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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:What the gospel promises us in the virginal conception and birth of the Son of God
Text:LD 14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Incarnation
 
Preached:2014
Added:2015-12-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note all songs from the 2014 Book of Praise.

Hymn 6

Hymn 42

Hymn 20:1,2

Hymn 1

Psalm 147:1,4,6

Scripture readings:  Hebrews 2:5-18, Hebrews 4:14-16

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 14

 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

Think back to the last time you saw a little baby.  Let me ask you:  when did that baby’s life really begin?  You might say that it was on the day he or she was born.  But if you think about it, that would be wrong.  The life of that child really began at conception.  Life begins when you come into existence as a zygote in your mother’s womb.  This is true of nearly all human babies.  They don’t exist at all until they’re conceived. 

But notice I said, “nearly all human babies.”  There was one human baby in history that was different.  There was someone who existed before he was conceived and born.  The eternal Son of God didn’t come into existence at the moment of his conception.  The eternal Son of God existed before he was a zygote and an embryo and so on -- he existed before he was a human being.  The Bible teaches us in John 1 that the Son of God was there with the Father before creation.  The Son of God is eternal – he has always existed and always will.

At a precise point in history, this eternally existing Son of God took on a human nature.  When did he do this?  You often hear people talking about the Virgin Birth.  That could give the impression that the miracle took place near the manger, when Mary gave birth to him.  But the miracle really took place at his conception.  It was a virginal conception.  No human father was involved when the Son of God took on a human nature.  As someone once said (John Blanchard), what’s unique is not how he left his mother’s womb, but how he entered it.  That was miraculous.  The Son of God became a human being, starting off just like we all did, as a tiny, microscopic zygote, but with the difference that there was no human father in the picture.

Now you might ask, “How could that happen?  Can you describe the process by which a human being is conceived without a father in the picture?”  There are creatures which can reproduce without male involvement.  If you go to some of the bigger zoos in North America (like Toronto), you can usually find New Mexico Whiptail Lizards.  They’re amazing creatures.  The whole species is made up of females who can reproduce on their own, without any male involvement.  This is called parthenogenesis.  Is that what happened with the virginal conception and birth of the Son of God?  Maybe that’s the simple, natural explanation.  It was a freak example of parthenogenesis in humans.  But it doesn’t work because if it was parthenogenesis, Jesus should have been a woman.  For parthenogenesis to produce a male, there had to be a ‘y’ chromosome somehow present.  ‘Y’ chromosomes only come from males.  So there is no natural explanation for the virginal conception.  We have to accept what the Bible says about it. 

The Bible says in Luke 1:35 that it happened by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Somehow the Spirit worked so that Jesus became a true man without sin.  Somehow Jesus received Mary’s DNA and from that alone became a sinless human being.  Still today the incarnate God carries Mary’s genes.  He is her true flesh and blood, physically descended from her line of ancestors.  The mechanics of this are mysterious and miraculous.  All we can say is that the Holy Spirit somehow engineered it.  Exactly how, we can’t say.  We can’t say, because it hasn’t been revealed to us. 

So those are the facts of the virginal conception and birth.  The eternally existing Son of God became one of us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  He took on human flesh from Mary inside her womb.  He therefore came into this world as a true man.  This is what we confess in the Apostles’ Creed with that article, “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” 

But what does that mean for our salvation?  That’s what I want to focus on this afternoon.  In particular, we’re going to look at this doctrine through the lens of what it promises us.  This is a gospel doctrine, a doctrine that encourages us with good news.  So we’re going to learn about what the gospel promises in the virginal conception and birth of the Son of God

We’ll see that we are promised:

  1. A sinless Saviour like his brothers in almost every respect
  2. A matchless Mediator to cover our sin

Imagine for a moment that you’re suffering with depression.  For some of you, you don’t need to imagine.  Some of you have experienced that in the past, some are right now.  But if you haven’t, just try and put yourself in that position.  You’re in a dark place.  It’s been compared to being in a deep pit.  Now imagine that you feel a need to talk to someone about it.  You’ve got two close friends.  The one friend has never struggled with anything, or so it seems.  This friend always gives the appearance of having it all together.  This friend is nice enough, but just doesn’t have the life experience to really empathize with you.  It’s not their fault, it’s just that they’ve never gone through anything hard.  But then there’s that other friend.  This friend has been in some dark places before too.  This friend has hit rock bottom in the past and knows what it’s like to suffer.  Maybe it’s not exactly the same suffering that you’re in, but this friend knows pain and hurt.  Which friend are you more likely to go to?  Which friend are you going to open up to and unload your burdens on?  Which friend will empathize best?  The answer is obvious, isn’t it?        

