The Miracle of Bethlehem
December 11th, 1988 @ 10:50 AM
THE MIRACLE OF BETHLEHEM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-11-88 10:50 a.m.
Once again we welcome the throngs of you who share the hour on radio and on cable television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and I am the pastor bringing the message entitled The Miracle of Bethlehem, or The Virgin Birth of our Lord Jesus. It will be presented in a little different way from what I usually preach. I want you to listen today with your mind as well as your soul, with your head as well as your heart. And our background text will be the in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verses 26 to 35; Luke 1:26-35: “And in the sixth month,” 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, 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 found favor with God.
Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shall 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:
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 not a 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.
The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ has been a battleground from the beginning; even in the days of His flesh, in His own life. In John 8:19, His bitter antagonists said, “Where is Thy father?” And in John 8:41 they sarcastically say to Him, “We be not born of fornication, such as You.” In the lifetime of the John the apostle, in Ephesus, where John was pastor of the church, in Ephesus was a famous Gnostic named Cerinthus. In those ancient days there was a system of philosophy called Cerinthian Gnosticism. And Cerinthus said that Jesus was born of Joseph and Mary, such as you had a father and mother; only messianic power came upon Him at His baptism, and it left Him on the cross when He died. In the Talmud, the great volume of Judaism, in the Talmud, Mary was made pregnant by a Roman soldier named Panthera. In all of the centuries since the days of our Lord, from Celsus, a famous Roman philosopher and critic in the second century, to this modern day, the most bitterly constantly assailed miracle of all the Word of God is the birth of Jesus Christ.
There are two special objects of criticism and critical wrath on the part of the modern theological critic. One is the inspiration of the Bible [2 Timothy 3:16; 2Peter 1:20-21]; and the other is the virgin birth of our Lord [Matthew 1:23-25; Luke 1:27-35, 2:1-16]. For example, the great literary genius of Great Britain, Matthew Arnold, said, I quote, “I do not believe in the virgin birth, for that would simply imply miracle; and I do not believe in miracles. Miracles do not happen,” end quote. And Professor Loofs, speaking for all rationalist critics, said, “I think it the duty of truthfulness to state openly that the virgin birth arose out of fabulous fictitious tradition.” But, whatever those critics say, we have a great fact to explain.
I ran into one of the craziest last week I ever heard of in my life. I read that there is a woman in Russia who has given birth to sixty-nine children. Now I’d say a fact like that needs an explanation—sixty-nine children. So here’s what I read: she has given birth to sixteen sets of twins, to seven sets of triplets, and to four sets of quadruplets. Man, I bet she’s a-wore out woman! Oh dear!
Sweet people, the most stupendous fact in human history and in the story of mankind is the Lord Jesus. How do you account for the unique character of our Lord? He is the great unlike. He is the great incomparable. He is the great dissimilar. He is in a world apart from the rest of mankind [Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5]. Where did He come from? After the scrutiny of centuries, He still is the most towering personality among men. Even the rationalist Professor Schmidt is forced to write, I quote from him, “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 some of the attempted explanations of our wonderful Lord. One, first: there are those who worship at the shrine of pseudo-science, and they feel compelled to make all the miracles of the Bible conform to the latest fad of sophisticated philosophical negativism. For example, when you read in the Bible about the miracle of the crossing of the children of Israel across the Red Sea [Exodus 14:15-31], they say it was a reed sea, and the water was only ankle deep. I’d just like for them also to explain to me how Pharaoh and all of his army drowned in ankle-deep water [Exodus 14:27-28]. But that’s their explanation of it. Another one of their naturalistic, sophisticated negativisms is Elijah’s fire, when God sent fire down on Mount Carmel and burned up the sacrifice, and the stones, and the water, and all [1 Kings 18:22-24, 36-38]. They say all that happened to be was at that particular moment there was a chance bolt of lightning that came down from God and burned up the altar. Or about Jesus’ resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7]; they explain that as a part of the mental hallucinations of His disciples; they just thought that they saw the Lord Jesus raised from the dead.
Thus these devotees of pseudoscience seek to explain the virgin birth of our Lord, and they find so-called parallels in natural science. For example, one is parthenogenesis. Many algae and many fungi and plant life propagate from unfertilized spores. Then again they find an example in shocked rabbits. At a gathering of a theological society, a professor read a paper discussing the virgin birth. And the university teacher offered a possible explanation of 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. So it goes on. Mary they compare with algae, and fungi, and plant life, and shocked female rabbits. That’s one explanation of the virgin birth.
