Celebrating a Birth Completely Unbound by Human Expectations

As Christmas draws near and we begin to focus on what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, I am reminded of a sermon I listened to a few Christmases ago. I have friends who, despite the Bible’s abundantly-clear teachings on how God entered humanity, stumble in their walk toward faith when it comes to believing that Jesus was brought forth by virgin birth. So it was that I eagerly listened to an online sermon in which the pastor was quite clearly fed up with getting the same question over and over again from the members of his congregation. The line of inquiry would (apparently) go something like this:

“Okay, so I don’t have any problem accepting Jesus as the greatest man who ever lived, and there is no longer any question in my mind that he has been the single greatest moral influence on the world, but…a virgin birth? Come on, man, that’s just not credible! I mean, really…what do we lose if we just set aside this idea that he was born of a virgin?”

To which this particular pastor very bluntly replies: “We lose Jesus.

If that sounds at all like Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church to you, congratulations, you nailed it. Jaw-dropping bluntness being one of the qualities that I personally cherish in Pastor Mark’s ministry, it nevertheless seems clear that his response on this essential Christian doctrine is absolutely, 100% correct. Toss the virgin birth and “everything else” we cherish about the life and ministry of Jesus goes with it. Ruling out the supernatural and holding fast to the idea that a “virgin birth is impossible” must, ultimately, lead the more thoughtful among us to “I need to abandon Christianity altogether.” If we dismiss the virgin birth as folklore or fable, if in our minds we “deny” God the ability to perform the miraculous, then we all might as well get busy with our “eating and drinking,” as the prophet Isaiah suggests (Isaiah 22:13) and the Apostle Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 15:29-33.

It still surprises me to regularly bump into self-described “Bible-believing” Christians who don’t accept that the Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. In many hearts, it would seem, there is the quick nod of the head to indicate that yes, we have to acknowledge the fact that the Bible says that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit…yet many will still harbor tremendous reluctance to accept in their hearts that this is one of the core Biblical truths upon which their entire faith stands or falls.

I have even known Christians to say that they fully believe that God is, indeed, the cosmic “first cause” that brought about the Big Bang, that unfathomable moment in which all of the known creation sprang forth from “nothing into everything” in a fraction of a second…and yet will still struggle with the Christian doctrine of the virgin birth!

But let’s stop and think about that for just a moment. Is it even remotely consistent that we can acknowledge God as being capable of creating the entire known universe in a tiny fraction of a second…and yet somehow still “deny Him” the ability to incarnate Himself into human flesh…in whatever manner He ordains as fitting? Does this position really make any sense at all?

I’m not at all unsympathetic with this halting journey toward faith. As a relatively-new believer, there are many Christian doctrines and Biblical truths that I still struggle with…even today. Where I ultimately land, though, is on Billy Graham’s back porch. It’s been well-documented that Dr. Graham suffered a severe crisis of faith in 1949, just prior to a series of evangelical “tent meetings” in Los Angeles. After a walk in the woods accompanied by heartfelt prayer, he ultimately decided to subject his intellectual assumptions to the truths of Scripture and abandon the human tendency to do the exact opposite. Basically, he came to a crisis point where he had to say “Lord, I don’t understand everything you teach, but from here on out, I’m all in. I accept all of it.”

Since we are celebrating the Incarnation of God into human history this week, let’s pause and consider how other well-respected Christians have positioned the virgin birth as “all-or-nothing” in their understanding of what it means to be a true believer:

“The incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ is the central fact of Christianity. Upon it the whole superstructure of Christian theology depends.”
John F. Walvoord (1910-2002)
Theologian, Educator and Author
President, 1952-1986, Dallas Theological Seminary

“The whole essence of Christianity is predicated on the fact that Jesus is God in human flesh, something that is made clear at the very birth of Christ. The virgin birth is an essential doctrine, for if Jesus had a human father, then the Bible is untrustworthy, because the Bible claims He did not have one. And if Jesus was born simply of human parents, there is no way to describe the reason for His supernatural life. His virgin birth, His substitutionary death, His bodily resurrection, and His Second Coming are a package of deity. You cannot isolate those truths, accepting only one and leaving the rest, or accepting them all but one.”
John MacArthur
Pastor, Grace Community Church, Los Angeles
President, The Master’s College and Seminary

The popular talk-show host Larry King was once asked whom he would choose, if he had the choice to interview one person across history. Larry King replied that he would like to interview Jesus Christ and that he would ask Him just one question: “Are You indeed virgin born?” “The answer to that question,” said King, “would explain history for me.” Larry King is right. The virgin birth at the very least points to a world unbound by sheer naturalism. The claim is lofty, but think it through even in its original and early context. Jesus’ virgin birth was claimed while giving it the clear possibility of being verified along many lines.
Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods

It seems that there is something embedded deep into our human nature that resists accepting all-or-nothing propositions. The sheer number of Christological heresies scattered across the past 2,000 years is ample evidence that we clever humans prefer not to take the Bible at face value, instead preferring to conduct our own in-depth analysis and arrive at some heretofore undiscovered (!) conclusion. It really is astonishing to me to consider the number of people who have not even read the Bible cover-to-cover and yet are entirely comfortable pronouncing judgment on it (and ignoring thousands of years of Biblical scholarship in the bargain).

As Christmas looms large, let’s take a moment to read the Bible’s account one more time:

Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

This Christmas season, I pray that more and more people would have their hearts deeply and irrevocably pierced with the truth of Jesus’ miraculous virgin birth, sinless life, sacrificial death and bodily resurrection. Our salvation began with God humiliating Himself by taking on human form and opening for us one path to fellowship with a holy, just and perfect God. Our only shot at salvation and peace with God began with an infant, unlike any human birth before or since.

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