The Virgin Birth, Part 1
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Luke 1:31
The Virgin Birth, Part 1
March 15, 2015
Turn in your Bibles to Luke chapter 1. We’re returning to our study of Luke’s Gospel this morning, and I know some of you are thinking something like this: Are we ever going to get out of chapter 1, all right? I hear you, believe me. This chapter is 80 verses long, okay? If we were in one of the epistles, I’d definitely be in chapter 2. So, think about it that way. Eighty verses—that’s like three or four chapters in normal Bible terms. So, just give me a little bit of a pass as we try to work this long, long chapter. This Gospel of Luke is just a wonderfully rich, very profound book of Holy Scripture. I have to admit to you that I am finding it tremendously challenging to keep each message to you simple, concise, and straightforward because what I’m discovering in my study is anything but straightforward and simple. I mean, God’s Word has no problems with it; understand it’s my own understanding and what I discover is that I unpack everything. The text is concise, for sure, it’s clear, but it’s a bit deceptive because once you start taking a more careful look and digging down into it, you find such layered complexity. There are Old Testament allusions here, Old Testament prophecy, redemptive themes, Gospel themes, Christological themes, eschatological promises. All of that is forcing the interpreter to take on the study of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation—the whole counsel of God. And I’m telling you, it’s stretching me. Very, very challenging. I guess we should’ve expected that it wouldn’t be easy. Any Gospel writer who begins his Gospel like Luke did, with the Word, that should tell us something. It should tell us we’re in for a ride.
So, all that to say, settle in folks, all right? Buckle up and put the crash helmet on because we’re going to ride it out. Okay, our goal, as we said from the very beginning in the study of Luke and then later on—I guess much later on—the study of the Book of Acts, our goal is to go back to the original sources, to rediscover true Christianity in what has become very confusing times, not just in the whole world, but in the church as well. And that’s not going to happen without effort, without some serious study, but we know since God honors the proclamation of His Word that He will bless us for putting forth the effort to proclaim this truth and to listen as He tells His own story.
One of the things we share in common with the first century is that they also lived in some very dark and confusing times. They had, to be sure, the light of the Old Testament revelation, but all of that had been shrouded by the sin and greed of mankind, just like it is in our day. But the dawn had started to break, as we’re seeing here in Luke Chapter 1. First with Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah, now with Gabriel’s visit to Mary. Miraculous things were starting to happen. Elizabeth had conceived in her old age. Now, she’s in the sixth month of pregnancy here in our text. Mary would also conceive in a most miraculous way, but without involving a man. Now when I say that today, people immediately think of this ethically dubious procedure called artificial insemination, where women can be impregnated outside of marriage without a relationship to a man. Women who want a baby without the man involved still require a man’s seed. They still have to depend on a man to get what they want. In Mary’s case, though, she was in a right relationship with a man, betrothed, looking forward to the consummation of her marriage. She looked forward to motherhood, to building a family with her husband, Joseph, but God intervened. God stepped in and interrupted what would be a normal process. Before she and Joseph could consummate their marriage, by God’s sovereign intervention a baby was conceived in her womb, completely independent of a man. As God promised Satan in the Garden of Eden, he said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, but you shall bruise his heel,” obviously pointing to the crucifixion (Genesis 3:15). But the man’s seed here is not involved in that promise. Why is that?
