Why the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ is Important
Dr. Kevin Shrum
I am often asked, ‘What is the connection between the virgin birth and the birth of Jesus Christ? Why was the virgin birth the means by which God invaded the world and not another? What does it mean? Does it have any significance for us today? And does it really have any significance for God’s plan of salvation?’ The summary answer is that the virgin birth of Jesus Christ is important to God’s plan of salvation – but why?
The constant questioning of this miracle is connected to the protests against affirming the truth of the virgin birth. Critics have charged that the virgin birth is a mythical concept borrowed from ancient mystery-religions that predate Christianity; it is a borrowed concept that is not really true but that illustrates the birth of a deity. The problem with this argument is that Jesus’ divine nature does not depend on the virgin birth; it was simply a unique way to introduce God into history.
Others have noted that the texts in Isaiah (7:14; 9:6) that prophesied of this event refer not to a virgin but to a young maiden. The implication is that the ‘virgin birth’ was a literary technique/device used by the biblical writers to note that something special was taking place, but with the assumption that Mary would be impregnated the ‘normal way.’ Of course, this was a surprise to Mary who herself asked the angel Gabriel, “How will this be (to conceive a child), since I am a virgin?” (Lk. 1:34) Some have even gone so far as to assert that Jesus was the illegitimate child of a Roman solider who violated Mary and that the ‘virgin birth’ concept simply covered up this travesty. Even some within the ‘believing community simply ignore the virgin birth asserting that it has no real significance.
For us moderns, the virgin birth is difficult to understand because, as one gentleman said to me, ‘I think it was impossible for Mary and Joseph to control themselves; there’s no way they would stay pure until Jesus was born.’ It seems to me that this is a case of projecting 21st century morals onto 1st century people.
Let me give four reasons as to why the virgin birth is important.
First, the virgin birth affirms the unique nature of Jesus as the God-Man. The virgin birth gives clarification to the great doctrine of the dual nature of Jesus Christ – He was both God and Man fully and simultaneously in the incarnation. With an earthly mother and a heavenly Father (Lk. 1:35-38), the unique birth of Jesus fulfilled every prophesy concerning the coming of the Messiah (Mt. 1:22) – that he alone would be God and at the same time man and that God had come to rescue His people from their sins by doing so in human likeness (Phil 2:5-11) so that he could identify with them in every facet of life and temptation (Heb. 2), yet remain the perfect sacrifice for sin (2 Cor. 5:21). This is why Jesus was given two names at his birth – Jesus and Immanuel (Mt. 1:21-25). The one referring to his human connection to the deliverer Joshua and the other describing exactly Who it was that had come to deliver us – God himself.
Second, the virgin birth affirms that the One who has come to save sinners is holy. In fact, Luke 1:35 reminds us of the angel’s response to Mary’s inquiry as to how she would become pregnant having been with no man, “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.” Wow! The term ‘holy’ refers not only to the ‘other nature’ of Jesus Christ – he is God – but to the purity of his coming. Though scandalous to the outsider and uninformed, there is no taint of impurity with Joseph or Mary. Joseph was tender and pure toward Mary until after Jesus’ birth (Mt. 1:25) when they produced more children the natural way (Mt. 12:46; 13:53-56). Further, Mary’s purity of heart is exhibited in her Magnificat – song of praise (Lk. 1:46-56). While Catholics may reach too far in asserting Mary’s ‘Immaculate Conception’ as sinless woman, along with Jesus’ own sinless perfection, we can squarely affirm that Mary and Joseph were holy – set apart vessels – for the coming of a holy, sinless, and perfect God. The virgin birth places the emphasis on the Holiness of God and the purity of his coming.
Third, the virgin birth not only affirms Who it is that came to save us, but that God alone did it. The term and title ‘Immanuel’ is astonishing (Mt. 1:23). The virgin birth reminds us that it is not just another Judge, King, or prophet who has come to fulfill God’s redemptive plan – it is none other than God himself who has come. No other Judge was born this way; no other King was manifested in this way; no other prophet appeared on the scene of history in this manner. God did not send someone else to do his redemptive business – He came himself through a virgin. The virgin birth reminds us that God did it. This is why in Luke 1:37 the angel Gabriel told the stunned and surprised Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” The virgin birth of Jesus Christ has the fingerprints of God all over it. Who else would save sinners this way but God?
Fourth and finally, the virgin birth affirms Luke 1:37 – that God makes the impossible possible by connecting promise and fulfillment. This verse reads this way. The angel told Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” This is a direct quote from Genesis 18:14. Do you recall the scene? God had called Abraham and Sarah to be the progenitors of a new people, yet they were old and barren. But, God supernaturally enabled Abraham and Sarah to have a child naturally. In doing so, God fulfilled his promise of a child who would be the down-payment in a redemptive plan that would culminate in the birth of Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus Christ is often referred to as the Son of God, the God and Father of our Lord and Savior, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The power of God to make the impossible possible was also fulfilled in Zechariah and Elizabeth (Lk. 1:5-25). They, too, were old and barren, yet God gave them a child, John the Baptist. Like Isaac, John the Baptist was a naturally produced child enabled by the supernatural work of God so that God alone would get the credit (Lk. 1:64). The virgin birth of Jesus was the summa of God’s miraculous work – God came to earth in a supernatural way (Mt. 1:23) – “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” What is most important about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ is that it reminds us that God did what seemed impossible – he came among us, fulfilling his promise to save sinners, making unholy things holy. This is the importance of the virgin birth.