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He talks about Jesus coming in these last days. The Jews divided all time into two ages — the present age and the age to come. In between they set the Day of the Lord. So the writer says: “The old time is passing away. The new age, the age of God, has dawned in Christ.” He saw the world entering into a new beginning with Jesus Christ.
In Jesus, God has invaded humanity and things can never be the same again. God who had formerly spoken through the prophets has spoken to the world a final word in His Son. How different is that Word from any uttered before or since.
1. He Was Different from the Beginning.
Why was Herod, a powerful king, so afraid of a tiny baby that, without awaiting developments, he had to murder all the male children in Bethlehem? What a sinister significance lies in the last lines of this verse by Mary Coleridge:
I saw a stable, low and very bare,
A little child in a manger.
The oxen knew him, had him in their care.
To men he was a stranger.
The safety of the world was lying there
And the world’s danger.
How strange were the gifts of those astrologers at the end of their long and dangerous journey. God, the symbol of royalty; frankincense, the symbol of divinity; myrrh, the symbol of suffering — strange gifts to bring to a child. He was so different from the very beginning that a star shone over His humble abode. The hills around Bethlehem echoed the voices of angels which filled the night with song. These things point to a difference from the beginning.
The Bible and the Church have taught that His birth was different from all other births because Jesus had no human father. There are those who tell us that it does not matter very much whether or not we believe in the Virgin Birth. The fact of Jesus’ coming into the world is the main thing, they claim. The manner of His coming need not concern us.
Yet, as James Denney pointed out, the fact that in Christ we are confronted with someone unique in the annals of the race ought to dispose our minds to believe that there was something different about the nature of His birth. Once we have sensed the wonder of His personality, it becomes easy to accept the truth of the Virgin Birth.
Why did Jesus have to enter the world like that? Was it not that in His conception by the Holy Spirit of God something utterly without parallel in the history of mankind might take place — God and man might be miraculously blended in one matchless personality? It was an unprecedented invasion of the world, ushering in a new era. It is fitting that such a miracle as the Incarnation should be marked by such an event as the Virgin Birth.
The religious value of this doctrine lies in its representation of the coming of Jesus as a new beginning in the history of the race. God Himself entered directly into human life for our salvation.
The human factor is not ignored in the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. Our Lord’s birth was conditioned by the response of Mary that was made to God and no other. “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord. Be it unto me according to Thy word.” As F. W. H. Myers puts it:
With a sweet thanksgiving
She took in tranquillity what God might bring,
Blessed him and waited and within her, living,
Felt the arousal of a holy thing.
The Virgin Birth is fitting. It fits Christ. It harmonizes exactly with Him. It guarantees the continuity of His life. He belongs to humanity. He is the Son of Man. With the elimination of a human father, the national mark disappears. Christ belongs to all. It is not as a Jew that He belongs to us but as Son of God and Son of Man.
Biologically the Virgin Birth may be a mystery but is that sufficient ground for rejecting it? The question we ought to ask is whether it fits naturally with all we know of Jesus. And can there be any doubt what the answer ought to be?
There is no valid reason for doubting or disbelieving the story of the Virgin Birth. There may be prejudice but that is not reason. On the contrary there is every reason to believe in it if we believe in Christ at all. Our belief in Christ is not dependent upon the Virgin Birth. On the contrary we believe in the Virgin Birth because we believe in Jesus Christ as the Word of God to man.
2. The Child Was Different in What He Became.
Jesus and John the Baptist were cousins and boys together. John grew to be a prophet and more than a prophet but he only called men to repentance that God might forgive them. Yet Jesus forgave them. “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, Rise, take up your pallet and go home.” John taught the nature of God but Jesus revealed it.
We remember the young Isaiah almost crushed in the temple by his vision of the majesty of God so that he said: “Woe is me, for I am lost: for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” But Jesus stands upright in the presence of God and says: “I and the Father are one.” That is different — and what a difference!
All the saints have felt that the nearer they got to the great white throne of God the blacker their own hearts looked. Yet Jesus said: “Which of you can convict me of sin?” and none of them could answer Him a word. All of us pray for forgiveness but when Jesus teaches us to pray He says: “When you pray, say, ‘Forgive us our sins’.”
“On every page of the Gospels,” says H. R. Mackintosh, “we encounter such imperial demands for obedience, as well as gracious promises of help and pardon, as it would have been an enormity for a sinful man to utter.”