If you go back to Genesis Chapter 3, when Satan visited that first human pair, he chose to tempt the more vulnerable one of the two, didn’t he? The woman had been created after the man. So, she wasn’t alive when God had spoken to Adam about the tree. When she came on the scene, God had already taken Adam on a tour of the garden, shown him his environment, shown him the world that he lived in. God gave Adam his work assignments, taught him that he may eat all things freely except for the fruit of one tree. And then he commanded him against eating that fruit, saying, "In the day you eat of it, you shall surely die." God had Adam name all the animals, and you understand that God was demonstrating Adam’s need for a helpmate suitable for him. So, he had him name all the animals, showing him his need. Again, God discipled Adam on the very first day. And then after all of that, God created Eve, brought her to the man, and "Adam named her woman, for she was taken out of man." Eve came into existence after Adam because God intended Adam to teach and to lead his wife. That meant that Eve was in a position by decree, by design, by created order, to trust Adam. Adam had heard the word of God directly from God. Eve had heard all of this about God through Adam. So, when Satan came to tempt one of the two to drive a wedge between the human race and God their creator, whom do you think he found more vulnerable? Eve was easier to entice, and she, being deceived, fell into transgression. Adam failed to lead her, he failed to step in and intervene, and he with her fell into transgression. He followed her into transgression, and thus he plunged the entire human race into transgression because he was the representative head of the whole human race.
So, when God cursed this guilty trio—Satan, Eve and then Adam—God cursed the serpent first. In that curse, Genesis 3:15, comes the first promise of the Gospel: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise his head, you shall bruise his heel.” God promised Satan on that day that his demise would come through the weaker one, the more vulnerable one—the woman. His downfall would come through the one he attacked. The one that Satan judged to be weaker. And it would be through her seed, that is, apart from the seed of a man, that God would redeem his people and crush Satan’s head. And this cosmic war—God crushing Satan and the demonic rebellion, punishing them for deceiving the human race—all of that has come to this quiet little town called Nazareth, to a simple teenage girl named Mary. Follow along as I read the account starting in verse 26.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 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, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be since I am a virgin?’ 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.”
You can stop there. We are in our third main point of our outline in this section. You can find that larger outline in your bulletin. We’ve already considered the first point; "an unlikely situation" is what we called it. We also considered the second point; we called it "a puzzling introduction." Today, we’re on to the third point, "an amazing annunciation." "An amazing annunciation," an announcement. And our focus here this morning is on the context of Gabriel’s announcement to Mary there in verses 31 to 33. And listen, that simple announcement along with the additional information that comes in verse 35, that announcement contains an embryonic form of nothing less than the Gospel. Those verses are the foundation of everything that follows. They identify everything that the New Testament unpacked about the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is the kernel here; this is the seed, and it contains the complete DNA of an accurate and complete Christology. Everything that follows in the Gospels, in Acts, all of the epistles of the New Testament—all that follows is simply an elaboration, an unpacking of this simple, unambiguous, and incredibly concise announcement to Mary. Now listen, don’t make the mistake that just because those verses are simple and concise that there is not much there. There’s a lot there. As I said, verses 31 to 33 along with verse 35 are profound, complex statements of Gospel truth.
So, as I introduce this section, if you’ll indulge me for just a few minutes, I want to expose you to a few things. First, I want to expose you to what is contained in the statement, just by way of introduction. Secondly, I want to expose you to some of the attacks that have been made in Church history against that statement. I’ll be very brief. And then thirdly, I want to give you a document that the church used to respond to those attacks that’s based on this statement, that flows out of this statement, okay?
So just quickly, first, let’s see what’s contained in the statement. Just follow along in your Bible there in verse 31. It says, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son.” Now, not only is that a fulfillment of the Gospel that’s contained in Genesis 3:15; it’s an affirmation of the full humanity of Jesus. We’ll get into that in a second. “And you shall call his name Jesus”; the next phrase there points to Jesus’ work of redemption. It would require his substitutionary sacrifice, his atoning sacrifice for sin. "You shall call his name Jesus." It says then, “He will be great and he will be called the son of the Most High.” Now that’s not only an affirmation of His full deity, it also points to the universality of His rule. It’s that too, "Most High" God. “And the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David.” That is nothing less than saying that Jesus is the promised Messiah—the Messiah restoring Israel, fulfilling promises God made starting back in 2 Samuel 7, promises God made to David. It says, “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.” That verse has huge redemptive and eschatological or end times implications. That means that as Messiah, Jesus is not only the one who will sit on the throne of David during the millennial kingdom, a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on this earth ruling from David’s throne in Jerusalem, ruling over restored Israel, blessing the entire earth, bringing justice and peace on the entire earth. But he’s also the one who will reign forever, as it says there, in an eternal kingdom. Ruling forever. He is truly King of kings and Lord of lords. That’s here. And you know what that means? That means that Jesus is an eternal person. How will He personally reign eternally if He Himself is not eternal?
