This is the transcript of a fantastic sermon by WA Criswell that is worthy of your time to read. We read this sermon to our fellowship on the evening of December 21, 2014.
We welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who did not get up early enough to go to your own church and go to your own services, and you are listening on radio with the thousands of others who regularly do so. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and I am the pastor bringing the message entitled The Miracle of God’s Incarnation. In the series of doctrinal sermons on Christology, on our Lord Christ, the section in which we are now studying and preaching, our Lord’s entrance into human flesh; then next Sunday Our Lord’s Entrance into Suffering, then Our Lord’s Entrance into Death, into the Grave, then Our Lord’s Entrance into Resurrection Life and into heaven, and Our Lord’s Entrance Beyond the Veil, where He intercedes for us as our great High Priest. This is a message on our Lord’s entrance into human flesh, The Miracle of the Incarnation of God.
When Mary the virgin of Nazareth was visited by Gabriel, in the first chapter of Luke, beginning at verse 31, the angel says to her:
…thou shalt conceive… and bring forth a Son, and call His name JESUS, Savior.
He shall be great, He shall be called the Son of the Highest: the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David:
And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.
…The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
Apparently, the fact of the virgin birth was controverted and contradicted from the very beginning. It is not by any means a new development. There is a repercussion of that possibly in John chapter 8, verse 19: “And they said unto Him, Where is Thy Father?” In the lifetime of John, who wrote this Gospel, in Ephesus where he was pastor, there lived the famous gnostic Cerinthus. He gave birth to Cerinthian gnosticism, an early Christian heresy. And Cerinthus taught that Jesus was born by natural generation from Joseph and Mary, and that the messianic power came upon Him at His baptism and left Him at His cross. But there was no such thing as a virgin birth. That’s from the beginning.
The stories of the illegitimacy of the birth of our Lord are found in the Talmud. There His illegitimate father, a Roman officer named Panthera, is supposed to have been the illegitimate compatriot cohabiter with a Jewess named Mary, and Jesus was born. And those stories of the Lord’s birth have been repeated through all the centuries. One of the vicious enemies of the Christian faith was Celsus, a brilliant philosopher who lived in the second century; and he repeated those Talmudic stories of immorality. Voltaire did the same thing in the eighteenth century. And in the last century, Tolstoy, the tremendously gifted Russian novelist and author, repeated the same stories.
There are two tremendous areas in the Bible that are bitterly and constantly assailed. One of them is the inspiration of the Scriptures; that war goes on forever. We’re in it in our Southern Baptist Convention, whether this is the Word of God or the word of man. The first controversy that arises in the swirl of the doctrinal life of the Christian faith concerns the infallibility, and authority, and inerrancy, and inspiration of the Word of God; that’s first. The second storm of controversy concerns the virgin birth of Christ. It is denied vociferously and unmitigatingly and boldly by the whole critical world. The tremendously gifted English essayist and author Matthew Arnold said, “I do not believe in the virgin birth, for that would imply miracle; and I do not believe in miracles. Miracles do not happen.” And I quote from Loofs, who is speaking for all of the rationalistic critics of the whole world, he said, “I think it the duty of truthfulness to state openly that the virgin birth arose out of fabulous fictitious tradition.” These are but typical of the tremendous reaction against the incarnation of God in the virgin birth.
That is all very well; that’s fine. We deny the virgin birth, we deny the incarnation of God, we deny the inspiration of the Scriptures, we deny it all; but with all of those denials, Jesus Christ is still there before us, towering above all mankind, unique and separate and apart. How do you account for Him? It’s easy to account for Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Shakespeare, Homer; it’s easy to account for any other man who ever lived in the human race. But how do you account for Jesus? Where did He come from? And what is He? The great unlike.
Schmidt, who was a rationalist, said, “Jesus is inexplicable psychologically, casually, or by evolutionary development. Something derived creatively from God is necessary to explain the life and consciousness of Jesus.” That’s the Lord’s truth. Compare Him with any other man who ever lived, and it’s like comparing a molehill to a towering Himalayan Mount Everest. How do you account for the fact of Jesus Christ? Well, there are attempts by these critical men world without end to explain Him and His virgin birth. There are many who worship at the shrine of pseudoscience, and they feel called upon to give natural explanations for all of the supernatural that we read in the Bible.
