We all know that Jesus of Nazareth was a singular person who had a singular mission, a singular message and singular deeds. Two of the most epic, however, are the unnatural events that bracketed his life: when he entered this world and when he exited this world.
Let’s just slide over and carefully examine his humble but grand entrance, known now as Christmas. It is a peculiar birth, with a prophecy and a paradox.
The Most Peculiar Birth
The peculiar part about his birth can be seen in Matthew’s biography of Jesus, known as “The Gospel According to Matthew.” Matthew claims a virgin named Mary conceived Jesus supernaturally (Matthew 1:18-25). This all happened before she married Joseph, her fiancé. We are told she was “found with child of the Holy Ghost.”
Physician and historian Luke also wrote a biography of Jesus. He says similar things. An angel broke into Mary’s life and foretold the future baby. According to Luke, Mary said to the angel “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” In reply, the angel said to her “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God.”
All your skeptic flags should be now waving. A virgin? Really? No.
From frogs to hogs, birds to bees, people to pandas, all make babies. Babies are needed because the old pass away. You are no fool, you know as well as I, to make human babies you need a man and a woman.
But as you see, these writers claim Mary’s virginity!
In other words, these early records document Jesus had only a human mom, not a human dad! He was born fatherless. Well, I should not say totally fatherless. First, he had a stepfather named Joseph. Second, as we saw, these ancient texts say God, the Holy Spirit, caused her pregnancy. So, in a curious way, God himself was his father.
Some may say this sounds quite magical, mystical or miraculous, and maybe just a little unbelievable. Well, maybe Jesus’ father was Joseph or some other man? While that could be true, should we not rather look at the evidence instead of presupposing our assumptions?
The documents really do say that Mary was already pregnant with Jesus before she married Joseph and they claim that she was a virgin. So, we must take that seriously.
But is not being conceived of a virgin seem unbelievably unscientific? Experience shows us that a woman has to lose her virginity for pregnancy. However, this can never be scientifically proven. While virgin conception is unlikely and improbable, it’s not impossible.
Scientists only observe trends and make predictions. The scientific method cannot prove things to be true. So, this event is not really “unscientific” or “anti-scientific”.
Any old bloke would soon realize that if God really exists and really is the Creator his actions would never oppose the scientific enterprise. Why? He’s the Creator, he made the stuff and the rules in the first place! Any old bloke would also soon realize that science is just an attempt to understand the universe. But here’s the punch, any old bloke would also soon realize that a virgin conception seems quite a menial miracle compared to the massive miracle of original creation. The creation of life, the earth and the whole universe would be the ultimate miracle!
The Prophecy Fingerprint of God
But wait, there’s more to the story. Jesus being born of a virgin is essential for the existence of Christianity!
The notable and famous Apostles Creed uses his virgin conception to authenticate or identify Jesus. The conception acts as a descriptor of him. It is like saying “I have a friend name Tom, and he is five and a half feet tall, lives down on main street, loves bacon wrapped hot-dogs and has curly blond hair.”
Plus, his miraculous origin sets him apart from others. Descriptors help identify the person when used in prophecy. For example, in Matthew’s biography of Jesus, an ancient Hebrew teaching is referenced that points to the strange life of Jesus (Isaiah 53). This same ancient Hebrew work claims that he would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). These were written about seven hundred years before Jesus walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee!
Some must come along and raise objections to such claims. But alas, we must hear and answer the objections. No, they say, the Isaiah account does not say “virgin”, rather “young woman” (Hebrew, almah).
However, I do think there are two reasons why the word “virgin” is a better. The context claims it would be a sign, a young woman conceiving a baby is not much of a sign, that happens all the time. A virgin conceiving would definitely be a sign!
Second, approximately two centuries before Jesus, we get a surprising twist. About seventy Jewish scholars were commissioned to translate the whole Jewish Scripture into the Greek language. Translating before the claim of prophecy fulfillment, they would have been less biased. How was this word translated, “young woman” or “virgin?” Extraordinarily, these Jewish scholars translated it as “virgin.”
The Paradox of the God-Man
Now there is another singular reason Jesus needed a virgin conception, a very theological reason. To explain the reason, let me give a backdrop of human nature and God’s nature.
Remember our first parents did wrong and all their kids were also cursed with the same “disease.” Even though we “stink” so bad to God, God still wants a relationship with all humans. Just like you may want a pet skunk, but don’t want it because of the bad smell. We likewise “smell” because we broke God’s’ perfect law!
However, a perfect person could take our place. So, we dig for a perfect person. None was ever and will never be found. Every other human being is bad, bent and broken too. No other human being could take your place or my place or anyone’s place. Such a conundrum!
But good news for such a hideous conundrum, the good news is the Good News, the Gospel. The message of Christmas is the grand but humble entrance of this Good News.
A fully human baby with a fully God nature was conceived and born. Remember Jesus had no human dad, rather he was conceived in Mary by the Spirit of God!
Unlike half-baked ancient myths of half mortal beings and half god creatures, Jesus was fully human and fully God!
Being fully human, he satisfied the requirement for being human, but without a fallen human nature. Fully human meant that he could represent humanity and connect with us. He could identify with our struggles and our emotions, our pain and our joy, our temptations and our trials. Being fully human circumvented his amazing glory that would overwhelm and frighten mere mortals.
Being fully God meant he had God’s nature, he was fully perfect and unmarred by human sin. In addition, his Godhood identity made him worth way more than anyone of us individually or even as a group. Thus, he could take punishment in place of any and all who would receive his pardon.
The paradox of Jesus’ nature is nicely summed up by G.K. Chesterton in his book titled “Orthodoxy.” In chapter six, “The Paradoxes of Christianity,” he first shows why a mixture of two things has a weakness, and then he shows why this was not the case for Jesus the Messiah.
First, he says, “Being a mixture of two things, it is a dilution of two things; neither is present in its full strength or contributes its full colour.” A little later he writes, “Here, again in short, Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites, by keeping them both, and keeping them both furious.” And concerning the topic of Jesus, he says this “But I need not remind the reader that the idea of this combination is indeed central in orthodox theology. For orthodox theology has specially insisted that Christ was not a being apart from God and man, like an elf, nor yet a being half human and half not, like a centaur, but both things at once and both things thoroughly, very man and very God.”
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