The Big But
Matthew records a crucial detail of Jesus lineage:
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
This is a very big but. Matthew uses the word but to clarify that Mary’s pregnancy was not the result of husband and wife relations with Joseph, but rather that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit. This is what is meant by Virgin Birth—that Mary was a virgin and became pregnant by an act of God. You could refer to this verse as the Virgin Mary’s big but—then again, that doesn’t sound very flattering, does it? Point is: This is what people are saying they believe when they repeat the words of the ancient Apostle’s Creed: “who was conceived by the
Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” And that is really the weight of this entire opening chapter of Matthew’s Gospel: this Jesus was not conceived in the natural way, but rather in a super-natural way.
The virgin birth is of great importance to the Christian faith. More than just seeming to fulfill details that prophets had revealed centuries earlier, the manner of Jesus birth allows for many other important teachings about him. Elsewhere in the Bible, for instance, Jesus is portrayed as not having begun at birth in Bethlehem. He is said to have existed eternally. He is said to be God having stepped into human flesh. Here’s another but about it from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians: Jesus Christ, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
The Bible also teaches that Jesus lived his life on earth without sin. Here’s another big but and a close cousin, the big yet, from the book of Hebrews: For (in Jesus) we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way just as we are, yet, was without sin. This couldn’t be the case if Jesus were simply human offspring. The Bible teaches that sin entered into the entire human race through Adam in the Garden of Eden.
Whatever you make of those historical doctrines of Christianity, realize here that the virgin birth is critical to them. If Jesus is simply the biological child of Joseph and Mary, then those other teachings are in doubt. But, if it is a God thing …