Continuing in our studies of the Apostles’ Creed, today we looked at the phrase that we believe in Jesus Christ who was ‘conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary’. Heresies have abounded when trying to understand who Jesus is, since it’s so difficult to understand how He can be both fully God and fully Man, but although we may not understand everything about Him (see Romans 11:32-36), God has given us in the Bible everything we need to know to be saved. We need to be careful to stay within those boundaries, which tell us (in Dorothy L. Sayers’ words) “That Jesus Bar-Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, was in fact and in truth, and in the most exact and literal sense of the words, the ‘God by whom all things were made’… He was also in every respect a genuine and living man.”

The Biblical accounts of the conception of Jesus are found in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38. Here, we have the angel appearing to Mary to tell her that “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:31-32) When she queries how this can happen because she is a virgin, she is told “The Holy Spirit will come on 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.” (Luke 1:35) Similarly, an angel appears to Joseph to reassure him of Mary’s purity: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

These words fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (Is 7:14) and whatever the disputes about the translation of the word ‘virgin’, it is clear from both Mary’s and Joseph’s reaction that they were astounded at the news, the most logical conclusion of which is because she was indeed a virgin at this time and their relationship had not been consummated. The Bible tells us of the miraculous conception of John the Baptist to Mary’s relatives, Elizabeth and Zechariah, but this is not in the same category as the conception of Jesus. There, God’s miraculous power enables a barren woman to conceive (as in the case of Sarah or Hannah in the Old Testament); with Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit comes on Mary to enable her to conceive.

Why does this matter? Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, Paul tells us (1 Tim 1:15). He tells us that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Cor 5:19) and “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) Romans 5 goes on to tell us, however, that sin came into the world through Adam: “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12). That passage goes on to compare Adam, the first man, with Jesus, sometimes referred to as ‘the second Adam’. It tells us that ‘just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.’ (Rom 5:18). It tells us that ‘just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man, the many will be made righteous’. (Rom 5:19) But if sin came into the world through Adam, and therefore all men sin, if Jesus was conceived and born in the same way as every other human being, the logical conclusion to that is that he too was a sinner… and if he was a sinner, He would not be able to offer the perfect sacrifice to God for sin. It matters enormously, therefore, that Jesus was NOT conceived in the normal manner and was born to a virgin.

God is the Creator of all life. Colossians 1:15 tells us that Christ Himself was involved in that work of creation. The rescue mission of Christ was not an afterthought (see Rev 13:8, 1 Pet 1:20) but was part of God’s plan all along. God knew that if sinful mankind were to be redeemed, we would need a Saviour who could share our humanity but who was free from any taint of sin. The method that He chose to work that out is celebrated every Christmas as we rejoice in the fact that Immanuel was born – God with us.

Rejoice! O, world
Your Saviour has come
Through the love of a virgin’s womb
Son of God, Son of Man
Born that we may have life (Chris Tomlin, ‘Born That We May Have Life’)