GOD CHOOSES A VIRGIN MOTHER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-20-87 10:50 a.m.
Welcome the thousands of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message entitled God Chooses a Virgin Mother.
In the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, the twenty-sixth verse begins, “And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel, in the sixth month . . .” [Luke 1:26], what sixth month? We must remember that this story is written by a physician. Paul calls him “the beloved physician Luke,” Doctor Luke [Colossians 4:14]. So you have in this story of the birth of our Lord an intimacy that you would never know had it not been written by a doctor, an attending physician.
In the Book of Acts, we are told that Luke, Doctor Luke, came with Paul to Palestine, to Israel, and Paul was arrested there and placed in prison in Caesarea for three years. Then the Book of Acts tells us that when Paul was remanded to the judgment seat of Caesar in Rome that Luke went with him [Acts 27:1-2]. So we know that Luke was there in Israel all the years that Paul was incarcerated. What did Luke do during those three years that Paul was awaiting judgment in Caesarea? The beginning of the Gospel of Luke, the doctor says, that, “He listened to the eye witnesses as well as read the documents concerning the life of our Lord” [Luke 1:1-4]. So in those three years Luke ascertained all of these things that are factually presented here in Holy Scripture.
Now when he says here, “And in the sixth month” [Luke 1:26], he is writing as a physician, he is talking about the sixth month of the pregnancy of aged Elizabeth, who is carrying John the Baptist. So he starts, “In the sixth month,” the pregnancy of Elizabeth, “the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, he of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary” [Luke 1:26-27]. Then he describes as a physician the story of the intimate conception and birth of our Savior [Luke 1:28-35].
It is an amazing story; all of it is amazing! It is amazing that when Jesus was raised from the dead He appeared to the women, but He didn’t appear to Mary His mother. He appeared to Salome, her sister, the wife of Zebedee, and the mother of James and John [Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40, 16:1]; but He didn’t appear to Mary His mother. He appeared to Mary the mother of James [Mark 16:1]; but He didn’t appear to His mother. Appeared to Salome [Mark 16:1], but didn’t appear to her. It’s an amazing story.
It’s an amazing thing, the worship of Mary by the millions and millions and millions of people. Mariolatry was unknown in the first four centuries of the Christian faith. But from the East came a cult religion in which they worshipped the queen of heaven [Jeremiah 44:19]. And when that amalgamated with Christianity in the West, then we have the phenomenon of Mariolatry. She became the mediatrix, the adjudiatrix between us and God: she in our salvation. And as the days passed, the doctrine of her perpetual virginity was promulgated. In 1854 was promulgated the doctrine of her immaculate conception: that she was born without sin. And in one of those strange providences of life, in 1950, while I was in the city of Rome, there was promulgated the doctrine of her bodily assumption to heaven. I had just been in Jerusalem and had visited the tomb of Mary, where she was supposed to have been buried for a thousand nine hundred fifty years. But now in 1950, the doctrine was presented of her bodily assumption to heaven: as our Lord Jesus when He was raised, He was assumed into heaven, so the bodily assumption of Mary. It’s an amazing development!
But as I look at it, we need none of those extraneous doctrines to magnify the glory and worth of that virgin girl. If we just look at the Scripture and see her portrayal there, she is a wonderful woman. There came to her in the annunciation the angel Gabriel. She is to be the mother of this foretold and foreordained Child [Luke 1:26-35]. Upon that announcement, she made her way to her cousin Elizabeth, who lived in the hill country of Judea. And she, Elizabeth, in her sixth month, and Mary just having conceived by the Holy Ghost, when they met, Elizabeth burst into a paean of praise [Luke 1:39-45], and Mary answered with what we call the Magnificat [Luke 1:46-55]; the last psalm of the Old Testament and the first hymn of the New Testament.
The Child was born in Bethlehem [Luke 2:4-7]. And upon the occasion of the birth of the Child, they took the little Baby to the temple [Luke 2:21-24], according to the Mosaic law, there to be circumcised and there to be redeemed: for by the law, all the firstborn males were to be redeemed unto God [Leviticus 12:1-8]; a reflection from the redemption of Israel when the firstborn was saved by the blood [Exodus 12:7, 12-13, 23]. And we know that Joseph was very poor because in the Levitical law if one could not offer a sacrifice he could offer two turtledoves or a pigeon [Leviticus 12:6-8], and so Joseph offered for the redemption of this Child a turtledove [Luke 2:21-24]. Then upon that occasion in the temple, aged Simeon, a prophet, spoke of the glory of that Child [Luke 2:25-35]. And aged Anna, a prophetess, magnified the Lord [Luke 2:36-38].
Hearing of the threat and the terror of the sword of Herod, they sojourned in Egypt [Matthew 2:13-15]. Then coming back under the direction of God, finding that Archelaus, a son of Herod, was on the throne in Judah, they returned to Nazareth in Galilee, and there the little Lad grew up [Matthew 2:20-23].
