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"Does the Virgin Birth Really Matter?"

Dec.29/13 Is.7:10-16 (Mt.1:18-25)


If you were being interviewed, how would you define "sin"? Would you answer more carefully if your fame and career depended on it? Would you water down your definition to suit your audience?

Perhaps it was bound to happen, sooner or later. On Dec. 18 two realities collided: the reality of the politically-correct entertainment world, and the reality of the Robertson family - stars of the A&E network's 'reality TV' show Duck Dynasty. The National Post reported, "Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson is off the hit A&E reality series indefinitely after disparaging gays as sinners akin to adulterers and swindlers, the network said.A&E announced Wednesday what it called a 'hiatus' for Robertson, 67, after he disparaged gays in the January edition of GQ magazine...In his GQ interview, Robertson was asked his definition of sinful behaviour.'Start with homosexual behaviour and just morph out from there,' such as bestiality, he said.GQ said he then paraphrases a biblical reference: 'Don't be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers -- they won't inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself.It's not right.'" [Basically he gave a relatively accurate paraphrase of 1Corinthians 6:9b-10.]

Later in the week, the Robertson family responded to the network's decision. Christianity Today reports: "The family has spent much time in prayer since learning of A&E's decision.We want you to know that first and foremost we are a family rooted in our faith in God and our belief that the Bible is His word.While some of Phil's unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible.Phil is a Godly man who follows what the Bible says are the greatest commandments: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." Phil would never incite or encourage hate.We are disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right.We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm.We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty.Again, thank you for your continued support of our family."

The ducks are quacking back!

So, what should Mr.Robertson have answered when asked, "What, in your mind, is sinful?" For starters, I wonder why he accepted an interview with GQ magazine - its covers don't strike me as likely to promote godliness. Christians ought to do their homework and choose the forum for their statements where possible. But that aside - is there a better place he could have started from to answer that question? Certainly starting off with a mention of deviant sexuality was bound to draw ire from advocacy groups.

What's "sin"? Rom 3:23 "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." Sin is a 'falling short', the arrow (or shot, in the context of ducks!) 'missing the mark'; the target is 'the glory of God' - God's honour displayed in human lives lived according to His will. How do we know what God's will for us is? That's where His instruction in the Bible comes in, what He's revealed or shown to us.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines sin as "any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God". Compare 1Jn 3:4 "Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness."

Yet there's a danger here in making Biblical laws into a sort of rulebook and feeling you're holy if you can check off that you've kept all the rules. Such legalism is what Jesus condemned in the Pharisees. Sin is broader than that, a fundamental rejection of God and relying on going our own way, resisting God and depending on our own resources (even the best lawkeeping). Peter talks about people's acceptance of or resistance to Jesus: "Now to you who believe, this stone is precious.But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone," and, "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message - which is also what they were destined for." (1Pe 2:7-8) Is Jesus 'precious' to you? If you reject Him, you're likely to be disobedient to God's word generally. That word includes lists of sins like 1Cor 6(7f) and Gal 5(19-21) and Mark 7(21f) and the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. But Adam and Eve sinned back in Genesis 3 well before there were any other lists. All they had was God's instruction not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But they doubted God's word and motive; they trusted the serpent's lie, and decided they knew better than God what was good for them. Rom 5:12 "...sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned..."

The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary sums it up this way: "Thus sin is not only violation of the divine law, which is an expression of God's will; more profoundly, it is violation of the expression of God's holy character.It is corruption of the goodness which God originally imparted to His creatures; especially is it the corruption of the godliness with which God originally endowed man when He created him in His own image.Sin may then be defined ultimately as anything in the creature which does not express, or which is contrary to, the holy character of the Creator.Sin then is not merely what we do, but what we are.There is sin in our race and in our nature."

Houston - we have a problem! Our babies are born with the bents.


