The Marvel of the Virgin Birth
December 24th, 1989 @ 10:50 AM
THE MARVEL OF THE VIRGIN BIRTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-24-89 10:50 a.m.
And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Marvel, the Wonder, of the Virgin Birth. As a background text, we read two verses from the first chapter of Matthew, verses 22 and 23:
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel—immanu, with us; el, God—Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
The wonder of Jesus Himself is indescribable. There are not words in the vocabulary, or in the English language, or in literature, or in nomenclature in any tongue to describe the glory of Jesus our Lord. He is unique; there is none like Him in human history. In the 1700s, and in the beginning of the 1800s, there was in England a coterie, a group of brilliant essayists, literary figures. They would meet in London in the home of Charles Lamb and in their brilliant conversation would speak of things that would pertain to the literary classics of the earth. There was gathered one evening with Charles Lamb such literary figures incomparable like Samuel Taylor Coleridge; like Robert Southey, the poet laureate; like William Wadsworth. Those were gathered together, and in the conversation they begin speaking of what they would do if the great of the earth were to come in the door and to visit them in the evening. And in the continuing conversation Charles Lamb said, “If Shakespeare were to come into the door, we would all stand in respect and in honor of this bard of Stratford-on-Avon.” Then he added, “But if Jesus the Christ were to come through the door, we would all kneel down and bow in reverence and holy devotion.” That is so true. He is the great unlike, Jesus our Lord [John 7:45].
In the days of His flesh, they were amazed at Him. In one place in the gospel message, it says “And they marveled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel!” [Matthew 9:33]. And the apostle John quotes the men who were sent to arrest Him, coming back to the Sanhedrin without Him [John 7:45], and their explanation was, “Never did a man speak like that Man” [John 7:46]; the incomparable, the great unlike. And not only in the days of His flesh was He an astonishment to the people, but in the years that followed after, the wonder of our Lord has been no less regnant, and dynamic, and beautifully meaningful. For example, in 1 Timothy 3:16: “Without controversy great is the mystery of eusebeia”; eusebeia. Without controversy, great is the mystery of eusebeia. Eusibeo is the word for worship, eusebeo. For example, in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts Paul says, “Whom you not knowing eusebeite, Him declare I unto you to worship” [Acts 17:23]. Eusebeia—without controversy, great is the mystery of true religion, true worship. What is it? God was manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16]; eusebeia, the great mystery of God. The true worship is bowing down before Him who was manifest in the flesh. That is our Lord Jesus. How do you explain our Savior? We look first at the words of explanation of the unbelieving world.
Number one: the Jewish Talmud says that Jesus was born of an illicit affair between a dissolute Roman soldier named Panthera, and a woman of the gutter named Mary. That is their explanation of the coming of our Lord into the world. Mary is a dissolute of the dregs of humanity and Jesus is an illegitimate of an unspeakably vile Roman soldier; that is one explanation. Another explanation is found in the pseudoscientists. In the biological world there are fungi and algae who propagate by unfertilized spores and eggs, and so they say that the Virgin Mary, in one of those unusual aberrations in science, conceived by self-fertilization. To place Mary in the category with algae and fungi is unthinkable to us. Then there are those pseudo-intellectuals who look back into Greek and Roman classical history, and they point out that in those mythological tales, say, Hercules; Jove, the god, transformed himself into the likeness of the husband of Alcmene, and Hercules was born. Or again, Alexander the Great; his mother was in a temple and the god transformed himself into a serpent and Alexander the Great was born. Or Augustus Caesar; his mother fell asleep in the temple of Apollo and the god ravished her, and Augustus Caesar was born. So they likened the birth of our Lord to those same mythological categories, trying to explain the birth of the great of the ancient world.
Then, of course, we have the modern rejection of the incarnation of our Lord: the liberal theologian. For example, in 1892 Adolph Harnack, a great German liberal scholar, said he did not believe in miracles; therefore, he did not believe in the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus. He does not believe in the virgin birth. In 1900 Professor [Friedrich] Loofs stated, and I quote him, “I think it the duty of truthfulness to state openly that the virgin birth arose out of false, fabulous tradition.” In 1927 Emil Brunner said that the story of the virgin birth is just an attempt by the early church to explain in biological fashion the incarnation of Christ. In the 1940s, Rudolph Bultmann, over there in Germany—his program of demythologizing the Bible—he says the New Testament is full of myths, and the virgin birth is an attempt on the part of the first Christians to express what they felt about the Lord. Then today, from one side of the theological world to the other, they say that the story of the virgin birth is not a fact, but a teaching story. Thus the unbelieving, liberal, theological world discounts universally the marvelous miracle of the intervention of God and the birth of our Lord from the womb of a virgin girl [Matthew 1:20-25].
When we turn aside from those who discount, and disbelieve, and disown the wonder of the birth of our Lord, and we look at the stories in the Bible; the account of our Savior in the Word of God, ah, what a difference! What a difference! In the first chapter of Matthew, the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When, as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost; and when Joseph, a just man, thought to put her away privily, and not make her a public example—while he thought on that, the angel of God appeared unto him, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not you hesitate to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for what is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She shall bring forth a Son, and you are to call His name Joshua, Savior, Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins” [Matthew 1:18-21].
And in my humble persuasion, there is not a more beautiful, or devotional, or godly story in human literature than the one you just read. In the sixth month of the conception of Elisabeth with John the Baptist:
. . . in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, named Nazareth.
To a virgin . . . named Mary.
And the angel said, Hail . . . thou that are highly favored . . . blessed art thou among women. . . .
. . . thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and you are to call His name the Savior, JESUS.
He shall be great, He shall be called the Son of the Highest: the Lord God shall give Him the throne of His father David.
And He shall reign . . . for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.
And Mary says . . . How could such a thing be, when I am not married, and I have not lived with a man?
And 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 One that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
How beautiful, how incomparably precious. I think of the Apostles’ Creed, which is recited by so many churches, and it would be wonderful to recite it here. That Apostles’ Creed goes back to the days of the apostles themselves. Do you remember it?
I believe in God,
The Father Almighty
Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ
His only begotten Son our Lord.
Conceived by the Holy Spirit,
And born of the Virgin Mary.
That is the gospel truth, and it is beautiful and it is appropriate. Jesus, God’s Son, born of a virgin, our Savior. And that is in keeping with that great stream of prophecy throughout the millennia and the millennia here in the Word of the Lord; a Child, a Child, a Child [Isaiah 9:6].
In the beginning of Genesis, “The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head” [Genesis 3:15], the Seed of the woman; a Child, a Child [Isaiah 9:6]. In the word of Israel to his fourth son, Judah, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come” [Genesis 49:10]; a Child, a Child. And the word of Nathan, the prophet of God, to David, “Thou shalt have a Son and thy throne shall be an everlasting throne. And He shall reign over a kingdom that shall endure for ever” [2 Samuel 7:12-16]; a Child, a Child. Or in Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, God with us [Matthew 1:23]. Or Isaiah, chapter 9 [Isaiah 9:6-7], in what you all sang just a moment ago:
Behold unto us a Child is born,
a Child, a Child
unto us a Son is given;
and the government shall rest upon His shoulder;
and His name shall be called Wonderful,
The Mighty God,
The Everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.
[from “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” G.F. Handel]
And of His Kingdom there shall be no end; a Child, a Child.
Or in Micah, chapter 5: “Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall be Governor of My people, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” [Micah 5:2]. This Child that is born has been forever and forever the King of heaven and of all God’s creation [Ephesians 1:22]. This Child, born of the Virgin Mary [Matthew 2:23-25]—the story of the coming into this world, virgin-born is in keeping with all the messianic stream of the Bible.
And one of the unbelievable things of that ancient world: when our Lord was born the whole civilized earth, the Greek and the Roman Empires, they were looking for a messiah out of the East. The great Latin historians Tacitus and Suetonius write of that universal expectation in the Roman days, “A great messiah is to come out of the East.” And one of the most amazing things to me in literature is this Fourth Eclogue of Virgil; Virgil, the incomparable Latin poet. Virgil died in 19 BC, and somewhere between 40 and 30 BC, before Christ, Virgil wrote this Fourth Eclogue. An eclogue is a bucolic, pastoral poem; a shepherd. And this Fourth Eclogue is written by Virgil, the great Latin poet, about thirty years before Christ. Listen to it:
Come dear child, claim thine honors for the time grows nigh.
Babe of immortal race, the wondrous seed of Job
Lo, at thy coming how the starry spheres are moved to trembling.
And the earth below
And the widespread seas and the blue vault of heaven.
How all things joy to greet the coming age.
Lo, the last age of the seer has come.
Again, the great millennial eon dawns.
And from high heaven descends the firstborn child of promise
Smile softly on this babe.
The age of iron and its time shall cease and golden generations fill the world.
For thee, fair child, the lavish earth shall spread the earliest play things.
Trailing ivy wreaths, the very cradle blossoming for joy, shall with soft buds caress thy baby face.
The treacherous snake and deadly herb shall die and Syrian spikenard glow on every bank
O if but life would bring me days enough and breath, not all to scant to sing thy praise.
Come child, and greet thy mother with a smile.
Ten weary waiting months her love has known.
Come, little child.
[from “Eclogue IV,” Virgil]
Written by Virgil thirty years before our Lord was born!
The whole earth was filled with expectancy when our Lord came down from heaven and assumed the form of our human frame. Does not the Scripture say that there came from the East—far, far from the East—magi, kings; who came to the palace in Jerusalem and said, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and are come to worship Him” [Matthew 2:1-2]. Eusebeia—“to bow down”—the true faith, the true religion, the true worship, bowing before our wonderful Lord. There could be no finer thing that the human heart is of capability than to welcome our blessed Lord into your heart, and into your house, and into your home with your children, and to be a fellow pilgrim and Lord of prayer in the pilgrimage of this life.
O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come, ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem;
Come and adore Him born the King of angels.
O come and let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him.
O come let us adore Him.
Jesus Christ our Lord.
[“O Come All Ye Faithful,” John Francis Wade]
And that is our invitation to your heart and to your heart and your home. Come, and love our Lord with us. Be a part of His kingdom with us. Love Him, adore Him, eusibeia, worship Him, someday welcome Him from the skies [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
And to you who have shared this service with us on television, as the messages come into your home, may it be received with infinite joy and gladness. We pray that today you will open your heart to receive our wonderful Savior as your very own [Romans 10:9-13]. And if you don’t know how to receive Christ as your Lord, call us. There will be on the screen in front of you a telephone number and a devout consecrated counselor to answer the phone, to tell you the way to heaven, how to receive Jesus as your Savior. It will be the greatest decision, the happiest, the most meaningful, the most precious you’ll ever make in your life, and I’ll see you in heaven someday.
And to the great mass and throng in the sanctuary, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me and here I am” [Ephesians 2:8]. And on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to my heart and I’m answering with my life.” Bring your family, bring your children, and a thousand times welcome as you come, while we stand and while we sing.