The Only Cure for the Dissatisfaction of this Life.

The fall has made the world a sad place. There is much striving for satisfaction. The world dangles its idols, promising satisfaction,  but never delivers. Yet the striving continues, no matter how many disappointments and frustrations are experienced. However much is gathered, or however many thrills are experienced, the cycle continues, because the heart of man longs for something the world will never supply, that is satisfaction. These things are only symptoms of a deeper malaise: that man, as he comes into the  world is not RightWithGod. His sinful instincts pull Him away from his greatest good, which is to be one with God,  and finding his satisfaction in God. All else will disappoint: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul” (Mark 8:36).

Left to himself man will just continue on this sad road until his life comes to an end,  unprepared to meet his God, to whom every man must give an account: “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God (Romans 14:12)”. Happily, God did not leave man to himself, although He would have been perfectly just in doing so. In His infinite goodness and mercy He provided a total and complete answer. He sent His Son into this world to solve man’s greatest problem, his guilt, which separated him from God: but this was not a simple salvage operation. God is not a God of minimums, but of maximums. His salvation provided for forgiveness of sins, but also a great list of added blessings. It provided justification, so that the sinner was by the death of Christ, put into a situation where God’s justice was totally satisfied for the believer. No charges are now possible against him, even from God Himself. The believer is totally and irreversibly RightWithGod. He is not afraid to meet God. Rather, he looks forward to it.

Then there is the preparation for heaven, which we call sanctification, being made holy, which goes on in the believer’s life until death, and gets its  ‘final push’ when the believer passes inte the presence of Christ. The preparation will be so complete that the believer  will immediately feel ‘at home’. The believer should instinctively have this desire for holiness, as we read in 1 John 3:3: “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He (Christ) is pure”.

Then there  is  glorification. The moment the believer looks  on Christ in  heaven, he is changed to being like Christ, not in His humiliation in His earthly life, but in His glorified state in heaven. This, even for the chief of sinners, if they look to Christ alone for salvation.  For them there will be no further striving, no more being fooled by the world’s promises, no more lack of satisfaction, but total, actual, and complete satifaction of  all the  desires and longings of their heart, which will never come to  an end. “In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are  pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11).

 

The Comfort of the Holy Spirit

When Jesus told His disciples plainly that He was to depart this world, their hearts were troubled at the thought. Jesus sensed this and comforts them with the well-known opening  words of John 14, “Let not your heart be troubled”, and verse 3: “And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” What comfort this would have been for them: that He would return, and take them to Himself, never more to be separated from them forever; but till then there would have to be a time of ‘fasting’ for them.  This was not what we would normally think of as fasting, but we learn from Mark 2:18 to 20: when Jesus was asked why His disciples did not fast like the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees, Jesus’ reply was  very important to the disciples, and to us at this present time: “Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the Bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the Bridegroom,  they cannot fast. But the days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days”.

Yes, we are now fasting, being deprived of the bodily presence of our Lord; but it is only a temporary fast. He will come again and receive  us unto  Himself.  So we are fasting, waiting and longing to be with the Lord Jesus, in perfect, mutual delight, satisfaction and blessedness forever We do not enjoy the fasting, but if we are RightWithGod, then we will be glad that we actually are fasting, because that longing to be with Christ is a token of the fact that we are His. We are not what we would like to be, but we are not what we once were.

However, Jesus promised more comfort for this present time of fasting. In John 14:16, He says, “And I will pray the father, and He shall give another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever. Notice the very important word, ‘another’. Their present Comforter who was Himself was going away, and another ‘Comforter’ was to come in His place. This new Comforter was to be in amazingly close relation to them: verse 17, “Ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you”. The identity of this new Comforter is given to us in verse 26: “The Comforter which is the Holy Ghost”. Yes He is the Holy Spirit, the third person in the glorious trinity of the One God; Father, Son  and Holy Spirit. During  this time of fasting the Holy Spirit is our Comforter.

When we are oppressed, tried, persecuted, marginalised and vilified, as we increasingly are in the present world situation, we need the comfort of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s Deputy. He works mainly through the Holy Scriptures. If we truly want Him working in our lives, then we must give time to exploring the sctiptures, looking for Him to bless some passage, verse, phrase or word, applying it to us personally, especially looking for Christ in Old and New Testaments. He will guide you and lead you, always leading you and pointing you to Christ. He will keep you from day to day RightwithGod, which is the ultimate joy. In John 16: 13,14, we read of how He works: “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall he speak: and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you”.

