Verse of the Day

Monday, December 24, 2007

Incarnation Truths Celebrated In Music

Memory Verses[1] From G. F. Handel’s Oratorio, “The Messiah”[2]

Is 40:1-5 - Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. 2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins. 3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: 5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

Hag 2:6-7 - For thus saith the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; 7 And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.

Mal 3:1-3 - Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. 2 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' sope: 3 And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.

Is 7:14 (Mt. 1:23) - 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 40:9 - O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!

Is 60:2-3 - 2For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. 3 And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

Is 9:2 - The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

Is 9:6 - For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Lk 2:8-11 - And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Lk 2:13-14 - And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Zech. 9:9-10 - Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. 10 And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from river even to the ends of the earth.

Is 35:5-6 - Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. 6 Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.

Is 40:11 - He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.

Mt 11:28-30 - Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Jn 1:29 - The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

Is 53:3 - He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Is 50:6 - I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.

Is 53:4-6 - 4Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Ps 22:7-8 - All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head saying, 8He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.

Ps 69:20 - Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.

Lam. 1:12 - Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.

Is 53:8 - He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

Ps 16:10 - For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

Ps 24:7-10 - Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.

Heb 1:5-6 - For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? 6 And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.

Ps 68:18 - Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.

Ps 68:11 - The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it.

Rom 10:15 - And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

Rom 10:18 - But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.

Ps 2:1-4 - Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, 3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. 4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.

Ps 2:9 - Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.

Rev. 19:6 - And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

Rev. 11:15 - And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.

Rev. 19:16 - And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

Job 19:25-26 - For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: 26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:

1 Cor. 15:20-22 - But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

1 Cor. 15:51-57 - Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Rom 8:31 - What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

Rom 8:33-34 - Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. 34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

Rev. 5:12-13 - Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. 13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.

[1] The verses are listed here in the order of their occurrence in The Messiah. The complete text of the Biblical passages are cited, even where the composer may only have included a portion. A few of these passages may not be found in modern performances, but are included here where they were originally located by the composer.
[2] The Messiah, An Oratorio For Four-Part Chorus of Mixed Voices, Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass Soli and Piano, by G. F. Handel, ed. T. Tertius Noble, Revised According to Handel’s Original Score by Max Spicker (New York: G. Schirmer, Inc., 1912), 252 pp. “The Messiah, Handel’s most successful and best-known oratorio, was composed in the year 1741 in twenty-four days, from August the 22d to September the 14th. It was first performed at a concert given for charitable purposes at Dublin, Ireland, on April the 13th, 1742, Handel conducting the performance in person.” Op. cit., pg. iii. The following work was also consulted - Handel’s Messiah: A Devotional Commentary, by Joseph E. McCabe (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1978), 120 pp. “Our souls soar with Handel, while…we plumb the depths of the love of God as set out for us in the Biblical passages.” “These glorious solos and choruses, forever wedded and welded now to the Biblical material, have sung themselves into the consciousness of a grateful humanity….The secret of its power lies in the depths of the human heart as well as on the pages of the musical score.” Op. cit., pg. 9. “The longtime and greatly beloved conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Thomas Beecham, writes of Handel in his memoirs: “Since his time mankind has heard no music written for voices which can even feebly rival his for grandeur of build and tone, nobility and tenderness of melody, scholastic skill and ingenuity and inexhaustible variety of effect.”” Op. cit., pp. 11-12. “When Biblical truth is joined to music that reaches the soul, then the human spirit soars. May it be so with Messiah lovers for years to come.” Op. cit., pg. 12.

Pastor's Sermon Notes - December 23, 2007

The First Noel [note 1]
Shepherds Quake at the Sight [note 2]
The Beginning of the Good News
Luke 2:8-20

[8] And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
[9] And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
[10] And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
[11] For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
[12] And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
[13] And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
[14] Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
[15] And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
[16] And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
[17] And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
[18] And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
[19] But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
[20] And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.


1. A “Harmony” of the Gospels?

Study guides for the Gospels are available which display the four Gospel accounts in parallel columns to show the similarities and differences between them for comparison studies [note 3]. There are so many differences between them that some may question the idea of a "harmony", but they are all viewing the same historical event, the life of Christ, although from different perspectives, and with various purposes. Some authors throughout the subsequent history of the Church have even attempted to combine them into one fluid account. However, that is not the way it was originally recorded by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel accounts were recorded as they were for specific reasons. These four vantage points are the way God wants us to view this history.

