Some of the traditions surrounding the Christmas holiday are confusing. For example, the old tradition our parents practiced of putting real candles on the Christmas tree. Not a good idea. My grandma’s Christmas sweaters with 47 different holiday colors on them. Complex and confusing. Canada’s boxing day. Really? You need that on the calendar just in case you forget to box up the tinsel? And finally, fruit cake.
But there is another thing I did not understand about Christmas when I became a Christian; the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Is it just a neat miracle where God says, “Watch this!”?
The virgin birth, more accurately phrased, the virgin conception, was an essential piece of God’s plan in redemptive history.
What exactly does the virgin conception mean?
It does not mean that Christ was born in a manner different than others. He was born like any other baby. It does not mean a miraculous conception, for example, as from a woman who could not have children.
The virgin conception of Christ means that, completely contrary to the normal course of God’s design in nature, God joined himself to humanity, becoming fully human and was born in the natural way.
The result was that the conception of Jesus Christ was not his origin, but his incarnation. He has no origin: Christ was the only person in history whose conception did not mark the beginning of his existence. At his conception, he did not become something different, but took on something he had not; humanity:
As far as witnesses go, many testify directly or indirectly to the fact of Christ’s virgin conception.
- Many biblical writers. In addition to Isaiah (Isa. 7:14), Matthew (Matt. 1:18-20), Luke (Luke 1:31-35), and Mary (as recorded in the gospels).
- Christ. He is constantly referring to God as his Father, which means he knew of his virgin conception.
- Christ’s enemies. Though indirectly, those who opposed Christ testified to his virgin conception when they disdained him for being the product of fornication (John 8:19, 41).
- His life itself demands a heavenly origin. J. Oswald Sanders writes, “If, as science demands, every event must have an adequate cause, then the presence of a sinless Man, in the midst of universally sinful men implies a miracle of origin. Such a Person as Jesus…demands such a birth as the gospels record. The how of the birth becomes believable when the Who of the birth is taken into account” (The Incomparable Christ, 14).
- Early church historians. Individuals such as Justin Martyr, Aristides, and Ignatius also affirmed the fact of the virgin conception.
So, why the virgin conception? Generally, the virgin conception of Jesus Christ was an essential element of God’s plan to bring forgiveness and eternal life to all who would trust in Christ as Lord and Savior.
Breaking that down a bit, here are 5 reasons for the virgin conception of Jesus Christ:
- God loves sinful people.
This is where it starts. Whenever an individual makes a plan to do something, they always have a reason which motivates that plan.
God’s plan was to bring forgiveness and eternal life to hell-deserving people. Christ, the eternally existing God, was the One to carry out the plan by coming, living, dying on the cross, and rising. And so the virgin conception was an essential part of the plan.
The reason for the plan was God’s love. With health insurance, we talk about pre-existing conditions which determine the eligibility for insurance. God has a pre-existing condition; holy love. Thus, he was moved by his own decision to love us.
The virgin conception, then, was not God seeking to be a cosmic David Copperfield looking to fill stadiums with his sleight of hand. This extraordinary miracle was God’s sovereign power mixing with his mercy to pour out love on unworthy people.
- We are unable to save ourselves and get to heaven by our efforts.
Christ is often called the Savior. Savior indicates objects in need of saving. Saving indicates that those objects are debilitated from self-saving. That’s us. We are unable and unwilling to do what it takes to be saved.
We are sinners by nature. And if you struggle with that, consider: have your kids (ask some parents if you don’t have kids) ever needed to be mentored and trained to do things like complain, be devious, or disobey? Interestingly, they still manage to excel in doing so. It’s a fascinating thing. We are not born neutral.
Generally speaking, to get really good at something, you need some sort of training; school or lots of practice. However, there are some things for which we need no training or schooling, like complaining, being unthankful to God, or wanting our own way. What is it called when someone is proficient in something without training? They are a natural. So it is with sin. We are naturals at it because it’s our nature.
