberal theological world. Number one, the inspiration of the Scriptures; to them, this is a work of man. To us, it is the Word of God, but to the intellectual, theological, academic liberal, this is a work of man. And they scorn the idea of inerrancy and infallibility and inspiration.
The second miracle against which the theological liberal constantly inveighs is the birth of the Christ, conceived in the womb of a virgin. For example, Matthew Arnold – one of the great literary figures of England of this last century – Matthew Arnold wrote, quote, "I do not believe in the virgin birth, for that would imply miracle, and miracles do not happen." End quote. Once again, Professor Lucas, speaking for all rational critics, said, and I quote, "I think it’s a duty of truthfulness to state openly that the virgin birth arose out of fictitious tradition." These are just typical of the universal attitude of the liberal theological world toward the miracle of the birth of our Lord. But what they say somehow does not bring to my heart an explanation of something that I want to know. To me, the greatest fact in human existence is this: the fact of Jesus, the Christ.
How do you explain Him? He is the great unlike, the great unique, the great separate and apart. The biblical phrase is "the only begotten," the monogenēs. How do you explain the fact of Christ? Well, the same liberal who is therefore compelled to answer; he answers in two ways. One, worshiping at the shrine of pseudo-science, he feels compelled to explain all of the miracles of the Bible according to preconceived, sophisticated, infidel persuasions. So, he comes to this miracle and does the same thing. He explains it according to his idea of natural phenomenon.
That’s the way he does, for example, in the miracle of the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea. The story in the Bible says that Israel went over dry sod, and that the waters banked on either side, and that Pharaoh’s army, attempting to follow the Israelites, were drowned in the Red Sea. That’s what the Book says. But this theological liberal says, "It was not the Red Sea. It was the Reed Sea, and Israel splashed through it because it was something like ankle deep."
Or, that wonderful story of Elijah on Mount Carmel, calling Israel out of apostasy, back to the worship of the one true God. It had not rained for three and a half years, the Bible says. The earth was iron. The heavens were brass. And the fire that fell down from God’s heaven that burned up the sacrifice and the very altar itself, the theological liberal says that was just an accidental, adventitious strike of lightning, just happened to be out of the clear blue sky, just happened to be at that particular time and moment.
The marvelous resurrection of our Lord, they explained that psychologically. The resurrection of our Lord was a figment, it was an aberration of the confused, mythological preconceptions and hopes of the disciples. They saw nothing, but they thought they saw the living Lord. It was an hallucination, and the Christian faith is based upon the aberrated mind of these who are afflicted with hallucination. One of the most difficult psychological explanations I could ever think for. Here are men, and with the exception of the Apostle John, here are men who laid down their lives for a psychological aberration.
I could listen to those men a thousand lifetimes, and it would still seem strange to me. Yet, these are the men of academia. They purport and they present themselves as being the intelligentsia of not only the ecclesiastical and the theological world, they are the great untouchables of our university and seminary systems.
So, they come to this miracle, and they say, "Why, that is most explicable, most so. There is such a thing as parthenogenesis," they avow. There are certain algae and certain fungi and there are certain plant-life that self-fertilize with their spores. Their spores are capable of self-fertilization. That’s a phenomenon, and that’s one of the phenomenon that you have here. Well, it takes a long stretch of the imagination to liken Mary, the sweet, virgin, Jewish girl, to a plant life or an algae or a fungus.
Let’s take another one that I came across this last week. There is a godly man, a professor, who is writing, and this is what he said, "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."
This is the stuff that is universally taught in the liberal theological and academic world, universal. I do not know a theological academic liberal in the world that believes in the virgin birth, not one. There isn’t one, and these are their explanations. Then they add to that, they adduce, the similarity, to them, like stories of the miraculous births in the mythological world of the Greeks and the Romans. And they say, "This is just a pattern with the rest of it."
For example, Hercules; in mythology, Jove, the Latin Jupiter, the Greek Jove, fell in love with the wife of Alcmene. And Jove assumed the form of her husband, and the birth of the child was Hercules. Alexander the Great felt that he should have some explanation for his birth, so he said that a serpent cohabited with his mother and he was born. Augustus Caesar said that his mother, worshiping in the temple of Apollo, fell asleep, and the god became the father of him, Augustus Caesar, Caesar, the god. "Augustus" in Latin is a term for "god." But to me, any fair-minded man in this world could read those mythological stories and see that they are immoral, they are plainly fictitious, and above all, they have no theological repercussions whatsoever. You walk, you enter a different, a sublimely separate world, when you walk into the pages of the Word of God, and read these marvelous and wonderful miracles of the Lord that have such eternal repercussions and overtones. And this is one of them.
