I still fondly remember the night, about five years ago, when I went to brush my teeth for bed and Michelle said to me, "What would you say if I told you I thought I might be pregnant?"
I responded, "I'd say, ‘Why do you think that?'"
Without the forcing you to hear the rest of that story again, the punch line is that the awesome news was that she was, indeed, pregnant, and the following August Augie arrived.
The news of his pending arrival, however, was a surprise to both Michelle and me. Again…without forcing you to hear the story of why…we really had no reason to believe Michelle could get pregnant.
And we are definitely not the first…and won't be the last…parents-to-be to receive unexpected news of a nascent human whose arrival date is in less than nine months.
Perhaps a few men and women sitting before me have had a similar experience? 🙂
Positive pregnancy tests have led to myriad joyful and anxious surprises, haven't they?
Reason for Complete Astonishment
Which leads us to joining the Nativity Story at the point when the cast on stage is a young woman and an angel. Let's turn to Luke 1:26-33:
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."
Okay…I may have been surprised that Michelle and I were going to be parents again two weeks after we traded her minivan in for a small Nissan Versa…but let's think about it.
- Mary was a virgin
- She lived in a society that wasn't terribly accepting of extra-marital sex
- Out of the blue an angel shows up…an angel! I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that wasn't a regular occurrence for her 🙂
- Gabriel…the angel…tells her she's going to be pregnant
- And not only that, that her child is going to be the Messiah and king of Israel
How would you react?
Would you start freaking out? Saying, "Oh my God! Oh my God!" and hop on Facebook so that your "friends" can freak out with you?
Would you faint?
Would you blurt out, "No! Not me!"?
Would you think about how it is going to mess-up your figure…or your career?
I know guys…it's a little harder for us to picture…so for a second try to put yourself in the body of a woman and think about what exactly it means to be told you are going to have a kid…especially after you have been a good Jew and not fooled around outside the bonds of marriage.
No…Michelle and my surprise that Augie was going to join the Fahrner household is nothing compared to the news Mary received. I think it fair to say that no woman throughout the entire history of the human race has received more astonishing news.
Let's rejoin Luke's narrative right where we left it and see how Mary reacted (Luke 1:34):
34 And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"
Simple enough…and a pretty valid question. The English Standard Version ends her query with just a question mark…and although I suspect that if we could sneak back through time and hear those words directly from Mary's mouth that an exclamation point should have followed that question mark…
Jesus' mother-to-be seemed to take the news pretty well, didn't she?
"How will this be, since I am a virgin?"
And Gabriel answers:
35 And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God." (Luke 1:35-37).
Okay, when I covered the first part of Gabriel and Mary's interaction, one could have argued at that point Mary did not realize she was about to become pregnant outside of marriage. When she asked, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" she might have been thinking, "Well, I guess Joseph and I am going to have a pretty special son."
But, at this point she's clearly been told she is going to conceive through the the power of the Holy Spirit, not from a moment of passion with her husband.
Again, think about how you would react at the news. I don't know if Mary and Joseph's marriage was arranged or not, but getting pregnant beforehand at a minimum could cost her engagement and definitely her reputation…and it also might cost her the love of her life.
"No! Not me!" sounds like a pretty reasonable reaction, doesn't it?
However, Mary's response was:
And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her (Luke 1:38).
The Catholic Church is way off in their veneration of Mary, but she does deserve a lot of credit, doesn't she?
Nothing Is Impossible
But as commendable and awe-inspiring as Mary's reaction is…the reason for this sermon is part of Gabriel's response to "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"
It's the thing he said after also sharing the news of another surprise positive pregnancy test…that of Mary's cousin Elizabeth who was with child even though she was to old (and barren) by human standards…
Gabriel made a very simple, but very significant statement:
For nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:38)
- Sure, you are a virgin.
- Sure, you haven't had sex and won't have sex before you are pregnant.
- Sure, this sounds crazy.
Nothing will be…nothing is…impossible with God.
Virgins and Rich People
Do you remember the other time in Scripture that we are are directly told nothing is impossible with God?
Both Luke and Matthew record the incident…but let's look at Matthew's version in Matthew 19:16-26:
16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" 17 And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." 18 He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 20 The young man said to him, "All these I have kept. What do I still lack?" 21 Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
We've talked about this a bit before…and the "eye of a needle" may have been a rock formation instead of what a seamstress uses…but, regardless, how likely is it that a rich person will get into heaven?
I'd say as likely as it is a virgin to get pregnant…and no sneaking in modern day medical marvels like in vitro fertilization. 🙂
And, I would suggest, the likelihood anyone…including everyone in this room…will make it to heaven is basically the as bad. Psalm 53:2-3 says:
God looks down from heaven
on the children of man
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
They have all fallen away;
together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
- We all have fallen away.
- We all are corrupt.
- None…none…of us do good.
And, for that matter, none of us wants to do good.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24)
"With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4).
In Jesus, what was impossible for a virgin (remaining a virgin) to do…
Intersects with what is impossible for us to do…
To be saved.
