The Good News of the Virgin Birth

The gospels of Matthew (1:18-25) and Luke (1:26-38) make no apology for mentioning that Jesus was born of a virgin (to be sure John emphasizes it as well in John 3:16,”only begotten son” and Mark goes out of his way stylistically to leave it open). Indeed Luke, whose primary source for his birth narrative was most likely Mary herself (Luke 2:19), records Mary asking the angel Gabriel about how this birth announcement will come to pass, since she is a virgin (Luke 1:34).

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Yet many who read these accounts, struggle to grasp how this could be. Modern science has enlightened our thinking and we know that virgins don’t get pregnantahem, well actually modern science has proven it is possible for a virgin TO get pregnant. In fact Mary’s claim to a virgin birth would be more readily believed today than in her own time. Modern sex ed warns young girls, that while very rare, it is possible to get pregnant without loosing your virginity, all it takes is a little highly motivated sperm in the right place at the right time (indeed whole industries have been established around procreation outside of sexual intercourse…. sperm banks, IVF, etc.)

You see, “I’m a virgin, I’m pregnant… and Joseph is the dad” would be palatable given our modern understanding of biology and how things CAN occur. Mary would be the poster child for sex-ed. It’s the claim that GOD is the father that confounds everyone.

This claim is so amazing that many are quick to dismiss it as a legend. After all history is full of “virgin birth’s” associated with the gods right?

Maybe that is good enough for the bar stool or the comment section of a blog somewhere, but let’s adjust our language to be a bit more honest. History is full of “mythical birth legends.” In other words there are several great men throughout history (or mythical men of legend) who have been assigned some sort of deity after their death by claiming that their birth was “special” in some way. It was said of Cesar and it was said of Buddha, to name a few. But in each of those scenarios it could hardly be said that their mother was a “virgin” after conception. They would NOT be considered “virgin births.” So Christianity really does have a unique claim here. 

It is very difficult to really believe in those other miraculous births because it is obvious that they are myths.  Many were written hundreds of years after the birth they are supposed to be recording. Or they were living in a society that almost always ascribed godhood to its king or emperor.

Since most ancient religious history is like this, I see how it would be easy to think the books of the bible and Christianity are the same way, but look into it again. Specifically, Luke wrote his account based on eye witness testimony to verify the information that was going around about Jesus (Luke 1:1-4). He interviewed first person resources like Mary (Luke 2:19). You see the New Testament has an extraordinary track record for being written very close to the events that it describes.

We also have to take into account the witness of early church fathers who were just one generation removed from the events of the New Testament, who hold to the virgin birth as right doctrine. These are second hand sources that are closer to the time of the birth than many other sources for many other miraculous births. Many of the Early Church Fathers also had an established “chain of custody” so to speak, of which apostle/ brother of Jesus, etc. shared this information.

It’s not like the virgin birth of Jesus just popped up out of the blue either.  There is plenty of groundwork for it in the Old Testament.  Indeed the very first book of the Old Testament God speaks right after the Fall (Genesis 3:15) and we see a picture of where the “seed” of a woman (this was generally thought of as the man’s contribution) will crush the head of the serpent (representing Satan). Jeremiah 31:22 also indicated to many Rabbi’s that the messiah’s birth would be miraculous in nature. The gospel of Matthew also points out Isaiah 7:14 that explicitly uses a Hebrew  word for “virgin” (a term that has always been translated virgin by biblical scholars until more recently by liberal scholars).

The virgin birth of Jesus is just not easily dismissed for those who are willing to look into it. As compelling as the evidence is though it’s just the beginning. There is a lot more to the story and it is worth investigating.

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Why I’m Not Bitter About the Church

I guess I should hate the church. I’ve seen hypocrites. My dad got fired from a church and I was treated badly by the church members. I was ostracized by part of my youth group growing up and I saw my family suffer financially because my dad was in a ministry job instead of something else. I’ve had unrealistic expectations placed on me my entire life by people from church. In the ministry I’ve had good friends stab me in the back. Hurting people have spread vicious rumors about me. I’ve had people slander me endlessly for making what I know to be the right decisions.  I’m used to getting second guessed at every turn and I realize by now nobody likes to be told they are a sinner. I guess I should hate the church… but I don’t

The determining factor is that through it all I saw something real. Growing up my family was far from perfect but I did see a sincere faith in my parents. I was challenged to memorize scripture. I still remember the day out on the swing when I was about four years old and my dad challenged me to memorize John 3:16. I remember walking by my parent’s bedroom and hearing them pray for my siblings and myself (they didn’t know I was listening). I remember the family prayer time where we discussed the bible. It never seemed like we were just going through the motions. There was always something real there.

Then there were the times that my parent’s faith just seemed to bleed out in everyday living. Like when my dad picked up a rough looking hitch-hiker with me in the car. Later I asked him if he was scared and he said something like you should never let something scary stop you from doing the right thing… God is in control. (Years later I would pick up a rough looking hitchhiker named David who would pray to receive Christ in my truck as a result of seeds planted by my parents).

Then the advice my parents gave always seemed to revolve around the scripture. During my passage into manhood my dad encouraged me to read the bible for myself and believe what it said rather than what he or any other man would say. This gave me freedom to form my own theology dependent from my father and have a ready defense for my faith that wasn’t based on a family tradition. Similarly when I went into the ministry my mother said that there are a lot of distractions out there and to keep it about the book. She freed me to love God by loving his word and the singular focus on his word in the ministry lead to my own conversion.

Through the years I’ve learned and continue to learn to forgive people. That church that fired my dad… I walked in one Sunday night a few years later and shared the hurt I suffered and forgave them. Then I laid hands on their pastor and prayed a prayer of blessing over him and the entire congregation. The financial suffering I learned was all a matter of perspective, we were richer in the things that mattered than I had realized. I pulled aside the folks spreading rumors and told them that I forgave them. And the folks who slandered me, I had a conversation seeking reconciliation. With every major hurt I have sought the uncomfortable conversation of reconciliation and by God’s grace, He has won every time. And I remember the words of my father, “don’t let something scary stop you from doing the right thing.”

Yes the church is full of hypocrites and some of them really do have unrealistic expectations of pastors and their families, but none of that negates the work of Jesus Christ in my life. You see He’s real no matter how church people behave. And if we’re telling the truth the best place for hypocrites and backstabbers and people with unrealistic expectations to be, is church. They need to be reminded of the gospel. I know I do and though I wouldn’t like to admit it, there have been times in my life when I’ve been the hypocrite, back stabber and imposed unrealistic expectations on others.

So I’m not bitter about the church, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that all of us will be presented complete in Christ one day. All these little things that have caused so much pain will be purified in the presence of Christ the king. We’ll carry only the scars to remember how the gospel came to us through nail pierced hands and feet. No more pain, only rejoicing.