FULFILLED: MANNER OF JESUS’ BIRTH by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: Every Christmas time the major news magazines carry some article or cover story about Christianity. It’s all about selling copies. This year, the December edition of the National Geographic has on its cover page “The Real Jesus: What Archaeology Reveals About His Life.” Listen to what it asks, “Might it be possible that Jesus Christ never even existed, that the whole stained glass story is invention?” This is nothing new. People have forever tried to deny the existence or the deity of Christ. Our series titled “Fulfilled” will hopefully strengthen our faith in Christ that he did come and he is the one who fulfilled all the promises and prophecies of God.
Matthew 1 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
Question: People have asked me “Does a person have to believe in the virgin birth in order to be saved?” I answer them, “No. The thief on the cross didn’t know a thing about the virgin birth when he got saved.” But, let’s suppose that thief on the cross were given a second chance, taken off that cross, and then someone told him about the virgin birth. What should he do? He better believe. Do you believe? I’m not just asking just about the virgin birth. Do you believe that Jesus is God’s only hope for you?
Context: In the passage we just read Matthew gives us the very unusual circumstances surrounding the birth of Christ. He tells us that Mary became pregnant without having any physical interaction with Joseph. He attributes Jesus’ birth to the Holy Spirit. Of course, Joseph does not believe her and wants to divorce her but the angel of the Lord warns him in a dream that the child is indeed of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Mary is pregnant but she’s still a virgin. By the way, we need to clarify something here – “Virgin birth” is actually a misnomer. It implies that Mary was still a virgin when she had Jesus. Although this could be true and, I believe, is true, the real implication here is that Jesus was conceived without Joseph and Mary coming together. In the early church, some actually believed that Mary had a painless birth in which her hymen was not ruptured. So, the actual title should be “virginal conception.” While I’m on the subject, let me also clarify that the “Virginal Conception” is not the Immaculate Conception or the Perpetual Virginity or the Assumption:
- Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary herself was conceived in her mother’s womb as a sinless being. This idea was an invention of the medieval church and even the Catholic Church did not recognize it until 1854, when Pope Pius IX declared it. It is not a biblical doctrine.
- Perpetual Virginity or “aieparthenos” teaches that Mary was a virgin before, during, and after giving birth to Jesus for the rest of her life. This idea has been held by the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church since the seventh century. It is not a biblical doctrine either.
- Assumption of Mary teaches that Mary was taken up into heaven before she died. It is also not a biblical doctrine. Neither is the Dormition of Mary that teaches that Mary died and after three days she rose again.
Let’s return to verse where Matthew writes 22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” In verse 23 Matthew is quoting Isaiah 7:14“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” This is one of the most debated Messianic prophecies in the Bible. One scholar remarked, “Probably no single passage of the Old Testament has been so variously interpreted or has given rise to so much controversy as the prophecy contained in these verses.” (Walter Kaiser) Why is there so much debate?
- Historical context of the prophecy is complicated: This prophecy was given by the prophet Isaiah to Ahaz, King of Judah, the Southern Kingdom. They were facing an attack from all sides: from the South from Edom; from the West from Philistia; from the North and the Northeast from Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom, also known as Israel) and Syria. Keep in mind it was already determined and prophesied that Jesus would come through the tribe of Judah, through the line of King David. God was going to protect his promise. So, he sent Isaiah to Ahaz to comfort him and give him a sign but Ahaz had other ideas. He had already sent off his ambassadors to King Pul (Tiglath-Pileser) of Assyria, the kingdom north of Syria to get help. Doesn’t that sound familiar? We also look here and there instead of the Lord. Instead of asking for a sign as God had instructed, Ahaz acts condescendingly towards Isaiah. Listen to Isaiah 7:13 Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also?” This is very important how Isaiah addresses Ahaz. He calls him “O house of David.” Meaning: This prophecy is not going to be limited to just the immediate context but has far important significance. First, what is the immediate significance? Isaiah 7:14“…Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Meaning: Maybe King Ahaz’s wife or one of his harems was pregnant. This was a sign that the kings to the north will not be successful and that the line of David will continue through Ahaz’s son. I believe that it was probably his son who became King Hezekiah. Second, what is the far important significance? One day in the future another young woman would bear a son who would be the Ultimate Son of David. There’s a difference between the first woman and the second. The first was virgin until conception and the second was a virgin even in conception. And what would be his name? Immanuel. In Isaiah 8:10 it gives us the meaning, “For God is with us.”
Either way, whether to Ahaz (the faithless king) or to sinful us, God’s promise is that God is with us. He is here to save us. Jesus has come to save us.
- Liberal scholarship has claimed that the virginal conception is nothing more than a pagan myth and the word for “virgin” could be variously interpreted. First one about the pagan myth, it is claimed that it is only another example of a “hieros gamos” like Zeus and Semele or Isis and Osiris. In all these instances, there are gods and goddesses mating with each other or somehow impregnating human beings. There is no such thing when it comes to the “Virginal Conception” of Mary.
Second, some claim that the word for virgin in the Hebrew text at Isaiah is “almah” which doesn’t have to mean a virgin and that the true word for virgin is “betullah.” Again, this is not true. To start with, there are 5 different words in this debate: 3 Hebrew and 2 Greek. The first Hebrew word is “issha.” It simply means woman or wife. Then the word, “almah.” When you examine every use of the word “almah” in the Old Testament, it actually means “virgin.” Then there is the word “betullah” which does mean “virgin.” But when you compare their uses, “almah” is found in those passages where there is “something other than a normal child birth” (R.T. France) is involved. In fact, when the LXX translators came to this verse, they could have easily translated this “neanis” if it was just a young woman. But, they knew that there was more involved and hence they made it “Parthenos,” which is explicitly virgin. Words change meanings over time. For example: Bachelor – young knight, then lowest rank in university, and unmarried men. Bachelors are not “College educated Knights.” Or Hussy – housewife, then mistress of a household, then disreputable woman today. Don’t call your wife that!
I wish I could say “this is how people outside the spectrum of Christianity believe” but unfortunately, there are people in the ranks who don’t believe in the fundamental doctrines of the faith. They practice what is known as “double-speak” where they use the common terminology but when pressed, they reveal a very different understanding.
Why did Jesus have to be born of a virgin? To prove that He was sinless, to prove that He was both fully God and fully man, to prove that He came through the Holy Spirit, to be a sign as prophesied by Isaiah.
Are you saved? Only through Christ you can be.
Why didn’t God make it clear, why all these other stories other meanings and fulfillments? Why did God allow such discrepancies and tough issues? Why do we do Easter Egg Hunts? God gets joy out of seeing us discover. All of life is like a drama just like what Shakespeare said. What part of the story are you in?