When I read this, immoral? It is holy and pure and godly. Fictitious? It is the foundation of the beginning of the wonderful and masterful life that I can read on the pages of this Holy Book. This is a work of the Holy Spirit of God, and the whole story from beginning to end is of one piece, of one fabric. Touch it. Handle it. Read it and see for yourself. So this initial work of the Spirit of the living God, the angel answered and said, "The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."
It is a work of the Holy Spirit, and it fits the initial introduction of our Lord Christ to this world, just as the last incident in His life fits that same pattern. Romans 1:4 says that the Lord Christ was raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit of holiness, by the Spirit of God. This at the beginning, this at the end. It is all one piece and belongs together and is beautifully and holily and worshipfully and fittingly appropriate. God is beginning a new work. God is intervening in human story. God does that apocalyptically again and again and again.
The whole story of our created universe and our generation is just like that, God intervening. He did so in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. He created the world, it says, and the heavens, it says. And, it says, the world was chaotic. It was dark. It was void. It was sterile. And the Spirit of God brooded over the face of the deep, and out of it God brought life and light. So it is the same Spirit of God here, brooding over, overshadowing that virgin girl, and out of it He brought life and light.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.
And in Him . . . was the light of men.
And the light shined in darkness; and the darkness overwhelmed it not.
This is an intervention of God in human history. And it so avows, "He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give 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." This is an intervention of God in human story. God does that again and again and again. It is repeated. God did it in the days of Noah. He intervened. God did it the days of Abraham, when the whole world was in idolatry. He intervened. God did it in the days of Elijah, when all Israel had sunk into abysmal apostasy under Ahab and Jezebel. God did it then. God did it in the days of the John the Baptist. God intervened. God shall do it again at the great consummation of the age, when the Lord shall appear with ten thousands of His saints. It’s an intervention of God, and God did it here.
Now, all of us realize that ultimately and finally, this is a mystery that lies beyond the veil of human comprehension or understanding or analysis. Mystery, the sign of the presence of God, the signature of the Almighty, mystery, miracle. Do you remember that verse in 1 Timothy 3:16? "Without controversy great is the mystery of eusebeia, God manifest in the flesh." Do you remember that verse? What does that word eusebeia mean? In this King James Version out of which I always preach, it is translated godliness. "Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh." The Greek word, the verbal form, is eusebeō, and that’s the word for worship, piety before God, humility before God, worship before God, the prostrating of one’s soul before God, eusebeō, "to worship God." Now, the substantive form is eusebeia, "Great is the mystery of eusebeia." Now, let me translate it, which I think is exactly what it is, "Great is the mystery of true worship." Great is the mystery of true religion, of the true faith, namely, "God was manifest in the flesh."
Like all the things of God, they are mystery. They are miracle. If it is of God, it is inexplicable. All we do ever in our lives, and that includes all of academia; it includes all of research; it includes all of science; all we ever do, all we are capable of doing, is just observing. We don’t explain anything, anytime, anywhere, anyhow! We just observe the miraculous, marvelous, mysterious workings of the great Almighty God.
For example, we’re in the wintertime. That means the sun is way out there. So around that, that means the earth is way out there. That means that around this central sun, this planet earth swings ninety-three million miles that way. Well, why doesn’t it just keep on going into infinity? There is an invisible hand that reaches there and pulls it back, and it swings ninety-three million miles this way. Why doesn’t it again find itself speeding out into infinity? There is an invisible hand that pulls it back.
Now, the astronomer looks at that, and he says that is gravity. That’s just a word. He doesn’t know what that is. That’s gravity. That’s God! That’s the mystery of the Almighty! So all of these planets in their orbits, according to the infallible, infinite Word of Almighty God, without a second variation, for the untold ages, have they swung in their preordained orbits. You just look at it. You can’t explain it. That’s God.
I go walking down the street where I live. Each morning, I try to go walking, and I look at the trees, so denuded and so barren and these plants defoliated. One of the beautiful homes on the street, the plants are covered over with plastic to keep them from freezing. And I walk along the street, and I look at those barren trees and I look at those defoliated plants, and one of these days, say in April, I’ll be walking down that same street, and the trees begin to bud, and those plants begin to flower, and I say to myself, "Who told those trees it was time to bud? And who told those plants it was time to foliate and to flower?" God did it! There’s no explanation in this world except God. God did it. It’s a miracle of the Almighty. We don’t explain it. We just look at it and observe it. It’s a sign; it’s a signature, of the presence of the Almighty God.
And when I pick up that Book and I read these wonderful things of the hands of the Lord, it is the same Almighty signing His name "mystery, miracle," the glory of the working of the Lord. And this is part of it.
There are those, as you would know, who would seek to take it out of the Bible. You can’t do it. In every manuscript, in every version, in every copy of that Holy Book from the beginning, in every instance it is woven into the very warp and woof of the Holy Scriptures. It’s part of it. Matthew always talking of the virgin birth from the attitude of Joseph; and Luke always talking of the virgin birth from the viewpoint of Mary, a beloved physician talking from the mother’s point of view, and always there, and a part congruent with the rest of the pages that I read.
