(I gave this message on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday at Pines Baptist Church in Pembroke Pines, January 22, 2017. You can listen to this message online HERE under the title "The Value of Life.")
Thursday, February 2, 2017
(I gave this message on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday at Pines Baptist Church in Pembroke Pines, January 22, 2017. You can listen to this message online HERE under the title "The Value of Life.")
Let me say at the outset of this message that I am aware that in any audience I speak to, there will be those whose lives have been touched by abortion in some way. Therefore I know that dealing with this subject could be difficult, even painful for some here this morning.
However, as followers of Jesus Christ, we must be willing to address this subject from the authority of Scripture. But, we do so in the context of two very important Biblical truths. Perhaps you remember this illustration I shared with you four years ago. There are two things a train must have to safely reach its destination. Two tracks, two tracks running parallel to each other all the way to its destination. A train will go nowhere without riding on both tracks, at the same time, all the way to the end of the rail line. In the same way, we must communicate what God says about abortion in the context of God's grace and God's truth.
You see, theologically grace and truth always go together. In fact, they are theologically inseparable. They are like the two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other.
And here's why this is important. As I've shared with you before, Pastor Randy Alcorn has written, "Grace without truth deceives people. Truth without grace, crushes people." You see, we will never understand God's grace apart from God's truth. But God's truth will always lead us to God's grace.
So as we begin this morning let me impress this upon you. If your life has been touched by an abortion, while you cannot escape the truth about abortion nor some of its consequences, please know that there is forgiveness, there is healing and restoration in the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a way to resolve the guilt, shame and hurt that abortion will bring to the human experience. And I want you to know that you are in the right place to hear that Good News. If your life has been touched by abortion in any way, you are in a safe place in this church.
Today, January 22, 2017 should be a day of national mourning, for it is the 44th anniversary of two landmark decisions of the United States Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. These two rulings of the court legalized the deliberate, premeditated killing of unborn children at anytime during all nine months of pregnancy right up to the moment of natural child birth for virtually any reason. In other words, the Supreme Court gave women the right to "choose" whether to keep or kill their unborn child. Therefore a "women's right to choose" or "reproductive rights" have become the code words used by the proponents of abortion to frame the debate, while those who deny the validity of the Court's decision and advocate for the life of the unborn, are referred to as "prolife."
Is God pro-life? That is the question that should concern those on either side of the abortion debate. The answer to that question depends on who you ask.
On the website "EvilBible.com" which describes itself as, "Fighting Immorality In Religion" you will find an article entitled "God is not Pro-Life" subtitled, "The Biblical God is NOT pro-life, he advocates child murder, infanticide, child abuse and abortion." That conclusion, I might add, comes from very questionable hermeneutics and interpretation of Scripture, leading to an entirely false characterization of the God revealed in the Bible.
Planned Parenthood is the nation's largest abortion provider, taking the lives of 915 children every day, over 300,000 per year. Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington and the Religious Coalition For Reproductive Choice, sponsored an event to "bless" Planned Parenthood's newest clinic in Washington D.C. The event was organized by a husband-wife pastoral team from a local Baptist church.
It is reported that before the opening ceremony the religious leaders met in a prayer circle, and were called upon by one of the leaders to "make it [the clinic] whole and holy." Pastor Stephen Broden reports, that these religious leaders of several different faiths "...blessed Planned Parenthood and called it a 'sacred work.'" (Black Community News, 01-19-17)
About ten years ago, Reverend Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, President of the Episcopal Divinity School in New England, in a sermon given in Birmingham Alabama said, “When a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to safe, affordable abortion – there is not a tragedy in sight – only blessing.”
You see, there are professing Christians who justify a mother's right to abort her child. Abortion is now legal because the Supreme Court has ruled that a preborn baby is not a person, and therefore lies outside of the protection of the U. S. Constitution. The Court was willing to set aside the opinion of our Founding fathers who wrote in the Declaration of Independence "...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
The authors of the Declaration evidently looked to the Scriptures in determining the value of human life. And so must we, acknowledging both the Biblical creation account of man, and in particular the declaration that man was created in the image of God. It is the failure to acknowledge this truth that has allowed the government and our courts to sanctioned the killing of 60 million unborn children since 1973 and perhaps has even contributed to the church remaining largely silent and ambivalent to the plight of the most innocent and defenseless among us, our unborn children.
