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The Birth of the Messiah - Part 1

Tom Pennington Matthew 1:18-25


Well, I invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to Matthew. I'm going to step away, for the next several weeks, from Romans. I had planned to do a message in Romans last week but, obviously, circumstances were such that that wasn't possible. So, we're going to wait until the New Year to come back to Romans because I really want us to focus, in these weeks, on the birth of Christ. Why is that? Because the birth of Christ is central to our faith, and yet and I should say, we also understand the basic facts about the birth of Christ. There's no one here, who has been in the church anytime at all, who doesn't understand those things. But let's admit that those things that are often the most familiar to us become too familiar. They become pedestrian, and every day, and ordinary, and we don't even think deeply about them. In fact, let me just ask you an honest question. When is the last time you personally thought deeply and profoundly about the incarnation of Jesus Christ our Lord? This is the heart of our faith. And yet I think if we're honest with ourselves, all too often, it is a box we check, a theological truth we acknowledge, but we've really failed to come to grips with its depth and profundity. What I want to do over the next few weeks, for my own soul as well as for yours, is to remind us again of the wonder of this incredible event and bring us to truly celebrate this Christmas season with our hearts, as we remember what our Lord has done in coming. So that's my goal in the next several weeks that we're together.

Every year at Christmas time - television, the Internet, newspapers, magazines - are all filled with articles quoting supposed scholars. And those scholars either doubt or outright deny the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth; that He ever really lived. You've heard those things. You've read those articles. You need to understand that that is a wholesale attempt, by a few people, to undermine Christians' confidence in a historical truth. There are very few "scholars", quote unquote, who believe that Jesus never lived; that He never existed. They are vocal. They're reported on television.

But they are vastly outnumbered and outgunned even by pagan historians and archaeologists. In fact, several years ago, I got an issue of the magazine that I get every month called, Biblical Archaeology. It's not a conservative publication by any means. It's just an effort for me to stay up with what's being discovered in the Middle East as they dig and discover those things that pertain to the Scriptures. But a few years ago, there was an article in Biblical Archaeology entitled, "Did Jesus Exist?" The scholar, who wrote the article, is not evangelical in any way, shape, or form but this is what he wrote: "As far as we know, no ancient person ever seriously argued that Jesus did not exist." Let me say that again. "As far as we know, no ancient person ever seriously argued that Jesus did not exist." Referring to the first several centuries CE, or common era, even a scholar as cautious and thorough as Robert Van Voorst, freely observes, "No pagans and Jews who oppose Christianity deny Jesus' historicity or even questioned it. If anyone in the ancient world had a reason to dislike the Christian faith it was the rabbis. Yet all Jewish sources treat Jesus as a fully, historical person." You need to understand that secular, even antagonistic, sources that date close to the events that unfolded in the life of Christ, confirm Jesus' historical existence and even many of the key events in His life. What I mean to say is this: you simply cannot legitimately deny that there was a historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, who lived 2000 years ago in the land of Israel. To do so, is to put your head in the historical sand.

The real question, however, is this: Was historically the person who existed as Jesus of Nazareth, was Jesus merely a historical human being? He was certainly that, but was he more? And on that question, the debate begins with His conception and His birth. The birth of Jesus Christ has always been a consistent reason for attacks of those who hate Christianity, a consistent target of those who try to undermine the faith that we embrace. For 2000 years, there have been many theories about how the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, came to be in the womb of Mary.

But when you strip it all away, in the end, there are really only three possibilities of how Jesus came to be in Mary's womb. Number one: He was the normal offspring of the marriage of Mary and Joseph. He was the normal offspring of the marriage of Mary and Joseph. Both Jesus' friends and his enemies deny that. It's unanimous, on both sides of the aisle, that Jesus was born outside of wedlock. So, that leaves two other options. The second option is that Jesus was illegitimate, that is, that Mary became pregnant outside of marriage either by Joseph or by some other man. The third option is that Jesus was conceived and born miraculously, as the Scriptures teach, by a virgin.

