By Pastor Glenn Pease
For many years the great battlefield of the Bible critics was the subject of the resurrection of Christ. They felt that if they could demolish this truth and prove it to be only a myth, the whole structure of Christianity would crumble. But the resurrection was in impregnable, and they could not even crack it, let alone shatter it. The evidence was over whelming, and there were too many witnesses, for over 500 persons saw the resurrected Christ. The critics changed their strategy then and decided to attack a biblical truth that did not have such strong evidence.
The virgin birth, by its very nature, could only have one who experienced it, and so the evidence would be scarce to support it. The critics began to attack the virgin birth, and they have persuaded many that it is a doctrine that is no longer needed. Many have been duped by the clever reasoning of these false prophets. The best way to avoid being doped is to know what the Bible teaches, and so we want to examine what it says about the virgin birth. This passage has more to say then all the rest of the Bible put together.
Verse 26. In the six months after Gabriel appeared to Zacharias and announced the birth of John the Baptist he was sent by God to the city of Nazareth. What a place for an angel to be sent with one of the most magnificent and mysterious messages ever delivered. This little town had a bad reputation. It was a hot bed of corruption. It was located on the highway between Tyre and Sidon and Jerusalem. It was a place where Roman soldiers often stayed overnight living in drunkenness and immorality. It was a wild place, and one in which you would not go looking for those of pure lives and character. That is why Nathaniel, when he heard that Jesus was from Nazareth, said, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" It was a city of evil, and yet this is the city to which God sends His angel. One would suspect that when an angel is sent to such a city it would be with a message of wrath, but not so in this case.
Verse 27 says that he came to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph. She was a virgin in the midst of vice. She was a pure white lily in the putrid pond of iniquity. What an unlikely place for God to find a girl worthy of the honor of bearing His Son. Even a godly man like Nathaniel would never have looked in such a place, but God sees what no man sees. His eyes penetrate the external, and He sees into the hearts of people. This is an assuring truth for the struggling believer in a corrupt society. You need never feel it is a useless and hopeless battle to stand for purity in a culture that lasts at such a standard. God sees, and He will honor and reward those who honor His standard and not that of the culture. It is always better to be pleasing to God than popular with the world.
Mary was not one to conform to society. She was engaged to a carpenter named Joseph. The engagement period for Jews was about one year, and it was during this waiting period that the angel came to announce the virgin birth. The timing here shows the wisdom of God in handling a delicate problem involved in bringing His Son into the world. Had He chosen a girl who was not engaged there would be only shame to face, and there would be provision of a home. On the other hand, if He chose a married woman she would no longer be a virgin. So God chose Mary who was engaged, but not yet married. Jesus then would have a godly home and adequate provision. Joseph was able to provide well and so Jesus was not born into poverty. It is of interest to note that this is the only verse in the Bible where the word virgin is used twice, and both times it refers to Mary. Some modern versions do not use virgin even once, but use young woman or girl instead.
In verse 28 we see that the angel apparently came to Mary at her home and greeted her with a statement that has become famous as the, "Hail Mary," or as it is in Latin, "Ave Maria." Protestants have rebelled against the Catholic exalting of Mary, and the result is they have often gone to the other extreme of ignoring her. She was highly favored of God, and so if anyone in the Bible deserves honor, it is the Virgin Mary. To go beyond honoring her to the point of worshiping her is idolatry, but to ignore her is to forsake a beautiful biblical ideal of womanhood. Too often Protestants care more about Mary Magdalene, whose purity is very questionable, than about Mary whose purity even impressed God. The Protestant Reformers had a very positive attitude toward Mary. Zwingli said, "We exalt and honor Mary by imitating her virtues and esteeming her as the mother of our Lord." Calvin said, "She is blessed as the elect instrument of God's work of redemption."
To be favored of God did not mean a life of perpetual happiness for Mary. It meant a great deal of mental agony. It would have been easier to live a life of obscurity then to be the mother of God's Son. Those who have done great things for God have often lived through great trials and made great sacrifices. To be favored of God is often a burden as well as a blessing. Mary had to see her Son grow up as a brilliant, healthy, handsome, happy and holy man, and then see Him despised, rejected and crucified. She had to stand by helplessly and watch Him nailed to a cross. Her blessing brought with it a bruised and broken heart. It cost her dearly to be in the center of God's will.
