Conceived in the Womb of a Sinner, yet without Sin.

We now take a closer look at the conception of Jesus in the womb of the virgin Mary. We noted that Jesus was “made of a woman” (Gal 4:4), and that this is expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith as “of her substance”. This means that Jesus was formed from an egg ( or ovum) from Mary’s ovary. Is this important? It is extremely important, because Jesus could not suffer and die in the place of human sinners,  making them RightWithGod, without being of the human stock. Does this not drive us to the question, ‘How could He be of a sinner’s ‘substance’ without inheriting her sin? Is there an answer to this profound question? Yes.

However, but before we answer it, we must say a word of caution. We must not put the authority of science above the authority of the bible. If there was no other explanation than the teaching of the bible, we would still, I hope, believe it, because the bible is God’s  infallible word.

Fundamental to this whole matter is the fact that only a person can be a sinner and carry sin; and a person does not come into being until a female egg is united with male sperm. God then miraculously brings a new person into being. That person is immediately a sinner the moment he or she is conceived because descended from the human stock. But until there is a person, there can be no sin. The egg from Mary’s ovary was not a person, therefore it could not sin, or be a sinner, or carry sin. It was not a morally responsible being, it was nothing more than a product of natural processes, which, if not fertilised, would be washed away as waste.

Now, when we come to look at the conception of Jesus, we read that the Holy Spirit came upon Mary and the power of the Highest overshadowed her (Luke 1:35).  Jesus, though made of the substance of Mary and hence of the human stock, did not inherit the sin which completely permeates the human race. But how did this egg become a person. The answer is the surpassingly wonderful fact given to us in the words of Galatians 4:4, “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman”. Yes, the miracle that took place in Mary’s womb was that the Holy Spirit united the Person of the Son of God to Mary’s egg, and so the God/man, Jesus Christ was conceived.

So, the birth of Jesus, which we make so much of at this time of year is a distorted emphasis. The birth itself was completely normal and natural. In itself the birth was not a miracle. It is an important fact for the modern church to note that the letters of Paul and the other apostles to the congregations of the early church paid little attention to the birth of Jesus, but much attention to the person of Jesus as the God/man.

I leave you with this thought: it would be a desperate pity if we grasped the ‘workings’ of the conception of Jesus, and were not filled with such amazement at it all that we did not bow the knee before God, and get RightWithGod, through the suffering of the God/man on the  cross of Calvary.

 

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The Greatest Miracle of All

There is no doubt that the creation of the human nature of Jesus Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary was the greatest miracle of all. There is nothing to compare with it. Indeed, it is not just a miracle, but an amazing intervention by God in the history of the world. The story begins with the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, saying,  “Hail, thou that art highly favoured. The Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Fear not,  Mary, for  thou hast found favour with God. And behold thou shalt conceive  in thy womb and  bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS  ” (Luke 1: 28, 30-31). Mary, naturally, was astounded and troubled at this, but amazingly, she did not seem to doubt. She did have a big question, of course, as to how this was to come about, when she had never  known a man, i.e, she was still a virgin. The angel answers her question: “The Holy Ghost (the Holy Spirit) shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore the holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1: 35). So what happened in Mary’s womb? We do not know all the answers, but we know enough to enable us to understand  the basics of what took place in that womb. We must do so with the realisation that this all took place in a the womb of a sinner. Mary was highly favoured, but she was of the  human stock and in her own conception in her mother’s womb, she inherited the sin of the first parents of the  human race, Adam and  Eve. This  brings us face to face with  fundamental questions about the conception of Jesus:  How could Jesus be sinless, and still be of the stock of mankind. The fact is that He had to be truly human, of the stock of mankind, in order to truly represent human beings, and take our place in bearing the Father’s wrath for our sins. We might think that the simple answer is that God created a whole new embryo in the womb without being conceived by mary, and that is what many believe; but such a saviour would not do, because there would be no continuity with the stock of mankind. Such a saviour could not in righteousness represent you and me. Nor does it agree with the scriptures. The angel said to Mary, Luke 1:31, “Thou shalt conceive in thy womb”; and in Galatians 4:4 we read, “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman”. Jesus had to be from Mary’s egg.

The way the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it is that Jesus was “conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance (Chapter 8, paragraph 2)”. The conclusion must be that Jesus was conceived from Mary’s egg, by the power of the Holy Spirit. That leaves the question, How could Jesus be conceived from Mary’s egg, and not inherit her sin? There is a very clear answer to that question, which we will deal with next week. In the meantime, is it not clear that our thoughts at Christmas time should not begin and end with the birth of Jesus, which was in all ways a natural process, but should centre on the conception of Jesus, which was the miracle of miracles?

