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December 13, 2015

Sermon Luke 1:34 . . . “It’s a Miracle: Born of the Virgin Mary”

 

 

“It’s a Miracle: Born of the Virgin Mary”

Luke 1:34

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

It seems we can never get enough of birth stories.

Think, for example, of Illinois mom Amber Miller who, with her doctor’s permission, joined 45,000 others in the Bank of America Chicago marathon, even though she was 39-weeks pregnant.  She planned to run the first half of its 26.2 mile race, then walk the second half with her husband at her side.  But somewhat to her surprise, her contractions started halfway through the race.  So she finished the race, grabbed a bite to eat, then headed to the hospital to give birth to a baby girl.  That’s one determined mom!

And speaking of determination, think of 20-year-old Emily French of Scotland who was not about to let a baby stand in the way of her driving test.  Labor started at about 4:00 in the morning, but her test was at 8:40.  So she took her 45-minute-long test, (with contractions every ten minutes), passed it, then drove herself to the hospital to give birth.  She said, “One good thing about being in labor that day—it really killed my pre-test nerves.”  I guess!

And last, but not least, there’s Kendall Stewardson of Des Moines, Iowa.  After pushing for six hours, she gave birth, with no medication for pain, to a 13 pound, 12 ounce baby boy.  It wasn’t a surprise.  Her first child, also a boy, weighed 12 pounds, 1 ounce.  When a local television news crew stopped by for an interview, she said, “Apparently my body was made for big babies.”  And she said, “We’re very blessed.”

Birth stories.  There are so many of them.  

The Bible too is filled with amazing birth stories.  Think of Isaac, born to Abraham and Sarah when both were nearly one hundred years old.  And think of Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist, all of whom were born to women with barren wombs.

But of all the births past, present and future, there’s none more amazing, nor miraculous, than the birth of Jesus—announced by angels, proclaimed by a star, worshipped by shepherds and adored by wise men—there’s never been one like it and, you can be sure, they’ll never be one like it again.

Listen to the words of Luke chapter 1:  “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.  And the virgin’s name was Mary.”

Did you hear that little word hiding in the text?  To be sure we heard it, Luke, a physician, recorded it twice—virgin.

Television personality Larry King was once asked if there was only one person, in all of history, he could interview, who would it be?  He answered, “Jesus Christ.”

And he was asked, “If you could ask Him only one question, what would it be?”

He answered, “Were You really born of a virgin?”

When the reporter asked, “Why would you ask that question?” he answered, “Because that would define history for me.”

It’s been said that Jesus’ virgin birth lies on one of the great fault lines of the Christian faith.  It’s the “great divide” that separates those who believe the Bible is God’s Word, and those who don’t.  

And when it comes to the question of the virgin birth, either you believe Jesus was born of a mother and father like everyone else is born, a Child of Mary and Joseph.  And if that’s what you believe, then Jesus was nothing more than a good man, a moral teacher, a revolutionary, and maybe a prophet.  

But if you believe He was truly born of a virgin, then you must believe He is who He said He was—God in human flesh, sent to save us from our sin.

The University of California at Berkeley once polled Christian denominations on their view of the virgin birth.  They found that sixty-nine percent of American Baptists believed; sixty-six percent of Lutherans; fifty-seven percent of Presbyterians; thirty-four percent of Methodists; and only twenty-one percent of Congregationalists believed in the virgin birth of Jesus.

Is it any surprise?  It shouldn’t be.  From the very beginning, even in Jesus’ day, people doubted that He was really born of a virgin.

In the book of John chapter 6, for example, Jewish leaders scoffed at His claim that He came from heaven.  They said, “How can You claim that You came from heaven when we know your mother and father?”  In John chapter 7, some residents of Jerusalem refused to believe in Him because, they said, “When Messiah comes, no one will know where He came from.  But we know where You came from.”  And in John chapter 8, they said, “We were not born of sexual immorality.”

