Sermon preached June 13, 1993 A.M.
Rev. Ronald Cammenga
Scripture reading: Hebrews 2
We believe the virgin birth of our Savior.
We give expression to this belief of ours in the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son, our Lord; conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary."
This belief of ours in the virgin birth is an essential belief. This is not a peripheral matter of the Christian religion, a detail. Neither is this merely a matter of tradition among us. This is an essential doctrine. Christianity itself depends upon this truth of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Without it there is no Christian religion, and there is no salvation.
The Heidelberg Catechism instructs us with regard to the necessity of the virgin birth. For the Catechism is considering here those things necessary for every Christian to believe. Among those necessary things is this truth concerning the virgin birth. Whoever doubts the truth of the virgin birth, whoever denies the truth of Jesus' holy conception and nativity, by that very fact forfeits the right to consider himself to be a Christian. The virgin birth was necessary. The virgin birth was necessary for us and for our salvation.
Certainly because in the beginning we had rejected God, He must become a man. Because we had aspired in the beginning to be like God, He had to become like unto us. Because we had rebelled against God, He had to become a lowly servant of God. Because we had spoiled the divine likeness in which we were made, He had to come in the likeness of our sinful flesh. Because we had, by our disobedience, incurred death, He had to become a man so that He could be obedient unto death.
The result of the virgin birth is twofold. The result of the virgin birth is first of all that the One born of the virgin is truly a man. And the virgin birth guarantees His true humanity. The result of the virgin birth is, in the second place, that the One born of the virgin Mary is shown to be the very Son of God.
I want to consider those two outstanding aspects of the virgin birth of our Lord Jesus Christ with you this week and the next time.
This morning we take up that first particular that the truth of the virgin birth guarantees the true humanity of Jesus: Born A True Man.
We believe in Jesus Christ, in Jesus Christ who not only is the only begotten Son of God, but also is born of the virgin Mary.
We believe the truth of the virgin birth because, clearly, this is the teaching of the Word of God. This aspect of our faith, like every other article of the Christian faith, rests solidly on the revealed will of God in holy Scripture. Already in the Old Testament it had been prophesied, in Isaiah 7:14, that Israel's deliverer would be virgin-born; that a virgin would conceive and a virgin would bring forth a child; and that that child would be called "Immanuel," that is, "God with us."
The first chapters of the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Luke make known the fulfillment of that Old Testament prophecy. According to the opening verses of that first chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, the angel announces to Mary the birth of her Son, and announces that birth to her in the clearest of terms, so that he makes very clear to Mary that the child born to her will be virgin-born. That explains Mary's amazed question to the angel: "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" The angel's response to Mary's question sets forth the truth of the virgin-birth very clearly. "The angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the highest shall over shadow thee; therefore, also that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (v. 35).
The first chapter of the book of Matthew tells us that when the man to whom Mary was espoused, or engaged, found out that Mary was with child, immediately he assumed that Mary had committed fornication and decided also that he would divorce her. Determining to break off the engagement, therefore, he would separate himself from any further relationship with her. But the angel of the Lord appeared to that man, to Joseph, and made known also to him the great truth concerning the virgin birth of Mary's child. The angel said to Joseph that he must not be afraid to take Mary to be his wife, for "that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." Matthew goes on, then, to identify that conception and birth of Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy in the Old Testament.
The firstborn son of Mary was, therefore, conceived in her altogether apart from a man. The child Jesus, in distinction from every other child born into the world, had no human father. When Mary conceived this child, and nine months later when she actually brought the child forth, she was a virgin. As Matthew tells us, she did not know a man. That means that she did not know a man sexually. The one who conceived Jesus in Mary was the Holy Spirit-the power, the personal power of the Most High God accomplished this miracle. It cannot be explained. It cannot be comprehended. It cannot be scientifically demonstrated. It is to be believed and it is to be confessed by faith.
Mary was a virgin when she conceived this child and when she brought this child forth. That does not mean that Mary, after the birth of the child, continued a virgin. This is not the teaching of the Reformed faith or of the Reformed church with regard to Mary. This is the teaching with respect to Mary's virginity that is set forth by Roman Catholicism. Rome teaches Mary's perpetual virginity-that she remained all her life long a virgin. This is another example of Rome's imposing upon the members of the church the doctrines of men, and of Rome's insisting upon her own authority rather than the authority of holy Scripture for the establishment of doctrine in the church. The Scriptures make very clear that Mary did not remain a perpetual virgin. The Scriptures make very clear that after the conception and birth of Jesus, Mary did conceive and bring forth children in the ordinary way, by means of sexual relationship with her husband Joseph. We know that from the gospel narratives, in Matthew 13:55, 56. The response of those who rejected Jesus' preaching and teaching was, "Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?" We learn from this that Jesus had at least four brothers, and sisters in the plural, at least two sisters. So there were at least six children conceived and born to Mary in the natural order of things. She was not a perpetual virgin.