Now the two gospels that address Jesus' birth are Luke and Matthew. Both of those gospels deny that Jesus was illegitimate, and both deny that he was the offspring of Mary and Joseph. Both assert, instead, a third option and that is a virgin conception and birth. Now, you understand, that Luke's is the most familiar narrative of the birth of Christ. But, this Christmas, I want us to focus, instead, on Matthew's account because it focuses on the birth of Christ from Joseph's perspective. Luke is all about Mary - what she saw, what she felt in her heart, what she experienced. Matthew, on the other hand, tells us what was going on in the life of Joseph as these events unfolded.

I want you to turn with me, because of that, to Matthew chapter 1. Here's where we encounter the birth account of Jesus from the standpoint of Joseph. Now before we look at the text itself, let me just give you context. Matthew's purpose in writing his gospel was to present Jesus as the Messiah, as Israel's only rightful king. And this is clear from the very start. Look at chapter one verse one. "The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham..." Immediately were told that Jesus, this historical person, is the Messiah. Go down to verse 16. At the end of the genealogy, we're told, "Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah." Verse 18: "Now the birth of Jesus..." Now you'll notice the word "Christ" and if you have a reference edition, you'll notice a footnote, or a side note that indicates that Christ is simply the Greek word Christos. It means, "the anointed one". It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew, Hamashiach, the Messiah, the Anointed One. So, when you see the word "Christ" in your Bible, understand that that is Messiah; that's what the word means, that's the Hebrew word. And so, verse 18 says, "Now the birth of Jesus Christ [Messiah] was as follows..." Go to chapter 2:1. "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea [we just saw in Micah] in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.'" So understand, then, that Matthew from the very beginning makes it clear that he is arguing that Jesus, the historical personage born in Bethlehem, is the Messiah, the One promised in the Old Testament, the Anointed One, the One God has specially identified as the King of the Ages.

Now, if you're going to have a monarchy - you're going to have King, you're going to have a monarchy - what is the heart of a monarchy? You have to have succession. To rightly be a king means you are in the royal line of kings and you have the right to ascend to the throne. So, Matthew begins his gospel with the genealogy. He must show that Jesus falls within the line of Israel's kings. First, he establishes Jesus' pedigree; that He descended directly from David whom the Old Testament said one of his sons would sit on the throne forever, and ultimately traced back to Abraham.

Once Matthew establishes that pedigree, that He is in fact qualified to be king, then he records the events surrounding the king's birth. And those events, too, were unique and highlighted Jesus' qualifications as the Messiah, the rightful king. That's really the point of verses 18 to 25. Let's read it together, Matthew 1:18. "Now the birth of Jesus Christ [Messiah] was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.' Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel', which translated means, 'God with us.' And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus."

Here in this paragraph, Matthew, to drive home the point that Jesus is the Messiah - that he is qualified to be the rightful king promised in the Old Testament - he highlights here for us five unique characteristics of Jesus to show that He is qualified to be the Messiah. But he is the king, and this becomes clear in the events that accompany His birth. Let's look at them together; these five unique characteristics that show Jesus is more than qualified to be the Messiah, the rightful king.

The first characteristic is His unique conception; His unique conception. This is found in verses 18 to 20. Look at verse 18. "Now the birth of Jesus Christ [Messiah] was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph..." Now stop there, a moment, because that sets the historical context for what will follow. We need to understand what is really happening in their lives to appreciate this passage. Scripture doesn't tell us how old Mary and Joseph were when these events happened. But most men, Jewish men in the 1st century, married before they were 20 years of age. Most Jewish girls were betrothed shortly after puberty, somewhere around 14 or 15 years of age. It's possible that Mary was in her late teens but frankly, in that culture, it's unlikely. Usually, families had previously arranged for their children's marriages and that was likely true in the case of Joseph and Mary.

