Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The incarnation of the eternal Son of God is of such great importance that without it there can be no true Christianity. The apostle John put it this way:
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:2-3, ESV)
As I noted in my Update letter last week, the virgin birth of Jesus is an important part of the doctrine of the Incarnation. It declares that the Son of God took on a full and complete human existence while remaining what he was—the eternal Son of God. The fact that Jesus’ mother Mary was a virgin was a sign that it was not by human initiative or involvement that she became pregnant. The voluntary conception that occurred within Mary’s womb came about through the ministry of the Holy Spirit who joined Mary’s human nature to the Son of God’s divine nature. The Son of God thereby took on a complete human existence from birth to death, to resurrection and ascension, continuing forever in his now glorified humanity.
There are those who scoff at the idea that Jesus’ birth was a miracle from God. These skeptics disparage the biblical record, as well as our faith in it. I find their objections quite ironic in that while viewing the virgin birth as an absurd impossibility, they maintain their own version of a virgin birth in connection with two principal claims:
- They claim that the universe came into existence by itself, from nothing. I think we’re entitled to call that a miracle, even though they say it came about mindlessly and purposelessly. Of course, when one looks more closely at their descriptions of nothing, we find that it is a case of smoke and mirrors. Their nothing is redefined as something such as quantum fluctuations in empty space, or cosmic bubbles, or an infinite assembly of the multiverse. In other words, their use of the term nothing is misleading, since their nothing is filled with something—the something that our universe came forth from!
- They claim that life arose from non-life. To me, this claim is far more “out there” than the idea of Jesus being born of a virgin. Regardless of the scientifically verified fact that life comes only from life, some still manage to believe that life arose from a lifeless primordial soup. While scientists and mathematicians have pointed out the impossibility of such an occurrence, some still find it easier to believe in a mindless miracle than to believe in the true miracle of Jesus’ virgin birth.
In support of the first claim, physicist Stephen Hawking said this: “The universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, [it is] why we exist” (The Grand Design, p. 180). Philosopher Quentin Smith put it this way: “The fact of the matter is that the most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing and for nothing. We should… acknowledge our foundation in nothingness and feel awe at the marvelous fact that we have a chance to participate briefly in this incredible sunburst that interrupts without reason the reign of non-being” (“The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism,” Philo 4.2., 2000).
Though skeptics like Hawking and Smith embrace their own forms of virgin birth, they consider it fair game to lampoon Christians for believing in the virgin birth of Jesus, which necessitates a miracle from a personal God who transcends creation. Doesn’t it seem to you that those who see the Incarnation as impossible or improbable are embracing a double standard?
Scripture teaches that the virgin birth was a miraculous sign from God (Isa. 7:14), designed to fulfill his purposes. The repeated use of the title “Son of God” acknowledges that Christ was conceived and born of a woman (and without the involvement of a man) by the power of God. That this truly happened is affirmed by the apostle Peter:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2 Pet. 1:16, ESV)
Peter’s declaration (together with other similar New Testament statements) provides clear, evidential refutation of all assertions that the story of the Incarnation, including Jesus’ virgin birth, is a myth or legend. The fact of the virgin birth testifies to the miracle of a supernatural conception by God’s own divine, personal creative act. The birth of Christ was natural and normal in every way, including the full period of human gestation in Mary’s womb. For Jesus to redeem every aspect of human existence, he had to assume it all—overcoming all its weaknesses and regenerating our humanity in himself from beginning to end. For God to heal the breach that evil had brought between himself and human beings, God had to, in himself, undo what humankind had done.
For God to reconcile himself to us, he had to come himself, reveal himself, give himself to us, then take us to himself, beginning from the very root of human being. And that is precisely what God, in the person of the eternal Son of God, did. While remaining fully God, he became fully one of us so that in and through him, we might have fellowship and communion with the Father, in the Son, by the Holy Spirit. The author of Hebrews refers to this stunning truth with these words:
Since… the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. (Heb. 2:14-17, NRSV)
In his first advent, the Son of God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, literally became Immanuel (God with us, Matt. 1:23). The virgin birth of Jesus was God’s declaration that he is going to set all things right in human life, from beginning to end. In his second advent, which is yet to occur, Jesus will overcome and vanquish all evil bringing an end to all pain and death. Looking forward to that great day, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that “the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus means that one day everything sad will come untrue.” The apostle John put it this way: “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'” (Rev. 21:5).
I have seen grown men cry as they witnessed the birth of their child. We sometimes refer to “the miracle of childbirth,” and rightly so. I hope you see Jesus’ birth as the miracle of the birthing of the One who truly is making “everything new.”
I pray you have a joy-filled Advent as we await our celebration of Jesus’ virgin birth at Christmas,