One of the most common passages thought of during the Christmas season is Matthew 1:18-25. This passage describes the birth of Jesus, and centers on his miraculous conception in the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.
While the virgin conception by the Holy Spirit is by credal standards a “non-negotiable”, for quite some time I could not think of the significance of the virgin birth, or the role of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s conception. While we must affirm that the church from its beginning believed and held to the birth of Christ by the Spirit, what is so central about this part of Jesus’ birth?
On the one hand, one could argue that Jesus’ conception by the Spirit preserves or establishes his divine origin. Or, one could argue that the Spirit’s conception preserves Jesus from original sin. Some theologians hold that the sin nature is passed down through the father.
While these could be legitimate theological arguments (and I believe the first is), I think that, paying attention to the text, Matthew gives us a point of his own. In explaining the birth of the Christ, and the miraculous events therein, Matthew describes Christ’s birth as a “genesis”. Literally in the Greek, in verse 18, Matthew calls Jesus’ birth “the genesis of Jesus Christ”.
Now this is a very interesting phrase to use, especially considering the fact that Matthew brings in the Holy Spirit as God’s power or hand in Christ’s “genesis”.
The reason the Holy Spirit is so important in all of this is because the last “genesis” God accomplished was also by the power of the Holy Spirit. Genesis 1:2 tells us that the Holy Spirit was God’s power in the creation. What’s even more striking is that in Colossians 1, Paul tells us that God the Son, Jesus, was the person through whom God created the world.
In Matthew 1:18, we see both the Spirit and the Son involved another type of “genesis”. Do you think that it is any coincidence that Matthew makes all these connections? I really don’t think so. I think what Matthew is saying in this passage is that God is making a new creation. And he’s doing it the same way as the old: through Christ, by the Spirit.
In other words, what Matthew is saying in verse 18, is that in God the Son, by God the Spirit, God the Father is making a new creation. He is restoring this fallen world from the grips of sin, and doing it in his regular Trinitarian fashion.
And so in the virgin birth, we find God making a new creation through the birth of Christ. God the Father declares that a new humanity (in Mary) should be created through Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit.
Consequently no man was involved in Christ’s conception, because only God has the power create. And only God has the power to recreate his fallen creation. And so God the Father speaks, and it is done through Christ by the Spirit. And because of it, we find a new world unfolding in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus!
Frederick Dale Bruner, from his excellent commentary on Matthew, says this on verse 18:
The genesis of Jesus (and of faith in Jesus) inside any human life, the apostolic witness almost unanimously teaches, is the work of the Holy Spirit, the Creator Spiritus, who began the world’s creation (“the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters,” Gen 1:2), and who now begins the world’s new creation and it’s definitive salvation. The permanent value of the credal doctrine of the Spirit’s conception of Jesus in Mary is this; it is the Holy Spirit and not human initiative that brings Jesus into personal life (then Mary’s, now ours). When Jesus comes to anyone in history, even in his Advent coming to Mary, it is always the work of the Spirit, not of human preparation or enterprise. Every conversion is a virgin birth… The Holy Spirit, in other words, is the miraculous how of New Life. Mary’s virginal conception by the power of the Holy Spirit teaches this thrilling doctrine of the Holy Spirit pictorially.
What an interesting observation that Bruner makes here, “every conversion is a virgin birth”. Indeed, when we are saved, God speaks, and initiates a new creation by his Spirit through Christ. This recreation was started at Christ’s birth, and is finished in our miraculous new birth in Christ.
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17).