Now, to understand the specific context, you need to understand a little bit about Jewish marriages in the 1st century. A typical 1st century Jewish marriage consisted of two parts. The first part was the betrothal period which was called the kiddushin. It lasted for about 12 months. Now, when you hear betrothal, you probably tend to think our "engagement period". And it's like that in some ways but much different than that in others. It's a much more serious event than our engagement because during this betrothal period, the man was referred to as the woman's husband (notice verse 19) and she as his wife, even though the actual wedding hasn't taken place and the marriage has not been consummated according to even verse 24. Back in Deuteronomy 22:24, there, talking about this betrothal event, the woman is called a wife even though the previous verse refers to her as betrothed or engaged. During the kiddushin, this first 12-month period, if the man died the woman was considered a widow. The couple, during this time period, didn't live together as husband and wife. In fact, they were supposed to remain completely sexually uninvolved, sexually pure. According to Deuteronomy 24 any form of sexual sin, that happened during the betrothal, was considered adultery. And the guilty party, under the Mosaic law, could be stoned. It was a binding contract that, like marriage, could only be ended by the death of one or by divorce. This was the kiddushin.

The second part of a Jewish marriage in the 1st century was the huppah. This took place about a year after the engagement. So, there was the kiddushin that lasted about 12 months - could be a little less, usually not longer - and at the end of that period came the huppah. I should put the emphasis there, the huppah. This took place about a year after the engagement and it consisted of the man's going from his home, there in the village - marching through the streets with great fanfare, with a large company of friends and family, instruments, rejoicing, shouting. And they would take the longest route through the village, weaving their way around until they came eventually to the home of woman to whom he was betrothed. And there he would take her ceremonially from her home, back with him through the streets of the village, back to his home. Once they arrived back at his home, the wedding occurred and the wedding feast, which could last as many as seven days. And you guys thought you spent a lot on your daughters' weddings! Seven days of feasting and, of course during that time, was the consummation of the marriage.

Now, the word that Matthew uses, here in chapter one, tells us that these events unfolded during the first part - that 12-month period called the kiddushin. And he adds in verse 18, it was "before they came together". So, they were betrothed. They were in that, the kiddushin, but they had not come together. That's, of course, a Jewish euphemism meaning they had not been sexually involved. But at some point, during the kiddushin, something remarkable happened. Verse 18 goes on to say, "she was found to be with child by..." Literally, the Greek text says, "out of the Holy Spirit". "...she was found to be with child [have conceived] by [out of or the source of that conception was] the Holy Spirit." Now understand that the primary miracle that we call the Virgin Birth is really the Virgin Conception. It's true - Mary was still a virgin when she gave birth to Christ, verse 25 says that. But Jesus' actual birth, the birth process that Jesus went through, was the same as any other birth. Mary carried Jesus in her womb for nine months. And at the end of those nine months, when they'd come to Bethlehem for the census, she gave birth to Jesus. He was born in the same way that every naturally born child has ever been. If you've seen a human birth, maybe one of your children born, you have seen exactly what happened to Jesus on the night of His birth. What was unique about Mary's child was not really His birth. It was His supernatural conception that no human father was involved.

Now let me step back, before we look at what that means and make sure we understand, the Bible does not teach what Roman Catholic theology teaches. And that is the Immaculate Conception, that is, that Mary was born without original sin in order to protect Jesus' sinlessness. That's not what the Bible teaches. In fact, the Bible is very clear that everyone apart from Jesus Christ, every human being apart from Jesus Christ, is a sinner. Romans 3:12 says, "There is none who does good, there is not even [what?] one." Mary is not the exception to that. Jesus is the only one, the Scripture tells us, is without sin. And so, there was no Immaculate Conception. In fact, in her Magnificat, you remember Mary speaks of "God my Savior". Only sinners need a savior. She acknowledged that reality. Instead of Mary's immaculate conception, what the Bible teaches is Jesus' virgin conception. What do we mean by that? Listen carefully! We mean the humanity of Christ was produced in the womb of the virgin Mary by the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit. Now, I need to be very clear here because frankly, cause of the influence of Greek mythology where you have the gods all sexually involved and even the teaching of the Mormon Church which implies the same thing for the birth of Christ, no sexual union, natural or supernatural, took place between Mary and God. What's being taught here, the virgin conception, is that it was a creative miracle produced in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit. The same spirit who brought life to this planet, imparted life into the womb of the Virgin Mary. It was His creative, miraculous work.

