The Virgin Birth
Earlier this month in the Washington state capitol an atheist group placed a sign alongside a nativity scene. The sign read, in part, "There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."
Signs on busses in washington DC read "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake."
Bill Mahrer in his movie religulous apparently was able to find a priest who said the whole idea behind a virgin birth and other foundations of Christianity is “nonsense” and “stupid.”
These are but a few of the areas where the Christian faith is under attack and especially this time of year, during the Christmas season. Many times the basis of these attacks center around the Christians belief in the supernatural. There is no way around it, the Christian faith is a supernatural faith. From God Himself, the virgin birth, the life of Christ, the resurrection, the ascencion, the miracles throughout the Bible, the Bible itself, salvation, Angels, you name it…..Christianity is a supernatural faith because of God, the supernatural object of our faith. You cannot be a Christian and reject the supernatural.
But it’s the supernatural that’s often the focus of those attacks by the critics. And one area we see attacked this time of year is the virgin birth of Jesus.
Larry King, the CNN talk show host, was once asked who he would most want to interview if he could choose anyone from all of history. He said, "Jesus Christ." The questioner said, "And what would you like to ask Him?" King replied, "I would like to ask Him if He was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me."
It seems that Larry King unlike a lot of other people understands the importance of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ to history and not only history, but to the Christian faith.
By the time this Christmas season is over, we will sing “Silent night” many times, especially when we go caroling next weekend. And as we sing, we will repeat those words over and over, “Round yon virgin, mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild.” But how much thought do we give those words “Round yon virgin”?
Well that’s what we are going to look at this morning, the virgin birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Given that we are in the midst of the Christmas season it’s a great time to talk about this. This whole season for the Christian should center on the virgin birth, this miracle of God in human flesh, this time of year when we celebrate Immanuel, God with us.
Our question this morning is, “The Virgin Birth, is it a big deal or is it outdated mythology and nostalgia that has no place in our modern world?” Specifically we are going to look at where the bible teaches the virgin birth, and define the virgin birth---- you might not think this is necessary to define it----- but because of the perversion of truth going on out there, it is. We are also look at some of the attacks launched against it from within and outside of the faith and explain why this is a big deal and that you can’t be a Christian while rejecting the truth of the virgin birth, it’s impossible. And I’ll explain why that’s the case.
Pray----Dear God, as we gather together here during this blessed Christmas season, we celebrate so much. We celebrate the birth of Jesus our Savior, your love for us, our salvation, and our love for one another. As we talk about the miracle of the incarnation, (the virgin birth), speak to our hearts and etch your words and truth upon us all. God bless us that we may be a blessing to you.
When we talk about the essentials of the faith, we’re talking about those truths that when you change and/or eliminate them, you change and redefine the faith so that it no longer is possible to be what it claims, nor is it possible for it to do what it claims. Here are the essentials. The Trinity, the doctrine of heaven and hell, infallibility/ inerrancy of the Scriptures, the physical resurrection, the Deity of Christ, The virgin birth, The atonement, and the return of Christ. These are those things that when you redefine or eliminate any of them you redefine the faith and render it useless. Did you realize that the Virgin Birth is an essential of the Christian faith and do you know why it is an essential? While I know that we’ve talked about the essentials of the Christian faith at least a couple of times before, I am real sure that we haven’t dedicated an entire morning to talking specifically about the virgin birth, which is indeed an essential of the faith.
Read. Matt. 1:18-24 and Luke 1:26-38.
The Virgin Birth Defined (what the Bible teaches)
When we talk about the virgin birth, we are affirming that the bible teaches that Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant and remained so up until the time she gave birth to Christ. His birth was a miracle of God that made the incarnation, possible. You’ve just heard the texts of Matthew and Luke and they’re clear on the teaching of the virgin birth. Matthew 1:18 says Mary was pregnant before she and Joseph lived together and the same verse tells us her pregnancy was due to the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:25 tells us that Mary remained a virgin until the birth of Christ. Luke 1:34 tells us clearly that that Mary was a virgin, while in verse 35 the angel explains to Mary that her pregnancy is due to the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. These are the facts concerning the Virgin Birth.