For example, they say Israel never went through a parted Red Sea; they walked through the Reed Sea. So they translate it the “Reed Sea,” and the water was only ankle deep. That’s very fine, except how in the world would you explain the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in water that was just about three inches deep? They explain the tremendous miracle of the answer of God on Mount Carmel to Elijah’s prayer, that it just happened to be that at that moment there came a flash of lightning from heaven and consumed the sacrifice. Or the miracle of the resurrection of our Lord: they explain that that’s a matter of mental aberration; they were hallucinating, and those were hallucinations when they thought they saw Jesus raised from among the dead. So they bring to bear their same kind of reasoning about the birth of our Lord. They will point out there is such a thing as parthenogenesis: there are certain algae and fungi and plant life that propagate from self-fertilized spores. And another explanation I ran across that just beat anything I ever heard in my life: at a theological society gathering, one of the teachers had read a paper discussing the virgin birth, and a professor in the university stood up and offered a scientific explanation of the phenomenon of the birth of Jesus, and this was it: he said that female rabbits have been known to be shocked into conception without the male, and that Mary may well have been shocked into conception by the startling appearance and announcement of the angel Gabriel. When I read those things, I just can hardly believe that men of tremendous intellect and scientific training will place Mary in the same category as algae, or fungus, or plant life, or a shocked female rabbit into conception. It is unthinkable to me, and yet these are the explanations that are given by those who worship at the shrine of pseudoscience, false science.
Well, there are others who explain the story of the incarnation of God and the virgin birth of our Lord by supposedly adduced examples of the miraculous birth of the great heroes in Greek and Roman mythology. Alexander the Great decided he was not the natural born son of Philip of Macedon, but he said that a serpent cohabited with his mother, and he was born; a serpent. That appears so many times in those stories. In the story that was circulated concerning the birth of Augustus Caesar; in the temple of Apollo, his mother went to sleep, and the god assumed the form of a serpent, and she conceived there in the temple of Apollo, and Octavius Caesar, Augustus Caesar was born. Or in the story of Hercules, Alcmene, the daughter of the king of Mycenae, while her husband was away, Jove, Jupiter, assumed the likeness of her husband, and Hercules was born. And Juno was jealous and sent two tremendous pythons to destroy the baby; and the baby Hercules seized one serpent by the hand and the other serpent by the other hand, and strangled it to death. Or the fabulous story of the birth of Achilles: Peleus is the king of Thessaly, and he lives with a sea nymph named Thetis, and Achilles is born, and Thetis takes Achilles and dips him in the River Styx in order that he might be immortal, all except his heels where she held him. And Paris of Troy in the Trojan War shot a poisoned arrow, and it entered the heel of Achilles, an Achilles’ heel, and he was slain in the war. Or take just one other: for two or three centuries after Gotama the Buddha, The Enlightened One, there were no stories of his birth; then they began to circulate the story that his mother dreamed a dream and saw a gigantic elephant that had six tusks, and it forcibly entered her side, and Gotama, who was later called the Enlightened One, the Buddha, was born.
Now dear people, anybody with any reasonable judgment can say two things about those mythological stories. First, they are manifestly manufactured; they are fictitious on its surface. And second, there’s no story ever of a virgin birth.
When we try to take it out of the Bible, as some higher critics do, as far back as any manuscripts are ever found, this is a part of the story of our Lord. It’s in every version; it’s a part of the Bible, the revelation of God. And we cannot deny its fact, nor can we hide our faces from the tremendous and towering character and unique personality of Jesus our Lord. How do you account for Him? Where did He come from? How do you explain Him?
Then let’s look at the truth of God and rejoice. Number one: this is a work of the Holy Spirit of heaven. It was the Holy Ghost that came upon Mary and announced to her that that holy thing that should be born of her would be called the Son of God. “He shall be great, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end” [Luke 1:32]. This is a work, a creation of the Holy Spirit of God. In Romans 1:4, we are taught that Jesus was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit. He was horizō marked out, declared, delineated, pointed out as the Son of God by the raising of His body from the dead by the Holy Spirit. Now, this and that belong together; it’s a piece of the same marvelous story of God’s grace extended toward us. The Holy Spirit forming Him in the womb of the Virgin Mary [Luke 1:35], and the Holy Spirit raising that same body that the Spirit formed from among the dead [Romans 1:4]; and the whole story is of a piece. There is no incongruity in the Bible when you pass from the reading of the story of the virgin birth to the miraculous words and ministry of our Lord, and His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into heaven. It is all of a piece; it goes together. It’s of God.
Number two: this is not only a work of the Holy Spirit, but the virgin birth of our Lord, the incarnation of God in the womb and body of the Virgin Mary, this is an intervention of God in human history. From time to time, God comes down in unique and unusual and marvelous ways and intervenes in the story of mankind. One of those instances was in the beginning. The Holy Spirit of God brooded over the chaotic world, and brought order out of disorder, and light out of darkness, and life out of death, the intervention of God in human history [Genesis 1:1-2]. We have an intervention of God in the days when the earth was filled with wickedness, and God’s grace spared Noah and his family [Genesis 6-9]. You have an intervention of God when the world was filled with idolatry, and the Lord God chose out Abraham to be the father of a new family [Genesis 12:1-9; Joshua 24:2-3]. You have an intervention of God in the days of the tremendous apostasy, when God used Elijah to bring His people back to the faith [1 Kings 17-2 Kings 2]. You have an intervention of God in human history when He sent John the Baptist to announce the new dispensation, the new age, and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ [Matthew 3]. There is one other great intervention of God that is yet to come, and that is when the Lord shall appear visibly, personally, bodily, in the shekinah glory of heaven, descending from the sky at His second coming, when every eye shall see Him; the intervention of God in human history [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 1:7]. This is one of those interventions. God did it. God came down in human form, assumed our likeness, made like us, to be our Savior and our sympathetic and understanding High Priest [Luke 1:26-35; Hebrews 4:14-16]. That’s God.
