Virgin Birth and New Birth
Virgin Birth and New Birth (Luke 1:26-37)
The Gospels witness and the ancient creeds confess that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin by the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit. Mary, the mother of Jesus, gave birth to the Christ without any human sexual encounter, and Jesus had no human father. In this way God made a new beginning in human history. God Himself originated a particular human life—Jesus of Nazareth—by a new act of creation. Jesus Christ did not arise out of the continuity of human history, but God came to the rescue by creating a new person.
In a truly related way, one becomes a Christian by the operation of the Holy Spirit in the new birth. The same God who can create by a virgin birth can intervene in human life today with a new birth. The same Holy Spirit operates in both realms.
A Virgin Conceived and Gave Birth to Jesus Christ
There is an affirmation of Scripture. Luke takes pains to state three times that Mary was a virgin. She had never known human sexual relations. He places obvious stress on this fact. His generation knew the facts of life as well as our generation. The first readers of this understood it in the same way we understand it. There is a confirmation of this in Matthew's account written from the perspective of Joseph: "before they came together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 1:18).
There is an expectation of prophecy. Matthew 1:22-23 makes clear that the birth of Jesus to a virgin was in direct fulfillment of an earlier prophecy from Isaiah 7:14: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." We cannot gainsay the apostolic witness of prophecy that the virgin birth of Jesus was predicted by Isaiah.
There is the confirmation of tradition. Jewish wedding customs called for a period of betrothal. This took place at an extremely early age by our culture, at the age of twelve or twelve and one-half years. The interval between betrothal and marriage was one year. The betrothed woman who committed adultery was subject to death (Deut. 22:23-24). Mary found herself in her expectant condition on the penalty of death.
There is the confirmation of other passages. Several passages imply that there was rumor or gossip concerning the parentage of Jesus Christ. Mark 6:3 curiously calls Him the son of Mary, not mentioning any human father. In John 8:41 His opponents virtually accuse Him of illegitimacy. It is of interest that there is diverse testimony from mutually hostile witnesses. The church confesses that Jesus was born of a virgin. Jews assert that Jesus was the offspring of Mary and some man other than Joseph. Both agree that Joseph was not the father of Jesus.
The new birth of a Christian is equally without human causation and just as mysterious. When we become children of God we are born "not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God" (John 1:13). The new birth not less than the virgin birth is the sheer act of God.
Mary Raised the First Question About the Virgin Birth
The first question about the virgin birth came from Mary. It is the obvious question, "How will this be?" (v. 34a) This may be an involuntary expression of amazement, a gasp of astonishment. She does not doubt the possibility, only the mode. She joins with this question a simple affirmation, "I know not a man" (v. 34b, KJV). The word "know" is the Semitic idiom for sexual intercourse. The word "man" is the generic word which refers to any man, Joseph or anyone else. It is the honest protest of a young woman who knows herself to be pure and does not expect to have a child by any other than the normal processes of human conception.
The explanation comes from the messenger of God. The birth will be totally an activity of the Holy Spirit. By a separate act of revelation her betrothed Joseph was also told that the conception was due to the activity of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18, 20). It was thought that the Spirit had been inactive for several centuries since the closure of the Old Testament. Now the work of the Spirit begins again.
There will be an immediacy of action: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you. . . . " The language implies a proximity, a closeness, not a distance. There are no sexual overtones in this operation of the Spirit. By an act of God similar to creation (Gen. 1:2) the Spirit will bring about a conception. This results in the beautiful description that "the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (v. 35). This is a direct reference to the cloud of God's bright glory hanging over the tabernacle tent in the Exodus (Ex. 40:34-38). That cloud of glory represented divine presence and power. In the same way, the presence and power of God acted in the womb of the virgin. The conception was immediate and at that very moment of announcement.
There is a sufficiency of action. As a direct result of this operation by the Holy Spirit the one born of Mary is holy in the absolute sense of harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners (Heb. 7:26). He did not sin (1 Pet. 2:22). He was born without the seminal overhang of the entire race that causes us to sin. Yet at the same time He was born of a woman, very flesh of our very flesh (Gal. 4:4).
This shows that at the deepest level God's redemption of His creation was by grace alone. Our humanity, represented by Mary, does nothing but just accept—and even the acceptance is God's gift. Our fallen humanity's role is strictly limited. All of our pride and self-reliant humanity is to be set aside. We are simply made the receptacle of God's gift.
The new birth in Christ is the same. We submit ourselves to the operation of God's Spirit. The Spirit does in our lives what we could never originate or create ourselves. It is a direct, immediate, and creative act of God. The same God who could empower a virgin birth can likewise give you new birth.