And if anyone is still not convinced, they can measure themselves up against God’s moral bar: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
Thus, the saying is true: “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?”(Prov. 20:9). So, we are in a predicament: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God” (Isa. 59:2).
Why the virgin conception of Jesus Christ? Because salvation for humanity cannot originate in humanity. Sinners cannot save sinners because sinners need saving from the penalty and power of their sin. Salvation must come from sinlessness.
- God had to become a man to save sinners.
Recall these words from the angel to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
This is really good news: the sinlessness of heaven is coming down to earth. God is somehow taking on humanity.
“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). And God is taking on humanity for one reason: salvation. His plan is coming together valiantly.
The virgin conception becomes the vehicle by which he comes to be made like us; the means which unites our Creator (God) to creation (man). Being conceived by the Holy Spirit, he maintains his sinless nature (unlike us) yet takes on real humanity (like us). The God who created everything; the rocks, the stars, the galaxies; he became a small, little baby; a human being. Bruce Ware wrote, “The conception of Jesus in the Virgin Mary was unique in the history of mankind…he would be fully human (son of Mary) while also being fully divine (Son of the Most High)” (The Man Christ Jesus, 16).
The virgin conception was the transport vehicle to bring God down to our rescue because we could not bring ourselves up to his favor. We need Christ, but we also need Christ to come down out of heaven.
Further, the virgin conception demonstrates that our salvation can only come through God’s extraordinary means: we cannot be saved by our own ordinary efforts and deeds, but only through God’s abnormal intrusion into the otherwise normal function of life. So the virgin conception is a sine qua non in the redemptive plan.
- A perfect, sinless human substitute is necessary to remove the penalty of our sin so that we can be right before holy God.
“He had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17).
But the bad news for Jesus was, saving sinners will mean more than being marveled at in a manger. Much more. He will have to grow up and do something, with a real human nature, that no human has ever done before: “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). He will have to keep the law in every point. And if he stumbles in one point, for one second, even in thought, he is guilty of the whole law and can no longer save anyone (Jas. 2:10). He, too, would need a savior. For sinners, salvation is all grace. But for Christ, saving us meant a life of all law. For Jesus, life was all law.
God requires a perfect sacrifice. The animal sacrificial system anticipated the coming of the perfect human sacrifice (cf. Lev. 1:3). But animals cannot stand in for a human being (Heb. 10:4). We need a human substitute to remove our penalty if we are going to be forgiven by God. This is why no one less than the God-man must rescue us. There are no other people in human history who could qualify as “sinless substitutionary sacrifice.”
“You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
Only God is qualified to effectively die for our sin so as to remove our penalty. But God cannot stand in for us unless he becomes like us. For that reason, God became a man through virgin conception. In doing so, he ensures that an absolutely sinless man stands in between absolutely sinful men to reconcile them to absolutely holy God. Marvel at the miracle in the manger. But far, far more, marvel at the miracle at the cross.
- So that we would trust in Christ and be reconciled to God.
Our sins can only be removed by that baby growing up to be a man spiked to a cross. Those little hands; those little feet; they were made by him, on him, for us. Sin, our sin, will wreck them. The mess of the cross will overwhelmingly supplant that of the manger-in-the-stable. And so will the humility, and love, and mercy, and holiness.
So here we are, 2000 years later. The work is done. God entered the world miraculously to give the world a gift mercifully. The gift is not holiday sentiment induced by thoughts of a halo’ed baby in a manger. It’s something far more valuable; the removal of God’s necessary anger at us and our sin that we might be transferred from condemned criminals before him to cherished children.
But the gift must be received. The virgin conception was a vehicle to bring the gift and set it before you for the bowed and broken receiving. If you spend Christmas in mawkish thought about a baby born in a barn, you have missed the point.
When something of this magnitude is offered to you, to not respond, or responding with indifference, is inappropriate and radically defiant.
God loves sinners. He has opened heaven’s door for any who will respond to heaven’s God by trusting in him. It’s open. That’s the reason for Christmas.
“For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The virgin birth was God’s vehicle to bring Christ into the world so that you might enter eternity peacefully and stand before God safely.