Number three: the incarnation of God, in the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, there is an extended discussion concerning why God was incarnate. And the discussion is that the blood of bulls and of goats could never suffice to wash our sins away [Hebrews 10:4]. The author says that all there is in the blood of bulls and goats is just a constant reminder that we are sinners; and it has to be offered again and again and again because it doesn’t avail, it has no ableness or power to wash the stain of transgression out of our souls. But in heaven there volunteered One who said, “I will do Thy will, O God. Thou hast prepared a body for Me, and in the preparation of that body there was offered a sacrifice for sins, once for all” [Hebrews 10:5-10]. And one of the comments of history concerning the efficacy and the effectiveness of that sacrifice is this: when the Lord Jesus Christ was born in this world, on every high hill there rose the smoke of sacrificial altars. So far as I know there is not an altar in the world today where a sacrifice is made in propitiation for our sins. Christ was offered once for all. And the body that was formed was formed in order that He might make an atoning sacrifice for our sins. God did it for us.
And last: this, the virgin birth of our Savior is the second of the two great biological miracles wrought by the hand of God. The first tremendous biological miracle is in the creation and the successive generations of the first Adam [Genesis 1:26-27; 2:21-22]. It’s a miracle. It’s a miracle of God. It is a biological miracle. All of us are made out of cells, billions of them, trillions of them. And in every one of those cells, there are forty-six chromosomes, little threads to which are attached the genes of heredity and life. And in every cell of the human body, there are forty-six of those chromosomes. That is, except in the female ovum; and there are one-half, twenty-three; except in the male spermatozoon, there are one half, twenty-three. And when they are fertilized in conception, when they come together, there are twenty-three from the mother and twenty-three from the father, and there are forty-six again. That is the first biological miracle.
The second great biological miracle is when God entered into and broke that chain of genetic heredity and created the body of incarnation. It is a work of the Holy Spirit of God [Luke 1:31-35]. It is a miracle of the Lord. Jesus is unique and separate and apart; the great unlike. He is God manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16]. And when I receive that, and when I accept that, and when I believe that, then the Bible becomes so beautifully meaningful in text and in revelations, that otherwise are inexplicable and un-understandable.
Look at them. What is the meaning in Genesis 3:15, “And the Seed of the woman shall crush, bruise, Satan’s head”? A woman doesn’t have seed; a man has seed. But the Bible says, “The Seed of the woman”; the theologians call that the protevangelium, the gospel before the gospel. “The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head.” What does that mean? The old rabbis pored over that for the centuries and the centuries. And we didn’t know what it meant until Jesus was born of a virgin.
Or again, Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, God Is With Us.” I understand that now. God is with us in the birth of that Son from the womb of a virgin named Mary [Matthew 21-23]. Then I understand Isaiah 9:6, “For unto us a Child is born; and His name shall be called the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father.” I can see that now. Or again, in Micah 5:2, “Thou Bethlehem Ephratah, though ye are little among all the cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall be the Ruler of My people; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” What does that mean? “Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting,” why, that’s our Lord God, who from the beginning of the beginning is God, and now born in a little town named Bethlehem. I understand it now. Or that last word in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of the Revelation: “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and the Morning Star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come” [Revelation 22:16-17]. What does that mean? “I am the Root and the Offspring of David”? He was before David; the Root, the Beginning of the chosen people of God, He was before David. “I am the Root and the Offspring of David.” He was born by His mother in the house and lineage of the great king of Israel.
The Bible unfolds in glory and beauty, in fulfillment, in salvation, when I accept its testimony. Who is this Jesus? He is the virgin born Son of God. He is God incarnate. He is God manifest in the flesh. Sent into the world, voluntarily came into the world, to make atonement for our sins, to die that we might be saved, raised from the dead for our justification, to declare us righteous, to see to it that someday we make it to heaven, that we don’t fall by the way, and who is at the right hand of the great throne interceding for us, answering our prayers, encouraging us, and waiting for the day when the great mighty final interposition of God in human history comes, the denouement and climax of the age, when we see Him face to face. What a beautiful thing God has done for us!
Now may we stand together?
Our Lord, we are just like those shepherds and like the wise men; we just bow down. It’s a truth too great for us to comprehend. We’re not able to enter into the mystery of the marvelous grace of God who came down to live our life, to bear our sorrows, to share our sicknesses, to weep our tears, to die our death, and please God, in Him to be raised into life, and immortality, and glory, and heaven. What a gospel. It’s just too good to be true. Could such a thing actually be? O wonderful, wonderful Savior, we stand amazed in the presence of Jesus our Lord, loving Thee, bowing in worship before Thee. Lord, Lord, that we were more able to love Thee more and serve Thee better.