What value does God place on human life? To answer that question, we must first answer another question. "Who is man?" So today we focus on Biblical truth that man was created in the Image of God.
The Christian response to abortion depends on knowing who man is. If we fail to understand this we will never be able to determine what value to place upon the life of the unborn. Understanding that man was created in the image and likeness of God is at the very core of why we hold to the sanctity of human life in or out of the womb.
The very fist incident of "shedding innocent blood", which is the most accurate Biblical terminology for abortion, took place very early in human history, when Eve's firstborn son, Cain, took the life of his own brother Abel. The first human being ever born on earth murdered the first sibling ever born on earth, his younger brother!
When God confronted Cain, He asked, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground." (Genesis 4:10 ESV) You see, the shed blood of Abel had a voice, the Scriptures says that cried out to God. What is the significance of innocent blood crying out to God?
As I shared with you two years ago, it is God's way of expressing both his displeasure with the shedding of innocent blood and implies that He is bound to respond to the taking of innocent human life in a manner consistent with the value He has placed upon human life having created man in His image and likeness.
This is stated just a few chapters later. In the opening verses of Genesis chapter nine, we have God giving Noah instructions as civilization makes a new beginning after the flood. Notice verses five and six, "And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of a man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:5-6 ESV)
Notice that God formally announces His demand for an accounting for the shedding of innocent blood. If a man takes another man's life, God said, "I will require a reckoning." In other words, God saw the need to restrain evil behavior therefore he makes provision for the protector of human life through capital punishment.
Notice the reason God demands justice for the shedding of innocent blood. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image." Back to Genesis one. The protection of innocent human life all stems from the fact, that human life bears the image of its Creator, and when we unjustly extinguish that life, it constitutes a personal affront to a Holy and Righteous God.
At this point it is well to remember as I shared with you three years ago, there are ultimately only two prevailing world views from which we determine what value we place on human life. The Biblical worldview is rooted in the creation account,
"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."
Genesis 1:26-27 (ESV) "...then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2.7 (ESV)
Fast forward to the apostle Paul who makes creation foundational to a Biblical worldview. In Romans chapter one, he describes the process whereby man has suppressed the truth that God graciously reveals to him through his conscience the created world. Verse eighteen,
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth."
What truth does man suppress? "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20 ESV)
God has revealed Himself to man through his creation, natural revelation. As Griffith Thomas has written, "There is thus no valid reason for ignorance of God, for that which is a matter of knowledge concerning God has been manifested in them by conscience and through nature." (St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, pg. 68) Paul continues,
"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves…" (Romans 1:21-24 ESV)
Then Paul identifies the source of the two competing worldviews, in verse twenty-five, "...they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen." (Romans 1:25 ESV)
Having suppressed the truth about God revealed to them in their conscience and in God's creation, man turns to idolatry, and inevitably the worship of self. There are ultimately only two worldviews. One denies there is a Creator and worships the creation. The other acknowledges the Creator and worships the Creator.
You see, modern evolutionary theory, that governs the thinking of 21st century America, denies the existence of the Creator and therefore postulates that man was the product of a meaningless, random evolutionary process over billions of years, the result of a cosmic accident. And this is the inevitable result. Man is seen as just another animal who has risen to the top of the evolutionary chain having succeeded in the survival of the fittest. Having denied the existence of his Creator man is therefore believed to be the product of mere chance, time and matter with no inherent intrinsic value by virtue of his origin.
