Advent: Christmas Carols.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” (Psalm 98:7-9)

What is, or are, your favorite Christmas Carols. Without a doubt, the Christmas Season is dominated by holiday music: both sacred and secular. However, we will focus our attention on traditional carols and hymns which address the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In particular, let’s focus upon what I refer to as the Big Three Christmas Carols. These include Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. When were they written and by whom? Let’s briefly examine each one.

Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts. Watts was an English Christian minister, hymn writer, theologian, and logician. He was a prolific and popular hymn writer and is credited with some 750 hymns. He is recognized as the “Godfather of English Hymnody.” Many of his hymns remain in use today and have been translated into numerous languages.

As of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America. According to the Dictionary of North American Hymnology, Joy to the World was published in 1,387 hymnals in North America before 1979. Hymnarry.org cites the Christmas carol as one of the Top 20 Christmas hymns.

The words of the hymn are taken from  Psalm 98, 96:11–12 and Genesis 3:17–18. The carol was first published in 1719 in Watts’ collection The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship.

As one author explains, “In stanzas 1 and 2 Watts writes of heaven and earth rejoicing at the coming of the King. An interlude that depends more on Watts’ interpretation than the psalm text, stanza 3 speaks of Christ’s blessings extending victoriously over the realm of sin. The cheerful repetition of the non-psalm phrase “far as the curse is found” has caused this stanza to be omitted from some hymnals. But the line makes joyful sense when understood from the New Testament eyes through which Watts interprets the psalm. Stanza 4 celebrates Christ’s rule over the nations.” The nations are called to celebrate because God’s faithfulness to the house of Israel has brought salvation to the world.”

The music most associated with Watts’ lyrics is from the edition by Lowell Mason for The National Psalmist (Boston, 1848). It was his fourth revision of the tune he named ANTIOCH and attributed as “arranged from Handel.”

Joy to the World is often found on many recording artist’s Christmas albums. These include such notables as Andy WilliamsThe SupremesBing CrosbyElla FitzgeraldJohnny CashNat King Cole, Walter Cherry, Neil DiamondPat BoonePerry ComoVic DamoneMariah Carey, and acapella group Pentatonix.

The lyrics are as follows.

Joy to the World; the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields & floods, rocks, hills & plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria! 

Advent: Christmas Traditions.

From what sources did we get many of our Christmas traditions? I am thinking about Christmas Trees, wreaths, holly and ivy, garland, etc.? These mainstays of the holiday season become a source of debate and discussion among many believers as to their appropriateness and whether they obscure the real meaning of Christmas. Let’s see how they originated.

The Hanging of Stockings. There is no official record of when the hanging of stocking began, one of the most logical explanations is that it’s a variation on the old tradition of leaving out shoes with hay inside them on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas’s feast day. Lucky children would discover that the hay they left for St. Nick’s donkey had been replaced with treats or coins when they woke up the next morning.

Another story says that St. Nicholas learned of a father who was unable to pay for his three daughters’ dowries, so St. Nick dropped gold balls down a chimney, which landed in stockings hung by the fire to dry. But this appears to be a modern telling—traditional versions of the story generally have the gold land at the father’s feet after being thrown through a window.

In 1883, The New York Times wrote: “In the days of the unobtrusive white stocking, no one could pretend that the stocking itself was a graceful or attractive object when hanging limp and empty from the foot of the bedstead. Now, however, since the adoption of decorated stockings, even the empty stocking may be a thing of beauty, and its owner can display it with confidence both at the Christmas season and on purely secular occasions.”

Christmas Caroling. Though it may seem like a centuries-old tradition, showing up at people’s houses to serenade them with seasonal tunes only dates back to the 19th century. Before that, neighbors did visit each other to impart wishes of good luck and good cheer, but not necessarily in song. Christmas carols themselves go back hundreds of years, minus the door-to-door part. The mashup of the two ideas didn’t come together until Victorian England, when caroling was part of every holiday—even May Day festivals. As Christmas became more commercialized, caroling for the occasion became more popular.

Christmas Trees. Before Christianity, people used evergreen boughs to decorate their homes during the winter; the greenery reminded them that plants would return in abundance soon. As Christianity became more popular in Europe, and Germany in particular, the tradition was absorbed into it. Christians decorated evergreen trees with apples to represent the Garden of Eden, calling them “Paradise Trees” around the time of Adam and Eve’s name day—December 24. Gradually, the tradition was subsumed into Christmas celebrations.

