Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents a 10-part series of messages called ‘Confident Theology’. Week by week he is taking listeners on a journey through the famous statement of Christian faith known as the ‘Apostles’ Creed’. This week, Part 3 – “Conceived and Born”.
Part 3: “Conceived and Born” – Luke 1:26-38
You may remember the story of the very proper lady who takes her daughter to the doctor. The daughter is not feeling well and the doctor examines her, and after a few simple tests says ‘your daughter is pregnant.’
And the very proper lady says ‘well that’s just impossible, you know my daughter is a very fine girl. This would never happen’.
The doctor gets up and walks over to the window and stares out the window for quite a long time and after about a minute the mother says to the doctor, “Is everything OK?” And the doctor says, “The last time this happened, there was a star in the East, and I am just looking to see if it’s returned.”
We are this morning looking at the real and only virgin birth, and for those of you who are visiting today, we are in a series in The [Apostles] Creed. We are up to third part of The Creed. We’ve looked at “I believe in God the Father”, and last week we looked at “I believe in Jesus Christ”. And this week we are up to, “Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”.
And why does The Creed say this? “Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” Well, I’ll tell you why. Because the Bible says it in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 1. This message comes to Mary: “You will conceive and give birth to a son”. She says, “How is that possible? I am a virgin!” This is the reply: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, God’s power will overshadow you and the Holy One to be born will be the Son of God.” Remarkable and unique words.
In Matthew chapter 1, the message to Joseph (you remember his fiancé is pregnant, he is shocked to say the least, it looks as though Mary has had an affair), the message “do not be afraid (this is not an affair) – what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”. So the Bible teaches this “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”, and that’s why The Creed summarises.
You will notice if you read the accounts in the New Testament that Joseph is no longer shocked, he is now quite peaceful and Mary is no longer shocked, she is now quite peaceful.
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What the Virgin Birth Teaches Us
Now you might be thinking to yourself this morning – why on earth would I come to a building to listen to a sermon on “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”? Could anything be more irrelevant? Is this guy going to preach next week on how many angels can fit on the head of a pin? What could be more irrational in my world? What could be more unhelpful this morning?
I want you to know that this subject of Christ coming into a womb and being born in this world is extremely important for your life.
- It tells you that God is connected with the world.
- It tells you that God is interested in people.
- It tells you that God is interested in you.
- It tells you that God has shown his face to us.
- It tells us that he has brought into the world a brand new world.
- It tells us that he has kept his promises and he does keep his promises.
- It tells us what’s really important for our children.
- It tells us we should take notice of Jesus.
So I want to think about this subject just for a few minutes before the little ones come back, in and we are going to think about it under three simple headings. Firstly –
- What are we talking about? (In other words, what do we mean?)
- How can we know?
- Why does this benefit me?
What Do We Mean by “Conceived by the Spirit, Born of the Virgin”?
First – What do we mean? And you will forgive me but I am just going to explain for a minute how babies are made. You remember the story of the little boy who says to his father, “Where do I come from?” The father goes into a long, complicated explanation of the birds and the bees and then says to the little boy, was that helpful? The little boy says – well not really, my friend Tommy says he comes from Toronto and I wanted to know where I came from!
So I am not really going to get into specifics. But let me say this to you. The word “conceive” means to become pregnant. When The Creed says Jesus was conceived, it is shorthand for, “Mary conceived by carrying Jesus”. Mary conceived by carrying Jesus. The New Testament has a word for “become pregnant”. Luke chapter 1, “Mary you will conceive”.
“This promise of ‘a virgin will conceive’ is so shocking, that many scholars who don’t like the supernatural have said this couldn’t have happened.”
The New Testament has a word for “be pregnant” – Matthew chapter 1, “and Joseph, what is in her is from the Holy Spirit”. And the New Testament has a word for “give birth or produce” – Luke chapter 1, “she gave birth to a son”. So what we are saying in The Creed (listen carefully to this – I’ll give it to you in one phrase) is, the pregnancy was miraculous. No man was involved in the pregnancy. There was no sex, no IVF, God did the work in entering a womb. Interestingly this was promised back in the Old Testament 700 years BC. We see the prophet Isaiah said, “a virgin will conceive”. This promise of “a virgin will conceive” is so shocking, that many scholars who don’t like the supernatural have basically said this couldn’t have happened – and they want to change the word “virgin” to “young woman”.
My question is – why would God predict that a young woman would conceive and that this would be a remarkable sign? I mean where would you begin looking for a young woman who was going to conceive? No – a virgin will conceive, and when they translated the Old Testament into the Greek in the 3rd Century BC long before Jesus came, they deliberately chose the Greek word for virgin, which only means virgin. Well, we believe in this miraculous conception of God entering the world, and He has obviously done it in the most involved, united, sympathetic, real way possible.
