November 23, 1980 (Evening)
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
The Virgin Birth of the Son of God
According to Luke 1:1-4, the Gospel of Luke and its sequel the Acts of the Apostles were
written to help Theophilus (and all subsequent readers) know the truth of the Christian
teachings he had heard and thus come to have a well-grounded faith in Jesus Christ and be
In order to help Theophilus grasp the fullest significance of who Jesus Christ was and what He
accomplished, Luke takes Theophilus back to the very beginning of Jesus' life. He describes
more fully than any other gospel writer the announcement of John the Baptist's birth and the
announcement of Jesus' birth, then the birth of John and the birth of Jesus. By describing the
origin of John and the origin of Jesus side by side he shows how their destinies dovetail in
God's plan, but also how Jesus is vastly superior to his forerunner. Luke's narrative also
highlights the similarities and differences between the way Zechariah and Mary received the
word from Gabriel about their sons. Zechariah is reproved for his unbelief (1:20); Mary is
blessed for her belief (1:45). In this way Luke admonishes Theophilus and us not to be like
Zechariah and demand more signs of God's faithfulness than a humble and open heart would
require. Instead, be like Mary: "Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me
according to your word."
Tonight I want to focus in on the words that Gabriel brought to Mary about the son she would
bear. Let's read Luke 1:26-38.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named
Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David;
and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, O favored one, the
Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind
what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for
you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most
High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over
the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end." And Mary said to the
angel, "How can this be, since I have no husband?" And the angel said to her, "The Holy
Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the
child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth
in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called
barren. For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold I am the
handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from
The first thing Gabriel reveals about Jesus is that "He will be great" (1: 32). This Jesus is
going to be a great man. That is the first thing Theophilus needs to hear about Jesus. You
may have never heard of Nazareth, Theophilus, and this young girl may be poor and obscure,
but don't judge by merely human outward appearances. Her son is going to be great. You no
doubt have studied the lives of many great men in Greek and Roman history. But do not be
deceived Theophilus: "What is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God"
In spite of all appearances to the contrary, this son of Mary is going to be great. Come with
me, Theophilus. In this gospel we are setting out on a journey towards a new view of
greatness. Don't judge prematurely. Give yourself time for this man to prove himself. It is not
easy for you, a noble Roman official, to comprehend a statement like, "He who is least among
you all is the one who is great" (Luke 9:48). But it is true and Jesus himself will prove it to you
if you listen now to what I have to say and then watch how He lives and teaches. This Jesus
is going to be great. Now learn greatness from him.
The next thing Gabriel says about Jesus is that "He will be called Son of the Most High"
(Luke 1:32). The term "Most High" is simply another term for God as verse 35 shows: "The
child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God." The two terms are put together in Luke
8:28 where the Gerasene demoniac cries out to Jesus, "What have you to do with me, Jesus,
Son of the Most High God?" Mary, this child is going to be the Son of God.
What does it mean to say Jesus is the Son of God? This is a fairly common phrase and refers
to many different persons. For example angels are sometimes called sons of God. Job 1: 6
says, "Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the
Lord, and Satan also came among them" (cf. Psalms 29:1; 82:6). Also the nation Israel was
called God's son. God tells Moses in Exodus 4:22, "You shall say to Pharaoh, Thus says the
Lord: Israel is my first-born son and I say to you, Let my son go that he may serve me." And
of course Christians are called sons of God: "All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of
God (Romans 8:14). Or even more close to our text, Jesus says in Luke 6:35, "Love your
enemies and do good and lend expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great and
you will be sons of the Most High."
This broad and diverse use of the term son of God shows the need for a very careful reading of
Scripture. One of the demands of careful reading is that we not insist that words or phrases
always mean the same thing. The same word or the same phrase can mean many different
things. When you speak or write, what you want is for people to ask what you mean by your
words, not what someone else may mean by them. And not only that, you want people to
decide what you mean by your words now, not what you meant by them five years ago. Well,
it's just the same with Biblical writers. We must not assume that what Luke means by a word
or phrase is the same as what Moses meant by that same word or phrase. Nor should we
assume that "Son of the Highest" in Luke 1 means the same as "sons of the Highest" in Luke
The principle to follow, in order to be fair to a writer, is: try to use the sentences closest at
hand in deciding what a word or phrase means; and then use the more distant analogies if
there is some clue that the same issue is at stake in both places.