The tradition spread as immigrants did, but the practice really took off when word got around that England’s Queen Victoria decorated a Christmas tree as a nod to her German husband’s heritage (German members of the British Royal Family had previously had Christmas trees, but they never caught on with the wider public). Her influence was felt worldwide, and by 1900, 1 in 5 American families had a Christmas tree. Today, 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year.

The Colors of Red and Green. There’s no hard-and-fast reason or event that deemed red and green the Official Colors of Christmas. Several theories include that the color green may have derived from the evergreen tradition that dates back to before Christianity, and the red may be from holly berries. While they’re winter-hardy, just like evergreens, they also have a religious implication: The red berries have been associated with the blood of Christ.

Regardless of your preferences, believers in Christ are to make sure that everything they do brings honor and glory to the Lord (I Corinthians 10:31). This includes the decorating of our homes at Christmas.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!  

Advent: Christmas Cards.

How and when did Christmas Cards originate? A prominent educator and patron of the arts, Henry Cole traveled in the elite, social circles of early Victorian England, and had the misfortune of having too many friends. During the holiday season of 1843, those friends were causing Cole much anxiety.

The problem were their letters: An old custom in England, the Christmas and New Year’s letter, had received a new impetus with the recent expansion of the British postal system and the introduction of the “Penny Post.” This allowed the sender to send a letter or card anywhere in the country by affixing a penny stamp to the correspondence.

Now, everybody was sending letters. Sir Cole—best remembered today as the founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London—was an enthusiastic supporter of the new postal system, and he enjoyed being the 1840s equivalent of an A-Lister. But he was a busy man. As he watched the stacks of unanswered letters, he fretted over what to do. “In Victorian England, it was considered impolite not to answer mail,” says Ace Collins, author of Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas. “He (Cole) had to figure out a way to respond to all of these people.”

Cole hit on an ingenious idea. He approached an artist friend, J.C. Horsley, and asked him to design an idea that Cole had sketched out in his mind. Cole then took Horsley’s illustration—a triptych showing a family at table celebrating the holiday flanked by images of people helping the poor—and had a thousand copies made by a London printer. The image was printed on a piece of stiff cardboard 5 1/8 x 3 1/4 inches in size. At the top of each was the salutation, “TO:_____” allowing Cole to personalize his responses, which included the generic greeting “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To You.” It was the first Christmas card.

Cole’s inner circle of friends immediately recognized his idea as a good way to save time. Within a few years, several other prominent Victorians had simply copied his and Horsley’s creation and were sending their own Christmas Cards during the holiday season.

While Cole and Horsley get the credit for the first, it took several decades for the Christmas card to really catch on, both in Great Britain and the United States. Louis Prang, a Prussian immigrant with a print shop near Boston, is credited with creating the first Christmas card originating in the United States in 1875. It was very different from Cole and Horsley’s of 30 years prior, in that it didn’t even contain a Christmas or holiday image.

Christmas Cards have become an integral part of our holiday celebrations. Don’t fail to send yours this year.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

Advent: Extraordinary Circumstances Revisited.

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: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:19=25)

Not only do extraordinary circumstances occur in our lives, as they did with Joseph, but they may also present opportunities of grace. Joseph faced a dilemma. His betrothed wife, Mary, was pregnant and they both knew He was not the Father. What was he to do in light of her apparent infidelity?

Today’s text informs us that Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man. Joseph was intent on doing what was right. Joseph came to the “logical conclusion” that Mary had been unfaithful to him and he could not see a way to take Mary home with him and be married. He was a man of principle and wanted to live according to the will and Word of God.

However, Joseph did not want to disgrace her. Not wishing to expose her to public disgrace, he could either institute a lawsuit against Mary or he could send her away secretly. This is what he decided to do. He would divorce her quietly, which was an evidence of his love for her. This would not involve any judicial procedure.

Joseph considered what he should do. He reflected, pondered, deeply considered or contemplated in order to reach a conclusion about the matter. He loved Mary and wanted to be her husband. But he was finding it difficult to transition from principle to deed.

It was during those moments of thought and reflection on what he should do that an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The text does not tell us who specifically the angel was, but I suspect it was Gabriel. The angel told Joseph not to be afraid about taking Mary as his wife. In other words, Joseph was not to hesitate or be anxious about marrying Mary. The reason being was that the child conceived in her was of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). Mary had not been unfaithful at all.

The angel continued by saying that Mary would bear a Son, a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 which says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign; Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name, Emmanuel.”

