Matthew 1:23a

Sermon preached on December 5, 2010 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

In order to get us to understand the importance of the virgin birth James McCullen asks, (

"Have you ever thought of the Four Ways Humans have come into being?"

He then lists them.

1. Adam was created directly by God using the dust of the ground. (Genesis 2:7)

2. Eve was made from Adam using his rib while Adam was sleeping. (Genesis 2:22)

3. Cain and Abel, and all other human (except Jesus Christ) came into being through the union of a man and woman. (Genesis 4:1)

4. Jesus came into the world through an act of the Holy Spirit, overshadowing Mary without using a man. (Matthew 1:18)

The birth of Jesus was unique. There was none other like it in the history of the world. He was conceived without the use of a human father. This event was so significant that it was predicted by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before it happened. In Isaiah 7:14 we read,

"Therefore the Lord himself
will give you a sign:
The virgin will be with child
and will give birth to a son,
and will call him Immanuel."

Matthew draws attention to Isaiah's prophecy in verse 23 where he quotes it. One of the interesting things about the prophecy in Isaiah is that it was to be a sign. In verse 11 of Isaiah 7 we read that the Lord spoke to King Ahaz and said,

"Ask the Lord your God for a sign,
whether in the deepest depths
or in the highest heights."

King Ahaz refused to ask, so in verse 14 Isaiah declared,

"Therefore the Lord himself
will give you a sign:
The virgin will be with child
and will give birth to a son,
and will call him Immanuel."

The fact that it was a sign shows that

it was sometime unusual—Jesus was born of a virgin.

This is important. The doctrine of the virgin birth has been denied by many who call themselves Christians. They will tell you that in Isaiah 7:14 the word that is translated 'virgin' doesn't necessarily mean 'virgin' but could merely refer to a young, unmarried woman. Some liberal commentators have tried to make a lot out of that, trying to suggest that conservative Christians have gotten it all wrong, that the Bible doesn't tell us that Jesus was born of a virgin.

But the fact is that one of the meanings of the word is 'virgin'. That it actually should be translated, 'virgin' here is confirmed by the fact—how would a young, unmarried maiden becoming pregnant be a sign? That's nothing unusual, it happens all the time. As J. Gresham Machen asks regarding this, if the Hebrew word only referred to a young maiden, (The Virgin Birth, p. 290)

"Why should an ordinary birth be regarded as a 'sign'?"

It wouldn't be. Donald Macleod writes, (The Person of Christ, p. 26)

"A sign required some unusual circumstance: and what more unusual than that the child should be born from one who was an 'alma/parthenos [virgin] in the natural meaning of these terms?"

Machen says of the word, 'sign',

"That word naturally leads us to think of some event like the turning back of the sun on Hezekiah's dial, or the phenomena in connection with Gideon's fleece."

To be a sign it would have to be something very unusual. Thus the context of Isaiah 7:14 suggests that the Hebrew word, ('almah) was to be understood as a virgin, not just a young unmarried woman.

Indeed, Matthew's gospel makes it clear that Mary was a virgin and that the doctrine of the virgin birth doesn't hinge on the translations of the words alma and parthenos. In the space of a few verses in Matthew 1 the evangelist repeats this fact four times. He tells us clearly that Jesus was born of a virgin. We first see this in
verse 18. It tells us that Mary became pregnant without sexual intercourse, without a human father. We are told that Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. The second place we see this is in verse 20. When Joseph found out about Mary being pregnant, he was going to break off the engagement. But an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife because what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit. Then in verse 22 Matthew quotes from Isaiah 7:14, the sign of a virgin being with child and how they would call Him, Immanuel, God with us. And finally in verse 25 we are told Joseph had no union with Mary until she gave birth to a son.

Have no doubt about it. The Bible teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin. It is taught clearly and unequivocally.

The virgin birth. What a strange concept. Why does Matthew emphasize it so? Why does Matthew view it as important that we understand that Jesus was born as a virgin?

Let's consider some of the things that it teaches us.

