I would like to look at the virgin birth of Christ. But, perhaps “virgin birth” is the wrong way to put it. There was nothing supernatural about his birth. Jesus’ human nature went though all the normal stages of gestation from zygote, to embryo, to new-born baby in around nine months. He was born in the same way as everybody else.
6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2)
It is the conception of Jesus that is miraculous and supernatural. He was not conceived by two human parents. But his mother, Mary was enabled to conceive him by the Holy Spirit.
The Role of Holy Spirit in the conception of Jesus
Luke tells us that,
And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35.)
There is an echo here of Genesis 1: 1 & 2. The Spirit of the Lord who hovered over the old creation now overshadows Mary in an act of new creation. The Father prepared a body for his Son (Hebrews 10:5). The Son voluntarily took flesh and blood humanity (Hebrews 2:14). But it was through the Holy Spirit that Christ’s human nature was created. By the power of the Highest, the impossible happened; a virgin conceived and the Son of God stooped to become flesh. Although the external acts of the Trinity are undivided, each Person made a unique contribution to the incarnation of the Son.
Did the Holy Spirit create Jesus’ human nature out of nothing and simply implant the fertilized zygote in Mary's womb, or was she Jesus’ genetic mother? The text suggests that Mary was enabled to conceive Jesus as a result of the work of the Spirit, vs. 31. Mary was not “surrogate mother” to Jesus. She contributed the unfertilized egg, replete with her DNA. It was from that egg that the Holy Spirit created the human nature of the Son of God. The Spirit contributed the remainder of Jesus’ genetic code including his Y chromosome that made him male. The great Confessions of the Puritan era insist that:
The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by he power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. (Westminster Confession of Faith VIII:2) [emphasis added]
John Owen wrote,
Such was this act of the Holy Ghost in forming the body of our Lord Jesus Christ; for although its was effected by an act of infinite creating power, yet it was formed or made of the substance of the virgin Mary. (Works III p. 164.)
Thus, Jesus is of one substance with God as his Son and one substance with us as the Son of Mary. Christ fully identified himself with the humanity he came to save. God sent his Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh” Romans 8:3. Because he was formed from the substance of a sinner, he looked like and lived as a true man in our fallen world. Yet he was without sin. Luke 1:35.
John Owen once more:
But the body of Christ being formed pure and exact by the Holy Ghost, there was no disposition or tendency in his constitution to the least deviation from perfect holiness in any kind. The exquisite harmony of his natural temperament made love, meekness, gentleness, patience...and goodness natural to him.
But Christ also experienced the hardship of life in our fallen world:
[He knew] grief, sorrow and the like, he took upon him also those natural infirmities which are troublesome to the body, as hunger, thirst, weariness and pain – yea, the purity of his holy constitution made him more sensible of these things than any of the children of men. (Works III p. 167).
So, the humanity of Jesus was sanctified by the Holy Spirit from its conception. The Son of God took a real, yet perfectly holy human nature. It is only by his virginal conception that Jesus Christ could be one with God and one with us. Yet, Matthew and Luke alone explicitly mention the virginal conception of Christ
II. Theological Significance
1. The virginal conception of Jesus explains how the Word was made flesh.
We must remember that we need to piece together what the whole of the New Testament says about the incarnation of the Word who was God. John and Paul tell us that he was made flesh or manifest in the flesh, but we need Matthew and Luke to explain how God became man. We need not speculate about this. Jesus’ human nature was not created out of nothing. His humanity was created by the Holy Spirit from the substance of Mary.
2. The Last Adam
It is important that Jesus’ human nature was not produced by the union of Joseph and Mary. The human race is fallen in Adam. Adam’s sin cascades down the generations through natural procreation. Not that procreation is sinful – but all naturally conceived human babies are born sinners in Adam. Owen comments that Christ’s humanity,
Being not begotten by natural generation, it derived no taint of original sin or corruption from Adam. (Works III p. 168)
Jesus did not have to say, as David did: “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5.) All human ancestry can be traced back to Adam, the representative head and biological originator of all subsequent human beings. We read, Adam “begot a son in his own likeness, after his image”- in the likeness of is fallen father (Genesis 5:3). Donald Macleod develops this theme for us:
But Adam did not beget Christ. The Lord’s existence has nothing to do with Adamic desire or Adamic initiative. As we have already seen, Christ is new. He is from outside. He is not a derivative from, or branch of Adam. (The Person of Christ p. 410)
Jesus took human guilt not because he was born bearing the guilt of Adam, but because he voluntarily “bore our sins in his own body on the tree.” (1 Peter 2:24.)
In 1 Corinthians 15:45 & 47, Paul contrasts the first Adam with the last Adam.
45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.
There are only two representatives of the human race – one represents us in our sin, guilt and rebellion against God, “For since by man came death” (15:21a). In the first Adam all are lost, all sin and all die. But Jesus does not belong to the first Adam. He is one of us – born of woman. But as the last Adam, Christ is the head of God's new humanity. United to him we have resurrection life and glory,
by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (15:21b,& 22).
The last Adam is the “second man” vs. 47. Adam was the first perfect man, made of dust. The second man is the Lord from heaven. He is the last Adam – there can be no more representatives of the human race. Jesus, as the second man is the pattern for all redeemed humanity. We shall be made like him,
And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. (15:49)
3. Only a true God-Man could save human beings from sin.
The virginal conception of Christ reassures us that our Saviour can act as the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He is fully God and fully man, able to represent both parties. Man has sinned against God, the man Christ Jesus has borne our sins and the punishment that we deserve. He is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh (Ephesians 5:30).
Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17.)
III. Practical Value
1. We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses
Hebrews 4:14&15. The exalted, virgin-born Son of God knows the lot of human beings in a fallen world. He has been there. This hymn expresses it perfectly.
There is a Man, a real Man
'Tis no wild fancy of our minds,
This wondrous Man of whom we tell
That human heart He still retains,
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16.)
2. The incarnated Christ is the pattern for an authentic, holy human life.
We are to live as new men, united to the last Adam. Colossians 3:9 & 10. His mindset is to be our mindset Philippians 2:5-11. We have been called to follow his example 1 Peter 2:21-25.
3. The incarnation of Christ is affirmation of the goodness of creation and a pledge to redeem it.
When God became man, he reaffirmed the value of humanity. God became man! This has ethical implications for our modern world. How can we believe in the virginal conception of Christ and abortion or embryo experimentation? How can we confess that the Word became flesh and treat other human beings, made in God’s image with contempt?
Christians belong to God’s new humanity – 2 Corinthians 5:17. The Spirit that created Jesus’ perfect human nature from the substance of the virgin, dwells in us. He will create for us perfect human bodies like our Lord’s glorious body (Romans 8:11.)
The enfleshment of the Word in the womb of Mary was the first stage of the redemption of the physical universe. (Romans 8:19-23.)
In the new creation we will fully understand Matthew 1:23,
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
Revelation 21:3 & 4
3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”