Metaphysical naturalism made inroads into Western universities during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and even seminaries and schools of divinity were not immune. Many godly professors stood their ground against those who denied the supernatural, but others succumbed to the prevailing mood of the day, denying the possibility of miracles and even the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus. Belief in the virgin birth became particularly embarrassing, and much work was done trying to prove that there was nothing supernatural about Christ’s birth.
Enemies of Christianity continue to attack Jesus’ virgin birth, or, more accurately, His virginal conception. Clearly, however, anyone who tries to make the case that the New Testament does not teach such a miracle is wasting his time. As today’s passage reveals, the Apostles had no doubt that our Savior’s conception was special, the result of divine intervention. Luke’s record of Gabriel’s visit to Mary, which he may have received from Mary herself, tells us that Mary was as surprised as any woman would be if she were told that she would be pregnant without lying with a man. Dr. R.C. Sproul has often reminded us that ancient peoples were not stupid but knew how children usually enter the world. Mary knew she was a virgin and that it is ordinarily impossible for virgins to conceive and bear children (Luke 1:34).
Yet, as Gabriel told Mary on that fateful day more than two thousand years ago, nothing is impossible with God (v. 37). Jesus had no ordinary origin but was conceived through the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit. We saw a few months ago that the Mediator had to be a true human being because only a human being could atone for human sin (Heb. 10:1–18). We also noted that the sinful nature we inherit from Adam makes it impossible for a fallen human being, one conceived and born through ordinary means, to atone for sin (Rom. 5:12–21). God overcame this problem via the virginal conception of Jesus, providing a Mediator who is truly human but not tainted by Adam’s sin. In the incarnation, the Son of God truly became flesh (John 1:14) — He took on a true human nature — and He did so without inheriting corruption because of the Spirit’s work. Belief in the virgin birth is crucial to salvation, for this miracle is the means by which God gave us a sinless Mediator.
Question and answer 35 of the Heidelberg Catechism tell us that the virgin birth demonstrates how God could truly unite Himself to a true human nature but remain unstained by sin in the process. This miracle of the incarnation is one of the deepest mysteries of the faith, but it is one that we dare not deny. In coming to earth and taking on a true, though unfallen, human nature, Jesus set the stage for the perfect atonement He would offer on the cross.