Dear Radio Friends,
It is that time of year again when we commemorate the conception and birth of Jesus Christ. For that reason the next couple of broadcasts I am going to speak to you on several passages of the gospel accounts that center in these truths. Today we consider Matthew 1:18: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.”
In this short verse is contained a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith: the virgin birth. It is the truth voiced in all ecumenical confessions, including our Apostles’ Creed: “Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary.” This confession is contained in this one verse we consider out of Matthew 1. It is one of the great truths of grace! On the foreground stands the miracle of the incarnation: God becoming man. And it is only on the basis of this miracle that God’s people can be saved. We will find today that God made possible that which is humanly impossible: our salvation. It is beyond all human imagination that Christ is in the divine Person of the Son of God both man and God.
That is the great truth we learn of today. As we do, however, we do not want to single out the doctrine of Christ’s divinity and consider it in the abstract. Our text has historical content that also must be considered. All this took place in the lives of Mary and Joseph—a young couple who were engaged to be married. We cannot help but think of the shame Joseph must have felt when he found out that Mary was pregnant. We can understand his actions. He was a good man and a just. We must also see what great faith he as well as Mary had to have when told all of these things. I mean, what they were told was beyond all human imagination! This wonderful truth of Christ’s divine conception touched the personal lives of these two people as well as others. And that too we must understand when considering this passage of God’s Word.
Let us consider Mary’s miraculous conception from the point of view of this verse here in Matthew 1.
MARY’S MIRACULOUS CONCEPTION
I. A SURPRISED COUPLE
II. A DIVINE CONCEPTION
III. A PROMISED MESSIAH
I. A Surprised Couple
Joseph and Mary were espoused, that is, they were engaged. They were a poor but happy young couple, both of whom looked forward to a simple life together as husband and wife. The Bible is not interested in this fact, but we ought not to think the relationship with them was any different than any other young man and woman who were engaged to be married. They no doubt were excited and were busy making plans to marry soon. Joseph was a man of Nazareth, a small, insignificant village tucked away in the hills of Galilee. He was a carpenter by trade, but was far from independently wealthy. He was an honest and upright man. He was also a man of faith. The Scripture tells us very little of Joseph really. When Jesus began His earthly ministry, Joseph is hardly mentioned. But Joseph had to be a godly man of simple and heroic faith. After all, when the angel appeared to him and told him of Christ’s miraculous conception in the womb of his betrothed, he bowed before God’s will. He knew it would cause him shame and derision among family and friends. No one would believe the miraculous birth of Jesus. But he was willing to undergo all this, and for that reason he did not hesitate to take Mary to wife.
It also took great faith for him to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt for approximately two years. He had to make a living there during that time too, after all. So, we must not slight Joseph’s faith, though little is said of him. He was a good husband and, to all intents and purposes, a good father too! This young Joseph had asked Mary to be his bride. Mary was about 17 or 18 years old at the time. Mary was of humble birth too. Though both she and Joseph were born of the line of David, that line had fallen into oblivion. Mary was born and raised in Nazareth as well—probably a neighbor of Joseph.
Much more is known of Mary than of Joseph, of course, not because she was holy herself. She could not assist Christ in the work of our salvation, as many in our day will contend. She is not some special saint to whom we may pray. Mary was a normal young girl who grew up in a little village. She had her sins and weaknesses just like every other saint. However, she was a woman of faith. She bowed before the announcement of the angel to her: that she would conceive and bring forth the Messiah, the Christ. She too bore humbly the shame and degradation that people must have heaped upon her when she was found to be with child before being married. And though at times her actions during Jesus’ earthly ministry were rash, nevertheless she believed in Jesus as the Savior and Christ.
So, Mary and Joseph are indeed evidence that, though the nation of Israel as a whole was characterized by legalism and work righteousness, there were still those who lived in faith.
