The Mystery of the Virgin Birth

November 30, 2009

The doctor turns to his patient after examining her and says “Perhaps you’d like to have your husband with you.” To which she replies “I’m not married”
“Well then maybe your boyfriend” the doctor says.
“I don’t have a boyfriend either.” The woman says.
So the doctor gets up and walks over to the window and just stands there. After a few moments the woman asks “What are you doing?”
“Well” the doctor replies “The last time this happened a star rose in the east and I don’t want to miss it this time.”
The “Virgin Birth” for two thousand years it has been the topic of debates, heresy and humour. It’s believed and scoffed at by millions, some who should believe it. It will be sung about in shopping malls, proclaimed on Christmas cards and talked about by little children.
Our theme this Christmas is “The Mysteries of Christmas” and one of the Mysteries of Christmas is the virgin birth. As a matter of fact it is the first mystery of Christmas.
David Jenkins (1925-, British ecclesiastic, bishop of Durham) Said ” I wouldn’t put it past God to arrange a virgin birth if He wanted, but I very much doubt if He would.” Jenkins shouldn’t feel special, he isn’t the first to question the virgin birth, that would have been Mary, nor will he be the last but that doesn’t make it any less a reality. But even for those who believe it, it still remains a mystery.
The What
There was a sense of urgency that filled the country. A general expectancy was in the air concerning the long expected Messiah. Many Jews looked back to Old Testament Prophecy and in particular the book of Daniel concerning up coming events, and many of those people felt that the 70 weeks that Daniel Spoke of was an analogy, each day representing a year and so the 70 weeks actually meant 70 x 7 years, which for the mathematically challenged amongst us ends up as 490 years. Seeing that that particular prophecy was written around approximately 457 BC, they felt that the time was drawing near.
To say that the Jews were looking forward to the coming Messiah would be a little bit of an understatement. For 400 years foreign troops had occupied Israel and the feeling was that this Messiah would deliver them from their oppressors. And it was in this setting, this hotbed of expectancy that the scripture that Mike read this morning was set.
Luke 1:26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, The question is the sixth month of what, it wasn’t the sixth month of the year. Well if we had gone back a little further in the scripture we would have read the story of a Priest name Zacharias, and his wife Elizabeth. They were an older couple who had never been able to have children, a tragedy at any point in history but certainly a double tragedy for a Priest of God in a society where children were considered to be a gift from God. And into the lives of Elizabeth and Zacharias came an Angel to announce that they would have a son who would announce the coming of the Messiah. Well it wasn’t long before Elizabeth conceived and six months after that miraculous event, another one is about to happen. Kind of an interesting note in the story is that Elizabeth had a much younger relative named Mary.
And so about six months into Elizabeth’s Pregnancy an Angel named Gabriel arrived in the town of Nazareth. Gabriel is actually mentioned six times in the Bible. Four of those instances were in the book of Daniel, it would appear that this was the Angel who revealed the prophecies of God to Daniel, and twice in the book of Luke where he first spoke to Zacharias concerning Elizabeth’s delicate condition and again here.
Just a thought but I wonder if maybe it wasn’t Gabriel at all but was Gabrielle? After all if you were God would you send a male angel to break the news concerning unexpected pregnancies? Just a thought.
And so the Angel came to Nazareth, which is a small town let’s pull up a map here. Nazareth is a small town that is located about 24 kilometres from the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. 30 Kilometres east of the Mediterranean Sea and about 400 metres above sea level.
Here’s a picture of what Nazareth looks like today.
He didn’t just come to visit the town as nice of a town as it might have been but he came for a specific reason and the scripture continues. Luke 1:27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Here is one of the key doctrines of the Christian Church. Gabriel didn’t just come to anyone but to a young woman, specifically a young woman named Mary and even more specifically to a young woman named Mary who the Bible tells us was a virgin.
Now this isn’t the way you’d normally describe a person or either gender. You know “the other day I was in town to meet with Fred, he’s a virgin you know.” But here it was crucial to the story. Now the word that is used here in the original Greek did not have to mean virgin in the strictest sense. You will remember that the New Testament was written in Greek and the Greek word that was used in this instance was  or which could mean a couple of different things, it could mean a virgin, or it could simply mean an unmarried woman or it could mean an unmarried daughter. The word itself doesn’t necessarily relate to a woman’s intimate experience with a man. If this verse stood by itself a much more accurate translation would be “a single young lady named Mary.”
The Huh?
The reason that virgin is used is because verse 27 cannot be taken in isolation it isn’t complete without the explanation given in verse 34 where Mary makes this statement
Luke 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” More to the point, Gabriel had told Mary that she was going to have a son, and she said, “Hold on guy, there’s a small problem here and that is that I have never been with a man”
She was saying that she was a virgin. You know, if you can accept the resurrection of Christ, you should be able to accept the virgin birth of Christ. And if you don’t believe in the resurrection, then it really doesn’t matter if you accept the virgin birth or not. After all Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In other words if there was no resurrection you are backing the wrong horse.
And if she wasn’t a virgin then who was Jesus father? Joseph? I don’t think so, after all Joseph was a wee bit upset when he found out that his finance was pregnant. Do you really think that God would send his son to be born through immorality?
You have to understand the entire Jewish tradition of engagement; Mary and Joseph were in what was called the Betrothal period of their relationship. In that particular culture most marriages were arranged by the families back when the participants were only children. The philosophy was that marriage was far too serious of a endeavour to be left to the dictates of the human heart. And the last part of the engagement was the Betrothal, and it lasted for one year and was absolutely binding, the participants were considered husband and wife in all matters except they didn’t live together and the marriage hadn’t been consummated. The betrothal could only be broken through the formal proceedings of divorce and then only if one of the parties had been unfaithful. Which is what Joseph planned on doing in Matthew 1:19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
Now that may seem a little harsh but at this point in Mary and Joseph’s relationship Mary would have been legally committing adultery. The other option under Jewish law was that he could have had her stoned. I’m sure that Joseph felt more then a little betrayed at this point. But he too was visited by an Angel, and you thought your Christmas was busy. Listen to what happened in Matthew 1:20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Just some of the reasons why the term virgin should be used here instead of simply “Young Woman,” we’ll come back to it.
Luke 1:28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” Think about it, the prophecy said that the Messiah would be born or a descendent of David’s. That would have encompassed thousands and thousands of families. And out of that vast number one young girl would be chosen to be the Mother of the Messiah. Mary’s life and reputation must have been beyond reproach, not just because she obeyed the law but because of her relationship with God. “The Lord is with you.” What a compliment. But the truth of the matter is that at this point Mary didn’t feel very complimented, if anything she was a little suspicious about who he was and what he was saying.

