1 – In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
2 – (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
3 – And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 – So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
5 – He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a Child.
6 – While they were there, the time came for the Baby to be born,
7 – and she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 – And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
9 – An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 – But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
11 – Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.
12 – This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 – Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”
15 – When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 – So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby, Who was lying in the manger.
17 – When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this Child,
18 – and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
19 – But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
20 – The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
One of my favorite jobs as a pastor is visiting in the maternity wards of area hospitals. The minute I learn that one of our members has a baby, I head out to the hospital-stopping only long enough at Giant to pick up my standard baby gift-a package of Pampers. I always do this because I remember how many of those packages we went through when we brought our babies home from the hospital!
When I arrive at Shady Grove or Montgomery General I excitedly head up to the maternity wing because it’s such a wonderful place. To me it’s as if that particular area of the hospital just oozes with the joy of life. It feels so good to be there. Parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins all crowd around the nursery window gazing at the newborn. Everyone is all smiles as they discuss the specifics of the birth itself and who the child looks like and their dreams for the little one’s life.
Well, I love being a part of all that. I enjoy holding the baby and talking with the parents and praying with them, thanking God for the precious new life He has given them to care for. And, you know, to me, this joy-filled pastoral task is God’s counterbalance for another part of my job-one that is not so pleasant-conducting funerals.
Now, don’t get me wrong, conducting a funeral-walking with someone through that inevitable time of grief-is a wonderful privilege…but it is also one that entails a great deal of sorrow-even for those who know their loved ones were Christians. It’s difficult to say goodbye to a husband or a brother or a father or a friend-even if you know your separation is only temporary. And that sorrow is hard to deal with at times-as anyone who has ever been through it will tell you.
But getting to welcome a baby into the world evens things out for me, if you know what I mean. It’s as if God says, “Mark I’m calling you to walk with people through times of great grief but I’m also giving you the responsibility to walk with them through times of joy!
And think about it. When a baby is born, there is no grief-there is no crying (that is, once labor is over!)-after that there is only laughter and joy and wonder! There’s a great deal of joyous CELEBRATION surrounding the birth of a child. BEFORE the little one arrives there are numerous parties or baby showers with cake and punch and games and tables full of gifts from well-wishers! And then AFTER the birth tons of visitors stop by with additional gifts to welcome the little one into the world or to take turns holding or rocking the child. The birth of a baby is indeed a JOYOUS time!
Now, at the moment we are in the midst of an ANNUAL birth celebration called Christmas. Many people in the United States seem to have forgotten this-but the purpose of the Christmas holiday is to rejoice in the birth of a child-the Christ Child-the Messiah-JESUS. And THIS Baby’s birth is celebrated not just in a maternity ward somewhere, but in hearts and homes and churches all over the world! Well, why is that so? I mean why do so MANY people celebrate the birth of JESUS? Why is it that even though His birth occurred over twenty centuries ago-still to this day, every December, in every land, on every continent, in every language, in every culture, in every class of people-why is it that pretty much EVERYWHERE there’ll be a special celebration of the birth of the Christ child? I mean-what is it about the birth of this Person, Jesus-the Christ, that compels so many of us to rejoice? Well, to answer my own question-Jesus’ birth has this effect on us because His LIFE was DIFFERENT than that of any child in several ways.(1) First of all, unlike any other human infant, Jesus had no EARTHLY father.
The Bible teaches that our Lord was God’s Son and to remove any shadow of a doubt about that fact, God’s plan was for Him to be born to a mother who was a virgin-a female who had never had sexual union with a man.
In fact God’s Word teaches the truth of this aspect of Jesus’ birth from the very beginning. Do you remember reading way back in the book of Genesis where it tells of the punishment Adam and Eve and the serpent received for disobeying God? In Genesis 3:15 God said to satan:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her Seed….He will crush your head and you will strike His heel.”
