A number of years ago a pastor wrote a book in which he asked, ‘what if Jesus had an earthly father named Larry?’ What if Larry’s tomb was found and samples from his body proved that he was the father of Jesus (I don’t know how they could do that). Would it make any difference? This pastor didn’t think so. But he was wrong. I want to give you three reasons why the virgin birth (or more precisely the virgin conception) matters so much.
Firstly, if the virgin birth was made up then Matthew and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ life can’t be trusted. They both clearly teach that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born to a virgin. If Matthew and Luke lied about Jesus’ birth, how can we trust anything they say about his life? They would be unreliable witnesses. Yet I challenge you to read through any of the gospels and not hear the ring of truth.
Secondly, if Jesus was conceived by two human beings then he could not offer an acceptable sacrifice for our sins. Right throughout the Old Testament there are sacrifices for sin. These sacrifices couldn’t actually save people, but they pointed ahead to the one who would. They taught the truth that sin would be removed by the death of a substitute. There was a repeated emphasis on the idea that this substitute must be perfect or unblemished. But if Jesus was the product of two human parents he could not be unblemished.
You see the church has always affirmed a doctrine called original sin. It’s a doctrine that is not very popular to the modern ear. It goes back to verses like that in the Psalms where David declares, ‘for I was born a sinner—yes, from the moment my mother conceived me’ (Psalm 51:5). Can you remember the first time you did something that was wrong? I can’t! Oh, you might remember some particularly wrong thing you did when you were young, but that was not the very first wrong thing you did. I can’t remember any time before I was selfish and self-centred, because I have always been that way. In fact as I have grown older I have become more aware of the wrong things I do and feel. No sinful person could offer an unblemished sacrifice for sin.
Yet Jesus was born without this bent towards doing evil. The reason he did not have our sinful nature is because he was conceived through the Holy Spirit. Because he was born of the Holy Spirit he did not inherit our sinful bent. He was like us in every way, yet without the tendency to sin. Jesus was tempted in every way, yet he never gave in. He alone was able to be the unblemished or uncorrupted sacrifice that is needed to take the punishment for the sins of his people.
Thirdly, if Jesus was not conceived through the Holy Spirit then the cross would be a terrible act of injustice. I do not know how the pastor who writes about the son of Larry could also have that son be the unique son of God. The angel Gabriel links the virgin birth to the fact the Jesus is to be seen as the unique Son of God. Without the virgin birth we don’t have the unique son of God..
If Jesus was simply the son of Larry then it seems dreadfully unfair that this son of Larry would be chosen to pay the price for my sin. Why punish him instead of me? How could God take the credit for saving me from my guilt if it was the son of Larry who died in my place? How would sacrificing the son of Larry demonstrate God’s love for the world?
The fact that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit to be called Son of God shows us the Father’s amazing love for a rebellious world in the fact that he is giving his One and Only Son for us. The fact that Jesus is born to a woman, becoming fully human, means that he can stand as our representative before God and take the punishment for our sin. The fact that this is the Son of God, one person of our triune God, dying for us means that God takes the credit for rescuing us. In fact the apostle Paul tells us that in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). Only the God-man, Jesus, could be the one mediator between God and people (1Timothy 2:5).
Finally, do you ever wonder how one person could pay for the sin of many? Indeed, how could Christ’s suffering, which lasted for only a few hours, pay the weight of all his people’s sin? The answer lies in the infinite value of the one who is being sacrificed. Francis Turretin wrote in seventeenth century that ‘Christ alone ought to be estimated at a higher value than all men together. The dignity of an infinite person swallows up … all the infinities of punishment due to us.’ The son of Larry could not have offered a sacrifice for the eternal weight of your sin. Yet Christ’s death is of sufficient to save to the uttermost. No matter how awful your guilt, Christ’s death is sufficient. And it was only possible because of a virgin birth.
(I was helped in writing this post by a book of Kevin DeYoung’s on the Heidelberg Catechism).