It is also a very significant thing that, with respect to the Lord Jesus, it was the will of God that He grow up as a man among men, knowing what it is to live in a family. The will of God comes out here that ordinarily not only do a man and a woman marry, but in that way they also bring forth children-there is home-life, family-life, there are brothers and sisters. This was the case with the Lord Jesus Himself. He grew up in a family of children. He knew what it was to grow up with brothers and with sisters.
Because the child who was born to the virgin Mary was Mary's own son, He is born a true man. That is the emphasis this morning.
Virgin-born means that Jesus was born a real and a true man. Although He was conceived and born in this very special and unique way, conceived and born from a virgin, notwithstanding He was conceived in the womb of that virgin, notwithstanding He derived His human nature also from that woman, that virgin-flesh and blood-so that He was indeed a true man. He got His manhood from His mother, in whose womb He was conceived. From her He derived flesh and blood and all that goes along with flesh and blood. That makes Jesus a man among men.
As a true man, Jesus was also a complete man. He had not only a human body, but also a human soul. All that true manhood consists of, Jesus possessed. Having a human soul, Jesus also had a human mind, a human will, human emotions, and human feelings. So that in very truth, as the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews says in this second chapter that we read, "He is made like unto us in all things."
The writer emphasizes in this chapter the true manhood of the Lord Jesus. He emphasizes it in the ninth verse when he says about Jesus that He was "made a little lower than the angels." Made a little lower than the angels means that Jesus was made a man, a human being. He emphasizes Jesus' true manhood in the fourteenth verse when he says that He "partook of flesh and of blood." A real man. A complete man-flesh and blood. Then, in the sixteenth verse, he tells us that He "took on him the seed of Abraham."
The record of the life of Jesus teaches us the real manhood of Jesus. He began as all human beings begin. He did not simply appear on the face of the earth, He was conceived in His mother's womb. There inside of her He developed for nine months until He was born in the normal and natural way in which human beings are born. As an infant He lay altogether helpless in His cradle, dependent upon His mother. As a child, and as a young man, He grew up-physically, intellectually, psychologically, even spiritually. There was development there. There was growth to full manhood and maturity. We read about that in Luke 2 in connection of the account of Jesus' staying behind at the age of twelve in the temple to discuss and to dispute with the doctors of the law. We read there that He "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." There was development there to maturity. When He arrived at years, He entered into a life's calling in the midst of society. We know that, before He began His public ministry, Jesus was a carpenter, undoubtedly carrying on Joseph's trade. We know that He entered into the work of God in the midst of God's people, carrying on in the labor of teaching and preaching of God's Word, exposing Himself to every experience and suffering that attended the pursuit of that calling from God.
This aspect of the truth, the virgin-birth, the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, is of the greatest practical importance to us this morning.
There are, certainly, other aspects of significance with regard to this great truth of the virgin birth and the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly it is the case that the truth of the virgin birth impresses upon us that Christianity is a religion, a faith. You cannot explain the virgin birth. You cannot scientifically demonstrate or verify or reproduce anything like the virgin birth when pressed about it. We must be impressed about it this morning that our religion is a religion-not an experience, not a scientific demonstration, not something that is rationally able to be set forth-a religion. Faith! We believe the virgin-birth. Certainly it also belongs to the significance of the virgin-birth that it teaches us that the salvation of us sinners is salvation by grace. It is altogether humanly impossible. What we could not have done, God did. God brought forth His Son. God accomplished the great miracle of the virgin birth. God did what man could not do. Salvation is grace from beginning to end. Certainly the significance of the truth of the virgin birth is that it impresses us with the great truth that the Savior who is born is the Son of God. Very God, in the likeness of human flesh.
But beyond these as part of the significance of the virgin birth is this significance: that the Savior is a man. The virgin birth guarantees that He is a man. We have to appreciate that aspect of the truth of the virgin birth this morning-to appreciate that aspect of the truth because we often overlook it by fear.