Now, every other time the Bible speaks of someone’s offspring as “seed,” it is referring to the male seed, or semen. Only here in Genesis 3 does Scripture ever speak of the seed of a WOMAN-and that’s an indication of something SPECIAL…because, as the Angel told Mary in Luke chapter 1, she would be miraculously impregnated by the Holy Spirit of God so that her firstborn child would be the Son of God. This is the only time in history that a woman had a seed within her that did not originate from a human man. To call it “something SPECIAL” is an understatement! The last part of that verse in Genesis 3 tells us more about this seed of a woman, for it refers to the Cross, when it says that satan struck at Jesus’ “heel” but it also refers to Jesus’ victorious resurrection where He “crushed satan’s head”-in other words where He totally defeated him.
And Genesis 3 isn’t the only Old Testament text that speaks of Jesus’ virgin birth. Jeremiah 31:22 hints at it as well by saying, “The Lord has created a new thing in the earth-a woman will encompass a man.” And the prophet Isaiah 7:14 clarifies this by saying, “A virgin shall conceive and bare a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us.'”
Now the word we translate here in Isaiah as “virgin” is the Hebrew word, “almah” and some liberal scholars say this does not refer to a virgin birth because this particular Hebrew word CAN mean either “virgin” or “young woman.” I would disagree with these liberal “scholars” for a number of reasons.
First, the word “alma” occurs nine other times in the Old Testament and eight of those times by the context of its use we know it should be translated, “virgin.” Also-note the context of it’s use here in Isaiah 7. Verse 14 begins, “The Lord Himself will give you a SIGN: the ‘alma’ will be with child…” Now, it would be no special “sign” for a YOUNG WOMAN to be with child. That happens all the time on this planet-so even in THIS verse the context would indicate this Hebrew word should be translated, “virgin.” In any case when Matthew’s gospel quotes this prophecy from Isaiah he uses the Greek word “parthenos” and it can ONLY be translated as “virgin.”
ALSO, Luke begins his gospel by saying he had “carefully investigated everything from the beginning”…(1:3) and then this medical doctor goes on to use the same Greek word several times saying that Mary was a VIRGIN at the time of Jesus’ birth. Most theologians believe Luke interviewed Mary herself as part of the “careful investigation” he did in preparation to write His gospel, and who would a woman be more honest with about the intimate details surrounding a birth than her doctor!?
In both the genealogy in Luke and the one in Matthew it says that Jesus was born of a virgin. And then, the Apostle Paul also referred to the virgin birth in Galatians 4:4 where he said, “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His son, BORN OF A WOMAN.”
So God’s word repeatedly says that, unlike any other person, Jesus was virgin born. In fact, in the Bible, the only people who questioned Jesus’ virgin birth were His enemies. Now, why is it that a belief in the virgin birth of Jesus so important?
A. Well one reason-has to do with the principle of Biblical authority.
As I have shown this morning, God’s written Word very clearly states that Jesus was the Son of God, born of a virgin-so to deny this is to deny the authority of the Bible. And if we deny it’s authority at this point, we are likely to make the mistake of denying it at other pivotal points as well. All maturing Christians must be people of The Book. We know that it is our source of authority in faith and life, so to deny something that it clearly teaches is both foolish and sinful.
B. A second reason the virgin birth is an important-even essential-belief has to do with the doctrine of Christ.
You see, some teach that Jesus was Joseph’s or some other man’s physical son but that some time in His life-for example at His baptism-He “became” the Christ. They say that, at that moment God “adopted” Him as His Son. Well, the virgin birth refutes this false teaching because it shows that there was never even a moment in the human life of Jesus Christ, going back to the very instant of His conception, when He was not God. Jesus was the God-man from the beginning-and as such was also sinless in thought, word, and deed from the beginning.
C. This leads to a third reason that belief in the virgin birth is important. It has an impact on another essential-the doctrine of salvation.
You see, had Jesus been conceived by natural means, with Joseph or anyone else as His father, He would not have been God and would not have been able to be the true Savior of sinners. Only as God in the flesh would He have had the power to say “NO” to sin and be the spotless Lamb of God.
So you see, if we deny the virgin birth, we are denying that Jesus is God’s Son and in so doing we have denied the very essence of Christianity.