In verse 29 we see Mary's reaction to the greeting. She was troubled and agitated. It was not because of the angel's presence, but because of what He said. She did not understand it. In verse 30 the angel seeks to lessen her fear and assure her that she was pleasing in God's sight, and so she did not need to be afraid. We see here that Mary did not consider herself to be perfect. She was puzzled by God's favor, but God chose her because He was pleased with her life. In verse 31 the angel goes on to spell out why he came. It was to announce to Mary that she would conceive and give birth to a Son whose name was to be Jesus. The name Jesus is a Greek form of the Hebrew Joshua, and it means Savior. We see here that Jesus was named from heaven by His Father, and not by His earthly parents. It was God who sent His Son to be a Savior, and not Mary and Joseph who raised Him to be a Savior. He was the Savior before the world began, but now the angel announces what will take place in history.
Verse 32 says He shall be great and be called the Son of the Highest, and He shall sit on the throne of David His father. Jesus fulfilled these prophecies and has become the greatest figure in human history. No one has so changed history like Jesus has. Even non-Christians consider Him the greatest man that ever lived, and that His life is the greatest story ever told. Peter in Acts 2 makes it clear that in the ascension Jesus took the throne of David, and He now reigns as Lord and Christ. Some literalists insist that this setting on the throne of David is yet future, but there is no reason to doubt that it has been fulfilled along with the rest of this prophecy. David is called the father of Jesus. The literalist must spiritualize this, for David had been dead for centuries. Jesus is called the Son of God, the Son of David, and the son of Joseph, but it is clear that the last two are due to decent and marriage. Jesus has only one literal Father, and that is His Father in heaven.
Verse 33. This child is born to be a king who will reign over Israel forever. He must be more than man, for only God can reign forever. The angel is making it crystal clear to Mary that the one she is to bear is the Messiah who will set up His eternal kingdom. Gentiles have been adopted into the household of Jacob, and they have become partakers of the covenant of God. As Christians we have become a part of the true Israel over which Jesus reigns. In verse 34 we see Mary's reaction to all this. She is bewildered and does not understand. Mary was the first to question the possibility of the virgin birth. She has no husband and does not intend to have one for some time. She does not understand how she could bear a child. She was apparently not aware of Isa. 7:14 that prophesied the birth of Messiah from a virgin.
The German scholar Harnack tried to prove that the story of the virgin birth was all made up to fulfill that Old Testament prophecy, but the facts prove just the opposite. It was the reality of the virgin birth that brought that prophecy to light. The Jews did not think of it as messianic. It only became so after the fact of the virgin birth. Mary knew it was impossible, but that is just the point of the virgin birth. It was a miracle that only God could make possible. In verse 35 the angel shows that Mary was to conceive by the direct energy of the Holy Spirit, and that is why the child would be holy and uncontaminated by sin. He is the only begotten Son of God, and no other birth was ever like this.
In verse 36 an example of God's working in a marvelous way is given. He caused a barren woman to conceive in her old age. Then in verse 37 he makes the statement that clenches the argument for all believers. We are dealing here with God and not man, and the supernatural is no problem for God. This is where the critics show their greatest folly. Matthew Arnold said, "I do not believe in the virgin birth because it involves a miracle, and miracle do not happen." Here is man's blind pride at its worst. Naturally miracles do not just happen. They are the working of God. We do not expect people who do not believe in God to believe in the virgin birth. This is a belief for Christians only, and for those who believe the Bible to be the Word of God. It is connected with the entire Christian faith, and there is no point in trying to get people to believe it separated from the Gospel of Christ. Nowhere in the New Testament was the virgin birth made a subject of belief. It is not necessary to salvation, but is like many other truths that are learned after one has accepted Christ as Savior. When one accepts the Lordship of Jesus there can be no problem in accepting His miraculous birth. Once you accept that Jesus is the Son of God it is no problem accepting the way He came into human flesh. The New Testament does not make a big deal of it, but it is just stated as fact. Mary did not understand how God did it, but she just submitted to God's doing through her what He willed.
She bowed her to the angel's word
Declaring what the Father willed.
And suddenly the promised Lord
That pure and hallowed temple filled.
In verse 38 Mary believed and submitted herself to God's will. She did not know how it could be, but the angel convinced her that with God it was no problem. This is the solution to all the problems and doubts about the virgin birth. We simply submit to God and take Him at His word. How can God save sinners, and how can He do many other things? The answer is always the same, for with God nothing is impossible. If man will submit to God and believe His Word there are no problems in accepting the virgin birth, or any other miracle.