 In light of this news, the angel also said that Joseph was to call the boy’s name Jesus which meant Yahweh is salvation. The reason the angel gave was that Jesus would save His people from their sins. This promise is restated in Acts 4:12 which says, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Joseph obeyed the Lord and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. He took Mary as his wife. He took her into his home when the betrothal period was over and married her. However, the text goes on to say that he kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son. They did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born. Joseph also called the child’s name Jesus (Matthew 12:46-47; Mark 3:31-32; Mark 6:1-3; Luke 8:19-20; John 2:12; John 7:3-10; Acts 1:14).

Did Joseph and Mary have other children following the birth of Jesus? The Scriptures inform us that they did. Matthew 13:55 says, “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary, and His brothers, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us?” Mark 6:1-3 also says, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters with us?”

Face with extraordinary circumstances, Joseph was obedient to the Lord. God calls us to that same obedience when we face our extraordinary circumstances. Let us resolve to do so.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

Advent: Extraordinary Circumstances.

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.” (Matthew 1:18)

 I have lived long enough to witness extraordinary circumstances. Extraordinary means “unusual or remarkable; unusually great; that which provides astonishment or admiration.” Circumstances mean “a fact; an occurrence or a condition.”

Here are a few “extraordinary circumstances” I have observed in my life!

  • November 22, 1963 – The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
  • April 1968 – The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
  • June 1968 – The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
  • Graduating from high school. Believe me, this was an extraordinary accomplishment.
  • Graduation from college, seminary, and receiving my doctorate.
  • Getting married.
  • Becoming a father.
  • Becoming a father-in-law.
  • Becoming a grandfather five times over.
  • 9/11.
  • Observing the northern lights in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
  • Serving the Lord as a pastor/teacher.

This is just a partial list. I am sure that you have encountered extraordinary circumstances in your lifetime. Joseph, the betrothed husband of Mary, certainly did. What I have discovered is that first of all, extraordinary circumstances “will” occur in your life. They may not be exactly the same as Joseph’s, but they’re extraordinary nevertheless. You may not know when, where or even why they may happen, but God does cause them to occur.

What extraordinary circumstances occurred in Joseph’s life? Let’s see.

Matthew 1:18 says, “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.”

In several ways, Matthew’s account of Jesus’ incarnation parallels the birth narrative found in Luke 1:26ff. However, Matthew’s narrative focus in not on Mary but rather on Joseph.

Matthew mentions the one year betrothal period of engagement known as the Kuddushin. The actual wedding ceremony, referred to as the Huppa, had yet to take place.

Matthew also mentions that this betrothal period occurred “before they came together.” In other words, Mary and Joseph had not consummated their relationship (Luke 1:27-38). However, in a restricted sense theirs was essentially a marriage.

Dr. John Walvoord writes that, “The fact that Jesus was born “of Mary” only, as indicated in the genealogical record (v. 16), demanded further explanation. Matthew’s explanation can best be understood in the light of Hebrew marriage customs. Marriages were arranged for individuals by parents, and contracts were negotiated. After this was accomplished, the individuals were considered married and were called husband and wife. They did not, however, begin to live together. Instead, the woman continued to live with her parents and the man with his for one year. The waiting period was to demonstrate the faithfulness of the pledge of purity given concerning the bride. If she was found to be with child in this period, she obviously was not pure, but had been involved in an unfaithful sexual relationship. Therefore the marriage could be annulled. If, however, the one-year waiting period demonstrated the purity of the bride, the husband would then go to the house of the bride’s parents and in a grand processional march lead his bride back to his home. There they would begin to live together as husband and wife and consummate their marriage physically. Matthew’s story should be read with this background in mind.”

It was at this time that Mary was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. Mary became pregnant while remaining a virgin. The pregnancy occurred through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. The immediate cause of her condition was the powerful-life imparting creative work of God the Holy Spirit. Mary knew this pregnancy occurred because the angel told her this would happen (Luke 1:26-35). She knew Joseph was not the biological father because they had not consummated their relationship. So did Joseph. What an extraordinary set of circumstances Joseph was now facing.

Dr. Walvoord concludes by saying. “Mary and Joseph were in the one-year waiting period when Mary was found to be with child. They had never had sexual intercourse and Mary herself had been faithful (vv. 20, 23). While little is said about Joseph, one can imagine how his heart must have broken. He genuinely loved Mary, and yet the word came that she was pregnant.”

