The conception of human life and its development in the womb of her that is with child is a wonder beyond our ability to comprehend. How the cells of a husband and wife unite to form another person-this is nothing other than a wonder of God’s hand. Ecclesiastes 11:5, “As thou knowest not … how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.” Medical science in all of its discoveries and advances can tell much of what happens in childbirth and when it will happen. But they cannot tell you how or why. Again we read in Psalm 139:14, 15, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.”
Still more: not only do the Scriptures tell us that it is the wonder of God to conceive a human being and to bring that human being to life, but the Scriptures also tell us the awful and humbling fact that we are conceived and born in sin. Psalm 51:5, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” At the very first moments of existence we are dead in sin. The human life created in the soul is spiritually depraved. There is no good in it. Psalm 58 says that we go astray from the womb. We are guilty in the first man Adam. And we are conceived and brought forth sinful, corrupt, and unclean. We must be born again in Jesus Christ. That is true even of those who are the smallest of children.
But now, before the wonder of conception of human life in the womb of a mother, and the sober and awful fact of our being conceived dead in sin, we confess that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary. That is a greater wonder still. It is the wonder of God’s eternal Son continuing to be God’s eternal Son, yet uniting Himself to human flesh in the virgin Mary’s womb. The Holy Spirit conceived, impregnated, the virgin Mary so that out of her flesh was formed the human nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Son of God took to Himself our flesh and blood and was made precisely like us with one exception, namely, that He was without sin. For He was the holy Child Jesus. Eternal God, fully God, remaining God. Became a man, developed nine months and was born of a virgin, He was called Immanuel, “God with us.”
That is what happened.
And why did it happen? That is even more of a marvel! Why did God’s Son unite Himself to human flesh, the bones and blood of a human body? The answer is this: So that He might cover, in the sight of God, our sins, the sins in which we were conceived and born. Why would He do that? Because He loved us. He so loved us, that is, the us of God’s free choice and election. Herein is love, says John, not that we loved God but that He loved us and gave His Son to be the propitiation, the covering, for our sins (I John 4:10). You know that, do you not? In I John 3:5, John assumes that this is part of the common knowledge of those who have saving faith. We read: “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.”
You see, we deal with wonder-the wonder of the incarnation, of Jesus Christ becoming flesh. The wonder of propitiation, the covering that He makes for all of our sins. The wonder of substitution, that God has given His Son to stand in the place of His children and to bear their sins away. The wonder of atonement, the Son of God bringing a perfect sacrifice and payment for our sins. All of that is found in this confession: He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary.
And the real wonder behind all of it, the wonder which will always be beyond our ability to measure, the wonder we will never get to the bottom of or grasp in its entirety-that wonder is the wonder of the love of God. God so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son to be born in our flesh so that He might cover our sins from His sight. When you and I understand these things by faith, when we understand them personally by faith, then we bow with the shepherds and the wise men and we glorify God and praise Him.
She brought forth her firstborn son, we read in Luke 2:7, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes. That was an act of pure, immeasurable, unconditional love of God. It was a love from which nothing can separate us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35)?
This act of love to which we refer is specifically the Son of God clothing Himself with our flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary. We often think of the love of the Father in giving His only begotten Son to be born and to die for our sins. And that was indeed the love of the Father. We read in the Scripture: God so loved us. Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us. We read in the Scriptures, God spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us (Rom. 8:32). And when the baby Jesus was born in the darkness of the manger and His first cries were heard on earth and Mary wiped Him of His birth-blood and cradled Him in her arms, then, as never before, God manifested His love in giving His Son to bear away our foul evil. All that is true, but it was also an act of the love of the Son who gave Himself to come in our nature, in our human flesh. It was the love of Christ, the Son of God, for us. Isaiah 53:12, He poured out His soul, He emptied Himself, He gave His all for us, He came to give His perfect life for us. John 13:1, knowing that His hour was come and “having loved his own … he loved them unto the end.” John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And the apostle Paul, in deepest humility, and with an irrepressible thrill, says in Galatians 2:20, “The Son of God … loved me, and gave himself for me.”
It was this that the angels saw in that quiet night in Bethlehem. That was what sparked their song of praise. In love, the Son of God, whom all the host of heaven worshiped, now was in flesh, humbled under the crushing weight of our sins.
What wondrous love is this, oh my soul? What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?
Consider that love as He took to Himself our human nature. That was an act. Without ceasing to be God, the Son of God became a man. He did not change into a man. How can God change? How can He stop being God? But He became what He was not, a man. The eternal God remaining eternal God, united Himself in time to human flesh. The King of the ages took to Himself the form of a servant. The Almighty became a helpless child. God now wrapped in human flesh.
He did this willingly. It was not something forced upon Him from without. No, it was His deliberate choice. When we are born we have no part in that. You did not decide to be born. You did not choose to come into this life. But Christ, the Lord, the Creator, took to Himself our flesh and blood, and did so knowing what it was that He must do in that flesh and blood: pay for our sins. In the manger is the child who has come in an act of His own love, who has come now to hang upon the cross in that flesh, deliberately and willingly to cover our sins.
We see that act of love even more clearly when we see the consequences that birth brought to the Savior, which consequences He knew before He was born. He was born to a life of continual suffering. And then, not simply an unusually heavy dose of suffering which comes to many men and women, but the suffering of the wrath of God against our sins. He knew that before He came down. Psalm 22, which was written as if the psalmist stood outside of Pilate’s judgment court, proclaims: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And he speaks of the fact that they will divide His garments. Yet that psalm was written one thousand years before Calvary. How can that be? It was written by the Spirit of Jesus Christ who knew the whole outline of His sufferings as prepared by His Father. Yet, even though He knew all of that suffering, He never rejected it. He never said a mumbling word.
