Once upon a time, God’s people had an evil king named Ahaz. His father and grandfather had been noble, godly kings, and his son Hezekiah would grow up to be Judah’s greatest king after David, but Ahaz was different. He was so totally given over to idolatry, he burned one of his own children in a fire of sacrifice to his false gods. So by and by, two armies, both much larger than Ahaz’s tiny force, started marching toward Jerusalem. And Ahaz was quaking in his boots, offering to pay any price to a nation who would come and help defend him against these aggressors. And God decided at that point to give Ahaz a second chance. He sent the prophet Isaiah, who had advised Ahaz’s father and grandfather, to say to the young king, “Don’t be afraid of these armies. God has them in the palm of His hand. Just come back to Him. Just try Him. See if He won’t give you a great sign of His power, and defeat these two kings who want to destroy you.” But Ahaz refused. And so Isaiah said these famous words: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Isaiah might have been pointing to a young woman in the court that day, saying, “By the time this girl gets pregnant and has a baby, these two nations will be off your radar screen.” But like so many prophecies in the Old Testament, this one had a dual meaning. Essentially, Isaiah said, “Here is what God can do. Someday, when you are long gone from the earth, and the two kings who oppose you are dead and forgotten, the Lord will show His power in an unexpected way. He will bring into the world a man who is truly God. And that man will be born in a way that has been impossible until now, of a virgin.” Some 700 years later, the Bible teaches us that Isaiah’s prophecy came true in the birth of Jesus, the son of Mary of Nazareth in Bethlehem. Now that makes for a wonderful story and a quaint manger scene, but does it matter today? There are a great many people today who think the virgin birth of Jesus is a ridiculous legend. They can’t understand how we can take such a claim seriously. In this series, I’ve already talked about why we believe the Bible is a reliable information source, and we can take its words literally when we read them in their proper context. Besides, if there is a God who created the entire world, as most people believe, would it be so difficult for Him to make one more person in an extraordinary way? The question is not “Did it happen?” The question is “Why?” What relevance could there possibly be in a strange event 2000 years ago, in a tiny corner of the world? How does that help the single person trying to survive another Christmas alone? What could that possibly mean to the cancer patient who is pretty sure this is her last Christmas? Does it really make any difference to the guy whose marriage is breaking up, at Christmas time, of all the times?
I say to you that the virgin birth of Jesus Christ is not only true, it is one of the most important facts in human history. And I will tell you why.
Jesus knows your pain. Do you remember the “God” billboards? They started in Florida, where an anonymous, very wealthy Christian paid to have them staked out on the freeways. Then they have spread across the country. They were simple black billboards with a small message in white lettering that is supposedly from God. They said clever things like, “Meet me at my house before the game.” “Loved the wedding. How about inviting me to the marriage?” And then there’s my personal favorite: “Don’t make me come down there.” Actually, God already did come down here, and that is what Christmas is about. You and I and the rest of the human race were condemned. The world needed fixing, and God was the only one who could do the job. And so He came down. Now, if you work a blue-collar job, imagine the CEO coming down from his high rise downtown to tour the plant. Imagine he puts on a jumpsuit, steel-toed boots and a hard hat. He has the outfit down, but does that make him one of the guys? Does that mean he will understand what your life is like, what your concerns are? An hour or so, and he’s back in his air-conditioned office. We’ve all seen the spectacle of celebrities who visit our troops. Inevitably, someone will hand them some piece of a military uniform, and they’ll put it on, posing for the camera in their soldier costume. Does that make them a soldier? Of course not.
Jesus could have taken the same route. He could have put on a human costume and made an appearance. It would have cost Him little to nothing. But He didn’t. The mere statement “He was born” says that God chose to become a tiny baby, to spend 9 months in the womb of a woman, to go through the painful and—especially back then—dangerous process of labor. And then to come into the world so helpless, so weak and vulnerable. Even at that, Jesus could have chosen to be born into a safe, comfortable life. The son of a princess, perhaps, or a rich merchant’s wife. He could have been attended by doctors at His birth, toasted by noblemen and celebrities. He could have lived in luxury all His days—then the sacrifice wouldn’t have been so tough. But Jesus was born of a virgin. A young girl, probably a teenager. An inexperienced child who had no husband. A poor girl with a poor fiance, the subject of so many whispers and rumors He had to be born in a little town far from home. So poor His first clothes were rags and His first bed was a feed trough and His first visitors walked on four legs.
So what does that mean? It means He has been there. Whatever pain you experience, Jesus understands. Are you lonely? He was despised and rejected. In the key moment of His life, His 12 best friends abandoned Him. Are you dealing with loss? He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Do you feel dirty and worthless? At the cross, the sin of the whole world was poured out on Him. Do you wonder how that made Him feel? Wonder no longer. Among His last words were, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus understands what you are going through. And He alone has the power to get you through it. He stands and says to all of us, Come to me, all who are weary and burdened down, and I will give you rest.
Jesus can do anything. When Isaiah the prophet came to Ahaz the wicked king, he brought good news: “Just trust in me, Ahaz. Turn over a new leaf. See how I can take care of your enemies.” But Ahaz couldn’t trust in a God he had never known. 700 years later, the angel Gabriel went to young Mary and told her she would give birth to the Messiah. She said, “Um, but I am a virgin. How can I have a baby?” And Gabriel said, “Nothing is impossible with God.” The tender young girl had faith where the mighty king had none. She said, “Alright, if God says it, I believe it. I’ll sign on with His plan.” Her exact words were, “Be it unto me according to your word, o Lord.” And God kept His promise. He did the impossible. He bypassed biology to make a baby in a way no baby had ever been made before. He wanted Mary and Joseph, and you and I, to know that nothing is impossible with God.
