The Virgin-Born Saviour
by Timothy Cross
Therefore the LORD Himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).
The Prophecy of Christ’s Virgin Birth
That Isaiah’s words here - addressed originally to King Ahaz of Judah some 800 years BC - had their ultimate fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ is the clear testimony of the New Testament. Isaiah prophesied of One to come Who, incredibly, was to be born without the normal instrumentality of a human father. When the Lord Jesus - God’s eternal Son - was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary and born of her, this prophecy was fulfilled.
As the Christian Church grew, and her fundamental beliefs came to be encapsulated and defined in her creeds and statements of Faith, the ‘Virgin Birth’ of Christ - by which we mean the ‘virginal conception’ of Christ - came to be regarded as fundamental to the Faith, and hence included in the church’s creeds. If we deny that Christ was virgin born, we are at odds with the historic Christian Faith and cannot really claim to be a Christian. The Apostles’ Creed states:-
I believe …in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary …
The Shorter Catechism states similarly:-
Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to Himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.
The Mystery of Christ’s Virgin Birth
Virgin births are, of course, humanly speaking, impossible. In dealing with the virgin birth of Christ though, we are dealing with God, and with God nothing will be impossible (Luke 1:37). In Christ, no mere human was born but the pre-existent and eternal Son of God - the Second Person of the blessed Trinity.
People sometimes speak of ‘the miracle of life.’ Whilst we know what they mean, the term ‘the miracle of life’ is actually something of a misnomer. A new-born baby is wonderful, yet not really miraculous. Miracles are, by their nature, unusual, one-off events - but babies are born every day. New life is certainly mysterious and marvellous, but not, strictly speaking, miraculous. As you do not know how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God Who makes everything (Ecclesiastes 11:5).
In the virgin birth of Christ though we are dealing with a unique, unusual, one-off, never to be repeated, incomparable miracle. Miracles present no problem to omnipotence. Christ’s conception was not a natural one but a supernatural one. His conception was not by an act of man but by an act of God.
The Reality of Christ’s Virgin Birth
When the virgin Mary - a young Jewish girl, living in Nazareth in Northern Israel - was enabled to conceive the Lord Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, she was engaged to be married to one Joseph. Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18). The intensely human details which Matthew records next, show that the account of the virgin birth of Christ is the plain, sober truth, rather than a clever and creative story spun by man. Virgin births were just not in Joseph’s mental framework at all - let alone in relation to his own wife to be. On realising that the woman to whom he was engaged was pregnant, Joseph was horrified and devastated. Although he loved her, he thought the worst of her. Surely Mary had been unfaithful and broken her sacred pledge. Surely now his marital hopes had ended almost before they had begun… Sadly, divorce seemed to be Joseph’s only option. Reading the account, we can almost feel the disappointment and depression descending on Joseph, but… 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 shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:20ff.). It took an envoy from heaven to make Joseph change his mind!
Matthew next notes carefully that all of this was part of God’s redemptive plan, hence it was in complete accord with what God had already prophesied hundreds of years previously. He thus quotes the very verse from Isaiah with which we opened to prove his point: All this took place to fulfil 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) (Matthew 1:22,23). In the virgin birth of Christ then Isaiah’s prophecy was most certainly and most gloriously fulfilled.
Interestingly, significantly and fittingly, it is Luke’s Gospel which gives us the most detail in its recording of the virgin birth of Christ. We say this, as Luke was a medical doctor. Luke the beloved physician (Colossians 4:14). Luke alone relates the virgin birth of Christ from the angle of Mary His mother. It would seem that Mary had the confidence to confide in Dr Luke, and disclose to him the details withheld from the other accounts. The divine inspiration of the Scriptures apart, it is as though Luke had taken Mary into his surgery, from whence the material for the first chapter of his Gospel - with its detail concerning Christ’s virgin birth - was ascertained. Luke thus recorded for posterity how:-
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary … And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High…’ And Mary said to the angel ‘How shall this be, since I have no husband?’ And the angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God’ (Luke 1:26 ff.).
Christ’s birth then cannot be explained apart from the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit. He had no human father. God was always His Father. Christ existed before His birth on earth. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1,14). How did the latter occur? By His conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, in fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
The Necessity of Christ’s Virgin Birth
From a Biblical perspective, the virgin birth of Christ was an absolute necessity as much as it is an assured reality. Put negatively, if Jesus had been born of a human father, He would not have been a sinless Saviour, for He would have inherited our sinful nature. Had Christ not been sinless, He would have been unable to redeem sinners. Only a sinless One could offer up His life as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of others. Had Christ been born as a mere son of Adam - and not the Son of God - His death at Calvary would have been of no avail to us. We are sinners. We are so by nature and practice, being descendants of Adam. Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned (Romans 5:12). We have inherited Adam’s sinful nature. Christ though did not. He is the ‘Last Adam.’ His conception by the Holy Spirit ensured that no taint of sin was transmitted to His human nature. He is the sinless Son of God, hence His qualification to be the Saviour of sinners. He was born, not of the will of man but of God. His human nature was free from sin, hence His blood alone, shed at Calvary’s cross, has the power to save others from sin. Christ’s supernatural birth and Christ’s supernatural blood are inextricably linked. Redemption is only to be found in the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:19).
What stream is that which sweeps away
My sins just like a flood
Nor lets one guilty blemish stay?
Tis Jesus’ precious blood.
The Glory of Christ’s Virgin Birth
The Christian marvels at the virgin birth of Christ, a virgin birth in total fulfilment of Isaiah 7:14: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son. The virgin birth of Christ elicits our humble adoration. The virgin birth of Christ though is just one facet of the incomparable person and work of the incomparable Saviour. Christ certainly entered into the world supernaturally - yet He also exited from the world in a supernatural way too. Christ certainly did inhabit a virgin womb for a season - but He also inhabited a virgin tomb too, from which He conquered the grave on the third day.
In dealing with Christ we are dealing with God. A true Christian, knowing His power to save, will never ever cast aspersions on either Christ’s virgin birth or any of the other miraculous phenomena connected with our Saviour.
Christ was, as Isaiah said He would be, ‘conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary.’ Christ’s virgin birth is both a doctrine to be believed and a hymn of praise to be sung. It was by this method that the pre-existent Son of God became incarnate ‘for us men and for our salvation.’
Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ, the everlasting Lord
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as Man with men to dwell
Jesus, our Immanuel.