Father, God, thank you, as always, that we can assemble together as your people; that we can study scripture; that we can learn about Jesus. Father, as we study tonight, it is my prayer that we would learn more about Jesus, and that you would do a miracle in our hearts, and give us faith to trust in him. For that to happen, we invite you, Holy Spirit, to inspire our understanding, illuminate our understanding, according to the scriptures which you have inspired to be written. And Spirit, we ask that you would reveal to us Jesus, and give us hearts that would love him, because that is the most important thing in all of our life; that we would know and love the Lord Jesus, in whose name we pray; amen.
Well, it’s Christmas time. I figure it makes sense to talk about Jesus’ birth. Most of you probably have at your house now a nativity scene with the baby Jesus and his mother, Mary. And we’re gonna talk about the virgin birth. And the virgin birth is the second most controversial and debated miracle in all of human history. The most debated is the resurrection of Jesus from death, which we celebrate at Easter. And the Christmas birth is the second most debated. And not everyone believes in the virgin birth of Jesus. I’ll give you some examples, and then we’ll look at what scripture says. Marilyn Manson, the great theologian, says, “I hate this nonsense. I’d like to go around and replace baby Jesus in the nativities with a boiled ham.” Merry Christmas, Marilyn Manson.
Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to John Adams in 1823. He says, “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with a fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” Some say that Thomas Jefferson was a Christian. I don’t think he was. He was a Deist. He cut, literally, all of the miracles out of his Bible with scissors. And he basically says, I’m looking forward to the day when everybody realizes that the virgin birth is just a crazy fairy tale that has no grounding in reality. And the great interviewers, Larry King on CNN, he had a caller on one occasion who asked him a series of very good questions; question the questioner, as it were. First question was: Larry, if you could interview anyone in all of human history, who would you interview? Larry said, “I would interview Jesus Christ.” Good answer. And the caller then asked, “Well, if you could ask him any question, what would you ask Jesus?” His response was, quote, “I would like to ask him if he was indeed virgin born. The answer to that question would define history for me.” He says, “If I could interview anybody, it would be Jesus. And if I could ask him one question, ‘Was your mother a virgin?’ – that would establish all of human history for me.” Well, that’s absolutely the question we’re gonna ask tonight. Was Jesus virgin born? And, why was Jesus virgin born?
And to do that, we’ll look at what scripture does and does not say. We’ll start by examining what scripture says about the virgin birth of Jesus. We’ll start in Genesis 3:15, and we’ll proceed from there to Isaiah, and then into the New Testament. Let me set-up Genesis 3 for you. Genesis 1 and 2 says, “There’s one God. He made everything. He made us, male and female. He put us on the earth to have love and joy and peace and life; that we sinned against God; separated ourselves from God. The result is that we now experience death, both physically and spiritually, separated from God, and ultimately separated from life. And God knew we were in this state, and rather than leaving us in that state of sin, God came to us, and God spoke to us, ‘cause God’s a living, relational, pursuing God. And he spoke to our first parents, Adam and Eve. And he promised them that Jesus was coming to take away their sin, and to restore a relationship with him. The theologians call this, “The proto-evangelion”, or the preaching of the first gospel.
So, God preaches the first sermon to human beings. And in Genesis 3:15, the promise is made that Jesus is coming. And in the promise of the coming of Jesus, as spoken by God himself, there is a clear inference that Jesus would be virgin born. I’ll read it to you. Genesis 3:15, God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring, or child, and hers. He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Right? Here he is speaking about Satan; that ultimately a woman would give birth to a male child, a son, and that he would crush Satan and undo the problem of sin; but that Satan would physically wound and harm him. It’s a prophesy into the future about the coming of Jesus. The reason why this is an inference about the virgin birth of Jesus is that scripture is a patriarchal book; meaning that men are seen as heads of homes and churches, and that men are the way in which generations are articulated. So, it will say that this man had these children, and then these men had these children. And the lineages and the genealogies in scripture are traced through the male line.
I’ll give you two examples in Genesis. Genesis 5, Genesis 11, long lists of generations traced through the male line. This man had these children. These men had these children. And these men had these children. In Genesis 3, there is no mention of a father. This is very unusual. This is not how scripture normally speaks. And this is not how Genesis, in particular, typically speaks. It’s saying that a woman will give birth to a son. It doesn’t mention anything about a father, which is not how it is generally stated in Genesis. So, it’s an inference that Jesus would be born as a male son to a woman, and it mentions nothing of his father, because he wouldn’t have an earthly father. Paul picks this up in Galatians 4:4, when he says, “In the fullness of time, God sent his son, born of a woman.” Again, not speaking of Jesus having any earthly father, but rather just having an earthly mother.
And so, it dawns – the promise of the virgin birth dawns as early as Genesis 3, and then it becomes illuminated throughout the rest of scripture. So, we move forward from Genesis to the book of Isaiah, which was written 600-700 years before the birth of Jesus. And there, in Isaiah 7:14, is one of the most illuminating texts in all of scripture, that is emphatically declaring the virgin birth of Jesus. And we’ll deal with that in great detail. Again, this is in your notes, but Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign.” He’s speaking here about the coming of the Messiah, the Jewish savior; that God would have in accompaniment, with his coming, a sign – right? – to point to. That’s what a sign exists for, to point to something. That there would be a sign pointing to Jesus, to make sure that when he was born, no one would miss his birth, and that we’d be assured that this is who we have been waiting for. Well, what is that sign? “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and you will call him Immanuel.” Which means what? God is with us. God has come down to be with us.