Verse 19 tells us Joseph's response to this. "And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly." Now Luke1:27 tells us that Mary was already betrothed to Joseph when Gabriel showed up to announce the birth of Jesus. And the betrothal, as I've just told you, usually lasted less than 12 months. So, that meant that it must have been just a few months before Mary discovered she was pregnant. And, in fact, I think we can piece together a timeline when you understand what happened to Mary. You remember, Mary is approached by Gabriel in Luke 1 and she's told she's going to have a son. What happens immediately? She leaves her home in Nazareth. She goes down to the Judean hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth whom, she was told by Gabriel, was also pregnant and was six months pregnant at that point. So, the moment she's told, she quickly gathers her things and Mary goes to visit Elizabeth. Now, we're told in Luke 1:56 that Mary stayed with Elizabeth until her baby, John, was born. So, after the annunciation, Mary stayed away from Nazareth for about three months. By the time she returned, she was probably three months pregnant and she has something she needs to tell Joseph.

Now, we're not told how Joseph found out about Mary's condition since he did find out in some non-miraculous way. We can only assume that shortly after she returned from the hill country and visiting Elizabeth, back to Nazareth, Mary asked to see him and told him the shocking news of Gabriel's visit and the child that was growing within her. Like most 1st century Jewish people, Joseph - you know a righteous man we're told, a true believer - he was faithful to his spouse in advance of their marriage. And he expected Mary to be as well. So, it's hard to imagine the shock when Joseph heard the news. He, obviously, knew the child wasn't his right? And he probably didn't know Mary extremely well. They did grow up together in a small village. Nazareth, at the time, was probably about the same number of people that are in this room right now, fewer than 500 people in the town of Nazareth. So, they knew each other. Their families knew each other in that sort of distant way. Jewish records tell us, however, that during the 12 months of betrothal, the couple were rarely alone with each other. They were always supervised, and they were kept from each other for the protection of their purity. In this small town, he knew some things about Mary and his family and observed her virtue - that's why they had arranged this marriage. And so, I'm sure when he heard this news, he was confused because it seemed - what he's hearing that she's pregnant - seemed so out of character for this girl that that he knew to some extent. And her explanation, wow! How incredible must that have sounded to him? I mean, put yourself in Joseph's shoes for a moment. You're engaged to a person and she comes to you and says, "Listen, I'm pregnant but, listen, it's not what you think. God miraculously planted this child in my womb."

Now, you might think, "Well God was always doing miracles so they kind of expected that". No! It had been 700 years since God had intruded into His world with a miracle according to Old Testament history. Think 1300s to compare in our time. It had been 400 years since God had spoken through the mouth of a prophet. These things didn't happen. And so, imagine yourself in Joseph's shoes. What would you think if the person you were engaged to was pregnant and you knew the child wasn't yours? And the situation was made even more difficult by the fact that the verse tells us that Joseph was a righteous man, that is, he was a true Old Testament believer. He had come by grace to know the God of his fathers and, because of that grace, he wanted to walk in obedience. He was a righteous man who longed to obey his God. I'm sure once the shock of what she told him left, it was a kind of numbness that set in. He has to be thinking, "This can't be happening to me! You know, I've been looking forward to my marriage, and Mary seemed like such a wonderful person, and we would be so well suited to each other, and now this is unfolding. Now she tells me she's pregnant."

