Summary: Why the virgin birth is necessary for Jesus to be able to save us from oour sins.
In a December 2007 poll conducted by the Barna Group, three quarters of the people polled said that they believed in the literal virgin birth of Jesus. My first reaction to those results was that the number was actually much higher than I expected based on my familiarity with the results of other similar polls that indicate that a much smaller number of Americans are truly “born again” Christ followers. But after thinking about it some more, the conclusion I came to is that while that many people may indeed believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, a much smaller number actually understand it’s significance, and, even more importantly, even fewer have actually had their lives impacted in any meaningful way by their belief.
So this morning, I’d like to take some time to make sure that we understand not just the fact of the virgin birth, but also why it’s so important and how we need to change our lives in light of that. Since we’ve been spending some time in the Book of Isaiah over the last several weeks, we’ll begin there, in chapter 7:
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:10-14 (ESV)
As always, we need to put this passage in its proper historical context, which is given to us in the first part of Isaiah 7. I encourage you to go back and read that for yourself later, but for time’s sake, let me summarize what is taking place.
The king of Syria, Rezin, has aligned himself with Pekah, the son of king Remaliah of Israel – the northern ten tribes. They are planning to attack the southern tribes of Judah and set up a puppet king there, but Ahaz, the king of Judah, becomes aware of their plans. So God sends Isaiah to Ahaz to assure him that what Syria and Israel are planning will not come to pass.
It is in that context that God, through Isaiah, tells Ahaz to ask for a sign that will confirm what Ahaz has just heard from Isaiah. But Ahaz, a wicked king who has consistently rejected God, refuses to do what God has commanded, claiming that he is too pious to test God. But God gives him the sign anyway.
Because of our familiarity with the New Testament, particularly the passage in Matthew’s gospel that we’ll look at in a moment, most of us immediately associate the sign that God gives with the virgin birth of Jesus. But in its historical context, that sign had to be something that had meaning to Ahaz and the people of Judah in the midst of their current situation. In fact, the description of the sign for Ahaz and his people doesn’t end in 7:14 – it continues all the way through the end of chapter 8. The promise of the birth of a child who would be called Immanuel was a sign that guaranteed that God’s promise to foil the plans of Syria and Israel to replace Ahaz as king of Judah would be fulfilled. It was a sign to a believing remnant that the birth of a child of promise that God would keep His promises to them.
It is difficult to discern from the text the exact nature of that sign, but it seems most likely that it is connected with the birth of a son to the prophet Isaiah as described in Isaiah 8:3. But there is no doubt that there was a birth of a child to a young woman very close to the time that God promised a sign to Ahaz that Ahaz would have been able to observe and recognize as the confirmation of God’s promises to him and his people.
Certainly neither Ahaz nor Isaiah viewed this sign as a prediction of an event that would not occur until over 700 years later. And yet, Matthew, in his gospel, quotes Isaiah 7:14 to show that Jesus fulfilled this verse by His virgin birth. Let’s look at that passage and see if we can’t make the same connection that Matthew did:
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: