Theological

99 Truth Papers
Hyde Park Christian Fellowship
Jay Smith
April 1997


The Virgin Birth of Jesus: Its Significance


Introduction

There are certain theological concepts or words which we share in common with the Muslims, though the meanings which we attach to them differ substantially, and even contradict completely with that which they attach to them? Five of these concepts or words which I feel are of importance are 1) the meaning of the title Messiah, 2) the fact of the Virgin Birth, 3) the concept of the Kingdom of God, 4) the Name for Jesus, and 5) the significance of the Sacrificial Lamb. What I find interesting is that while Christians place great importance on all of these five ideas, the Muslims though they recognize their existance in scripture, have no real concept of their importance, and at times do not even understand what they mean, or the significance they hold for the sources from which they were borrowed.

It is important, therefore, that we take these five ideas, or words, and explain their meanings from the Christian perspective, so that we can not only better speak to the issues they raise for our Muslim friends, but finally offer them the real significance which God had intended.

In another paper I introduced a discussion concerning the word Messiah. In that talk I was concerned that our Muslim friends be acquainted with the Messiah as He really is, and not as a person who, according to Muslims, is merely a prophet. I wanted them to see that our scriptures clearly defined Him as a person who was uniquely anointed by God, though He was equal with God. I wanted them to understand His mission was two-fold, to come initially as a suffering servant in order to take upon Himself the sins of the world, and then. as a consequence, to initiate the true Kingdom of God, which is here and now.

Until they understood the Messiah fully, they would continue using the title for Jesus as the "al-Masih," yet fail to comprehend that as the Messiah, Jesus fulfilled all that God required of His creation, which negated any need for another prophet, or a further revelation, for that matter.

In this study I would like to continue with that same theme, and delve into the fact of the Virgin Birth, a fact which both Christianity and Islam agree upon, but which Islam has little understanding of, both historically and theologically. It is obvious that their idea for the virgin birth has been borrowed from Christianity, but without the meaning which the Bible has attached to it. It is for that reason that I would like at this time to help our Muslim friends understand the real significance of the virgin birth.

That Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit of God is an important belief for both Muslims and Christians. However, we are faced with the urgent question, "Why?" Why was Jesus born of a virgin? What does this tell us about Him? What kind of a person can be born only of a virgin? And why is this important to us today?

In the Qur'an, Mary asks the angel how she could be pregnant as, "no man hath touched [her]" (Sura 3:47). The angel answered that it was so decreed (Sura 19:20). Yet why should this child come in this manner? Most Muslims would shrug in ignorance, as the Qur'an never explains it.

At times like these, the Qur'an points the Muslim to those to whom the former revelations were given, the Christians. We read, "If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee. The truth had indeed come to thee from thy Lord" (Sura 10:94; cf. 21:7).

Let us, therefore, go to these scriptures and ask them to explain this unique birth. Perhaps then we can see the real significance of Christmas as God intended.

[I] The Virgin Birth Delineates the Uniqueness of Jesus

The former scriptures say a number of things concerning Jesus. To begin with they say that He was:

Unique in His conception:

In the annals of history, no other human being has had such a marvelous conception. Not even Muhammad. All the rest of the human race stands together. Since the time of Adam and Eve we have all had two parents.

But, this one human, Jesus of Nazareth, stands alone as a kind of new, second Adam. He, alone, was born of a virgin. And this birth was unique in other respects as well.

We read in the Bible that the angel Gabriel foretold His conception (see Luke 1:24-37), and that a new and strange star appeared, indicating where He would be born. At the time of His birth angels proclaimed the event (see Luke 2:8-14), and before He could talk wise men from the East came to worship Him (see Matthew 2:11). John the Baptist, also miraculously born (though not virgin-born), while still a baby in the womb, leapt for joy as soon as Mary, with the newly conceived Jesus, arrived.

Unique in His sinlessness:

His life, consequently, echoed the way He came into the world. In Luke chapter 4 we read that the devil came to tempt Jesus as he had tempted the first Adam, but was unable to corrupt Him. Jesus stayed absolutely obedient to His Word. Unlike the rest of humanity He never sinned.

Unique in His power:

His uniqueness was displayed in many ways. In Luke 3:22, 4:1,14 etc... we are told that the Spirit of God, the power of the highest, rested upon Him. As a result Jesus went about doing endless miracles; healing the sick, controlling nature itself, and raising the dead. He knew what people were thinking, where they had been, what they had done without ever asking them. He could even tell the future. All of this shows us that here was a man who knew far more of the power of God than any other human who has ever lived.

