Climbing A Mountain But Fearing A Stairstep
The birth of Jesus according to the Gospel of Matthew. This is the first chapter of that gospel; I shall begin to read at the 18th verse. This is the Word of God.
“Now the birth of Jesus 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 of 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 this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you will 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, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel, 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 he knew her not until she had born a son, and he called His name Jesus.”
Soli Deo gloria, to God alone be the glory. Let us pray.
Now may the words in my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
My mail is filled with the most wonderful letters. Case in point, listen to this one. It was a letter written and sent to me by Jane Fox. She and her husband, Peter Fox, are members of our congregation. I want you to listen to her letter:
I am sure that you have had to listen to more pearls of wisdom from people’s children than you care to recount. But the following struck us as particularly funny. We were out for a family drive one afternoon recently, and I was telling our eight-year-old second-grade daughter, Kendall, that her babysitter had been a bridesmaid in the wedding we attended the night before. Kendall said, “Do you mean my babysitter is pregnant?”
I said, “No. No. I said she was a bridesmaid.”
Kendall responded, “But I heard you say that one of the bridesmaids was pregnant and had to sit down during the wedding.”
I said, “Oh, yes. That is true, but it was not your babysitter. She is not married, and you need to be married to have children.”
Kendall then said, “You don’t have to be married to have children.”
At that point, Peter, her father, chimed in. “Oh, yes, you do,” he said. “That’s God’s plan for things.”
Kendall shot back, “Well, Mary wasn’t married when she got pregnant with Jesus.”
Suddenly, we realized that we were headed for deep water here. So trying to ease out of this conversation, I said, “Yes, she was married to Joseph.”
Now, Kendall was really worked up. She said, “Well I’m getting conflicting stories then. Dr. Eddington said she wasn’t married when the angel told her she was going to have a baby, only engaged.”
It was then that we realized that Kendall had indeed listened to and understood your Christmas Eve sermon on the matter. And so I tried a different tack. I said, “Well, yes, but Mary was married when Jesus was born. And besides, Joseph wasn’t the father. God was. Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit, and that’s happened only once in the history of the world. That’s never going to happen again.”
Kendall thought for a moment and said, “Well, what if God decides He wants a little girl?” Now, Howard, you’ve heard it all.
Let the record show, Kendall Fox understands more about the Virgin Birth than her parents gave her credit for. And for that, I admire her so much. Let the record show, like Kendall Fox, I believe in the Virgin Birth. Quite specifically, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth, who taught in Palestine and was crucified on Calvary, was born to a woman who was in every sense of the word – biologically, physiologically, and psychologically – a virgin. Jesus was conceived in a manner unlike any other by a singular, powerful, immediate, invisible act of God working through the agency of the Holy Spirit. A fetus was produced in the womb of a woman who was then enabled to develop and deliver a child while yet a virgin. I believe in the Virgin Birth. I believe it with every fiber of my being.
Now having said that, I must acknowledge that there are some Christians who do not believe in the Virgin Birth. There are some Christians who are quick to say that the Holy Spirit instructs us to believe in the person of Jesus Christ but not in the manner of His birth. There are some Christians who are quick to remind us that our salvation was purchased not in the cradle but on the Cross. These people raise two primary objections to the Virgin Birth. The first is the objection of possibility. They say that it simply is not possible for a virgin to conceive and bear a child. The second objection is the objection of necessity. They say that since belief in the Virgin Birth is not necessary for our salvation, it should not be understood as a test of our faith.
Let me state again, so that there can be no misunderstanding whatever, my own deep personal conviction. I believe that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. And it is my intention today to counter those two objections raised by some Christians by showing you that the Virgin Birth is possible, by showing you that the evidence we have makes the Virgin Birth probable, and by showing you that the Virgin Birth is an important and necessary part of our faith. That is my intent today.
I’d like for us to begin here. The Virgin Birth is possible. The only objection which can be levied against the possibility of the Virgin Birth is the law of natural science. That is to say that human birth requires both human mother and human father. That is the only conceivable objection which can be raised against the possibility of the Virgin Birth. But I want you to remember something. I want you to remember that the very first person ever to question the possibility of the Virgin Birth was none other than Mary herself. When the angel appeared to Mary and told her what was going to happen, Mary, according to Luke, answered immediately and asked frankly this question: “How can this be, since I have no husband?” The answer of the angel is worth our remembering. The angel said, “With God, nothing will be impossible.”
