Scripture Reference: Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:26-35, Hebrews 7:23-28
An Extraordinary BirthDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | September 26, 1993
Selected highlights from this sermon
Only Christianity has a sinless Savior. No other religion even claims to have one.
But why was it necessary for Jesus to be sinless—to be born of a virgin?
In this message, Pastor Lutzer discusses the purity and holiness of God, the sin we all have that’s been passed down to us from Adam, and how Jesus is the only one qualified to bring us into God’s presence.
I think that all of us remember the tragic story that was on the news some time ago about a grandmother who had the responsibility of caring for her little two-year old granddaughter. And the little girl fell into a swimming pool, and the grandmother did not know how to swim. But in absolute desperation she hopped into the pool to try to rescue the little one, and sometime later both bodies were pulled from the swimming pool.
You know, if you are in the middle of an ocean and you don’t know how to swim, and you are beginning to go under, you need somebody to rescue you, but it can’t just be anybody who is willing to rescue you. It has to be someone who has the ability to rescue you. You need someone who isn’t in the same predicament as you are. You need somebody who is not subject to those waves in the same way that you are, someone who himself does not need to be rescued. That’s what you need when you are going under. And the same is true when it comes to sin and its power and its awful consequences.
To be rescued from sin and its consequences you need someone who is able to reach down to rescue you who himself is not a sinner because you are going down you don’t need somebody who is in the same mess that you are. You need someone who is above the situation, which leads me to the question, “Who is Jesus Christ anyway?” Who is He?
Well, there have been two views throughout history. One is that He is just a mere man. Remember when Scorsese made his movie, The Last Temptation of Christ? He said, “I tried to create a Christ who in some sense is like the guy down the street.” Well, the problem is that I am a sinner and I need to be reconciled to God, and I need more help than the guy down the street is able to give me. I need somebody who is not in my predicament. Historic Christianity has always held that Jesus Christ, though He is fully man, is also fully God. And because He is fully God, He is different from all humanity, though He has some similarities. He is in all points like as we are except that He is sinless and that He is joined to a divine nature. And because of that He is a perfect, sinless Savior. And that’s why He’s the only one who can rescue us from the consequences and the effects of sin.
When I was at the Parliament of World Religions, I decided to go through those booths, those display areas, and some of you know that I spent several hours there. But one of the things I decided to do one morning was to go in search of a sinless savior. I thought to myself (as I walked down those aisles that of all the displays and the books and the videotapes and the 105 different faiths represented), “I’m going to find me a sinless savior.”
So I walked over to where the Buddhists were, and after engaging them and asking them what they believed, I asked the question, “Did Buddha claim to be sinless?” And they said, “No, he was enlightened, but he wasn’t sinless. He gathered some people around him and taught them the eight ways and that the things we see outside of ourselves are not the real realities. We must go within and we must meditate and we must seek to change ourselves.” Buddha, it is said, was enlightened, but he did not claim that he was sinless. He died still seeking more light.
So I thought, “Well, what about the Hindus?” And I walked over and there was a Hindu Swami there behind his display booth. And I said, “Could you tell me in all of the Hindu traditions, with all of the gurus and all of the teachers, did anyone of them claim to be sinless?” And his answer was very direct. He said no. In fact, he said, “If you ever find someone who claims to be sinless, he is not a Hindu.” I thought, “Well, that’s interesting,” so I walked over to the booth where you had the Baha'i faith and Bahá'u'lláh, and I wondered if he was sinless. No. He claimed that some of his teachings were better than those of Jesus Christ, and by the way, you know that that’s what the Baha’i faith believes – that Jesus is one step in the evolutionary cycle, and Bahá'u'lláh is now a more modern updated version of religion. And that’s a matter, incidentally, that we are going to take up in a subsequent message to show you how to answer those who think that Christ is one prophet among many in the evolutionary spiral. No, he claimed that some of his teachings perhaps were perfect, but he was not sinless. He never claimed it.
So I thought, “Well, what about Muhammad?” I walked over to the Muslims and talked to them about Muhammad. And I said, “By the way, did Muhammad claim to be sinless?” And I already knew the answer because in the Quran he claims that he needed forgiveness. And if you have studied his life you’ll know how accurate that really turns out to be. And so I asked them, and they said, “No, he did not claim sinlessness. He himself needed to be forgiven.”
Turn where I will, I could not find a sinless prophet, much less a sinless savior. Well, you turn to the Bible and what a different picture you have of Jesus Christ. He’s standing there with all of His accusers, those who hate Him and want Him to be crucified. And He looks at them in the eye and says to them, “Which of you convicts me of sin? Is there any one of you that wants to point out a fault?” And they answered Him not a word.