As anyone would, he began to think about his options. And there were only three options that he had. Option number one is he could marry her. But, frankly, this just wasn't done in the 1st century. Roman law treated a husband who failed to divorce an unfaithful wife as a panderer, who was exploiting his wife as a prostitute. The Jewish Mishnah absolutely forbids a man in this situation to marry this woman. Besides, think about this on a very practical level. If Joseph marries her what is that saying? It's saying this is really my child. It is a tacit admission the child was his, forever tainting his reputation. So, that really wasn't an option. There was a second option. He could disgrace her. Notice what the text says. He could disgrace her. That same Greek word is used in Colossians 2:15 where it's translated, "to make a display or a spectacle of". He could make a public display or spectacle of her. How? By initiating a public hearing. By taking her to court in front of the townspeople. That would publicly shame him and his family, however. But notice Matthew tells us Joseph wasn't thinking about himself when he decided not to take Mary to public court. Verse 19: "...not wanting to disgrace [or make a public spectacle of what?] her [of her]". I mean, in that culture, Mary's premarital pregnancy had already ruined any chances for her future marriage. And Joseph is concerned about adding to that. He's concerned about her. You know I love that! We assume that Joseph was a righteous man, that God had saved him by grace, that he longed to obey God. We assume that since God chose him along with Mary to be the adoptive father, in his case, of Jesus. But his attitude, here, shows his heart. I mean think about this. Mary has just broken his heart. She has just humiliated him. And he's concerned about her! In Moses day, if it had been proven in a public court that a betrothed wife had been unfaithful, she would've been put to death. In the 1st century, it wasn't that dramatic. In the 1st century if Joseph had taken this course - if he had taken Mary to public court and accused her of being unfaithful to him during their betrothal period and she was found guilty - the court would have allowed Joseph to impound Mary's dowry, the assets that she brought to the marriage. And they may have also enabled him to recoup the bride price if he had paid one. So, there was actually some financial advantage for Joseph moving forward with a public trial and it would clear his name.

You know, we read this story and we hear these things, and it sounds so out of step, doesn't it, with contemporary thinking? Our culture does not expect young people, who aren't married, to keep themselves virgins until they marry. Let me say something to you, young people. God still expects that of His people. He still expects it. God takes this so seriously that, in Israel, the law called for someone sexually involved before or outside of marriage to be stoned to death. And it's still an issue to God. Read 1 Thessalonians 4 where Paul writes, listen, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality." And he says you better not defraud anyone sexually in this way, and if you do, (read the text) he says God is going to take it very, very seriously. Listen to me young people. If you're dating somebody who's trying to convince you that if you really love him or her, then you're going to get involved sexually. You can be sure of two things. One: you can be sure that in that request, they are not loving you. They are being utterly and completely selfish. And two: he or she is not acting, in that, like a righteous person. Now, what if you've already sinned in this way? Well, listen. Understand this. This is the grace of God in the gospel. Where there is true repentance, there's always the grace of God to forgive and cover that sin and there's grace from God's people to accept and receive you as well. In fact, there are men and women in this church who have sinned in this way and the Lord has forgiven their sin. He has enabled them to overcome that and to live lives of holiness and righteousness. So, it's not something that's unforgivable or unresolvable. But do take it seriously. It's a very serious thing to the Lord.

So as Joseph considered his options, he could, first of all, marry her. But that wasn't done. He could, secondly, publicly humiliate her by taking her to court. Joseph's only other choice was, notice what the passage says, "to send her away secretly". The Greek word translated, "send away", if you have a marginal note, you'll see it there. It's the same word translated "divorce" in Matthew 5 and Matthew 19 where Jesus discusses divorce. So, Joseph was considering privately divorcing Mary, that is, not taking her to a public court but, rather, doing so privately. Thanks to the influence of Roman culture and a loose interpretation among the Jews of Deuteronomy 24, in the 1st century life of Israel men could easily divorce their wives without stipulating a reason. According to Rabbi Judah of the time, he simply needed, in the presence of two witnesses, to give her a document that said, "Let this be from me your writ of divorce, and letter of dismissal, and deed of liberation that you may marry whatever man you want." Just that simple. A private ceremony with two witnesses and a piece of paper and it was done. The Mishnah allowed for this private kind of divorce in the case of a suspected adulteress. And this was exactly the course that Joseph landed on.

Now, put yourself in Mary's shoes at this point. She has absolutely no way to defend herself. What can she possibly say that's going to convince Joseph that what she's saying is true and that this child is not illegitimately conceived but is the miraculous work of God Himself? There's nothing! There's no way she can defend herself and so the Lord defends her. He sent his angel (probably Gabriel since Gabriel is the one who announced to Mary that Jesus would be born, but we're not told here) to speak to Joseph in a dream.