Here’s the prophesy: A virgin will give birth to a son, male child, and he will be Immanuel; God come down to be with us. Now, this verse speaking about the virgin birth of Jesus, is hotly contested on two fronts and I’ll deal with both of them in succession. The first, some who oppose the virgin birth, say that this verse was not talking in future terms about the birth of Jesus. It was intended, instead, to be understood as an immediate prophesy about the birth of a son in that day; and both are correct. This prophesy, like many others, actually has dual fulfillment. And if you look at the context of Isaiah 7:10-14, God speaks to Ahaz, who was a king in that day, and says, “You’re going to have a son.” So, there is a promise that he would have a son. And then, God speaks a second prophesy to the house of Israel, to the Jewish people, to the house of David, saying, “And you will have a son, too. And the difference will be that Ahaz’s son will be a king, but you will have a bigger king. That Ahaz’s son will rule over his kingdom, but that Jesus will come as the king of kings, ruling over all kingdoms.” Because Ahaz will have a son, but his son won’t be able to take away sin, and redeem people, and reconcile them to God, and bring peace to the earth.
That king isn’t going to be enough. They need another king. And so, there will be another king coming in the future, down the corridor of time, that being Jesus Christ. Born of the virgin who is God with us. And so, there is a dual fulfillment here, and I will acknowledge that. But that point is that King Ahaz will have a son, but that’s not going to change the world and fix the problem of sin. And so, there needs to be another king, Immanuel, God with us, God coming down to rule and reign, to bring the nations together, to overcome sin and to reconcile us to God. Two chapters later, Isaiah 9, same writer speaking of the same series of prophesies about the coming of the same Messiah. He gives us even further illumination, more light on the promise of the virgin birth. And so, we’ll move from Isaiah 7, just in your Bible it’s the next page or two, Isaiah 9:6-7 says this: “For to us a child is born.” So, we’re looking for a baby. “A son is given.” We’re looking for a male. “And the government will rest on his shoulders.” He will rule over all the governments, not just one nation. “And he will be called, Wonderful Counselor” – what? A lot of you have got this on your Christmas card. He’s Mighty God.
Now, this can’t be Ahaz’s son. I mean, Ahaz doesn’t have a religion. I mean, his son doesn’t have a religion. Nobody worships him as God. Mighty God, this son would be; Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” He’ll rule and reign forever over all the nations. “He will reign on David’s throne.” He’ll be descended of the Jewish people through the line of David, as the King of Kings. “And over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness, from that time on and forever.” This king will live forever. This is an eternal king, not just a king who lives and dies. It’s the King Jesus, who lives, dies, rises, and reigns forever. “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” It’ll be a miracle. So, again, we get the dawning of the promise of Genesis 3:15. It is inferred that there would be no earthly father, but that there would be an earthly mother. It then is clarified in Isaiah 7:14 that Jesus’ mother, Mary, would be a virgin. And also, that he could be Immanuel; God with us. Isaiah 9 clarifies it even further, that he would be Mighty God, with an unending rule; that he would be the forever living King of Kings, Lord of Lords, over all nations of the earth.
So, the prophesy included both a promise to Ahaz that he would have a son, and the promise to the Jewish people that Jesus Christ was coming, born of a virgin. That leads to the second point, which is: Is Isaiah 7:14 speaking about a young woman or a virgin? This is the big debate we have, in particular, as Christians, with our Jewish friends, like my friend the Rabbi. As he rightly articulated, and I appreciate him doing that for us, there are two words in the Hebrew – the Old Testament was primarily written originally in Hebrew. There are two words. One means “Young woman” or “Young maiden.” That is the Hebrew word, “Alma.” There is another word that is typically translated, “Virgin” or “Chaste” or “Pure.” That is the Hebrew word, “Betula.” And our Jewish friends would argue that Isaiah 7:14, when it says, “The Lord himself will give you a sign, the virgin will be with child and
give birth to a son,” that the word virgin there is not the word “Betula,” which is the word for virgin in Hebrew. It is instead, the word “Alma,” which is the Hebrew word for “Young girl”; maybe junior high, high school age, teenage young woman. They would say, “The promise is that a young woman will have a child, not that a virgin will have a child.” So, let me come at this from many angles, because we clearly, emphatically believe that it is prophesying that a virgin would have a baby.
First thing I would say is, if it’s not a virgin birth, I don’t know why this needs to be in the Bible. It’s not very important. A woman had a baby. Wow, that definitely needed to be in the Bible. You know? I mean, ‘cause women don’t have babies. I mean, you know, it doesn’t make any sense to put it in scripture to say a woman will have a baby. There’s no – there’s nothing noteworthy about that that it would be included in scripture. Secondly, just because the word does mean “Young woman” doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s not a virgin. In that day, most young women were what? Virgins. These were synonyms, not antonyms. Alright? I mean, we’re looking at a day when the dad was the head of the family and he loved his children, and he protected the chastity and purity of his daughters. And there are Old Testament commands that, if she goes out and commits certain kinds of sexual sin, she could be put to death at the doorstep of his home. Alright? That means he’s keeping an eye on her, right? They didn’t have GPS, but basically that’s what we’re looking at. A dad who is already sort of hovering over, keeping an eye on his daughters.
And I would tell you this, that a woman raised in a devoutly religious home, you could say, “Well, is she a young woman or a virgin?” She better be both, right? I have two daughters, and by God’s grace and my gun, they will be young and virgin. Right? That’s my job as dad and marksman. Those are my two primary duties, that – that if you walked in and said, “Oh, is that your young daughter, or a virgin?” I would say, “Yes. That’s my young, virgin daughter.” Those are not antonyms. Those are synonyms. Particularly at my house, and every devoutly religious home. That is how it’s supposed to be, right? For those of you who God honors with the privilege of being fathers to daughters, your job is to always be patrolling the boy borders. Right? It is your job to patrol the boy borders, and to make sure that not only do you have a young woman, but you also have a pure young woman, and that you protect the chastity and guard the purity of your daughter. It’s a great honor that God gives us daddies of daughters.
