When we talk about the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ we begin
by pointing out that there was nothing supernatural in the emergence of
Jesus from the womb of Mary - what we usually refer to as the 'birth'
of a baby. The whole process of foetal and embryonic development was again
normal. We are told that when Mary's "full time" had come she
gave birth. But let us pause for a moment when we say that it was a 'normal
conception'. Consider your conception and mine, and how Christ's was just
like ours. "The single-celled embryo, at the moment of the fusion
of egg and sperm, brings together two sets of genetic information from
mother and father - in the form of the DNA code which, when spelt out
letter by letter, would fill 24 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
These 24 volumes are packed into the nucleus of the cell, which is one-5,000th
of a millimetre in diameter, which cell has the ability to replicate itself
within a few hours and divide billions of times, eventually producing
a fully formed human being.
"This trillion-times miniaturised, 24 Encyclopedia Britannica volumes'
worth of DNA information knows first how to 'instruct' the single-cell
embryo to form the basic structure of the foetus with a back and front,
head and limbs; and then to 'instruct' the cells to acquire the specialised
function of a nerve or muscle or liver; and then 'instruct' them to link
together to form the metabolic factory of the liver or the pumping heart
the brain with its billions of connections; and then to 'instruct' them
grow synergistically through childhood and adolescence to adulthood.
"The extraordinary potential of the biological information locked
nucleus of each and every cell can best be conceived of as the precise
mirror image of the infinite size and grandeur of the universe" (Dr
Le Fanu, "The Miracle of Procreation," Sunday Telegraph, December
1999). In all of that, then, there was actually no miracle - in the
technical sense of the word. Christ's conception was as extraordinarily
normal as ours.
Where then does the supernatural lie in the birth of Christ? In three
1. It was a Supernatural Begetting.
Dr Lloyd-Jones quotes this little statement: "As the Lord's divine
had no mother, so his human nature had no human father." "Jesus
conceived in the womb by the conjunction of male and female, by spermal
communication from the man to the woman. He was begotten (rather than
conceived) by the Holy Spirit, and the miraculous consisted in this
supernatural begetting. In the absence of human begetting, it was that
which made the birth a virgin birth. In this connection it is not proper,
strictly speaking, to say that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit
though this is the phrase employed in the Apostles' Creed) ...What is
of Elizabeth's conception in reference to her baby John (Luke 1:24, 26)
repeated of Mary and her child. The Holy Spirit begat, Mary conceived
also Luke 2:21)" (John Murray op cit p.134).
Now let us here this observation: "The derivation from the substance
Virgin means that she as mother contributed to him all that any human
mother contributes to her child, sin excepted. Through the umbilical cord,
he is this particular man, the son of this particular woman, the bearer
the whole previous genetic history of her people and the recipient of
innumerable hereditary features. He was a unique genotype precisely because
she contributed at least half his chromosomes (as any human mother would).
How the rest was contributed remains a mystery. The one certainty is that
Mary could not herself have contributed the sex-determining chromosome,
which is always provided by the biological father. This chromosome, at
least, must have been provided miraculously; and it remains possible that
all the chromosomes normally derived from the male parent were provided
this way, the divine act which fertilised the ovum simultaneously creating
twenty-three chromosomes complementary to those derived from the mother"
(Donald MacLeod, "The Person of Christ," IVP, p.162).
2. It was a Supernatural Person.
A virgin birth by itself does not mean an invariable incarnation. If
willed he could supernaturally beget a thousand babies. What was
significant about this conception was that it was the second person of
godhead who was joined to Mary's ovum. He left his Father's home above,
free, so infinite his grace. The Father and Son came together to the gate
of heaven and off the Son walked across the clouds as his Father lovingly
waved him good-bye. His destination was the virgin betrothed to Joseph.
What was special about the baby which Mary bore was this, - "It was
eternal Son of God in respect of his human nature. He was begotten of
Spirit and conceived by the virgin in human nature. The most stupendous
fact of all is that this was the begetting, conception, embryonic
development, and birth of a supernatural person. Because of this there
no point at which the supernatural was not present. The incarnation was
supernatural through and through, because at no point was the supernatural
identity of the person suspended." (John Murray, ibid).
Who is he in yonder stall at whose feet the shepherds
Tis the Lord, O wondrous story, Tis the Lord, the King of glory.
There was no diminishing of the One who was in the beginning, who was
with God and who was God. There is no transmutation, and no divestiture.
When the apostle John says that they beheld him then it was the glory
of the only-begotten of the Father that they were surveying, in other
words, he says Jesus of Nazareth was, "God only-begotten who is in
the bosom of the Father" (John 1:18). So the incarnation meant addition
not subtraction. God the Son, remaining the immutable second person of
the godhead, joined to himself the human nature of one particular man,
the true biological son of Mary, who married a carpenter, who lived in
Nazareth, in whose home the God-man, Christ-Jesus, grew up. "The
incarnation means that the Son of God took human nature in its integrity
into his person with the result that he is both divine and human, without
any impairment of the fulness of either the divine or the human"
(John Murray, ibid).
3. It was a Supernatural Preservation.
There was such a preservation at the end of his life when his body lay
in the grave, but God would not allow his Holy Child Jesus to putrefy.
There was the alarm of Mary and Martha at the opening of the tomb of their
brother after three days, that his body would be stinking. But there was
an intervention of God concerning the corpse of the Lord Jesus. The tomb
was new and clean; no stench of death; a fine mausoleum for the Prince
of Life. So too when he lay in the womb of Mary, our God contracted to
a span, incomprehensibly made man, tinier than a full stop, then, when
all other men must say, "In sin did my mother conceive me ... I was
born in sin and shapen in iniquity," he could never say those words,
even as at the end of not a single day did he need to confess his sins
to God. At his conception there was somehow a preservation from any taint
of sin, from that contamination that would have otherwise proceeded from
Mary. His was a humanness without sin. His was not a humanness without
temptation, nor a humanness lived out in a sanitised spiritual environment,
but from his conception there was no prenatal sin - whatever that may
be - and thenceforth, after his first breath, no propensity to sin, no
affinity with sin, and no stain of sin ever upon him, though he were bone
of our bones and flesh of our flesh. He was the Word of God who had become
the Lamb of God without spot and without blemish. The little Lord Jesus
no crying he made, that is, no crying which was characterised by petulance
and anger and greed and attention-seeking and boredom and pride - as every
other baby makes. He was not like any other baby, this virgin-born Messiah.