Yes, we see that He’s fully human, but He is also fully divine. In order for this eternal person to reign forever, since He’ll have died an atoning death to save His people from their sins, remember, “You shall call his name Jesus.” That means He must first rise from the dead. So, the doctrine of resurrection is implicit in the text as well. If you go to verse 35 and add Gabriel’s clarification to Mary there, all of that reinforces the truth of Jesus’ virgin birth, his sinless nature, his full deity, his position within the trinity. See I told you. There’s a lot there. This is an amazing annunciation. Just incredible.
And don’t forget this point: It doesn’t trouble God one bit to deliver the most important news the world has ever heard, the most profound prophecy-fulfilling message, to a 13-year-old girl from Nazareth of Galilee. He puts it in her hands. In fact, it’s precisely because of the relative weakness of the human vessel that all human boasting is removed, focusing all attention on the power and glory of God.
Now, because the truth about the nature of Jesus Christ, the truth about His person in His work contained in those verses, revealed in greater detail throughout the New Testamen—because those truths are so important, so vital to the salvation of sinners—it’s no wonder they’ve been under constant attack throughout Church history. From the very beginning all the way up to last year’s issue of Newsweek magazine, they’re always attacking these central truths. Satan has tried to confuse people throughout the centuries by infiltrating the Church with his heretics who teach doctrines completely contrary to these clear, simple truths. The Devil wants people to be completely confused about Jesus, and he generally disguises his attacks in the cloak of honoring Jesus. Lifting Him up pretending to honor Christ, he pretends to be more precise, more faithful after an investigation of true truth. All the while, he’s undermining Him. But all the heresies throughout Church history forced to reckon with Jesus’ origins. They have to start here with His birth. And what seems like a simple story of Jesus’ birth—don’t be fooled by the tranquil nativity scene at the little town of Bethlehem—this is a bloody theological battlefield.
One of the earliest Christological heresies, popular among the Jews, was called Ebionism. The Ebionites said that Jesus was just a man who was born of the union of Joseph and Mary. So what they imply there is Joseph and Mary, during their betrothal period, violated the terms of that betrothal, which makes them adulterers, makes them sinful, or fornicating, or whatever. So, that’s what they say. But this man who came from that union, Jesus, was really coming as a prophet, to fulfill Moses’ prophesies. The Ebionites believed Jesus received the status of Messiah at his baptism, but his birth was a normal birth. He was a special man, but just a man.
Closely related to that heresy is a heresy called Adoptionism. And again, teaching that Jesus was an ordinary man born of Mary and Joseph. Again, the same implication about the cloudy beginnings. But for the Adoptionists, God adopted Jesus to become the son of God at his baptism, and then the Spirit of Christ descended upon Jesus then, and then left him at his crucifixion. Like, "Thanks a lot. I mean, leave me on the cross here; I could really use the Spirit of Christ." Now, that is a false teaching as well.
Both the Ebionite, the Adoptionist heresies contradict Luke 1:35 clearly, and that is the very text used by the Early Church father Irenaeus to refute the Ebionite heresy. In that verse, as you read there, “The angel answered Mary saying, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you.’” "This is how your pregnancy is going to come about. This is how your conception is going to come about." “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will over shadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” That is no normal conception brought about the union of Joseph and Mary. That is nothing less than a miraculous conception by divine power.