2. How the Gospel accounts begin -

The Gospels of Mark and John both open with the baptism of Jesus, not the birth of Christ, although John's prologue is unique in its revelation of the preincarnate Christ as the Creator (Jn. 1:1-11). Matthew and Luke do not get to the baptism of Christ until their third chapters (Mt. 3:13 and Lk. 3:21).

Mark 1:9 - And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.

John 1:1-11 - [1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] The same was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. [4] In him was life; and the life was the light of men. [5] And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. [6] There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. [7] The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. [8] He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. [9] That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. [10] He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. [11] He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Matthew 3:13 - Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.

Luke 3:21 - Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,

Matthew & Luke both begin their Gospels with the birth of Jesus, including His genealogy, the announcements of His conception and birth, and the events precipitated by His birth.

3. The differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts –

Matthew is alone in recording the account of the angelic appearance to Joseph (1:18-25), the wise men coming as joyful worshippers (2:1-12), and Herod as a hateful murderer (2:3-16), including the flight into Egypt by Joseph and Mary with the young Christ child.

Matthew also has a unique emphasis on the birth of Christ as the fulfillment of prophecies found in the Old Testament Scriptures: Mal. 2:7; Hos. 11:1; and Jer. 31:15.

Matthew 2:6 - And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Matthew 2:15 - And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

Matthew 2:17-18 - [17] Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, [18] In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

Luke goes into much more detail about the events surrounding the birth of Christ than any other Gospel, and Doctor Luke, as a historian, probably interviewed Mary for much of his information. Luke alone records the following [note 4] :

1) The angel Gabriel appearing to John the Baptist's father Zacharias (1:5-22).
2) The annunciation to Mary (1:26-38).
3) Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth, John the Baptist's mother (1:39-56).
4) The birth of John the Baptist (1:57-80).
5) The birth of Jesus (2:1-7).
6) The angelic announcement to the shepherds, and their visit to the manger (2:8-17).
7) The presentation of Christ at the Temple by Joseph and Mary (2:22-24).
8) The reactions to the infant Jesus at the Temple by Simeon and Anna (2:25-38).

4. The Star and the bit parts –

There is only one "Star" actor in this great drama, and it is the Son of God, who has now become also the Son of Man. However, there are many others who have what we may refer to as "bit parts", that are nevertheless significant in their own right. For example, considering the Gospel according to Luke alone attention must be paid to what is revealed about the angels, Zacharias, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna.

5. The Significance of the Part the Shepherds Play –

One of the unique features of Luke's Gospel account that is worthy of our consideration is the part the shepherds play, what they experienced, and how they responded to those experiences in Luke 2:8-20. Many have focused on this unusually dramatic and movingly beautiful aspect to the history of Christ's birth in the past, as may be easily seen by a survey of the legacy we have in our hymnology. (see Appendix)

Let us consider the responses of those who played these "bit parts" to the Incarnation, the First Noel, the Beginning of the Good News:

I. The Initial Response of Wondering (Marveling, Astonishment, Amazement)

Throughout the Gospel accounts of the events surrounding the birth of Christ we encounter words translated as "wondering", "marvelling", "astonishment", and "amazement". This response of "wonder" involved fear, and a failure to understand:

Luke 2:9 - And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

These shepherds were not wimps. They, like David, even as youths, could take on bears, lions, and anything that threatened their flocks with slings, knives, or even their bare hands if necessary. They were outdoorsmen, who worked 24/7 at providing for and protecting their flocks. They did their jobs day in, and day out, one day following another, until....until one day, unlike any other day before or since, until their working, and believing, and thinking was stopped and shaken, interrupted and rattled, by a visit that defied expectation or rationalization. What they saw and heard took them totally by surprise, and could not be explained away through any of the antisupernatural schemings of modern man. Only one initial response was appropriate, and they responded accordingly.

Consider also the response of those who were informed of these events by the shepherds:

Luke 2:18 - And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

Joseph and Mary themselves shared in this response:

Luke 2:33 - And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.

Notice the response to the youthful Jesus in the Temple later in this chapter:

Luke 2:47-50 - [47] And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. [48] And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. [49] And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? [50] And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.

