The Scandal of Jesus’ Birth
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Christ In You
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Will you turn, loved ones, in the New Testament to Matthew 1:18-19? You see the way it reads; “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” The question is obvious, why did God expose his son to such a scandal? I mean, why?
The other children of Joseph and Mary were born after they had married, not just after their engagement the way Jesus was. So, why did God expose his son to that kind of scandal? And you know, the scandal obviously was there, the potential was there because Joseph put Mary away quietly. That was his thought, “Well, let’s do it quietly so that nobody realizes that she’s had intercourse with another man or that she and I had intercourse before we got married.”
So that it seems to me a very obvious question that probably all of us kind of uncomfortably pass over, why did God expose his son to that kind of potential scandal? There are various answers that we all give. Some theologians say, “Well, you see many other mythical figures were said to be born of a virgin and so obviously God was bringing into the world the most important figure of all so he kind of went along with that.” Which really makes God seem rather ridiculous and man sized if he creates the idea of a virgin birth just so that Jesus may be identified with what? With other legendary figures? God wouldn’t do that, there’s no value in identifying Jesus with other mythical figures and so it’s hard really to swallow that kind of thing.
Others have pointed to a verse in the Old Testament to explain it. It’s in Psalms 51:5, and you’ll know it when you read it, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” And though some liberal theologians say, “Oh no, it was just David was born out of wedlock or something like that.” Really, David, of course, is speaking on behalf of man and he’s saying all men were born in sin and iniquity.
In other words, all men and women were born with original sin, with a tendency to sin and so some people say, “You see, that’s right there is why Jesus was born of a virgin, because original sin, which is the tendency of all of us, you remember, to fall over into wanting our own way and insisting in our own rights, that is transmitted through the male line.” It was Adam you see that sinned and then that tendency is passed on down father to son, father to son and God wanted to save Jesus from the taint of original sin and so he had him born of a human mother but not of a human father to save him from the taint of original sin so that it could be said that he was absolutely without sin.
Yet don’t you think that God is not tied to such a physical change in order to preserve his son from original sin? God is not tied to that kind of clumsy transmission of original sin through the male line. God does all kinds of things absolutely apart from physical existence. It is unlikely that he has to be tied to that kind of thing just to preserve his son from the taint of original sin.
So, I wonder why? I mean, why would God have Jesus born of a virgin? What was the point of it? And it seems that there is great point in it, there is a great reason for it and it’s tied directly to you. It’s tied directly to you and to me. Let’s read the verse again and then set another alongside it. It’s Luke 1:31, where this event of the virgin birth takes place. Luke 1:31, “And
behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end. And Mary said to the angel, ‘How shall this be, since I have no husband?’ And the angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” And so he was to be born inside Mary as a virgin fathered by the Holy Spirit.
Then look at Galatians 4:6-7, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” So through God, you are no longer a slave but a son and if a son then an heir.” The same Holy Spirit and the same result actually because you see it in Galatians 4:19 towards the middle of that chapter. Galatians 4:19, “My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!” It’s almost the same words you talk about a baby, as you used about a baby being formed in its mother’s womb.
The same Holy Spirit that came quietly into Mary and began the formation, I presume, of the seed and the sperm and the creation of the little embryo, that same Holy Spirit is the one that God said he sends to form Jesus in us. In other words, God had Jesus formed in Mary’s womb through the Holy Spirit so that each one of us here would realize that the same Holy Spirit could form Jesus just as really in us. It seems to me that’s what we’re missing.
That’s why I felt God wanted us to approach it this way this morning, because I still think we’re missing it. I mean, I feel for you as you hear me say it because I’ve said it before, I feel for you because it’s like a veil is over our eyes. Why? Because we are dealing with something miraculous and stupendous and yet there’s something inside us. It’s as if Satan has a whole way of thinking inside us that says, “Oh yeah, that old chestnut.” But it seems, loved ones, that there is some real reason for God having Jesus born of a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is connected up with the fact that exactly the same event can take place in you and me even though us men haven’t wombs, you know, we haven’t wombs. And even though you ladies are not going to have a baby come out of your body, that it’s as real as that. That that’s why God worked this miracle.
It was as if he was saying, “Look what I did, my son, I formed him in a real body of a little baby inside this woman and she didn’t have intercourse with anybody and she didn’t have sperm from somebody else. I formed him inside her through my Holy Spirit. Now, do you see that I can do the same thing in you. I can send the spirit of my son into your hearts and form him inside you in the same way.” That is what is presented by the apostles as the heart of the gospel. That is what is presented as the heart of the gospel — that very thing.
You’ll see it in Colossians 1:24-27 — it’s Paul speaking through the next four or five verses of this chapter, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints.” What is the mystery? “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery.” What mystery? “Which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
That, Paul said, is the mystery at the heart of the gospel — not forgiveness of sins, not even sanctification, not going to heaven, but the mystery is Christ in you — Christ actually in you. Do you think Jesus looked like Mary? Of course he must of. Of course he must have been an ordinary
baby that neighbors would say, “Mary, he has your nose.” That’s why you’re here, so that Jesus could have your nose. That’s why you’re different from the rest of us. It’s so that Jesus in his infinite variety could live in you and through you. That’s why. That’s why Christmas, that’s why the virgin birth, but more than that, that’s why you exist. That’s why you’re different.
