Today may not be Christmas, but the lessons learned from the Scriptures concerning the conception of Christ are necessary year round. There are many lessons to be learned about the faithfulness of God, the wisdom of God, and the like, but no mystery is as profound as the incarnation of Christ. How did the eternal God step into time? Why did the One who fills all things bind Himself to a particular place? The mystery of Christ’s incarnation is so vast that it is worthy of every believer’s attention every day of every year.
The incarnation is such a vital component in our churches. Traditional churches, like ours, celebrate the incarnation every time we recite the Apostles and Nicene Creed. But what are we saying when we utter these ancient professions? There is a sense, where we utter mysteries well beyond our abilities (or “beyond our pay grade” as I often joke) as ordinary creatures to fully comprehend. But as we ponder, we might be led to consider questions like these: Why did Christ have to be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit? Why did He have to born of a virgin?
Though the incarnation is mysterious indeed, Scripture is not silent concerning this matter. Matthew’s gospel proves quite helpful as a starting point for our inquiry. Matthew wrote, “But as he [that is Joseph] 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.’” (Matthew 1:20 ESV) The angel of God came to assure Joseph that Mary was faithful. The child in her womb was not the evidence of infidelity, but of our God’s perpetual faithfulness. Notice that Christ’s incarnation in the womb of Mary was the product of God the Holy Spirit.
We must admit our limitations as creatures when we come to the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit here. We don’t truly understand all that is entailed in this short phrase, “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” We can say that Jesus was conceived without a physical biological father. We can say that Jesus was conceived from the biological substance of Mary His mother. We can say that the same Spirit who caused creation to birth from chaos was intimately involved. But after that, we come to the end of ourselves and can only respond on our knees in adoration of the glory of our God.
Do we have any sense as to why Jesus had to be conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit? Scripture does provide some clues. Scripture teaches that death came into the world through Adam’s sin (cf. 1 Cor. 15:22). In theology, this inherited sin nature is called original sin, and it has spread to every person who has ever existed (cf. Rom. 5:12). If Jesus was born through ordinary biological parents He would have inherited this sin nature and been unfit to be our savior.
When the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, he blessed her womb with a child who was made holy by His work (cf. Luke 1:35) Thus, God prepared a body for His Son so that He would be sinless and spotless and capable of offering Himself as a righteous sacrifice for the sins of His people (cf. Gal. 4:4; 1 Cor. 15:47; Heb. 10:5) If Christ had an ordinary biological father, then likewise, he too would have been born with original sin, and not be fit to offer Himself for our sins. He would not be the spotless Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world.
The incarnation then is a reminder to us of the plan of God. It reminds us that God is not slow to keep His promises and that His paths to victory are often beyond our comprehension. We cannot understand in the slightest the majesty and mystery of the inner workings of the incarnation, let alone the totality of the plans of God. Who are we then to question the plans and timing of God who works when and how He pleases? With such knowledge then, we are enabled then to face tumultuous and even difficult moments with hope because our God is not limited to our intelligence and problem-solving capabilities. God can bring beauty from ashes. He can bring fruit from barrenness. He can bring light from darkness.
In addition, by the incarnation God perfectly prepared a sacrifice to satisfy His holiness and justice for our sakes. Jesus came to save His people from their sins. This was not merely to be accomplished ideologically by His teaching, but substantively in His offering of Himself. Here we marvel, that even from the womb, Christ had come to adopt us into His family. Famed preached, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones summed the matter up well, “The Son of God became man that the children of men might become children of God.”