So, these are not antonyms. And the reason the Bible, I think, uses two words is, some women are young and virgin, and some women are virgin, but they’re not young. So, there’s two words. Do you know any virgins that aren’t young? I know many. My wife and I have some dear friends that have never married and are still virgins, in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s. So, the word “Betula”, virgin, can often refer to older virgins. And the word “Alma” for young woman, can refer oftentimes to young virgins. It’s not a distinction of chastity, it’s a distinction oftentimes of age. Furthermore, the scripture uses both of these words, oftentimes, in the same chapter, within a few verses, speaking about the exact same woman, using them as synonyms, not antonyms. I’ll give you one example in Genesis 24. Therein we find a wonderful, lovely, godly, sweet young woman named Rebecca. Here is what it says about her in Genesis 24:16, “The girl,” Rebecca, “was very beautiful, a virgin;” a betula – there’s our Hebrew word. “No man had ever lain with her.” It’s clear as can be. Rebecca was a virgin.
Just a few verses later in Genesis 24:43 we read, “Rebecca was a maiden.” She was an Alma. She was a virgin, and she was a young woman. They’re synonyms, not antonyms. Alright? They’re not words that speak of an entirely different woman with an entirely different character. It’s speaking of the same woman, in the same chapter, within a few verses. And so, for those to come along and say, “Well, when the Bible uses the word “Alma” it means sexually active young girl.” Very rarely does it ever mean sexually active young girl. It often means sexually inactive, holy, chaste, pure young woman. And so, I would tell you that Isaiah 7:14 is speaking of, not just a virgin, but a young virgin, that would give birth to a son who would be Immanuel; God with us. To then shed more light on this, as we’ve moved from Genesis 3 to Genesis 7, to Genesis 9, we move forward to the New Testament, and we’ll look at the promise of Isaiah 7:14, and the promise of Isaiah 9:6-7, in Mathew and Luke. And further illumination, more light, will come on the promise of the virgin birth.
I’ll read Mathew 1:18-25. If you’ve got a Bible you can read along. If not, I’ll just read it to you. I didn’t put it in your notes because it’s quite lengthy. But, it says this – Mathew 1:18 – and Mathew, by way of preface, is a Jewish man who is writing Mathew to teach the Jewish people that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament promises; the Messiah; the one they’ve been waiting for. It says, “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother, Mary, was pledged to be married to Joseph.” Betrothed, some of your translations will say. Engaged: that’s our modern equivalent. Alright? Ring on her finger, date on the calendar, we’re gonna get married. “But, before they came together” – what is that? Virgin. Alright? Before they had any physical relationship. “She was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” Which is? A miracle. “Because Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Betrothal, in that culture, was so binding that to break it required a legal divorce, even though you had not yet consummated the marriage.
And so now, Joseph – you guys who are aspiring to be married, and I know that in this room there are hundreds of young men saying, “I want to be married, and I’m looking forward to being married.” Okay, put yourself in Joseph’s shoes. You find this young gal. She loves the Lord. You’re excited. She’s cute. You dig her. She’s awesome. She comes to you and says, “We’re expecting.” And you say, “I’ve never even kissed you. We’re not expecting anything.” Right? Now you’re on the horns of a dilemma. You’re like, “My virgin, pregnant girlfriend I never kissed – this is weird.” This is – this is – right, for a guy – how many of you guys would agree? This is worst-case scenario. Worst case scenario, right? Right. Yeah. So, now he’s got a few options. He can divorce her, and if he does that he will have to declare why, and he would have to say, “She’s been sexually active and committed adultery.” And what could they possibly do to her at that point? Kill her. He says, “Well, I love her, and I think she cheated on me, but I don’t want her to die. I also don’t wanna be stuck raising some other guy’s kid I don’t even know.” So, Joseph is this guy who’s trying to figure out what to do. He doesn’t wanna shame her. He doesn’t want her to be killed. He also doesn’t wanna marry her and be raising some other guy’s kid.
So, he’s trying to figure out how to extricate himself from this relationship in the most kind and honorable way that he can. He’s a decent fellow. Verse 20, “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’” It’s a miracle. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the
name Jesus.” It’s a derivative of Joshua, meaning: Yahweh, God saves people from their sins. “Because he will save his people from their sins.” How many of you guys, at this point – it’s really taken a weird twist, has it not? You’re like, “My wife I never kissed is pregnant with the baby of the Holy Spirit? I’m a carpenter. This is a lot. You know? I swing a hammer for a living. I have a lunchbox. You know? I mean, this seems like a lot.” “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet.” What prophet? Isaiah. What chapter? Seven. What verse? Fourteen. He quotes it. “The virgin.” Is Mary a virgin? Yep. She’s a young virgin. Junior High, high school age girl; she’s both Betula and Alma. She’s young and virgin.
But, here Mathew says, “This was all promised in Isaiah. The virgin would give birth to a child. You’ve never touched her, and she’s chaste and pure. The Holy Spirit has miraculously enabled her to conceive. This is just what Isaiah was talking about.” If there were any controversy about what Isaiah intended, it is here clarified. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means, ‘God is with us.’” The eternal God has come down in the person of Jesus Christ, through the womb of the virgin Mary. “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took Mary home as his wife.” “Let’s get married. I’m gonna love you. I’ll adopt the son. I’m gonna obey the Lord.” “He had no union with her until she gave birth to a son.” So, she was a virgin until after Jesus was born; after Jesus was born. “And he gave him the name, Jesus.”
