The Miracle of God’s Incarnation
April 26th, 1981 @ 10:50 AM
MIRACLE OF GOD’S INCARNATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-26-81 10:50 a.m.
During these months and years, I have accepted the assignment of preaching the “Great Doctrines of the Bible.” They will be published in books. I imagine it will be a series of about ten books, ten volumes.
And we are in the series now on Christology, the doctrine of Christ. And in that series, we are speaking of the entrance of our Lord into human flesh; then the entrance of our Lord into suffering, next Sunday; then the entrance of our Lord into death, into the grave; then the entrance of our Lord into resurrected life; and then the entrance of our Lord into heaven; and the entrance of our Lord beyond the veil as our great Mediator and High Priest. Now in keeping with the theme, the doctrinal subject, the entrance of our Lord into human life, the title of the message today is The Miracle of the Incarnation of God, God manifest, revealing Himself in human flesh.
In the first chapter of the Book of Luke, we are told that the angel Gabriel was sent to a virgin girl in Nazareth by the name of Mary [Luke 1:26-30]. And in the thirty-first verse, he announces to her that, “Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and call His name the Savior”—in Hebrew: Yeshua; in Greek: Iēsous, in our language, Jesus. The word means “savior,” “Jehovah saves,”—Jesus [Luke 1:31].
“He shall be great, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end” [Luke 1:32-33].
This is a battleground from the beginning. I mean literally, from the beginning of the announcement and the preaching of the Christian faith, has that been interdicted and denied, abused, immoralized. There hasn’t been anything evil and vicious that could be said about that that hasn’t been said.
I have said that that’s been true from the beginning. There is a possible repercussion, an overtone of that violent interdiction in John chapter 8, verse : “They said unto Him, ‘Where is Thy Father?” [John 8:19].
And even in the days of the sainted apostle John, in Ephesus, where John was pastor in his old age, there was a Gnostic by the name of Cerinthus—Cerinthian Gnosticism. If we had an hour or two, we’d talk about that first Christian heresy, Gnosticism.
Well, this Cerinthus taught that Jesus was born by natural generation from Joseph and Mary and that the aeon, the imitation, the representative from heaven, came upon Him at His baptism [Matthew 3:13-17] and left Him at His cross, at His crucifixion [Matthew 27:32-50].
But he began with a denial of the incarnation, a denial of the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-23]. In the Talmud—the Talmud is the oral tradition written down; in the days of Jesus it was oral, called the tradition of the elders. In the Talmud, there are the stories of the immoral illegitimacy that characterized the birth of Christ. In those stories there was a Roman officer by the name of Pantera, and he lived illegitimately with a girl, a Jewess named Mary, in Nazareth. And out of that illegitimate union was born the illegitimate child called Jesus.
Now those stories of illegitimacy have continued through all of the years and the centuries. Celsus, in the second century, who was a brilliant and able antagonist—Celsus repeated them. Voltaire, the French infidel and tremendously gifted literary figure and philosopher, repeated those same Talmudic slurs in the eighteenth century. And in this last century, Tolstoy, the incomparable Russian author and novelist, repeated them also. Through all the years, those stories have been said again and again.
Now in our day and in our time, there are two tremendous foci of battle, of confrontation. Number one is the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. That battle rages world without end. It does right now. In every denomination and in our own Southern Baptist denomination, whether or not this Book is the Word of God, or whether it’s written by men as they tried to interpret the meaning of God.
Is it the infallible revelation of God, or is it a man’s attempt to write what he thinks God is? That’s the first focus of war in the theological world, is the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.
The second one is the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-38, 2:7-16]. Bitterly and continually, the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ is attacked by the critics of the Bible.
Matthew Arnold, one of the tremendous literary figures of England, said, “I do not believe in the virgin birth. That would imply miracle, and I do not believe in miracles. Miracles do not happen.”
And there is a rationalistic higher critic named Loofs, and he wrote, quote, “I think it the duty of truthfulness to state openly that the virgin birth arose out of fabulous fictitious tradition. There is no truth in it.”
Well, that’s very fine for a man to say. “I don’t believe it. I think it’s fictitious. I don’t believe in the inspiration of the Bible. And I don’t believe it’s the infallible Word of God. And these stories that we read in the Bible are just manufactured out of somebody’s wild illimitable, ungovernable imagination.” That’s fine. That’s fine.
But, what are you going to do about explaining some of the great facts of human life and human history? And this is one: the greatest single fact that I know in human history is the fact of Jesus Christ.