Comfort from Heaven

The true believer living on in this world is a changed person. His whole character has been changed. He is no longer the strong self-sufficient person that he was before. He is softer in nature. His heart has been softened. We read in Ezekiel 36:26, “A new heart also I will give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh”. Does this leave the christian exposed to hurts in this world more than others? Yes. Can he fight back against these hurts as he did before? No. He must seek to be like his Master, the Lord Jesus Christ of whom we read, “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again”.

The Lord Jesus is very well aware of this problem. In fact He Himself experienced it ‘from the inside’, as it were, because He took to Himself our nature, and still bears that nature as He sits at the right hand on high, and will bear it forever. We read in Hebrews 4:15 that our Great High Priest was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities;” and was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin”. The result of this is that the Lord has made special provision for our need in this very matter. When His work of suffering the penalty for our sins was finished, He did not just go back to heaven and forget about us. He continues to make provision for our special needs. That provision is, in one word, Comfort. It comes to us in two principle ways.

The first of these is in words He has spoken from heaven. There is no greater comfort for the christian in this life than getting word from the risen, ascended, and enthroned Lord Jesus Christ. I cannot think of more comforting words than we have from Him in Revelation 1:18, “I am He that liveth and was dead”. Yes, He was indeed dead: in the grave for three days, having suffered and died for His people. He endured the cross until the punishment was paid in full, so that there was no wrath left for those who receive Him. God’s justice was fully and completely satisfied. There can be no more charges against those who are in Christ, even from God Himself. They are irreversibly and invincibly RightWithGod.

Yes, He was truly dead, but now He lives: He is seated at the right hand of God, alive forever more. He waits with joyous anticipation till the day when all His people will be with Him where He is, when their day of final rest has arrived. He looks forward to the unspeakable joy He will see on their faces as they behold Him. In the midst of the assaults and oppresssions of this world, the words, “I am He that liveth and was dead” will undoubtedly comfort the longing soul.

Secondly, He has sent the Holy Spirit into this world as his Deputy, until He comes back for us. God-willing we will look at that next week.

Comfort from Heaven.

The true believer living on in this world is a changed person. His whole character has been changed. He is no longer the strong self-sufficient person that he was before. He is softer in nature. His heart has been softened. We read in Ezekiel 36:26, “A new heart also I will give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh”. Does this leave the christian exposed to hurts in this world more than others? Yes. Can he fight back against these hurts as he did before? No. He must seek to be like his Master, the Lord Jesus Christ of whom we read, “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again”.

The Lord Jesus is very well aware of this problem. In fact He Himself experienced it ‘from the inside’, as it were, because He took to Himself our nature, and still bears that nature as He sits at the right hand on high, and will bear it forever. We read in Hebrews 4:15 the our Great High Priest was “touched with the feeling of our infirmities;” and was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin”. The result of this is that the Lord has made special provision for our need in this very matter. When His work of suffering the penalty for our sins was finished, He did not just go back to heaven and forget about us. He continues to make provision for our special needs. That provision is, in one word, Comfort. It comes to us in two principle ways.

The first of these is in words He has spoken from heaven. There is no greater comfort for the christian in this life than getting word from the risen, ascended, and enthroned Lord Jesus Christ. I cannot think of more comforting words than we have from Him in Revelation 1:18, “I am He that liveth and was dead”. Yes, He was indeed dead: in the grave for three days, having suffered and died for His people. He endured the cross until the punishment was paid in full, so that there was no wrath left for those who receive Him. God’s justice was fully and completely satisfied. There can be no more charges against those who are in Christ, even from God Himself. They are irreversibly and invincibly RightWithGod.

Yes, He was truly dead, but now He lives: He is seated at the right hand of God, alive forever more. He waits with joyous anticipation till the day when all His people will be with Him where He is, when their day of final rest has arrived. He looks forward to the unspeakable joy He will see on their faces as they behold Him. In the midst of the assaults and oppresssions of this world, the words, “I am He that liveth and was dead” will undoubtedly comfort the longing soul.