Here is another one: there are those who adduce so-called comparable stories of miraculous birth in Greek and Roman mythology; and you’ve read them all of your life. Legends grew up and around those great heroes of the ancient world. Their greatness was explained by the stories of their supernatural conception. For example, Alexander the Great: he was not the natural son of Philip of Macedon, but he was begotten by a serpent cohabiting with his mother. Another is 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. Juno sent two serpents to destroy the baby, and the baby strangled them both. Do you remember that? Then Achilles, he was the son of Peleus king of Thessaly and Thetis, a sea nymph. The mother dipped him, you remember, in the River Styx, and he was invulnerable except in his heels where his mother held him. And Paris in the Trojan War, remember, killed him with a poison arrow in 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 liked those serpents, didn’t they? Or Gautama the Buddha: for the first three centuries there was nothing said of his birth; then this: his mother saw a vision of a great elephant with huge tusks, and the elephant forcibly entered her side and Gautama the Buddha was born. So it goes on and on in those mythological tales.
There are two things about them. Number one is this: there’s no virgin birth found in those mythological stories. And second, they are plainly, manifestly fabrications; they are fictitious, and they have no theological meaning whatsoever.
Now, when we come to pseudoscience and their so-called explanation of the virgin birth of our Lord, and when we speak of mythology and its supposed likeness in the heroes of the ancient world, there’s one other: and that is the modern, scholastic, intellectual attack of higher criticism. They seek to remove the stories from the gospel records altogether. They say they are fabrications that do not belong in the Bible. But, every manuscript and every version of the Holy Scriptures has the virgin birth of our Lord, and they are there from the beginning. As far back as you’ll find a manuscript, as far back as you’ll find any version, as far back as you will find any piece of the Word of God, you will find these marvelous stories of the amazing conception of our Lord.
The marvel and the wonder of the miraculous birth of Christ makes each one of us feel like we want to fall down and worship at the manger. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. In Luke 1:35, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: and that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” That’s what God sent the angel to tell her. And at His resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7], which is a part of the marvelous life of our Lord, Romans 1:4, Paul avows, “He was declared, horizō”—our word “horizon” comes from that Greek word horizō, “marked out, where the earth is marked out meeting the sky,” horizō—“He was marked out to be the Son of God by the Spirit of holiness and by the resurrection from the dead.” The story of the virgin birth of our Lord is a piece of one with the whole marvelous mission of Jesus. Reading it, the virgin birth of our Lord [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 2:1-16], we feel no incongruity in passing from the marvelous narrative of His birth to His amazing ministry [Matthew 11:4-6], and to His glorious resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7; Luke 24:4-8], and to His ascension into heaven [Acts 1:9-10]. You just read it: it’ll be just the same story depicting the marvelous, incomparable life of our wonderful Lord.
What happened is an intervention of God in human history.
- Luke 1:32-33: “He shall be great, shall be called the Son of the Highest: the Lord shall give 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.”
- From time to time God has intervened in human history. He did so in the beginning, in the creation. It says that this whole vast creation was without form and void, and darkness covered the deep [Genesis 1:1-2].
- Then the intervention of God: and out of that chaos He created the beautiful world that later fell because of sin, but beautifully done by God; the intervention of the Omnipotent [Genesis 1:3-31].
- Then you have the intervention of God in the story of the days of Noah when the whole earth was covered with wickedness, and God chose Noah and saved him [Genesis 6:1-8, 7:1, 17-23].
- You have an intervention of God in the days of Abraham, when he was called out of idolatry into the land of promise [Genesis 12:1-8].
- You have an instance in the days of Moses, when God intervened and called Moses to lead His people out of bondage and the darkness of Egypt [Exodus 3:1-22].
- You have an instance of God’s intervention in the days of Elijah when he led his people out of apostasy [1 Kings 17, 18, 19].
- Then you have an instance in the days of John the Baptist: he was called to introduce the new era, the new age in which we live, this Christian dispensation, God’s intervention in history [Luke 1:5-17, 76-79].
And there’s one other yet to come; there’s one other great intervention of God in the story of mankind, and that’s when the skies shall part, and Jesus shall come down from heaven to establish His millennial kingdom in this earth; when the dead shall be raised and when we shall be caught up to meet our Lord in the sky to be forever with Him in the millennial kingdom and into the forever [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 19:11-16]. There’s one great intervention yet to come of God in human history.
There is one other thing about the virgin birth of our Lord, and that is: God was creating a body for the sacrifice in behalf of our sins. Let me read from the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews:
It is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.
Wherefore 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 had no pleasure.
Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me)—
in God’s holy book it is written of Me—to do Thy will, O God.
Above when He said, Sacrifice and offerings and burnt offerings and offering for sin Thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law—
over and over and over again—
Then said He, Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God. He taketh away the first—
all of that old law and sacrificial system—
that He may establish the second.