You might not think it’s necessary to define this. But always---- you must define your terms or else you may be using the same words as someone else but be talking about two different things. Take for example the Mormon teachings on Christ. When Mormons teach about the Virgin Birth of Jesus, they use the same words we do, but don’t mean the same thing we do. According to Mormonism, God the Father, who has a body of flesh and bones (since he was a man), came to earth and had physical sex with Mary, his own daughter and that’s how Jesus was conceived. A very different and grotesque definition of the virgin birth and not what the Bible teaches (Doctrine and Covenants, 130:22; McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 471). Same words, very different meaning, so always define your terms.
Attacks on the Virgin Birth
As we would expect, of course there are attacks on this teaching of the virgin birth by those outside of the faith. And what you find in most cases is that these people have an antisupernatural bias. And all that means is they believe miracles are impossible.
The virgin birth is a miracle, so of course they deny the virgin birth. Here below is a good example from atheist Richard Dawkins.
“The Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the raising of Lazarus, even the Old Testament miracles, all are freely used for religious propaganda, and they are very effective with an audience of unsophisticates and children.” You see, in his worldview, belief in miracles is on a level with fairy tales and it’s left to children, unsophisticates and the uneducated. The underlying thought being that anyone who is capable of rational thinking certainly would not believe in miracles. ---There is by some, the outright rejection of the supernatural, and that the supernatural and science cannot co-exist. Here you have a classic example of the knowledge that God has granted to mankind being used in arrogance to reject God. A classic example of the arrogance of mankind.
And of course Dawkins doesn’t bother to deal with all of the famous scientists such as“newton, kepler, mendel, pascal, faraday, Copernicus, and others who believed in the Virgin Birth, resurrection, and raising of the dead by Christ.”
The Accounts Come From Mythology.
Others reject the virgin birth saying that this concept is nothing new and Christianity actually stole this from earlier religions and made it a creed for itself. This is a common objection that runs rampant on the internet and in writings today and so we will briefly discuss this./// Those who say that this account was borrowed from mythology will tell you that great people typically had supernatural births attributed to them and that the virgin birth is but another example of that.
They may reference ancient Assyrian mythology where it is said that the wife of Nimrod gave birth to Tammuz who was conceived by a sunbeam. There’s a similar legend in Egyptian mythology with Isis and Osiris. There is also in India mythology along the same lines. They may reference an ancient Chinese mother cult known as the Shing Moo. Their artwork picturing the mother and the child looks a lot like the artwork portraying Mary and Jesus. One legend about the Buddha claims he was miraculously conceived when an elephant entered his mothers belly. Olympius, the mother of Alexander the Great often asserted that he was conceived by the gods. By one account it is said that she conceived him after eating a pomegranate.
These are just a few examples of how people will assert that this type of story often goes with a great person of history and so the story of the birth of Christ is nothing new. Without going into too much detail, let me give you four reasons why this accusation is false and so you can rest easy knowing that the early Christian church didn’t adopt the virgin birth narratives from pagan mythology.
First, you will find that in the case of these legends and mythology, the legend arises after the various people of history become famous. Contrast this with the birth of Christ whose virgin birth was prophesied over 700 years in advance from Isaiah 7:14. Concerning His birth, not only was his birth prophesied, but also his lineage, his name, and where He would be born, was prophesied and fulfilled. This is not to say anything about the hundreds of prophecies that would be fulfilled in the course of His lifetime. There exists nothing like this in all of history.
Second, the facts of the events of the life of Christ were written during the lives of the eyewitnesses. There were the brothers of Jesus, his mother, his cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, disciples, you name it. If what was being reported was legend it would have been refuted, by eyewitnesses, and it wasn’t……… Some critics say that because the account of the virgin birth isn’t in the gospel of John we have reason to doubt it’s true. They are right, it’s not in John, but what they don’t tell you is that right at 90% of what John wrote is not in the other gospels. He wrote much later than Matthew and Luke and 90% of what he wrote didn’t include what had already been written.
Third, these legends that the critics claim are the inspiration for the VB grew out of pagan polytheism. This is the belief that there are many gods who were powerful men with human lusts, anger, and desires with the context being sexuality and fertility. In mythology, the gods would take part in and enjoy human sexual pleasures. It isn’t even close to feasible that the church coming primarily from monotheism and staying with monotheism would adopt these ideas from pagan mythology at its most degrading point. The NT writers have nothing in common with pagan mythology.