I don’t know another fact comparable to it. I think you can explain the life of Alexander the Great, of Julius Caesar, of Napoleon Bonaparte. I think you can explain the genius of Shakespeare or Homer or Dante. I think you can understand the scientific prowess that lies back of a Charles Steinmetz or an Albert Einstein.
I think they are in human categories and belong to human denominators. But I don’t know how any man, anywhere, in any age is able to explain the unique towering personality of Jesus the Christ. How do you do it? There is something about Him that is the great unlike.
There is a rationalist by the name of Schmidt, and this is what he wrote: “Jesus is inexplicable psychologically, causally, or by evolutionary development. Something derived creatively from God is necessary to explain the life and consciousness of Jesus.”
To compare the greatest men of the earth, like an Alexander or Caesar or Shakespeare, with Jesus is like comparing a grain of dust to the whole universe, like comparing a molehill to Mt. Everest in the Himalayas.
I repeat: I don’t think there is a fact in human history like the fact of Jesus Christ—none like Him. Well, you have to say something. You have to try to explain. So these are some of the explanations.
Where did He come from? There are those who worship at the shrine of pseudoscience. To them, they seek to find some natural, phenomenal explanation for all of the so-called miracles in the Bible, and they do it sometimes ingenuously. Here’s one: the Bible describes the marvelous miracle of the deliverance of the children of Israel at the Red Sea: and they went through with the waters piled up on either side of them, then when Pharaoh’s army tried to follow after, God let the waters go back again, and it drowned Pharaoh’s army. That’s what the Bible says [Exodus 14:21-30].
But these critics say—these scientists so-called, they say that wasn’t the Red Sea, that was the Reed Sea, the Reed Sea, and the water was about three inches deep. It didn’t even come up to the ankles. And the children of Israel just walked through. That’s just great except when it comes to drowning Pharaoh’s army in three inches of water! [Exodus 14:26-28].
All right, let’s take another—these higher critics explaining the Bible without its supernatural miraculous element. They say that story about Elijah on Mount Carmel, when he prayed and the fire came down [1 Kings 18:24, 36-38]—they say that was just a bolt of lightning that happened to fall and consume the sacrifice at that particular moment, just an ordinary phenomenon.
Or the resurrection of Christ [Matthew 28:1-7]: they said, “That that is a mental aberration. That is nothing but hallucination. They thought they saw Jesus raised from among the dead.”
Well, that same type of mind that seeks some kind of natural phenomenal explanation for the miracles in the Bible also explains away the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-23; Luke 1:26-38, 2:1-16]. Those people say that there is a thing called parthenogenesis, that is, there are fungi and algae and plant lice that self-fertilize from spores. They don’t need male and female. They just fertilize in self-fertilization in spores. And then they say that was Mary; she just self-fertilized, like a plant lice, like a fungus, like an algae.
Let’s take another one: at a theological society gathering, a teacher had read a paper discussing the virgin birth, and a professor in the university stood up and offered a scientific explanation for the phenomenon of Mary giving birth to the child. He said that female rabbits have been known to be shocked into conception without a male, and that Mary may well have been shocked into conception by the startling appearance and announcement of the angel Gabriel [Luke 1:26-38].
Now brother, that deserves a reward of some kind! Those things are unimaginable to me—to place Mary in the category of a plant lice or an algae or a fungus or a shocked rabbit. It’s beyond me.
Well, you have to say something, so some of them say that’s not a part of the Bible. But wherever there is a manuscript of the Bible, that’s in it. As far back as these ancient autographs can be traced, in every version, this is woven into the part of the Bible that we call the Word of God.
And of course, there are others who adduce examples that they say, [speak] of marvelous and wondrous and phenomenal births in the Greek and Roman mythologies. And they say this is just another one of those mythological stories about somebody who’s supposed to be great.
Alexander the Great, for example, no longer is the son of Philip of Macedon, but there was a serpent who cohabited with his mother, and Alexander was born. That’s the story.
Or Augustus Caesar: the mother went to sleep in the temple of Apollo, and Apollo transferred himself into a serpent—I don’t know why they like those serpents—transferred, transformed himself into a serpent, and Augustus Octavius Caesar was born. That’s the story of Octavius Caesar, Augustus Caesar.
Or the story of Hercules: Alcmene is the daughter of the king of Mycenae. And while her husband was away, Jupiter (Jove) transformed himself into the likeness of her husband, and Hercules was born.