By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Not every day, offering one of those bulls and goats as a sacrifice, and pouring out its blood at the base of the altar: all of that is gone away; that’s but a picture, of a similitude, a portent, an earnest of the great sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. And God made for Jesus, the sacrificial offering, God made for Him a body. And that body He offered as a propitiation [1 John 2:2], as an atonement for our sins on the cross [Romans 5:11].
There are two great biological miracles in this earth. One of them you see every day of your life: the first great biological miracle of Almighty God is when He created Adam; when He created Adam out of the dust of the ground [Genesis 2:7]. And then in the succeeding generations, you have the miracle of mitosis: twenty-three chromosomes from the ovum of the female and twenty-three chromosomes from the spermatozoon of the male; twenty-three and twenty-three, and they come together in the womb. And there is created—omnipotent God—there is created a living soul, and it looks like you, and it looks like you, and it is a part of you. How could such a thing be? That’s the omnipotence of God. That’s the miracle of the Lord God. And it is before our very eyes. That’s the first in time, that’s the first great miracle of the Almighty: the miracle of mitosis.
The second great miracle is when God broke through the chain of genetics and He created the body of our Lord. The old Adamic nature was contaminated with a propensity to sin. You don’t have to teach your child to do wrong. You don’t have to call the child in the living room and teach the child to, and the Lord only knows what all children do, teenagers, and finally we; you don’t have to teach the child to do wrong. The child is born with a propensity for evil. But Jesus was conceived apart from the old Adamic nature.
Listen people, if Jesus is a sinner, when He died on the cross He died for His own sins. It’s because Jesus had a body created sinless that He is able to bear our sins and die in our stead. And thus it comes to pass that wonderful verse in [2 Corinthians 5:21]: Paul writes, “For Jesus, who knew no sin, Jesus our Savior, who knew no sin, became sin for us; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” That’s what God did: He created the body of our Lord as an atonement [Romans 5:11], a propitiation [1 John 2:2], an expiation for our transgressions [2 Corinthians 5:21].
Now when you come to realize that, then when you look back to those prophecies you understand what they meant. Here’s one: Genesis 3:15: “The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head.” A woman doesn’t have seed: it’s the man who has seed. Yet the prophecy said, “The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head” [Genesis 3:15]. Those old rabbis read that in the Bible and were astonished at it through centuries and millennia. What could that mean, “The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head”? A woman doesn’t have seed. When finally it came to pass we understand. She was the one who gave birth to that Child, without a man; a virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 2:1-16].
Take again, Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name God is with us, Immanuel, with us is God [Matthew 1:23]…Unto us a Child is born,” that is His human birth; “Unto us a Son is given,” that is His deity coming down from the throne of glory; “And His name shall be called,” and that’s what you sang a moment ago, “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6], that is Jesus our Lord.
Or Micah 5: 2, “But thou Bethlehem, though out of thee shall come forth He that is to be Ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” He didn’t just begin in Bethlehem: His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting, from the beginning; from the eternity of the eternities that Child had life, just made flesh, given a body in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-2:1].
In Galatians 4:5: “But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that were cursed by sin, that we might receive the adoption of sons [Galatians 4:4-5].”
And when I turn to the last of the Bible, in the twenty-second, the last chapter of the Revelation, “I Am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and the Morning Star. I am the Root of David. I am the Offspring of David. I am the Root of David: before David, I was, I Am [John 8:58]. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and the Morning Star” [Revelation 22:16]. And on that basis, that great last invitation of the Word of God, the next verse: “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, anybody you, and whosoever will, let him take of the fountain of the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]. God did it for us.
Dear people, no wonder we have the right to sing and to rejoice and to praise God at this Christmas season of the year. What God has done for us! And for us to fall at His feet and worship Him, call upon His name, and praise Him for the forgiveness of our sins [1 John 1:9; Revelation 1:5], and the writing of our names in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27; Luke 10:20], and to look forward to an eternity with one another and with God [John 10:27-30], O God, to Thee be glory for ever and ever and ever! Amen. Amen.
Now, Fred, let’s sing us a song. And while we sing the hymn of appeal, a family you to come into the fellowship of our dear church, a couple you to give your heart together and your house and home to the Lord, or a one somebody you accepting Jesus as Savior [Romans 10:9-10], while we sing the hymn, you are so welcome. God bids you come. The angels in heaven rejoice in your response [Luke 15:10]. There will be ministers here to receive you. Make the decision now in your heart, and on the first note of the first stanza, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand.” Welcome, and the angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing. While we stand and while we sing, “This is God’s day for me, and I’m coming. I’m coming.”