Is there not something here that should elicit a sense of wonder and awe, that should cause us to marvel, to react in amazement, and with astonishment? If we are ever going to respond in wonder, is it not here at the birth of the Son of God come as the Son of Man in a manger? This day that changed all of human history, this central event in the ongoing Creation, ought to cause our jaws to drop, our eyes to bug out, and our minds to spin! If it does not, we should at least share in the shepherds' fear, and be "sore afraid", for there is something wrong with us otherwise! Where are the "wise guys" of our age? Where is the know-it-all skeptic and the humanistic philosopher who spoof at any suggestion of the supernatural when confronted by the glory of God, and the preaching and praising of angels? How would they have responded if they had been in those fields with the shepherds? And, now, when they sit in their armchairs in the ivory towers of academia, and lounge in their studies as Monday morning critics, they may find it easy to explain away this history, but in so doing they demonstrate their inability to wonder, and the numbness of their infidelity. This is no time to nit-pick, this is a time to stand in awe!

The shepherds did not stop there, they did not stand there in residual fear when the angels departed, but sought out the sign that had been revealed to them. And this elicited:

II. The Followup Response of Glorifying (Praising)

The shepherds could not help but tell others what had happened, what they had seen and heard:

Luke 2:17 - And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

They became the first witnesses to the Incarnation, worshipping God for what He had done, and praising Him to others for what they had experienced and learned:

Luke 2:20 - And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Anna's response when she saw the Christ child in the Temple was precisely the same:

Luke 2:38 - And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

When confronted by the wonders of God, our awe, our astonishment and amazement should produce worship, glorying in God, glorifying him in praise, praising him to all who would hear! This is not something that we can or should keep to ourselves. There should be a joyful excitement, an enthusiastic reporting, a bubbling over in worship in response to this greatest gift in history! This will not be kept a secret any longer! Christ is born, the Savior has come, the Son of God has become the Son of Man, the King of kings and Lord of lords is here!

And yet, there is still in that wonder and awe, in that amazement and astonishment, those things that we do not understand. There is that which transcends human knowledge, reasoning, and thought here, and there always will be. The greatest mystery of mysteries is how God could become Man, how the Person of the Son of God could take on flesh, and live as the Son of Man. There is that here which defies explanation and rationalization. We face the frontier of human ability to know here, or nowhere. Human intellectual pride is here humbled like nowhere else. And it is well that we acknowledge this limitation, this inability, even while we proclaim the tremendous facts that we can be sure of from God's own revelation of this mystery.

But, we may still include that which we do not now comprehend in the third phase of our responding to the revelation of the Incarnation to us by God, even as the "bit players" of that history did. We may join with Mary in:

III. The Reserved Response of Pondering (Keeping)

Luke 2:19 - But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

We should remember, and remembering we should ponder. We should meditate on mystery, and meditating we should grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We should expect always to ponder, and never to arrive at a full understanding of the depths of such a mystery. We are finite, and the depths here are infinite.

We do not need to understand, or to be able fully to explain, every aspect of such a wonderful revelation in order to be able to worship God by glorifying Him, and praising Him to others. We are not so different from the shepherds, or Joseph the carpenter, or Mary herself. They knew fear and wonder; they knew what it was like to be astonished, and to question. We should share in all of these responses. We should place ourselves into their places in these Gospel accounts, and understand that we have much in common with them. Our responses to the records of these events should be no different than their's were. We should respond to the Incarnation, the mystery of mysteries, by wondering, glorifying and pondering. All of these responses should be part of the ongoing experience of the Christian life for every child of God.


The angel said to the shepherds that day: "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)

Let us join in the praises of the angels, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Good tidings! Great joy! Christ the Lord is born a babe and a Savior! Glory to God, glory to God in the highest! Thank Him, and praise him for the Prince of Peace come to earth, and for His good will toward men in making peace with those who were at war with Him [note 5] in the only Way it could be made [note 6]! Only God could do this, this Wonder of wonders! Glorify Him! Ponder what is worthy of eternal contemplation!

Appendix: The Revelation to the Shepherds in Hymnology

“Shepherds, why this jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong?
Say what may the tidings be, Which inspire your heavenly song?”

[“Angels We Have Heard on High”, source unknown, verse 2.]

“Shepherds, in the fields abiding, Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with man is now residing, Yonder shines the infant Light:”

[“Angels, from the Realms of Glory”, by James Montgomery, verse 2. Note: The truth may be more accurately represented “…God as man is now residing…”. See J. Gresham Machen’s The Virgin Birth of Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1930), pg. 391, “To these modern men the incarnation means that God and man are one; to the New Testament it means rather that they are not one, but that the eternal Son of God became man, assumed our nature, by a stupendous miracle, to redeem us from sin.”]

“The first Noel the angel did say,
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay a-keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.”