You’re different not because you yourself have any value, because the Bible teaches clearly that you’ve been destroyed in Christ and wiped out but you are different because God planned another Jesus to be born in his world and that’s why he made you. That’s why he created you. And that’s what is stated actually in Romans 8:28. It’s that famous verse that we all know. That’s the explanation given for everything that happens in this world. Romans 8:28-29, “We know that in everything God works for good.” We know that verse so well, all things work together for good, everything. That’s the meaning of everything, it’s the explanation of theodicy and of providence. “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.”
So the idea was that Jesus would be born of Mary and then from then on would be born in all kinds of other human beings on the earth and that’s why we’re alive. That’s why God had planned and predestined you from before the foundation of the world. You get it in that famous verse in Psalms 139 which is so good when we wonder what on earth is our life for, why are we here, what’s the significance of it, where is it going and am I losing the direction that my life should have? And it’s so plainly and lovingly stated by God. Psalms 139:13, “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful. Wonderful are thy works! Thou knowest me right well; my frame was not hidden from thee, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are thy thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!”
Not because God wanted to make just another little animal. Do you see that’s all it would be? If he made you just for the slaughter house because he knew he had to destroy us all because of what we did with our free wills, if he just made you different from everybody else to have a new kind of burned up carcass in hell, there’d be no meaning in it, there’d be no sense in it. The reason God took such care in designing you and me and in making us and preparing our lives is so that Jesus, his son, could live again.
Once before I said to you, have you never thought that the remarkable thing was that Jesus was born in the first century and that it would be the sensible thing to have him born in every century because that surely is the best way for everybody to meet him? Of course God knew that but he had a better plan because if Jesus has been born in this century we would have had him meeting with President Bush, and the Pope, and all the important people. He would have spent most of his time in a 747 or the Concord, and we would have had him in all the important places. But don’t you see that God’s plan is that Jesus would get into dusty private little corners of the world in you as it would be Jesus walking but with your body, and your eyes, and with your nose and your ears, but with his mind, and his desires, and his wishes, and his actions, and his activities. That’s God’s plan for us.
That’s why when it says, “In the beginning was the word, the word was with God and the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The word became flesh to dwell forever among us because God’s plan is
that Jesus would come back into you and me and would live his life in us during the 30 or 40 years that we have. That’s what happened after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, then they talk about really Luke says – he tells the first volume – he tells the story of Jesus in his own physical body in Galilee and then the second book you remember is Acts and Luke wrote that and he says, “Then I tell the story of Jesus in the ordinary apostles, in ordinary people.” So that it’s a two volume story of Jesus. The gospel of Luke tells Jesus in his own physical body, the acts of the apostles is the acts of Jesus in ordinary human beings and that is God’s plan that that should go on forever. So, when we talk about Jesus being alive, the plan is that he would be alive in each one of us through our willing acquiescence. That’s it.
The incredible thing is that you have the choice of keeping Jesus dead or letting him live and you decide that. And that’s why Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I live – it’s not me, but Christ lives within me. I know what Satan is doing at this moment, he’s coming along to you and he’s saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, you know it means you think the way Jesus would think. You know, that’s what you do. That’s what he’s saying, he is just putting that metaphorically but he really means you just do the things that Jesus would do or you kind of think the thought that Jesus would do but it’s you, it’s you doing it.” And do you see why Paul was so specific?
I mean, he was a scholar and he said, “This life I live yet not I, but Christ lives within me.” And he stopped and he cancelled out that nominative I, the subject, he cancelled out that and he made Christ the nominative. The misery, the misery of life that we live is because we do not let Christ be the nominative. It’s I, I, I, I, I, I, I. Yes, I know what you are saying. You are saying as if it is Christ lives in me. It’s as if he doesn’t really, he’s in heaven. He doesn’t really live in me, I live. I live.
But, if Paul was here he would say, “No, not I but Christ lives within me.” And this is what Christmas is about. Once more the Holy Spirit tries to get each of us here to listen to him and to see that Christ actually is alive inside us but he cannot manifest that unless we believe it. He taps us on the shoulder and says, “Do you know that Christ is in you? Do you know that the only reason for your life is that Christ should live?”
That is the only purpose you are here on the earth for, that Christ should live. That you never think your own thoughts. You never wonder what do I want? You never think the way your mother and father taught you to think. You never think the way your teachers taught you to think you would immediately think, “Christ you’re in me. Lord Jesus I’m yours.” And as you do that he would begin to live his life in you. He would begin to live it through you.
In a way it’s amazing. I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at it. It was a shock when it came to me. One of the titles that Jesus constantly refers to himself by, it’s in Matthew 16 if you look at it. Matthew 16:13, “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do men say that the son of man is?’” I remember in seminary we used to say, “Oh yeah, he referred to himself by many names but that’s just one of them. He was trying to identify with mankind and that’s kind of why he used that.”