He said to His disciples regarding Satan, “The prince of this world comes but he has nothing in Me.” There’s no commonality between Me and Satan. Judas said of Him, “I have betrayed innocent blood.” Pilate said, “I find no fault in Him.” The Apostle Paul said of Him, “He knew no sin.” And Peter said, “He knew no sin, neither was there any guile found in His mouth.” A sinless Savior!
Now how can Jesus Christ be sinless? All of us are born sinners. Well, there’s only one way, of course, and that is for Christ to have been conceived in the womb of a virgin. That’s the only way because the Bible says that when man fell in the Garden, and when Adam partook of the tree and disobeyed God, God looked at the whole human race as being bound up in Adam.
May I say it? You were there in the Garden of Eden. You say, “Well, I don’t remember it.” Well, I don’t either, but we were there. Yep! Just like the entire tree is in that acorn, so the whole human race was in Adam, and through Adam God imputes Adam’s sin to all of us. We are born under the condemnation of sin. We are born with the taint of sin that comes through human conception. That does not mean that sex is sinful. It simply means that all of us who are a product of our mother’s and our father’s involvement are born sinners. And so Jesus was exempt. He was the one who was the grand exception because He was conceived of a virgin. God did a miracle within Mary so that a perfect sinless human being could be born.
You see there are several requirements Christ had to meet in order to be our Savior. One of them is He had to be a male. It says in the book of Genesis, chapter 3 verse 15, regarding the coming redeemer, “He shall crush the head of the serpent.” He had to be a human male, by the way. No other species would do. Angels could not die for our sin, as the book of Hebrews makes very clear. It had to be a man and it also had to be a perfect man because the perfection was necessary for God to receive the sacrifice that was made. Sinless and perfect! And of course, He had to be God, and I will explain in a subsequent message why that was absolutely necessary.
And so I want you to take your Bibles, and very briefly we are going to look at two passages of Scripture that we normally read only at Christmastime - to our detriment I might add. But in Matthew 1 we have the story of the virgin conception of Jesus. Could I point out to you how concerned Matthew was to preserve that doctrine?
In Matthew 1:16 he says: “And to Jacob was born Joseph, the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus.” You know, in English, that expression, “by whom” could refer to male or female. Interestingly, in the Greek text it is designated. It is female. “To Mary was born Jesus.” He wanted to make sure that we did not mistake in any way that somehow Joseph was the actual father of Jesus. Legal father, yes! Biological father, no!
And then we read the story. Beginning in verse 18: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband, Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’”
I want you to keep that passage open in your Bible, even though you also turn to Luke 1 where we have a remarkable statement once again regarding this miracle. In Luke 1 the angel comes to Mary, and explains to her that she is going to have a Son called Jesus. “He will be great. He will be the Son of the Most High.” Verse 34: “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 holy offspring – notice that) - the Son of God.” The only way for Jesus to be a man and yet to be perfect is for God to do a miracle, that Mary might become pregnant with that which is holy. And Joseph was not Christ’s father.
Now, you know of course, that the virgin birth has been criticized. And what I’d like to do is to answer some of its objections, and then we will give its necessity and radical implications. Some people have said, “You know, we can’t believe this in the twentieth century because, after all, this is based on mythology.” There were all kinds of myths in the ancient world. For example, there was a myth that Plato was actually fathered by the god Apollo. Zeus was a god who was having intercourse with a number of different people and creating a number of different gods, and there were all kinds of stories about his sexual prowess.
Then, of course, you have stories like Alexander the Great whose mother, it is said, became impregnated when she swallowed a pomegranate, so people have said to themselves, “You know, the Bible is just the very same; it’s got all these myths.” Well, I want you to know that the gap between what mythology teaches and what the Bible teaches is a gap as great as the Grand Canyon. For one thing, the mythology comes in a context of polytheism, the belief in many different gods, whereas the New Testament and the Old Testament are based on monotheism, that there is but one God. It is unthinkable that Matthew and Luke would have borrowed the idea of mythology from paganism.
But there’s more to that. If you look into all the myths there was always immorality. The gods were immoral. It is unthinkable that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would have had a sexual relationship with Mary. We just can’t even think of it because the context of this account is so radically different.
And then, of course, not only that, but when you read this, it does not read like a myth. It is a very sober account. In all the other instances these mythologies grew up after a time when the person became great. In this instance, even before Jesus was born, we already know that the prediction was made, and the text is clear that Mary had to be convinced of what was happening because a miracle was taking place.