Now, what is important in our text is also the fact that Joseph had asked for Mary’s hand in marriage. They were espoused, our text tells us. That means that they were betrothed or engaged. This engagement was not marked by the giving of a diamond, however. In those days, engagement was a greater commitment than it is today. A bill of engagement was drawn up that both signed. In that bill not only were the obligations of the betrothed outlined, but the amount of a dowry that must be paid by the young man to the father of the girl was also set. The difference between being espoused to a man and being married is that during this short period of engagement there was no intimate, physical, or sexual relationship with each other. To be espoused, therefore, was a formal compact that could be broken only by means of a formal writ of divorce. At the same time, those engaged in this manner were to abstain from any kind of physical relationship with one another. For that reason, espousal was usually a very short period of time—maybe a year at most. All of this comes into play, of course, when we read of the subsequent actions of Joseph when he found out Mary was expecting a child. He was going to put her away privately by a writ of divorcement and not make a public spectacle our of her. All this is why we speak this morning of a young couple. Joseph and Mary were a couple—an engaged couple.
What a surprise it was to Joseph to hear that his espoused was great with child! Joseph knew it was not his child. He had been faithful to the seventh commandment of God and shown utter respect for his young fiancée. He must have gone through the same range of emotions that anyone would who knew his loved one was unfaithful: anger, bitterness, resentment, shame.
Joseph must also have given some very serious consideration to what had happened. He, no doubt, heard Mary’s explanation of what took place. But let’s face it, if some young girl today made the claim that Mary did, would we believe it? It is too far-fetched. Joseph did not believe Mary either—until later, of course, when the angel confirmed it. But then Joseph’s surprise was probably no greater than was Mary’s surprise when the angel also appeared to her and told her she would conceive without knowing a man. Mary bowed in humble submission before this announcement of the angel and believed. But she was surprised and even troubled when she first heard of what was going to take place too. How was she going to explain this? What shame she would have to bear. No one would believe her. Not even Joseph believed her. He was going to put her away. And the good man that he was he was not going to make a public matter out of it all by taking her to court. He decided simply to sign the bill of divorcement that would break off the engagement.
We ought not to underestimate what personal difficulties this miraculous conception of Mary caused her and Joseph. They never lived down the shame, it seems. And it was not as if people did not think of unfaithfulness when thinking of this couple. The Pharisees threw this in the face of Jesus later in His ministry when they accused Him of being conceived out of wedlock. There definitely was a stigma attached to Joseph and Mary, as well as to Jesus Himself, because of this miraculous birth. It made life difficult for this couple. Yet, in all of this we must see the simple faith of this man and woman. They believed. And we too are called upon to believe! What we hear in all the accounts of the conception and birth of Jesus is a marvelous and humanly impossible thing. Yet, it is exactly in this, the incarnation of Christ, that we rejoice. If what the Word of God says here is not true, then there is no reason at all for rejoicing! None at all! If we tell the Christmas story without the truth surrounding it, then that story is useless and vain. It is no more than a romantic tale that is told among all the other secular Christmas stories—as the unbelieving world maintains.
II. A Divine Conception
We have in our text the amazing truth of the virgin birth! A woman who had never known a man intimately, who had never, to use the words of our text, “come together” with a man, conceived a child. She was a young woman, she was an unwed woman who had preserved herself pure and holy, she was a virgin—and she conceived a child! I know the reaction of unbelief to this truth, people of God. The reaction of unbelief is: nice story! Children love to hear it! But it is a story, a fairy tale! It is not truth. It cannot be truth because all of us know that in order for a woman to conceive, there must be a man. By no stretch of genetics, except perhaps by cloning, which we know they knew nothing about then, can a person conceive a child in her womb. The story cannot be true. And because of this view of unbelief, many in the church too will deny the virgin birth. It is not necessary for a miraculous conception to take place. It is not necessary to believe in Christ’s divinity. Do away with this miracle! We do not wish to embarrass ourselves in the face of modern science! It is but a heartwarming tale!
But this passage we consider leaves no doubt of the miracle of virgin birth. I suppose, if we believe that the Bible is not God’s Word, then we need not believe it. But if we believe that what is contained in the Bible is indeed the very Word of God to us—the infallible, authoritative Word of God—then we must believe the passage we have before us! Before this man and woman came together, before they knew each other in that intimate way of a husband and wife, Mary was with child. Mary was a virgin! The fact that she was a virgin is a sign to you and me of the greatest of all miracles, fellow believers! We may not take away the virgin birth!
The virgin birth is a sign that truly Christ is the Son of God made flesh! This is supported by the end of our text: “she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” She was not found with child of Joseph, she was not found with child of a man, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, was sent forth by the triune God to do that work of God. The power of this Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, and a small ovum inside of her was given life. In very simple language, that seed in Mary was human because it was the seed of a woman, but when it was given life by the Holy Spirit, that baby became divine. God became the Father of that child. Joseph was always viewed by others as Jesus’ father. But Joseph was not Jesus’ father. God was!