Everything else the Bible teaches about Christ hinges on this truth we celebrate at Christmas-that Jesus is God in human flesh. And, for Jesus to be God, He must be born of God.
Joseph a man, and Mary, a woman, cannot produce God. God cannot be born into this world by natural human processes. There’s no way He could be God apart from being CONCEIVED by God. So the Virgin Birth of the Christ is indeed a foundational truth. To throw it out as unnecessary is to reject Christ’s deity, the accuracy and authority of Scripture, and a host of other related doctrines that are the heart of our Christian faith.
And, by the way-Jesus Himself viewed the question of His parentage as a watershed issue.
Matthew 22:41-46 records one of the last confrontations He had with the Pharisees. Listen as I read this conversation to you: “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ, whose Son is He?” They said to Him,’The Son of David.’ He said to them [referring to Psalm 110,] ‘Then how does David in the Spirit call Him “Lord, ” saying, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, until I put Thine enemies beneath thy feet.’ If David then calls Him “Lord,” how is He his son?” And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.”
So it IS important to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus-This is what makes Him the long awaited Messiah, the Savior of the world! During a recent broadcast LARRY KING was asked, “If you had a chance to interview anybody throughout history, whom would you choose above all others?” He said he would choose Jesus Christ and he said he picked Jesus because he would like to ask Him this question: “Are you virgin born?” King explained by saying, “The positive answer to that question would explain history to me.” You see, even King-someone who is not a Christian-knows that if this great miracle was true, then Christ would have to be all He claimed to be and he’s right. This fact that Jesus was born of a virgin is one reason we rejoice at Christmas!
2. And then a second reason Jesus’ birth is unique is because His existence is tied to both ETERNITY and time.
You see Jesus didn’t come into existence when He was born in Bethlehem. No, He has always existed. Now, if I asked you when you were born, and you told me, I would know HOW LONG you have existed. For example, I was born, August 14, 1954 so, I have existed 48 years, four months and one day. Prior to August 14, 1954, I didn’t exist in any form whatsoever. Contrary to other belief systems, I was not an insect or a cow, or even a person who once lived in another century. No, my existence BEGAN August 14, 1954.
But with Jesus it was different. Unlike any child who has ever been born or ever will be born, He existed BEFORE His physical birth. Texts like John 1 and Philippians 2 tell us that Jesus lived a divine life prior to his being born. What do you think those Jewish religious leaders thought when Jesus looked at them and said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58) Among other things, they probably thought He was ignorant because that statement is horribly ungrammatical, unless that is, Jesus was saying that as God, He existed even before time began!
And what about the time He talked about the “glory” which was His “before the foundation of the world?” (John 17:5) and those who heard it said, “Wait a minute? Is this not Mary and Joseph’s child? What’s all this ‘before the foundation of the world’ stuff?” I understand their response because it gives me a headache to think about a person Who has existed forever. I can’t quite grasp that!
Kenneth Chaffin tells about visiting a 3rd grade Sunday School Class. One little girl said to him, “Pastor, I want to ask you something. We’ve been taught in SS that God created the world. I’d like to know who created God.” Chaffin said, “If I tell you will you promise not to ask me another question?” The child said, “No, I don’t want to do that, because the minute you tell me who created God, I’ll want to know who created who created God.” Then she paused and with a wisdom far beyond her years, she said, “Isn’t it hard to think about a person who’s always been?”
Well, it is, but the affirmation of the Bible is just that-BEFORE Christ was born to Mary in Bethlehem, He was essentially, unalterably, unchangeably God. You, see as I said a moment ago, it IS God Who has come in Jesus Christ. The reason we celebrate the birth of Jesus is that we’re convinced that this child is God in the flesh, come to dwell among us and to provide for our salvation. In Jesus Christ we have One Who is from ETERNITY.