[“The First Noel”, old English carol, verse 1.]

“While shepherds watch’d their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around, And glory shone around.
“Fear not, “ said he; for mighty dread,
Had seized their troubled mind,
“Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
To you and all mankind, To you and all mankind.””

[“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”, by Nahum Tate, verses 1-2.]

“Shepherds saw the wondrous sight, Heard the angels singing;
All the plains were lit that night, All the hills were ringing.”

[“Gentle Mary Laid Her Child”, by Joseph Simpson Cook, verse 2.]

“Who is He in yonder stall, At whose feet the shepherds fall?”

[“Who Is He in Yonder Stall?”, by B. R. Hanby, verse 1.]

“Come, all ye shepherds, ye children of earth,
Come ye, bring greetings to yon heavenly birth.
Hasten then, hasten to Bethlehem’s stall,
There to see heaven descend to us all.
Angels and shepherds together we go,
Seeking this Savior from all earthly woe.”

[“Come, All Ye Shepherds”, Bohemian folk song, trans. Mari Ruef Hofer.]

“so toiling men and spirits bright, A first communion had,”

[“A Thousand Years Have Come and Gone”, by Thomas Toke Lynch, verse 2.]


[1] Old English Carol.

[2] Joseph Mohr, “Silent Night, Holy Night”, verse 2.

[3] An interesting history of Gospel harmonies was done by M. B. Riddle in his "Introductory Essay" published with Augustine's work The Harmony of the Gospels, trans. S. D. F. Salmond, ed. M. B. Riddle, in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., n.d.; reprint of 1886 original by Christian Literature Publishing Co., New York), Vol. VI, St. Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels, pp. 67-70. Riddel traces this history of harmonies of the Gospels from Tatian's "Diatessaron" (circa A. D. 153-170), through Eusebius' "Canons" (4th c. A. D.), Augustine's work (early 5th c. A. D.), and the work of Calvin and others during the Reformation (16th c. A. D.), to those being done in his own day in the 19th century. This is available online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library,

Harmonies of the Gospels are available today in English, Greek, and both (Greek-English). The English editions vary as to the English translation they use, whether they harmonize just the three Synoptic Gospels, or all four, and whether they set up their harmony as parallel columns or as a running account. The following are examples of some prominent English harmonies in use today: Synopsis of the Four Gospels, English Edition, ed. Kurt Aland (n.p.: United Bible Societies, 1982); A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life of Christ, by Archibald Thomas Robertson (New York: Harper, 1950); and A Harmony of the Gospels with explanations and essays, by Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978). Many Gospel harmonies are now available on the internet, and may be located by simply entering "harmony Gospels" in a search engine.

[4] The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, 5th ed., ed. Frank Charles Thompson (Indianapolis, IN: B. B. Kirkbride Bible Co., 1988), pg. 1679, "Condensed Cyclopedia of Topics and Texts", #4308-a, "Key to the Tree of Jesus' Life and Harmony of the Gospels".

[5] Romans 5:10 - For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. Romans 8:7 - Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

[6] John 14:6 - Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Can a Christian Deny the Virgin Birth? Mohler and Machen

Below are some quotes from J. Gresham Machen’s monumental work, The Virgin Birth of Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1930), to complement Al Mohler’s most recent blog entry:

“Can a Christian Deny the Virgin Birth?”, Wednesday, December 05, 2007

All of the following excerpts are from Machen’s final chapter, number XV, “Conclusion and Consequences”:

“The story of the virgin birth is the story of a stupendous miracle, and against any such thing there is an enormous presumption drawn from the long experience of the race.

As it is however, that presumption can be overcome; it can be overcome when the tradition of the virgin birth is removed from its isolation and taken in connection with the whole glorious picture of the One whom in this tradition is said to be virgin-born. What shall we think of Jesus Christ? That is the question of all questions, and it can be answered aright only when the evidence is taken as a whole. It is a fact of history, which no serious historian can deny, that in the first century of our era there walked upon this earth One who was like none other among the children of men. Reduce the sources of information all you will, and still that mysterious figure remains, that figure who is attested in the Epistles of Paul, that figure who walks before us in lifelike, self-evidencing fashion in the Gospels, that figure upon whom the Christian Church was built. Many have been the efforts to explain Him in terms of what is common to mankind, to explain Him as a product of forces elsewhere operative in the world. Those explanations may satisfy the man who treats the evidence, in pedantic fashion, bit by bit; but they will never satisfy the man who can view the whole. View Jesus in the light of God and against the dark background of sin, view Him as the satisfaction of man’s deepest need, as the One who alone can lead into all glory and all truth, and you will come, despite all, to the stupendous conviction that the New Testament is true, that God walked here upon the earth, that the eternal Son, because He loved us, came into this world to die for our sins upon the cross.