Not an ‘Immaculate’ Conception
We don’t, however, believe in what’s called “the immaculate conception”. This is a Catholic idea. The immaculate conception is that Mary was perfect and was continually perfect. We don’t believe that. We don’t believe it for a simple reason that in Luke chapter 1 she calls God ‘her Saviour’. She knew she needed a Saviour. She knew she was a sinner like the rest of us needing a Saviour.
We also don’t believe in “the perpetual virginity of Mary”. She was a virgin right up until Jesus was born, but then we are told in the New Testament (Mark chapter 6 for example) that there were at least six or seven more children. So we might say, as if I could put this reverently, that she and Joseph had lots of healthy, married sex.
We respect Mary, we respect her for many reasons. Her trust in God, her response to the Word of God, her unique role in giving birth to Jesus. She is a model of faith. We do not worship her, we do not pray to her, we do not trust [in] her, we don’t count on her. That would be insulting to Jesus, who is worthy of our worship and hears our prayers and is completely sufficient.
So “conceived by the Holy Spirit” means we believe in the miraculous, one off-pregnancy. God at work, without Joseph being involved at all, bringing the Saviour to the world. That’s what we mean.
How Do We Know This Happened?
Secondly – How do we know? How do we believe this and be sensible?
The great American TV host Larry King once famously said that of all the people he wished he could have interviewed, he wished he could have interviewed Jesus the most. And he said the one question that he would have loved to have asked Jesus is this – are you virgin born? And when he was asked why he would ask this question, he said because if he is virgin born everything changes. And he is absolutely right.
But you don’t need to wait for an interview with Jesus to know confidently that He is virgin born. It’s recorded for us by the eye witnesses.
I want to just give you some reasons why I personally am encouraged to believe this doctrine. Perhaps this will help you. The first thing that helps me to believe in the virgin birth is the life of Jesus. His life is so remarkable that it demands a special entry into the world and a special exit. And Jesus has a special entry and a special exit.
We know that in history there are lots of legends of people born to virgins but my question is – have any of them made an impact on the world like Jesus? Those people who are reputedly born of virgins, where are they? What impact have they made? But Jesus has basically turned history around from BC to AD. He has changed the world. And everything about Jesus is unique.
- His life was unique.
- His message is unique.
- His power is unique.
- His mission is unique
- And His entry was unique
- And His exit was unique.
What do we make of somebody like Jesus who, according to the New Testament, called out one day, “I have come down from heaven”. Which of us will say that? But Jesus said, ”I have come down from heaven”. He says, on another occasion, “I was in the glory of the Father before the world was made”. And he says, “Before Abraham was born, I am”. Nobody talks like that but Jesus.
The New Testament writers tell us that he shared our humanity and at the right time, God sent His Son, and Paul says, “He was rich and became poor.” Well, when was he rich? Obviously, before He entered into this world.
So I think the person of Jesus is the first great evidence for the virgin birth. And an objection rises up in your mind and you think, “I find this very hard to believe”. Just ask yourself the question, “does the talk of a virgin birth get matched by the walk of Jesus Christ?” I think the answer is yes.
The Eyewitnesses, The Enemies
The second thing that greatly helps me is the two eye witnesses, Matthew and Luke, both followers of Jesus. Jesus who hated lies and who called himself “the truth”. Matthew and Luke both belong to that apostolic age, the eye-witness age. The Gospels complement each other, Matthew focusing more on Joseph’s reaction and Luke focusing more on Mary’s reaction. The accounts of the virgin birth are simple, reasonable, supernatural, godly, profound and reverent.
There is nothing, admittedly, in Mark’s Gospel about the virgin birth, but Mark begins with Jesus the adult. There is nothing specifically about the virgin birth in John’s Gospel, although he does tell us that “the Word became flesh”. We can safely say that virgin birth, the doctrine of the virgin birth, has been part of Christian orthodoxy since the beginning, and the foundational people of the church did not object. They had good, sensible reason to believe it.
“We can safely say that virgin birth, the doctrine of the virgin birth, has been part of Christian orthodoxy since the beginning.”
A third and minor evidence for the virgin birth is that the enemies of Jesus seem to be suspicious of Jesus. They seemed to know that Joseph was not his father. He is called in Mark chapter 6 “son of Mary” which would be an insulting description in Jesus’ day. It would be like saying “the son without a father”. The Pharisees on one occasion said to Jesus “at least we are not illegitimate”, and they said on another occasion in John chapter 9, “we don’t know where you have come from”.
So I would suggest to you that the person of Jesus, the eye witnesses of Jesus, the enemies of Jesus encourage us to take seriously the virgin birth of Jesus. They don’t specifically prove it but they wonderfully evidence it.
Why Does This Benefit Us?
The third thing this morning is, Why do we benefit? Why does it matter, this doctrine? What is going to help you and me, this week, with this doctrine?