First of all, it shows us that

at the core of our redemption there is the miraculous, the supernatural.

The supernatural is anathema to many people today. The reason that many scientists and philosophers reject the claims of Christianity is not because they think they can refute them and disprove its claims—but because they dismiss them out of hand because of the supernatural element in them. The worldview that they have is that the supernatural doesn't exist and so they are contemptuous of anyone or anything that has claims to the supernatural. What we should understand is that their rejection of Christianity is not based on any proof or fact, but on their worldview.

The virgin birth shows us that at the core of our redemption is the supernatural, the miraculous and that we should believe it. Donald Macleod writes about the virgin birth, (The Person of Christ, p. 37)

"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? The virgin birth is God's gracious declaration, at the very outset of the gospel, that the act of faith is a legitimate sacrificium intellectus."

Christians, don't be ashamed of the supernatural element of Christianity. Don't let anyone convince you that Christians are anti-intellectual and that they're out of touch with reality. That's just an assumption by non-Christians. They have no proof that God doesn't exist. At its root their denial of Christianity stems from their desire to be rid of God's authority. They want their autonomy and their sin. Some of their claims are absolutely audacious. They follow the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, who argued that the phenomena of this world could never directly reveal God. Thus they dismiss the supernatural. They claim that if God exists that He couldn't reveal Himself. That's quite a box they put God in! With a wave of their hand they totally dismiss all the supernatural revelations in the Bible. Their denial is in sharp contrast to the reality of Psalm 19 which says, (Psalm 19:1–5)

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world."

Their outright dismissal of God is reminiscent of Pharaoh's words to Moses, (Exodus 5:2)

"Who is the LORD, that I should obey him
and let Israel go?
I do not know the LORD
and I will not let Israel go."

They can only say that because they are closing their eyes to the clear revelation of God.

Faith is not unreasonable. Faith is not irrational. As the apostle Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:19,

"And we have the word
of the prophets made more certain,
and you will do well to pay attention to it,
as to a light shining in a dark place,
until the day dawns and
the morning star rises in your hearts."

John Frame writes about our knowledge of God from nature and Scripture, including God's historical judgments, miracles such as the resurrection of Christ, the fulfillment of prophecy and the full range of the apostles' experience of Christ. (John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God [The Collected Works of John M. Frame 1: Theology; Bits & Bytes/Accordance electronic ed. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987], 142.)

"It is therefore entirely right and proper that apologists have appealed to such events as evidence for the truth of Christianity. The evidence is rich and powerful: through it God is "clearly seen" (Rom. 1:20). The evidence of nature alone is sufficient to leave sinners "without excuse" (Rom. 1:20). But God adds to the evidence of nature a great number of miracles and fulfilled prophecies and, of course, the self-attesting Scripture itself. So rich is the evidence that one never has the right or need to demand more (Luke 16:19–31)."

In the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, Abraham said to the rich man, (Luke 16:31)

"If they do not listen
to Moses and the Prophets,
they will not be convinced
even if someone rises from the dead."

Frame continues,

"The evidence, then, is of such a high quality that it rightly obligates consent."

You Christians live by faith, but it is faith based on God's Word; it is faith based on reality; it is faith that is wholly rational.

The second thing that the virgin birth teaches us is that

we should rejoice in Jesus because He is able to save us. The virgin birth gives us great hope.

We should embrace the virgin birth and rejoice in God's work on our behalf.

Sin has put the human race in an impossible situation. If we survey Paul's indictment against both Jews and Gentiles in Romans 2 & 3 we find that his conclusion leaves us hopeless, as far as help coming from within the human race. He wrote, (Romans 3:23)

"for all have sinned and
fall short of the glory of God,"

We are sinners. We're lost on our own. All human beings descended from Adam are conceived in sin and are born with original sin. As David wrote in Psalm 51:5,

"Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time
my mother conceived me."