When you have arrived at that conviction you will turn with very different eyes to the story of the virgin and her child. Wonders will no longer repel you. Rather will you say: “So and so only did it behoove this One, as distinguished from all others, to be born.”” (pg. 381)

“To our mind, the story of the virgin birth, far from being an obstacle to faith, is an aid to faith; it is an organic part of that majestic picture of Jesus which can be accepted most easily when it is taken as a whole. The story of the virgin birth will hardly, indeed, be accepted when it is taken apart from the rest; but when taken in connection with the rest it adds to, as well as receives from, the convincing quality of the other things about Jesus which the New Testament tells.” (pg. 382)

[Note: At this point Machen enters footnote number 1, where he cites B. B. Warfield’s relevant article, “The Supernatural Birth of Jesus: Is It Essential to Christianity?”, American Journal of Theology X (Jan., 1906), pp. 21-30. This article has been reprinted in Warfield’s Christology and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1932), pp. 447-458; in his Biblical Foundations (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1958), pp. 117-128; and in his Biblical And Theological Studies, ed. Samuel G. Craig (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1968), pp. 157-168. Source: A Bibliography of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield 1851-1921, by John E. Meeter and Roger Nicole (n.p.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1974), pg. 35.]

“From the beginning Christianity was the religion of the broken heart; it is based upon the conviction that there is an awful gulf between man and God which none but God can bridge. The Bible tells how that gulf was bridged; and that means that the Bible is a record of facts. Of what avail, without the redeeming acts of God, are all the lofty ideals of Psalmists and Prophets, all the teaching and example of Jesus? In themselves they can bring us nothing but despair. We Christians are interested not merely in what God commands, but also in what God did; the Christian religion is couched not merely in the imperative mood, but also in a triumphant indicative; our salvation depends squarely upon history; the Bible contains that history, and unless that history is true the authority of the Bible is gone and we who have put our trust in the Bible are without hope.

Certainly, whatever we may think of it, that is the view of Bible authority which the Bible itself takes. The authors of books like the Gospels are not intending merely to give their readers inspiring poetry or an instructive philosophy of religion; they are intending to narrate facts.” (pg. 385)

“The Bible, in other words, does not merely tell us what God is, but it also tells us what God did; it contains not merely permanent truths of religion and ethics, but also a gospel or a piece of good news.

An integral part of that piece of news, to the authors of the First and Third Gospels, was the fact that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the virgin Mary. If that fact is rejected, then the witness of these writers – and hence the witness of the Bible – is in so far not true.

If, therefore, the virgin birth be rejected, let us cease talking about the “authority of the Bible” or the “infallibility of Scripture” or the like. Let us rather say plainly that that authority and that infallibility are gone. We may indeed hold that many things which the Bible says are true, even though this thing that it says are untrue. Many earnest souls – if we may for the moment speak in general terms and without reference to the virgin birth – adopt such a mediating position. They hold that, although the Bible is wrong in many particulars, although it displays no supernatural freedom from the errors that beset other books, yet it contains some things that are true, and upon those things we can ground our hope for time and for eternity. Far better is it to say these men are right, to say that the Bible is not infallible but only partly true, than to say that the Bible is infallible in the sphere of religion and ethics, and that the external happenings that it relates are matters of indifference to our souls. Many earnest Christians hold the former position; but a man who really holds the latter position cannot logically be a Christian at all. Christianity is founded upon the redeeming work of Christ which was accomplished in Palestine nineteen hundred years ago; to be indifferent to the record that sets forth that work is to reject the gospel in which Christ is offered as our Saviour from sin and wrath.