Conceived by the Holy Spirit, Jesus lived in an endless display of the power of the Spirit of God. There was no limit to what He could do in the service of God. Nobody found Him unable to meet their need.

Unique in His message:

His uniqueness was witnessed in other areas as well. Jesus was not just an ordinary man chosen by God to bear a very important message. His message received its authority from Himself. He did not get His authority from His message. In other words, with Jesus, His teaching is less important than the man Himself. He told people to follow Him, and not just to follow His teaching. Even when He taught, the people were not so amazed at what He said as the power and authority He had in His teaching (see Luke 4:32).

The virgin birth of Jesus, therefore, helps us to focus our attention on the man Himself. It is proof that here is someone totally new, totally different, indeed, totally unique. No other prophet, indeed, no other person could come close to making the claims He made, or do the things He did. For this reason His birth was important in announcing the uniqueness of who He was.

[II] The Virgin Birth Points to the Purity of Jesus

But that was not all. The virgin birth also signified that Jesus was not of the line of Adam. Because He did not have two parents, He was exempted from Adam's line. Now, you may ask why this is so important? Why should Jesus not be born in the line of Adam just like every other human being? Why must He not be a descendant of Adam? Why is this fact significant?

To answer this we need to take a long step back, in fact to the very beginning of creation. In the Taurat (Genesis 1) we learn that God created all living creatures with the ability to reproduce themselves. To produce offspring "after their own kind." From the beginning of creation we see that God established a very important principle, that "like produces like."

We see this illustrated on a small scale every day in the way that a child inherits various physical and personal characteristics from its parents, its skin colour, its racial features, even specific likenesses, such as long noses, or body height and weight, or personality traits.

[A] That which comes from Adam is sinful:

On a larger scale, however, we can see that we all possess the basic humanity that Adam and Eve have passed down to us through the myriad of generations since the time of creation. Yet, when we think of humanity, we tend to assume that this likeness pertains to physical attributes alone. But there is more to it than that. Adam passed down to us more than those characteristics which separate us from other animals or living things, such as the apes or reptiles. And here is where the problem lies.

When we read the book of Genesis, we discover that immediately following the story of creation, and the beginning of the human species as we know it, comes the story of the beginning of sin.

The Taurat tells us this story of sin in the events leading to the Fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2. In disobeying God, by eating the fruit that Eve gave to him, Adam brought a judgment and curse upon not only all of his descendants, but upon the universe itself.

In Genesis 2:17, we learn that the very earth was cursed because of Adam's disobedience. As a result of his disobedience, Adam would die and rot away and go back into the dust from which he was formed. He would, therefore, not enjoy perfect life, or health and happiness in the garden of Eden. Nor would he be in relationship with the Lord, as had been intended.

Before they rebelled against God, Adam and Eve were innocent, unashamed by their nakedness, and totally happy with God. After their sin they had changed substantially. Now, suddenly, they were ashamed of their nakedness. They tried to hide away from God. They now understood what evil was, and how it differed from what was good.

So, although Adam had been created very good, free from all moral pollution or physical danger, yet, he, by disobeying God, had brought about death, shame and corruption into his own heart, together with his wife, Eve. Sin had now entered the world, and had permeated Adam and his wife Eve.

In Genesis 5:3 we are told that Adam produced offspring "in his own likeness, after his own image." Again, we find the old dictum that, "like produces like."

Adam had defiled his own humanity. He had brought a curse upon himself from God. He had become guilty and sinful. Adam's children were, likewise, the same. They too were corrupt and cursed. "Like produces like." Take for instance the very first son of Adam, who was Cain. What did he become? A murderer. And from then on we are not surprised to read that the history of humanity is filled with murder, hate and jealousy.

Therefore, we have a chain of human life reaching back to Adam, the consequence of whose sin has affected us all. Because of that original sin by Adam we are all imputed with the guilt of sin, the wages of which is death.

Today we see those consequences all the time. We notice that children are naturally selfish and disobedient. They need to be disciplined to be good. And as we all know, the natural tendency for humans is to behave badly, putting themselves as their own highest authorities, and their thoughts are so often shameful. Even Muslims admit that Muhammad, whom they believe to be the highest example for us to follow, himself, did what was wrong and had to pray about his sins (Surah). Indeed, as Romans 3:10 says, "There in no-one righteous, not even one." We have all been imputed with the sin of Adam, as "Like has produced like," right on down through the annals of history, till today. But there is one exception.

