Why the Supernatural Conception & Virgin Birth Are Crucial
by Gil Rugh
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18).
Today, we would probably say Mary and Joseph were engaged, although our word engaged is not strong enough to describe the relationship and responsibilities of a Jewish couple during their betrothal.
For Jews anticipating marriage, a preliminary arrangement was usually made by the parents. That arrangement could be made when the future couple were still children. When they reached adulthood, a betrothal took place. At that time the man and woman were bound in a marriage agreement. This agreement was so binding that the two were called husband and wife from that point on. The agreement could only be broken by a bill of divorce, and if the husband died, the wife was called a widow.
Although the union was as binding as a marriage, it did not allow for all of the privileges of marriage, such as sexual union. The betrothal period lasted for one year and was a waiting period during which both individuals continued to live at home with their parents. One of the purposes for this waiting period was to demonstrate the purity of the bride-to-be.
Joseph and Mary entered into betrothal but during this waiting period, Mary was discovered to be pregnant. We cannot appreciate the full impact this would have had on Joseph. He had entered into an agreement of marriage with the one he loved, and during the waiting time it was discovered that she was pregnant.
When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant, he did not know the supernatural circumstances surrounding the conception. The situation would have been very difficult for both of them. Even if Mary told Joseph the truth, it would be rather awkward. “Joseph, I am pregnant but this is the result of a miraculous conception; this is going to be a virgin birth.” As much as Joseph may have wanted to trust Mary, the story would have been rather difficult to believe.
“And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, wanted to send her away secretly” (v. 19). Scripture does not reveal very much about Joseph, but this is a good testimony of his character. We are told that he was a righteous man, the same description used of Job in the Old Testament.
Joseph had two options: he could make a public issue of Mary’s condition and disgrace her in a public divorce, or he could “send her away secretly”—an expression that refers to a private divorce. Joseph decided to divorce her, but to do it secretly and not make a public display of it, even though he had the right to do so.
We can assume from his actions that he had a strong attachment to Mary. This was surely a tremendous burden to Joseph; he wanted to handle the situation as discreetly as possible to avoid making a show of Mary.
After Joseph mulled the options over and reached his decision, the Lord intervened. “But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream” (v. 20). Though we are not told in Scripture, this angel could have been Gabriel; in Luke’s account, Gabriel announced the birth of both John the Baptist and Jesus.
The angel addressed him, “Joseph, son of David” (v. 20). This is a reminder that Joseph was in the line of royalty. The angel continued: “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (v. 20). That statement declares in a concise way that this birth was by an act of the Spirit of God in the womb of a virgin.
That may raise many questions in our minds, but we don’t need to understand all the details. The Holy Spirit acted in the womb of Mary in such a way as to bring about a supernatural conception. In effect, the father of Jesus Christ is God, the Holy Spirit. Jesus was born of a physical mother, Mary, but conceived by the Holy Spirit of God.
After the miraculous conception, the angel told Joseph something of the character and ministry of the Son who would be born. “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (v. 21). Mary and Joseph had no discussion about what the name of this child would be; they obeyed God’s command through the angel to name Him Jesus.
His Old Testament name was Joshua, meaning “Jehovah is salvation” or “Jehovah, our salvation.” Jesus Christ is Jehovah, salvation: the One in whom salvation is found. The emphasis of the Old Testament is that God Himself is the salvation of Israel. In effect, God is salvation and He provided it via His own death.
Throughout the centuries, the Old Testament prophesied of a coming king for the nation Israel. Jesus Christ is the focal point of those prophesies, and they find their realization and fulfillment in Him.
Jesus Christ was in the Davidic line and is qualified to be the King of the nation Israel. Not only is He in the line of David, but Christ is also the Son of God. As such, He is the unique Messiah-King whom God provided for His people.
Salvation is found only in God Himself as the God-man, Jesus Christ. That is why the virgin birth is so important: the Savior had to be born of both God and man. Christ is the Savior—God in the flesh.
We can have salvation only by turning to Him and believing He died for us. Salvation is not found in a church or in religious rites like circumcision, baptism, confirmation or communion. It is not found in church membership or good works. It is found only in the Person of Jesus Christ Himself.