Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 1:18a (Holman) The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way:. . .
In verse 16, Matthew, having told us Jesus was Joseph’s son not by ordinary means, had hinted this birth story might take a while to explain. Jesus’ birth was convulsive, earthshaking, the event of the century, the millennium, yea of forever.
Israel had long been desperate for Messiah to come. Life was brutal. The yoke of Rome blistered. At long last, Messiah came in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the name of the Second Person of the Trinity’s earthly, human existence. “In Him (Jesus) the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). In Jesus of Nazareth, the Second Person of the Trinity was provided a body in which He truly abode, eating, drinking, walking, sleeping, hurting, dying.
Christ, the anointed One, is a title depicting the role Jesus filled in human history. To this “Jesus Christ” combination Paul liked to prefix Lord, a word Hebrews reserved for God. In the Old Testament, in deference to the Holy Name, Lord is substituted over 5,000 times for YHWH. The formula “Lord Jesus Christ” presents our Savior as God, man, and fulfiller of all promises about Messiah.
It is not surprising the birth of deity, God coming into this world, would be accompanied with extraordinary wonders. The most remarkable attending stunner was the virgin birth. This miracle is one of the ultimate tests of Scriptural belief. Skeptics constantly challenge it. The Talmud bluntly says Jesus was illegitimate.
Jesus’ virgin birth causes a predicament for all. Everyone still has to decide about Christ and this claim. The virgin birth is especially hard to accept by those who do not believe in Jesus’ preexistence. The hardest concept to believe about Jesus is His deity. If this is embraced, a virgin birth is easier to grasp. The crucial question is, do we have in Jesus an actual enfleshment of God, who is Spirit?
The virgin birth is more a miracle to be adored than an enigma to be pried into. This lesson will examine it Biblically, seeking to understand as much as we can about what Matthew says without trying to pry into God’s innermost secrets.
Matt. 1:18b After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph,. . .
Engagements were usually determined at an early age by parents of the two involved. Marriage was considered too serious to leave to emotional impulses.
The wedding ceremony was preceded by a one-year betrothal, in which the two came to know each other well. Relationship preceded intimacy. Parenting was not immediate. After the year of betrothal and the marriage ceremony, the husband escorted the wife to his house, where the relationship was consummated.
Matt. 1:18c . . .it was discovered before they came together that she was
pregnant. . .
No one had ever before been conceived in a virgin. Mary’s unique situation put her in a predicament. As part of her accepting the role of Messiah’s mother, she had to be willing to endure embarrassment and scorn from family and friends.
She’s not the last whose walk with the Lord led down a path of being socially outcast. Scoffing and ridicule often go with the territory.
We don’t know when or where Mary told Joseph the secret. We are not told how she broke the news. Some moments are too painful to re-live. In whatever way it happened, for a while Mary suffered the agony of seeming unworthy to be loved by the man she loved most, and who loved her most.
The disappointment she sensed in Joseph must have been excruciating for Mary. Being a godly lady, modesty and reputation would have mattered deeply.
Mary has through the centuries become controversial. Her role is hotly debated by Christ-followers. I had this truth driven home to me when I put out our new nativity scene. Last year Ruth bought a set on sale after the holiday and put it in our basement. When I brought it up this year and set it in place, I noticed every figure was gazing at baby Jesus except for one of the magi, who was looking off into space. Bumfuzzled, I got down on all fours and, after placing him in several spots, realized he was adoring the virgin Mary. Feeling a Baptist preacher should not have a wise man venerating Mary, I put him on a lower level than the nativity set so that he would be looking at the baby instead of Mary. Maybe I overreacted.
The hyper-veneration given to Mary by some has caused others of us to under-venerate her. It is true Mary was a sinner who would need to be saved by the blood of her own Son. She was also holy, one of the finest humans ever. Gabriel said she had “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30b). John the Baptist’s mother, Elizabeth, loudly exclaimed to Mary, “You are the most blessed of women” (Luke 1:42b). Mary deserves admiration as a honored hero of the ages.
Matt. 1:18d . . .by the Holy Spirit.
These few simple words describe the greatest birth miracle ever. Jesus was Joseph’s Son by adoption. Jesus’ birth-dad was God. The Latin term “spirit” and the Anglo-Saxon “ghost,” interchangeable words, mean breath, wind, an invisible irresistible power. We commonly use “ghost” of a dead person coming back, as in Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.” Scrooge was visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley. We also colloquially refer to death as giving up the ghost. When prefixed with the term “Holy,” the words “ghost” and “spirit” are used to refer to the Third Person of the Trinity.
The birth of Jesus brings us face to face with the innermost essence of who God is. He is three in one, one in three. Our Baptist Faith and Message well says, “God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.”
In the second century, Tertullian began the practice of describing the three-in-one nature of God as “Trinity.” One God three manifestations is a teaching we accept by faith, knowing the essential mystery of the teaching can not be resolved.
The ancient Trinity Wheel helps picture this. God is Father, God is Son, God is Holy Spirit, Father is not Son, Who is not Holy Spirit, Who is not Father.
In the virgin birth of Jesus, all the Trinity is fully involved. We see fulfillment of a plan devised by the First Person of the Trinity, called Father. We have a body provided for the Second Person of the Trinity, called Son. We see a conception administered by the Third Person of the Trinity, called Spirit.
In Scripture, the Holy Spirit is usually presented as active, often described with verbs attached. Jesus is the Word, the express image of who God is. The Holy Spirit is the wind of God, the movement of God, God active in the world, breathing into the world, influencing it.
Both testaments begin with a Holy Spirit miracle. At creation, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters” (Gen. 1:2b). At the new creation He again overshadowed, this time compressing deity into our likeness. By a powerful operation of the Holy Spirit, an incarnation of Spirit took place.
In normal reproduction, a man brings seed, his own material substance, which mixes with an egg to form a zygote. To Mary, the Holy Spirit did not bring substance of Himself, as a physical, human father must do, but instead brought substance of the Son. Having God as Father, and Mary as Mother, the result was a child fully God and fully human.
We can’t and shouldn’t try to pry much farther into this. It is a truth above our thoughts. At some point we have to step back and seek to adore rather than understand. Faith, not intellect, has to have the final word. Do we adore? Do we believe? Have we surrendered to Him for what He is, God in human flesh?