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.

Pipe & Pencil(5): Did Christ have one will or two?

Jesus had ordinary human desires, longings, preferences, and aspirations. Just as truly, he had human aversions. Under these influences he made decisions and pursued options in the same way as we do ourselves.

561px-kremser_schmidt_-_christus_am_oelbergDid Christ have two wills corresponding to his two natures (human & divine) or did he have one will uniting the two natures? This is the kind of question that sounds custom-made for theology eggheads. Most of us have given less thought to this question than we have to the enigma of God’s ability to create an immovable object or the number of angels that can occupy a minuscule space.

But how significant and relevant it is for us to affirm that Christ had two wills! Consider the depth this bit of theology would add to concepts like prayer, obedience, the work of redemption, and our sympathetic high priest:

Jesus had ordinary human desires, longings, preferences, and aspirations. Just as truly, he had human aversions. Under these influences he made decisions and pursued options in the same way as we do ourselves.

This is clearly indicated in the Scriptures, not least in the way they distinguish between the will of Jesus and the will of God. This appears in, for example, John 6:38, ‘I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.’ Such language presupposes . . . the logical possibility that Jesus’ natural preferences (based on personal self-interest) might not always coincide with the wishes of the Father. . . The Servant consults not his own interests but the interests of others (Phil 2:4). This climaxes in Gethsemane, where the dilemma becomes almost unbearably acute. At a very basic level, Jesus does not want this ‘cup’. His whole nature shrinks from it, and as he speaks to his Father he becomes acutely aware that there are two wills (and two ways): there is ‘my will’ and there is ‘thy will’. Nor did Jesus find it easy to be reconciled to the Father’s will. It literally terrified him, because here was the concentrated essence of the mysterium tremendum.  It was eerie. It was overwhelming. It was uncanny. Jesus’ victory consisted not in merging his will with that of the Father or even in wanting specifically what the Father wanted. It came from choosing the Father’s will rather than, and even over against, his own. He willed what he did not want…

-Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ, 179-180.

Grab your pipe & your pencil

The transfiguration showed not only what he would become but what we would become.

For some time now I’ve felt the need to read through a good book on Christology–first, to push back the horizons of my ignorance; second, and more importantly, to feed my soul. In his introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, C. S. Lewis wrote:

I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.

This has certainly been true for me as I work my way through The Person of Christ by Donald Macleod. I honestly don’t know how many people would share my experience in this book–sometimes you “happen” to come along the right book at just the right time. Regardless, Macleod’s has been that book for me which is one of the reasons I’ll periodically pass on some of the more challenging and/or meaningful portions here.

One more thing. For those who might like to find their heart singing over some challenging theology but don’t know how or where to start, maybe look here or here.

Here, then, is an excerpt from the chapter “Christ, The Son of God” on the relevance of Jesus’ transfiguration (pipe & pencil not included):

…[the transfiguration] has an on-going ministry. For Jesus, the trauma is past: he has entered into his rest. For us, it is not past. We are still struggling and suffering. To that situation the transfiguration still speaks, because it discloses not only the glory eternally possessed by the Lord, and not only the glory for which, as incarnate Mediator, he was destined, but also the glory of his people . . . The transfiguration showed not only what he would become but what we would become. The New Testament makes this connection explicitly. We are to be where he is (Jn 17:24). Our bodies are to be conformed exactly to his (Phil 3:21). We, in him, are to become sharers in the divine nature (2Pet 1:4). For Jesus on the Mount, this vision of what lay beyond the cross, not only for himself but for his people, would have been an immeasurable encouragement.

A. M. Ramsey relates this to the twin concepts, opsis and theiosis. Opsis is the spiritual vision which beholds the glory of the Lord. Theiosis is the transfiguring process which results: we are changed into the same image (2Cor 3:18), transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2), and one day we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1Jn 3:2). This goes back to the core of God’s own redemptive determination: to conform all his people to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29). Yet, as the sequel to the transfiguration shows, neither opsis nor theiosis goes on in ideal circumstances. We have to go down from the Mount to the demon-possessed valley. It is there that we must practice opsis; and only there that we can experience theiosis.

-Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ, 107.
[emphasis added]