The curse against sin is death. Our only hope is a Savior, who, in one very important way, isn't like us—he needs to be sinless. Donald Macleod writes, (p. 37)

"The race needs a redeemer, but cannot itself produce one; not by its own decision or desire, not by the process of education and civilization, not as a precipitate of its own evolution. The redeemer must come from outside."

Thus the virgin birth shows that human beings are sinners and that we cannot save ourselves. The virgin birth is a sign of God's judgment on human nature. Human nature, we all received it from Adam, was not able to save us or produce a savior.

Isn't it interesting that in Genesis 3:15, God spoke of a Redeemer for mankind, yet He didn't speak of this Redeemer coming from the seed of the man, but from the seed of the woman? He said to Satan, (Genesis 3:15)

"And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel."

That's the first hint of the virgin birth. The Redeemer was going to come from the seed of the woman, not the seed of the man. Donald Macleod writes, (p. 37)

"He is not a development from 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:"

Jesus was sinless. How could Jesus stand outside the guilt of Adam? Adamic guilt was not imputed to Jesus. Donald Macleod writes, (Person of Christ, p. 41)

"The only factor available to help us understand this immunity is the virgin birth. Adam begot a son in his own image (Gn. 5:3). But Adam did not beget Christ. The Lord's existence has nothing to do with Adamic desire or Adamic initiative. As we have already seen, Christ is new. He is from outside. He is not a derivative from, or branch of, Adam. He is parallel to the first man, a new departure, and as such not involved in the guilt which runs in the original stream."

Christians, how you should embrace and love Jesus.

The virgin birth is a sign of the uniqueness of Jesus, there is no one else like Him. His birth gives us great hope. It points to His absolute holiness. There is such glory in the virgin birth. The activity of the Holy Spirit is emphasized and the virgin birth highlights both Jesus' sinless humanity and His holiness as God. He is not only true man, but He is true God.

The humanity of Jesus was created by the Holy Spirit. As a true man He was absolutely sinless. Luke's gospel brings this so clearly. The angel said to Mary,

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High
will overshadow you.
So the holy one to be born
will be called the Son of God."

Donald Macleod, (Person of Christ, p. 40-41)

"We need say no more than that the humanity of Christ was created by the Holy Spirit, rather than procreated by sexual intercourse, and that as such it partook of the essential character of all that God creates: it was very good… Just as God made the first man upright, even though he was formed from the dust of the ground (Gn. 2:7), so he makes the Last Man upright, even though he was born from the sinful mother."

But Mary's son would be more than just a sinless human being. Luke designates Mary's son as "the Holy One" and tells us He will be called, 'the Son of God', the 'Son of the Most High'. (verse 32)

Matthew's account confirms this. He makes it very clear that Mary's son is God. In verse 23 says that His name will be Immanuel, which means,

"God with us."

The sum of this is that the virgin birth gives the human race hope. Without Him we are lost. There is no hope for us.

But with Jesus, everything changes. As we read in Hebrews 7:26–27,

"Such a high priest meets our need—
one who is holy, blameless, pure,
set apart from sinners,
exalted above the heavens.
Unlike the other high priests,
he does not need to offer sacrifices
day after day, first for his own sins,
and then for the sins of the people.
He sacrificed for their sins
once for all when he offered himself."

Christians, embrace this doctrine and rejoice in it. With the birth of Jesus there is hope for the world. What wisdom God displayed in our salvation!

For those of you who are not Christians, this doctrine of the virgin birth shows you that

you need saving.

The fact that you were born from a human father and mother means that your condition is one of lostness. On your own you are not fit to dwell with God. It doesn't matter how hard you try, how many good works you do—your birth as a son of Adam has doomed you. It has doomed you, unless you go to Jesus, the only One who can save you. Humble yourself and accept Jesus. Vern Poythress writes, (Redeeming Science, p. 29)

"the gospel itself, with its message of forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ, offers the only remedy that can truly end this fight against God. But it brings with it the ultimate humiliation: that my restoration comes entirely from God, from outside me—in spite of, rather than because of, my vaunted abilities."

Go to Jesus today.