For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Apostle's Creed - Part 3: The Incarnation and the Virgin Birth

In an age when new things catch our eye old things can get passed over as being irrelevant. This is a form of pride that believes that we are wisest generation and that those from the past have little to teach us. We are like foolish young teenagers who think their parents are astonishingly ignorant. Oh, the wisdom there is to be gained by learning from those who came before us!

In this series I am looking at the Apostles' Creed. It is old, dating back to the first generations of Christians. While not inspired by God, churches throughout history have agreed that it is a helpful summary of the basics of what the Bible teaches regarding salvation. It is not exhaustive, but it is helpful and forms a tremendous foundation for understanding what the gospel is all about.

So far we have examined the fact that God exists and he is the Creator of all that is. We have considered that Jesus is God and that he is the Savior and Lord of Christians. Now we will look at the next phrase in the Creed.

The Bible teaches that Jesus was conceived supernaturally by God. When the angel told Mary that she would give birth to a son Mary was confused because she did not have a husband. She must have been thinking, "How is this possible since I have not had sexual relations with anyone?" The angel explained it this way, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).

Sometimes it is objected that the idea that God had sexual relations with Mary is beneath His dignity. However, the Bible does not teach that is what happened. It implies that the conception of Jesus was miraculous and mysterious. As the angel told her fiancé Joseph, "that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:20). Causing a young woman to become pregnant even though she never had sex is not a difficult thing for One who created galaxies! Mary was caused to be pregnant by God and the child that she bore was God's Son. It was the fulfillment of a strange prophecy in the book of Isaiah: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you will call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14). Immanuel means "God with us."

Why is this important?

In our "scientific" culture, we often are skeptics often scoff at the idea of the virgin birth and reject it. However, God's Word clearly teaches that it happened and we must not reject what God says. In addition, there are a number of important implications of the incarnation and the virgin birth.

Jesus was fully God and fully human.

Jesus was 100% man. He had the strengths and weaknesses that we all face. He got hungry and tired (Matthew 4:2; John 4:6). He had human emotions (Matt 8:10; John 11:35, etc). He faced temptations (Hebrews 4:15). He was like us with one exception: he was without sin. Adam and Eve were created without sin. They sinned, and since then all humans share both in their inherited guilt and have sinned themselves. Jesus was 100% man but never committed sin. This is important because his perfect life was offered as a sacrifice for our sin (Hebrews 2:16-17)

Jesus was 100% God. He demonstrated omnipotence (Matthew 8:26-27) and omniscience (Mark 2:8; John 6:64). The full divinity of God dwelt in Jesus (Col 1:19; 2:9). This is important for several reasons. Only God could withstand the infinite penalty for sin and could serve as the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5).

There have been a number heresies that have resulted from incorrect understandings of how to fit the biblical texts together. As as result, the church called a meeting in Chalcedon in 451 and wrote that Jesus had two natures (human and divine) that were united together in the being of Jesus Christ.

Jesus was fully God and fully human without inherited sin.

All of us have inherited guilt because of the sin of Adam (Romans 5:12-21). Jesus, however, did not inherit the moral corruption and guilt that all other humans. Jesus was not descended from Adam. As the angel declared in Luke 1:35, "the child to be born will be called holy." This does not mean that somehow fathers are the only one to pass on inherited sin, rather it means that the line from Adam was broken. Jesus had the opportunity as man to live a sinless life because his father was God, not Joseph (a descendant of Adam).

But what about Mary? Why didn't Jesus inherit a sinful nature from her? The Roman Catholic Church teaches the doctrine of the "immaculate conception." By this they mean that Mary was born without a sinful nature.* There are two problems with this idea. First, all it really does is push the problem back one generation. How could Mary have been born without sin if her parents were sinful? Second, the Bible does not teach it. It clearly teaches that Jesus was holy because the Holy Spirit came upon Mary at the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35). It is best to place the miracle right where the Bible places it: at the conception of Jesus, not at the conception of Mary.

The fact that Jesus was fully God and fully man demonstrates that salvation is from God. 

Salvation from sin could not come from the hand of man. Throughout the history of the world, with billions of people living and dying, none of them were capable of removing the guilt of sin. It would take an act of God himself to secure our salvation. The incarnation and virgin birth are proof that it was God himself who came to earth to intervene on our behalf by suffering the punishment that was rightfully ours.

*The Roman Catholic Church also teaches the perpetual virginity of Mary and the assumption of Mary. The perpetual virginity of Mary is the idea that Mary remained a virgin her entire life. This doctrine is not biblical. Matthew 1:24-25 tells us that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary "until she had given birth to a son." This clearly implies that after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary consummated their marriage. In addition, the gospels tell us that Jesus had brothers and sisters. These siblings are usually included with Mary, so it is natural to assume that Mary was their mother (Matthew 12:46; 13:55-56; John 2:12). 
The assumption of Mary is the idea that Mary did not die but went directly to heaven at the end of her earthly life. The Bible records that Elijah and Enoch went directly to heaven (2 Kings 2:11; Hebrews 11:5), but it does not say that Mary did. 
We must be aware that the earliest Christians held Mary in high esteem. She was, after all, the one God trusted to give birth to and raise Jesus. Her acceptance of the will of God in spite of its difficulties is a model we should ponder and seek to follow. (Luke 1:38; 2:33-35). We should do this while avoiding non-Biblical doctrines which tend to take the focus off of Jesus.

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