He is therefore accountable to no one but himself. In essence, the result is the self-deification of man. Having denied the existence of God, man becomes his own god and answers to no one but himself. Dr. Francis Schaeffer, defined this worldview over thirty years ago in his book, A Christian Manifesto writing,
"The term humanism...means Man beginning from himself, with no knowledge except what he himself can discover and no standard outside of himself. In this view Man is the measure of all things, as the Enlightenment expressed it." (page 24)
And this worldview, rooted in secular humanism and moral relativism, brings a devastating consequence with regard to the value it places on human life in or out of the womb, at the beginning of life or at the end. Dr. Schaeffer explains,
"Those who hold the material-energy, chance concept of reality...not only do not know the truth of the final reality, God, they do not know who Man is...They have reduced Man to even less than his natural finiteness by seeing him only as a complex arrangement of molecules, made complex by blind chance. Instead of seeing him as something great who is significant even in his sinning, they see Man in his essence only as an intrinsically competitive animal, that has no other basic operating principle than natural selection brought about by the strongest, the fittest, ending on top. And they see Man as acting in this way both individually and collectively as society." (Christian Manifesto, pages 25-26)
This worldview explains how seven men on the Supreme Court could deny the intrinsic value of preborn human life for political or other self-serving reasons disregarding the transcendent truth acknowledged by the Founding Fathers when they declared, that every person has an unalienable right to life given to them not by the Supreme Court, not by Congress, not the Federal government, not the State of Florida, but by their Creator! This worldview has had enormous impact on our culture and society with regard to abortion.
Pastor John Ensor in his book Innocent Blood writes,
"The times and the context determine what must be emphasized in the gospel. Our times are marked by the blood guilt of abortion. It is the hallmark of our relativism and subjectivism. We define our own truth. We define our own morality. We define our own sexuality. We re-define personhood, marriage and God himself in order to make things match up to our personal liking. Abortion is central to this worldview. It is the practical glue that holds it together. You cannot 'have sex' like you 'have a hamburger' without some means of washing away the immediate consequences. Self-centered men especially covet legal abortion. Self-centered women see it as the very touchstone of their freedom and dignity. We even redefine the truth about abortion itself when the stark reality is that it is child-killing. It is child-sacrifice--we kill one thing in order to get or keep something we want more. By sticking exclusively to the medical term 'abortion' we sanitize these uncooperative facts to meet our needs and to keep guilt at bay."
But, the Scriptures not only identify God as the creator of humanity but insist man is created in God's image and likeness. That cannot be said about anything else He created! That in itself sets mankind apart from the rest of the created world. As Mike Leake as written,
"...the triune God created man in His image, and after His likeness. We are the only part of creation that has His stamp on us. Animals, birds, livestock and all the creatures that crawl upon the ground are not made in His image. No trees, mountains, stars, or oceans are made after His likeness. In a world without sin humanity accurately reflected the beauty of God." (Sermon: Created in God's Image - Genesis- Colossians)
And after creating Adam and Eve, in his image and likeness God then gave them dominion over the rest of creation,
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'" (Genesis 1:27-28 ESV)
Theologian Louis Berkhof, man "...is distinguished from all other creatures and stands supreme as the head and crown of the entire creation." (Systematic Theology - L Berkhof, III. Man as the Image of God" page 205)
Adam and Eve were to act as God's vice-regents over the created world because they were made in the image of the God who created that world. T. Desmond Alexander writes,
"Traditionally the image has been seen as the capacities that set man apart from the other animals--ways in which humans resemble God, such as in the characteristics of reason, morality, language, a capacity for relationships governed by love and commitment, and creativity in all forms of art. All these insights can be put together by observing that the resemblances (man is like God in a series of ways) allow mankind to represent God in ruling, and to establish worthy relationships with God, with one another, and with the rest of the creation." (ESV Study Bible - Genesis, page 51 - T. Desmond Alexander)
As we explore more closely what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God, it is helpful to note as Berkhof points out, the words "image" and "likeness" are used synonymously. In other words, they're interchangeable. (Systematic Theology - L Berkhof III. Man as the Image of God" page 203)
Gordon Clark points out that while the image consists of things like rationality and righteousness, knowledge or holiness, he cautions us against dividing the single or "unitary image" as he calls it, into parts, pointing out that "the image is man." (Baker's Dictionary of Christian Ethics, pg. 312 "Image of God" - Gordon H. Clark)
That being said, it is helpful to identify more closely some of the various capacities or characteristics or resemblances that are included when we refer to concept of man in the image of God. Along that line, pediatrician, Dr. John Rendle-Short, M.D. in his book, Man: The Image of God refers to some of the attributes that God shares with man. Intelligence or rationality. Man can think. He can reason. He can understand. Not only is he a rational being, he can think in the abstract. For example, he can compute complex mathematical, chemical and engineering formulas.