What will Joseph do in light of these extraordinary circumstances? That is what we will examine next. Suffice to say that Joseph will do that which is right and biblical. How about us?

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

LORD’S DAY 44, 2019.

On each Lord’s Day this year, we will display the 52 devotionals taken from the Heidelberg Catechism which are structured in the form of questions posed and answers given.

The Heidelberg Catechism was originally written in 1563. It originated in one of the few pockets of Calvinistic faith in the Lutheran and Catholic territories of Germany. Conceived originally as a teaching instrument to promote religious unity, the catechism soon became a guide for preaching as well.

Along with the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt, it forms what is collectively referred to as the Three Forms of Unity.

The devotional for LORD’S DAY 44 is as follows. Please take note of the biblical references given in each answer. This morning’s devotional addresses The Ten Commandments.

Q. What is the aim of the tenth commandment?

A. That not even the slightest desire or thought contrary to any one of God’s commandments should ever arise in our hearts. Rather, with all our hearts we should always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.1                                                                   1 Ps. 19:7-14139:23-24Rom. 7:7-8.

Q. But can those converted to God obey these commandments perfectly?

A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience.Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose, they do begin to live according to all, not only some, of God’s commandments.2                                                                           1 Eccles. 7:20Rom. 7:14-151 Cor. 13:91 John 1:8-10.
2 Ps. 1:1-2Rom. 7:22-25Phil. 3:12-16.

Q. Since no one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly, why does God want them preached so pointedly?

A. First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness
and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.1 Second, so that we may never stop striving, and never stop praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection.2

1 Ps. 32:5Rom. 3:19-267:7, 24-251 John 1:9.
2 1 Cor. 9:24Phil. 3:12-141 John 3:1-3.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

Advent: When God Chooses You to Serve Him, We are to Submit to Him.

38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:38)

How do you respond when the Lord reveals His will to you? It may be through His Word, always the place to begin, by promptings through prayer, counsel from godly mentors, along with the providential circumstances of life. Regardless, how do you respond?

Are you reluctant? This means to be unwilling, unenthusiastic, and hesitant. You know what the Lord wants of you but you are unwilling, unenthusiastic and hesitant to submit to what He wants of you. Ultimately you serve but you’re not happy about it. You go kicking and screaming, figuratively or literally, as you submit to His sovereign leading.

Or maybe you are fearful of the unknown. Your fear is because of the many intangibles or questions you have in which there are no immediate answers. You submit but to say you are truly happy and contented is a stretch at best.

Or perhaps you submit willingly and gladly knowing that God can be trusted and that He will never leave you nor forsake you.

I often find that submitting to the Lord’s will involves a process of proceeding through all three of the aforementioned responses, along with many others. This process ultimately ends up with me being at peace because regardless where, when and how the Lord leads, He is always there.

Examining today’s text reveals to us Mary’s immediate reaction to Gabriel’s message and answers to her questions and concerns. She said, “I am the servant of the Lord.” She acknowledged her position before the Lord.

The word servant (δούλη; doule) in this context means female slave or slave woman. Mary recognized her humble positon before the Lord. She solely belonged to the Lord. The word Lord (κύριος; kyrios) means ruler, owner and one who commands. In other words, Mary acknowledged that she was a slave of the sovereign God of the universe. Whatever He wanted, that is what she was willing to do.

Mary then said, “Let it be to me according to your word.” This statement revealed her heart. She was willingly submissive to whatever the Lord wanted of her.

One commentator writes that, “Mary expresses her submission to the Lord’s will in regular Old Testament terms for submission or acquiescence (e.g., 1 Sam 1:18; 25:41; 2 Sam 9:6, 11; 2 Kings 4:2; 2 Sam 7:25).”

Dr. John MacArthur writes that, “Mary was in an extremely embarrassing and difficult position. Betrothed to Joseph, she faced the stigma of unwed motherhood. Joseph would obviously have known that the child was not his. She knew she would be accused of adultery—an offense punishable by stoning (Deut. 22:13–21; cf. John 8:3–5). Yet she willingly and graciously submitted to the will of God.”

Submitting to the Lord’s will may not always be easy. Doing the Lord’s will may be even harder. However, submitting to and carrying out the will of God for our lives is always best.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

Advent: When God Chooses You to Serve Him, He Providentially Leads You.

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:35–37)

What do we mean by the phrase the providence of God? You probably noticed that a variation of the word providence is contained in the title of today’s blog.