The Early Church responded to the challenges of the Ebionites and the Adoptionists, and they succeeded. But heresies don’t stay buried forever. They emerge from their grave to roam the earth as some other vile thing. Satan spawned another heretic named Arius, who again denied the deity of Christ. Arianism taught that Christ was a created being, but he was the first created being—again, trying to honor Him. They affirmed He was preeminent over all the earth using the language of Colossians Chapter 1, but they said it because God first created Him then used Him to create the entire universe, but Jesus was not God. So, Sabellianism that came centuries later, right on the heels of the Reformation, teaching an updated version of the early Ebionite and Arian heresies. Today’s Jehovah’s Witnesses have picked up the same baton, run with it, carried it a little further, but it’s basically the same stuff repeated over and over and over.
The Early Church heresies didn’t just attack Christ’s divinity; they also attacked His humanity. It started from the very beginning, the first of these heresies was called Docetism. It’s from the Greek word, dokeo, which means "to seem." And they said Jesus was a divine person, divine being and He only seemed to be human. He was really pure divinity, unmixed with humanity. That was a heresy rooted in Greek philosophy, in Neo-Platonism, in which the spiritual and the physical should never mix. After all, how could the spiritual, the divine which is pure, how could that join together in one person with the material, the human, the evil? So, to the Docetists, the Biblical teaching of the incarnation was an utter abomination. They tried to redefine it.
Now, whenever Christians confront heretical teaching, how do they do it? Back to the Bible, right? Back to the Book. That’s exactly what the early Christians did. And over the first few centuries of the Christian Church, they encountered enough of these heresies that troubled a large number of Christians that the bishops—the leaders, the overseers of the churches—came together to deal with heresies in what are called the Great Ecumenical Councils of the Church. These were not interfaith dialogues, which is what ecumenical meetings are today. These were heresy trials. They were grounded in theological debate, the serious study of the Scripture. And to be sure, not everyone who attended these ecumenical meetings had righteous motives. For some, it was a political maneuvering. Some were heretics who disguised themselves as true shepherds, trying to mix in, and who put forth Arianism or whatever their heresies were. But many of the bishops were interested in protecting the flock from error. Many of the bishops were interested in purifying the Church from heresy, focusing on the truth.
One particular council, the Fourth Ecumenical Council, was held in AD 451 at a city called Chalcedon in modern-day Turkey. The bishops came together to produce one of the most definitive statements on the nature of Christ. It was called The Chalcedon Definition or the Chalcedonian Creed, and this is one of the most precious gifts that the Church has ever received. It distills the teaching of the New Testament on the nature of Christ into a single statement, one long paragraph. It affirms the Biblical teaching that Christ has two natures, fully human, fully divine, but unified perfectly in one person. Here’s how it reads,
“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [that is to say rational], soul and body; consubstantial [that is to say co-essential, having the same essence], with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, the only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”
As you can hear for yourself, much of that language was adopted from and developed out of what the Bible says starting right here in our text. The rest of the New Testament elaborates it, but it’s all right here, isn’t it? Everything. Now, when you go home today and your neighbor asks you what you were doing in church today, you tell him you were examining the continuity between a fifth-century Christian Creed and a divinely inspired document, and considering the implications for the eternal destiny for all mankind. All right? Then while he’s sitting there processing that, kind of stunned, with that deer-in-the-headlights look, open your copy of the divinely inspired first century document and teach him the Gospel, introduce him to Jesus Christ. Try it. It will stun him, it’ll work.
But I just want to take a few minutes here at the very beginning to show you how much is here and how important it is for clarifying the truths we often take for granted. We read over that in a few seconds. But we fail to see the depth of everything that God has put there. “All the arguments against the truth of Christ, every lofty opinion and speculations raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5) are crushed by the weight of this one simple text, spoken before the conception of Christ to a humble virgin girl, this teenager from Nazareth.