You realize that man could not know God if he lacked the capacity to think and reason and understand and process truth and knowledge. Paul wrote,
"...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justifies, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." (Romans 10:9-10 ESV)
Griffith Thomas explains, "The term 'heart' in Scripture always means the centre of the moral being, and invariably includes the three elements of intellect, feeling, and will. We never find in the Bible that contrast between 'head' and 'heart,' between 'intellect' and 'emotion' ...Trust always includes the intellect and the confidence of the heart. Saving faith dominates the entire being, mind, feelings, and will, and as a consequence, this faith will express itself in confession." (St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, page 278)
It's for a good reason that Ravi Zacharias who is both a Christian apologist and evangelist, has a radio broadcast called "Let My People Think." The truth of the Gospel is processed through the mind. It is through the mind and intellect of man that a person can respond to the claims of the gospel, understanding that his sin separates him from a Holy God. And as the Holy Spirit draws him to Himself and opens his eyes to acknowledge that Jesus Christ, God's Son died a substitutionary death on the cross, paying the penalty for his sin, he then can call upon the Lord in repentance and faith and believe unto salvation.
Gordon Clark, "Reason makes possible both sin and fellowship with God. Sin has caused a malfunctioning of man's mind, but redemption will renew men in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, so that in heaven we shall no longer make mistakes even in arithmetic." (Baker's Dictionary of Christian Ethics, page 313 "Image of God" - Gordon H. Clark)
You cannot live the Christian life without rational thought and reason. Paul admonishes us to "...be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God what is good acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:3 ESV)
Closely related to man's intelligence is his capacity for language. Humans can communicate because they are rational beings. My dog Maggie can bark, whine, and growl, but I have yet to hear her utter a single word, no less a complete sentence. We communicate with each other and have been created with the ability to communicate with God.
Consider the world God has created. We marvel at the complexity of the human body. We cannot comprehend the vast universe God set in motion at creation and continues to sustain moment by moment, day after day, year after year. The sun rises in the morning and sets at dusk with exact precision. The sun gives life and the rains sustain our crops. In a similar way, man resembles God in his creativity. Man's intelligence allows him to create sophisticated products, sending a man to the moon and back, and speak instantly around the world on a cell phone or the internet. The marvels of modern medicine...I could go on and on. Man possesses creative abilities because he is created in God's image and likeness.
When I lived in Japan as a boy, I had a dog named Frisky. He was an outdoor dog as were all dogs in Japan. I did not wake up one morning and find that Frisky had built himself a dog house! No, I built the dog house!
Man shares God's capacity to love. Imperfect as man is, he is a social creature living in relationships. He can live in fellowship and community with others. He has the ability to love and be loved; to care and nurture his young; to live in committed life long relationships not only with a spouse but with His Creator through faith in Jesus Christ. This is because He is created in the image of his God!
Man shares a moral likeness to God. He has a moral conscience, the ability to tell right from wrong. A H. Strong writes, " Since holiness is the fundamental attribute of God, this must of necessity be the chief attribute of his image in the moral beings who he creates." (Systematic Theology, Augustus H. Strong, pages 516-517 I Essentials of Man's Original State.)
This holiness allowed Adam and Eve lived in perfect fellowship with God before the Fall and though marred by sin after the Fall has remained a part of the image of God in man. Again Dr. Berkhof, "...man has a rational and moral nature, which he did not lose by sin and which he could not lose without ceasing to be man. This part of the image of God has indeed been vitiated [spoiled] by sin, but still remains in man even after his fall into sin." (Systematic Theology page 204)
Man created in the image of God has freedom, freedom to make choices. As Gordon Clark points out, though sin has caused the image to "malfunction" it has not eradicated it so it can be restored. And the Good news is that the Gospel provides a remedy for the image marred by sin. To the Romans Paul writes, "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." (Romans 8:29 ESV)
Paul reminds the believer that he has, "...put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator." (Colossians 3:10 ESV) And since man is an eternal being unlike the rest of the animal world, he will live forever. Those who believe in Christ will one day live in perfect fellowship with God for eternity. While those who choose to reject Christ and go their own way an eternity separated from God.
