Theme: The Virgin Will Conceive
In this week’s Christmas lessons, we look at five Old Testament prophecies and see what details they reveal about the Messiah’s birth.
Scripture: Hebrews 10:7
The third Old Testament prophecy comes from Isaiah 7:14, from which we learn that a particular sign will be given to Ahaz king of Judah: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” This prophecy seems to have had a specific meaning in its own day concerning the future judgment of the nation. Nevertheless, it is an extraordinary text, because it does say that a virgin would conceive and bear a son, who is to be called Immanuel, which means “God with us.”
By way of review, the first text told us that the Messiah would be born in the line of Jesse. From the second passage we learn that he wouldn’t be merely a man but he would be the God-man possessing the very nature of God, as well as revealing something of the nature of his birth. Now in our third text we discover something else about the Messiah’s birth, which is that he will be born of a virgin.
There was a furious debate over this matter of the virgin birth earlier in the century when liberalism from the European Continent was cascading over the American churches. This liberalism was bursting upon the scene and everywhere preachers were capitulating in the area of the supernatural. One of the great battlegrounds was this matter of the virgin birth. How is it possible in a scientific age to think that Jesus could be born of a virgin? We all know perfectly well that you have to have a human father in order to have a child and so that’s the way the argument went.
God always has his defenders of course and this case he raises up a great New Testament scholar by the name of J. Gresham Machen. He wrote a marvelous book on the events of the virgin birth, entitled The Virgin Birth of Christ. In fact, it was so good that some years after its publication a professor at Harvard University was remarking that when Machen wrote his book to defend the virgin birth nobody was able to answer it. Consequently, the liberals simply ignored the evidence Machen had given and went on with what they wanted to believe anyway.
Machen’s book has two parts. The first half examines the biblical evidence. He looked at Luke’s Gospel, for example, and he pointed out that Luke was a masterful writer of Greek prose, which one notices in the prologue at the very beginning. After that, however, Luke’s style changes, and his Gospel breaks into a Semitic (or Jewish) format. This suggests that Luke incorporated some ancient Jewish sources into his document. He was not making this material up. He was actually reflecting what he had discovered and knew by his own research and understanding.
Then Machen went to Matthew’s Gospel and he said the opposite is the case here. Matthew was the Gospel that’s written to the Jews. It quotes a great deal from the Old Testament text, and yet of the four Gospels it alone mentions the visit of the wise men who come to worship the Jewish king. Matthew includes this because he wants to make the point that this one who was born of the Jews came to be the Gentiles’ Savior too. And this Savior was indeed born of a virgin.
In the second half of Machen’s book he examines where these ideas might have come from. Some of the liberals said that the Gospel writers got it from the pagan myths. So Machen with his customary thorough scholarship investigates all those myths to see if there is anything in any of them like the virgin birth. He points out that when one studies the literature one sees that there is no connection whatsoever. The conclusion was that the virgin birth is a fact of history which was known to the Gospel writers and which they accurately record.
Today we don’t hear a whole lot about the virgin birth, I suppose for the reason that most people fail to see its relevance. But the virgin birth is very relevant! It certainly fixes the nature of our Lord as being divine from the very moment of this conception, contrary to those who would suggest otherwise. For example, there was an idea early on in church history that the Spirit of God came upon the man Jesus at the time of his baptism when the Spirit came down and rested on him as a sign of God’s identification and approval. They said that Jesus became the God-man at that point and the Sprit remained with him until the time of the crucifixion.
The virgin birth disposes of any false theology like that. Jesus was the God-man from the very beginning. There was never a moment of his earthly life going back to the very moment of the conception where he was not both God and man and our Savior. It is essential for Christianity and so we find the Old Testament announcing what is to come and we will find the fulfillment in the New.
What important doctrine do we see from Isaiah 7:14?
What did Machen discover in the second half of his book, contrary to liberal assumptions?
Reflection: How would you answer someone who maintains that the virgin birth is unimportant or unnecessary?