Verse 20: "But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David..." By the way, Joseph probably wasn't called that every day. "Hello, son of David!". No, the angel is making a point. You are in the line of Israel's kings. You are a son of David. And he goes on. " not be afraid to take Mary as your wife." To "take Mary as your wife", by the way, describes the second part of the Jewish wedding, the huppah, when the man came and took the woman, with ceremony, from her house and marched her back to his, and then the wedding took place. So, what the angel told Joseph was to finalize the marriage. And the angel confirmed then what Mary no doubt had already told Joseph. Verse 20. It's like, "Okay, Joseph, you probably found this hard to believe coming from Mary but let me tell you: the child who has been conceived in her is, literally the Greek text says, "out of the Holy Spirit", meaning the Holy Spirit is the source of this child. It's His creative act that has produced this child in Mary's womb.

But do you see what's going on here? From the very beginning, the conception and birth of Jesus Christ were scandalous, even to Jesus' adopted father, Joseph. And, of course, eventually Jesus enemies would throw this back in his face. Remember that less than subtle innuendo in John 8:41 when Jesus says to them, "You are doing the deeds of your father", meaning, your father the Devil. To which they respond, "We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God." And the clear implication is, "We're not really sure of your uncertain ancestry. Who exactly is your father?"

This is what the Scriptures teach, however. In fact, let me put it this way. The Bible speaks with one voice that a virgin would conceive the coming Messiah. This is not something passing, incidental to the story. This is at the heart of the story. Let me show you. Look here in Matthew. Before you look at Matthew, let me take you back to one passage that's referenced in Matthew 1. You don't need to turn there. But Isaiah 7, you remember, Isaiah 7:14, "a virgin will be with child..." Now look here in Matthew, Matthew 1:16. At the end of the genealogy it says, "Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born..." Now, in English, "by whom" is neutral. It doesn't have any sort of gender connected to it. In Greek, it's feminine. And so, it really reads like this, verse 16, "Joseph the husband of Mary, and by Mary, Jesus was born who is called the Messiah". Look at verse 18: "...before they came together [sexually] she was found to be with child by [through] the Holy Spirit." Verse 20: for the Child who has [that which has] been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." Verses 22 and 23 talk about Isaiah 14 and say that Jesus' birth was the fulfillment of what Isaiah had prophesied that a virgin would be with child. Turn over to Luke's gospel. Luke chapter one. Luke 1:27. Look at verse 26: "Now in the sixth month [of Elizabeth's pregnancy] the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary." Verse 34: "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" Verse 35: "The angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you...'" The picture, here, is from the creation account. You remember where the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters in the act of creating everything just as He was the author of life on this planet, through the work of the Son and the Father, even so, He will produce life in the womb of a virgin. "...and for that reason [verse 35 says] the holy Child shall be called the Son of God". Go to chapter 3. Luke 3 and verse 23. This is the beginning of Luke's genealogy which is, by the way and we'll talk about this in coming weeks, this is probably the genealogy of Mary. That's why it differs from David all the way down to Jesus. But notice how it begins. Verse 23: "When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph..." And, of course, there's that famous text in Galatians 4:4 which says Christ was sent forth, which speaks of His pre-existence. He was sent forth, He was commissioned, and He was "born of a woman". Literally, "who became out of a woman" Galatians 4:4 says.

So, the Scripture couldn't be clearer and, not only is it clear, but it punctuates the importance of this. As J. Gresham Machen in his defense of the virgin birth wrote, "It is perfectly clear that the New Testament teaches the virgin birth of Christ. About that there can be no manner of doubt. There is no serious question as to the interpretation of the Bible at this point." The Greek word "virgin", here, can only mean one thing and that's virgin. And again, and again, and again that's what we're told. Theologians and Bible scholars have always agreed that the virgin birth or more specifically, the virgin conception and birth, were literal events and listen carefully, they are essential, foundational, fundamental to the Christian faith. This was the unanimous testimony of the church fathers. It is also the unanimous testimony of the Christian creeds. Read them. Read the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, the definition from the Council of Chalcedon, the Athanasian Creed, the Augsburg Confession, the Belgic Confession, the Westminster Confession, the 1689 London Baptist Confession, the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England - all of them and many more punctuate the reality of the virgin conception and birth of Jesus the Messiah.