And when Juno, the wife of Jupiter (Jove), heard of it and looked upon it, she sent two enormous pythons to destroy the baby. And the baby Hercules seized one python with one hand and the other python with his other hand, and he strangled them to death. That’s the story of the birth of Hercules.
Or the mythological story of life and birth of Achilles: Peleus is the king of Thessaly, and he cohabits with Thetis, who is a sea nymph; and out of that union was born Achilles. And Thetis took Achilles and dipped him in the River Styx to make him immortal, but she held him by his heels, and he was vulnerable in his heels—in “Achilles’ heels.” And in the Trojan War, Paris of Troy took a poisoned arrow and shot him in the heel, and Achilles was slain.
Or a tradition outside of Greek-Roman mythology: Gautama of the Buddha. For two or three hundred years after Gautama, there were no stories about his birth. Then they began to circulate miracle stories of how he came into the world. And it was this: his mother had a dream, and she saw an enormous elephant with six tusks. And the great elephant forced himself into the side of the mother, and Gautama, later called the “enlightened one,” the Buddha, was born.
There are two observations to be made out of all of that. Number one is this: those stories are plainly and flagrantly and manifestly manufactured. They are fictitious. That’s the first observation to be made about them.
And the second observation to be made about them is this: not one of them has to do with a virgin birth, not one. And they have no theological meaning, none at all. We are back where we started from.
How do you explain the incomparable and towering character and personality of Jesus Christ? Where did He come from?
We have a certain and a reasonable and a God-honored answer. Number one: He is a fashioning, a making, a creation of the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit fashioned His body for the incarnate Savior of the world. God did it.
In this marvelous passage in the Gospel of Luke that we read, the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “The Holy Ghost 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 God—the Son of God” [Luke 1:35].
It is a work of the Holy Spirit. It’s a remarkable thing: at the beginning of the life of our Lord, there is the creative work, the fashioning work of the Holy Spirit of God. And at the end of His life, His resurrection, in Romans 1:4, is described as a work of the Holy Spirit of God.
And the whole story is of a piece. The Spirit of God created the body in the womb of Mary [Luke 1:35], and the Holy Spirit of God raised that body from the dead [Romans 1:4]. And as I read the story, there is no incongruity when I pass from the story of His marvelous birth into the story of His incomparable ministry. He who could raise the dead [John 11:43-44]—the touch of His hand could open the eyes of the blind [Matthew 9:27-30], who spoke words that no man ever heard before [John 7:46], words we read on these sacred pages, and finally, who was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:5-6; Romans 1:4]. It’s all one story, and it fits like a beautiful and perfect mosaic.
Number two: not only is the fashioning of that body the work of the Holy Spirit for God incarnate our Savior [Luke 1:35], but it represents an intervention of God in human history. From time to time, and from the beginning to the consummation of the age, God miraculously and marvelously intervenes in the life of man.
The whole story starts off like that. The Spirit of God brooded over the face of the chaotic world and brought light out of darkness, and form out of chaos, and life out of death, and glory out of gloom and despair [Genesis 1:1-2]. That’s the intervention of God in human history.
In the days of universal wickedness, Noah found grace in the sight of the Lord [Genesis 6:8]. And God intervened and spared him when He judged the world [Genesis 7:1-23].
In the days of universal idolatry, God called out Abraham to found a new people and a new nation [Genesis 12:1-7]. In the days of universal apostasy, God raised up Elijah to be the champion of Jehovah [1 Kings 17– 2 Kings 2].
And in the days of the beginning of a new dispensation of grace, God raised up John the Baptist to announce the coming of the great messianic King [Matthew 3:1-12; John 1:29-36].
And there is one other great intervention of God in human history for which we wait. At the denouement of the age, at the consummation of the time, Jesus will come to this earth visibly, gloriously, personally, bodily. And every eye shall see Him as He descends on the clouds of the shekinah glory of God [Revelation 1:7]—the intervention of God in human history; and this is one of them.
Of all of those marvelous comings-down of the Lord, when He revealed Himself among men, this is one, when God came down and became one of us, numbered with us, living our life, crying our tears, knowing our sorrows, bearing our sicknesses, dying our death [Romans 5:6-8], and the promise someday of our resurrection in Him [Romans 8:11]—this is that: an intervention of God in human history.