"What value does God place on human life?" was the question we began with. Against the backdrop of what we have seen this morning perhaps, one the Bible's most quoted verses helps to answer that question. "For God so loved the world" (human beings created in his image) "that he gave his only Son," (to die a substitutionary death on the cross) "that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." (John 3:16 ESV)
A few chapters later Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13 ESV) The death of Jesus Christ is the solution to the sin of abortion. And the love Christ demonstrated by his atoning death on the cross to save us from our sin is the love we are to demonstrate in rescuing the unborn sentenced to death. Abortion ends the life of an unborn human being made in the image and likeness of God.
11,052 unborn children lost their lives to abortion in Broward County in 2016. Again Pastor John Ensor, "The day we stop nurturing respect for human life is the day we begin diminishing the value of human life. The day we stop reminding ourselves of the preeminent value of human life is the day we begin submitting to the priorities of this sinful world. Where we are not fighting for life, we are making peace with death. Where we are not pained by the death of the innocent, we are growing hard-hearted to the holy will of God. Feel the pain and prepare for the fight." (Innocent Blood, page 53)
May God help us.
© James P McGarvey All Rights Reserved
Monday, December 26, 2016
The Lighthouse Chapel - Port St. Lucie - Sunday January 1
Pines Baptist Church - Pembroke Pines - Sunday January 8
Calvary Chapel Pompano Beach - Sunday January 15
Calvary Chapel Pompano Beach - Sunday January 15
Pines Baptist Church - Pembroke Pines - Sunday January 22
First Christian Church Wilton Manors - Sunday July 9
First Christian Church Wilton Manors - Sunday July 9
Sunday, December 18, 2016
(I gave this message Sunday December 18, 2016 at Faith Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Pembroke Pines Florida)
The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin named Mary. Some reject the Biblical account of the virgin birth denying that it is historical fact. For example, they consider it to be a "legendary development of the early church." In other words, it is a fable rather than historical event.
Patrick Campbell, author of The Mythical Jesus and Episcopal Bishop J. S. Spong suggest that, "...the virgin birth account [is a]...clearly recognized mythological element in our faith tradition whose purpose was not to describe a literal event but to capture the transcendent dimensions of God in the earthbound words and concepts of first-century human beings."
In other words they argue, it is not important that Mary was a virgin. What is important is the message such a myth conveys to us about God. This explanation often springs from a naturalistic presupposition that rules out the possibility of anything supernatural. The virgin birth of Jesus Christ is rejected not because of insufficient evidence, but because of the belief that miracles are impossible.
When you rule out miracles, you are making an unwarranted philosophical assumption. The only way you can rule out the existence of miracles is by proving that there is no reality outside of the natural world. Ultimately, whether or not your philosophical presuppositions allow for the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, it remains the clear teaching of the Scriptures.
Explore with me what the Bible teaches about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, and the implications that follow from it.
First of all, what do we know about the virgin birth? The virgin birth of Jesus Christ was prophesied. There are about 60 Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah Jesus Christ written hundreds of years before His birth. Isaiah's prophesy of the virgin birth was made about seven hundred years in advance.
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14 ESV)
But God's plan for salvation through Jesus Christ was put into motion even before that. According to Ephesians 1:4a, 5a, "...he chose us in him before the foundation of the world...In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ." (ESV) Back before time as we know it, in the timelessness of eternity, God had established His plan of salvation through Jesus Christ that was carried out, as we shall see, through the virgin birth of the Savior.
But secondly, the virgin birth of Jesus Christ was explained. As we read earlier in Luke 1:26-38, it is no wonder that Mary's first spoken response to the angel was "How can this be...since I am a virgin?" After all It is safe to assume that if anyone should know whether or not Mary was a virgin, it would be Mary!