The Virgin Birth is a miracle. With God, that which is impossible becomes that which is possible. Christianity, after all, is all about miracles. I had a young man say to me the other day, “Dr. Eddington, I am a Christian, but I don’t believe in all those miracles.” I was hesitant to want to contradict him, but the fact of the matter is that if he can’t believe in miracles, he’s going to have a hard time being a Christian. Because, you see, Christianity began in a miracle, the miracle of the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. Christianity was confirmed forever in another miracle, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And the life of our Lord between those two miracles is just one miracle after another. As He walked the roads of this earth, by the simple touch of His hand blind eyes were opened, and optic nerves were healed, and light suddenly began to flow into brains where up to then there had been only darkness. At a word from His lips, limbs which had been twisted and withered and useless were suddenly infused with new strength and new life, and, wonder of wonders, the lame could walk and run and, yes, even leap for joy.
Once, in the midst of a massive crowd, as Jesus tried to make His way through the press of the people, a woman in that crowd reached out and did nothing more than simply touch, barely touch, the hem of His garment. That’s all she did, but in that moment, an internal hemorrhage, which had plagued her for years, suddenly stopped. Christianity is all about miracles. But perhaps even more telling than those kinds of miracles is the miracle of who and what Jesus is. The common people, we are told, heard Him gladly. They were overburdened by their taxes, beaten down by the hardships of Middle Eastern life, barely able to keep body and soul together, and yet they found in Him a hope which could never, ever be destroyed. Even a cynical, battle-hardened Roman soldier watching Him die and hearing the last words that He spoke was then himself moved to say, “Surely, this man was the Son of God.”
Christianity is all about miracles. And yet, in the face of that, there are those in the Christian faith who deny the reality of the Virgin Birth because they say such a miracle could never happen according to natural law as we know it. I would say, in response to such people, that scientific observation is nothing more nor less than the description of what normally happens, what usually happens. Scientific observation cannot and does not determine what must always happen, and any respectable, reputable scientist knows the truth of that statement. Besides, we are living in a time when the scientific miracles which we are seeing happening around us keep us from ever being too dogmatic about declaring what can or cannot happen.
Furthermore, the very scientific progress of the age in which we live actually ought to make it easier, not harder, to believe in the miracle of the Virgin Birth. For, you see, if in our scientific laboratories genetic engineering is taking place; if through artificial insemination a child can be conceived; if we are in fact on the very edge of creating life out of a test tube, then don’t you think that the God who piled up the mountains and hollowed out the sea and created the universe in such incredibly precise order that scientists could draw orderly conclusions from it, don’t you think that that God, to His own glory, if He so desired, could cause a virgin to conceive and to bear a child? In a world where we are surrounded by incredible scientific miracles, it is no intellectual reach at all to adopt such a belief.
On the other hand, to say categorically that the Virgin Birth could never have happened is to go where science decrees that no human mind has the right, the capacity, or the ability to go. To reject the Virgin Birth on these grounds is not only unjustifiable, it is intellectually dishonest. Therefore, arguing from the very perspectives of science itself, arguing from the very principles of science itself, I contend with you today that the Virgin Birth, while it is a miracle, while it is outside the normal pattern of events, is nevertheless possible. Not only is the Virgin Birth possible, it is also probable.
We are told the story of the Virgin Birth in the Bible in two places, in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Gospel of Luke. Matthew tells the story primarily from Joseph’s perspective. Luke tells it from Mary’s perspective. But both accounts are absolutely agreed in the essential of their details. Remember, please, that the writings of both Matthew and Luke were widely circulated, and they were widely known. Had their accounts of the Virgin Birth been false, there would have been any number of people who would have been happy to stand up and repudiate the story. The fact is, no one did. Further credibility is offered by the fact that Matthew and Luke told the story at all. Understand, please, that they were engaged in trying to communicate the faith in a world which was set against the Christian faith, a world where persecution was rife, and they were attempting, against the odds, to encourage people to embrace Jesus Christ as the Messiah. That was their purpose. To include the story of the Virgin Birth, every bit as difficult to believe then as it is now, would in no way have added to the attractiveness or the acceptability of their message. Had they not known for certain that the story was true, there would have been no reason for them to include it. And, in fact, they did include it at their own disadvantage.
In addition to that, no other New Testament writer denies the reality of the Virgin Birth. Had the story of the Virgin Birth been false, you can bet your life that a writer with the integrity, say, of the great apostle Paul would have gone to any length to call that story into question. The fact is, Paul didn’t. The probability is even more pronounced in the experience of Mary herself. We need to remember that Mary lived and worked in the church for many, many years after Christ’s ministry on the earth came to an end. She was alive. She was visible. She was available. Her story could have been challenged 1,000 times. In fact, her story was never challenged even once. In addition to that, consider the fact that for 2,000 years, the witness of the church has upheld the veracity of the Virgin Birth, and for that same 2,000 years, the unrelenting efforts of skeptical scholars to undermine the details of the story have failed. Put those two facts together, and you have solid evidence that the Virgin Birth was probably true.