We often, at least from a practical point of view, overlook the truth of Jesus' real manhood. We do that by not seeking from the Lord Jesus the help that we need with our human burdens. We do that when we do not look to Him for the strength required for the spiritual struggles that we human beings are involved in-health or the many weakness that we human beings experience, the struggles against all of the temptations to which we human beings are so susceptible. We do not look to Him for help. We do not seek from Him the help that we need. And we do not do that because in our thinking the Lord Jesus is so distant from us. He is so majestic, so exalted, so glorious that we do not dare to approach Him, we do not dare to trouble Him with our weaknesses and our problems and our struggles. And then, even if we should dare to, we hesitate because we suppose that, after all, He does not understand anyway. He does not know what it is like to be a human being, to have these struggles to deal with, these weaknesses that we must overcome, and the temptations that we face.
Exactly that kind of thinking contributed much to the errors that characterized Roman Catholic piety at the time of the Reformation, and still characterizes Roman Catholic piety today. If you examine Catholicism you will discover that, as far as Roman Catholic piety is concerned, as far as the day-to-day life of the people of God may be concerned, there is no large place at all for the Lord Jesus Christ-no worship by devout Roman Catholics of the Savior Jesus Christ and no encouragement by the church that the people turn to Jesus Christ for the help and strength that they need. For all practical purposes, Jesus Christ is in the background, way in the background, and on the foreground there are others like the virgin Mary and other saints. And it is to the virgin Mary and to the saints that the faithful in the Catholic church are encouraged to go. There you take your troubles. To them you go with your burdens, your weaknesses, your temptations, and your sins.
Why is that? Why did that kind of piety develop? That kind of piety began to take over Roman Catholic thinking because Rome taught only about this Jesus that He was a dread majesty, far distant from us, who cannot really be bothered with our infirmities, and to whom you cannot even really dare to go with your troubles and your problems. He is the awful Judge. And someday you are going to have to stand before Him as your Judge, austere and terrible. But He is not the loving, sympathetic Savior.
So the people began to turn to others who were tender and compassionate, who would understand, who would sympathize. That was Mary, of course. And that is what the saints are.
We know Jesus, then, as God, as the Son of God, filled with the glory and majesty of the divine being. But we do not know Him as a man. In order to guard against that error in practical piety, that error in worship, the Scriptures teach us the true humanity of Jesus. He has partaken of our flesh and blood. He is like unto His brethren in all things. He is not ashamed to call them brethren.
Nor does Jesus' holiness jeopardize His true humanity. Although a man, Jesus was, of course, a sinless man. Scriptures emphasize that. That is the one respect in which He differs from us. The Catechism mentions that, too, very expressly, at the end of the 35th answer: "Like unto His brethren in all things, sin excepted." His sinlessness was, first of all, as the Catechism points out in the 36th answer, His innocence. He was guiltless. He did not share in the guilt of Adam. He was the one Man born into this world untouched by Adam's sin, to whom Adam's sin was not imputed. Not only was He free from the guilt of original sin but, besides that, He was born into this world without the depravity of human nature. Every other human being born into this world is born in sin, so that, before he has ever done a sinful deed, he is already under the power of sin, and his faculties, mind and will, body and soul, are subject to sin. Jesus was sinless. He never actually committed any sin. The explanation for Jesus' sinlessness is the wonder of the virgin birth. Because He was conceived not by a man, but by the Holy Spirit, because even with respect to His human nature God was His Father, He could be and He was without any sin.
For His being without any sin, the holiness of Jesus, does not in any way detract from His being a true man. It must not be thought of by us as if this now removes Jesus far from us so that we do not dare to go to Him with our sins and with our weaknesses. That is the thinking of some today. The thinking of some in the church today is that in order for someone to be sympathetic with the sinner who has been brought under the bondage of a particular sin it must be necessary that that individual himself have, at least at some point in his past, come under the power of that sin. Otherwise he is going to be of no help to the sinner. He is not going to be able to understand his situation. He is not going to be any use to him in his struggle and temptation and sin. That is the thinking that becomes prevalent in evangelical circles today. Then the only person who can really sympathize with a drunkard and who can really relate to the drunkard and be a help to the drunkard is somebody who lived on Skidrow himself for a while, who himself has been subject to the power of alcohol. Then the only person who is able to be of any help to the depressed, to those who are suffering a nervous breakdown (as we call it), who struggle against despair, is somebody who himself has gone through a nervous breakdown, who has gone through and battled with depression. Otherwise, really, you cannot understand their situation and you really are not going to be able to relate to them and to help them. The only one who is of any real help to rebellious youth in the church, and can be of any use to them, is somebody who himself was a youthful rebel.
