The Miracle of Bethlehem
December 11th, 1988 @ 8:15 AM
THE MIRACLE OF BETHLEHEM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-11-88 8:15 a.m.
We welcome the throngs of you who share this service with us on radio and on television. You are now a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Miracle of Bethlehem, or Was Jesus Born of a Virgin? And the message is a little different in its presentation from what I usually deliver in this pulpit. This morning I earnestly ask that you listen with your head as well as your heart, with your mind as well as your soul.
Our background text will be Luke 1:26-35, Luke 1:26-35: “And in the sixth month,” in the sixth month of the pregnancy of Elizabeth with John the Baptist:
In the sixth month 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.
And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, 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 should be.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast favor with God.
Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and call His name Iesous, SAVIOR, JESUS.
He shall be great, and 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 said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man, I have no husband?
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost 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.
Do you believe that?
There has never been anything more viciously or constantly assailed than the virgin birth of our Lord [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 2:1-16]. It has been a battleground from the beginning. For example, even in the life of Jesus, in John 8:19, His critics say, quote, “Where is Thy father?” And in John 8:41 they sarcastically observe, “We be not born of fornication as You were.” In the lifetime of John the apostle; in Ephesus lived a Gnostic named Cerinthus; Cerinthian Gnosticism. And the basic avowal of the Gnostics was that Jesus was born of Joseph and Mary as any other child, and at His baptism the messianic power came upon Him, and at His death on the cross the messianic power left Him. In the Talmudic stories of the Jewish nation, Mary they say was made pregnant by a Roman soldier named Panthera. In all of the centuries since the day of our Lord, from Celsus in the second century, to this modern day, the most bitterly, constantly assailed of all the miracles in the Bible is the virgin birth of our Lord.
There are two special objects of the higher critic. One of course is the inspiration of the Bible [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]; and the other is the virgin birth [Matthew 1:23-25; Luke 1:27-35, 2:1-16]. For example, the famous English critic and literary giant Matthew Arnold, said, “I do not believe in the virgin birth, for that would imply miracle, and I do not believe in miracles. Miracles do not happen,” end quote. And Professor Loofs, speaking for all rationalistic critics, said, I quote, “I think it the duty of truthfulness to state openly that the virgin birth arose out of fabulous fictitious tradition.” But we have a great fact to account for, to explain.
For example, this last week I read the beatenest thing I ever came across in my life. I read where there is a woman in the Soviet Union who is the mother of sixty-nine children. Now I’d say that demands an explanation, wouldn’t you? Well, here’s what I found as I read about her: she gave birth to sixteen sets of twins, to seven sets of triplets, and to four sets of quadruplets; and that makes sixty-nine. Well, the most stupendous event in the history of mankind is the personality of Jesus Christ. How account for the unique character of our Lord? He is the great unlike. He is the great dissimilar. He is the great incomparable [Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5]. There never was anybody like Him.
Well, where did He come from? After the scrutiny of the centuries, He is still the most towering personality in human history. There is none like Him. Even the rationalist Professor Schmidt is found and forced to write, I quote, “Jesus is inexplicable psychologically, casually, or by evolutionary development. Something derived creatively from God is necessary to explain the life and consciousness of Jesus.”
Now we’re going to look at three attempted explanations of our Lord. Number one: those who worship at the shrine of pseudoscience feel compelled to make all the miracles of the Bible conform to the latest form of sophisticated, philosophical negatism. For example, when you read the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea [Exodus 14:15-31], they say that was the Reed Sea, not the Red Sea, and they walked across in ankle-deep water [Exodus 14:27-28]. I’d just like for them to explain how the host of Pharaoh was drowned in ankle-deep water. But that’s what they say. Another is Elijah’s fire on Mount Carmel, you know, when the fire from heaven came down and burned up the altar and all [1 Kings 18:22-24, 36-38]. Well, they say that was actually just a chance bolt of lightning. Or take Jesus’ resurrection from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]: they say that was just an hallucination in the heads and in the minds of the disciples; He never rose from the dead.