Now, with the time we have remaining, let’s start unpacking Gabriel’s announcement that foretells the nature and career of our Lord Jesus Christ. These verses describe Jesus as fully human, human divine and fully sovereign. Those are going to be the outline points today, and what I want you to get out of this study is really a greater appreciation of what God did to secure your salvation. We’re celebrating communion today, so I want to give you some thoughts to stir your worship of God, your love for Him, your appreciation of Christ as you partake of the bread and the cup.
Now let me restate that outline for verses 31 to 33, and just to put you at ease, I’m not going to make it all the way through those verses. We’re going to cover one verse, verse 31. But here’s the outline: number one, "real pregnancy equals"—and you can use an equals sign, I did in my notes—"real pregnancy equals full humanity." Real pregnancy equals full humanity," that’s verse 31. Point number two, "unqualified greatness equals full divinity," "unqualified greatness equals full divinity," that’s the first part of verse 32. Third point, "divine purpose equals full sovereignty," "divine purpose equals full sovereignty, and that’s the end of verse 32 through 33. "Real pregnancy equals full humanity," "unqualified greatness equals full divinity," and "divine purpose equals full sovereignty."
Now look again at the text, starting in verse 30—we’ll get to that first point. "Real pregnancy equals full humanity." Let me start in verse 30, “The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.’” If Mary was familiar with her Bible, and I firmly believe she was as I’ll show you later on, that language would not be entirely surprising. Back in Genesis 16:11, the angel of the Lord said to Hagar, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son, and you shall call his name Ishmael.” You scroll forward to Judges 13:3, the announcement of Samson’s birth to his parents. It says in verse 2, “There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children"—kind of reminds you of Zechariah and Elizabeth, right? “And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, ‘Behold, you are barren and have not born children, but you shall conceive and bear a son.’” The birth of each of those sons, as you can see, was also preceded by an angelic announcement using very similar language that we have here in our text, but in each case, the conception came about in the normal human way. Man plus wife equals conception and childbirth, right? A similar announcement had come to Zechariah; we already studied that in Luke 1:13: “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you shall call his name John.” Very similar. That conception was extraordinary because of their age; it also came about in the normal human way: man plus wife equals conception.
Now Gabriel has just told Mary she’s going to be pregnant, and on the surface there’s nothing here about the virgin birth—not in this verse, not explicitly. Nothing about a time frame, nothing about the manner in which it would come about, just "You’ll conceive, bear a son and name him Jesus." Since she was betrothed to Joseph, she would have looked forward to having children, to raising a family like every young girl. And this announcement at the very minimum is guaranteeing that for her, she’d conceive. A baby would grow and develop in her womb, and she would give birth to a son. That’s at the very least, a strong affirmation of Jesus’ humanity, isn’t it? I realize we still need to see that fleshed out through Jesus’ life. We do need to see his real, normal, flesh-and-blood humanity portrayed through the Gospel accounts, and that’s exactly what we see. Luke tells us Jesus grew and developed like a normal human boy. Luke 2:40 says, “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.” Also like a normal boy, He got distracted. He got separated from His family when they went to Jerusalem, and He was left behind in Jerusalem. When they returned to find Him, they confronted Him in their worry, and Luke tells us, “He went down with them, came to Nazareth and was submissive to them […] And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” You see there that He is in obedience to His parents. He’s underneath their authority. He doesn’t supersede their authority. He lives underneath it, like any normal human boy and girl should be expected to do in their family, right?
But it also says he "increased." He "grew in wisdom and in stature," so he grew up. He actually filled in, he went through puberty and had to mature, his voice cracked and changed,—all the stuff that I’ve watched my teenage boys go through. Before entering into public ministry, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil for 40 days. It says in Luke 4, verse 2, “He ate nothing during those days and when they were ended, he was hungry,” He was hungry. The Gospels record Jesus being tired, weary, needing rest, hungry—very human needs, right? The fact that he was tempted, the fact that he was tested by the Devil means that he was fully human in every way. The writer of Hebrews points out that the temptation Jesus endured helps us to understand His sympathy toward us as human beings. “For we do not have a high priest who’s unable to sympathize without weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
Jesus put a great emphasis throughout His ministry on prayer. Luke is one of the Gospels that highlights that the most. He taught us to pray. He encouraged us to pray at all times and not lose heart. Why? Did He understand the temptation to lose heart in prayer? He prayed to His heavenly Father, depending constantly on God in prayer. That is a very human need, a very real human need, isn’t it? To depend on God in prayer, to look to someone more powerful than yourself to help you. So look, the humanity of Jesus is one of the clear and unmistakable teachings that are found right here in this verse. Mary would experience a normal human pregnancy in her womb, the growth and development of a normal human boy— nothing magical about the growth, the development, the birth, all of that.
