‘I believe … in Jesus Christ … conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary’
Timothy Cross continues explaining the Apostles’ Creed
This third line of the creed draws our attention to an epochal moment in the divine saga of redemption - the incarnation of the ‘only begotten Son of God’. Specifically, it focuses on Christ’s conception at Nazareth and his birth in Bethlehem.
In God’s eternal plan ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). The Son of God became a son of man, in order that the sons of men might become the sons of God.Jesus Christ became man ‘by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul’.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Scripture is clear that whilst Christ’s birth was natural, his conception was supernatural. He was conceived without the agency of a human father in the womb of the Virgin Mary, through the supernatural instrumentality of the Holy Spirit.
While both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels relate Christ’s virginal conception, it is interesting to note that ‘Luke, the beloved physician’ (Colossians 4:14) goes into fullest detail about it.
Perhaps Mary related to Dr Luke in his surgery, as he researched his Gospel (Luke 1:1-4), how an angel from heaven had visited her and announced to her great astonishment that: ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child will be called holy, the Son of God’ (Luke 1:35).
Christ’s conception was miraculous - ’for with God nothing will be impossible’ (Luke 1:37) - but not totally unexpected. About 700 years earlier, God through Isaiah the prophet had prophesied Christ would be conceived in this way.
So Matthew can quote Isaiah 7:14: ‘All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (which means, God with us)’ (Matthew 1:22,23).
Christ’s ‘virgin birth’ is inextricably linked to his impeccability (sinlessness). Scripture teaches ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15). Only a sinless one could offer up his life as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of others - and such a one was Christ.
Had Christ been conceived through the instrumentality of a human father, he would have inherited Adam’s sinful nature and be disqualified from being our Saviour. All men since Adam are sinners by nature. Sin is passed on through natural generation. Hence Christ’s supernatural generation.
Jesus was conceived, not by the agency of a fallen human being, but by the eternal Spirit of God. Hence Christ was born with a sinless nature. He alone of those born of women could not sin. He ‘knew no sin’ (2 Corinthians 5:21) and ‘committed no sin’ (1 Peter 2:22). It was said of Jesus, ‘and in him there is no sin’ (1 John 3:5).
But he was a true man - like us in everything, with the exception of sin. ‘He was himself conceived in the womb of the Virgin, by the marvellous and inexpressible power of the Holy Spirit, so as to be born without being tainted by any fleshly corruption, but sanctified by sovereign purity’ (John Calvin).
Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. Nine months after his conception in Nazareth, he ‘was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king’ (Matthew 2:1). His birth was so momentous that it has split time into the eras BC and AD.
The news of that birth was first broadcast to humble shepherds on the outskirts of Bethlehem. An angel proclaimed to them, ‘to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:11).
Fittingly, the skies were then filled with angelic praise, for ‘suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill among men’ (Luke 2:13,14).
The sending of his own Son into the world to save sinners was the crowning expression of God’s grace to us. Christ’s coming into the world was the outworking of God’s covenant of grace, in which he undertook to save a people for himself to the glory of his name.
That Jesus Christ was ‘conceived by the Holy Spirit’ and ‘born of the Virgin Mary’ fills us with thanksgiving:
Christ by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the God-head see!
Hail the incarnate deity!
Pleased as Man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King.