Fourth, consider the authors. Matthew and Luke wrote the accounts and neither was likely to be gullible. Matthew was a former tax-collector and Luke was a doctor. And while it is true that medicine has come a long way in twenty centuries, we have known for a long time that virgins don’t have babies and no doubt Dr. Luke knew this is well. And listen to how Luke starts his gospel out. “Many have taken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you most excellent Theophilus.” He carefully investigated everything from the beginning. He even consulted with Jesus’ mother who confirmed that Jesus’ birth was supernatural. He isn’t passing along myth or fable, but fact. The fact that from the very beginning of Jesus’ human life, his eternal Father set him apart as exceptional. The Gospel writers didn’t concoct a myth.
These four reasons should help you rest assured the virgin birth was not taken from Pagan mythology. But sadly, these attacks come not only from outside the faith, but within as well from those who take the name of Christian. And I will cover what some of these attacks are only to emphasize for you that we must know what we believe and why. Just because a place is called a seminary or a person takes the title of Christian, or professor, or pastor, or bishop it does not mean the person or place teach the things of God. We must be critical thinkers and stand upon the solid foundation of the Word of God. Listen to a couple of these quotes.
Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong says, "In time, the virgin birth account will join Adam and Eve and the story of the cosmic ascension as clearly recognized mythological elements in our faith tradition whose purpose was not to describe a literal event but to capture the transcendent dimensions of God in the earthbound words and concepts of first-century human beings." Most people do not literalize the story of Santa Claus. He is a symbol--a powerful symbol, but still just a symbol. I suggest that the birth narratives of Jesus, too, cannot be taken literally. They, too, are symbols, a religious version of Santa Claus.
in his book, he argues that 1) the virgin birth narrative in the NT is a story which should not be taken literally, 2) that Mary was quite likely the victim of rape, and 3) Jesus was probably married most likely to Mary Magdalene. This is from [at least in title] an Episcopal bishop.
Another angle of attack has come from those who call themselves the Jesus Seminar. These self-proclaimed scholars continually accuse the Bible. One of the individuals belonging to this group is John Dominic Crossan and he says that in regard to the virgin birth, the author of the Book of Matthew simply made this up. “Clearly, somebody went seeking in the OT for a text that could be interpreted as prophesying a virginal conception, even if such was never its original meaning…” And about the virgin birth he wrote: “I consider him [Jesus} the normally born child of Mary and Joseph”
Bishop Joseph Sprague of the United Methodist Church talks about the “myth” of the virgin birth. Jesus, Sprague insists, was born to human parents and did not possess “trans-human, supernatural powers. -------Clearly, the virgin birth is an object of criticism both in and out the church. But how important is this as a doctrine?
Why Is it Necessary to Believe in the Virgin Birth (what’s the big deal)
Is it important that we believe in the virgin birth? The answer is yes. God ordained that it would happen this way and he appointed Matthew and Luke to record it in their Gospels. To deny this doctrine is to open the door to denying anything plainly affirmed in the Bible. \\\\\\\\\\\\I find it amazing that if you believe what the bible clearly says, you are called a fundamentalist, which has become almost a term people want to avoid, kind of on the same level as some kind of a kook or right wing nut. All for simply believing what it says.
So what’s the significance of the virgin birth? First, if it isn’t true, the Bible contains lies and can’t be trusted. If the virgin birth isn’t true, I recommend to you that you throw your bible away and find something better to read. The virgin birth is prophesied in the OT and clearly given to us as a true account in the NT. The accuracy of the scriptures depends upon the truth of the virgin birth.
And if it isn’t true, what are we left with? One author tells us, “If the virgin birth of Jesus is untrue, then the story of Jesus changes greatly; we would have a sexually promiscuous young woman lying about God’s miraculous hand in the birth of her son, raising that son to declare he was God, and then joining his religion. But if Mary is nothing more than a sinful con artist then neither she nor her son Jesus should be trusted.////// Because both the clear teachings of Scripture about the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life and the character of his mother are at stake, we must contend for the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.” Well put.