You say, "Wait a minute. Hold on just a second, if Jesus didn’t have sin, then he wasn’t normal. After all, to err is human, isn’t it?" Not true, not true at all. Adam and Eve were created without sin, weren’t they? Prior to the fall, they lived without sin. Perfect communion with God, perfect harmony between each other. Listen, just because sin is normal to us, doesn’t mean sin is part and parcel of normal humanity. Sin is an intruder into normal humanity, making us abnormal. You guys don’t realize it, but you are all abnormal. Amen. Sin is what distorts, perverts—it’s what destroys normal humanity. You want to know what normal humanity really looks like? Study Jesus Christ. Study Jesus Christ because that’s what all of us who believe the Gospel will be like in heaven, sinless like Jesus for all of eternity. Paul tells us He is the first fruits of all who will be raised from the dead, just like he was—1 Corinthians 15:20 and 23. No sin—that’s normal humanity. Sinful humanity is abnormal even if sinners are currently in the majority.
So, here’s a question for you: If Gabriel’s announcement is simply about Mary becoming pregnant sometime in the future, and she could reasonably expect that to happen at some point with Joseph, why does she ask that question in verse 34? Notice what it says there, “Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be since I am a virgin?’” And then Gabriel, you see, proceeds to proclaim to her the reality of the virgin birth. Gabriel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you”—this is how it’s going to happen. “The power of the Most High will overshadow you”—that’s how this is going to come about. That’s why the child’s going to be called holy—the Son of God. So if she didn’t expect a virgin birth, well, what prompted her to ask about it? and particularly to emphasize and state her own virginity? You see the problem? Well, this is one of the reasons that I strongly believe that this young girl knew her Bible well. She’s a believer. She trusts every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, and here’s what you need to see. Mary recognized something very familiar about Gabriel’s announcement.
What Gabriel said there in verse 31 is almost a word-for-word restatement of Isaiah 7:14, the prophecy of a virgin birth. Do this, just look at your Bible there in Luke, verse 31 and follow along as I read to you Isaiah 7:14. Okay, you’ve got your text there, Luke 1:31; read it, and I’m going to read Isaiah 7:14 and see how similar they are: “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name, Emanuel.” Notice how that’s virtually parallel to Luke 1:31—just two changes there. Instead of the virgin, Gabriel says, "You," referring unmistakably to Mary because there are only two of them there in the house. "You." And the number two change, instead of "Emanuel," Gabriel says to call his name "Jesus." So, Mary here is the virgin that’s prophesied about in Isaiah 14. Now that’s a lot for a young girl to swallow. And her son, Jesus, whose name is "Emanuel, which means 'God with us,'"—amazing! From what we can see in the context, from what we know in the rest of Scripture, Jesus is in every sense God with us. He’s not misnamed here. He characterizes, he embodies God with us. As Jesus told his disciples on the night he was betrayed—John 14:7 through 9, “'If you had known me, you would’ve known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’ And Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father and it’s enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father.’” Jesus truly is Emanuel, God with us. But, when He comes into the world, He is to be called, Jesus. And we’ll come back to that in a moment.
