************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 35-36 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 14, 2010
Q & A 35-36
"I Believe in the Virgin Birth"
"I believe ..." says the man and woman of faith. "I believe in Jesus ... who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary." This comes from the Apostles' Creed. Remember, when we are looking at the Apostles' Creed we are looking at the summary of the Gospel. And, we are looking at the content of true faith.
Notice the difference between us and the Roman Catholics? Roman Catholics believe in the "virgin Mary." We believe in Jesus Who was "born of the virgin Mary." Quite an important difference.
In any event, the truth is this: the eternal Son of God took to Himself a truly human nature. God joined man. Far eastern religions and mystical faiths believe in the opposite: that man joins God. We know that is impossible. Instead, we believe that God joined man. That the Word took on human flesh.
And He did it in the womb of a common woman. For many people, a common woman may not be spectacular enough as a means by which God became man. Which helps to explain why Roman Catholicism elevates Mary so much and teaches what it does about her conception and death.
I Jesus is Fully God and Fully Man
A "I believe in Jesus ... who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary." This lies at the center of the Gospel, at the center of true faith. Meaning what? That He Whom we believe and confess is true God and true man.
It is not hard to think of Jesus as man. We can imagine His birth; after all, there have been millions of births. His family life and schooling were not unusual for His time and place. During His earthly ministry, He chose a dozen followers to be His disciples; of those twelve, one traded Him in for a bag of coins, another denied knowing Him, and the rest checked out when the going got rough. With the aid of the four Gospels and modern film makers, we can easily imagine all of these events in the life of Christ. No, we have no problems imagining Jesus as man.
And, we can imagine Jesus as God. We think of the radiance of God's glory mentioned by Hebrews. We think of the glorious Son of Man of Daniel. We think of those awesome images of the Revelation: the throne, the Alpha and Omega, the rider on a white horse Whose name is Faithful and True. We think of the transfiguration. No, we have no problems imagining Jesus as God.
B The problems begin when we try to join the two – as the incarnation does. Can you imagine the eternal Son of God taking on human flesh? Can you imagine what it was like to step off the throne of heaven and enter the stomach-turning stable?
C.S. Lewis has an absolutely vivid image to describe the incarnation: God taking on flesh is like man becoming a slug. Can you imagine becoming a slug? Soft, slimy, in the dirt or water? Sure is hard to imagine, isn't it? Psalm 22 uses another image: "I am a worm, and not a man." Can you image becoming a worm? Eating your way through dirt, oozing a kind of slime, perhaps dangling from a fish hook? Sure is hard to imagine, isn't it?
C Throughout history, there have been two main errors people make when it comes to the incarnation, to the eternal Son of God taking on a human nature. One is the denial of Christ's full divinity. The other is the denial of Christ's full humanity.
Liberals and atheists, of course, deny Christ's full divinity; they want nothing to do with a Jesus Who claims to be the eternal Son of God. But are evangelicals any better? I hear many evangelicals talking about Jesus with way too much familiarity. He is their friend. He is their brother. He is like the neighbor next door. What is missing is any word about Jesus as God and Lord; so, practically speaking, at least, they deny Christ's full divinity.
On the other side are those who deny Christ's full humanity. I admit, in today's world this is a far smaller group than those who deny Christ's full divinity. But there are some with such an emphasis on Christ's divinity that they are scandalized by the thought of a Jesus in diapers, a Jesus spilling His milk, a Jesus cutting a board an inch too short in Joseph's shop, a Jesus Who mistook Martha for Mary, a Jesus Who couldn't remember the name of Lazarus.
D The incarnation lies at the center of our confession in the Apostles' Creed. How great the mystery that God took on a truly human nature. We confess this because this is the teaching of the Bible. Our reading from Matthew briefly describes His holy conception and birth. Paul tells us "He appeared in a body" (1 Tim 3:16). "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law" (Gal 4:4). John tells us "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14).
Summing up the teaching of Scripture, the Catechism tells us "the eternal Son of God ... took to himself ... a truly human nature." The result? Not something 50% divine and 50% human. Not something 85% divine and 15% human. Not something 15% divine and 85% human. Notice, He "is and remains true and eternal God." Notice, He is "David's true descendant, like his brothers in every way except for sin." Telling us what? Telling us that He is unique in a very unexpected way: 100% divine and 100% human at one and the same time. When he was on earth He was 100% divine and 100% human. Right now in heaven He is 100% divine and 100% human. When He comes again as Judge and Ruler, He will continue to be 100% divine and 100% human.
He "is and remains true and eternal God." Meaning what? As Hebrews puts it, "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being" (Heb 1:3). As Paul puts it, "God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him" (Col 1:19). In other words, He was and is in the image of God in a way we never can be. He never once stopped being God – not in the manger, not on the cross, not in the grave.
And, He was "born of the virgin Mary." He "is human from the essence of his mother, born in time; ... completely human with a rational soul and human flesh" (Athanasian Creed). Which means He was and is like us in every way except for sin. His mother and His disciples knew Him as a man of a certain height and weight and physical appearance. Perhaps they knew Him when He had a cold or the flu or a toothache. And, even now in heaven He continues to be human.