When He was twelve years old, we have an insight into how His mother taught Him: He was in the temple there speaking with the doctors of the law, doctors of divinity, doctors of theology. Why? It is because after their visit to the worship of the Lord God in heaven in the temple; returning, in the custom of the day, one caravan would move with the men and older boys, and the other caravan would move with the women and the little children. Well, each one of them thought the other, each one thought that the Child Jesus was in the other caravan. Joseph thought He was with His mother in her caravan; Mary thought He was with Joseph in his caravan. And when they discovered the Lad was not with them, they hastily returned to Jerusalem, and found the Boy there, talking with the doctors of the law. It shows how as a lad His mother taught Him the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God [Luke 2:41-51].
Then He returned with them to Nazareth [Luke 2:51], and there He was taught a trade. Every child in a Jewish home was taught a trade; and He was taught to be a carpenter [Mark 6:3]. Can you imagine the amazement of the townspeople when they thought in terms of a deliverer for Israel to throw off the Roman yoke: this Man was a carpenter, not a great general of an army; He was a carpenter. And there in growing up He looked at so many things in the world of God’s nature that He speaks of in His incomparable speech. He speaks of the birds, and the flowers, and the fields, and the harvest, and all the other things that pertain to our common life.
When He began His ministry, His mother was there upon the occasion of His first miracle in Cana of Galilee [John 2:1-11]. Then an amazing thing in the third chapter of the Gospel of Mark: because of the intensity of His activity, His mother and His brothers came to get Him. Mark says they thought He was beside Himself [Mark 3:21]. And of course, when He was crucified, His mother was standing by the cross and watched when they nailed Him to the tree [John 19:25].
Her last appearance is in the first chapter of the Book of Acts. She is present at the prayer meeting before Pentecost [Acts 1:14]. And after that mention, she is never referred to again. She disappears from human history.
Now may I speak of the glory of that virgin girl? When God sought the mother of the incarnate God in heaven, when the Father sought a mother for the Child, that He be identified with us in His humanity, He must have a Jewess [Matthew 1:21], He must have one, a girl in the house of David [2 Samuel 7:16]; and she was both: she was a girl, a virgin [Matthew 1:20-25], she belonged to the household of David [Luke 3:23-28]. And she was a devoted child of heaven. When you read the Magnificat, every sentence in it is from the Scripture of the Old Testament [Luke 1:46-55]. She was the devout, beautiful, young woman.
And when in the temple she and Joseph dedicated the newborn Child to the Lord [Luke 2:21-24], Simeon said a prophetic thing: “And a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also” [Luke 2:35]. Not only she to be the mother of the Savior of the world [1 John 4:14], the Son of God [Matthew 3:17, 16:16; Luke 1:35], but a sword of hurt, of indescribable sorrow, should overwhelm her. And of course we see that fulfilled in the day that Jesus was crucified: she was standing by the cross [John 19:25-30]. There is a Latin hymn that has been sung for hundreds and hundreds of years, the “Stabat Mater”: “Stabat Mater dolorosa Juxta Crucem lacrimosa…”
At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
All His bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword has pass’d.
[Traditional, 13th century]
Simeon’s prophecy: “A sword should thrust through her own heart also” [Luke 2:35].
Poets oft have sung her story;
Painters deck her brow with glory;
Priests her name have deified;
But no worship, song, or glory,
Touches like the simple story—
“Mary stood the cross beside.”
[From “Jews Were Wrought,” William Johnson Fox, 1866]
That’s that old Latin hymn, and so true. I began the sermon like that. We don’t need these accouterments: she is a glorious somebody in the simplicity of her presentation in the gospel story.
Now I want to speak of something that I have never heard referred to in my life, but to me it is so apparent, it is so plainly written on the sacred page. When Simeon prophesied that, “A sword should pierce through thine own soul also” [Luke 2:35], we speak of course of the tragedy, of the sorrow of her heart, when she stood there and saw Jesus nailed to the tree [John 19:25-30]. But there is another sorrow, the piercing of a sword, that is so largely writ on the sacred page, though I have never heard it referred to, and that’s the sorrow of being the end of the gossip; “This girl is pregnant, unmarried.” That’s the way Doctor Luke wrote it. Remember he’s a physician, and he writes in the intimacy of a doctor. When Gabriel the angel said she is to be the mother of this Child [Luke 1:30-31], Mary replies, “But I know not a man [Luke 1:34], I am unmarried. How could I be a mother of a child, being not married?” And then the angel Gabriel describes the Holy Ghost coming upon her; and God is to be the Father of this prophetic Child [Luke 2:35]. And Mary replies, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord: may it be to me according to thy word” [Luke 1:38].
