Luke 1:34 | Why a Virgin Birth?

Why is the virgin birth of Christ such an important doctrine for Christianity? The desire to question, ignore, and reject this doctrine as important is primarily due to a lack of understanding to the significance of the claim. A review the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John will be informative when we see how each author approached the topic.

Both Matthew and Luke deal with the traditional birth narrative and they both explicitly tell the reader that Mary is a virgin at the birth and conception. It is clear from the text that the audience, the writer, Mary, and Joseph all understand that a virgin birth is not possible and would bring shame to the Mary and Joseph because people would not believe that Mary conceived by way of a supernatural act of God.

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:30-34 ESV

Matthew quotes directly from Isaiah 7:14 about God’s promise of a virgin giving birth.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:22-25 ESV

A virgin birth as odd as that might seem is clearly there in those two gospels and everyone clearly understood what was meant by saying a virgin will give birth to a son. To help clear up the “why” we should look at this from God’s perspective. The answer can be found in the birth narratives of Mark and John because those two texts do not give the physical birth of a baby boy type of story. These two gospels provide the history of Jesus not from man’s perspective but from God our Creator’s perspective. These two Gospels highlight the other side of the story that God wants humanity to know about Jesus and these two narratives are the key to understanding the significance of the virgin birth.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9-11 ESV

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 ESV

Jesus in Matthew and Luke is a baby born from Mary. God through the Holy Spirit intervening in the curse that humanity lives under. Jesus in Mark and John is the son of God who existed as God from the very beginning.

Jesus is heir to God’s Kingdom and because of the virgin birth he does not have a biological birth father in the same way as the descendants of Adam (you and me). By not having a biological earthly father Jesus is able to break the curse of the sin nature.

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 ESV

Together these four gospels complete the truth of the origin of Jesus, Immanuel “God with us”, who is fully man and fully God. The virgin birth allows Jesus to be both man and God at the same time and furthers the claim that Jesus is God. Not just God, but also the Creator God. Without the virgin birth Jesus would not be God and could not have saved anyone from sin.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Hebrews 1:3 ESV

Revised and Edited Originally published to Human Effort Sept 2013

What about that Guy?

What about the person who does not own a Bible and has never heard of Jesus Christ? God will send someone in that predicament to Hell? This common question found its way into an ESPN feature story on the famous Football Quarterback Aaron Rodgers. This feature article included the QB’s journey away from more traditional Christianity of his parents to an open and fluid Christianity of spiritual leader Rob Bell. Bell is famous for pastoring a large church, writing a book concluding Hell is not Christian, and working with Oprah to bring spiritual enlightenment to the commercial masses. Bell’s influence on Aaron Rogers is pronounced and here is the quote from Rodgers he used as a reason to doubt and leave the traditional Christianity of his youth.

“I think in people’s lives who grew up in some sort of organized religion, there really comes a time when you start to question things more,” he says. “It happens for some at an early age; others, you know, maybe a little older. That happened to me six or seven years ago.”…  “I remember asking a question as a young person about somebody in a remote rainforest,” he tells me. “Because the words that I got were: ‘If you don’t confess your sins, then you’re going to hell.’ And I said, ‘What about the people who don’t have a Bible readily accessible?'”

His recounting of growing up and questioning “is this real” is normal. Unfortunately the conclusions he has drawn means he did not get the needed answers or he rejected the truth along the way. Only Rodgers and God know the heart, but I pray he would find the real character of the Creator God. Below is what the Bible, God’s word, has to say on this topic.

Rodgers is not the first person to pose this question and in my personal conversations with people this is a common objection. The objection has two flaws that need to be discussed before providing the reasoned answer. First the, what about those people, question challenges God’s grace and his plans for humanity. Second the, what about those people, question is a diversion avoiding God on a personal and relational level.

God’s grace and his sovereign plans are His to know and execute. God has not revealed why everyone is born at the time and place of their birth. But He has revealed that you and I are living today with, our color of skin, our cultural heritage, and our station in life exactly as He planned.

26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, Acts 17:26-27 ESV

If one has an earnest want to understand God’s plan for those living in the “remote rainforest” then maybe that desire is a prompt from God to go to those people, live with those people, and find out what God’s work is in the lives of those people. God is always bigger than mankind can imagine.