Even in His lifetime, gossip had it that He was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier named Panthera and a peasant woman, named Mary of Nazareth.  And that was echoed a century later when a heretic named Cerinthus said Jesus was a great man, but His power of prophecy fell on Him at His baptism, but left Him at the cross.

Or think of those closer to home.  Not only did Thomas Jefferson create his own version of the New Testament, cutting out all of Jesus’ miracles and His resurrection, he refused to believe in the virgin birth.  He said:  “The day will come when the mystical conception of Jesus by the Supreme Being as His Father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”  In other words, virgin birth?  It’s just a joke.

Harry Emerson Fosdick, pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, wrote in the early 1900s, “Of course I do not believe in the virgin birth.  I do not know any intelligent minister who does.”

In 1983, Professor W. Barnes Tatum of Greensboro College in North Carolina, called the virgin birth, “theological fiction.”

Robert Funk, founder and leader of the Jesus Seminar, wrote, “The virgin birth of Jesus is an insult to modern intelligence and should be abandoned.  It’s a pernicious doctrine that denigrates women.”  

Literary critic Matthew Arnold once said:  “I do not believe in the virgin birth; for that would imply miracle, and miracles do not happen.”

And John Shelby Spong, former Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, said, “In time, the virgin birth account will join Adam and Eve…as clearly recognized mythological elements in our faith tradition.”  In other words, the virgin birth, just like the story of Adam and Eve, is nothing more than a fairytale dreamed up by primitive and ignorant people.

But what does the Bible say?  Seven hundred years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah wrote:  “The virgin will conceive and bear a Son, and will call His name Immanuel.”

Think of our creeds.  Each Sunday, we confess:  “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.”

And think of our hymns.  Each Christmas, we sing:  “Christ by highest heaven adored.  Christ the everlasting Lord.  Late in time, behold Him come.  Offspring of the virgin’s womb.”  And we sing, “Silent night, holy night.  All is calm, all is bright.  Round yon Virgin Mother and Child holy Infant so tender and mild.  Sleep in heavenly peace.”

Even more, if you think about it, the Bible never said Joseph was Jesus’ father.  When an angel appeared to him in a dream, he didn’t say, “Joseph, you will have a son.”  Instead he said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife…for she will bear a Son.”  When wise men came to worship, the Bible says, “They came to the house and saw the Child with His mother, Mary.”  

In the book of Matthew chapter 2, when Herod wanted to kill Him, the angel said to Joseph, “Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and flee into Egypt.”  Why didn’t he say, “Take your child and your wife”?  Why “the Child and His mother”?  And when Herod died, the angel said once more, “Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel.”  And Paul wrote to the Galatians:  “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

So why is all this so important?  Why does it matter that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary?

Because if He was not born of the virgin Mary, then we can’t trust anything the Bible says.  And if we can’t trust the Bible, then we have nothing to rest our faith on at all.

Even more, if He was born like any other man, then His death on the cross would have been the most tragic mistake in all of history.  None of His miracles could ever have happened.  And His resurrection must have been a lie.

As one put it, “The incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ is the central fact of Christianity.  Upon it the whole superstructure of Christian theology depends.”

So why did Jesus come, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary?  He came to dwell with the sick and to heal them.  He came to dwell with the demon-possessed, to free them; with the poor in spirit, to bless them; with the burdened, to bear their load; with the lepers, to cleanse them; with the diseased, to heal them; with the hungry, to feed them; with the crippled, to restore them; and, best of all, with the lost, to save them.

Immanuel, God with us, infinitely rich, became poor, then entered our sin-sick world, bore our griefs, carried our sorrows, was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us, sent His Spirit to dwell within our hearts, and will someday come to take us to live with Him forever.

In the words of Paul to the Corinthians:  “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

We thank You, dear Father, for the miracle of the incarnation of our Savior Jesus.  Grant that we may always believe in Him who, as Your Word says, was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.  This we ask in His name.  Amen

 

 

 

 

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