Why a virgin birth?

The top three answers are on the board, Evangel family. Why was the Messiah born of a virgin?

Christian: to fulfill the prophecy from Isa 7:14. {ding!}
Christiana: Uhhhhhh… {buzz! X}
Junior: Hmmm… {buzz! XX}
Jonny: Because . . . Mary was a virgin. {buzz! XXX}

Kitson family, you have a chance to steal. Why was the Messiah born of a virgin?

Jake: Jesus? {buzz! X}

I suspect many of us could offer several reasons why the incarnation was necessary (Gal 4:4-5 & Heb 2:14-18), but most of us would begin to sweat profusely if we had to explain the point of the virgin birth. The difficulty, of course, lies in the fact that both Matthew and Luke assert Christ’s supernatural birth but neither of them explains the significance of the miracle. Some might infer that a virgin birth was required for the Son’s incarnation and/or for his sinless incarnation, but those explanations are far from certain.

So why the virgin birth? In The Person of Christ, Donald Macleod acknowledges that like all the miracles in Jesus’ life, the virgin birth functions as a sign and draws from Karl Barth to offer three theological reflections on the virgin birth:

First, it is highlighting the essentially supernatural character of Jesus and the gospel. Alluding to Barth again, the virgin birth is posted on guard at the door of the mystery of Christmas; and none of us must think of hurrying past it. It stands on the threshold of the New Testament, blatantly supernatural, defying our rationalism, informing us that all that follows belongs to the same order as itself and that if we find it offensive there is no point in proceeding further. If our faith staggers at the virgin birth what is it going to make of the feeding of the five thousand, the stilling of the tempest, the raising of Lazarus, the transfiguration, the resurrection and, above all, the astonishing self-consciousness of Jesus? . . .

Secondly, the virgin birth is a sign of God’s judgment on human nature. The race needs a redeemer, but cannot itself produce one: not by its own decision or desire, not by the processes of education and civilization, not as a precipitate of its own evolution. The redeemer must come from the outside. Here, as elsewhere, ‘all things are of God.’ He provides the lamb (Gn 22:8). Barth is exactly right: ‘Human nature possesses no capacity for becoming the human nature of Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, the virgin birth is a sign that Jesus Christ is a new beginning. He is not a development of anything that has gone before. He is a divine intrusion: the last, great, culminating eruption of the power of God into the plight of man: ‘Man is involved only in the form of non-willing, non-achieving, non-creative, non-sovereign man, only in the form of man who can merely receive, merely be ready, merely let something be done to and with himself.’

Come and worship.

Reflecting on the incarnation (5)

…this is the most profound incognito and the most impenetrable of recognition that can be…

Christ indeed could not divest himself of godhead, but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh. Hence he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it.

-John Calvin (1509-1564)

…this is the most profound incognito and the most impenetrable of recognition that can be; for the contrast between God and an isolated individual human being is the greatest possible contrast; it is infinitely qualitative. This, however, is His will, His free will, and therefore it is an incognito maintained by omnipotence.

-Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

Reflecting on the incarnation (4)

…capable of death in one nature and incapable of it in the other.

Since then the properties of both natures and substances were preserved and co-existed in One Person, humility was embraced by majesty, weakness by strength, mortality by eternity; and to pay the debt of our condition the inviolable nature was united to a passible nature; so that, as was necessary for our healing, there was one and the same “Mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ,” who was capable of death in one nature and incapable of it in the other. In the complete and perfect nature, therefore, of very man, very God was born – complete in what belonged to Him, complete in what belonged to us.

-Leo of Rome (400-461)

Reflecting on the incarnation (3)

…Christ is as truly man as the meanest of our race.

…as the tabernacle after all was as truly a tent as the humblest in the camp of Israel, so Christ is as truly man as the meanest of our race. The blood which flows in the veins of the Hottentot, or springs under the lash from the back of an American slave, is that ‘one’ same blood which flows in the veins of the Son of God.

-Alexander Stewart, 19th century Scottish preacher

Reflecting on the incarnation (2)

What a wonder is it, that two natures infinitely distant, should be more intimately united than anything in the world…

What a wonder is it, that two natures infinitely distant, should be more intimately united than anything in the world; and yet without any confusion! That the same person should have both a glory and a grief; an infinite joy in the Deity and an inexpressible sorrow in the humanity! That a God upon a throne should be an infant in a cradle; the thundering Creator be a weeping babe and a suffering man, are such expressions of mighty power, as well as condescending love, that they astonish men upon earth, and angels in heaven.

-Stephen Charnock (1628-1680)

Reflecting on the incarnation

At one and the same time…as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe…

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. {John 1:14, NAS}

‘Tis the season for some theological reflection! Check back every day this week (M-F) for thought-provoking quotes on the incarnation. We lead off with a personal favorite from a previous post:

The Word was not hedged in by His body, nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well. When He moved His body He did not cease also to direct the universe by His Mind and might. No. The marvelous truth is that being the Word, so far from being Himself contained by anything, He actually contained all things Himself.

. . . At one and the same time—this is the wonder—as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father. Not even His birth from a virgin, therefore, changed Him in any way, nor was He defiled by being in the body.

Athanasius, On the Incarnation