No Gullible Bumpkins Here: Christmas and the Virgin Birth

Mike McKinley | December 14th 2016

Christmas tells the story of two impossible births.

We are accustomed to stories of women giving birth; according to the best estimates, almost 400,000 babies are born every day. I personally know three families who were blessed with a new baby just this week; births are not particularly extraordinary. But there are two kinds of women who never, ever give birth: very old ladies and virgins. And so it makes sense that in Luke 1 both Zechariah and Mary wrestle with the question, “How can this be?”

The answer comes in verse 37, where Gabriel tells Mary that “no word from God will ever fail.” Mary does not need to know the mechanics of how it will happen; she only need be confident that the Lord has declared that it will happen. His word never fails. As some older translations render verse 37, nothing is impossible with God.

Casting Doubt on the Virgin Birth

Now, roughly a century ago influential theologians began to doubt whether or not that was actually true. They pointed to the virgin birth of Jesus as a superstition that intelligent, modern people simply couldn’t accept. After all, we all know that there is no such thing as a baby being born to a virgin. That’s impossible! If Christianity was going to flourish in the scientific era (or so the thinking went), it would need to jettison these kinds of “myths” that were an insult to our reason and intelligence.

On the surface, that might sound reasonable. But if you look closely, you will see that it does not really do justice to Luke’s narrative. Mary and Zechariah and Elizabeth were not gullible bumpkins who didn’t know how babies were made and believed fantastical stories (nor, for that matter, were Luke and his original readers). They found the whole idea just as unlikely as you and I might, but that’s exactly the point! The great theological truth that Luke is bringing to the forefront by including these events in his “orderly account” is that God’s salvation will come in a seemingly impossible way. As Jesus will say later in Luke’s Gospel, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (18:27).

This is not the first time that the Lord has done something like this. Luke’s narrative calls to mind a series of extraordinary births in the Old Testament where a promised deliverer is born to an otherwise barren woman (Isaac in Genesis 17 and 21, Samson in Judges 13, Samuel in 1 Samuel 1). The praise of Zechariah and Mary in our passage calls to mind the joyous song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2. In those Old Testament events, the Lord was establishing a pattern that is brought to fruition in the births of John and Jesus. The point is clear: salvation must come in a way that only God can accomplish so that we will know that God has done it and so that he might get all the glory.

The Question for Us

The question that Luke’s narrative poses to us as his readers is simply whether or not we will believe that God can do what he says he will do. We must believe that God has accomplished his salvation through the work of Christ. We also must live each day confident that God will keep all of the promises he has made to his people, no matter how far removed they might seem from our daily circumstances. Do we really believe that God will keep us and strengthen us in the darkest of valleys? Or do our feelings and our fears seem more truthful than the words of God? Zechariah’s failure to embrace the Lord’s promises stands as a warning to us; Mary’s humble response (Luke 1:38) serves as our example. “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her” (v 45)!

Taken from Luke 1–12 For You, an expository guide to Luke’s Gospel by Mike McKinley. Watch the trailer:

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Mike McKinley

Mike McKinley is the author of Passion, Did the devil make me do it? and Church Planting is for Wimps. Since 2005 he has been pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia. Before that, he served on the pastoral staff of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC, having received his MDiv from Westminster Theological Seminary. Mike is married to Karen, and they have five children.

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