by Alistair Begg
WONDER AND MYSTERY
“‘Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus …’ And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.’”LUKE 1:31, 34-35 (ESV)
It is not Jesus’ birth that is so remarkable but His conception. When the angel announced that although she was a virgin, Mary would have a baby who would rule the entire universe, she simply asked the sensible question: “How?” And with that question, we arrive at the very heart of the Christian story.
How was this child to be conceived? God was going to make it happen. He would do it. The language of being “overshadowed” reminds us of God’s divine presence being symbolized to the Israelites by a great cloud (Exodus 40:34-38). The conception, in other words, would be supernatural, able to be accomplished by God alone.
As Paul worked through the theology of the incarnation, he wrote, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). He emphasized that the Redeemer had to be human so that He would be of the same nature as those whom He came to save: a man dying for mankind. But it was equally imperative that the Redeemer should be perfectly holy because no sinful person could effect atonement for the sins of others. He had to be Immanuel—God with us—and He had to be man.
The early Christians hammered out the incarnation’s implications and came up with ways to describe the one who was conceived by the Spirit in Mary’s womb, coming to the convictions that have passed down to us in the early creeds. Our spiritual forefathers identified the wonder of the incarnation, bowed before the mystery of it, and affirmed that Jesus was, and remains, very God and very man.
The idea that God would supernaturally invade this world shouldn’t surprise or discomfort us. After all, it takes a supernatural invasion of God into individuals’ lives to bring them to living faith, just as God sovereignly worked a miracle in Mary’s womb to bring us the Redeemer. Jesus told Nicodemus that unless someone is born from above—a birth brought about by God through His Spirit—they would not see God’s kingdom (John 3:3). If we have been brought to salvation, it is only because God has done it. You did no more to save yourself than Mary did to become pregnant with your Savior. The “How?” of salvation is always answered only by “God did it.”
So, bow today before the wonder and mystery of God taking on flesh. And bow today before the wonder and mystery of God redeeming you. For that, no less than the virgin birth of the Son of God is the supernatural work of God.
- How is God calling me to think differently?
- How is God reordering my heart’s affections—what I love?
- What is God calling me to do as I go about my day today?
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and was pondering what kind of greeting this was. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason also the holy Child will be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth herself has conceived a son in her old age, and she who was called infertile is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.Luke 1:26-38