[B] That which comes from God is sinless:

There is one who never did anything wrong. He went against the norm. He was sinless, the only man who ever was, and His name was Jesus, the sign promised by the prophet Isaiah. He had to be like that because of who He was and what His mission would be.

Jesus could not be a son of Adam. He could not be a descendent of the corrupt and cursed Adam. Therefore, He was conceived from a Holy source, from God himself. By His virgin birth, He was not imputed with the sin which the rest of us were imputed. He was different, because His Father was different. Remember the dictum, "Like produces like."

Jesus shared the characteristics of His Father. By this we do not mean that He was conceived by God in a sexual way. No, from scripture we are told that the power of the highest miraculously worked to produce a conception in Mary's Virgin womb. But that child carried the nature of God within Him, as He was "God with us-Immanuel."

Here was a child that was described by Gabriel as a "holy one." This child was not part of that chain of curse and corruption reaching back to Adam. Here was a new Adam, a new, fresh, human being. Here was a human that was not under the curse of God. In fact, in Luke 3:22, we read that God spoke from heaven, saying that Jesus was His Son whom He loved and that He was well pleased with Him. There was no shame or guilt or corruption in this man.

As proof of this we find that His holiness did not go unnoticed, even by those who were not of His group, those who persecuted Him, and despised Him. At the end of His life, Pilate said that He could find nothing wrong with Jesus, and so washed his hands of his execution. In Luke 4:34 even a demon identified Him as the "Holy One of God."

We know that like produces like, so we know that Jesus shared the same nature as His father. Yet, you may ask, what about His mother? He had a human mother did He not? That is true, He did. It is because He had a human mother that we know that He also had a human nature. Due to His virgin birth Jesus had the nature of a human and the nature of God, yet He remained one person. The significance of His two natures would take pages to explain. Suffice it to say that in Jesus, God is revealed in human form as God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). His virgin birth, however, underlies these two natures: born of a woman, providing Him His humanity, yet born of a virgin, underlining His divinity.

And, some believe, it is important that it was through his mother and not his father that He came to earth. If we were to look at the story of the fall in Genesis 2 and 3, we find that it was Adam who received the warning from God not to eat of the forbidden fruit. Eve had not yet been created. Therefore, Adam had the higher authority to keep this promise. In chapter 3, when Eve took the fruit and ate it, she was not alone. Adam was with her according to verse 6. Historically, the church has taught that the blame for the sin of eating the fruit was uniquely Eves, because she was the first to eat it. Yet, Adam was right there witnessing the act and he did nothing to stop her. He therefore, is as culpable as her, and in some respects possibly more-so, as it was to him that the warning had originally been given. Eve only heard about it 2nd-hand from Adam.

For this reason, one can say that the guilt for having eaten the fruit could be greater for Adam than for Eve. It is therefore, of more importance that Jesus be descended from Eve and not Adam, to be fully exonerated from the guilt of that first sin.

[C] That which comes from Eve is fulfilled:

If we stay in the 3rd chapter of Genesis, and verse 15, we find a prophecy spoken by God concerning the descendant of Eve and Satan. God says, "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." God in this verse is foretelling the event of the cross which was to happen thousands of years later. What He is saying here is that an offspring of Eve would crush the head of Satan. We know this happened on the cross and the subsequent resurrection, when Jesus finally destroyed the work of Satan by triumphing over death.

What is interesting is that God did not say the offspring of Adam, nor did God say "their offspring," referring to the two of them. He purposefully mentions "her" offspring, pointing to the female side of the created parent, since Eve stands for all of woman-hood (as can clearly be seen in the subsequent prophecies in vs. 16 which only women can suffer). Therefore, the person to fulfill this prophecy had to be a woman. Essentially what is happening here is that God is pointing to the virgin birth, since Adam's offspring would not be involved in this birth, absolving Him from Adam's sin. The virgin birth has thus added importance, because it fulfills the prophecy which God gave to Eve way back at the dawn of creation.

[III] The Virgin Birth signifies the Divinity of Jesus

Yet, that is not all. The virgin birth has other significance for us today, as well. According to the book of Isaiah, we find that this unique child would be a sign to the people of Israel. In chapter 7, verse 14 we read:

Isaiah 7:14 "The Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel."

What was the sign which the virgin birth was to announce? It was that a child named Immanuel was to be conceived. This was no ordinary name, for this was no ordinary child. Immanuel means "God with us." Therefore the child's name signified who the child was; this child was "God with us." Here then is the sign. God, Himself, was to come through this virgin birth.