Well, in that same vein, the modern rationalist explains the virgin birth by so-called parallels in natural science. There is such a thing as parthenogenesis, parthenogenesis. Many algae and many fungi and plant lice propagate from unfertilized spores; they just give birth to their kind after themselves. Another, there is a theologian who gave the example of the shocked rabbits. At a gathering of a theological society, a professor read a paper discussing the virgin birth, and in that the university teacher offered the possible explanation for the phenomenon. He said that female rabbits have been known to be shocked into conception without the male, and that Mary may well have been shocked into conception by the startling appearance and announcement of the angel Gabriel. Now, what you are doing is you are comparing Mary the mother of our Lord with algae, and fungi, and plant lice, and shocked rabbits, in the same category.
All right, a second explanation: there are those who adduce so-called comparable stories of miraculous birth in Greek and Roman mythology. Legends grew up around the great heroes back there in the ancient world, and their greatness was explained by their so-called supernatural births. For example, Alexander the Great: he was not, according to them, not the natural son of Philip of Macedon, but he was begotten by a serpent cohabiting with his mother. Or Hercules: Alcmene, daughter of the king of Mycenae, and Jupiter, who assumed the likeness of her husband while he was away, gave birth to the wondrous child. And Juno sent two serpents to destroy the baby, but the baby strangled them both. That’s just one of the mythological tales. Another, concerning Achilles, the son of Peleus king of Thessaly, and Thetis, a sea nymph: the mother dipped him, you remember, in the River Styx, made him invulnerable except in his heel held by her hand. And Paris of Troy in the Trojan War killed him by a poison arrow shot into his heel. Or Augustus Caesar: his mother fell asleep in the temple of Apollo, she was visited by the god in the form of a serpent, and Octavius was born. They really like those serpents back there, cohabiting with their mothers. Or, take Gautama the Buddha: for the first three centuries nothing was ever said about his birth; then this developed, his mother saw a vision of a great elephant with huge tusks, and he forcibly entered her side, and Gautama was born.
Now there are two elements that I can point out immediately from all of those mythological tales of the wondrous stories of the birth of these great ancient heroes. Number one: there’s not a virgin birth in them; not one is mentioned. And the second is: they are manifestly and plainly fabrications and fictitious. They have no theological meaning whatsoever.
Now beside these attacks by the pseudoscientist and by the mythological expert, there is also the modern and continuing attack of higher criticism. They seek to remove the stories from the gospel records all together. These are just fabrications that were added to the story of the life of Jesus, according to the higher critic. But there is no manuscript of any kind, of any version, of any speech, or of any nation, or of any people but that has in them these stories of the virgin birth of our Lord. Now, we have a marvelous and wondrous and miraculous Somebody to account for. And the plain and humble and simple presentation of it in the Word of God is as we have read from the Holy Scriptures today.
In Luke 1:35, the angel says to the virgin, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: and that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Same kind of a wondrous Word concerning His marvelous resurrection: the apostle Paul avows in Romans 1:4, “He was horizō,” He was pointed out—your word “horizon” comes from that, where the earth and the sky meet, the pointing out, that place—“He was declared, horizō, pointed out to be the Son of God by the Spirit of holiness and by the resurrection from the dead.” That is, the story of the virgin birth of our Lord is but a piece of one with the whole marvelous, miraculous mission of our Savior. In reading it, absolutely, in reading it you feel no incongruity when you pass from the marvelous narrative of His birth [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 2:1-16], to His amazing ministry [Matthew 11:4-6], to His resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7; Luke 24:4-8], and His ascension into heaven [Acts 1:9-10]; it is all of one piece.
The birth of our Lord is an intervention of God in human history. Luke 1:32-33: “He shall be great; called the Son of the Highest: the Lord 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.” From time to time God has intervened in human history. He did so in the creation of the world: it was chaotic and dark and formless, and God intervened and made it the beautiful creation we know today [Genesis 1:1-31]. He intervened in the day of the wickedness of the world, and Noah was saved [Genesis 6:1-8, 7:1, 17-23]. He intervened in the days of Abraham, and called him out of idolatry [Genesis 12:1-8]. He intervened in the days of Moses, and led from the oppression of Egypt [Exodus 3:1-22]. He intervened in the days of Elijah, in the days of apostasy [1 Kings 17, 18, 19]. And He intervened in the day of John the Baptist, who was called and born for one purpose: to introduce this new Christian era in which we live [Luke 1:5-17, 76-79].