I open the Book and here is His initial birth, His initial presentation, conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. Then I turn the page and the page. It is congruent, marvelous as it is; it is congruent with the wonderful and miraculous life, the blessed Lord Jesus, the miraculous life of the blessed Jesus, the wonder of His words, the marvel and glory of His works. It’s all in the same pattern.
Then I turn the page of the Bible, and I come to His glorious resurrection, raised by the Holy Spirit of God, a marvel of the work of God. And then I turn the page, and I come to His ascension into heaven, the same marvelous hand of God. And a cloud, that’s the shekinah glory of God. When Isaiah saw Him high and lifted up, a cloud filled the holy temple, the sanctuary, the shekinah of God. As He arose, the shekinah of God received Him out of their sight. And as I turn the page and turn the page, that same shekinah glory of God shall clothe, shall enwrap, shall be underfoot of the Son of God when He comes down from heaven above.
It’s all of a piece. It is the same, whether it be born of a virgin, whether it be raised from the dead, whether it be ascended into glory or whether it be coming back from the skies of heaven. It’s the same. That’s God, and that’s the signature of the Almighty.
May I close, pointing out two marvelous, mysterious, inexplicable, biological miracles, two biological miracles wrought by the hand of God? The first is in the first Adam. God made him out of the dust of the ground, formed him, created him out of the dust of the ground. And God breathed into him the miracle of mitosis, the mystery of mitosis, the division of cells, each one of them with the same number of chromosomes in each one. In you, in you, in each one of you, there are not millions, there are not billions, there are trillions of infinitesimal cells. And in every one of those somatic cells, those body cells, there is, and sure enough, it never fails.
If I say there are forty-eight chromosomes, there’ll be a student come to me and say, "Pastor, there are forty-six." If I say forty-six, after the service there’ll come up to me one of these students and say, "Pastor, there are forty-eight." And so this morning I said forty-eight, and sure enough, after the service was over, a university student came up to me and said, "Pastor, there are forty-six." So this morning at this hour, I’m going to say forty-six. And then after it’s over, there’ll be a university student come up to me and say, "Pastor, there are forty-eight."
In every cell of all of humanity, there are that same number of chromosomes, every one of them. There are forty-six. Then, in the reproductive cells, the mystery of God, in the ovum of the female, there are twenty-three, and in the spermatozoan of the male, there are twenty-three. And when they come together in conception, there are again forty-six, half from the father and half from the mother. It is a miracle. It is a mystery. It is the signature of God. That is the Almighty! That’s the first biological miracle.
The second biological miracle is the one that I have just read in the birth of our Lord from the mother, a humanity, and from the Holy Spirit, deity. And the holy thing that was born of that virgin Mary is called the God-man, the Son of God, and never did hyphen mean so much. He is two in one: God, as though He were only God; man, as though He were only man. A man and yet deity. Deity and yet man. The Word of God made flesh. It is a biological miracle. And all through His life you will see that same duality in the life of our Lord, all the way through. Listen.
Our blessed Lord combined in one,
Two natures, both complete;
A perfect manhood all sublime,
In Godhead, all replete.
As man, He entered Cana’s feast,
A humble guest to dine;
As God, He moved the water there
And changed it into wine.
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.
As man, He wept in heart-felt grief,
Beside a loved one’s grave;
As God, He burst the bands of death,
Almighty still to save.
As man, He lay within a boat,
O’er powered 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 of God, O Word made flesh,
May Thy high praise increase.
Called Wonderful, the Mighty God,
The Eternal Prince of Peace.
That’s God. That’s the hand of the Lord. That’s the mustērion of the Almighty. Wherever you see the hand of God, there will you find the signature: mystery, miracle. And wherever is the presence of the Lord, there will you find that same insignia: mystery, miracle. "Without controversy great is the mystery of eusebeia, worship, true faith, true religion, God manifest in the flesh." That’s where we belong, in His presence, down on our knees. Oh, come; let us adore Him, joyful and triumphant. Oh, come, and welcome.
And that’s our invitation to your heart today, to love the blessed Jesus, to worship our great God and Savior, to bow down in the presence of our Lord. To give your heart and home and family to the wonderful Savior. To rear your children in the love and nurture of the Savior, as God shall press the appeal to your heart would you make it now? "I have decided for God and I am on the way pastor." Down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, "Here I am preacher I am coming. I am bringing my wife the two of us are coming. We are bringing our children all of us are coming." Or just one somebody you. Make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we stand to sing, stand coming down that aisle. "Here I am pastor I have decided for God and I am coming." On the first note of the first stanza, do it now make it now, while we stand, and while we sing.