Larry King live
Guest Column – Tom Ascol
Several years ago Larry King, the well-known American talk show host, was asked who he would like to interview if he had his pick from all of history. His answer was Jesus Christ.
The questioner paused and said, ‘What is the one question you would like to ask him?’ Larry King answered, ‘I would ask him if he was indeed virgin-born, because the answer to that would define history for me’.
Larry King was right, because the birth of Jesus Christ is the key which unlocks human history. If Jesus is who the Bible says he is, then his life and work does indeed define history.
As people throughout the world begin to focus on Christmas, images of Mary and Joseph with their baby will appear on greeting cards, and many will think again briefly of that Bethlehem stable.
But very few people will seriously entertain Larry King’s question: ‘Was Jesus born of a virgin?’
Both Matthew and Luke record the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. When Mary turned up pregnant before their wedding day, Joseph must have been crushed. Matthew describes how, rather than expose her apparent unfaithfulness, Joseph decided to ‘put her away secretly’ (Matthew 1:19).
Only when an angel appeared and assured him that the child had been miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit did he change his mind. The angel also told Joseph that the child would be a boy and that his name would be ‘Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21).
Matthew explains, ‘All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”’ (Matthew 1:23). ‘Immanuel’ means ‘God with us’, while ‘Jesus’ means ‘Saviour’ – a name signifying that his mission was to save his people from sin.
An awful gulf
Few people today admit that sin separates them from God. Yet, in our heart of hearts, we all know that things are not the way they ought to be. So people look for relief – let’s call it salvation – from all kinds of sources, including pleasure, relationships, wealth and knowledge. But as St Augustine prayed, ‘O, Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in thee’.
The American theologian J. Gresham Machen put it this way: ‘From the beginning Christianity was the religion of the broken heart; it is based on the conviction that there is an awful gulf between man and God which none but God can bridge’.
But God has bridged that gulf – through the coming of Jesus Christ.
In Christ, God came to be ‘with us’. One of the most staggering truths that the Bible reveals is that Mary’s baby was God in human flesh. Because God ‘loved the world’, he came to be with us in the person of his Son (John 3:16). All that Jesus did while on earth was in fulfilment of his mission – to bring salvation to sinners like ourselves.
A just pardon
This explains his life of humble obedience to the law of God. That is what the law requires of us. It also explains his death on the cross. ‘The wages of sin is death’, says the apostle Paul (Romans 6:23) and we all deserve to be paid in that currency.
Yet Jesus, acting as our representative and substitute, lived and died to ‘save his people from their sin’. On the cross he suffered the penalty pronounced against sin and secured a just pardon for everyone who trusts in him.
This is the good news of Christmas. The virgin-born baby is the Saviour of the world. This is great news for everyone who knows that he or she is a sinner and in need of a Saviour. Jesus came into the world to rescue fallen men and women by a comprehensive saving work – through his life, death and resurrection.
This great news is summarised in one of the best-known statements in the Bible. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16).
The birth of Jesus Christ is a display of God’s great love for us. To avail ourselves of that love, however, we must turn away from our self-sufficiency and trust in Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Because, you see, faith is the key that links all that Jesus did two thousand years ago to people today. The apostle Paul writes, ‘If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved’ (Romans 10:9).