We’ll jump forward to Luke 1:26-28 – 38. This is the second recording of the birth of Jesus. There’s no recording of the birth of Jesus is Mark’s gospel. John’s gospel speaks of it more theologically. The historical record is most clear in Mathew and Luke, so we’ll read Luke as well for even further illumination on the promise of the virgin birth of Jesus. Luke 1:26 says, “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged, engaged, betrothed to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendent of David. The virgin’s name,” – you’ll notice a theme here. Right? The virgin. The virgin. The virgin. The virgin. The virgin. Echoes of Isaiah 7:14. “The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” And ladies, can you blame her? I mean, truly? You’re engaged to be married. You’re 16-17, and the angel comes and says, “You’re pregnant.” You’re going, “My dress is not gonna fit. The photo is gonna look weird. My dad is gonna freak out. My boyfriend is gonna dump me. And I’m gonna be the single mom in a trailer park watching wrestling. This is not what I was hoping for.” I mean, how many of you ladies, that’s what you – how many of you ladies, and God came to you. You wouldn’t be like, “Yes, Lord.” You’d be greatly troubled; greatly troubled. “I do not have an elastic waistband on the wedding dress. This is not a good idea.” Right? You – so many of you ladies, you know, you look forward to your wedding day, and you’re thinking, “Uh oh. Pregnant bride? This is not” – and she’s still a virgin.
Nobody’s gonna believe that. I mean, this is a really hard thing to ask of a young teenage girl, junior high, high school. Alright? She was greatly troubled. You would be greatly troubled. What does she say? “The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child, give birth to a son. You’re to give him the name Jesus. He will be great. He will be called the son of the most high. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David.” That’s an echo of Isaiah 9. “And he will reign over the house of David, and the house of Jacob forever. His kingdom will never end.” That’s all Isaiah 9. And then he echoes Isaiah 7:14. “’How can this be?’ Mary said. ‘I’m a virgin.’” She’s a what? Virgin. I mean, it’s as clear as can be. She says, “Virgins don’t have babies. I went to public school, but I know that. You know? Virgins don’t have babies. I’m a virgin. How can I have a baby?” “The angel said, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you.’” It’s a miracle. We’re going to do a miracle. “And the power of the most high will overshadow you. So the holy on to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth, your relative, is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For, nothing is impossible with God.” It’s a miracle.
What does Mary say? “’I am the Lord’s servant.’” That is a godly teenage gal. Right? Lord, I trust you. “My fiancé might dump me. My parents might freak out. Everybody might think I’m a tramp. My wedding dress may not fit, and maybe they even put me to death. Lord, whatever you want, I’m here to serve.” I mean, she’s a great gal. I could see why Joseph’s attracted to her. Character like that? She’s pretty brilliant. Mary answered, “’May it be to me as you have said.’ And then the angel left her.” That is the story. In summary, here’s what scripture says: “That sin has come into human history, but that Satan and sin would be conquered by the coming of Jesus, born of a woman.” No mention of the father. Inference of virgin birth. Fast forward, Isaiah 7. Virgin birth. “The son would be born to a virgin mother. His name would be Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us.’” Two chapters later, “He would be mighty God, King of Kings over all nations of the earth; rule and reign forever.” Fast forward to Mathew and Luke; “Fulfilled in Jesus with his virgin mother, Immanuel, God with us.” That’s what scripture says. A miracle enabled Mary to conceive of Jesus. He had an earthly mother, though no earthly father. Joseph was his adoptive daddy. The Bible is very supportive of adoption, and Jesus himself was adopted by Joseph. That’s what scripture says.
Now, let me move forward quickly and tell you what scripture doesn’t say. How many of you were raised Catholic, or Orthodox? Right? Like me, I’m a Mick. We were O’Driscoll. Right? We’re Irish, and we were major Catholic with a side of Catholic, pre-Vatican II Latin Catholic in some cases. I grew up, the first half of my life, as an Irish Catholic boy, going to Catholic church. And I spent a few years in Catholic school. And the Catholics and the Orthodox Christians believe some things that I’ll clarify tonight. In saying this, let me be very careful. I like Catholics and Orthodox people. I believe that they are part of a Christian denomination or tradition. I’m not putting them in the group of cults, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the Mormons. And I’m not just trying to shoot them for Christmas. [Growls] Merry Christmas, Catholic! You know what I mean? I’m not just trying to blow holes in the Catholics. Okay? I come from a long line of Catholics, and I still have many relatives that are Catholics. And there are many Catholics who love Jesus, and are Christian brothers and sisters. And we would disagree with them, being reformed evangelical Protestants, on some points; though there are many points we hold in common, like the trinity, and the virgin birth, and the sinlessness of Jesus, and his crucifixion, and his resurrection. There are many things we hold in common as fellow Christians.
So, I’m not being – I’m not trying to be mean spirited to my Catholic friends, and my Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters. But, we will clarify some things. ‘Cause if you grew up Catholic, like me, you’ve heard some things about Mary that are [whistles] not exactly grounded in scripture, and I wanna clarify those. So, I’ll tell you six things that scripture doesn’t say. The first thing it doesn’t say is that Mary didn’t have a normal human child-
birthing – labor and delivery. Okay? Some Catholic theologians say that Jesus came out, like, miraculous, divine c-section; like, she’s an Immanuel-in- the-box, and like, Joseph cranked up the arm and then [makes popping noise] – Immanuel. You know? It’s kinda how it’s portrayed, that she didn’t give birth through the birth canal, and didn’t go into labor, and didn’t push. Well, she did. Everything in scripture indicates it was just a normal, regular birth. She had labor pains. Her water would’ve broken. She would’ve had to push. Just a normal birth. It says this in Micah 5:2-3, “But, you, Bethlehem,” – again, this is a few hundred years before the birth of Jesus, it was promised that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem – “But, you, Bethlehem, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times, or from eternity past. Therefore, Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth.” Mary was in what? Labor.
