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Month: December 2017

Seven Reasons I rejoice in the Virgin Birth

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).” (Matt 1:23)

Jesus was born of a virgin. This is part of the Christmas story, the Gospel story. This is what Scripture clearly declares.

Yet, it’s hard to wrap our minds around. Virgin births just don’t happen. In fact, many thinkers over the last two centuries have used this doctrine to reject the truthfulness of Scripture itself: “Absolutely not. It’s a cover-up job because this unmarried woman is pregnant.” “Not a virgin birth, but wishful thinking.” “A few generations after Jesus, they fabricated this to help the church worship Jesus.” (Don’t miss the irony: fabricate a story to worship him who claims to be the truth. It’s OK to lie/exaggerate as long as you are magnifying Jesus. Really? They call this a “pious fraud”… and, with that fine-sounding name, tell us truth doesn’t matter).

The Virgin Birth IS an anomaly. In all of history, no one is born of a virgin, save Jesus. No one is born without the need of a father’s seed. Except Jesus.

Why is Jesus born of a virgin, and why does this matter? Let me offer several reasons why it matters, why it happened, why we need not be embarrassed about it, and rather, why we can worship the Lord with even more abandon because of it! (Several of these reasons are adapted from Wayne Grudem, Marv Rosenthal, and others).

First, To show that Salvation is from the Lord. This birth is utterly impossible except by God’s intervention. So is salvation. God must step in to provide the way of salvation, the offer of salvation, the grace for salvation. It’s all on him. Even the birth of the Savior he sent is a miracle that can only be attributed to God’s activity. Sounds like a sign-post to the Divine Initiative to rescue us from our sins.

Second, In the Incarnation of Jesus through the virgin birth, we can grasp (sort-of) that which we otherwise couldn’t grasp at all: How Jesus is both God and man. If God had sent his Son as an angelic being, we couldn’t relate to him at all as ‘one of us’; he’d be so far above us, unapproachable. And, he’d still be “outside of humanity”… and thus unable to redeem us. If God had sent his Son through the normal relations of husband and wife, he’d have no claim to divinity: he’d have the same birth story as us all. No uniqueness there, no pointer to his prior existence, no clear break from the rest of humanity. He’d be one of us, but not God. Jesus is the God-man. One hundred percent God, and one hundred percent man. Unique in all of history & eternity. His birth points to this.

Third, By being born of a virgin, there is a break with the inherited sin of Adam. Adam & Eve both sinned in the garden of Eden. They disobeyed God’s command, followed their own pride/ambition, and fell from a state of innocence to a state of bondage to that pride/ambition. All through Scripture, God speaks of humanity being “in Adam”… that is, in the sin of Adam, the guilt of Adam, the doom of Adam. God looks at all humanity as inheriting the sinful state of Adam, the man in the garden. Only one of all the billions who have ever lived has been born outside of Adam’s fatherly line. The One who was “born of a woman.” The Virgin birth of Jesus points to his unique position of being born of a woman. (It’s true that you could go back one generation to Mary’s birth and say, “but she is in Adam!” Fine. However, the theological point is made: There’s one–and only one–born without a man’s help: Jesus. There is a break in the ‘line of Adam’. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church handles this by their doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary – that she was conceived without sin. This is unscriptural. And, unwarranted.)

Fourth, On the day sin entered the world, God promised that the Seed of the Woman would crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). Jesus is the only one who can legitimately claim to the be Seed of the Woman alone. He’s the Serpent Crusher.

Fifth, Isaiah 7:14 says that “The virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and he shall be called Immanuel.” (that name means ‘God with us’.) It’s been in vogue to argue that the Hebrew word almah (virgin) can really mean “young woman.” And, much ink has been spilt in some circles claiming this proves the early church read more into things than history warrants: “Isaiah only predicted a ‘young woman’… no need for a virgin birth.” However, 200 years before Christ, when 70 Jewish scholars met to translate the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) into Greek, they used the Greek word parthenos in this passage for “virgin.” Parthenos is the straight up Greek term for a young woman, whose never been married, and is a virgin. (In fact, when one visits Athens today, the greatest temple is the Parthenon… a temple to Athena the Virgin goddess of Wisdom.) The 70 Jewish Scholars had no desire to build the case for Jesus, who in any event was 200 years after this translation effort.

Sixth, Jesus Legal and Physical Genealogies. [You can skip down to #7 if you want. This gets a little involved. However, if you have your bible and take a look at the references, you will be blessed!]

Matthew 1 holds the genealogy of Jesus in three parts: 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the Exile, 14 from the Exile to Jesus. The third section begins with “Jeconiah” (son of Josiah) who was deported in the Exile to Babylon. Jeconiah is the same king as “Coniah” (ie., without the ‘Jeh’) in Jeremiah 22:24-30. In these verses God says that “none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David and ruling again in Judah.” Matthew’s record includes this “dead end” stump in the  genealogy of Jesus the True King, Son of David.

