Summary: What is the significance of the virgin birth.
I believe in the Virgin Mary. That may sound like a strange sermon title for a Protestant, but actually it is quite important. It is important to believe that there was such a person in history, that she was the mother of Christ, and that she was a virgin at the time of his birth. In fact, this truth is vital to our understanding of the nature of God, and the person of Jesus Christ. As Protestants we may not think of Mary in the same way our Christian friends who are of the Roman Catholic faith, but she is an important part of the Christian story. Perhaps we have so over-reacted to Roman Catholic teaching that we have not held her in as high regard as we should. We believe she was a normal young woman in every way, but we cannot forget that she was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.
There are those who believe that she is a person that we pray to, or through, to reach Christ as a sort of mediator. Some teach that since she is the mother of Jesus she has special influence over Him, and can move him to do things he would not otherwise do. But Jesus Christ is full of compassion and needs no one to move his great heart. We need no one to reach him for us. We can go directly to the throne of grace for ourselves, and we are to pray to no one but God. The Bible says: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
There are also those who believe that Mary is essential for our salvation; that she is a sort of co-redeemer with Christ. Those are not the things we are saying when we say we believe in the virgin Mary. Our Roman Catholic friends (And, by the way, we can be friends and still agree to disagree on some things) do have some doctrines concerning Mary that we do not include in our statement of faith, and it is sometimes important to know what we do not believe as well as what we do. One of those is the doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception.” They believe that Mary was immaculately conceived, that is, that she had natural parents, but that she was born without original sin—that tendency within each of us to do what is wrong rather than what is right; the condition within us that makes it hard to be good and easy to be bad. They believe that she was sinless from the time of her birth to the time of her death. We would not go that far. We would say that she was like every other human being who ever lived, but that she had a love for God, and a quality of faith and life that must have been there in order for God to select her for this special purpose.
Our Roman Catholic friends also hold to the belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary. That is, that even though she went on to marry Joseph, they did not consummate their marriage, or ever have a normal sexual relationship. At one time, traditional Roman Catholic theology even said that Mary did not give birth to Jesus in the natural way, but that he passed through her body (in partu), almost as a beam of light. These are not biblical doctrines, but ideas which spring from tradition that has developed over long years of time.
But we do believe that Mary was a virgin at the time of Christ’s birth. Why do we believe that? Is it because there is something wrong with the sexual relationship, or because she would have been less “pure” if she were not a virgin, even as a married woman? Certainly not. God has blessed marriage, and the Bible talks frankly about the place of sex within marriage as God’s design (See 1 Corinthians 7). The importance of the virgin birth is not the “purity” of Mary, but the parentage of Jesus. If Mary was not a virgin, then God was not his Father — Joseph was. And it is important for us to understand that Jesus possessed a divine nature as well as a human one, and that was only possible if God was his actual Father. The reason I believe Mary was a virgin is because I believe that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle’s Creed declares. The virgin birth is what sets Jesus apart from the rest of the human race, as the only Son of God in that special sense.