 Luke 1:29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.

 And she had every right to feel that way. Angels visiting and bragging you up isn’t something that necessarily happens every day, at least not to me. Now maybe it’s just human nature but whenever anyone starts to lay it on quite that thick I want to know why, what have I done? What do they want? You know.

 Luke 1:30-33 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

 Wow, if Mary had been a little confused by the Angel’s initial greeting think of how she felt now. “Hey, don’t sweat it Mary, because God likes you, you are going to have a baby, and not just any baby, you’re going to have the Messiah!” That must have been reassuring. I mentioned earlier that there was an air of expectancy in the Holy Land at that time concerning the coming of the Messiah, but I’m not particularly sure that Mary thought he would arrive via her. And she airs what she thinks might be a minor problem, in Luke 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

 There’s been a lot of speculation concerning Mary’s age, many people feel that she would have been a young teen perhaps 14 or 15 when this all developed, we don’t know for sure but we do know that she wasn’t naïve. She knew that it takes two to tango and she also knew that she hadn’t even been to the dance.

 The “Why”

 Now this goes back to what we had talked about before concerning the virgin birth. You see it had to happen this way, cause this is the way it was predicated. If you go all the way back to Genesis 3:15 after Adam and Eve had fallen, the curse that was pronounced on Satan stated that it would be the seed of woman who would bring about his ultimate defeat. Not the seed of man and woman. Just the seed of woman. And we know that Joseph couldn’t be the Messiah’s father because of a predication made several hundred years before the birth of Christ.

 You might recall that there are two separate genealogies listed in the Gospels for Christ, hopefully you’ll recall it, I preached on the genealogies in October. The first in Matthew is considered by most Scholars to be the lineage of Joseph; the second in Luke is the lineage of Mary. It’s kind of interesting. Don’t know if you’re into family trees or not. The Genealogy in Luke begins with Adam, the beginnings always a good place to start, while Matthew’s account begins with Abraham, who of course was the father of Israel. Both genealogies follow a common path from there to King David, kind of remind you of a Grand Manan family tree at that point, or family stick, or family wreath whatever it is that we have down there.

 But at David things veer off, one branch goes by way of Solomon, and one by way of Nathan. Thus they both link back to the David but by different routes. You still with me here? Ok, the reason I bring it up is because of two references, the first in Matthew 1:6-11 Jesse was the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah). Solomon was the father of Rehoboam. Rehoboam was the father of Abijah. Abijah was the father of Asa. Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram. Jehoram was the father of Uzziah. Uzziah was the father of Jotham. Jotham was the father of Ahaz. Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah. Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh. Manasseh was the father of Amon. Amon was the father of Josiah. Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).

 That is only pertinent because of the second reference found in
Jeremiah 22:30 This is what the Lord says: ‘Let the record show that this man Jehoiachin was childless. He is a failure, for none of his children will succeed him on the throne of David to rule over Judah.’ This is the same Jehoiachin who is mentioned in Joseph’s family tree, so Jesus could not have been Joseph’s son because of that particular OT pronouncement. Did that make sense?

 The How

 The bottom line is that God’s son should have a special birth, and that was the virgin birth. That’s why the Prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 7:14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). Now really, a young woman conceiving a child isn’t much of a sign, happens all the time. But this was a special child who would be born in a special way.

 The Angel didn’t want to leave any doubt in Mary’s mind though and so he told her
Luke 1:35-37 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

 What was he doing, he was summing up the entire story, who would be the father, the Holy Spirit, how? Through the power of the most high, who is the most High? Well the Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. So the Highest must be God. And how was this all going to happen, I love the last statement: For nothing is impossible with God.”
Interesting statement and often times we try to claim a promise that isn’t there. There is nothing that is impossible for God when it’s in his will, but he will not necessarily do the impossible just because we ask him to. Some things are not in his plan or are not necessarily in our own best interest, although we might think they are.
So put yourself into Mary’s spot, just for a moment. Your life is pretty much perfect, you come from a great family, you’re engaged to be married everything seems to be coming up roses. And then into this perfectly ordered world comes an Angel who says you’re about to become the mother of the Messiah, which is the upside because the downside is you’re engaged but not married. What would your reaction be? Probably not what Mary’s was Luke 1:38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. Roughly translated into 2009 teen she said “OK.”

 If there is one thing to get out of this message today it is Mary’s obedience to and trust in God. Her reputation would be ruined; he life would be dramatically changed. Nazareth wasn’t a big place so it would have been hard to for Mary to keep her delicate condition a secret. Even though Joseph had his own visit I wonder if he ever doubted Mary’s fidelity?

 Trust doesn’t mean anything until it’s coupled with obedience. So where are you at? Are you trusting God? Taking it one step further are you being obedient to God?