Well, the Bible comes to us with the promise that we have a most compassionate friend in Jesus Christ.  In him, we have someone who can empathize with us in the best possible way.  According to Scripture, Jesus stands ready to comfort and encourage us when we suffer.  In Romans 8, we learn that no suffering of any kind can separate us from the love of Christ.  At the end of Hebrews 4, we go further and learn that he’s also ready to encourage us when we struggle with sin in our lives.  When we are tempted to sin, we can go to Christ and we will find that we have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, someone who has been in our shoes, tempted just like we are.  And it says in Hebrews 2:18, “For because he himself suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Where does the virginal conception and birth fit into this?  What’s the connection?  You might say, isn’t it enough to know that God knows?  After all, God is omniscient, he knows everything.  So he knows about suffering and temptations and so on.  The Father didn’t need to send his Son to learn about suffering and temptation – he already knows everything.  This is true.  From his side, God didn’t need to do this.  The problem is on our side.  The problem is with us and our sin and weakness.  We are prone to doubt God and we have a human tendency to put God at a distance and think that God is too high and exalted and he can’t really understand our struggles. 

This was well-illustrated around the time when the Heidelberg Catechism was written.  People thought of God in a particular way.  Today people often think of God as an indulgent grandfather or as a sort of Santa Claus in the sky.  That wasn’t the way most people thought of God before the Reformation.  Before the Reformation, most people thought of God only as a high and mighty Judge.  Even Jesus was portrayed in this way.  Before the Reformation, when many people went to church they saw pictures of Christ as the coming Judge.  It was a one-sided portrayal of our Saviour.  There was little understanding of him as a compassionate friend or sympathetic high priest.  That was because many people didn’t have the biblical knowledge to check this human tendency to put God at a distance.  As a result, Mary was seen as the compassionate one.  Mary was the one you should go to, because she’s totally and only human, she’s a woman, a mother, and so she understands best.

So, there is that tendency to push God away and think that he’s irrelevant or doesn’t understand.  Partly to address that problem of our fallen human nature, the Son of God took on our human nature.  He came to our world and became like us in almost every single respect.  As a true human being, he faced the struggles and difficulties we face.  He faced sufferings and heartache.  He was tortured in soul.  Jesus faced temptations, not just in his encounter with Satan at the beginning of his ministry, but throughout his life.  You have a Saviour who can truly empathize with you, whatever it is that you’re up against.  The gospel promises us this.  Loved ones, believe this promise, embrace the Saviour who took on human nature to become your compassionate friend in heaven.  Today you have someone who understands, someone who is on your side, but also someone who has the power to help you.  A lot of times all our earthly friends can do is listen.  They might offer words of advice, but sometimes they can’t even do that.  They feel helpless.  But in heaven, your compassionate High Priest not only listens in a caring way, but he also has the power to change things.  So bring to him your burdens and cares and humbly ask him to do exactly that.  Ask him to show mercy and lift those burdens, and if he won’t lift them, ask him to give you the strength to carry on.  But whatever you do, don’t turn away from him.  Look at what it says in Hebrews 4:16 – this is the take-away:  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

There is more gospel encouragement in a sinless Saviour like his brothers in almost every respect.  That has to do with his righteousness.  Being sinless means that he was perfectly obedient to God.   He came into the world entirely without sin.  And then throughout his life, he obeyed God’s commandments perfectly.  God requires all human beings to do exactly that.  He required perfect obedience of Adam and Eve and he still requires that of all people today.  The Son of God took on our human flesh to fulfill that requirement for everyone who believes in him.  Romans 5:19 says, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”  The human being Adam disobeyed and that led to sin throughout the whole human race.  The human Jesus (the Second Adam) obeyed and that led to righteousness for the many who believe in him.  Taking on human flesh was an essential part of his active obedience for us.  So, the incarnation connects to our justification, to the gospel comfort of knowing that God sees us as perfectly obedient when we believe in Jesus Christ.  So, loved ones, here too, believe this gospel promise and be comforted.  Take comfort, knowing that your sinless Saviour became a man to do what you couldn’t do for yourself.  He offered the obedience that you can’t and he did it for you.  Your compassionate friend Jesus did it for you.  Believe it and rejoice in it. 

The virginal conception and birth also promises us a matchless Mediator to cover our sin.  All our sin is covered by Jesus.  Of course, that’s an essential part of the gospel message.  But how does it relate to the Son of God taking on our human flesh? 

The answer is in what we read from Hebrews 2.  According to Hebrews 2, since it was flesh and blood that sinned, flesh and blood had to deal with sin.  There are two ways that can take place.  Hebrews 2 describes one way.  The other way is described elsewhere in Scripture.  The other way is for you to try to pay for your sin yourself.  The problem is the weightiness of sin.  Even if you were to commit only one sin against God, you would be in eternal trouble.  Because, you see, the weightiness of sin is directly connected to the holy majesty of God.  Even one sin is a big deal because God is so holy and majestic.  The weightiness of sin rests in the infinite majesty of the one sinned against.  If you sin even once against an infinitely holy and majestic God, you incur an infinite debt to his justice.  How do you repay an infinite debt?  You can’t.  You can try, but you will never succeed.  This is why hell is eternal.  Hell is where sinners spend eternity making the payment for sin that will never be complete.  So you’d have to agree that paying for yourself is not an attractive option. 

