I Believe Jesus was Conceived by the Holy Ghost
As we continue looking at a creed driven life, I want to say a more about creeds in general. Creeds mark the boundaries of a confession of faith. Not only Lutherans have creeds but so do Catholics and most Protestants. Creeds are a good thing marking the boundaries between not just Christians but Christian and non-Christian. But you can't really appreciate the creeds till you realize that, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, "the whole world once very nearly died of broad-mindedness and the brotherhood of all religions." We are back back on life support today. What matters to most people is that they believe something and that others not challenge their faith.
Over against such sissified Christianity, the true Church confesses and defends the belief that "Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost." The divine conception of Jesus was one of the 5 fundamental points of Christian doctrine conservative Christians defended against liberals at the beginning of the 20th century. But people can say the incredible confession "I believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost" without knowing what they're really confessing to believe. It means far more than "Jesus had no human father," far more than "nothing is impossible for God," far more than "God fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies."
Remember God could have sent Jesus into our world another way. In fact, having Him conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of a virgin, seems like a bad way to do this. It caused Joseph to think his wife had committed adultery. It gave the hometown crowd of Nazareth a way to poke fun at Jesus when he preached there, "Isn't this Mary's Son (wink, wink)?" And when Jesus tells the Jews that Satan is their father, why do you think they spit back at Him, "We are not children of fornication!"
Confessing Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost is a stumbling block to the "educated" to this day. Pagan college professors delight in telling their classes that great figures in ancient history, like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, had stories of a virgin birth attached to them to make them seem special. But it's not just the educated outside of the Church even those who claim to be in the Church have trouble with the Virgin Birth. The Jesus Seminar which had 3 ELCA pastors on it concluded Jesus wasn't born of a virgin. An Episcopal bishop wrote a book denying the Virgin Birth. In the 70s the majority of United Methodist pastors surveyed denied the Virgin Birth.
God could've sent Jesus without the Holy Ghost conceiving Him. He could've had Jesus born of elderly parents like He did Isaac and John the Baptist. If Jesus' birth was only to be a sign of His specialness and of the power of God, then certainly being born to an aged couple would have worked. But there's more than a sign of Jesus' specialness and God's power in the Virgin Birth. Furthermore, there would be no salvation attached to Jesus if He were merely special or a sign of God's power.
There are 2 other ways for God to have sent Jesus; both have been advocated by those unable to get their educated heads around Jesus being conceived by the Holy Ghost in a virgin's womb. The first is that He was conceived the ordinary way. The Jewish Talmud says this is how Jesus was born as does that book by the Episcopalian bishop.
A Jesus born in the ordinary way could not be God in the flesh from His conception on. He could be God-like, God-ly but not God in flesh and blood. An ordinarily born Jesus could've become God by some means later on, but then God didn't become man in a virgin's womb. Then God wasn't in the womb redeeming our babies there. We specifically confess against this error in the Formula of Concord saying that Christ received the divine majesty as a man when He was conceived.
Those who deny Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost can't believe He is God or sinless because all conceived in the ordinary way are sinful. If Jesus was sinful what benefit could come from Jesus keeping the Law or dying on a cross? As a sinner, Jesus would have to keep the law for Himself and would have to die for His own sins. This too we confess in the Formula of Concord, "For the human nature alone, apart from the divine nature, could not satisfy the eternal, almighty God."
Remember the bridge illustration from last Wednesday? An ordinarily conceived Jesus would be on our side of the chasm, but on our side only. So His keeping of the law, His suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying would be so He could bridge the chasm for Himself. At best, Jesus could motivate you to try to bridge it for yourself or show you how to bridge it for yourself. Churches who focus on Jesus as a motivator or trainer to help you fulfill your purpose in life are dangerously close to having only a human Savior which is no Savior at all. Only a man can save mankind, but it takes more than a man to actually save us. A man could show us how to be saved, what to do, but he could not do the saving for us.
If God had sent Jesus by conceiving Him in the ordinary way, then He could not be God and could not redeem anybody. So what if God had created an entirely new human form? He would be untainted with the sinfulness we get in the womb, and He would be fully God. But He would not be fully human. He might look and act like us, but He would not be flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone. He would be our brother in name but not in reality. He couldn't take our place under the Law because He would not really be under it like we are. He could not suffer and die for our sins because He would not have a real human body in which to suffer and die.
Remember the bridge illustration. If Jesus came in an entirely new human form, the bridge would be firmly anchored on God's side of the chasm, but it wouldn't reach all the way down to the dust and mud, muscle and blood of our human nature. Jesus would not really know our misery, our temptations, our dustiness. More than a man is needed to save mankind, but it takes a real man to do it. A Redeemer who is only on God's side of the chasm can be admired, worshiped, and can, once more, be an example and a motivator. But He can be no Savior of mankind because He is not really a man.
When we confess that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost we make an incredible confession that drives our lives. It's an ancient practice to bow one's head when you confess "And He was made man," in the Nicene Creed. Bowing your head reminds you of how humbling it was for God the Son to become man the way He did. The Reformed believe God humbled Himself just by becoming a Man. The Lutherans say, no, it is the way He became a man because if Jesus humbling was becoming a man then His exalting would be ceasing to be a man. And right now Jesus is still very much true God and true man.
His humbling was that He was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary. We can't really know all that this means. God shrouds this in mystery when He says to Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." But this much we know: God the Son willingly allowed Himself to experience human conception and birth to save us, to redeem us from our very beginning and root. Didn't you ever allow a child to dress you up in silly clothes or a hat? You didn't go outside that way, did you? Too embarrassed, weren't you? But to be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a Virgin, God the Son didn't despise! That's love!
But there's more. Since His conception in the Virgin's womb wherever you place God you must also place the Man Jesus and wherever you place the Man Jesus you must also place God. When Mary rubs her belly and talks to her Baby, she rubs where God is and talks to God. When Mary gives birth she is not just the Mother of a Man but the Mother of God. When Jesus lives, grows and keeps all the laws of God, He doesn't just do it as a boy but also as God, and therefore, His Law keeping is not just in your place but it is absolutely totally perfect and God pleasing. And when the Man Jesus suffers, cries, bleeds and dies; that's the suffering of God, the tears of God, the blood of God, and the death of God able to satisfy the wrath of God against flesh and blood sinners for all eternity.
Therefore, you are to be absolutely certain that your sins have been paid for. What sin have you committed that the suffering of God could not atone for? What sin of yours is so severe that the salty tears of God could not cleanse? What guilt of yours is so terrible that the blood of God would not be thick enough to cover it? What wretched thing could you have done that the death of God in flesh and blood could not be enough to pay for?
But there's still more wonder, more joy, more depth and height, width and breathe to confessing we believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost. Find God where the Man Jesus is not just in the past but the present. When you are baptized you put on Christ, not just man covers you but God does. If you are clothed by God, then certainly heaven's gates must open to you. When you hear my words you hear Christ's words and when you hear Christ's words you hear the very words of God. And what do those words tell you? Work harder? Do more? Be better? Or, I forgive you; I won't forsake you; I will help you in life, in death, today, tomorrow, forever. When you partake of Communion, you eat and drink not just bread and wine but the Body and Blood of Christ, and His Body and Blood is that of God. If tiny pills do amazing things in the human body, what in heaven and on earth does the Body and Blood of God do in you? They impart not just forgiveness but life here and salvation in the hereafter to soul and body.
When you say that you believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost, you're standing within the bounds of the Holy Christian Church, and you're confessing a creed that can drive your life towards truths more wonderful and comforting than anyone could ever dare imagine. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent 2, Midweek (12-8-04); Second Article