Secondly, He has sent the Holy Spirit into this world as his Deputy, until He comes back for us. God-willing we will look at that next week.

Happy You, O Israel

These words are from Deuteronomy 33:29. In our bibles the words read, “Happy are you, O Israel: who is like unto you, O people saved by the Lord”. The word “are” in the English translation is superfluous in Hebrew: hence it is added in English in italics to help the flow of the language. However, I confess that, for me, there is something very  special about the original, and this is the reason for our heading, “Happy You, O Israel”.

Moses was approaching the end of his life. He had been the leader of the Children of Israel during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. There were 600, 000 of them apart from women and children, and they were a difficult, murmuring and thankless people. They frequently tried Moses to the limit of his patience. Yet, now, when the time of his death is near, He speaks of them as a ‘happy people’. Was Moses pretending when he spoke these words? No, what he said was based on facts.

They were a people saved by the Lord. The disobedient, faithless generation that came out of Egypt had passed away, and  a new more obedient and faithful generation had taken their  place. They were destined to enter into Canaan, into the Promised Land, which God had promised to give them. Hence their happiness in the eyes of Moses. The happiness of the christian is similar in nature, but far surpasses that of the Children of israel.

Their happiness is not just based on their future in heaven, but there is for them a present happiness. What is that present happiness? It is the simple fact that they are saved. Life for them in this world has, perhaps, not been easy, it rarely is; but their trials are not meaningless. They are productive, and full of meaning. They know that their trials are preparing them from heaven. Their present happiness is that they are now irreversibly and unchangeably saved. They have no righteousness of their own. Their righteousness is the righteousness of Christ, which they received when they received Him as their Saviour and Lord. Also, the moment they received Christ, the Spirit of God entered into them, and  made their heart His dwelling place. From there He will never move, and cannot be evicted. How wonderful that the God the Holy Spirit makes our unworthy hearts His permanent dwelling place! O happy thought;  and how extra happy we are when He makes His presence known. Yes, we often grieve Him, but still he will not leave. Let us live, speak and think in such a way that He is not grieved, but that He rejoices in His dwelling place, making us sing with happiness.

Then, of course, there is heaven. The Bible tells us that there is an  inheritance in heaven with Christ waiting for us when we get there. The presence of the Spirit in our hearts is like an ‘earnest’ (advance payment) of heaven (Ephesians 1:13,14). When He makes Himself known, it is like a foretaste of heaven. Yes, there is a sense in which heaven begins in this life. Indeed I would say that we should search and work for these moments when He draws near: in the secret place, in reading the scriptures, in the fellowship of His people wherever the are gathered on the Lord’s day or midweek, visiting the sick, reading good books. All these things are like a pursuit: the pursuit of holiness.

We read of Gideon’s men, that they were “Faint, yet pursuing”, (Judges 8:4). Are you pursuing holiness of  life, even when faint? This is truly being RightWithGod.  How is it with you, christan?

 

Walking Carefully

Last week we looked at Ephesians 5:14, 15,16 we read, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and  Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil”. We concentrated on the phrase, “reedeeming the time”. Today, I wish to commend to you the phrase, “See that ye walk circumspectly”. The word is an important one to help us understand the christian life, and enable us to walk, ie live our lives,  in a way that is pleasing to God. The christan life is meant to be a happy life, the happiest there is. But that happiness depends on our day to day relationship with God. We want a relationship which is based on a two-way delight: God delighting in us and we delighting in God. God is intensely, even fastidiously, interested in the way His child is living. There are many aspect to this. Today we will look at one of these aspects: Walking carefully.

This word “circumspectly” is not a word we use very much, but it is one  which the christian should import into his understanding of the walk that pleases God. To put it very simply, it means walking carefully. This involves walking  warily. Why? Because Satan  is continually trying to snare the christian. He often presents himself as an angel of light, and with great skill, makes the things of this world seem very attractive. He makes things that are not good for our souls, and mar our happy relationship with God,  seem quite innocent.  We must be constantly on our guard against his wiles.  This means walking warily.