That is not hard to understand! Although beyond human imagination, it is not hard to understand the incarnation. The Bible recognizes this great truth everywhere. The scriptural account is consistent throughout: Jesus was born of a woman who was a sinner just as we are. Jesus assumed the human nature. He was a man with the same weaknesses as a man. But He was also the divine Son of God—He had a divine nature that made Him sinless and all powerful!
And it is that that we must notice in our text here too. Christ was all-powerful! He was powerful to save us from our sin. That is the reason we rejoice in Christ’s incarnation. God made possible, in Jesus Christ, through this miraculous conception, what was humanly impossible: deliverance from sin and hell. Jesus Christ was sent into this world as the highest act of God’s love and grace toward His people! I know that the vast majority of the church world see Jesus as nothing more than this really, really good man who did all kinds of nice things for people. I heard a song of Christmas sung this past week that sang of the wisdom of the Magi who came to see Jesus. That wisdom was seeing in Jesus a poor little boy who was in need of help, so they brought him gifts. Wisdom, then, is giving gifts. Wisdom is not seeing Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God before whom we must bow and worship as did the Magi! Wisdom is humanism—looking out for humanity.
That is not why Jesus Christ was born into this world, people of God! Christ was born into this world to save sinners! Notice why it was that Joseph was told to name his child Jesus: verse 2, “for he shall save his people from their sins.” That is why the Son of God had to be born into our human flesh! This was the only way that salvation was possible—the only way! And Jesus was sent to secure that salvation for us. You see, our sin is of such a nature that it alienates us from God. Sin forms a barrier that keeps us from God’s favor and fellowship. Sin is this huge wall that shuts us out of heaven! And that is true of everyone without exception! All men in Adam are worthy of eternal punishment on account of sin. And no amount of good deeds is going to pay that price for our sin. No amount of good works is going to earn our way into heaven. The simple fact is that we sinned, and that sin has to be paid for. And we cannot pay for it. On the contrary, we daily add to our sin. Yet, we—that is, man—must pay for our sin if we are to escape hell and be received back into God’s favor and fellowship again. We must bear the full burden of God’s anger against our sin, we must pay the price of hell, if we are going to be received into God’s favor.
Simple fact. There is no way around it. We must suffer God’s wrath in hell before going to heaven. Now, do you think you could do that? Do any of us here think we are able to bear God’s wrath for a moment in hell and then come out of hell to experience God’s favor again? If we think we as men have the power to endure that wrath of God, we are sadly mistaken. God’s wrath is an eternal wrath! If I were to pay the price for my sins alone, I would have to suffer God’s wrath to an eternity! I would never be able to suffer it in a moment and then escape it the next. God’s wrath is eternal, and therefore punishment is eternal! The only man that is able to bear God’s eternal wrath and then live to come out from under it is one who is Himself very God! Only one who is divine would be able to bear the eternal weight of God’s anger!
This is why the virgin birth is so, so significant! By means of this miraculous conception of Christ He became man. As man He was able to bear the sins of men. He was a fit representative of man, being a man Himself. But Christ was also God, able to bear the burden of God’s wrath against our sins and then be able to deliver us from them! Christ had to be God. If He was not God, then we are still lost in our sins. The price would not be paid. Being God, Christ was all powerful to pay the price of sins and to deliver God’s people from them! We may not deny the virgin birth then! To deny it is to deny our own salvation! That then is why we rejoice this morning.
III. A Promised Messiah
The Messiah was born just as God had promised. God made possible in His birth what was humanly impossible: our salvation! All according to His promise. Follow the generations of Christ in the Old Testament. He was sent out of the line of Abraham and David. He came. Our text tells us: the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise. The birth of whom? The birth of Jesus—the one who has come to save His people from their sins. But, more importantly, the birth of Christ. That is the Greek word for the Hebrew name Messiah! The Messiah had been promised for centuries! His line can be traced—the line of the covenant! And now He has come—just as God had promised He would. And our Savior, whose birth we celebrate this season, is strong to save! God has made our salvation possible in Him. Here is Immanuel: God with us!
Dear Radio Friends,