It is possible that Mary received the angel's reply with mixed feelings, while at the same time being relieved that the angel gave her an explanation as to how she would become pregnant. She might have pondered, however, how widely this explanation would be accepted. You can imagine the dilemma Mary found herself in.
First of all, we have no reason to believe that the angel had spoken to anyone other than Mary on this occasion. There is no reason to believe the announcement was heard by others in her family. In other words, the burden of explaining her pregnancy to her family fell on her. If the angel had gathered Mom and Dan together and made a family announcement it would have taken a lot of pressure off of Mary.
Her mind must have been swirling with unanswered questions. How could she explain it to her parents? How would she explain it to Joseph to whom she was engaged to be married? How would she explain this to her neighbors? How many who heard the story of the angel would believe such an explanation?
She saw the angel and heard his message. She then faced this dilemma; do I believe the angel's explanation and act accordingly? There is a sense in which we face that very same dilemma. Do I believe the angel's explanation and act accordingly? True, none of us personally saw nor heard the angel as Mary did. But we have the witness of Luke's gospel that claims to be a historical account of what she had seen and heard.
The gospel of Luke was written by Luke the physician. He wrote it to a man by the name of Theophilus. Listen to what Luke writes at the very beginning of his gospel account.
"In as much as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught." (Luke 1:1-4 ESV)
Luke makes it clear to Theophilus at the outset that he had done his homework. He had carefully researched the events of which he was writing. The accuracy and trustworthiness of his account was of paramount importance to Luke as an author and historian. Luke was writing to us as well. Today we have the witness of this document. We have no reason to doubt the credibility or authenticity of Luke's account of the angel's appearance to Mary. We have the same opportunity that presented itself to Mary to believe or not believe the angel's words and ultimately all the critics down through the ages face the same question.
Aside from the issue of historical evidence and the credibility of witnesses and sources, the real issue is uncovered by the last six words of the angel to Mary, "For nothing is impossible with God." That is ultimately all Mary needed to hear. Sure, she had seen and heard the angel, but did he speak the truth?
In her second response to the angel we see into the heart of Mary, verse 38, "I am the Lord's servant...May it be to me as you have said." That says it all! That God had spoken settled it for Mary! Please don't underestimate the faith of this young teenager. If "faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" as the writer to the Hebrews wrote, then she was faced with a great challenge of her faith.
Today we are still trying to figure out how God's Holy Spirit impregnated a virgin. It still remains a mystery after all these years. But for Mary, all that mattered was that God was in it. It was God's design. It was God's doing. It was God's will. It was part of God's plan for the salvation of a nation and the world.
God had chosen a very unlikely method to make a personal appearance into our world, Intervening in the life of a young teenage virgin from an obscure village in Palestine. Whether she grasped the eternal consequence of this event at that very moment or not, there is a simplicity to her response that instructs each of us living two thousand years later; a submissive trust in God's revelation; an acceptance of the explanation given.
A virgin will be with child because God the Holy Spirit would reach down and touch her womb implanting everything necessary for her to give birth to the God Man, the Messiah and Savior, who would bring salvation to a lost world.
How do you respond to God's invitation to be His channel of blessing? What is your reaction to God's tap on the shoulder? "Would you serve me over there?" "Would you be my instrument in so and so's life?" Would you reach that neighbor next door who is without Christ?" Mary's words, "I am the Lord's servant, may it be as you have said" should be the response off each of us when He speaks to us.
How could Mary respond with such -- almost resignation? There was hesitation at first, verse 34, Mary asking, "How will this be...since I am a virgin?" But it was resolved after Gabriel's response, verses 34-35, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."
Thirdly, notice that the virgin birth of Jesus was fulfilled. As we read in Matthew 1:18-25 the miracle birth happened just as it had been prophesied. Matthew records the historical account of the virgin Mary giving birth to a child who was the Son of God. And notice that Matthew sees this as the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy that we noted earlier. This is significant because of the audience to whom Matthew wrote.