Providence, means to see in advance, beforehand and/or to provide for. It means that God is not a mere spectator in the world’s events. Rather than just being the creator of the universe, the Lord is also the sustainer of the same. The universe, and all its inhabitants, are not only dependent upon God for its origin but also for its continued existence.

Dr. R. C. Sproul writes that, “The central point of the doctrine of providence is the stress on God’s government of the universe. He rules His creation with absolute sovereignty and authority. He governs everything that comes to pass, from the greatest to the least. Nothing ever happens beyond the scope of His sovereign, providential government. He makes the rain to fall and the sun to shine. He raises up kingdoms and brings them down. He numbers the hairs on our head and the days of our life.”

Therefore, there are no chance events. There is no such thing as chance, luck or fate. With respect to Mary and the virgin birth of Christ, it was not by chance that God had Gabriel visit her with the news that she would conceive and give birth to the Messiah. It was also not be chance how God would bring this event to pass.

In response to Mary’s questions concerning how this virgin birth would occur, Gabriel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” There are three key phrases Luke used to describe this miraculous event.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you.” The virgin birth will be the result of a divine act by God the Holy Spirit. The first person of the Trinity, God the Father, will direct the third person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit, to participate in the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, God the Son.

To come upon means to arrive or to cause to happen. The Greek word ἐπέρχομαι (eperchomai) refers to the general conception of life. The Holy Spirit would miraculously cause the conception of life to occur within the womb of the Virgin Mary.

“The power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The word power (δύναμις; dynamis) means ability or supernatural energy. This power and energy originates from and is solely sourced in the Most High, which is name for God stressing His majesty and supreme authority. This creative, active and productive power solely belonging to God would overshadow (ἐπισκιάζω; episkiazo) Mary and resembling the Shekinah glory of God in the Old Testament mysteriously conceive the virgin birth of the Christ.

“Therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” The result of this miraculous work of the Holy Spirit is that the Holy One who is to be born of Mary will be the incarnate Son of God. To be called the Holy One means One who is separate, a cut apart or a cut above.

Jesus Christ would be transcendentally separate from other human beings. He would be different in unique way. He would be consecrated and set apart unto purity. He would be inherently separate from sin but would become the object of God the Father’s wrath by bearing the curse of the sinner’s sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Gabriel concluded his message to Mary by informing her of what God was doing in the life of her relative Elizabeth. She too would bear a child who would be intricately involved in the life of the child Mary would conceive and deliver. The conclusion is that nothing is impossible with God. He is in control.

Both pregnancies were within the providential plan and design of God. So also is everything which occurs in our own lives. He still is in providential control.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

 

Advent: When God Chooses You to Serve Him, His Will May Perplex You.

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)

One of the enduring principles of biblical interpretation which was kindled by the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century was this: Scripture Interprets Scripture. In other words, the Word of God is its best interpreter.

Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “It has often been charged that the Bible can’t be trusted because people can make it say anything they want it to say. This charge would be true if the Bible were not the objective Word of God, if it were simply a wax nose, able to be shaped, twisted, and distorted to teach one’s own precepts. The charge would be true if it were not an offense to God the Holy Spirit to read into sacred Scripture what is not there. However, the idea that the Bible can teach anything we want it to is not true if we approach the Scriptures humbly, trying to hear what the Bible says for itself.

Dr. Sproul continues by explaining that, “At the time of the Reformation, to stop unbridled, speculative, and fanciful interpretations of Scripture, the Reformers set forth the fundamental axiom that should govern all biblical interpretation. It is called the analogy of faith, which basically means that Holy Scripture is its own interpreter. In other words, we are to interpret Scripture according to Scripture. That is, the supreme arbiter in interpreting the meaning of a particular verse in Scripture is the overall teaching of the Bible.

This principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture is important with any doctrine of Scripture, but especially so when addressing the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ. Does the Bible teach that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin?

The confusion about the veracity of this doctrine concerns the prophecy contained in Isaiah 7:14 which says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” We examined this prophecy already with respect to the identity of the Jewish Messiah and whether Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

The debate arises in that the Hebrew word for virgin “almah” not only can mean a female who has never had sexual relations (i.e. virgin), but also can mean a marriageable girl or a young woman. What then does the New Testament teach?

Matthew’s account of the birth of Christ, taken from the perspective of Joseph, says that, 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: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:18-25)

When Matthew quotes from Isaiah 7:14 in vs. 23 he uses the Greek word παρθένος (Parthenos) which means a female who has never had sexual relations.