But the word, “circumspectly” can be also explained in terms  of the word itself. We do not need to know much about language to see that it is made up of two parts which, when joined together, give us ‘looking round about’.  This is helpful. We are not only to walk carefully and warily, but we must keep our eyes open and observe the full situation in which we find ourselves. In the words of the text, we must walk, “not as fools, but as wise”. The Lord treats us as rational beings and expects us to make wise choices in every situation. We do not naturally have good judgement, but it is something that is integral to the christian life, and must be built up. I once sat at a Lord’s table, and during the part of the service which deals with the question, who should sit at the Lord’s table, and who should not, the minister said a few simple words which I have never forgotten, and which  I have found  very helpful. He said, “the Lord’s table is not for the perfect, but neither is it for the careless”. He put a lot of wisdom into a few words!

May the Lord help us to find our greatest delight in the assurance  that, as we delight in God, He delights in us: true happiness, RightWithGod!

Redeeming the Time

As I write it is the 16th day of the New Year. Already a good chunk of 2016 has gone. The sense  of ‘newness’ is  already fading. Many of us will have slipped into the ‘groove’, and we are back to normal life. Sixteen days of our time in this world have gone, never to return. I would press upon you that these have been sixteen days of quality time. Time for the unbeliever to get RightWithGod, and for the believer to pursue holiness and enjoy the full delights of being RightWithGod.

In Ephesians 5:14, 15,16 we read, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and  Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil”. The whole context here is addressed to believers, even v14, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give the light”. The death spoken of cannot be the spiritual death which is on the unbeliever,  because it would be absurd to ask the spiritually dead to rise from the dead. The spiritually dead are not commanded to arise from the dead, but to believe on Christ. The imparting of spritual life is of God, and it often accompanies the preaching of the gospel. The death spoken of in v14 is the death, or spiritual slumber which can come on the believer (Even the five wise virgins in the parable slumbered and slept, Matthew 25:5). The call, “Awake thou that sleepest” is to believers who have lost their zeal for Christ, and have allowed a spiritual sleep to come upon them, making them live like the spiritually dead. This slumber is always a danger to the believer in this life.

Paul makes clear the way that we must live if we are to overcome this slumber, or, better still, prevent it happening. “See that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise”, v15. ‘Circumspectly’ is not a word we commonly use today, but it is a good word we would do well to grasp, in order that it might help us to keep our souls lively,  keeping us RightWithGod, and  hence delighting in Him. The dictionary defines the word, as ‘being wary, and unwilling to take risks’ We would like to flesh this out with some practical guidance, but we must leave that this week, so that we can deal with the v16: “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil”.

To redeem  something is to gain or regain for the payment of a price. Here it would have the simplified meaning of getting full control of our precious time, at whatever cost. There will be a cost in terms of making adustments in our lives. Some things would have to go: things that have stolen away our time, perhaps for  many years. We live in evil days,  when Satan is reaching new heights, or depths, to entice and seduce the believer to waste his  precious time, giving himself to thoughts and imaginations which corrode and corrupt the mind, and which prevent him from experiencing  the greatest enjoyment possible in this life: being RightWithGod.

 

 

The Big Issue for the Unbeliever for 2016

 

The Big Issue for the unbeliever for 2016 is getting RightWithGod, rather than keeping RightWithGod, which we discussed last week. The difference between ‘getting’and ‘keeping’ may seem slight, but it is not so. The difference is in fact immense. It is the difference between an overwhelmingly important and urgent quest, and the enjoyment of the resolution of that quest. It is often the case nowadays that this difference is often minimised by preachers, while the bible maximises that difference, equating it to the difference between being lost and saved, death and life, darkness and light, misery and happiness.
There is nothing in this life more important than getting RightWithGod, while we have opportunity.

We often complain about the downsides of this life, and there are many; but there is one wonderful upside to this life, which overwhelms all the downsides: that is, that it is an opportunity to get RightWithGod, and so come into the fullest enjoyment of this life, and the assurance of heaven after death. This opportunity is before us throughout our whole time in this life, but ceases forever on death. There will be no further opportunity. No one will ever be saved beyond death. This life is the one and only age in any person’s existence, of gospel preaching, gospel invitation, gospel appeals, and gospel blessing. This is in fact a good time to be alive, because the door to heaven is wide open to all who will have it, without exception.