Ahaz reigned as king over the southern kingdom of Judah from about 735 to 715 BC. The northern kingdom of Israel was feeling threatened by the warlike Assyrians. Israel formed an alliance with Aram (now Syria) to pressure Judah into joining a coalition against the Assyrian superpower. Ahaz resisted Israel's overtures, so this led to conflict. Perhaps Ahaz had already decided to appeal to Assyria for help, which is what he did eventually even though Isaiah the prophet objected. It proved short-term gain but long-term pain: the Assyrians crushed Israel in 722 BC, but then turned and devastated Judah anyway. Meanwhile Ahaz had taken the gold and silver from the Lord's Temple and from the royal treasuries and sent it to the Assyrian king to buy his support.

Isaiah the prophet urged Ahaz to trust God, but Ahaz' middle name was "Compromise". He impoverished the country to try to buy outside help. Ahaz followed the ways of pagan nations, even sacrificing his son in the fire. He replace the bronze altar in front of the temple, setting it aside to practice divination on it, having a stone altar built instead based on a pattern he'd seen in Damascus - perhaps an accommodation to Assyrian or Aramean influence. You can read about the extent of his apostasy in 2Kings 16 and 2Chronicles 28; "he had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord." (2Chron 28:19) He even went so far as to shut the doors of the temple and set up altars on the street corners. (2Chron 28:24)

Today's reading finds Ahaz facing a political problem. V16b refers to "the land of the two kings you dread" - the Chronicler reports "The Arameans defeated him and took many of his people as prisoners and brought them to Damascus," and "the king of Israel...inflicted heavy losses on him" - killing 120,000 soldiers in one day! (2Chron 28:5f) Isaiah 7:2 notes "the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind." Is there something this season causing YOUR heart to "shake" like trees in a tornado? What are you most afraid of? Have you compromised anywhere in your past, like Ahaz, and now you find yourself in a bind? Have you "sold out" to the world somehow and now the Lord seems very distant?

Yet even though King Ahaz' heart is shaking, he stubbornly refuses to accept God's way instead of his own way. Isaiah prophesies that the conquest of Juday by Israel and Aram won't happen, that Ahaz just needs to "stand firm in your faith" (7:7,9). Then in 7:11 the Lord through the prophet says, "Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights." God here is offering the king a miraculous sign as an assurance the Lord would keep His promise and rescue the country. But how does Ahaz respond? 7:12 "But Ahaz said, "I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test."" Even if the Lord's handing it to him on a silver platter, he's not willing to accept it! Ahaz may not have much use for Mosaic religion, but he can sure come up with a very pious-sounding objection. He's unwilling to co-operate even when the sign is warranted by the Lord's prophet.

Isaiah reacts in 7:13, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also?" When we're being disobedient and stubborn, selfishly doing our own thing, we "try God's patience". Ahaz may have sounded very pious, but he wasn't fooling anybody: God and the prophet saw the resistance his heart was putting up.

Don't meddle with compromise. Don't try every other option except God's way, maybe keeping it as a last resort! Winston Churchill quipped, "the United States invariably does the right thing, after having exhausted every other alternative." That's just like our bent human nature - we want to do it OUR way.


Ahaz had a problem with OBEDIENCE; but God countered in His OMNIPOTENCE, His being all-powerful and sovereign, the Almighty. God had promised about the enemy's plotting in vv7-9: "Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says: "It will not take place, it will not happen, for the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah's son.If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.""

That solemn prophecy was made about 735 BC; by 670 BC (65 years later) the kings of Assyria had settled foreign colonists in Israel (also called "Ephraim"), ending its identity as a separate nation.

And despite Ahaz' reluctance to accept a miraculous sign, God provided one anyway. Vv14-16 "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste."

We don't know for sure which 'young woman of marriageable age' Isaiah's referring to - it could have been his wife or someone in the royal household. "Knowing enough to reject the wrong and choose the right" is a way of referring to maturity, becoming a young man, achieving the age of accountability. Eating "curds and honey" could represent survival food scrounged together when the agricultural economy had been destroyed, as later happened when fields were destroyed and grew thorns instead. In 722 BC (13 years later) the Assyrians destroyed Samaria, the capital of Israel. So before a child born that year would become a teenager, those countries Ahaz feared would be insignificant. They were 'on the way out'; God's saying, "Don't fear your foes, fear and revere Me, for I alone endure and have ultimate power." They're but a "flash in the pan"!