Of course, that just goes out the window when you see that Jesus continued to use it in absolutely non-earthly situations. Just look at the end of that Chapter at Verse 27, “For the Son of man is to come with his angels,” so he’s talking about the time when he returned of heaven. “For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.” So Jesus holds onto this title even when he’s talking about himself not in the
context of humanity, and not in the context of identifying himself with us human beings, but in the context of coming again from heaven.
He says it in Matthew 19:28, if you look at it. Matthew 19:28 and he talks then of Judgment Day and still he doesn’t refer to himself as the Son of God. “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit,’” imagine in the new world, “When he, the Son of man, shall sit on his glorious throne you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” In other words, Jesus regards himself, and you have to stop to think about this, as eternally the Son of man. Eternally. It’s as if when he came to earth he became man forever.
It’s amazing and actually that is orthodox theology, that once Jesus took upon himself humanity. Even though the physical body is not what makes us human, it is just one of the elements but we are human apart from the physical body. But, orthodox theology is that Jesus, the Son of man will be eternally the Son of man that he will take all humanity up with him into heaven.
In other words, that Jesus exists in each one of us and that he lifts us up with himself into heaven and the whole human race that has received him and has believed in him will live in him and he in the Father’s heaven. So that in a miraculous way the reason for your existence here is that you – we sometimes say, you’re the fingernail of Christ, or you are the finger, or you are the arm, or the hand, you’re individually members of the body of Christ but Christ is in you. You remember, that’s why he says that in John 15, he says, “I’m the vine and you’re the branches. I abide in you and you abide in me and that’s the way you bear fruit.” But, it’s Jesus alive in you.
You know you’re not here just your own little self. You’re not, that’s not you. You remember old – I still think of old Touchstone in the play, The Tempest. Touchstone was Shakespeare’s fool, Shakespeare’s comedian in the play. They all pair off and they all have their own girls and their own wives. Of course there’s this old country girl that Touchstone finally in some sense falls in love with and he kind of brings her along at the final party where they’re all joining together and everything is turning out roses. He presents her to his master, and I think her name might be Audrey and he says, “A poor thing sir by my own.”
And so often we think we’re poor things. You’re not. You’re not your own miserable little self. I’m not my own miserable little self. That’s not what you are. You’re a body for Jesus. You’re a mind, and emotions, and a will for Jesus and the glorious thing about it is, it’s not the old passive idea of the eastern religions that somehow God takes you over and wipes you out. The miraculous thing is that God formed you as his son. He formed your mind, and your emotions, and your will to reflect his son in a way that you can uniquely do it. In a way that you can do it that nobody else can.
So it’s not that God made you and created you different, and then he thinks, “Ah, when my son comes in he’ll wipe out all that difference and he’ll recreate his own difference.” No, the glorious and wonderful thing is that God made you with in his mind the idea that his son actually would be created in you. So you’re a remarkable plan of God for his own son and you are actually Jesus. That’s the way old Luther said it you know. He said, “God’s plan is that there would be many little Christs,” and that’s what you are.
When you think of yourself as a pitiful little human being, as we say who receives Christ and usually we mean we receive Christ’s ideas into and Christ’s ideals and we try and live like him by
our own strength, when you think of yourself like that you’re missing it completely. You were created by God to be Christ here on earth and as you do that the powers of Christ begin to manifest themselves through you and the powers to heal, and the powers to cast out spirits, and the powers to believe, and to love people into the likeness of Christ, those come forth. That’s why Paul would say, “I’m beside myself.” Some people would say, “He’s beside himself, he’s made.” And he would say, “I’m beside myself,” because actually all who live in reality live beside ourselves. We live beside the self that used to be. We live with the real self hid with God in Christ.
So, Christmas is not for you to look at the baby Jesus, or to look at Mary and say, “Oh, wouldn’t that have been a wonderful experience, to be the mother of Jesus.” That’s what you’re meant to be. You are meant to be the person in whom Jesus is born and then, of course, you can see as Paul talks about it, “in whom Christ would be fully formed” and would come into fullness in you and then would finally, as on the Mount of Transfiguration would breakthrough you and be seen in all his own beauty. That is God’s will for our lives that we would move from glory-to-glory, Christ breaking out from us more and more.
The great thing about it is it saves and delivers us from our own miserable, petty, pedestrian lives that are so tied to earth. That’s the wonder and the beauty of it. So, I pray that each of us this Christmas will allow Christ to form himself in us and will stop thinking of ourselves as ourselves.
Let us pray.
Dear Father, by the power of your Holy Spirit break through our limited ways of thought — break through our smallness and our pettiness. Father, break through the iron prison of our cerebral intellectualism — break through the dreadful slavery of ourselves to ourselves. We ask you Holy Spirit, to break through the pettiness that ties us to earth and we ask you to break us out of this smallness, and to destroy this old self, and to enable Christ, Lord Christ you yourself, to be born in us mightily and powerfully and to begin to live gloriously in us your own life.
Father, we pray through the Holy Spirit, you will transform us and take us out of this life of thought in which we’re caught and you will bring us into that magnanimous transcendent life of Christ. Lord Jesus, we thank you that you’re here willing to be born and willing to start a new life of your own in us in this generation. Thank you Lord. Thank you. Amen.