Christmas is still a few months away, but very soon we’ll hear a familiar song resonating through the radio:
Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
We sing these words with little thought to their theology, but they raise an important question. Was Jesus indeed “born of a virgin,” and if so, why?
This issue may seem inconsequential, and you might be tempted to speed past this post. But I encourage you to read it to the end, because the truth of the entire Christian faith rests on how we answer this increasingly common question.
Sin Is From the Beginning
All of us are born with a sin problem. This isn’t how God intended the world to be. In Genesis 1, God created a perfect world in accordance with His perfect nature. Adam and Eve, the first man and woman created, were perfect beings—but they were given a choice. They could continue to walk in the light of God’s love, trusting His goodness and grace, or they could disobey God in the one thing He required of them (Genesis 3:2). Eve and Adam chose disobedience, and in that moment imperfection entered the world.
Sin is pervasive; a little bit of it tarnishes the whole. Even the smallest amount of evil destroys the possibility of perfection, and Adam’s sin affected everything. Even though Eve disobeyed God first, God held Adam responsible for this first sin. As the leader of his family, Adam’s intentional disobedience and failure to protect His wife from spiritual downfall means every human born from His line inherits a sinful nature.
Romans 5:15 says: “For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.”
Because of Adam (“one man”), all of us are born into “death” (separation from God). Remember, if God were to accept us in our imperfect state, He would no longer be perfectly good and loving. His inability to accept us is not unfair or cruel; it’s necessary to His nature. But because God is so perfectly loving, He began crafting a plan to save mankind from death. Jesus was in God’s mind since Adam’s first sin. When God responded to the sin of Adam and Eve, He said to the serpent:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
The woman’s offspring would one day be Jesus. Because Jesus would not be born from Adam’s lineage, He would be born without sin. It is Jesus who crushed the head of Satan (the serpent) through His death on the cross. In order to do so, He had to be born of a virgin.
God’s Power Is Evidenced in the Impossible
When we look at the virgin birth, we must also remember God’s power. If God created the universe, He is above the scientific laws within it. This includes the laws of reproduction. As the Creator of life, He can place a child in the womb both within and beyond the design He originally set in place. With Jesus, the Spirit of God indwelt Mary—not in a creepy, sexual manner, but in a holy miracle of life.
Miracles do exist in this world. Those with “ears to hear” and eyes to see testify to their existence. Simply put, if we claim to believe God is God, but do not believe He can perform something as miraculous as the virgin birth, we don’t think God is divine at all. Rationalizing God’s power limits Him to human ability. Yet He is so far beyond our understanding we cannot comprehend His greatness:
O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind. (Psalm 104:1-3)
God’s great power is evidenced through the miraculous. The signs Jesus performed during His earthly ministry simply continued the miraculous beginning of His life as the God-Man.
Jesus Is the First and Last Hope for Man
Because of Adam’s sin, all of us born from his lineage are destined to eternal separation from God. We are in need of “saving” from this destiny. In the Old Testament, God provided a temporary covering for spiritual death in the form of animal sacrifices. The entire Old Testament testifies to how impossible it is for human beings to please God on their own power. By the time Jesus was born, the smoke from Jerusalem (where sacrifices were made) constantly filled the sky. Man’s sinfulness seemed impossible to cover—and it is!
Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, but He had to be born of a virgin in order to be this “perfect Lamb.” Because Jesus was God, He was without sin. Because Jesus was man, He could stand in our place.
God’s miraculous work through Mary is as necessary to the Christian faith as Jesus Himself. Without the virgin birth, Jesus is just another sinful man, and His sacrifice on our behalf is worth nothing. Our eternal hope and present peace rest completely on the truth of God’s Word. The miraculous birth of Jesus is the foundation of the Christian faith.