Number three: what is this marvelous thing that we call the virgin birth? [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-38, 2:1-16] It is the acceptance on the part of God Almighty of a body to be offered in sacrifice for our sins [Hebrews 10:5-14]. I spent six months one time, preaching morning and night—it would be a year if I were doing such as I do now—on one chapter in the Book of Hebrews. If we had days and months, I would like to expound again the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews.
There the author avows that the blood of bulls and goats could never wash our sins away. He says that the fact that they are offered again and again just reminds us of our iniquities. They do not avail. They’re not efficacious to wash the stain of transgression out of our souls. Therefore, they are repeated again and again and again [Hebrews 10:1-4].
But at the end of the age, up there in heaven, there was a volunteer who offered to give His life for our iniquities that we might be saved from the judgment of our sins. And a body was prepared for Him, the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews says: “A body hast Thou prepared for Me” [Hebrews 10:5]—in order that God might make an atoning sacrifice for our sins. A spirit could never do it. It had to have a body to make expiation for our sins [1 Peter 2:24]. And that body was framed by the Holy Spirit of God in the womb of the virgin Mary, and God lived in that body [Luke 1:30-35]. He was incarnate in the framing of that physical shape and form like a man.
And He died once for all on the tree and there is no more an offering for sin [Hebrews 9:28]. When the Lord died, on every high hill in this earth, there were altars and the smoke of sacrificial fire ascending up to God. If there is an altar on any hill in this world, I do not know it. He came to make a sacrifice for our sins, once for all [Hebrews 10:5-14]. And in Him, we have redemption, and expiation, and propitiation, and forgiveness, and cleansing [Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 2:2], and all that God has in store for those who are washed clean and white in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 1:5, 7:14].
That’s the gospel, and that’s what this is—a body prepared for God in which He made sacrifice, atonement for our sins [Hebrews 10:10-14; Luke 1:35].
Last: what this is, is the second of the great biological miracles of the hand of Almighty God. They are two in number. The first is seen in the creation of the first Adam with the miracle of mitosis, cell division [Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7]. In every human body, there are billions—and now we’ve learned there are trillions—of human cells. And each one of those cells has in it forty-six chromosomes, little threads to which are attached the genetic genes of heredity and life, forty-six.
And when God made Adam, a biological miracle, in the generations that followed after, the miracle of mitosis, cell division—each one with forty-six chromosomes, each chromosome splitting right down the middle. And forty-six on this side and forty-six on that side, and the cellular wall dividing down the middle, and so the body grows. That is, except in the female ovum, God puts twenty-three of those chromosomes. And in the male spermatozoon, God puts twenty-three of those chromosomes. And when they come together in conception, there are forty-six again, a miracle of God—the first great biological miracle of God, the miracle of mitosis, cell division, conception, the creation of human life.
They’re having Senate hearings now: “When does human life begin?” Why, the answer to that is as plain as one plus one equal two, or two plus two equal four, or three plus three equal six! Life begins when twenty-three chromosomes of the ovum female and twenty-three chromosomes of the spermatozoon male come together; and that’s when life begins. You can’t debate it. You can’t even deny it—that’s God—the miracle of life.
The second great biological miracle of God is this: the Lord’s hand reached down and entered into that genetic chain of mitosis, and He did a creative work unparalleled in the history of mankind [Luke 1:30-31, 34-35]. Without the spermatozoon, He created a body for Christ in which God incarnated Himself to make atonement for our sins [1 Peter 2:24], and to be our Savior, and our Lord, and our Brother, and our friend, and our fellow pilgrim, and our sympathetic High Priest [Hebrews 4:14-16], and our Savior, and our King forever and ever [Revelation 17:14].
Why, when I try to say it, it is such a vast and incomparable and heavenly truth, that I think, “Lord, Lord, I apologize, Lord, for saying it so poorly and so stammeringly.” But having seen it, and having read it, and having observed it—all that Jesus means in this world—then I understand what I read on the pages of this Bible. It becomes so beautifully clear—this virgin birth, this incarnation of God [Matthew 1:20-23].
It will start off in Genesis 3:15: “And the Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head.” Well, a woman doesn’t have seed. A man has seed. And those old rabbis used to pore over that passage from the beginning. You’d never know what it meant, until the story was fulfilled in the birth of our Lord. “The Seed of the woman shall bruise Satan’s head.” That’s what it meant, and we didn’t know it until thousands of years later.
The incomparable prophecies of Isaiah 7:14: “A virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, ‘God-is-with-us’” [Matthew 1:23]. God is with us! Imagine it. That’s what it meant.