It is easy to see the “also” sword that pierced her heart [Luke 2:35]: being with child and unmarried. In that day a betrothal was like a marriage itself; and she was betrothed to Joseph [Matthew 1:18]. And when Joseph found that she was with child, he was filled with consternation. What should he do? What would you do? This girl he is betrothed to is pregnant. So Joseph thinking, concluded, “I’ll put her away privately instead of making her a public example,” as was usually done, “I’ll just put her away privately” [Matthew 1:18-19]. Can’t you imagine the hurt of that girl Mary? “Even Joseph doesn’t understand. And he is putting me away privately, in shame,” the hurt of it. And it was only in the intervention of God, the Lord appearing to Joseph in a dream [Matthew 1:20-23], that he took her back [Matthew 1:24-25]; she the object of all the gossip, innuendo, misunderstanding on the part of everybody.
I see that again in something else. In the eighth chapter of the Book of John, when there is confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders [John 8:37-40], they say to Him, “We be not born of fornication” [John 8:41]—could I put a little parenthesis there—“like You. We are not the children of an adulterous union, like You.” And once again, not to belabor the obvious, how is it that this girl, nine months now pregnant, makes a journey on a donkey all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, seventy and more miles? Why didn’t Joseph go? It’s a census [Luke 2:1-4]. Why didn’t he go and write the name down for the family? He could have. Why does she insist on accompanying him? For the obvious reason: she wanted to be close to him; he understood. The rest just gossiped. So she stayed close to Joseph all the way through, and so down to Bethlehem; and the Child was born in that journey [Luke 2:4-7].
What do you think of that? One time an infidel, an unbeliever, came to me, and he said, “So you believe all that about Jesus? Tell me,” he said, “if an unmarried, unwed girl were to come to you and say to you, ‘This Child in my womb is conceived by the Holy Ghost. The father of this Child in my womb is God. There is no earthly man.’” He said, “Would you believe it? Would you believe it? Would you? If an unwed girl came to you and said, ‘The father of my Child is God, and no man’; would you believe it? Would you?” You know what I said? I said, “Yes. I would believe it if that Child had been prophesied by the holy prophets of Israel for thousands and thousands of years”—they had spoken of the glory of His coming” [Numbers 24:17; Isaiah 9:6-7]—and if that Child, when He was born, a star had guided the wise men from the East to come and bow down to welcome and worship Him [Matthew 2:1-2]. Yes, I would believe it, if when the Child grew up His ministry was filled with miracles like the world had never seen [Matthew 9:33]. They exclaimed, ‘Even in Israel it was never so seen.’ He could raise the dead. He could speak and these that had fallen asleep arose to life [John 11:43-44]. His speech is such as never a man heard [John 7:46]. All of the philosophers in Greece and all of the opportunists and pragmatists in Rome, all of them together do not begin to compare with the glory of the Word of our Lord.”
Would you believe? Yes, if that Child when He became of age was slain [Matthew 27:32-50] and the third day rose from the dead: alive, a living Lord [Matthew 28:5-10]. Would you believe it? Yes, if the preaching of the gospel brought hope and salvation to all mankind on all the mission fields of the world. Over five hundred thousand hymns and songs have been dedicated in His name. Would you believe? Yes, if the preaching of the gospel of that Child, brought to me when I was a boy ten years of age, moved my heart, my soul, and I opened my heart and my life to Him, and He has been my Friend and Savior through the years since.
Yes, I would believe, if when I was seventeen years of age I began preaching that glorious message under brush-arbors, in schoolhouses, on the streets, wherever anyone would listen. And to add one other paragraph: for the years and the years since, in this dear church proclaiming the glorious hope we have in that Son of heaven, Jesus our Lord.
Would you believe if that girl came to you and said, “This Child is born of God”? Yes, I would, if He is my Lord and my Savior, the hope of the world.
And that is Christmas. That’s this season of infinite joy and celebration, praising God for the coming of the Christ Child in our humanity. And as you have heard me say a hundred times a hundred times, all the commercialization of this earth cannot take Christ out of Christmas. He shines in every light: whether the light is there by the hands of an infidel or an unbeliever or by the hands of a devout Christian, the light shines. That’s Jesus. The red is His blood. The white is the holiness of His life. The blue is the heaven toward which He guides us in glory. Christmas is always Christ—one of the dearest, sweetest, happiest times of the year, celebrating the coming into the world of our glorious Lord, Jesus our coming King.
Now may we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, what an incomparable privilege to speak of Thee. Lord, Lord, in how many languages, in how many songs, in how many hearts, in how many lives hast Thou brought hope and joy and blessing incomparable? And O, precious Savior, to add our voice of praise to the great throng who name Thy name in love and thanksgiving is such a privilege for us. Dear God, may every day be a glorious day in our earthly pilgrimage because Jesus, God’s Son and our Savior, is by our side, walking with us, encouraging us, guiding us, speaking to us, and opening the door of heaven for us, in His precious name, amen.
While we sing our hymn of appeal, someone you to give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:9-10]; a family you to come into the fellowship of our dear church; as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now. And in this moment when we sing our appeal, welcome, welcome. Down a stairway, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand,” while we sing, while we stand and sing, come.