When you read this passage in combination with the historical accounts of King Ahaz in 2Kings and 2Chronicles, realizing how wicked and bad he was in promoting apostasy - you are amazed by the mercy and compassion and love of God for His people in spite of such a terrible king as Ahaz. "Even though you're so stubborn and selfish and wicked a king, I'm going to save My people and preserve them." I will be your Immanuel, God-with-us. God's OMNIPOTENCE and purpose outweighed Ahaz' lack of OBEDIENCE. God promised, whether Ahaz wanted it or not - for the sake of the people God loved.


The prophecy as Isaiah voiced it did not require any particularly miraculous means of conception: the Hebrew word translated "virgin" could mean any young woman of marriageable age. But when the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek about 250 BC in Alexandria, the authors of what became called the Septuagint used the Greek word "parthenos" which means "virgin" in the more narrow literal sense. That's the same Greek word we find in Matthew 1:23, which quotes the verse from Isaiah. And as if to underline His omnipotence, God fulfills this promise in the more restrictive sense - an actual virgin giving birth without male intervention.

Matthew 1:18 "before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit." V25 "But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son." And in Luke's account we have Mary's question to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" Gabriel replies, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God...For nothing is impossible with God." God's OMNIPOTENCE - no problem is too hard for Him to handle!

Why is the virgin birth so significant, not just a curiosity? We have a major problem as humans: that problem is sin, which cuts us off from a holy God. For that sin to be forgiven, we'd need a perfect and holy sacrifice, a substitute to take our place. This sacrifice would need to be LIKE us, 'one of us' to take our place; yet at the same time UNLIKE us - holy, whereas we are all sinners. We are born sinful with guilt imputed from Adam on down (what's known as 'original sin'). How's God going to pull this off - provide a sacrifice like us in our humanness, yet unlike us in being absolutely holy and sinless?

The virgin birth is the ideal answer on both counts. Joseph was Jesus' adoptive father but there was not that physical Y-chromosome connection going back to Adam. Yet Jesus was "born of a woman" just as we are, sharing our human makeup. Hebrews 2:17 "For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people." Made like - but not sinful like: Hebrews 4:15 "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet was without sin." Praise God for providing our exact need in such a wonderful, custom-tailored, miraculous way! In Gabriel's words, "The holy one to be born will be called the Son of God...For nothing is impossible with God."


God's omnipotence is big enough to deal with even our sin. Blaise Pascal, the great mathematician and thinker, said: "The greatest single distinguishing feature of the omnipotence of God is that our imagination gets lost when thinking about it." (Pensees, I, XV)

A young boy was waiting after church for his family. The pastor saw him standing around and struck up a conversation. Since the boy had just come from Sunday school, the pastor decided to ask him some questions to determine just how much the children were learning there. He said, "Young man, if you can tell me something that God can do, I'll give you a big shiny apple." Thoughtfully the boy replied, "Sir, if you can tell me something God can't do, I'll give you a whole box of apples."

Douglas Wilson at theresurgence.com sums up how God deals with our sin and waits to exercise His power in us: "Because Jesus did not have an immediate human father, he was not entailed in sin with the rest of us. Because he had a true human mother, he was as human as we are; because he was without sin, he was more fully human than we are. From this we can see that the virgin birth is not just a random miracle story, designed to impress the gullible. It is a miracle, all right, but it is a miracle like the other miracles connected with the person of Jesus Christ. Like the Incarnation itself, this miracle is necessary for the salvation of lost and sinful men.

"Jesus Christ was 'descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.' (Rom 1:3-4) The Spirit who worked powerfully in that resurrection was the same Spirit who exercised his power when Mary first conceived. It was the same person, the same purpose and plan, and the very same power (Luke 1:35).

"And the glorious thing is that this same Spirit is not done. 'If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.' (Rom. 8:11) From beginning to end, the story that God is telling is a story of power. It begins with a virgin birth--but it certainly doesn't end there." Let's pray.