Now think about what that means. Jesus-God-has loved you and me that long-for all time and even before time began! In all of eternity, there has never been a moment that He did not love you as an individual! You are and have always been precious to God! I mean, even in the misty, pre-creation past, God was thinking of you and me and planning our redemption. Ephesians 1 puts it this way, “He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” I believe it was Philip Yancey who said, “As the first echo from the crunch from the first bite of the forbidden fruit was echoing through the Garden of Eden, Jesus was leaving for Calvary.”
But you know when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, He not only came from eternity into time. When He came, He reset the clocks of time. Someone put it this way, “Jesus has turned aside the river of the ages out of its course and lifted the centuries off their hinges.” And He did! You know, once our calendars were calculated by the reign of kings or queens. For example, a year could be called the tenth year of the reign of a certain emperor. But that is no longer true. Today calendars of the world are set in terms of the birth of the Son of God. Christians, and jews and Muslims and buddhists and Hindus and heathen-everybody must set their calendars and clocks by the birth of the Son of God Who came from eternity to time. Whenever anyone dates a check they acknowledge the birth and life of Jesus! No other birth had that effect on mankind!
3. A third thing that makes Jesus’ birth special is that through His life He showed us what GOD is really LIKE.
You see, before the coming of Christ mankind struggled to understand and relate to God because He is infinitely above us. As God Himself said in Isaiah 55:8, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways…as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Remember? Moses couldn’t look at God’s face without dying-so God let him look at His back as He passed by-and even then Moses’ face glowed for days. But in Jesus, God became approachable and touchable. He became one of us. He came down to our level. And because He did, we could finally relate to Him and begin to fathom His love for us. George Buttrick, former chaplain at Harvard writes that students would frequently come to his office and ask, “You’re the chaplain?” When he said he was they would then state emphatically, “I don’t believe in God!” Butrick would reply, “Sit down and tell me the kind of God you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in that God either.” And when they were finished he would talk about Jesus, and in so doing he would give them a correct comprehension of the nature of God. You see, Jesus is the visible expression of the invisible Deity. He is God expressing Himself in language that we can understand.
A little boy was pestering his father, who was desperately trying to get some paperwork done. The father thought he would distract his small son by handing him a piece of paper and a pencil and telling him to draw a picture of a dog. Two short minutes later the little boy proudly handed his busy father the picture-a stick figure of a dog. The father, making an extra effort to be patient, gave his little nuisance another piece of paper with instructions to draw an elephant.
Two minutes later, the paper was dutifully handed back with another stick figure drawn on it. The father gave the child one piece of paper after another, telling him to draw a lion, a frog, a dinosaur. Each time, his son handed back the paper within a matter of minutes. Finally the father felt he had a stroke of genius. He thought he had come up with something that should occupy his little boy for hours. He dramatically handed his son what he informed him would be the last piece of paper and told him to draw a picture of God. The father smiled smugly to himself, believing he had outwitted the youngster and would now have some uninterrupted work time. But to his astonishment, the little boy began busily drawing and within the two minutes was prepared to hand back his paper. The father exclaimed in exasperation, “You can’t be done! No one knows what God looks like!” …to which the little boy replied with the confidence of youth, “Well, they will now.”
That little boys’ drawing was, of course a crude rendition of his own childlike idea. But there was another Father Who told His Son to draw a picture of what God looks like, and He did. That Son’s name is Jesus and He drew the picture, not with crayons and paper, but with His own flesh and blood. And the “picture” was drawn so perfectly that it was an exact replica of God’s image. Hebrews 1:3 puts it this way, Jesus, “…is the exact representation of God’s being…”
Now, if you’ve ever felt like God was far away and mysterious. If you have ever desired to know Him but didn’t know where to begin, then let me urge you to begin by looking at Jesus. Get a New Testament and read the gospels-especially the words that are printed in red-for they are Jesus’ own words. Examine Jesus and you WILL find God-the God Who has descended to your level-the Creator of the universe Who wants nothing more than to pursue a love relationship with you.
You know, when I do that; when I look at Jesus, I see a loving God Who with no hesitation, cast aside His royal garments and left Heaven’s glory to save a guy named Mark Adams who was dying in his sin. I see a God Who left so much to gain so little. And when that understanding gets through my thick skull, I can’t help but rejoice as I do each Christmas! Jesus helps me to see how VERY much God loves me!