There are those who say, “Well, you know, perhaps the disciples made it up. They may have made it up to cover the immorality of Mary. They have made it up in order to make it look as if prophecy was fulfilled.” But all of that misses the beauty of this account. Remember that Luke was a physician who very probably talked to Mary and got the details directly from her. When you read it you have the impression that this is indeed sober history. This is meant to be believed.
Now there’s another view that I need to comment on. Bishop Shelby Spong has written a book entitled Born of a Woman – A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus and it is being sold today and being widely read. Bishop Spong in his book basically says a number of things, first of all that these accounts were symbolic. They were never intended to be treated as literal. He says furthermore that Mary very probably was the victim of rape, and that’s how she became pregnant. And he says that Jesus Christ most likely was married, very probably to Mary Magdalene. And he takes that from John 2. When they were at the wedding he says, “Whose wedding could this have been but the wedding of Jesus Himself?” And so what he says is that these narratives were written to inspire faith, which makes us smile because “faith in what” after you’ve done that to the text? But nevertheless, he says they were written to inspire faith and therefore should not be interpreted literally. And here you have a book that is being widely read, and people say, “It is so eloquent.” But I must tell you it is so incredibly wrong.
Now, I don’t want to get technical, but I want to give you three words that highlight how a book like this can be written, and why it might even be read by hundreds of thousands of people. What is it that goes into the text when a man comes up with something like that? Number one, remember that books like this are based on unbelief. It is the fervent desire of many different scholars to make Jesus Christ a mere man no matter the cost, to strip Him of His miracles, to strip Him of His miraculous birth, because what they are so desirous of is to make sure that we have here a man who is only a man. Maybe a special man, but a man nevertheless.
And so what Spong does, as others before him have done, is they have come to the text and they have said, “We must strip it of everything that twentieth century people cannot believe.” It’s so interesting that in one place Spong says, “I am not going to subject my Jesus to the fundamentalists.” His Jesus? That’s exactly what you have in his book – his Jesus – his own private Jesus because he’s gone to the text and discarded everything that doesn’t fit with his view of Jesus.
So first of all you have unbelief. The second thing that you have in Spong’s book is agenda. Oh, remember that word agenda. I have read another one of his books, and I’ve discovered much about him. I don’t learn anything about Jesus in his books, but I learn a lot about him. For example, in his book about fundamentalism, he says that very possibly the only thing that fits the fact is the belief that Paul was a homosexual. So as Spong is going through the text, I already know that he is for gay rights. I know also that he is a feminist because he says that the virgin birth has contributed to the idea that women are supposed to be at home and rear children, so there’s that on his agenda. I know that he is an unbeliever. I don’t know anything about Jesus but I know lots about Spong.
There’s a third word. You have the word unbelief. You have the word agenda. And the third word that I think is so very important in this sequence is the word arrogance. Imagine thinking that you know better than the writers of the New Testament as to what happened. Imagine that you could have such revisionism that you can go back and you can take a document that is nearly two thousand years old and you can rewrite the story in accordance with what you want to see there. And therefore you can put out the light of fundamentalism.
Well, I would say to Dr. Spong, and to hundreds of other people like him, that if you want to put out the light in our hearts by writing books like this, it is about like trying to put out fire with straw. It simply will not work. It won’t work!
What I’d like to do now in the time that is before us is to discuss very briefly the necessity of the virgin birth – the virgin conception and its implications. First of all, it was necessary to fulfill prophecy. If your Bible is still open to Matthew 1 you’ll notice it says in verse 22: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which is God with us).’”
You know, Isaiah 7:14 says: “Behold, the virgin (a young woman) shall conceive and bear a son,” and many people have said, “Well, the Hebrew word almah means young woman. It doesn’t mean virgin exactly.” And that may be true, but interestingly in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was used even during the time of Christ, the Greek word parthenos is used, from which we get Parthenon, which is the word virgin. And it is used here in the Greek text. So Isaiah predicted that a virgin would be with child.
But there’s a second reason for the virgin birth that I’ve already touched on, and that is the need to have a sinless savior. Take your Bibles now and turn to one other passage, and that is Hebrews 7, where this is laid out for us with incredible clarity. Listen to the text – verse 26: “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.”
Notice observations in the text. Christ is like us except in this respect. He is sinless and we are sinful. Unlike others, He does not have to offer a sacrifice for Himself because He is sinless. He is not in the same predicament that we are. He is not reaching a limp hand to us as we are going down in the water and saying, “Well, I’m going down too. Let’s at least go down together.”
And then the Bible says that He offered up Himself once for all, and because His sacrifice was absolutely perfect because He was sinless, God accepted that sacrifice and He does not have to ever offer Himself again because it was perfect and it was accepted by a perfect and a holy God.