All the religions of the world could be said to have as their aim the search for light, the light of the truth about God. Here is One who says; “I am the light of the world.” In all religions people seek for God. “Seek ye the Lord” is their cry. But here is One who does not say, “Seek God” but “Come unto me” and who is reported to have said: “No one comes to the Father but by me.”
When John Wesley lay dying and his devoted followers bent over him to hear the last words of one who had given the better part of a century of arduous service to his Lord, they heard these words:
I the chief of sinners am
But Jesus died for me.
How different from passage after passage that I could quote from the words of Jesus. “You are from beneath: I am from above.” “I am not of this world.” “I speak the things which I have seen with my Father.” “I came forth and am come from God.” We can never put into words this difference.
3. This Child Was Different in What He Has Done for the World.
The birthday of Jesus is the world’s watershed. It divides history into two parts. All the world’s previous history led up to it. All the world’s subsequent history has issued from it. In this country there is an area in the Rocky Mountains called the Great Divide. It splits the country into two sides. One side faces the Atlantic; the other faces the Pacific. The birth of Jesus is to the world’s history what the Great Divide is to the geography of North America.
This is the more remarkable if one remembers all the abortive attempts of men to alter the calendar. For centuries, years were labelled A.U.C. (Ab Urbe Condits), from the building of the city, Rome. Jesus altered that. Roman Emperors tried desperately to number the years from their own accession. The only king who succeeded in doing that was the One who, meek and lowly in heart, never tried.
LaPlace, the astronomer, tried to redate time by a conjunction of the planets but the attempt failed. History tried where science failed and the French Revolution took place to open up a new era. But this attempt only lasted thirteen years.
Only one name is stamped on the centuries and we know whose image and superscription it is. He was different. All the years before Him are B.C. All the years since are A.D. Yet the changed calendar is but the symbol of far more profound and important changes.
Before Christ came man was ever the seeker. What a transformation has been brought by this Man who was different. For now we know that we are sought by the Good Shepherd, and His search for us puts our half-hearted search for Him to shame by its inconstancy. The coming of Jesus spells the initiatives of God.
Theologians have sometimes discussed what they call in Hindu theology the monkey and the cat theories. The baby monkey clings to the mother and its safety depends on its clinging. The kitten is grasped by the cat and its safety depends on its surrender. Both truths have their place in the Christian view of things. We are required to do our bit of clinging but by far the more important truth is that God acts.
Let me no more my comfort draw
From my frail hold of thee,
In this alone rejoice with awe
Thy mighty grasp of me.
Is the world any better since Christ came? The history of the Christian Church throughout the centuries and its experiences — in its triumphs and failures alike — points to the permanent significance of Jesus. It is Jesus Christ and His teachings that lie behind all our efforts at social reform. It was He who abolished the gladiatorial shows. It is He who has put an end to slavery.
It is He who has elevated the status of women. Until Christ came women were everywhere regarded as household chattels without any rights. The morning prayer of the Jew contained this sentence: “I thank thee that thou hast not made me a Gentile, a slave or a woman.” Jesus exalted women forever when He was born of Mary. Mary’s song, the Magnificat, is the charter of women’s liberties.
It is Jesus Christ who has sanctified childhood. In the ancient world, if children were not wanted they were destroyed or put out to die of exposure. But Jesus said: “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” He set a little child in the midst of His disciples and said: “of such is the kingdom of heaven.” What a difference the coming of Jesus has made to children. He was born a babe.
Day by day like us he grew.
He was little, weak and helpless.
Tears and smiles like us he knew.
It was Jesus Christ who by His emphasis on the worth of human personality conferred on us all our liberties. He has given us a new way of life, a new standard of conduct, a new power for living. Why then is the world in such a desperate plight at the present time? The answer is that it will not come to Jesus Christ that it might have life. Its conscience is with Jesus but not yet its conduct. Christ can save the world only when He is born again in the hearts of men and women.
This child was different — different from the beginning,– different in what He became and different in what He has done for the world. The triumph of the spiritual is assured to those who, with seeing eyes and understanding hearts, bow in worship before the lowly cradle of the Child who was different.
Edward the First surprised the people of Wales at a difficult moment and secured their loyalty by promising them three things: (1) The son of a king; (2) One born in their own country; (3) One in whose character they could find no flaw. He offered them as their ruler his own son, newly born in Carnarvon Castle, too young to have committed any fault, the first Prince of Wales.
God comes to us with a yet more wonderful offer. He offers to us, to be our ruler and king, his own Son, born in our world, in whose character none has found a flaw, the Prince of Peace.
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