Oh to be sure, occasionally, some misguided minister or theologian, in an effort to grab the headlines of the newspapers, stands up and publicly denies belief in the Virgin Birth. Such a ploy is nothing but a flash-in-the-pan grab at notoriety. And to be perfectly frank, it’s always rather pathetic to behold. Just a few years ago, for example, a bishop in the Church of England stood in the pulpit of one of England’s great cathedrals, and before the people assembled there, he pompously announced that he didn’t believe in the Virgin Birth, and bottles of ink were splashed over pages of newsprint in order to try to tell the story. Interestingly enough, the very next day, that great cathedral was struck by lightning and nearly burned to the ground. I’ve often wondered if the good bishop ever got the point.
Here’s my point. Because the story was told at all, because Mary never once disputed the details of the story, and because no one ever disputed Mary’s story, and because 2,000 years of scholarly scrutiny have failed to undermine even the smallest detail of the biblical accounts, I contend with you today that the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ is probably true. But the Virgin Birth is not only possible, not only probable, it is, best of all, important. It is a necessary part of our faith and our belief. Why? Well, let me express it this way.
Some years ago, Pope John XXIII – the most beloved pope of this century – on the day after Christmas, went to visit in a prison at Rome. While there, he delivered a greeting to the prisoners. His greeting began with these wonderful words. “You could not come to me, so I have come to you.” When God Almighty had exhausted all ways of conveying His love to the people of this world, He chose to come to this world Himself. And the way He chose to come is the Virgin Birth. It’s God saying, “You couldn’t come to me, so I have come to you.” The importance of the Virgin Birth is not to be found in its details but in its purpose. It is the way God chose to come to this world to bring salvation to humankind.
Burton Mercer, the writer, tells the story of Jack Longstreet. He was a good man, Jack Longstreet was, but he was not a Christian. His family attended church regularly, but he didn’t. He didn’t know who Jesus was or is, and he thought the whole idea of God coming to Earth was a trifle absurd, so he didn’t believe. It was one bitter, cold, snowy Christmas Eve. Jack Longstreet was sitting in the warmth of his den alone. His family had already gone to the Christmas Eve service at the church that was just down the street. As Jack Longstreet sat there in his home alone, suddenly he heard a series of loud thumps against the glass door leading out to the patio. He got up and went to look, and he discovered the little flock of sparrows, disoriented and benumbed by the snow and the cold, had flown blindly toward the lights of his house and they’d simply crashed into that glass door. And there they were, lying in the snow on the patio, fluttering about, a pitiable sight. Jack Longstreet recognized that they were dying, and they were dying rapidly. He wanted to do something to help them, and so he went out, and he tried, first of all, to shoo them into the garage, which was nearby. He knew that there, they would find warmth and safety. He tried everything he knew, but, you see, the birds were so afraid of him that they wouldn’t allow him to get near. They kept fluttering and fluttering away, and as they fluttered, they were using up their strength. And so as he kept approaching them, they kept fluttering, and they kept dying until they were all gone. Nothing he could do. They all died right before his eyes.
In despair, he thought to himself, “If only I’d been a bird for just a few minutes, I could have shown them that I was there to help them, and I could have told them how they could find their way to be saved from death.” Just at that moment, the bells in the church down the street began to chime in celebration of Christmas Eve, and suddenly, a great truth swept over Jack Longstreet’s soul. He thought to himself, “That’s what God did in Jesus.” And for the first time in his life, he understood the Christmas message. He hurried back into the house, and he grabbed his coat, and he headed off for church. My beloved, do you understand just how important the Virgin Birth is? It is the way God chose to come into this world to save the likes of you and the likes of me.
Well, I suppose it all comes down to this. As Christians, we believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we believe in His sacrificial death upon the Cross. As Christians, we believe in His resurrection from the dead. As Christians, we believe in the eternal salvation which Jesus Christ has won for us and for all who believe in Him. As Christians, we believe all of that. I got to thinking. To believe all of that but to deny the Virgin Birth, why, that’s like having the courage to climb a mountain but then trembling in fear before a stair step. I believe in the Virgin Birth. I believe it with every fiber of my being. I believe it with my very life. And today, I have tried to show you that the Virgin Birth is possible, furthermore, that it is probable, and even beyond that, that it is important. Only one step remains. You alone can say, “I believe.” Let us pray.
Almighty God, the miracle of the Virgin Birth is small when compared to the greatest miracle of them all, that in Jesus Christ, You came to save us all. Amen.