You look into the future with expectation and hope, what good you will experience at the hand of God. You think of your happiness, your pleasure, your success. Jesus, as a young man in Nazareth learning a carpenter’s trade, knew He could expect nothing from this life. Nothing from people but hatred. He knew that when He took on Himself our human nature. The shadow of the cross hung over the manger and over every one of His thirty-three years. Already in Bethlehem He could hear the ringing bell summoning Him to appear before the tribunal of God in our place. Yet, knowing it all, He came eager and thirsty and hungry to do the Father’s will.
Why? What could motivate Him? What could drive Him? Do you think that He saw something good in us which would cause Him to do this? No! All we like sheep have gone astray. We despised and rejected Him.
Why? Because He loved us. No tongue of man or angel is able to declare all the love of God in this simple and profound truth, that the eternal Son of God, remaining the eternal Son of God, took to Himself the very nature of man.
He did that in order that He might provide a perfect covering for my sins-to be a propitiation, says John, a covering for my sins, to make it possible to sing with David, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” He came to stand in our place. He was born in our flesh so that lawfully and really He might represent us in the judgment of God. He took to Himself a body. Hebrews 10, “A body hast thou prepared for me,” in order that in that body, in that human nature, He could assume the place of God’s people (my place) before God and take upon Himself their guilt in His own body. By the virgin birth, that is, by the work of the Holy Spirit conceiving in Mary’s womb the human nature of Christ, by that work the Son of God assumed the place of guilty sinners, of those sinners whom the Father had given to Him in a gracious counsel of election. And He assumed our place in order that He might be punished for our sins, in order that His sinless and perfect obedience might be put in the place of our guilt and sin.
It is a wonder of God’s grace. II Corinthians 5:21, “For he (God) hath made him (Jesus) to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” In order that God might cover my sin from His sight, He made His Son in my flesh. He made Him like unto His brethren in all things. Hebrews 2:17, “It behooved him to be made like unto his brethren.” It was necessary for Him to be made like us in everything, yet without sin, if He was to make reconciliation for the sins of His people.
And He was made like unto us. There was not a single difference between Christ’s human nature and ours, save that one exception: sin. There was no sin in Jesus. The Scripture emphasizes, in fulfillment of the promises made to the fathers (Adam, Abraham, David), He was born of the seed of David, of the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, of the seed of Abraham. He had Jewish traits. He was of the nationality of Israel. He was a man among men. He was born of a woman in pain and sorrow. He had to learn how to walk and how to speak. Mary watched Him as He took His first tottering steps and spoke His first stammering words. He grew in wisdom and in stature, and in knowledge and favor with God and man (Luke 2:50). All that goes into normal human development was His. He learned how to read. He searched the Scriptures so at the age of twelve He could question and answer the doctors of the law. He learned a trade from His father Joseph. He learned how to use a hammer, a plane, and a chisel. He experienced hunger and fatigue. He knew what homesickness was, and sympathy. He knew what it was to be forsaken. He wept. He sighed. There is nothing so human, you know, as a sigh. When we sigh, we know that we are under the curse for sin. Jesus looked up to heaven one day (Mark 8:34) and He sighed.
You say, is that important for me to know? Well, you had better listen. For the sin you have committed, God will not punish any other creature, but a human being. If he is to make payment for your sin and remove your curse and stand in your place, he must be like unto you in everything, yet without sin.
Still more, I summon you to consider not only the perfect covering that He makes in His human flesh, but the perfect compassion and sympathy of the Savior. We have a high priest (Heb. 4:14) who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities. He knows human life from the development of a child to maturity. He knows the needs of childhood. He knows the difficulties of growing up as a teenager. He understands the questions of the middle aged. You can never come to Him and say, “But you wouldn’t understand what this life is like. How could you possibly know what I’m feeling, what I’m going through.” You cannot say that to Him. He was touched with all our infirmities.
Consider just the loneliness of the Savior. Are we not all, in a certain sense, lonely? Even in life’s most intimate relationships, our soul’s kinship, we are, in a sense, strangers. Loneliness can press in upon us on a bed of pain and suffering. We can be forgotten by friends. Perhaps we are separated from our wife and children; we are imprisoned for the sake of the Lord; we are beaten; we are no longer able to stand up or talk. But are we really alone? Never! I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ who knows perfectly all about loneliness. For He was forsaken of His disciples; He was forsaken of all; He was forsaken of God for our sins.
So we can pray, “Lord, I’m lonely. I’m a stranger to my brethren. I can’t express to anybody what I feel. But now I’m going to tell Thee, Lord, all of my desires because Thou dost understand. Thou dost know. Thou hast been more lonely than I will ever be. Lord, be with me, comfort me in my loneliness.”
There is the benefit. The benefit is that He has covered, in the sight of God, all my sins. His holy life and suffering upon the cross removes my unholy life and atones for all of my sins: the sin in which I was born; the sin in which I was conceived; and the sin which has infiltrated all of my life and has left its mark upon everything I ever do and spoils and corrupts it. That sin must be forgiven. And, praise God, it has been! It has been forgiven by another who took it to Himself and carried it to a tree upon Calvary and suffered its penalty and left me, in its place, a perfect obedience credited forever to my account.
Praise the Lord! A covering was made for sin.
He was born in our flesh in order that He might take away our sins.
His life of perfect obedience and righteousness is now mine before God. My sins were His garments. His righteousness is my garment. And now, because the Son of God is come in our flesh, born of the virgin Mary, suffered and died upon Calvary’s cross, everyone who can say by the grace of God in sorrow, “My sins, oh, my sins!” can by the grace of God also joyfully and wondrously say, “My Savior, who was born to cover in the sight of God, my sin!”
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy holy Word. And we pray that Thou wilt send it deeply into our hearts. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.