(Excerpt from the Sermon)
Sermon Series: Rediscover the Wonder
Jesus was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was born of the Virgin Mary. Now you think about this just for a second. This is quite a statement that God became an embryo, born as a baby to a woman who was a virgin. Don't you find that astounding? What's astounding is that creed, that doctrine, was not seriously challenged until the enlightenment of the 18th century. Now again, think about this. The virgin birth is quite a claim, one that is debated today, but for 1800 years after the fact, it was readily accepted.
1800 years of affirmation in the virgin birth. I don't think most of us realize how widespread this belief really was. It was hardly given a second thought in much of human history. And somebody comes along and says, “Well, of course, because those people in those days were uneducated and believed in things like the virgin birth.” Now that's ridiculous because these are the same people who gave us the laws of logic and philosophical debate. The same people who gave us the first designs of fluid cities and roads and maps, some of the first mapping of the solar system in the galaxies, not to mention jurisprudence or the theory or philosophy of law. Most of what is experienced today came out of that first-century culture. The fact is that the circumstantial evidence that surrounded the resurrection was so powerful that it made the virgin birth plausible.
After all, if Jesus rose from the dead, it would not be that difficult to be born of a virgin. If this is truly God, how hard is a virgin birth? But then came the enlightenment of the 18th century. Now, we're going somewhere very crucial here. The enlightenment was a European intellectual movement emphasizing reason and individualism. So for 1800 years, the virgin birth was affirmed. Then, in the 18th century, the enlightenment came. And in the Enlightenment, there was a denial of the supernatural. There was a rather pompous attitude toward anything that was miraculous and everything we were told was explained or could be explained by knowledge and understanding of a material universe because the material universe, we were told, is all there is. Everything is material. There's nothing supernatural about this world, no such thing as angels and demons and the supernatural experience of the beyond.
Now, just stop for a moment. Logically, this is quite self-defeating because you actually can't prove that everything's material without using non-material things to do so. Think about ideas, the laws of mathematics, moral values, the laws of logic, and propositions. None of these things can be touched or felt, and yet they are real. They exist. Now, I realize that the secular humanists might make the claim that all these things that I just mentioned come from the mind and the mind is material. That may be true, but that still does not disprove the reality that non-material things exist. The problem with our world and (it's a very sad one), whether academia realizes it or not, to a great degree, is that they have been influenced by this enlightenment that robs man of his worth. Ideas always have consequences, and these ideas have been severe. The idea that man is nothing more than material thus makes him dispensable.
It enables those in the know to exterminate those who are not. Life is no longer sacred and therefore can be terminated for a greater good, which in this case is whatever those in power tell us the greater good is. From a pragmatic perspective then, atheism is a killer. And the deaths, as a result of a materialistic framework, far outnumber those of religious fanaticism. The point is, the west sees itself as rational, scientific people. We ask hard questions and demand empirical evidence, which are very good things, but then we go too far. Our European classrooms categorically claim that science and miracles cannot coexist, and that we must choose one or the other. Now stay with me on this path. Everything will come out into the funnel in the end, and it'll make a lot of sense, but we gotta do the hard work.
Dr. John Lennox, who is not an intellectual lightweight, a graduate of Oxford, a Ph.D. from Cambridge, Cardiff, and the University of Surrey, says, when people say science and miracles cannot coexist, he says, and I quote, “That's poppycock. Science and miracles do coexist. In fact, without science you would not recognize a miracle when you saw it, you must have an understanding of the natural world to comprehend the supernatural world.” In fact, he gives this example, and it's rather lengthy, but it's important that we go through it. Dr. Lennox says, “If I'm in a hotel and I put a hundred pounds in the drawer on the first night and a hundred pounds on the second night, so a hundred plus a hundred is 200, and on the third morning I wake up and there's 50 pounds in the drawer, what do I conclude? That the laws of arithmetic have been broken or the laws of England? Well, of course, I conclude the laws of England have been broken. I've been robbed. But why do I conclude that? Because the laws of mathematics have not been broken. The mistake is to think that the drawer is a closed system of cause and effect, and therefore there's nothing outside it that can come in and feed something in or take something out. Mathematics cannot say to the thief, ‘Stop, stop. You're about to break the laws of arithmetic.’ That's absurd. It's our knowledge,” says Lennox, “of the laws of arithmetic. And in the more general sense, it's our knowledge of the laws of nature that enable us to recognize a claimant for a miracle. If you didn't know that dead bodies stay in the ground, well the resurrection of Jesus would be no big deal. But the point is, in the world of the New Testament twenty centuries ago, they knew the relevant laws of nature and that's why they recognized the miracle.”
So when people say today that science and miracles clash, well no. If there is a God, who created the universe and has it running on certain recognizable laws, He's not constrained by them. He's not a prisoner of them. He can feed a new and special event in our knowledge of the laws that will help us recognize. So you need both things. You need a universe that does not run on laws in order to recognize the hand of God when it gets involved or when He gets involved. Lennox says, “I don't see a problem there.” Now let me go back again.
It's one thing to believe in the supernatural, that it's possible. It's another thing to believe that God intervenes supernaturally into your life every day. Dr. Lennox would say, “Do you as a Christ follower affirm that God is not constrained by the natural laws He has created? He's not a prisoner of them. He can feed a new and special event into the natural world anytime He wants.” Now, Mary came to that exact conclusion, but like us, she had to come to terms with it. Again, our culture trained us to think of the appearance of an angel as impossible. We've locked God out in a closed system, although we do believe that ancient people, someone like Mary, held firmly to the belief in the supernatural world because she was not learned or educated. And quite frankly, that's not only ridiculous, but it's arrogant.
Mary also struggled to understand what she was hearing, even seeing. She had different rational barriers to her belief than we do. But the barriers were still there. In fact, it may have been even more difficult for Mary to believe what she was hearing, that God will become an embryo and enter her womb because she was Jewish. And in her Jewish mind, God would never put on the evil veil of flesh. God's spirit must forever separate Himself from anything that is fleshly or sinful or evil. No way would God ever subject Himself to such reductionism. And here's the point I'm making. There's never a time in history when there are no major obstacles to believing that the creator of the universe came into a girl's womb to be born as a human being. So the angel's announcement takes all the cultural narratives and demands hard intellectual work. And Mary does not shrink from it.
She ponders the evidence and concludes its truth. And in doing so she gives us a wonderful pattern of how to acknowledge, pray for, look for and anticipate the supernatural workings of God in your life.
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