A lot of you ladies are like, “That would be cool if we just got divine c-section.” No, you’re cursed. It’s gonna hurt. That’s how it works, right? God loves you, but this is the way it goes. And – and she had labor, and she had a normal birth, and there was no divine, magic c-section and Jesus just sort of popped-out. Secondly, the scriptures do not teach that Mary remained a virgin for the rest of her life. The first time I heard this, I was a 10-11 year old boy in 5th grade at Catholic school; also an altar boy, wearing the little uniform, sitting there in class. And one of the nuns came in, and she gave a lecture to us all. And she said, “I’m a virgin. I have never touched a man. And Mary’s – Jesus’ mother, Mary, was a virgin. She never even was with her husband. And you girls should be like Mary.” And I had just transferred in from the public school, and my first thought was, “I gotta get back to public school.” Because, you think about this, no man minds getting married to a virgin. Amen? Every man minds being married to a virgin. Know what I’m talking about? Right? None of you are like, “Yeah, we’ve been married 10 years. This is my virginal wife.” And like, “Here’s my huge box of pills.” You know? “And I’ve been frustrated, you know? And – and the big dent on my head is from the tire iron I occasionally whack myself with. Life is very hard.”
There is a teaching that became sort of popular in the second century, and became even more popular in the fourth century, that at second council of Carthage in 530 – or no, second council of Constantinople in 553 – I’m working off of memory – they declared Mary to be semper virgo; ever virgin. Which means, Joseph would be semper bummed. Right? Like, ever bummed. And – and it was said that she was a virgin, and then she married, and the rest of her life she remained a virgin. Whoa! Let me correct this. First of all, that in – that assumes that marital intimacy is sick, and it’s dirty, and so she couldn’t have done it, ‘cause she was a godly woman. It’s not. Genesis 1 and 2, “God made us, male and female.” Said it wasn’t good to be alone. God brought Adam and Eve together. God officiated their wedding. It says that the husband and the wife became one flesh, that they were naked, and there was no shame. I mean, that’s before sin comes into the world. Marriage – heterosexual marriage – we’re in Seattle, so I gotta say that – heterosexual marriage between a man and a woman is to include physical intimacy that God declares to be very good, and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s not a sinful thing. It’s not an evil thing. It’s not an awful thing. It’s a holy thing that God intends.
And 1 Corinthians 7 says, “If you’re married and you won’t be with your spouse, you’re sinning.” Mary would’ve been a wicked woman if she married her husband and wouldn’t have any physical intimacy with him. This position, to be fair to the Catholics as well, though, was held by Origin, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wesley, The 2nd Helvitic Confession, and the Genevan Bible of the Reformation, all say that Mary is semper virgo; she is ever virgin. She is not semper virgo. She was a virgin until Jesus was born. And then, she had normal relations with her husband. I’ll give you the reasoning. Genesis 1:25, “Joseph had no union with Mary until she gave birth to the son, Jesus.” He didn’t have any intimacy with her. Jesus was born, and then he did. Luke 2:7 says that Jesus was the firstborn. And that’s a weird thing to say if he’s an only child. Right? If I had one kid and you came up to me and said, “Who’s this?” “This is my firstborn.” “How many do you have?” “One.” Like, “Well, that’s a weird way to say it.” Right? I mean, firstborn assumes there are other kids. “This is my oldest.” “Any other kids?” “No.” “Well, what the heck?” You know? I mean, that’s a peculiar way – that’d be like, “This is my first wife.” “Really, are there others, or a bus somewhere, or whatever, with a bunch of other gals?” “No, she’s the only one.” “Well, then don’t say it like that. It’s confusing. That’s weird. Knock that off.” Alright? Firstborn. Unless there are other kids. And there are other children.
I’ve got it in your notes. You can look it up when you get home, but about a dozen times in scripture, Jesus’ mother comes with his brothers and his sisters. “Jesus, your mother and brothers and sisters are here.” The issue is, well, where did they come from? Well, they came from the marriage between Mary and Joseph. James and Jude, two guys who wrote books of the New Testament, they’re Jesus’ brothers. So, what happens? Mary’s a virgin. She gets betrothed, engaged to Joseph. She becomes pregnant with Jesus through a miracle of the Holy Spirit. They don’t have any physical relations until Jesus is born. Then, they have a normal, intimate marriage, and they have other sons and daughters. Jesus is the firstborn. He’s the oldest – older brother. And then, he has younger siblings, brothers and sisters. They have a father and mother, Mary and Joseph. Jesus has Mary as his mother, and Joseph is his adoptive father, ‘cause he has no earthly father, but he is the big brother. And the Bible says repeatedly, he has brothers and sisters. And so, we do not accept the teaching that Jesus’ mother was semper virgo, ever virgin, because she wasn’t. That’s not what scripture says.