In The Injil, in the book of Matthew 1:18-25, we are told that this prophecy is fulfilled in the conception and birth of Jesus, the Christ (another name for Messiah). Before Mary and Joseph had any sexual relations, Mary was pregnant "through the Holy Spirit." In verse 20 we are told that her conception was an act of the Holy Spirit, not by sexual intercourse (as some Muslims claim the scripture is saying), but by a miracle.

In Luke 1:26-2:52, we read in more detail of the conception and birth of Jesus. There are too many verses for us to read at this time, but the gist can be summed up as follows: The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her that her virgin-born child will be called the "Son of the Most High, the Lord God," and that "He will reign over the house of Jacob (Israel) forever." When Mary queries the possibility of this prophecy, Gabriel explains that the power of the highest, the Holy Spirit, would "overshadow" her and therefore, the "Holy One" in her would be called the "Son of God." As in the case of the Messiah, we can be in no doubt that with this virgin birth, someone extremely important was to be born. He was the Holy One, the Son of the Most High God. In Luke 3:38 we learn that only Adam is similarly referred to as the "Son of God," yet in his case, he was offered this title due to the fact that he was created by God and not by the process of procreation.

Note: why do Muslims, in questioning the seeming physical relationship of Jesus to God, as His son, not also question Adam's physical relationship to God, as he is also referred to as the "Son of God?"

It is interesting to note that in Adam's creation he was created without sin, completely blameless, and in relation with God. In this way he was a "Son of God." There was nothing in his life at the beginning which could impair that relationship which he had with God.

This fact helps us to understand why the virgin birth of Jesus is, thus, so important. The fact that His birth was a virgin birth brought added significance, in that since Jesus was born unlike any other human, without two parents, He could clearly be identified as the sign promised by Isaiah, as God, Himself amongst us, the Holy One.

Conclusion: Its significance for us today

What then can we say is the significance of the virgin birth? What is it that Muslims need to know about the virgin birth which will help them to understand God better? From what we have just read it is evident that the virgin birth has enormous significance.

First of all this unique birth delineates the absolute uniqueness of Jesus Christ, that He was totally distinct from all the rest of humanity in His conception, in His moral character, in His power, and in His message. There was and is no-one like Him. Thus it stands to reason that only He was born of a virgin. Muslims should ask why their Qur'an never explains the reason for this unique birth of Jesus. The fact that the Qur'an mentions the virgin birth yet says nothing concerning its significance, while at the same time elevating another person to a greater level than Jesus shows that much has been left unsaid, possibly because it was a borrowed idea to begin with, yet an idea full of hidden truth.

Our Muslim friends must be informed that Jesus, though He was a human like us, was also divine, and consequently, did not partake of the curse of Adam with which we have all been imputed. For that reason, Jesus, who because of His divinity was sinless, could take upon Himself our sins completely. Consequently, we now have the assurance of our salvation, something which Muslims can never claim.

The virgin birth furthermore shows us that it was Jesus who fulfilled the prophecy given to Eve, that one of her offspring would come and destroy the power of Satan, the power of death, and the power of evil in the world; and in so doing, bring us back into relationship with God, so that we could now live with Him for. That is the great news which Muslims need to hear.

And finally, since the virgin birth was promised by the prophet Isaiah as a sign of "Immanuel," God with us, who was yet to come; Jesus as the only person in history to have been born in such a way, truly can be called "God with Us." The fulfillment of that prophecy informs us that this child was also the Son of God, and that He was the Holy One. Muslims need to be made aware of these prophecies and their fulfillment. They must know that since God has already come among us, there is now no need for a further prophet, or a further revelation. All has been fulfilled in this one unique person.

To understand this truth, however, Muslims will then need to delve into the reason why God came to be with us. On this point the Qur'an is deeply inadequate. Since it does not speak at all of the curse of Adam, it knows little concerning the consequences and remedy of sin. It also says nothing concerning the significance of the virgin birth. The Bible, however, has these answers (Sura 10:49). It is up to us to share it with them.

Because they have not understood the nature of sin, they have not understood the need for its rectification, which requires a divine intervention for its eradication. It is no wonder, then, that they have not understood the significance of the virgin birth, though they continue to claim its validity in history. Here then is our task, to re-introduce the uniqueness of Jesus's birth, without which we would continue to live in sin for eternity.


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