And there is one more to come: when Jesus shall descend from the skies to be the Lord and King of all the earth [Revelation 19:11-16]. God intervenes in human history.
And one other thing concerning the birth of our Lord: His body was created in order to offer sacrifice to make expiation for our sins. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews:
When He cometh into the world, He saith, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared for Me:
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast no pleasure.
Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God.
Now when He said, Sacrifice and offerings and burnt offerings and offering for sin Thou wouldest not, and had no pleasure in them . . .
Then said He, Lo, I come to do Thy will . . . He taketh away the first, the old law, the old sacrificial system, that He may establish the second.
By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus once for all.
You don’t have to sacrifice again and again, he is avowing. The Lord God created that one sacrifice that is able to wash away our sins [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5], to make atonement for our unrighteousness [Romans 5:11], to make us acceptable unto God; and that body was created by the omnipotent hand of the Lord God in the womb of a virgin named Mary [Luke 1:26-35].
There are two great biological facts, miracles of God. The first one is the creation of Adam: God made him out of the dust of the ground [Genesis 2:7]. Then followed the succeeding miracle of mitosis. I don’t think a man who is honest in himself could ever do otherwise than be amazed and overwhelmed by the miracle of mitosis. [Twenty-three] chromosomes from an ovum and [twenty-three] from a spermatozoon; and they come together and make somebody like you. A baby is born; it is a miracle of God!
Then there is a second great miracle: when God broke through the chain of genetics, of mitosis, and created the body of our Lord Christ. The old Adamic chain had in it an inherited sin. God turned aside from it—wait a minute, you don’t have to teach your children to do wrong, they’re just born doing wrong. The child that comes into the world, no matter in what genetic background he was conceived, he will do wrong. You don’t have to teach him to do wrong. God broke through that genetic chain and created a body for Jesus. And if Jesus were a sinner when He died on the cross, He died for His own sins, justly. But Jesus was without sin, created without sin; and when He died on the cross, He died for us. And there is a new creation: 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He knew no sin; but God made Him to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
Now that’s why we come to understand these amazing Scriptures. For example, Genesis 3:15: “The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head.” A woman doesn’t have seed; a man has seed. But the Seed of the woman shall crush the serpent’s head. What did God mean by that? Talking about the virgin birth: she gave birth to a Son as though she had the Seed [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 2:1-16].
In Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and they will call His name Immanuel, God with us [Matthew 1:23] . . . For unto us a Child is born,” that is His human nature, “and unto us a Son is given,” that is His divine deity, “and His name shall be called”—and isn’t that great—“Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6].
Or again, in Micah 5:2, “But thou Bethlehem . . . out of thee shall come forth . . . He that is the Ruler of Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” This Child that is born in Bethlehem did not begin His life there; He was from forever and ever and ever.
So in Galatians 4:4-5: “But when the fullness of time was come, according to the prophets, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, not born of the seed of a man, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”
And this last verse in the Bible: “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and the Morning Star [Revelation 22:16]. I am the Root of David: before David, I was. I am the Root of David. And I am also the Offspring of David, born of the house of David.”
And then the invitation: “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]. That’s what God did for us in the birth of our wonderful Savior, Christ Jesus, born of a virgin; one of the interventions of God in human history, a miracle of His omnipotent hands [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 2:1-16].
And we invite you who have listened to the message of our wonderful Savior, we invite you who have listened on radio and on television to accept the Lord as your Lord and your Savior today [Romans 10:9-10]. What a beautiful hour and what a precious time of the year thus to give your heart and life, your house and home and every vision and dream of your soul, to give it to the blessed Lord Jesus.
And in the throng in the sanctuary today, when in a moment we stand and sing our hymn of appeal, a family you to come into the fellowship of our wonderful church, the family of God; a couple you, or one somebody you, “Pastor, today this is God’s day for me, and here I stand.” Our ministers will be down here at the front to receive you with prayerful gladness. May this be the day of decision and rejoicing; and a thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing.