Keep Close to the Heart of Christmas
Today we embark on a series related to Christmas, answering your hard questions about the conception, birth, and childhood of Jesus. And we begin today talking about the miraculous conception, a question from a listener named Kelly. “Pastor John, hello! Every Christmas I’m left wondering about the angel that came to Mary and informed her she would have a child by the Holy Spirit. She wondered how it would be — and I know nothing is impossible for God. So here’s my question: Did God become a fertilized embryo implanted into Mary’s womb? Or did God somehow combine with Mary’s natural egg to create the God-man? Are we given any biblical clues as to how this happened biologically?”
Let’s read the most important section in the gospel of Luke about the conception of Christ in Mary’s womb and see how much God has revealed to us. Let me read it. This is Luke 1:30–38.
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 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 forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered 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 behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Now, I think this is as close as we get to the actual description of the event of the incarnation — of the divine nature, in some way, uniting with the human nature in the womb of Mary. We know from numerous texts in the New Testament that Jesus was God, very God, who had a divine nature. He had a real divine nature. Colossians 2:9 says that in his body there was “fullness of deity.”
And we know that Jesus Christ also had a human nature. Paul says, “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). So he was a mediator between God and man because he was a man. So we know that Jesus was a God-man. There were two natures, the divine nature and the human nature, in this one person — Jesus Christ.
Now, in Luke 1:31, the angel says to Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb.” Now, the natural way to take this is that Mary provides her ordinary part of the conception process — her egg. God miraculously — in some way we do not and probably never can understand — provides the divine nature of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
When Mary asks how this can be (since she’s a virgin), the angel says, “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” (Luke 1:35). In other words, the angel veils the mysterious process in metaphorical language. “The Most High will overshadow you,” like the Shekinah glory.
Supplying the Egg
One of the reasons I think we should assume Mary conceived with her own normal egg is that the same word for conceived is used in Luke 1:36, when the angel says, “Behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son.” This is the same word, so there’s no reason to think anything different with Mary’s role.
She didn’t become pregnant through Joseph; she became pregnant through the Holy Spirit in some way that we simply cannot fathom. So I don’t think we should go much further than that in detailing any of the mechanics of the miraculous conception. And I would give Kelly and the rest of us a caution here and a happy exhortation.
The caution is that we beware of the temptation and the mindset of being excessively fascinated with non-essential matters. I have met people — and I’m not saying, Kelly, that you are this kind of person at all — but I have met people like this. I had them in my church for years.
I have met people over the years who seem to be continually gravitating towards the margins of what is important rather than gravitating toward the center of what is important. They love to speculate about things that we cannot know and that are not essential to know. These marginal things seem to hold an amazing fascination and attraction for them.
I think it is spiritually dangerous for the soul to be so preoccupied with marginal matters while the joy and energy and passion for the center and the glorious main realities often goes languishing. So that’s my caution.
Here’s my happy concluding exhortation. We are in the presence here (in Luke 1) of one of the greatest mysteries and wonders of the universe. The Creator of the universe, who is of a completely different dimension and reality than what he made — in a way that is scarcely conceivable to us — is united in the person Jesus Christ with a divine and human nature for the central purpose of being able to die. God cannot die. But Jesus Christ the God-man can die.
This is the most spectacular fact in the universe, I think. More spectacular than creation itself is that God would clothe himself with humanity for the express purpose of dying so that rebellious people who are in rebellion against him might live with him in joy forever.
Listen to Hebrews 2:14–15:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Amazing. He took on our nature so he could die. So let’s stay close to the glorious center. God took on a human nature so that he might die to destroy our enemies, deliver us from slavery to sin, and give us eternal life with him forever. This is worthy of much meditation this Christmas and every Christmas.
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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.
(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)