This leads me to the fourth thing that sets Jesus’ birth apart from that of any other child.
4. You see, His entire life was an act of SACRIFICE.
Now, when most babies are born their parents sacrifice for them. They give up things like sleep and money and time. But with the Christ Child it was different. In His birth everything was reversed, for He came to sacrifice Himself for others-even Mary and Joseph. And that sacrifice began the moment of His birth. I say this because as Paul implies in Philippians 2, when Christ BECAME a human being-when He was born in Bethlehem-even THAT was an act of sacrifice. He writes about Jesus, “…Who being in very nature GOD, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (selfishly to himself), but made Himself nothing. He emptied Himself, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death-even death on a cross.”
Now I don’t know HOW Christ emptied Himself. I don’t know how He could be both FULLY God and FULLY man and if you don’t understand that either, don’t feel bad. But I do hope you can see that the incarnation was COSTLY to God. This is why John Milton, when he wrote his beautiful Christmas poem about the morning of Christ’s birth, said of Christ,
“He forsook the courts of everlasting day and took with us a house of darksome clay.”
Perhaps Milton was inspired by 2 Corinthians 8:9 where it says,
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”
You know, in maternity wards around the world, most parents dream about what their children will accomplish through their LIFE-but not so with the Christ child. You see, His GREATEST accomplishment would be through HIS death. As John MacArthur says in his book, God With Us, The Miracle of Christmas, Jesus’ life of course was important. He DID come to earth to reveal God to mankind. He did come to teach truth-to fulfill the law-to offer His kingdom. Jesus came to show us how to live. He came to communicate God’s love; to bring peace; to heal the sick and minister to the needy. But all those reasons are secondary to His ultimate purpose. All those other things could have been done without His being born as a human. He could have simply appeared-like the angel of the Lord often did in the Old Testament-and accomplished everything in the above list, without literally becoming a man.
The truth is there was no salvation in His birth nor did the sinless way He lived His life have any redemptive force of it’s own. His example, as flawless as it was, could not rescue men from their sins. Even His teaching-the greatest truth ever revealed to man, could not save us-BECAUSE THERE WAS A PRICE TO BE PAID FOR OUR SINS! Someone had to die. And only Jesus could do it. So, the hard truth is that those soft little infant HANDS, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, were made so that NAILS might be driven through them. Those baby FEET, pink and unable to walk, would one day walk up a dusty hill to be IMPALED on a cross. That sweet infant’s HEAD with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that some day men might force a CROWN OF THORNS onto it. That tender BODY, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling cloths, would one day be ripped open by a Roman SPEAR. Jesus WAS born. He came to earth to die for, as 1st John 2:2 says, He is, “…the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins for the whole world.”
Now, if your celebration of Christmas has ever seemed empty…if you’ve never had the joy that others have at this time of the year, then maybe it’s because you never understood the reasons behind all this rejoicing…the reasons we have reviewed together this morning. Or maybe its because you’ve never acknowledged the sacrifice that Jesus made for you. You’ve never “unwrapped” God’s indescribably gift, personally. You know, I would guess that for many of us, our favorite Christmas carol is “Joy to the World.” It’s just FULL of joy! Remember those first words: “Joy to the world, the Lord is Come! Let earth receive her King!”But the truth is until that only Child of God…that Child Who came from eternity into time…that Child of God Who grew up and died for you…until He comes into your LIFE…until you can sing… “Joy to the world the Lord is come…to ME,” you’ll never understand the meaning and the rejoicing that surrounds Christmas. This morning if you’ve never done so, invite the Christ of Christmas into your heart and life. Ask Him to forgive you of your sin. Decide today to follow Him in life as Savior and Lord. And then please come and share that decision with me. If you have any other public commitment to make-you feel God is leading you to join our church, or you feel a need to rededicate yourself to Jesus, now is the time to share those decisions by coming forward as we stand and sing.