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Romans 10:14-15 ESV

This leads us to the second point. Is the question serious? Or is the question a diversion to avoid one’s own state before a Holy God? Jesus being questioned about the 11pm Jerusalem news cast was asked if the people who died in the local awful tragedy were sinners or if they were innocent. Jesus redirects the question back to the individual asking the question.

4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:4-5 ESV

Jesus has a way of making people uncomfortable. He has a way of bringing the focus back to where it needs to be. In his response to the local news of a collapsed building killing so many people he tells the questioner not to be concerned about the spiritual state of those people now that life is lost, after all he is God and they are his responsibility, he tells the questioner that “unless you repent” then the questioner will too perish.

My observation in talking with people about Jesus is sometimes they want to deflect the conversation to someone else. What about that person or what do you think about that bad church? This line of conversation is fruitless and Jesus brings the questioner back to the most important question of all. Have you repented? You are born in this time and in this place to have a conversation with God in the flesh. Will you repent and trust in me, Jesus is asking. He asks today of each reader. He asks today of Aaron Rodgers. The ultimate answer is known only between God and the individual.

Understanding God is in control and God’s plans for everyone is being accomplished we must each take seriously our own spiritual state. It is with this understanding that the Bible does offer a limited answer to the question about those other people.

14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. Romans 2:14-16 ESV

Gentiles in this case are “those other people” who do not have a Bible and have never heard the name of Jesus. God tells us that His laws and nature are written in our heart. We know right and wrong and we know when we have violated what is written in our hearts. God through Jesus will judge every woman and man. For those who rejected Jesus they will be condemned. For those who did not know they will be judged by their conscience and it will excuse or condemn. How that will work and what God plans for each individual is between him and that individual. The real question all of us should focus on is who we are in Christ and are we living the life God appointed?

Luke 4:16 | His Custom

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When Jesus was born he was born into a Jewish family that kept the customs (ethos) of that religion and that family structure. Jesus was raised according to the laws, rules, and customs of Hebrews in his day.

41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. Luke 2:41-42 ESV

Now when it states that the family went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover that celebration was a custom of the family. It was a religious observance that Jesus as a child in that family was forced to follow. Maybe he liked that custom and maybe he hated some other customs but in reality he had no choice but to participate. This kind of custom (ethos) is in the name of religion. It is the kind of custom that one might identify with by being born in a Christian home or nation.

13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” Acts 6:13-14 ESV

Not following the religious customs will separate people and like Stephen, the first martyr, might even get one killed. The religious identity of the Pharisees was wrapped up in their customs.

Personal experience tells me that most youth when they leave home for college never return to the church they were raised in. I have even asked some high school teens directly if they had a choice would they be in Church each Sunday. I have also asked if they plan to continue to go to church after high school and the honest response from many is “no” to both questions. Some of those youth do find a church home wherever they live however many simply never return to any church. Even though they attended church as a youth it was never their custom (ethos). The feasts and celebrations might be kept because hey who does not enjoy a good holiday but the custom of actually attending a church or participating in some type of small group is not likely.

Jesus on the other hand became infused with the faith. God is real to him and he feels a call to ministry. After returning home briefly at the start of that ministry Luke writes that Jesus picked up in the home town synagogue right where he left off. Luke says that Jesus “as was his custom” (ethō) was in attendance at worship.

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. Luke 4:16 ESV

Jesus acted and participated. Jesus of his own desire and mind choose to be in worship reading scripture with others of like mind. Jesus was engaged. None could say Jesus was simply part of a religious custom (ethos) and ordinance required by his family, the religious leaders, or society. Participating in church had become the manner and custom (ethō) of his life. Jesus was living out a pattern of life that he had adopted, identified with, and had become accustom to living.

Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, Acts 17:2 ESV

In the same way Luke describes Paul as living a lifestyle of engaging with scripture before men. Paul’s life is engaged and in tune with the desires and service to God. Paul is not fulfilling a duty but he is living a life as is his custom.

One has several choices about how to engage in life and what things about life to make customary. Many people make the temporary pleasures of life their custom. But why? Because one can receive fleeting pleasure? Why not look eternally to see the example that Christ set and seek to make a relationship with God an integral part of daily life?

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17 ESV