Mary says in Luke chapter 1, “God has done great things for me.” I wonder whether you can say “God has great things for me?” When we believe the doctrine of the virgin birth we are not just being gullible.
I read this week that a lady at Manchester Airport stopped a plane from taking off by opening the Emergency Door, thinking it was the toilet door, taking all the pressure out of the cabin. Sincere but wrong. Are we sincere but wrong?
Why is the “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary” significant? Well, here are a few quick reasons as we close. First, this doctrine shows that God is interested in people. He is interested in you. Yes, He is interested in you. The God of the universe of the telescope, is the God of the tiny cells in a womb of the microscope. When God did this it was not a stunt. This was the price that was to be paid for salvation. Driven by love for people like you, Jesus Christ left heaven, entered the womb of a woman, was born, was hated, was hunted, was attacked, was crucified, rose from the grave. Every step, from the womb to the tomb, is his involvement in the journey which we are in. Exactly the same journey. And if you look at the person of Jesus you will see somebody who not only identifies with us in our journey but He gives himself to make our journey safe.
I don’t know if you have been watching the Seven Up series, you know what I am talking about? The Seven Up series. These British children were interviewed at the age of seven, then 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, 56, and now 63, and millions of people around the world have been watching these children grow up and love these children, now adults. But we just watch from a distance. We don’t actually get involved. What God has done in the virgin birth is to not just watch us, but actually get into the very journey that we are on. He has interacted with us, travelled with us, to make sure that our journey is a safe one.
God Has Shown us His Face
The second thing is that God has shown his face to us. This is such a help because people say, where is God? Well the answer is in the Bible. God is in heaven and does whatever he wants but He did show His face. He did enter into the world. The eye witnesses said “we have seen Him, we have touched Him, we have heard Him”. When a politician goes off to a disaster zone and joins the people who are suffering and hugs them and embraces them and feels for them, we appreciate it. The living God has entered the world, the disaster we have made, and he feels and he acts for our undeserved welfare in the most extreme way, giving up everything in order that He might provide us with everything. The tragedy, of course, is that Jesus has shown His face and His face is ignored by many, slapped by some, but He has come and shown His face in great grace and power.
Thirdly, God has bought a new order when Jesus came. You know there are lots of people who are born in this world and they make a great contribution to the world but it’s only Jesus who has brought a new world to the world.
Dr William Phillip who will be with us next Sunday from Scotland, preaching here at this 10 o’clock service, has written a book on the incarnation. And he says in the book, “the incarnation is not about making the world a little bit better, a little bit more peaceful, a little bit more loving, a little bit more hopeful. No, it is about the birth of a new world, a transformed universe proclaimed to men and women in the person of Jesus Christ”. Borrows the words of CS Lewis, “the beginning of death working backwards”.
From a Fallen World into a Resurrection World
I don’t know if you realise this, Jesus has come into a fallen world to reverse it into a resurrection world. The coming of Jesus is the turning point. The whole world is now turned around. God is now not just dealing with a fallen world but a rising people that He has called. So the virgin birth is not just a visit to the world, [where] you see the change very little. It’s the fall of man turned around, reversed into resurrection by the Son of Man.
And the last thing to say to you this morning is that this message is the Message of messages. I meet people occasionally in the street who know me. They may not be believers, and I normally ask them how everything is at home, and they start to tell me about their children which is lovely, but one of the sad things is that they tell me that their children are happy and healthy, and that’s all that really matters. As if raising children to be happy and healthy so that they will raise children to be happy and healthy is all that matters. What a tragedy.
“This coming of Jesus shows us that He is interested in us, He has shown His face to us, He has begun a brand new process of resurrection through His death on the cross.”
The soul, the safety that it is well with your soul, is the more important thing. And if you have children or you have family or you have got friends or loved ones, the most important thing to ask is whether their soul is safe in the hands of Christ. I know there are many here today this morning who can see this, and you pray for people, you pray for loves ones, you pray for children, you pray for parents because you want their soul to be safe. And thank God He is concerned for the saving of souls.
Your prayers are wise and wonderful. But that’s what we want isn’t it? We mostly want people to be well in soul for eternity. Not just born, but re-born. And this coming of Jesus shows us that He is interested in us, He has shown His face to us, He has begun a brand new process of resurrection through His death on the cross, and this is the message of messages which we must pass on to the children, and the people we care about. That’s why we stand in The Creed and say “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary”. We are saying something very, very wonderful.
Our gracious God, we thank you for sending your Son. That you love the world and sent your Son that whoever believes would not perish but have everlasting life. Please fill us with clarity and gratitude and faith and confidence in Christ and joy in His service.
We pray in His name, Amen.
- See the whole series, ‘Confident Theology — A Christian Growth Series.
- See more of Simon Manchester’s Christian Growth messages