Third thing I’d like to correct is that the virgin birth of Jesus was taken from pagan mythology and other religious traditions. You may have heard this in college. I heard this as a new Christian in college. They said, “Well, the other pagan religions, and the Greek myths, have gods who come down and impregnate women, and the virgin birth of Jesus was probably just taken from one of those myths. For example, Zeus begat Hercules, and Apollo began Ion and Pythagoras.” The answer is, “No” on a couple accords. One, the prophesy in Isaiah 7:14 predates some pagan myths, so it couldn’t have borrowed that teaching from paganism, because it precedes some of the pagan teaching. Secondly, the stories are different. In the stories of Greek mythology, the gods come down and have intimate relations with women. That’s not what it says. There wasn’t a physical relationship. It was just a miracle of God. And what’s weird, too, is the Mormons sort of pick-up on the Greek mythology line and say that God the Father is a physical flesh and blood human being, though John 4 says that God is spirit. And they say that he came down and he actual, physical, intimate relations with Mary.
And you ask the question, “Well, how could she still be a virgin?” The answer is, “It doesn’t count if it’s with a god.” I’m married. It counts to me. And – and thirdly, are the Greek gods real people, or are they made-up fiction? They’re made-up fiction, like Batman, Superman. I hate to break it to you.
They’re not real. I mean, you can go home and dry your tears with your trench-coat, but they’re fake. Alright? I hate to break it to you. They’re not real people. Like, there’s no web coming out of – there’s no Spiderman. Like, you can’t find him. He’s fake. He’s fake. It’s like a cell phone that works at your house. It’s fake. Alright? It’s made-up. It’s not real. That the Greek gods are made-up. They didn’t really live. Alright? Jesus really lived. I mean, Hercules? Hercules didn’t live. Jesus lived. Mary lived. The Greek gods and goddesses, they – they’re a myth. They’re like super-heroes. They don’t really exist. And Christianity didn’t take these concepts from Greek mythology or paganism.
The fourth thing I’d like to correct is that, just because you believe in the virgin birth of Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean that you have incontrovertible evidence that he is God. Some have made this error, like Gregory the Great. I think he was around in the sixth century, or something of that nature. And some have tried to say, “Well, if you could prove that Jesus was born of a virgin, that proves that he’s God.” Not necessarily. Because, the ancient heretics, the Arians and their modern-day offspring the Jehovah’s Witnesses, accept the virgin birth but not the deity of Jesus as God. Furthermore, even some Muslim scholars will say that Jesus was born of a virgin, but he’s not God. So, the virgin birth of Jesus is one piece of evidence for the deity of Jesus being God, but it’s not the case-shut, convincing evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is, in fact, God. It takes other evidence, like his life and his death and his burial and his resurrection and his claims, together, as a cumulative case to argue for the deity of Jesus.
Fifthly, and here’s where it gets a little tricky, so hang in there with me. I know it’s getting late, but think this through. Some say that Jesus could not have had an earthly father because Jesus was without sin. He didn’t sin. He didn’t have a sin nature. Let me say this. Do we at Mars Hill church believe that Jesus was without sin and without sin nature? Answer? Yes. I dealt with that in a sermon just a few weeks ago. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that Jesus knew no sin. Hebrews 4:15, that he was without sin. Peter says that he was without spot or blemish. Jesus himself said to a crowd, “Can anyone prove me guilty of ever committing a sin?” And no one could, because he was without sin. So, we do hold that Jesus was without sin. Now, theologians, through the history of the church, in an effort to protect the sinlessness and perfection of Jesus, have come up with some weird ways or arguing for it, and they – they determined, “Well, maybe Jesus didn’t have an earthly father, because since the man is the head, maybe the sin nature is passed from one generation to the next through the father. So, the sin nature would’ve been passed through the male line to Jesus, not the female line of the mother. Therefore, Jesus could have an earthly mother, but not have an earthly father.” How many of you have heard this?
You may have heard it from me. I think I believed it at one point. I’m not trying to clean up my mess. I don’t believe that anymore for a couple reasons. One, it may or may not be true that the sin nature is passed through the male line, but scripture simply never says that, so we can’t say that with any definitiveness. Though, Augustan, Ambrose, Quintus, Luther, all said he didn’t have an earthly father because the sin nature is passed through the male line. They would reason from Genesis 3 that Eve sinned first, but God came to Adam, held him responsible as the head. They would go to Romans 5:12-21, that through one man’s sin the whole race fell. So, it was through Adam as the head of the human race. But, here’s what that infers. That assumes that women aren’t sinful, just men. Is that true? How many of you women would testify that you’re wicked? Right? Show of hands? Okay, those who didn’t raise their hands, they’re lying. That shows you how wicked they are. That – that all men and all women are sinners. Right? God doesn’t look down and say, “All the ones with hairy backs, they’re evil. But, the other ones, they’re fine.” That men and women are both sinful, right?
Romans 3:23, “How many have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God?” All. So, men and women are sinful. You can’t say, “Well, Jesus’ mama wasn’t sinful.” But, that’s what some do. Some then go even further and say, “Well, yeah, that’s true. Psalm 51:5 says that we’re sinful from our mother’s womb, and the daddy’s not even mentioned there. But, the mother and the womb is, so maybe it’s not just sin passed through the male line. Maybe sin is also passed through the female line, but Jesus has an earthly mother. We wanna preserve him from being considered a sinner.” So, then they start coming up with additional doctrines that have no grounding in scripture, one of whom is a great man named Augustine, who said that during Mary’s life she never committed a sin. Others went so far as to say, “Not only was Jesus conceived of a miraculous, virgin birth, so was his mother, Mary. So, she didn’t have a sin nature. So, she could be Jesus’ mom and not give him a sin nature.” None of which exists in scripture. You’ll find more unicorns than arguments for this in scripture. Right? It’s just not there.