Now, I suspect that almost everyone here this morning believes that. But if I came up to you and put you on the stage and put a mic in your hand and said, "Okay, I want you to tell me, Christian, was Jesus born of a virgin?" I think, again, almost everyone here would say, "Yes". But then if I were to ask you, "Why does that matter?" What would you say? This is at the heart of our family, folks! This is essential. This is fundamental to the Christian faith. Why does it matter? Well, let me first make sure you understand what the virgin birth did not accomplish because there's confusion on this and let me make sure you don't believe them. The virgin birth is not the cause of Jesus' deity, that is, it is completely unrelated to His deity. He was eternally the Son of God before the world was made. He was eternally the Son of God at Bethlehem. He was eternally the Son of God as He grew up through those years and became a man and He ministered. He was eternally the Son of God when He died. He was eternally the Son of God when He was raised. He will be eternally the Son of God forever. The virgin birth has no relationship to His deity.

Secondly, it is not the cause of His sinlessness. The virgin birth is not the cause of Jesus' sinlessness. Now, there are those who argue that this is what the virgin birth is about and they say this: sin is only passed down through the male and so He couldn't have a father because, that way, He could be sinless. He could be without sin. Now let me just say, bluntly and forgive me if I'm offending you, but there is no evidence, biologically or biblically, that that is the case that sin is passed down solely through the male. In fact, what does David say in Psalm 51:5? "And in sin my mother conceived me." Christ's humanity was real. Since he had no human father, His humanity had to be made of the substance of Mary. Because Mary was sinful, the Holy Spirit had to so act upon her that what was born to her was sinless and absolutely pure. In other words, let me put it this way: Mary was sinful. The Spirit had to miraculously protect the humanity of Jesus from the sinfulness of Mary. So, the virgin birth has nothing to do with making sure Jesus is sinless. He is sinless but it's not because of the virgin birth.

So why the virgin birth? There are two primary reasons for the virgin birth. I'm going to give you one today and the other we'll discover in the weeks before us. The first primary reason for the virgin conception and birth is this and you got to put on your thinking cap, here. Stay with me. I know this is going to stretch your brain, but it's important you understand it. The virgin birth was the only possible means of uniting the pre-existing, second person of the Trinity with a human nature. It was the only way the Son of God, who already existed, could add to Himself a full humanity. Now, if that's losing you, think about it this way. If a man and a woman come together and conceive a child, what results? A unique person. A new person comes from that union. But the Son of God was eternally a person. He was already a person. He didn't need to become a person. What He needed was to add humanity. But if He had been conceived by a man and a woman, by Joseph and Mary, then the eternal Son of God would have been one person and this new creation, that came out of the conception of a man and a woman, would have been another person. He would've have been two people. But Jesus isn't two people. He's one person with two natures. And so, the virgin birth allowed Jesus to continue to be just one person but to add to Himself a human nature; to add a human nature to His divine nature. So, don't miss the main point of Matthew 1:18-20. Jesus' conception - it was certainly unique. No other conception like that. But it was in fact a conception, a human conception. And folks, that's the real miracle. God's Son was to become a real person - human person, thoroughly, truly, human. As Charles Feinberg put it in an address to the seminarians at Talbot Seminary, as he was talking about the essentials of Christianity, he said this, "Basic to the Christian faith is the oracle that declares God the Son became man for our salvation." In the virgin conception, the second person of the Trinity allowed our human nature to be united to His divine nature, so He became a real human being. You see, the virgin birth and the incarnation are inseparable. The Council of Chalcedon, the definition of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD put it this way. Listen to this. Speaking of Christ, "He is of the same reality as God, as far as His deity is concerned, and of the same reality as we ourselves as far as His humanness is concerned. Let that sink into your mind for a moment. He is of the same reality as you, as far as His humanness is concerned. And then it goes on to say, "...thus like us in all respects, sin only accepted." "Thus, like us in all respects, sin only accepted." If you've been around our church, anytime at all, you've often heard me say, "He was just like you except for sin." That's a paraphrase of the Council of Chalcedon and the central truth that it was setting forth. But think about that for a moment. Jesus became, in the virgin conception and birth, just like you except for your sin. He became everything you are except for sin.