So, we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, God's Son, is both God and human, equally, 100% each.
E What happens if we alter the percentages even a little bit? What happens if He is more divine than human? Well, let me ask another question: what does this do to His work as Redeemer? Doesn't the crucifixion become a walk in the park because He, after all, was God when He hung upon the tree? The resurrection is hardly miraculous for what else would you expect from God. The ascension doesn't mean too much since all He was doing was returning home.
What happens if we alter the percentages the other way? What happens if He is more human than divine? If that happens, the crucifixion becomes a pitiful ending for someone so young; the resurrection is a nice story but cannot really be true; the same thing with the ascension. Jesus becomes nothing but an example for us to follow.
F This joining of the human and the divine into one person has given rise to many questions. For instance, if Jesus was and is fully God how come He doesn't know the time of the end? If Jesus is fully divine why did He get tried? Why did He weep? When Jesus prayed, did He pray to Himself? When Christ lived on earth did He know everything? Did He know the world was round when most people though it was flat? Did He know Einstein's theory of relativity? When He was asked a difficult question did He ever answer, "I don't know"?
These are curious questions. But they are not profitable to answer because the Bible doesn't answer them. However, they do highlight our confession that "the eternal son of God ... took to himself ... a truly human nature." That He is 100% divine and 100% human at the same time.
II The Holy Spirit and Mary
A "I believe in Jesus ... who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary." Based upon the Bible, the Creed tells us two persons were involved in the incarnation of the eternal Son of God.
The first person is the Holy Spirit. When Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant outside of marriage, he decided to divorce her quietly. But an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit" (Mt 1:20). Mary did not commit adultery. She did not engage in pre-marital sex. It was the Spirit of God Who planted the seed of new life within her. The power of the Most High overshadowed her (Lk 1:35). So, the eternal Son of God took on a truly human nature "through the working of the Holy Spirit."
I always ask students in Pastor's Class why the conception by the Holy Spirit is so important. I ask in what way this makes Christ different than them and me. If they still can't come up with an answer, I ask them with what are we born that is missing in Christ. Eventually, someone answers something about original sin. Because of the conception by the Spirit, Christ was born without the pollution and guilt of original sin. The result is that He was and is perfect, sinless, holy.
Let's not make the mistake, though, of thinking Jesus was naive. When the youth of Nazareth snickered about the village prostitute, Jesus did not think she was merely a nice lady with strange visiting hours. Jesus knew what was in man – and, in woman. To think of Jesus as merely gentle and meek and mild, as someone forever clasping children to His creamy white toga, is to miss much of the Biblical picture. For, He could also be fierce, angry, and terrifying. He could be afraid. He wept.
B The second person playing a role in the incarnation is Mary, the virgin Mary. The baby Jesus was conceived in her. She was the one who gave birth to Jesus. The result is that Jesus was "like his brothers in every way except for sin." The result was He was "David's true descendant" – that is of the line of David, the house of Judah, the promised heir.
The eternal Son of God took to Himself, from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, a truly human nature. Jesus was conceived in Mary and born of Mary. Think of what this means. It was Mary's DNA that was used. So, Jesus must have looked like Mary in some ways: her eyes, her facial expressions, her gestures, her smile, her frown, her way of walking.
III For Our Salvation
A "I believe in Jesus ... who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary." Jesus is fully God and fully man. So what? "He is our mediator," says the Catechism. He is our Savior says the angel to Joseph.
Go back a few questions and answers to Q & A 15. Remember what was asked:
Q What kind of mediator and deliverer should we look for then?In Q & A 18 Jesus was identified as this perfect Mediator. And now, once again, we see Jesus identified as the perfect Mediator.
A One who is truly human and truly righteous, yet more powerful that all creatures, that is, one who is also true God.
When it comes to a Mediator, there are three important Biblical principles that we need to always keep in mind. The first principle comes from Ezekiel 18: the soul who sins is the one who must pay for sin. In other words, man has sinned so man must pay for those sins.
The second principle comes from Hebrews 7: no sinner can pay the debt of other sinners. Only someone perfect, righteous, holy, and innocent can pay for others.
The third principle comes from Psalm 49: no man can redeem the life of another or give God a ransom because the ransom for a life is costly and no payment is ever enough. Only God is able to pay the debt.
Jesus – as God, man, and righteous – is the only One Who qualifies to be Mediator.
Furthermore, He knows, He understands what it is to be human. He knows our weakness. He knows our temptations. He knows our sin. We find in Him a sympathetic high priest.
B Jesus' work as Mediator is two-fold. Stage one happened on earth, upon the cross and in the grave. Stage two happens in heaven. He is the Mediator Who intercedes for us before the throne of grace. Again, He knows and understands what it is to be human. He knows our weakness. He knows our temptations. He knows our sin. Therefore, when we pray, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence.
"I believe in Jesus ... who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary." "I believe that the eternal Son of God took to Himself a truly human nature."
What a mystery this is. What a mystery that one person is very God and very man. But perhaps a greater mystery is that He is both God and man to save us from our sins. What love. What grace. What mercy.
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