Now, what can Christ do as a result of that? Well, take your Bible and glance to verse 25. It says: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Sometimes we interpret that verse to mean that God is able to save to the uttermost, that is to the “guttermost.” God is able to take the greatest sinners and reconcile them to God. And that is certainly true. He can take drug addicts and alcoholics and child abusers, and He can forgive their sin and He can reconcile them to God. But actually the text is not talking about what we are being saved from but what we are being saved unto. He is able to save forever. He is able to save completely those who come unto God by Him because He is a unique Savior.
Notice also it says that those He saves are those who draw near to God through Him. We are always being asked in this day of eclecticism, “Well, you know, you say that Jesus is the Savior, but what’s wrong with all these other prophets? What’s wrong with all these other gods, these other saviors?” Well, my friend, I hope that you understand it already. When you ask a question like that, Jesus Christ has absolutely no competition. I’ve already told you that there is not one single prophet that I know of in all the different religions of the world that even had the nerve to claim sinlessness, so actually Christ has no competitors. “All ye who are sinless enter here,” and nobody but Christ accepts the call. That’s why it says that God can say “forever those who come unto God by Christ,” and that’s why all the other prophets are disqualified as mediators between God and man. Oh, they may be prophets (because you can be a sinner and be a prophet), but you cannot be a sinner and be a savior. For that you need someone who is sinless and perfect, and only Christ qualifies. There’s nobody else around.
There’s a third reason why Christ had to be virgin-born, and that, of course, has already been referred to, and that is really to live up to His name. Why is it that when Mary received this revelation from God the angel kept saying, “He shall be called Jesus?” Why not some other name? Well, the answer is because the name Jesus means Jehovah is salvation. Now there are some people who don’t live up to their name, but Jesus had to live up to His name. He couldn’t just be a good teacher. Spong might have a good teacher, but he certainly doesn’t have a savior. He had to be virgin born to fulfill the name Jehovah is salvation.
Now some people don’t live up to their name. Methuselah is a name in the Old Testament of the man who lived longer than any other man. And there was a couple that named their son Methuselah, but little Methuselah Coning died at the age of six months. He didn’t live up to his name. His holiness, the Dalai Lama, does not live up to his name.
When I was at the Parliament of World Religions, I attended the news conference with the Dalai Lama, and someone who shook hands with him (a woman) came running up to us and touched all of us – touching this person and that person. She said, “I shook hands with him and I have to share his energy.” I said, “Lady, would you come over here?” (laughter) And I looked her in the eyes and I was very kind. Just accept it by faith. And I said, “Don’t you realize he’s a sinner like the rest of us? And if he doesn’t have a Savior he is going to be damned. Don’t you realize that?” And that did stop her for a few seconds. And she said, “Oh, but he’s got so much energy, and I have to share it.”
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, you know you’re being just a little bit mean. I think you’re a “meanie.” You should be kinder than that. Maybe the Dahli Lama, if he’s not holy, maybe he’s close.” No, he’s not even close. In an interview he said (and I quote verbatim): “I am not the best Dahli Lama (You know he believes that he is number 14 in reincarnation from Buddha.) that has ever been, but I’m not the worst either.” I thought to myself, “Well what is that? Is it grading on a curve - B plus or C minus?” I don’t know what it is. He doesn’t live up to his name.
What a tragedy to know about Christ and not know Him for the purpose for which He came, to live up to His name – Jehovah is salvation.
Let me tell you one other story. As I was going from display to display I met a woman whose story I would like to tell you. She was with the Urantia Group that is reading a thick book whose origin is obscure, though some of us have a good idea as to how it was written. But she said, “I want to tell you my story. I was brought up in a Christian home,” and she said her mother would read her stories about Jesus. And she said that whenever she read those stories there was a warmth in her heart. She said, “I want you to know that I loved Jesus as a little girl.”
Then she said, “I would go to church and oh how I loved my pastor.” She said, “I would love to just sit in the church and listen to him preach, and I was supposed to go to children’s church but I didn’t want to go and color and do those things. I wanted to hear my pastor. And I thought to myself that if I sit near the back and am very quiet and just fold my hands and shut my eyes, nobody will see me, and I’ll be able to stay here rather than go to children’s church.”
Well, she did that for a while, and then a woman came along and said, “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be in children’s church. This is for adults.” She said, “At the age of 10 I left the church but I didn’t go to children’s church. I walked all the way home crying and I never went back to that church again.”