If you compare Matthew's introduction to his gospel to that of Luke you see two different audiences. As we have noted Luke was writing to Theophilus, in all likely hood a Gentile, while Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience.
So Matthew begins his account of the life of Jesus with a genealogy. He demonstrates that Jesus Christ was from the house of David as the prophets had prophesied. And he narrates the story from the vantage point of Joseph rather than Mary as he speaks of prophesy being fulfilled.
There are over 500 specific prophesies in the Old Testament regarding Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection, some of them made 2000 years before His birth. It was prophesied that He would be an ancestor of Abraham; He would be from the tribe of Judah, specifically from the house of David. Matthew shows the fulfillment of this in his introductory genealogy. But, there is further significance attached to the virgin birth of Jesus. It declares to us in unambiguous terms who Jesus was! It helps us understand that Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man, in other words, God incarnate.
Notice secondly how the virgin birth explains four things about Jesus Christ. First of all, the virgin birth explains Jesus' pre-existence. The Bible makes the claim that Jesus Christ existed before His incarnation. In other words, before Jesus was conceived in the womb of His mother Mary He existed. John's gospel makes this very clear. Speaking of Jesus Christ he writes, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning." (John 1:1-2 ESV) The Son existed with the Father and the Holy Spirit in His pre-incarnate state.
The apostle Paul, explains it in this way "...who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." (Philippians 2:6-7 ESV)
The virgin birth was the means by which God revealed the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, to mankind. God became flesh and blood, through the virgin birth. The virgin birth was the means by which God could enter our space and time dimension to become one of us.
Secondly, the virgin birth explains His humanity. How could God who is Spirit become a man? He chose to do it through the virgin birth. That is another reason the virgin birth is so significance to us. It is the means God chose to become one of us, sharing in our humanity while at the same time remaining God. That is what incarnation means, to be in the flesh. God was incarnate, became a man with flesh and blood through the virgin birth. Matthew quotes the prophecy from Isaiah that we noted earlier, writing, "They shall call his name 'Immanuel (which means, God with us)." (Matthew 1:23 ESV)
The Apostle Paul writes, "He [that is God] was manifested in the flesh..." (1 Timothy 3:16 ESV) The incarnation was indispensable to God's plan of salvation. If Jesus had not become a human being, He could not have died on the cross in our place. He had to become one of us before He could die for us. This is at the very core of the Gospel. Jesus could not have died a substitutionary death on the cross without the incarnation.
The efficacy of the cross hinged on Jesus' identification with man's humanity through His incarnation. Without incarnation there is no means of justification. C. S. Lewis has written, "The Son of God became a man so that men could become the sons of God." (ESV)
Hebrews 10:10, "...we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." As Pastor Maurice Irvin said, "A measure of His sufficiency as Savior rests upon the reality of His humanity." ("Alliance Life", pg. 8 , 12-14-94)
The author of Hebrews has written, "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brother in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." (Hebrews 2:14-18 ESV)
Max Lucado, in his book God Came Near, writes, "Let him be as human as he intended to be. Let him into the mire and muck of our world. For only if we let him in can he pull us out."
How serious is the denial of Jesus' incarnation? Pastor Rusty Lee Thomas writes, "The denial of the incarnation is what actually constitutes the dreadful designation the Bible calls Anti-Christ. Any person, religion or philosophy that denies Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is Anti-Christ."
1 John 4:2-3, "...every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ 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, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already." (ESV)
But the humanity of Jesus Christ was also necessary that He might both sympathize with us and intercede for us. "Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)
Jesus can sympathize with us because he shared in our humanity. He understands what it is like to be tempted. He understands our struggles as human beings. This was possible because He was born of a virgin becoming a man with flesh and blood like ours. And as our high priest, he can intercede on our behalf as one who identifies with out weaknesses.
