If you’re the sort of person who believes that the universe is hermetically sealed, with God, if there is a God, on the outside, nothing I am about to say will speak to you because what I am about to talk about is the Virgin Birth.
I was asked to address the Virgin Birth a little while ago by a group of believers and their curious friends and the time of my delivery is at hand.
As I thought about it the image of a sky hook came to mind.
Sky hooks are attached to cranes and are used in heavy construction. I worked with them when I was employed by a commercial building contractor back when I was in seminary. When we hung steel, the hook would be lowered and a beam would be attached, then it would lift the beam up to us, where we’d receive it and bolt it into place.
I suspect this is not what comes to your mind when the subject of the Virgin Birth is raised. In my experience the conversation drifts into the opaque waters of biochemistry and the problem of miracles. These are important matters to address, but I’m confident that they were not what interested early Christians.
What they puzzled over is what the Virgin Birth meant. We can see in scripture that a chain of reasoning followed that finally came to a startling conclusion. Let’s look at the links of that chain.
First, the Virgin Birth is connected to the Incarnation. It’s really the whole point of the Virgin Birth. Here’s Isaiah’s famous prophesy, “…the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Is. 7:14 (ESV) Matthew adds, “…which means God with us.” 1:27 (ESV).
Here’s where the doctrine of the Real Presence gets its start. John tells us in his gospel that this is more than a figure of speech–God is truly in Christ in a real and unique way. The Church Fathers were left to formulate the creeds that we confess, but the data that they had to work with is clear.
A real presence means that God really came down to save us. It is the lowering of the hook. He doesn’t just lower some kind of ladder, he descends. And he does that by attaching himself to a human body. And that body was just like our bodies. Contra to Docetists, this is not a gimmick, some trick with lights. His body was as frail as our bodies and just as doomed to die. And that’s just what happens, the incarnate God is in Jesus when he dies. The sky hook goes all the way down into the grave.Then the hook rises, bringing Jesus up–not just his spirit, his body comes too. (The Apostles were adamant about that.) But the lifting doesn’t even stop there. It keeps going. Jesus ascended all the way to the right hand of God the Father, and he took his body with him.
Human Nature Along for the Ride
The Apostles tell us that this is more than an anomaly. We can be taken along with him for the ride. There is a real connection between Christ’s body in heaven, and his body below, the political body known as the Church. How this works is a mystery according to Paul in Ephesians 5:31f. But he says it works just like marriage does, where what belongs to a husband is shared by his wife because they are one flesh.
I could go on and on about this, but I won’t. At least not today. Before I finish I must point out one last link. Because our bodies are drawn from the soil (Adam means “soil”, remember), even the rest of creation gets to go along for the ride. Here’s Paul again, this time from Romans–
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (ESV)
There’s good reason Fundamentalists include the Virgin Birth in the list of the Fundamentals. Without the Virgin Birth we’re on our own.