So, Mary recognized herself here in this clear allusion to the prophecy of Isaiah. And that is why she asked, "How will this be, how is this going to happen because I am a virgin?" She proclaims her innocence here. Sharp girl, don’t you think? Let’s ask another question here. What’s the significance of Isaiah 7:14 being fulfilled in Mary? Why emphasize that connection here? Well, I don’t want to get too detailed, but let’s look back. I’d like you to turn back to Isaiah Chapter 7 at this point because I want to show you the context of Isaiah’s prophecy, just to show what’s going on, just quickly—you’re going to like this. Immediately after Isaiah’s call and commission in Isaiah Chapter 6, remember Isaiah before the throne of God and "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is filled with his glory," and Isaiah is undone before the vision of God and his throne. Yet the angel comes and Isaiah says, "I’m a man of unclean lips, I live among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of Hosts," and the seraph comes and touches his lips—and he’s so concerned about it—with flaming coals and it cauterizes his lips. You can imagine; it’s a sensitive part of the body being touched by something so hot it purged him. It’s a figure of purging him of his sin.
And so, when God says, "Whom shall I send, who will go for us," he says, "Here am I, send me." And where did God send him but to the royal court of Judah. He thrusts him right in there in the service, in his service to the royal court of Judah. King Ahaz is on the throne of Judah. Not a good man. He’s on the throne of Judah, the southern kingdom. Pekah is ruling over Israel, the northern kingdom. You remember the northern ten tribes immediately went under apostasy under King Jeroboam and never parted from their apostasy. And so the northern kingdom, the southern kingdom, they don’t get along at all. The two kings don’t get along. Pekah has teamed up with Resin, king of Aram to conquer to Judah, and Ahaz here is scared. And what typically happened when the kings of Israel and Judah got scared? Well, they’d humble themselves before God, lead the entire kingdom in fasting and prayer, trusting in the strong arm of God to save them. Is that what happened? No. You’ve read your Bibles; you know that’s not true. The kings would always forsake God and instead rely on foreign powers, foreign armies, human strength to save their kingdom and preserve their own rule.
Well, that’s exactly where we enter the narrative. Follow along as I read it and read from Isaiah 7:1 to 9.
“In the days of Ahaz son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. [So, they’re waiting on the outskirts, right?] When the house of David was told, ‘Syria is in league with Ephraim,’ the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind. And the Lord said to Isaiah, ‘Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. And say to him, “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. Because Syria with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying, ‘Let us go up and against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,’ thus says the Lord God, ‘It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. And within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered from being a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son Remaliah. If you are not firm in the faith, you will not be firm at all.’”
Oh what a great motto! "If you’re not firm in faith, you’ll not be firm at all." People, memorize that, live by that. That one lesson—if Israel would live by that one lesson, God would be with them forever. That is the singular issue that explains all sin and all consequences of sin. If you don’t stand by faith, you won’t stand at all. Let’s continue reading.
“Again, the Lord spoke to Ahaz [verse 10 and then verse 11], “ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, I will not put the Lord to the test.”
Pause there for a minute. Just a friendly piece of advice: If God tells you to ask you for a sign, do what He says, all right? Don’t be fooled by Ahaz’s reply here, "I will not ask, I will not test the Lord." That is not humility. That is the very essence of putting God to the test. Don’t try the Lord’s patience with your obstinacy, with your passive rebellion. Do what he says. So, God says to the prophet in verse 13, “Hear, then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” Stop there.
There’s a change in the grammar, so that those who understand or can read or can listen to the original Hebrew would notice. We don’t notice it in our English Bibles as much, but up to this point the pronouns God has used in speaking to Ahaz are in the second person singular, "you," "your," speaking to Ahaz. But in verses 13 to 14, God addresses, as he says there, the whole house of David. And the pronouns change from the second person singular to the second person plural. If we lived in the South, it would come across in English as "y’all." Very accurate. I think that’s why they call it the Bible belt because they’re so accurate with the Bible. But here’s how it reads—Isaiah said, “Hear, then, O house of David”; he’s moved beyond Ahaz here. He says, “Is it too little for you [plural] to weary men that you [plural] weary my God also? Therefore, the Lord himself will give you [plural] a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” The sign—the virgin birth—is for the whole house of David, not Ahaz in particular.