But even if the former position is taken, even if we do continue to rest for salvation upon part of the record of facts which the Bible contains, still, if we reject other parts, our belief in the authority of the Bible is gone.” (pg. 386)

“…there are scarcely any limits to the confusion of religious discussion at the present day. The Bible teaches the virgin birth of Christ; a man who accepts the virgin birth may continue to hold to the full truthfulness of the Bible; a man who rejects it cannot possibly do so. That much at least should be perfectly plain.” (pg. 387)

“If a man affirms that Jesus was born without human father, being conceived by the Holy Ghost in the virgin’s womb, it is difficult to see how he can escape the plain meaning of such terms; and thus when he makes that affirmation, he has taken the momentous step of affirming the entrance of the supernatural into the course of this world.…the question of the virgin birth brings us sharply before the question of the supernatural, and…a man who accepts the virgin birth has taken his stand squarely upon supernaturalistic ground.” (pg. 390)

“…the two elements of Christian truth belong logically together; the supernatural Person of our Lord belongs logically with His redemptive work; the virgin birth belongs logically with the Cross. Where one aspect is given up, the other will not logically remain; and where one is accepted, the other will naturally be accepted, too. There may be halfway positions for a time, but they are in unstable equilibrium and will no long be maintained.

Certain it is that men who reject the virgin birth scarcely ever hold to a really Christian view of Christ….In the overwhelming majority of cases those who reject the virgin birth reject the whole supernatural view of Christ….Seldom does any real belief in the incarnation go along with a rejection of the miracle of the virgin birth.” (pg. 391)

“…a man cannot reject the testimony of the New Testament at this point without serious peril to his soul.” (pg. 392)

“…without the story of the virgin birth our knowledge of the Saviour would be impoverished in a very serious way.” (pg. 393)

“Our knowledge of the virgin birth, therefore, is important because it fixes for us the time of the incarnation. And what comfort that gives to our souls! Marcion, the second-century dualist, was very severe upon those who thought that the Son of God was born as a man; he poured out the vials of his scorn upon those who brought Christ into connection with the birth-pangs and the nine months’ time. But we, unlike Marcion and his modern disciples, glory just in the story of those things. The eternal Son of God, He through whom the universe was made, did not despise the virgin’s womb! What a wonder is there! It is not strange that it has always given offence to the natural man. But in that wonder we find God’s redeeming love, and in that babe who lay in Mary’s womb we find our Saviour who thus became man to die for our sins, and bring us into peace with God.” (pg. 394)

“Deny or give up the story of the virgin birth, and inevitably you are led to evade either the high Biblical doctrine of sin or else the full Biblical presentation of the supernatural Person of our Lord.” (pg. 395)

“…if we are to help our fellow-men we must give counsel on the basis of the best knowledge that we in our weakness can obtain. And certainly even with that weakness we can say that perhaps not one man out of a hundred of those who deny the virgin birth today gives any really clear evidence of possessing saving faith. A man is not saved by good works, but by faith; and saving faith is acceptance of Jesus Christ “as he is offered to us in the gospel.” Part of that gospel in which Jesus is offered to our souls is the blessed story of the miracle in the virgin’s womb.

One thing at least is clear: even if the belief in the virgin birth is not necessary to every Christian, it is certainly necessary to Christianity. And it is necessary to the corporate witness of the Church.” (pg. 396)

And with these words Dr. Machen ends his colossal contribution to the apologetic literature in the treasury of the Church:

“The New Testament presentation of Jesus is not an agglomeration, but an organism, and of that organism the virgin birth is an integral part. Remove the part, and the whole becomes harder and not easier to accept; the New Testament account of Jesus is the most convincing when it is taken as a whole. Only one Jesus is presented in the word of God; and that Jesus did not come into the world by ordinary generation, but was conceived in the womb of the virgin by the Holy Ghost.” (pg. 397)

“…Christianity…the religion of the broken heart….couched…in a triumphant indicative…”! (pg. 385) What an affirmation that is!

Machen’s work is unquestionably a difficult read. I dedicated one Christmas break during undergraduate studies at Lancaster Bible College in the late 1970s to digesting this work. It was time well spent. While many probably will not follow this example, perhaps the quotes above will be valued, or better yet, may whet their appetite for more! The Virgin Birth of Christ was nicely reprinted in a hardbound edition by James Clarke Company in 1987. My 1975 reprint of the Harper & Row original in Baker’s “Twin Brooks Series” is a well-worn paperback!

If you have never read Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ may not be the best place to start, however. I would recommend his God Transcendent (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1998), What is Faith (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), or The Christian View of Man (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965) as better starting points.

John T. "Jack" Jeffery
Pastor, Wayside Gospel Chapel

Monday, December 17, 2007

Change of Sunday morning Worship Service start time

Effective December 23, 2007, and until further notice, the start time for the Lord's Day Worship Service at Wayside Gospel Chapel will be 10:00 a.m. This information has been released to all available media outlets to ensure wide distribution. Feedback on this change, either negative or positive, is welcomed.