Born of the Virgin, Mary

Introduction:

The doctrine of the virgin birth does not so much show us Mary’s absence of a relationship to a man—although it does do that. This doctrine centrally points to her Son’s relationship to God. Jesus was born the normal way, but He was not conceived the normal way. This tells us something of His identity as the holy Son of the Most High God.

The Text:

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is. 7:14).

Summary of the Text:

The text before us has a double meaning. King Ahaz, despite his resistance to it, was being given a word of reassurance by the prophet Isaiah. He was worried about an alliance between the Syrians and the northern kingdom of Israel. Isaiah tries to reassure him, and tells him that he can ask for any sign he pleases (vv. 10-11). Ahaz refuses to do so in a display of faux humility (v. 12), and so Isaiah gives him a unilateral, unasked-for sign.

The rising power of Assyria was a real problem. In 738, the king Tiglath-pileser started to move against Syria and Israel. Judah wanted to stay out of it, and so Syria and Israel tried to depose Ahaz in order to force Judah to join their coalition. That is what Ahaz was worried about. The sign being given to Ahaz was not the sign of a remarkable conception, but rather the sign of a remarkable fall of the nations he was so worried about, within a very short time frame. A woman would conceive, but before her child had grown to the age of ethical discretion, knowing to refuse evil and choose the good, the kings that Ahaz was so worried about would both be gone. Before that child got to the age of being able to eat solid food, this northern challenge to Ahaz would be removed. The woman is unnamed, but she was clearly known to both Isaiah and Ahaz—it could have been one of their respective wives, or some other woman known to them.

Winnowing the Givers

Most Christians appreciate the blessings of actually having a church building, but many Christians also detest many aspects of getting the buildings built. Chief among the objects of our distaste would be the vexed problem of fundraising. This is not surprising, because it is too often the case that we want to pursue a Holy Ghost mission with the devil’s funding model.

The Bible does tell us that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7), but it does no good to harangue everybody with this glorious truth if the leadership of the church insists on doubling down on all the things that make cheerful giving impossible. So in the conviction that a godly approach to funding is not going to happen by accident, we are going to spend some time in considering what the Bible teaches about righteous giving. This will only happen if God preserves the imagination of the thoughts of our hearts.

“I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of mine heart I have willingly offered all these things: and now have I seen with joy thy people, which are present here, to offer willingly unto thee. O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, our fathers, keep this for ever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of thy people, and prepare their heart unto thee” (1 Chron. 29:17–18).

So let us begin with the conditions under which we may not give to our building fund. You cannot love God, whom you have not seen, if you do not love your brother, whom you have not paid.

For some mysterious reason, Christians frequently take Christ’s instruction about leaving our gift at the altar as a prohibition of taking communion if your brother has something against you (Matt. 5:23-24). Perhaps there is something a little self-serving in churches letting the people think this, because Jesus is actually prohibiting giving a fat donation to the church when there are issues between you and your brother.

Now frequently such issues between brothers are financial. Sad to say, brothers frequently flake on brothers. Sometimes it is for twenty cents and other times it is for 20 grand. So if you have any outstanding obligations—for work promised, for payments unfulfilled, whatever it was—stay out of our fund-raising campaign until that is all cleared up. And if you have an acute conscience for all those instances where people have flaked on you, but have a half-inch callus on your heart with regard to all the bags you have left others holding, then that means you are not qualified to give to the new sanctuary. You may not. Leave your gift right where it is, and go arrange payments with your brother first.

So let the stones cry out.

You May Put Them in Your Mouth

This Supper is all about the future. This is an eschatological meal at the end of the world that we are privileged to share in now. Just as the Spirit of God escorts us all into the heavenly places so that we may partake of the living Christ there, so also the Spirit unites past, present and future in such a way as to enable every true Christian to partake of eternal life now.

The one who believes in Jesus has eternal life, and has eternal life as a present possession. “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54).

There is a mystery here because false Christians can certainly partake of the Supper in some fashion, which is why Paul says that their unbelief makes them guilty of the body and blood of (1 Cor. 11:27). You can’t defile something you have no connection with. Just as they have some sort of union with Christ (John 15:1-6), so also they have some way of trampling the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified (Heb. 10:29). There is a connection there, but it is not a life-giving connection.

But just as there are Christians and then real Christians, so also there is partaking and real partaking. Real partaking is by faith alone, and real partaking is efficacious. Going back to John 6:54, if someone eats Christ’s body and drinks His blood, what may we then say is the case? We may say that he has, right now, eternal life, and we may say that God has promised to raise him up at the last day.

Someone who is not so raised is therefore someone who never had the promise that he would be raised. God breaks all kinds of things—worlds and kingdoms, heads and hearts, princes and presidents, and constellations in the heavens. God breaks the pride of man, but He never breaks a promise. This means that someone who is not so raised is someone who never had that eternal life.

But we are convinced of much better things in your case. This meal is offered to you here as an earnest on your final inheritance. If you receive it in true evangelical faith, with a humble heart, and without blowing any smoke at God, then you may marvel at what you are being given. This bread and this wine are eternal life. They are being given to you. They are yours. You may put them in your mouth.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

God Poet

God the Poet (Wooster, OH: Weaver Book, 2014)

I enjoyed portions of this book, and learned from it, but I think I was let down because it didn’t really live up to the title. The title is stupendous, and promises the moon, which rhymes with June. Nevertheless, the book did what I like books like this to do, which is to get me kind of churned up.

Future Grace

The evangelical hinge is not whether sacraments accomplish the blessings they speak of. The issue is whether they accomplish every blessing they speak of.

The sacraments, like the Scriptures, like the gospel itself, like the very existence of the Church, are eschatological. The words of baptism are future-oriented — from that moment forward, the baptized person is to be reckoned my brother or sister. The words of institution at the Supper are future words. “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26). We baptize and we commune leaning forward. Every Lord’s Day we break bread toward the end of the world.

In the meantime, the Church is God’s salvation community in the world, and there are two ways to come into this community. The first is real conversion. When someone is truly converted, and he comes into the Church, he receives all that the Church contains, or ever will contain (which is to say, Christ). Faith — and only faith — enables a person to inherit this complete future. Listen to Paul talking about this very thing when speaking of the riches of a true heir — “whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:22–23, ESV).

If I am Christ’s, and Christ is God’s, then everything is mine. That includes — in Paul’s express words — the future. This means that if my future is not salvation future, then at some foundational level, my present is not salvation present. From this simple reality, all evangelical theology flows.

Like an Out-of-Control Office Christmas Party

“Much has been made of the Puritan opposition to Christmas, but more than a little bit of the problem was caused by how Christmas used to be celebrated . . . The problem was actually comparable to us objecting to the drunkenness and fornication at Mardi Gras, only to be told that we have a problem with the resurrection because Lent is the preparation for Easter, and Mardi Gras is the last blowout before surrendering things for Lent. One of the central reasons Puritans were opposed to it was because of all the immorality that was going on in the name of Jesus” (God Rest Ye Merry, pp. 77-78).