I read once about a man in Australia named Peter Bunton who taught high school art class for decades. Mr. Bunton was a Christian who happened to teach at a particularly rough school, and he felt very burdened for those kids. He knew the answer to their problems was Jesus, but he also knew that if he tried to share the gospel with them in any verbal way, he would lose his job. And so he determined to pray for them. Every day, while they worked on their projects, Mr. Bunton prayed for those kids by name. And at the end of every year, they would be gone, and a new crop of rough, spiritually lost kids would come. Mr. Bunton never saw any real results, but he knew teaching was where God wanted him, and praying was all he knew to do, so he kept it up. Years went by, and Mr. Bunton was retired and in his seventies when a pastor named Brian Roennfeldt came to see him. Brian shared that his wife, Angie had been one of Mr. Bunton’s students. Years later, she had accepted Christ, and she and Brian were now serving the Lord in a church. And they knew of literally dozens of other students who had become believers after taking Mr. Bunton’s class. Many of them were pastors and missionaries. And Mr. Bunton was stunned and choked with emotion; all he had done was pray for them. He had no idea what God was doing as a result of his prayers.
I would imagine many of you feel somewhat like Mr. Bunton about some area of your life. Maybe someone precious to you is not a believer, and you want so desperately for them to know Christ. Maybe you or someone you know is struggling and in poor health. Maybe you have a sin problem, an addiction or a terrible old habit that keeps you from being all you can be. No matter what the problem is, just remember the words of Gabriel to Mary: Nothing is impossible with God. You don’t know what God is going to do, but I do know this: You’ll never see His power until you pray. You will never experience a miracle until you take your burden and lay it at His feet. The virgin birth reminds us that God can do anything. Anything that stands against us belongs in His hands.
Jesus is more than a man. The most important question in the world 2000 years ago is still the most important question in the world today: Who do you say that Jesus is? Most people have an opinion on that question. Many will say that He was a very good man, maybe the best man ever. They’ll talk about the wonderful lessons He taught, how He came to bring peace on the earth and teach us to love our enemies, and how, if we would just try to live by His words and His example, the world would be a much better place.
But is that all Jesus is? The virgin birth says no. The virgin birth says that Jesus was born of a woman just like the rest of us, and so He was fully human. He had a body like ours, that got tired, that caught the flu, that got hungry, that wore out. He had emotions like ours, and felt things like anger and frustration and discouragement and temptation. But at the same time, the virgin birth says He was more than a man. Because no earthly man was His father. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. God Himself placed that child inside Mary’s womb, and that is what makes Him unique. It proves He was no mere man. And so I ask you, do you believe it? Who do you say that Jesus is? If you believe this story about a virgin birth, that changes everything. You can’t just go on with life as usual anymore. You must cast aside everything to follow Him. I think that’s why the virgin birth has been such a controversial doctrine. If Jesus’ birth was normal, we could convince ourselves that He was just an extraordinary man, and nothing more. We could relegate Him to the list of amazing heroes that we talk about and admire, like Lincoln, Gandhi, and King. But He was so much more than that.
One Christmas Eve, a man named Jim slipped into the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. It was a few minutes before the Christmas Eve service, and all around him, Jim could see the signs of Christmas cheer. The greenery and lights were strung all over that vast auditorium. Children were running through the aisles, their eyes wide with expectation, since Christmas morning was only hours away. Men and women greeted each other with cheerful voices, dressed in their holiday best. But Jim didn’t feel cheerful; he was a recovering alcoholic, six months sober. This was his first Christmas without his family. As he looked at the happy families all around him, his heart just broke. He had to have a drink. The service still hadn’t started yet, and Jim got up to leave. But the pastor, Thomas Tewell, met him in the lobby. Pastor Tewell had counseled with Jim before, even though he wasn’t a church member, so he knew about Jim’s alcoholism. “Jim, where are you going?” Jim was at least honest, “Oh, to go get a scotch.” “Jim, you can’t do that,” the pastor responded. “Is your sponsor available?” Jim replied, “It’s Christmas Eve. My sponsor is in Minnesota. There’s nobody who can help me. I just came tonight for a word of hope, and I ended up sitting behind this family. If I had my life together, I’d be here with my wife and kids too.”
The pastor brought one of his associates over to talk with Jim for a moment, while he prayed about what to do. The service was starting, but he knew he couldn’t ignore this man. So as he stood up to welcome the people, he was also praying for wisdom. He spoke these words, “I have one final announcement before we begin. If anyone here is a friend of Bill Wilson, could you meet me in the back of the church?” Bill Wilson is the name of the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous; “a friend of Bill W.” is sort of a code word for a recovering alcoholic. All over that auditorium, people began to stand up and file out of the church while the congregation started singing carols. Pastor Tewell got up a few moments later and preached a sermon about the incarnation, how God became man in Jesus, but as he says, “while I was preaching, the Word was becoming flesh out there in the vestry.” What Jim learned that night was that Jesus had been there and understood His pain. He found out that Jesus could do anything, even keep Him sober on a difficult Christmas Eve. He found that Jesus was more than a man; He was the one and only Savior of the world. What old wicked king Ahaz wouldn’t admit, couldn’t accept in the 7th century BC, Jim learned and experienced that Christmas Eve night. Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, is the answer. Is He your answer today?