Now, the question then begs to be answered, “Is Mary a sinner?” Yes. I’ll give you a few occasions where she says she’s a sinner. Alright, in Luke 1, she says, “My soul rejoices in God my savior.” Who needs a savior? A sinner, like me, like Mary. Luke 2, she goes to the temple and presents a what? A sin offering. What is that? That is a public declaration. That is a public demonstration that I am acknowledging that I am a sinner, and I need my sins forgiven. Mary said and showed that she was a sinner who needed a savior. Back to my original question: Is Jesus sinless? Yes. Is it because he didn’t have an earthly father? Not necessarily. Is it because his mother was conceived of a virgin and never committed a sin? No. It was because he was conceived of a miracle of the Holy Spirit. It was a God thing. And if God can create the heavens and the earth out of nothing, if God can bring Adam out of the dust of the earth, if God can enable a virgin woman to become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, he can also cause Jesus to be born without a sin nature; conceived without a sin nature, and to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life of full obedience without any sin.
We do hold that Jesus was without sin. That’s what scripture continually says, and Jesus himself declares. But, it’s not because of his mom or his dad, it’s because of the Holy Spirit. It was God’s work. It was God’s work. And what happens otherwise, is we start making more of Mary than scripture does. She was conceived of a virgin. That she was born by miraculous conception. That she never did sin. What starts to happen then is, we elevate Mary to that point where she’s just a little bit under Jesus, but she is an object of adoration; that she is venerated in the words of some theologians. And as a young boy I remember singing to Mary, and praying to Mary, and – and I don’t do that anymore. I sing to Jesus, and I talk to Jesus, now that I understand that Mary was a very wonderful, very godly, very devout, very holy, very wonderful woman who was mightily used of God. But, that it’s all about Jesus, and he is the one who is without sin. He is the one who was born of a miracle of the Holy Spirit, and that I need a savior, and her son is my savior. It’s Jesus.
I say that in no way to denigrate Mary. I think she’s a wonderful woman. I think that some Catholics have made too much of her. Some Orthodox have made too much of her. I think as an over-reaction, some evangelical protestants have made too little of her. I preached on Mary a few years ago and a
guy came up to me afterward, and he said, “What are we talking about Mary for? She’s – we’re not Catholic.” I said, “Well, she’s in the Bible, and so we’ll talk about her because she’s a wonderful woman.” We’re not gonna make up things about her that scripture doesn’t say, but what scripture does say we’re going to study and celebrate and believe. My last correction I would like to make, my sixth, is that the virgin birth of Jesus is not unimportant. There have a been a chorus of theologians through the history of Christianity who have said, “Ah, the virgin birth, not a big deal. If we lose it, what do we lose?” There’s a very popular book today called, The Velvet Elvis, where the author, to be fair, says he believes in the virgin birth, but he doesn’t believe it’s all that important. He essentially asks the question: “If we get rid of the virgin birth, what do we really lose? It’s not a big deal.” Let me – let me clarify this. We lose a lot if we lose the virgin birth of Jesus. Why does it matter that we hold onto the virgin birth of Jesus? And I can tell you why sometimes there’s a desire to get rid of the virgin birth of Jesus, because when you’re talking to someone who comes from more naturalistic, scientific world view, that sees creation as a closed system of cause and effect and laws, and they don’t recognize that there’s God who can break in and can supersede laws and do the miraculous and supernatural, you end-up feeling a little goofy telling them about what you believe.
Well, the virgin had a baby. And they’re like, “Oh, yeah. And they rode a unicorn, and made cookies in the tree with the elves, right?” I mean, you know? You know, it – it – you feel – you know, you could feel a little peculiar about saying what you really believe. Well, you know, the virgin had a child, and he grew-up to commit no sin, perform miracles, walked on water, fed people. We killed him. Three days later he rose. He conquered sin and death. He’s the Lord God almighty. That’s what I believe. Say, “Well, maybe we get rid of that so we don’t sound silly.” Say, “What do we lose?” Well, here’s why I would say we need to hold onto the virgin birth. One, scripture says that Jesus was born of a virgin. Okay? And there are other things that God could’ve said in scripture, but God, in saying this, is saying something we need to know. What God says in scripture is what God has determined that we need to know. And if it’s important enough for God to say it, then it’s important for us to say it. And if God’s willing to speak of it, then we must be willing to speak of it unashamedly, and unapologetically.
Furthermore, there is a thread. I showed you from Genesis to Isaiah to Mathew to Luke, all the way to Galatians 4:4, “God sent his son, born of a woman, in the fullness of time.” There is a thread that runs throughout scripture. And Isaiah told us that this was a sign pointing to Jesus. Alright, this is an arrow pointing to Jesus, so make sure that we didn’t miss him when he entered into human history. That the – the virgin birth, that’s the one we’re really supposed to pay attention to. We can’t miss that sign. We shouldn’t miss that sign. And here is the story of the virgin birth of Mary. That Mary was a devout, godly, probably teenage girl, who loved the Lord, was humble and simple, and God came to her and said, “I’m gonna do a miracle. You’re gonna be a mom. You’re gonna give birth to Immanuel, God with us. You’re gonna fulfill the prophesy of Isaiah.” She obeyed the Lord, worshiped the Lord, broke into a song, said, “I’m the Lord’s servant. Whatever he wants from me, that’s what I embrace.” Amazing example for all women, particularly young women.