And the beautiful Isaian prophecy in Isaiah 9:6: “Unto us a Child is born, and His name shall be called the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father.” That’s what it meant.
Or the incomparable prelude and poem and paean of praise that begins the Gospel of the John: “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, and we beheld His glory, the glory as the only begotten of God, full of grace and truth” [John 1:14]. That’s what it meant. The Word was made flesh—God incarnate.
Or the magnificent passage of the apostle Paul in Galatians 4:4: “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman!” Man didn’t have anything to do with it. “Made of a woman, made under the law, that He might redeem us from the curse of the law, that we might receive the adoption” [Galatians 4:5], brothers and sisters of Jesus in the family of God.
And that’s what it meant in that marvelous and last invitation, in the last chapter of the Revelation, Revelation 22:16-17: “I Jesus have sent Mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David.”
How could it be? He is the “Root of David.” He was before David. He was a predecessor: “Before David was, I Am” [John 8:58].
“I am the Root and I am the Offspring of David” [Revelation2 2:16]. Through His mother Mary, He was of the house and lineage of David [Luke 3:23-38]. “I am the Root and the Offspring of David.”
I understand it now. “The Bright and the Morning Star [Revelation 22:16], and the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely [Revelation 22:17]. He that testifieth these things saith, ‘Surely, surely I come quickly’” [Revelation 22:20], a human body, Jesus Christ our Savior, one of us, God incarnate in the flesh: “Surely, surely I come quickly.”
And oh, that all of us might pray the responding answering prayer of the sainted apostle John: “Amen. Amen. Let it be. Amen. Even so, come, blessed, blessed Jesus” [Revelation 22:20].
What a glorious word, what a marvelous gospel, what a precious hope! [Titus 2:13]. Waiting, watching, praying, serving until that same virgin-born Lord Jesus comes again [Revelation 1:7]. Now may we stand?
Our Lord, how could it be that worms of the dust such as we are so loved and beloved of our Father in heaven that He sends His only begotten Son [John 3:16]; born of a virgin [Matthew 1:20-23]; made after the manner and fashion of human flesh to suffer and to die for our sins [Philippians 2:7-8]; that He be raised from among the dead for our justification [Romans 4:25], to declare us righteous [2 Corinthians 5:21]; to see to it that finally we make it heaven; that we don’t fall by the way; and someday to receive us there personally? [John 14:3]. If You delay Your coming, one at a time, called to be at home with God, but if we tarry till You come, to be transfigured, transformed, changed in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye at the last trump [1 Corinthians 15:51-52], O Lord what a marvelous gospel! What a marvelous, incomparable Savior! Help us to love Thee more, give us greater capacity Lord, make our hearts enlarged to praise Thee the better.
And while our people pray, and stand before God in this moment in time, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you to come to the Lord and to us, if you are in the balcony round, there is time and to spare, come down one of these stairways to the front. In the press of people on this lower floor, into one of these aisles, down here to the front, “Pastor, today we have decided for God, and here we stand.” Make the decision now in your heart. And when we sing our appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come and welcome. God bless you in the way, angels attend you as you come.
We thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest and the answer to the prayer of our people, in the answer in the lives of these who respond, in Thy wonderful and saving name, amen. While we sing, while we sing.
THE MIRACLE OF GOD’S INCARNATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-26-81I. Birth of Jesus a battleground from the beginning
A. In His lifetime (John 8:19, 41)
B. In the lifetime of the apostles
1. Cerinthian Gnosticism carried through the centuries
C. Attacks in our day and time
1. Inspiration of the Scriptures
2. Virgin birthII. A great fact to explain
A. How do we account for the fact of Jesus Christ?
B. Attempted explanations
1. Pseudo-science, higher criticism
2. There is a natural explanation for virgin birth
3. Some say it’s not a part of the Bible
A. A work of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35, Romans 1:4)
B. The intervention of God in human history (Luke 1:32-33)
1. Creation (Genesis 1:1-2)
2. In the days of Noah, Abraham, Elijah
3. In the days of John the Baptist
4. At the denouement of the age
C. The creation of a body for sacrifice (Hebrews 10:8-10)
D. The two great biological miracles of God
1. Creation of Adam
2. God broke the chain of human genetics
E. So we come to understand (Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7, Micah 5:2, John 1:1, 14, Galatians 4:4-5, Revelation 22:16-17, 20)