But the gospel invitation comes in this form in the bible: “God commands all men everywhere to repent”. This command assumes that there is something for all men to repent of. This brings us to man’s greatest stumblingblock when it comes to being saved: all human beings are by nature sinners before the all-righteous God. They are fallen creatures, guilty before Him, and therefore subject to His wrath. Accepting the fact of this guilt, is hard for fallen man because one of the symptoms of his fallenness is his pride. He thinks himself to be righteous, strong and self-sufficient. It is extremely hard for him to confess his sins before God, and hence it is very difficult for him to repent of his sins. The gospel is for sinners, not for the righteous.

Yet, repentance alone never saved anybody. There is no salvation for men until their sins are not only owned by them, but dealt with. The due punishment must be paid. At this point we are helpless, until we see why Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into this world to bear mockery and rejection, and suffer the cruel death of the cross. Then, glorious light banishes our darkness: Christ died as a substitute. On that cross He suffered the wrath of God the Father for the sins of all who will repent, and bow the knee before God, in confession and deepest gratitude for His great provision for sinners: not for the righteous, but for sinners. This provision permeates the bible in express words and in illustrations: for example, Galatians 3:13, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” What a glorious moment for any human being when he sees this clearly and receives this Christ as his own substitute!

He is, at a stroke, made RightWithGod, permanently and irreversibly. O happy moment!

Dear friend, if you have not yet settled this matter between yourself and God, I beseech you to make that your Big Issue for 2016.

Another Year Begins.

I am always thankful that we have a New Year’s Day service in our congregation. I had the privilege of preaching at that service in our congregation yesterday.  As an illustration to introduce my sermon, I referred to a magazine which is sold on the streets of most of our cities by people who are homeless. The aim of the organisation behind the magazine is to give homeless people a start to earn some money by selling the magazines at a small profit, and so build up a businesss for themselves. All the sellers are self-employed. The name of the magazine is “The Big Issue”, that ‘issue’ being homelessness, although the magazine covers a wide range  of topics.

The point of using the title of this magazine to  introduce a New Year’s day sermon is obvious: the question being, ‘Is there a big issue between youself and God, that you need to settle before more time passes?’ The issue of course is, whether you are RightWithGod, or not. It may surprise you that I applied the question to believers first, and then to unbelievers. It applies to both, but in totally different ways.

But surely the believer is already RightWithGod? Yes, most certainly: there is not the slightest possibility, that a person who is saved, united by faith to Christ, trusting in Him as the only One who can save from sin, can ever, ever be lost.

However, when we look at a passage of scripture like Hebrews 12:1-4, which is clearly addressed to believers, we have a picture of the  christian life, which challenges the christian. In verses 1 and 2, we read of a race, not of our own making, but one which God himself has  “set before us”. It does not say, ‘He sets the race before us, and forces us to run it.’ He just  sets it before us, and, if we are believers, we are enabled to run this race, but not forced into it. It is a race which can only be run with patience, literally, perseverance, or staying power. This is very far from the attitude which says, ‘I am saved, and saved irreversibly for all time and eternity, and nothing can change that (which is true), so I can relax, and enjoy my christian life without pushing myself. The last clause is mistaken.

The christian life is a life of intense joy and happiness in God. No greater happiness is possible in this life than this. It is a life of “laying aside” certain things, or separating ourselves from them. The first of these is “every weight”. Weights here mean things which are not in themselves sinful, but which weigh us down: certain company, friendships, reading materials, entertainments, excessive internet chats, etc. The second thing is “the sin which does so easily beset us”. We must get to know ourselves, and especially the sins which all too easily over take and enslave us, filling our thoughts before w know where we are. We must separate ourselves from all the situations which make it easy for these sins to ‘grab’ us: If you are honest with yourself, you will soon know what these situations are. This race is really a pursuit: it is pursuing holiness. This is a pursuit which is in itself is the joy of all who are in it. The greatest happiness possible to the christian is the enjoyment of God.

This is supremely being RightWithGod.  As we separate ouselves from the things mentioned, we separate ourselves unto Christ; “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith”. We make Him the focus of our thoughts and aims. He is the one whom God the Father graciously, lovingly sent to “endure the cross” for us. His Joy was that He would reconcile us to God by His suffering the penalty of our sins for us on the cursed cross. Let us endure for Him, just  for the sheer present joy of dong so.

I have written enough for this week. If spared, we will address the unbeliever next week.

 

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.

 

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?