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The Seed of the Woman

At this time of year our thoughts turn to Christmas. Sadly for most it is a time dominated by a presents list, and the stress that often goes along with it. The demands on our time and resources is great.  Our focus should, of course be on God’s great intervention in human history: the sending of his Son to save His people from their sins. As the angel said to Joseph in the dream, “You shall call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people  from their sins (Matthew 1:21)”.

Sometimes we speak of the ‘miracle’ of the virgin birth, but there was no miracle in his actual birth. It was a perfectly normal and natural birth. The miracle was in his person, and for that miracle we have to go back to his conception in the virgin’s womb.

Now there is a miracle in the conception of every human being. We must not reduce conception to simply the uniting  of egg and sperm, or the implantation. Something else occurs at the very moment of conception, which is what actually makes it conception: a person with an identity is created. From that moment there is a “me” there: in Psalm 51, verse 5 David says, “In sin did my mother conceive me”. (This is not a reference to the act of sexual union, which of course is not in its nature a sin, but to the fact that he was a sinner from the moment of his conception, as all descendants of Adam are.) The important thing for us is to realise that there is a miracle of creation in the conception of every human being over and above the biological union of egg and sperm: the creation of  a person, different from any that have ever been conceived in all of history; an identifiable person which imperceptibly develops a full self-consciousness. That self-consciousness is something which science cannot create, and cannot even explain or define. It is a miracle of creation.

Now when we come to the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb, there is a startling difference. Mary was a virgin. Her egg was fertilised without the involvement of a man. An angel was sent to tell her, “The Holy Ghost (i.e. the Holy Spirit) shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which  shall be  born of thee shall be called the Son of God”. Yes, every conception is a miracle, but this one was a greater miracle than any other conception in the whole history of the human race.

But what was the identity of this miracle baby, and  how did he get that identity? What was his nature? Who was he? These questions have wonderful answers, but they will have to wait. We will look at them next week, if the Lord will.

There is much sadness, poverty and uncertainty in the world at this time, but I hope that you all have a happy time on Christmas day.  I would recommend that, as you turn your thoughts to the birth of Jesus, that you realise that the conception was the miracle, not the birth.

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The Casting out from Eden

The scene before us in Genesis 3:22-24 is an extremely sad one. Adam and Eve being ushered out of  the garden in which they had lived so happily RightWithGod for a short time. I have no doubt  that they were  in tears: tears of regret and self-reproach. One can imagine their  thoughts: ‘Why, O why did we listen to that evil being with his wicked suggestions. Why did  we not send him packing as soon as we heard the words, “hath God said?” We have been such fools. Why did we entertain another authority rather than the God we knew and loved?’ Satan had brought them down with his subtlety. The first thing we learn of him in the bible is that he was very subtle, Genesis 3:1.

Perhaps they thought that, at least, they would be allowed to remain in the garden. They certainly did not leave of their own free will, but were sent out by God. Indeed it says in verse 24 that “God drove the man out”. Reluctance to leave would have been natural, but they knew they could not resist God. over against that, they would be grateful that God did not immediately carry out the punishment  for their eating  the forbidden fruit, which was, “In the day that  thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”. The sentence was not revoked, but it was postponed,  giving time for God’s plan of salvation to be carried through.

Adam and Eve were now in the ‘world outside’, with instructions to ’till the ground from whence they were taken’. No longer a pleasurable and satisfying task because  the ground itself was under God’s curse since they fell.

Not only were they driven out of the garden, but return was barred. God had placed at the east of the garden (logically the place where the entry was), ‘cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life’. The cherubims were a high order of angel.

We are not  told much about this tree of life. It was in the midst of the garden, 3:9. That this was a very special tree is clear. What was special about it is not so clear. There was no prohibition on eating of this tree before the fall, although it does not seem that Adam and Eve did eat of it. However, after the fall it was put out of their reach lest they eat of it and live forever. Is this further judgement? It sounds like it,  but in fact it was not judgement, but mercy. How is this? We are not told what the tree of life was for before the fall, but there is a strong possibility that it represented a point in the progress of Adam and Eve which they would eventually reach if they continued to obey God. It is inconceivable that they would be kept by God indefinitely in a state where the fall was always a possibility. It is more likely that a certain  point would come when they would eat of the tree of life, and inherit everlasting life, removing the possibility of further sin.

However, God is merciful, and puts them out of the garden and makes their return impossible, lest they eat of the tree of life and live forever. How is this a mercy? Because it is difficult to imagine a more miserable existence than living forever in a fallen state. Growing older forever, weaker forever, and with all the other cumulative effects of sin on our bodies and minds. So, for us in our fallen state, death is truly a mercy.

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