Second, the virgin birth is significant as it displays to us the supernatural God we serve. This is a reminder that our Mighty God is not contained by natural laws and the problems of earth; nothing is impossible for Him. We have on one end of Jesus’ life his supernatural conception and birth; in the middle we have his supernatural life here on earth, and on the other end we have his supernatural resurrection and his ascension to God’s right hand. The authenticity of Christ is attested to by the supernatural. All of the miracles serve a purpose in pointing us to the supernatural God that we serve.
Third, the virgin birth shows that humanity needs saved and that it can’t save itself. The fact that the human race couldn’t produce its own savior tells us that its savior must come from outside. And that’s what we have in the person of Christ. It is at this point of our need for a Savior where Christianity stands alone from all of the other world religions. All of the others have their teachers who are happy to tell us what the problem is and how we can better ourselves, but they can’t save us. I like this illustration that Erwin Lutzer uses. He says, picture all of humanity drowning in a turbulent sea of sin. We’re all in the water and we are all drowning and in spite of our best efforts, we can’t save ourselves and we’re far from shore.
The teachings of these other teachers from Buddha, to Baha u llah, to Mohammed to the Hindu, they tell us “yes, we are all drowning” and in essence they hold out a limp hand and say, “I’m a fellow struggler like you, lets join hands and go to the bottom together.” Christ and only Christ can give us a strong hand. He doesn’t bark out orders telling us that if we only swim harder we might live a few minutes longer. Nor does he point to the shore and tell us the rest is up to you, go that way!. Jesus is above and beyond our problem of sin, not part of it.
He alone is the qualified Savior who can reach out to snatch us from the power of the waves and the undercurrent. Unlike all of the others, He alone if we so desire will pluck us out of the water and save us from drowning. And Lutzer says, “Why was I searching for sinless Savior? Because I don’t want to have to trust a Savior who is in the same predicament as I am. I can’t trust my eternal soul to someone who is still working through his own imperfections. Since I am a sinner, I need someone who is standing on higher ground.” Christ, the sinless savior came to earth in the virgin birth to save us from our sins. Matthew 1:23 says, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means “God with us”. Our predicament can only be solved through a sinless savior. If there is no virgin birth, there is no salvation. And the question that I must ask is, have you taken His hand or are you on your way to the bottom? Christ says to take His hand.
Can a true Christian deny the virgin birth? The answer to that question is No. Those who deny the virgin birth reject the authority of Scripture, deny the supernatural birth of the Savior, undermine the very foundations of the Gospel, have no way of explaining the deity of Christ and ultimately are looking to someone who is a part of their predicament to save them.
A denial of the virgin birth is a denial of Jesus as the Christ. The Savior who died for our sins was none other than the baby who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and born of a virgin.
Scripture teaches that the manger held not just another baby, but God himself clothed in human flesh. Jesus the Messiah entered time and space to solve our sin problem.
What we have in the VB is a God ordained combination of humanity and divinity, so that His full humanity would be evident to us from the fact of His human birth from a human mother, and His deity would be evident from the fact of His conception in Mary’s womb by the work of the Holy Spirit. Isn’t that awesome?
We are told in 1 Peter 3:15, to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. In our increasingly secular society, many of us will have to answer the question, Why do you believe in a virgin birth? The answer is simple. God required a perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Just like the animals in the OT that were sacrificed had to be “without defect”, Jesus was that perfect sacrifice just as it says in 1 Pet. 1:19, that Jesus was "a lamb without blemish or defect."
The virgin birth was consistent with what God had taught the Hebrew people from the earliest days of their relationship with Him. The "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" must be flawless - in other words, sinless.
Jesus was born to die for us. He came to pay for my sin and for yours.
The virgin birth was a miraculous event with a deliberate purpose, and as Christians, we are responsible for telling others about that awesome plan.
Jesus was born of a virgin,,,,, and of the billions of people who have lived throughout history, only one person entered the world in this way. The one mediator between God and man and that is Christ Jesus.
We are to take this truth seriously, cherish it and defend it. I like this quote I came across, it says,
“The virgin birth is posted on guard at the door of the mystery of Christmas; and none of us must think of hurrying past it. It stands on the threshold of the New Testament, blatantly supernatural, defying our rationalism, informing us that all that follows belongs to the same order as itself and that if we find it offensive there is no point in proceeding further.”
And so, with that, it’s my prayer that as we sing silent night and those words “Round yon virgin” that we have a greater understanding and appreciation for what the virgin birth means.