Matthew does two things: (1) He traces the legal claim to the throne, and Jesus’ legal family is Joseph’s. Joseph adopts Jesus, bestowing on him all his legal rights. Joseph is of the line of David, Mt 1 clearly says. (2) Matthew also reminds us of the sin of God’s people–highlighting the exile, and even this king who is cut off.  There will be no son/offspring/seed of Jeconiah ever to sit on the throne. The legal throne line of David is a dead end.

But it’s also different than physical descent. Matt 1 records the legal descent of Jesus. Luke 3 records the physical genealogy of Jesus. And Luke works backward through Mary’s bloodline. She descends from David through his son Nathan (not the legal line of Kings through Solomon & the cursed Jeconiah). Jesus is the Son of David, but through a different son than the ones on the throne. Note that while Matthew records 42 generations from Jesus to Abraham, Luke records 56. Why the discrepancy? The legal line in Matthew simply needs to establish continuity, but need not be exhaustive. The physical line is father to son.

Seventh, the ultimate reason that we hold humbly, simply and clearly to the Virgin Birth is that Scripture teaches it. You cannot read Matthew 1 and Luke 1 without seeing how vital to the story is Mary’s virginity. It underlies her own questions in Luke 1. It is the security God gives to Joseph to move forward with this marriage (Matt1). It is spoken of by the narrators, the Angels, Mary and Joseph themselves in the story. It’s just simply part of the story.

And now we know why: Jesus is unique & unparalleled. Even in his birth, he is unique and unparalleled. His birth fulfills the promises of God to David (and the curse on Jeconiah). It breaks with Adam’s sin even while identifying with Adam’s race. It is a pointer to the reality of God & Man dwelling in one. And, it reminds us that Salvation–like this pregnancy–can only be a divine initiative of Grace.

“But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his son. Born of a woman, born under law to redeem those who were under the law that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal 4:4-5). This Jesus is born of a woman to redeem us, and adopt us as Sons of his Father. That’s A Christmas Miracle!

How to Prepare for Christmas

It’s so easy to get off track in the pre-Christmas season, and lose sight of why we’re doing all the things we are doing. We get frazzled, overbooked, over-fed and frustrated.

Let me offer six quick words to help us ready ourselves to celebrate Christ’s birth.

(1) Anticipate. It’s human and helpful to hope. We long for what’s not yet. We see a future that is coming. Anticipation is wrapped up in our belief that God is up to something. Christmas is a time to strain forward; today is not all there is. Christ came to earth as a baby, he will come again as the Redeemer and Judge of all things!

(2) Discipline. The way our culture does Christmas is EXCESS: more music, more food, more drink, more presents. More, more, more. As people of the Cross who anticipate a future “more”, let us be counter-cultural in our disciplined lives. More is not gain; godliness with contentment is great gain (Paul says this in 1 Timothy 6). This means knowing our limits and living into them (dollar limits to spend on gifts, calorie limits at feasting, time limits if we just can’t make every get-together, etc.). Just like a backyard fence brings freedom for a toddler, so discipline brings freedom for us all.

(3) Vision & Perspective. The pressure of others can lead us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t. Don’t lose perspective. Be who God made you to be, and live where God called you to live. Don’t try to keep up with the Jones, or make up for last year, or spend a ‘coming bonus’. Have a clear-eyed vision of where God has you & why.

(4) Encouragement. When was the last time you allowed God to encourage you? To build you up? Ponder: God sent his Son, born to a peasant, and laid in a manger… to “save his people from their sins.” Be encouraged: God is for you. He loves you. He set his love on you before you knew he was there! Repeatedly let the gift in the Manger be the encouragement of God in your heart.

(5) Nativity. This is the center of the whole season, the climax of everything in December. It’s all for naught if we forget the nativity. Refresh yourself with the Story of Christmas (Luke 1-2, Matthew 1-2). Rejoice in the ‘invasion’ from eternity, and the reclaiming of his fallen world by its rightful owner and king. All of this begun as a baby asleep on the hay! Our Christmas season will never be centered if the Nativity is not in the center of it!

(6) Trust. All of life is trust. We trust the chair we sit in, the car we drive in, the plane we board to visit relatives. We trust our boss to pay us, our bank to release the funds, our mortgage company to reduce our loan. We trust our friends to help us, our church body to love us, our government to maintain the peace. All of life is trust. Why? Because that’s the only way we can relate to God.

 

Anticipation, Discipline, Vision, Encouragement, Nativity, Trust. A six-fold orientation us in these December days. You might have noticed they spell ADVENT. I trust you can use them to be a pilgrim through Advent on the way to December 25, and not a passenger carried along by the world!

“Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord!” Amen and Amen.

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