Go ahead and turn back to Luke Chapter 1, okay? It’s for the whole house of David, not just Ahaz. Ahaz passed by the opportunity, and so God gave him a sign. The sign of the virgin birth was to be filled in the future, far in the future from Ahaz’s perspective, about 700 years after Ahaz’s death. So the rest of the context in Isaiah Chapter 7 and 8 is about Ahaz’s current situation. These two smoldering firebrands were soon to be invaded, destroyed, exiled by the Assyrians. Nothing for Ahaz to worry about, just trust God. "Just trust God," Ahaz. That’s really what the sign of the virgin birth was meant to signify for the whole house of David, trust God. God doesn’t need mighty armies to accomplish His will. God doesn’t need human strength, ingenuity, money, influence, power—none of it. God shows Himself the strongest is when He uses the weakest. When God shows Himself the most mighty and powerful, He uses the most unlikely, the frailest of human vessels, like a young virgin girl. That’s why Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “We have this treasure of the Gospel in jars of clay.” That’s us. Privy pots is really what he’s talking about there. We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God, not to us.
And before we move on from verse 31, notice one more thing. “You shall call his name Jesus.” Why not call him Emmanuel, in keeping with Isaiah 7:14? What is significant about Jesus? Well in one sense, "Jesus" was a very common name in Israel, but yet the proper name "Jesus" is really from the Latin translation of the Greek. The Latin is based on the Greek. The Greek’s based on the Hebrew. The Hebrew is actually the name "Joshua, a very common name in Israel. G. Campbell Morgan, pastor of Westminster Chapel in London just before Martin Lloyd-Jones came into the pulpit, made a very poignant observation about the connection between Jesus and Joshua. Here’s what he said, “The man who first bore that name was the successor of Moses. Where did he get his name? That’s not what his father called him. That is not the name his mother gave him. He was born in Egypt, in slavery, and when the baby came and was preserved, they gave him a name, Hoshea, Salvation. It was a sob and a sigh of people in slavery, and yet it was a song of hope. And so in it, there merged minor and major notes. He grew up, he became Moses’ right hand man, and when the hour came when Moses knew he was to take up his work and carry it on, Moses changed his name. He took part of the divine title, Jehovah, and parts of the boy’s name, parts of Jehovah and Hoshea and put them together and made a new name for him, Jehoshua. Jehovah Salvation.”
That’s helpful, very helpful because through that comment, through those paragraphs, we can see the heavenly view of Jesus. We see the divine plan. Jesus is Jehovah Saves. Jehoshua. He’s the Redeemer who rescues His people from slavery and then delivers them into the Promise Land. Remember, Joshua accompanied Moses bringing Israel up out of Egypt. And then he succeeded Moses, took over from there leading Israel into the Promise Land. Joshua passed through the Exodus and then he brought the people to their home. Jesus, like Jehoshua before him, accomplishes the greater redemptive work. He rescues his people—that’s us—out of spiritual slavery. We as sinners, slaves to sin, to Satan, to death—He rescues us, sets us free. Then He delivers us safely into our heavenly eternal rest. You didn’t know all that was in one verse did you? Neither did I. But those are truths about our Lord and Savior, worth celebrating together as we come to the Lord’s table.
Will you bow with me? Heavenly Father, Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we thank You for helping us to understand the significance of the truths that are in Your Word today. We thank You for the power and the strength to understand, to learn. We are so grateful to You for Your goodness to us in salvation—in giving us the redeemer, Jesus, who saves us from the wrath to come. We love You, we give You thanks. We ask that even as we approach the Lord’s table this morning, that You would help us to purify our hearts before You, that we would have a clear conciseness in worshiping You, free from sin, any known sin. Help us worship You in spirit and truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.