Then, she gives birth to Jesus. She knows that it was a miracle that she was allowed to conceive. She raises Jesus, and she testifies – right? – that he is without sin. If anyone was to know that he was a sinner, who would know? His mom. Right? His mom. When Jesus says things like, “Can anyone prove me of ever committing a sin?” His mom would’ve been like, “Oh, I disciplined him all the time.” Right? I mean, your mom – if you said that, wouldn’t your mom show up, and be like, “I disciplined you all the time. Without sin? Go home! You’re grounded. I don’t care if you’re 40. – Saying that kinda nonsense.” She test – you know, she’s there. She says – you know, Mary doesn’t say anything. “My son, I saw him. He was without sin.” She sees him perform miracles; walk on water, heal people, feed people, raise the dead. He does all these miracles. She sees him die. She’s there at the foot of his cross. She’s there at his funeral. She’s there when his body gets laid in the tomb. When he rises from death, she embraces him, and she testifies that he has returned, back from death, conquering of sin and death, just like he promised.
So much of this hinges on Mary’s testimony and being a godly woman. The final portrait we see of her is in Acts 1:14, in the early church, praying to Jesus, singing to Jesus. After he’d ascended into heaven, she’s worshiping her son as savior, God. You say, “Well, what if Mary is not a virgin? What do we lose?” Here’s what we lose: Her testimony, her credibility. The only alternative explanation of the birth of Jesus given in his life, in scripture, was that his mother was a tramp who was running around on Joseph; who came up with a crazy big lie that it was a miracle to dupe a foolish guy into taking care of her and a kid he didn’t father. They kept telling Jesus things like, “At least we know who our father is. At least we’re not illegitimate.” Those who didn’t believe in the virgin birth assume that Mary was a very loose woman, that she was a liar; that she made-up fanciful crazy stories. Let me ask you this: If Mary is not a chaste woman, but a loose woman; if she’s not a truth teller, but a liar and a false witness, and if she makes-up crazy big stories about God that are not true, and then she raises Jesus who says, “I am God come down from heaven”; makes some pretty enormous claims. And she says, “Oh, that’s true.” Can we trust her? If she says, “He died and rose.” Can we trust her? If she’s part of the early church, worshiping him as God, can we trust her?
A woman who is sexually immoral, makes grandiose lies about God, and is not a truth teller but bears false witness? So much of our testimony is built on the credibility of Mary being a godly woman. And if she’s not, she’s a lying, conniving, sexually manipulative, spiritually deceptive woman who raises Jesus. Does that affect your view of Jesus? It sure does. You say, “Wasn’t he raised by the loose, crazy woman who made up all kinds of lies and blamed it on God, and fooled people, and was a con-artist?” The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it? Mary was a Godly woman. Mary did love the Lord. Mary did tell the truth. Jesus’ birth is miraculous, it’s unprecedented, it’s a sign. Jesus’ mother is not the object of our faith, but she is a tremendous example of faith. A teenage girl preparing her wedding says, “Lord, I’m your servant. Whatever you want, I trust you.” She sings a song of worship and praise, and she entrusts herself and her future and her child to God. I don’t believe that Mary is to be an object of faith, but I do believe she is a glorious example of faith. Martin Luther says that her miracle was faith. She trusted God, even when it was a very difficult circumstance to do so.
So, the position of Mars Hill Church, and the position of scripture, Mary’s a wonderful woman who’s a truth-teller, who’s a God worshiper, who worships her son Jesus as one of the first Christians; that if he had sinned she would’ve told us. Had he not been born of a miracle, she would’ve told us. Had he not risen from death, she would’ve told us. She’s a credible, godly, devout woman; not sinless. But, here’s what even makes that cool. It
shows that God, the Lord Jesus Christ, is willing to work through and with sinners like Mary and you and me. He’s Immanuel, God with us. And that as – by the miracle of the Holy Spirit, Mary gave birth to Jesus. Then, Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, gives new birth to us; births us spiritually, so that we’re born again as Christians. And the same holy spirit who enabled Jesus to be born enables us to be born again. Yet another miracle of new birth by the power of the Holy Spirit. And that’s what we celebrate at Christmas.
I’ll pray, but first let me tell you how to respond: Become a Christian. It’s all about Jesus. It is only about Jesus. It is always about Jesus. You need a savior, as I do, as Mary did, and we give our sins to Jesus in prayer, thanking him for his life, death, burial, resurrection, to conquer sin and death. Give yourself to Jesus tonight. Become a Christian. Secondly, we respond to him with singing and worship, and around the birth of Jesus there was singing. The angels sang, and Mary sang. There were songs. And so, we sing. We sing to Jesus who’s alive and well today. You can give of your tithes and offerings if you’re a Christian. You can partake in communion if you’re a Christian, remembering Jesus’ body and blood. And I’ll go ahead and pray, and we will have Jesus as our object of faith. And today, with Mary, we will follow in her example of faith, trusting God, worshiping Jesus, as Christians singing songs to him.
So, Lord Jesus, thank you so much, that you have fulfilled the promises of scripture; that you were born of a woman as a man; that you were born to a virgin in the town of Bethlehem; that you are a Immanuel, God with us. You are might God, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace. Lord God, we thank you so much for scripture, that it is divinely inspired; that it is Holy Spirit enabled; that it points us with clear signs to Jesus. Jesus, may we respond to you in faith. May we follow in Mary’s example of faith. May you be the object of our faith. May we now sing to you as the angels did upon your birth, and as Mary did in hearing that your birth was to occur. And Lord Jesus, it is our prayer that you would give us faith; that we would experience the miracle of the Holy Spirit, the miracle of new birth. We ask this in your name; Amen.
In the second-to-last sermon in the Vintage Jesus series, Pastor Mark gives clarification as to what Scripture teaches us about Mary and the virgin birth of Jesus.
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