Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 June 6, 2021
“Conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary”
As we continue today in our sermon series through the Apostles’ Creed, we come to a passage we hear much more often in December than in June. In today’s passage, which narrates the angelic annunciation of the Virgin Birth, we find two truths from the Creed verified explicitly—namely, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the virgin Mary. Let us give our attention to the reading and preaching of God’s Word, in order that the Holy Spirit may speak to our souls.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Though the natural order—not to mention our creedal order—is conception, then birth, our text appears to treat these in the reverse order. We’ll follow our text order and treat born of the virgin Mary first. The Holy Spirit leads Luke to introduce Mary, both to us and into his narrative, in verse twenty-six. She is from Nazareth—in Galilee, in the northern third of the Holy Land. She is a virgin (as she will declare explicitly later in the narrative) betrothed to Joseph, a man of the line of David—and, hence, of the tribe of Judah. To this young woman appears the angel Gabriel, and he appears with a message unlike any other that ever landed upon her ears.
Gabriel appears to Mary in the sixth month of her relative Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and he announces himself thus: “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” At this, the Holy Spirit leads Luke to note that Mary was greatly troubled and wondered what sort of greeting this might be. When Gabriel continues his discourse, he speaks words of repetition and reassurance, telling Mary not to fear, for she has found (not earned) favor with God. Then Gabriel comes to the heart of the matter.
Mary will conceive bear a son—and this Christ will bear the name Jesus. This Jesus will be great above all others before, contemporary, and after. Gabriel tells Mary that Jesus will be called the Son of the Most High—the Son of God. Moreover, Jesus will receive the throne of David and will reign eternally over the house of Jacob. This language from Gabriel’s lips describes none other than the promised, long-awaited Messiah of God—and Mary, apparently a pious young woman of the seed of Abraham, cannot miss this fact.
Mary, upon this marvelous declaration from Gabriel, asks him (for information, not from doubt), “How will this be, since I know not a man?” This question leads us to the second of the truths we confess today, namely, conceived by the Holy Ghost. Mary asks, “How will this be, since I know not a man?” and Gabriel answers, thus telling her how this will be. Gabriel, in terms sufficient yet not minutely detailed, declares that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and that the power of the Most High will overshadow her. This will result in her conception—and that via non-sexcual mean: a first-order miracle indeed. Hence, the Child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. Then Gabriel, to bolster Mary’s faith and ours, declares that even Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, has conceived a son—and that in her old age. Elizabeth, the one formerly called barren, passes through her sixth month of pregnancy as Gabriel speaks. Gabriel concludes his speech with words doubtless precious to Mary and encouraging to us, “For nothing shall be impossible with God.”
Mary, in this narrative’s denouement, signifies her willing acquiescence to the providential plan of God, saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” Then the angel leaves her, and thus the miraculous conception of our Lord ensues. Some time after this, an unnamed angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and declares the matter to him as well. Hence, both Joseph and Mary understand what we confess: that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the virgin Mary.
It seems that I have spoken many words and spilled much ink on paper concerning these truths we confess. Why is this miraculous conception, and why is this virgin birth, so important? Very simply stated, it had to be this way. That is, the conception of Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, within Mary’s womb—and the whole without Mary previously knowing a man—as narrated in today’s text is indispensable to our salvation. The Fourth Ecumenical Council of the early Church, in A. D. 451 at Chalcedon (in modern-day Turkey), deliberated the unique nature of Jesus, in the light of Scripture, and produced the orthodox formulation: Jesus is fully God and fully man. Jesus has two natures, a divine nature and a human nature, indissolubly united in one Person. Think of it: Jesus, being fully God, is able, by His divine power and authority, to save to the uttermost those who trust in Him. Moreover, Jesus, being fully man, is able, by virtue of Him emptying Himself of divine prerogative, to identify to the uttermost with those who trust in Him. This, to quote Francis Schaeffer, is tremendous.
This also demonstrates, once again, that nothing will be impossible with God. He caused a virgin to conceive—and He was the active agent in the conception. In the fullness of time, God will cause this virgin to bear this Child into the world. At the right time, after all the necessary intermediate events, God would raise this Child, this Jesus, fully grown, from His atoning death. Because of the Person and work of Jesus, God passes everyone from death to life who believes in Jesus as Savior and as Lord. Even more than this, God brings to pass every temporal and eternal good that He designs for His redeemed in Christ to have. Rejoice in these glorious truths, and cast both yourself and everything that concerns you onto your Savior, Jesus Christ.
 Betrothal, among Jews in Jesus’ day, involved a legally binding contract between the man and the woman betrothed to each other, nullified only by divorce, but without the intimate conjugal relations typical of marriage.