Thirdly, note the virgin birth explains Jesus' sinless nature. As we just read in Hebrews 4:15 Jesus was one "...who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." John refers to Him as "Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1 ESV) Peter declared, "He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth." (1 Peter 1:22 ESV)
If Jesus had committed even one sin, He could not have died a substitutionary death for our sin. But as the angel told Joseph, as was read earlier, "...that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She shall bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:20b-21 ESV)
Lastly, the virgin birth explains His Deity. As we read earlier, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child will be called holy-- the Son of God." (Luke 1:35, ESV) Therein lies the secret of Isaiah calling Him Immanuel, "God with us" (Matthew 1:23) There is no other explanation to God becoming man. It is a mystery difficult to explain but clearly spoken of in the Scriptures.
Jesus' own testimony, John 10:30, "I and the Father are one." (ESV) John chapter 14:9, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. " and verse 11, "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me."
Colossians 1:15, "He is the image of the invisible God..." verse 19 "For in him all the fullness of God is pleased to dwell." Hebrews 1:3, "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature."
The virgin birth explains Jesus Christ's pre-existence, His humanity, His sinless nature and his Deity. To what end? Jesus Christ became a man to save us from the penalty of our sin. Paul put it this way, "By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:3 ESV)
Let me close with this illustration. In his book, The Lotus and the Cross, Ravi Zacharias creates an imaginary conversation between Jesus and Buddha.as they take a ride on a boat. In that conversation he also includes a young woman named Priya.
In the prologue of his book, Ravi states that Priya's character was based on a newspaper report he read while on a visit to Asia. At the age of seventeen, Priya left her parents and village and moved to the city to find work. By the age of twenty three she was working as a full-time prostitute; had given birth to an illegitimate child; and contracted AIDS but continued her trade putting her clients at risk. She attempted suicide several times, and according to the news account was finally successful having poisoned herself and set her house on fire. Before beginning the imaginary conversation between Jesus, Buddha and Priya, Ravi asks this question, "What, Lord Jesus, would you have said to Priya, had she brought her decrepit body and aching heart to you?"
In that conversation between Jesus and Buddha among other things, Jesus contrasts what He can offer Priya with what Buddha can offer her. As you can imagine the contrast is significant. Towards the end of the conversation Priya realizes that her salvation lies beyond herself. Listen to some of the closing dialogue between Jesus and Priya as the book comes to an end. It captures the significance of Jesus coming into our world through the virgin birth as we have noted this morning.
Priya: So … I cannot bring salvation to myself?
Jesus: No, Priya. Salvation is from above.
Priya: May I … may I ask about myself, here? What then happens to all the evil that I lived with in the past, if I cannot do anything about it?
Jesus: I have paid for it, Priya. I have paid for it. Old things can pass away and I can make all things new. I took the evil and suffering of this world. I bore it on my body. I carried your heartaches and your sorrows so that you can remove the weight of wrong and put it on my shoulders. I came into the world to bear those very sins. You may be like a lotus seedling still submerged under the water; someone else may be a full-grown plant. It makes no difference. The Cross is for everyone who thirsts for forgiveness and for eternal life. A child can come to me, as can the most learned. There is only one way….
Priya: So you’re telling me that as I place my trust in you, I can go back to my room knowing that I’ve been completely forgiven?
Jesus: I’m telling you more than that. Though this body of yours will die, you will rise again and live forever, because I rose from the dead and offer eternal life to everyone who believes in me…."
In his Epilogue Ravi continues, 'Jesus Christ came to give us a life of fullness, not detachment, a life that will be eternal, not impermanent. His name is Jesus, the Scriptures say, because He saves us from our sins. His name is also Emmanuel — God with us. He is called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
Priya died feeling orphaned by this world — she needed a Father. She died overwhelmed with questions — He is the Wonderful Counselor. She died distraught — He is the Prince of Peace. She died alone — He is Emmanuel, God with us. He promised never to leave us or forsake us. Jesus is who Priya needed. In that sense, He was very much in that boat and is not far from any of us. That each one of us can know Him is not a stretch of the imagination."
In this Christmas season, there is no question I can ask you, more important than this -- do you know the Jesus Priya never knew? If not, today you can respond while there is still time. The Gospel would call you to repent of your sin and believe in the Jesus of Christmas and follow Him.
It was because God became one of us through the virgin birth, that Paul could write the Romans, "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 8:8 ESV)
© James P McGarvey, All Rights Reserved