She said, “Six years later at the age of 16 I began my spiritual quest and I became involved in (what we would call) a false cult.” And she said, “Their desire for money and their desire for control turned me off, and I realized that they were wrong.” And then she said, “I came to this Urantia Group, and I began to read this.”
Now you must understand that the Urantia Group book claims to have in it the stories of Jesus when He was a teenager. It’s got all kinds of stories, perhaps hundreds of stories about Jesus, even though there’s no historical evidence that these things happened.
But she said, “You know, when I began to read this Urantia Group book and read those stories about Jesus, it is this group that gave me my Jesus back. Oh,” she said, “I love Him.” She said, “Could I read you a paragraph?” And I said, “Sure.” So she went over and she found a place in the book where it speaks about Jesus as a teenager helping a boy at the age of 12, and the sacrifice that Jesus was willing to do in order to help this boy who was in trouble. She read me the paragraph, and she said, “This just touches me deeply.”
And I said to her, “You really love Jesus, don’t you?” “Oh,” she said, “I love Jesus.” Tears were coming to her eyes. I said, “Would you tell me why it is that you love Him?” “Oh,” she said, “I love Him as my friend. I love Him as my Lord.” She said, “I love Him, I love Him, I love Him.” And by now the tears were beginning to spill over and run down her cheeks. And I looked at her and I said, “Do you also love Him as the Savior who shed His blood on the cross for your sins to reconcile you to a holy God?” And she glanced away and she said, “I never think of it in those terms.” And I said to her, “Don’t you realize that if you don’t love Jesus as the Savior you’re not loving Him for the primary purpose for which He came to this earth. He came to seek and to save that which was lost, and that’s why you must love Him.”
Let me ask you something this morning. Is it possible for someone to love Jesus to the point of tears, and be lost forever? The answer is yes. Yes! If you were to take a poll in some of the churches in Chicago this morning and say, “Do you love Jesus?” everybody would say, “Yes,” even though some of them probably have not thought about Him for a week or two. But yes, of course, they love Him. And some love Him sincerely but they are lost because they love Him as a teacher, they love Him as an example, they love Him as a friend, they love Him because of His commitment to God, but they do not love Him as the Savior of the world for them. And unless you love Him like that you are missing the purpose for which He came.
What a tragedy to know and to love Shakespeare, but not as a man of literature! What a tragedy to know Newton but not as a scientist! But oh, what an eternal tragedy to know Christ, but not as a Savior! That is the purpose for which He came.
Years ago when I was growing up in a church we used to sing a song that we don’t sing often these days. I’m going to try to give you two stanzas. It goes:
I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more.
But the Master of the sea, heard my despairing cry
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.
Souls in danger look above, Jesus completely saves.
He will lift you by His love, out of the angry waves.
He’s the Master of the sea, billows His will obey.
He your Savior wants to be. Be saved today.
I want to say this very respectfully, but those of you who are skeptics, go ahead. Go into the libraries. Read about all the different religions in the world. Read about what all the gurus have said. Read about what all the enlightened people have said. Find out what they have said about themselves and the claims that they have made, and you must conclude if you are honest that all of these teachers are people who themselves are swimming and going under, shouting to others who are going down with them instructions on how to swim, when they are all going down and perhaps holding hands while they are doing it.
Where do you look for a sinless Savior? Nobody even claims sinlessness. Like Peter said to Christ, “Well, to whom shall we go?” Shall we go to Buddha who died seeking enlightenment, to Muhammad who needed forgiveness? Is that where we are going to go? Are we going to go to a guru who himself is striving for perfection but is as far from it as I am? Is that where we are going to go? No, there’s no place to go. Peter said, “Thou has the words of eternal life and we believe and are sure that Thou are the Son of God, the Holy One of God.” There is no other place to go. There are no options except to Him!
Let us pray.
Our Father, we thank You that if we are honest we know we need a Savior. We don’t need someone to shout swimming instructions to us when we are drowning. We need somebody to scoop us up. And we thank You that Christ qualifies. And we pray for the many today who have never embraced Him as personal Savior. They have never believed on Him for themselves. We pray that in grace You might enable them to do that even while they are seated here. May they call out and say, “Jesus, save me. I need a sinless Savior.”
Before I close this prayer why don’t you tell the Lord (right where you are seated) that you need a sinless Savior and that you are receiving Him as Savior this morning.
We pray, Father, for those who are struggling, for those who are still unclear, and for those who are scared to say, “Jesus, be my Savior.” Some who are listening have never talked to You personally. They’ve always talked to You through such a complicated jargon, and at this moment You are personal in their lives, and we pray that You might make that very personal.
Father, do Your work, we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.