Hebrews 2 presents the attractive option, really the only option to have your sins completely covered and paid for.  Remember:  human flesh and blood is obligated to pay for sin.  Because that’s true, the Son of God came into this world and took on our human flesh and blood.  He became one of us so that he might suffer and die for us, paying the debt that we owe, covering our sin in the sight of God, turning away his just wrath from us so that we can reconciled to him.  This is all expressed powerfully in Hebrews 2:17, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he [Jesus] might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”  Let me unpack those words for you. 

The Son of God had to take on a human nature to become a high priest for us.  This language and imagery are drawn from the Old Testament.  In the Old Testament, we find the ceremonial laws which God gave through Moses.  There were priests who were responsible for offering sacrifices on behalf of the people.  At certain times, the priests also represented God.  For instance, the priests would bless the people using the words of Numbers 6:24-26.  So, at certain times, the priests represented the people, at other times they represented God.  We have a special word for that kind of work:  it’s the work of a mediator.  A mediator goes between two parties at odds with each other and brings them together in peace.  In the Old Testament, the priests acted as mediators in God’s relationship with his people, that special relationship we call the covenant of grace.                     

Now the Old Testament had one priest who stood out above all the rest.  There was always a High Priest.  He also represented both God and the people.  The High Priest had a unique job, especially connected to his representation of the people.  There was a special day called the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).  On that one day, the High Priest would be very busy.  Leviticus 16 describes what had to be done on that day. 

In Leviticus 16, we find that there were two goats.  The lot was to be cast for these two goats – one goat would be chosen as a sacrifice to God, the other would be the scapegoat.  The lot was cast – that likely took place with a container and two objects that would be different from one another.  So one might be white and the other black.  Through the casting of lots, they would decide which goat would live and which one would die. 

The goat that would die was a sin offering for the people.  Its blood was to be taken into the most holy place by the High Priest and sprinkled on the atonement cover.  The result was that God’s wrath was turned away from the people – this goat was a propitiation.  It pointed ahead to the propitiation that our great High Priest Christ would offer on the cross for our sins, the propitiation mentioned in Hebrews 2:17.  Propitiation means that through his sacrifice, God’s wrath has been placated and appeased, turned away from us.  As a true human being, Christ took it entirely on himself for us and in our place.  He covered all our sins with his blood and so we have been restored to God’s favour.  The first goat in Leviticus 16 pointed ahead to him. 

But so did the second goat, the scapegoat.  After the high priest made the sacrifice with the first goat, he was to take the live goat and lay both hands on its head.  He was to confess over it “all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites – all their sins – and put them [symbolically] on the goat’s head.”  Then the goat was to be led out into the desert and released.  That was the scapegoat and it represented what we call expiation, cleansing and the cancellation of sin.  It pointed ahead to Christ as well.  Through Christ we are cleansed from our sin, we are given white robes to wear, and we are free from guilt and shame before God!  When Christ died on the cross, our guilt and shame disappeared.

In all of this, Christ acted as our matchless Mediator.  As a human being, as one of us, our great High Priest took action on our behalf so that all our sins would be covered in the sight of God.  He took action for us so that God would see only him and not our sins.  He made the sacrifice that restores to us a relationship of fellowship with God within the covenant of grace.  Loved ones, the gospel promises us all this and again we’re called to believe these things.  Say with me in your heart, “Yes, I believe that the Son of God is my Mediator who covered my sin with his sacrifice.  He is my propitiation.  He is my scapegoat.  I believe that through him, I am innocent and perfectly holy in the sight of God.”  Believe this brothers and sisters, see what a gracious God you have, praise him for that, and love him for it. 

The virginal conception and birth of Christ was a miracle.  But it’s not just a miracle.  It’s not in Scripture so that we can just ooohh and aaah over it.  It’s a miracle that directly ties into the gospel of our redemption.  His humanity ties him to us.  That’s encouraging because we know have an advocate in heaven who understands the brokenness of this world and our brokenness.  It’s also encouraging because we know that a real human being not only covered our sins, but also lived perfectly for us.  Brothers and sisters, let’s continue looking to him in faith, resting and trusting only in him.  AMEN.     

Prayer:

Merciful Saviour,

We thank you for being our compassionate and sympathetic high priest.  We’re glad that you humbled yourself and took on our human flesh.  Lord Jesus, we believe that you understand us and the trials and difficulties we experience.  Please help us to bring all of our cares and burdens to you, to trust that you love us and have the power to help us.  We’re also grateful that you lived an obedient life in our place.  Thank you for the encouragement that gives us.  We know the bar has been set so high and to think that you accomplished for us, that makes us joyful, that makes us love and want to serve you.  And then there’s your covering our sin with your sacrifice on the cross.  Through you we have propitiation, you’ve turned away wrath and returned favour to us.  You took on our human flesh to do that too.  It’s comforting and encouraging to us.  Please help us with your Spirit so that believing this, we would never doubt your love.  You have loved us to death and beyond – please let that thought encourage us and sustain us as we face the struggles of daily life, also our struggles with sin.    

                            

 

          

          




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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