"With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
If Mary Wasn't a Virgin…
After I decided on the subject of this sermon…with Gabriel and Mary's conversation as the impetus…I ran into an article by Albert Mohler titled, "Must We Believe in the Virgin Birth?"
Dr. Mohler begins:
In one of his columns for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof once pointed to belief in the Virgin Birth as evidence that conservative Christians are "less intellectual." Are we saddled with an untenable doctrine? Is belief in the Virgin Birth really necessary?
Kristof is absolutely aghast that so many Americans believe in the Virgin Birth. "The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time," he explains, and the percentage of Americans who believe in the Virgin Birth "actually rose five points in the latest poll." Yikes! Is this evidence of secular backsliding?1
I won't attempt to touch on the various items Mohler discusses in his piece…but as he tries to give a fair review of the "controversy" in limited space, we sadly (but not expectedly) hear how (per Kristof) "most Biblical scholars regard the evidence for the Virgin Birth … as so shaky that it pretty much has to be a leap of faith."2 Mohler does a good job debunking it (since often "most Biblical scholars" really translates to "most unbelieving Biblical scholars")…but let's think about it.
What if Mary wasn't a virgin?
What if getting pregnant while remaining a virgin wasn't just impossible for a young woman 2,000 years ago…but was also impossible for God?
Returning to Mohler:
Millard Erickson states this well: "If we do not hold to the virgin birth despite the fact that the Bible asserts it, then we have compromised the authority of the Bible and there is in principle no reason why we should hold to its other teachings. Thus, rejecting the virgin birth has implications reaching far beyond the doctrine itself."
Implications, indeed. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, who was His father? There is no answer that will leave the Gospel intact. The Virgin Birth explains how Christ could be both God and man, how He was without sin, and that the entire work of salvation is God's gracious act. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, He had a human father. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, the Bible teaches a lie.3
Please take time to read Dr. Mohler's entire article on AlbertMohler.com…but I'd like to point out a couple things beyond that which Mohler and Erickson did.
As I've mentioned before, if you accept one miracle in the Bible, then you must accept all miracles.
Reversing that, if you reject any miracle in the Bible, then you must reject all of them. And thus…
- Mary wasn't a virgin when Jesus was conceived.
- No angel ever visited Mary.
- Jesus was just a man.
- Jesus is still in His grave.
14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)
If Mary wasn't a virgin…"we are of all people most to be pitied"…
That is because it leaves us with three options:
- A powerless God…powerless to deliver us from our bodies of death…
- An impersonal God…one that doesn't care enough to send His Son…instead sacrificing a mere man who had no choice in becoming the ultimate "sibling savior." That would be a difficult God to want to worship…
- Or…even worse…no God. Instead we are at the mercy of cruel, cold, and uncaring random chance for us even being here…and our fate in the near future (for none of us lives very long in the scheme of things)…our fate in the near future is…nothing.
But the good news is that the Scripture does tell us there is one thing that is impossible for God to do. Let's open our Bibles to that surprising news (that there is something impossible for our omnipotent God).
For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us (Hebrews 6:16-18).
What is it impossible for God to do?
Paul further connects this inability for God to lie to our salvation when, in greeting Titus, Paul speaks of the "hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began" (Titus 1:2)
Yes Virginia, there is a Virgin Mary
How many people here are familiar with the famous editorial response to a young girl's question famously known as, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus"? Per the Newseum:
Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York's Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history's most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.4
And now in a sermon…or probably "another" sermon. 🙂
Virgnia's letter to Mr. Church was short and sweet:
“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
“Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
“Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
“Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
“115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.”5
Reading the beginning of Francis Pharcellus Church's response yesterday actually brought tears to my eyes…I suspect not only because it was it so touching…
But it parallels how an unbelieving world just cannot fathom a virgin Mary:
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus.6
To the Christian with doubts I'd like to say…
CHRISTIAN, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds…
Finally…and most assuredly saying…
Yes, CHRISTIAN, there was a virgin Mary…
Who, over 2,000 years ago, gladly accepted her calling to bring a willing (and divine) Sibling Savior into this world.
Next Sunday we will be celebrating the arrival of that "God man"…and let's all spend the entire week thanking the Father for sending His Son.
And let's thank Him for the fact that Mary was a virgin because it proves two things:
- God can do anything…nothing is impossible for Him.
- That God wants to do a miracle for you…that He wants to supernaturally change your heart and welcome you into heaven.
Because our little friends are wrong…Mary was a virgin…and Jesus died for our sins…and He has prepared a place for us and "will come again and will take [us] to [himself], that where [he is we] may be also" (see John 14:3).
And those facts make it so I can truly wish you a very Merry Christmas…
1Mohler, A. (2011, December 14). Must We Believe in the Virgin Birth? AlbertMohler.com. Retrieved December 17, 2011, from Must We Believe in the Virgin Birth?
4Church, F. P. (n.d.). Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Newseum. Retrieved December 17, 2011, from http://www.newseum.org/yesvirginia/