What do we do with this? How do we respond to this? Or let me say this: your response to the incarnation is a test of whether you are even truly a Christian. It's a test. I've been studying 1 John on my own, just for my own study. Someday it might end up, maybe even after I've finished Romans, being our study. But go to 1 John 1. 1 John 1, the Apostle writes this: "What was from the beginning...", talking about Christ, and notice how he talks about His Incarnation: "what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at [that is gazed at, kept looking at] and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us..." As John unfolds his letter, he says let me give you a test as to whether or not you're truly a Christian. And he gives moral tests: do you live like a Christian? He gives relational tests: do you love like a Christian? But he also gives a doctrinal test: do you believe the right things? Let me ask you? Do you believe the right things about Jesus? Do you believe that Jesus is the Messiah? Look at 1 John 2:22. "Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ [Messiah]? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son." Do you in your heart of hearts? I'm not asking, you know, what box you checked? I'm not asking what your church teaches or what your parents taught. I'm asking you: do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth, who lived 2000 years ago was n fact the Messiah, the Promised One from the Old Testament that God said would come? Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Look at 1 John 5. 1 John 5:5: "Who is the one who overcomes the world...?" In John's context, that means, who's a true believer? "...but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" Verse 9: "If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son." Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth, who lived 2000 years ago in the land of Israel was in fact and is to this day the eternal Son of God? If you don't, you're not a Christian. Do you believe that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, has become truly a human being? Look at chapter 4:1. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit [that is every teacher and the spirit behind them], but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ [Messiah] has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. Do you believe that Jesus is the Messiah? Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? And do you believe that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came truly in flesh as a person, that He's everything you are except for sin?

Now don't misunderstand me. You can believe those historical facts and not be a Christian. But you can't be a Christian and not believe those historical facts. You must also commit yourself to him as Savior and Lord, but you must believe those things to be true. Do you really believe those things? If not, you're not a Christian and I plead with you today to accept the gift God has given us in His Son, Messiah, who has come in the flesh. Christian, do you understand that Jesus had to become like you so that He could stand in your place? Look very quickly at Hebrews. Hebrews 2:14: "Therefore, since the children [that's us] share in flesh and blood [that is we're fully human], He Himself likewise also partook of the same..." Why? Go down to verse 17: "Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things [why?], so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." Listen, Jesus had to become just like you in every way except your sin so that He could be your high priest, so that He could offer a sacrifice that was acceptable to God Himself. And I love this: so that he could understand you experientially forever. He has lived in your skin. He has walked in your shoes. He understands and, I love this too, He will be like you except for sin, forever. Jesus didn't go back to heaven and leave His humanity. He's always like us, now and forever.

As you celebrate this Christmas season, remember that is what you celebrate. Don't let Christmas become pedantic, pedestrian. We're talking about a profound event in which the eternal Son of God willingly became just like you are except for sin so that He could offer a sacrifice to God for you, in your place. And that sacrifice was Himself, to reconcile you to your Creator. That's the message of Christmas.

Let's pray together.

Father, we confess to You that as human beings, sadly, those things which we are most aware of and most familiar with do become ordinary. They lose their sparkle, their wonder. Oh God, don't let us ever lose our sense of awe and wonder at the incarnation. Help us remember in this season that this is what we celebrate. Lord, strip away all the trappings and the tinsel, and the trinkets, and the stuff, and help us to remember that Your eternal Son came as the Messiah and became just like we are except for sin in order to reconcile us to You through His death. Father, thank You! Thank You for these great truths sealed into our hearts. And Lord, if there's someone here today who doesn't believe those truths or who believes them but has never committed himself or herself to follow Jesus Christ, Father, may this be the day when they lay down their rebellion and come seeking the forgiveness that's offered in Your Son. It's in His name we pray. Amen!