When Mary asked the angel “How will this be, since I am a virgin” she expressed an understanding of how could she conceive since she had never sexually been with a man, including Joseph. Mary not only correctly interpreted Gabriel’s message but also understood and believed it.

In light of this, we can correctly interpret Isaiah 7:14 in light of Matthew 1:23 and Luke 1:34. The virginity of Mary biblically refers to her having not yet consummated a physical relationship with Joseph, or any man for that matter.

Dr. John MacArthur explains that, “Mary understood that the angel was speaking of an immediate conception, and she and Joseph were still in the midst of the long betrothal, or engagement period (see note on Matt. 1:18), before the actual marriage and consummation. Her question was borne out of wonder, not doubt, nor disbelief, so the angel did not rebuke her as he had Zechariah (Luke 1:20).”

Dr. John Walvoord writes, “Mary did not seem surprised that the Messiah was to come. Rather, she was surprised that she would be His mother since she was a virgin (lit., “since I do not know a man”). But the angel did not rebuke Mary, as he had rebuked Zechariah (v. 20). This indicates that Mary did not doubt the angel’s words but merely wanted to know how such an event would be accomplished. The answer was that the Holy Spirit would creatively bring about the physical conception of Jesus (v. 35). This miraculous conception and Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ was necessary because of His deity and preexistence (cf. Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Gal. 4:4).”

We can trust what the Bible teaches regarding the virgin birth of the Messiah in Isaiah 7:14 as fulfilled in the Bible’s account of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. They are not in contradiction.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

Advent: When God Chooses You to Serve Him, He Reveals His Will to You.

28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:28–33)

God chooses ordinary people to serve Him. People just like you and me. People just like a girl named Mary. How does God go about choosing people to serve Him? First of all, He finds you. Second, God reveals His will to you.

In the case of Mary, God’s will was revealed to her by the angel Gabriel. As we noticed with Zechariah, an angel is a sent one from God. They are God’s messengers who possess an unqualified surrender to God’s will. Gabriel, as one who stood in the presence of God, was one such angel. God actively sought out Mary. Gabriel came to her and said, “Greetings” meaning glad tidings.

Gabriel addressed Mary as a favored one. It is the Greek word κεχαριτωμένη (kecharitomene) meaning kindness and graciousness. God was bestowing kindness and grace upon Mary. Gabriel also said that the Lord was with her. As a devout Jew, Mary would know the Lord was with her.

Mary’s reaction was typical. She was greatly troubled. This would be not only because she saw that she was in the presence of holiness, but also because of what she heard from the angel. Consequently, she tried to think out carefully and reason thoroughly what was occurring.

Why did the angel come specifically to her? The principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture comes into focus in this scene. Consider the words from the following Old Testament passages to receive insight upon the character of Mary.

  • Psalm 138:6 – “Though the LORD is on high, Yes He regards the lowly; but the proud He knows from afar.”
  •  Isaiah 57:15 – “For thus says the high and lofty One, Who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

It was at this moment that Gabriel communicated his message to Mary from God. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

 First of all, Gabriel told Mary not to fear because God had favored her.

Second, he told her that she would conceive in her womb and give birth to a son. Remember, this visit was in the days prior to ultrasound technology. There was no way to accurately determine a child’s gender until their birth. Yet, the angel revealed to Mary that she would give birth to a son, a fulfillment of prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6.

Third, her son’s name would be Jesus.

Fourth, Jesus would be great and called the Son of the Highest. This title refers to Yahweh’s majesty and sovereignty. In effect, Mary’s child would be God incarnate.

Fifth, the Lord God would give Jesus the throne of His ancestral father David. This would fulfill the prophecies from 2 Samuel 7:12-14, Psalm 89:29, Psalm 132:11, Jeremiah 23:5-6 and Isaiah 11:1-10.

Sixth, Jesus would reign and rule over the house of Jacob forever. This would fulfill the prophecies contained in Genesis 49:10 and Numbers 24:17.

Finally, Gabriel told Mary that Jesus’ kingdom would never end. It would not be an earthly kingdom nor a political kingdom, Rather, Jesus’ kingdom would be one of love and grace initially established in the hearts of men and ultimately extending to the entire universe.

God communicates His will through His Word. Gabriel’s message from God was in complete harmony with the Old Testament Scriptures. There was no contradiction.

God’s will for our lives is always in harmony with how He has gifted and equipped us for the task He has in mind for us to accomplish. This was certainly the case with Mary. It also true for you and me.

May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.

Soli deo Gloria!