All of that is nonsense. That is altogether wrong thinking. Exactly that kind of thinking in the church today leads to this, that those who are struggling with various sins, who are contending with various temptations and weaknesses and difficulties, are encouraged not any longer to go to the pastor for help or to the elders or to other members of the congregation, spiritual members of the congregation, but to go instead to this professional or that professional or this support group or that support group because, oh, the pastors or the elders, they have never really gone through it, so they do not really know what you are going through and what you are talking about. They cannot really relate to you and they are not really going to be of any help to you. That is wrong thinking. I know that sometimes pastors and officebearers in the church are to blame, too. I know that it happens in the church that officebearers can be unapproachable. Officebearers can be aloof from the people of God and hold the people of God off at arms' length. They put themselves up on a pedestal so that the people of God do not dare to come to them with their problems and weaknesses and struggles. There is a warning here against that.
That can happen to parents, too. Father can be authoritative in his family (as he ought to be authoritative), so that he has the respect of his children, and they look up to him. But he can also be so standoffish that his children, with their struggles and troubles, their sins, do not even dare to approach him, to come to him. There is no tenderness. There is no love, no compassion, no sympathy. There is only authority.
That is wrong on the part of fathers, that is wrong on the part of officebearers.
But it is equally wrong for the members of the church to refuse the help of the officebearers, to refuse to go to the officebearers in their struggles, with their problems, with their sins, because they suppose that it is a qualification for the help of the officebearers that they must have gone through these things and themselves have been at one time under the power of these things. If it is a qualification to help sinners, you must be a sinner yourself, and under a power of some sin yourself.
Therefore Jesus is done. There is no help in Jesus because He never sinned.
But that does not disqualify the Lord Jesus from being a helper to us. He was perfect. He never yielded to temptation. He never sinned. But He was a man. He was a real human being. He was tempted in all points like as we are tempted. He could not and He did not sin. But because He was a man, He could be tempted to sin. And He was tempted to sin. He was tempted, in fact, as no one else has ever been tempted. Because He is a real man, because as a man He was tempted, He is able, the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews says, to help us in our temptation, to succor us who come to Him for help.
That is what we must do then. We must go to this sympathetic Savior. He knows the temptations. He knows the temptation to despair, to give up. He knows the temptation to forsake His earthly calling because of the difficulties and the opposition and the disappointment. He knows the temptation to become bitter. He knows the temptation to hatred. He knows the temptation to hold a grudge. Children, He was a child. He knows the temptation to become impatient with your parents and to disobey your parents. He knew the temptation to despair of God's love. He knew the temptation of the glitter and the glory of the powers and riches and the honors of this world. He knew the temptation to popularity at the cost of denying the Lord God. He knew troubles, the burdens. He knew what it was to be evil spoken of. He knew what it was to experience being falsely accused. He knew what it was to be forsaken by friends, to have those closest to Him turn their backs on Him. He knew what it was to be lonely. He knew hunger and pain and sorrow and, even, death, because He was a man.
Because He was a man, He is a sympathetic Savior, a Savior to whom we must go, a Savior in whom we will find help in our time of need.
He is not like the psychologists and counselors who are a dime a dozen today. He sympathizes with us in such a way that He gives us the help that we need, the strength to endure, the power to bear the burden, the wisdom to resist the temptation, to trust in God, the strength to go forward in our earthly calling, to love the neighbor, to treat our wives kindly, the power to say "no" to drunkenness, to say "no" to drugs, to say "no" to sexual sin, to say "no" to earthly ambition, to say "no" to pride. It is in Him, it is to be found alone in Him.
So we must go to Jesus for the help and for the grace that we need.
We must go to Him, first, by going to His Word. His Word, especially as it is preached on the Lord's day. The sympathetic Savior is present with us through His Word. It is by means of the power of His Word that He gives to us the strength that we require. Then, if that is not enough (ordinarily it should be, but, as we all know from our own experience, at times in our life it is not), we must seek help from the Savior by going to those who stand as His representatives and He will speak His Word to us. Go to the pastor, go to the elders, go to your parents, go to that specially spiritual member of the congregation for help in your distress.
We have a sympathetic Savior. He made Himself one with us in every respect, one with us even in our burdens and in our troubles. He was exposed to the temptations to which we are exposed. He is able to help. Come to Him in your time of need. Find in Him, the sympathetic Savior, the help that you require.
Our Father who art in heaven, we thank Thee for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who was man as we are men, who was touched with the feelings of our infirmities, who knows the power of the temptations that we face, who knows the struggles, the sorrows, the disappointments. We pray, heavenly Father, that from this sympathetic Savior we may receive the grace that we need to help in our time of need. Bless the Word that we have heard this morning. Apply it to the hearts and lives of us all. Forgive that which was heard or spoken in sin and dismiss us with Thy blessing. In Jesus' name, Amen.
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