Now if we follow this principle in Luke 1 we find two things: 1) there is an Old Testament
analogy to Jesus' sonship and yet, 2) his sonship is unique in all the world.
1) The nearest sentence to help shed light on what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God is
in the last half of verse 32: And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David."
This means that Jesus will be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, the king of Israel. These
words give the fulfillment of a prophecy to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-16. Let's look at this text
together. The prophet Nathan says to King David,
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your son after
you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a
house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his
father, and he shall be my son. When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of
men, with the stripes of the sons of men; but I will not take my steadfast love from him, as
I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom
shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established forever.
There are at least three links between Luke 1:32, 33 and 2 Samuel 7:12-16. 1) Jesus is said
to have David as his father in Luke 1:32 and 2 Samuel 7:12 says that the coming king will be
of the offspring of David. 2) Jesus is called Son of the Most High in Luke 1:32 and in 2 Samuel
7:14 God says of this Davidic king, "I will be his father and he will be my son." 3) Luke 1:33
says that Jesus' kingdom will have no end and 2 Samuel 7:13, 16 say that the throne of the
Messiah's kingdom will endure forever. Therefore, there is no reason to doubt that Gabriel is
presenting Jesus as the one who will ultimately fulfill this prophecy to David. What does this
tell us about Jesus' sonship?
Here we have to be very careful. The relationship between Old Testament prophecies and New
Testament fulfillment is not simple. It is complex and can lead us into serious doctrinal error if
we do not think with great care. 2 Samuel 7:14 promises that the offspring or seed of David
referred to in verse 12 would be God's son. If that's all it said the relationship to Christ might
be simple. But the next sentence in verse 14 says, "When he commits iniquity I will chasten
him with the rod of men and with the stripes of the sons of men, but I will not take my
steadfast love from him." The New Testament witness is that Christ was without any sin at all
(Hebrews 4:15). Then is Christ a fulfillment of this prophecy or is He not?
There is no doubt that the New Testament views Christ as the fulfillment of this prophecy.
Gabriel's words show this but so do Peter's in Acts 2:30 even more clearly: "Being therefore a
prophet and knowing therefore that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one
of his descendants on his throne, David foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ
that he was not abandoned to Hades nor did his flesh see corruption." Peter sees the
resurrection and ascension of Christ as the time when he assumed the throne of his father
David in fulfillment of 2 Samuel 7:12-16.
How then can this prophecy refer to Jesus as God's son and yet say that he will sin? The
solution lies in the fact that the word "seed" or "offspring" in verse 12 ("I will raise up your
offspring after you") is collective and not individual. It does not refer to one person only but to a
lineage or a house. This is probably why Luke says in 2:4 that Joseph was "of the house and
lineage of David." When God says in 2 Samuel 7:13, "He shall build a house for my name and
I will establish the throne of his Kingdom forever," he means that Solomon, his own son will
build the temple and that Solomon's throne will endure forever, not because he will but
because there will always be a descendant of his with the right to rule in Israel. We know this
is what it means because the very same words are used in Verse 16 about David: "Your
throne shall be established forever," even though he will die.
Therefore when God promises to be a father to the seed of David who will sit on his throne, He
means that he will chastise the bad kings in David's line, but will never completely withdraw
his love from this lineage. There is a beautiful exposition of this truth in Psalm 89:28-37. Let's
look at this. The Psalmist is Ethan the Ezrahite and he is exulting here in the promises to
My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. I will
establish his line forever and his throne as the days of the heavens. If his children forsake
my law and do not walk according to my ordinances, if they violate my statutes and do not
keep my commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity
with scourges; but I will not remove from him my steadfast love, or be false to my
faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant, or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His line shall endure forever,
his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever; it
shall stand firm while the skies endure.
Therefore, neither 2 Samuel 7 nor Psalm 89 makes it explicit that someday a son of David
would arise who himself would endure forever. But the hope is probably implicit and later
prophecy brought it out clearly. For example Isaiah 9:6-7, "For unto us a child is born, to us a
son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder. . . And of the increase of his
government and of his peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over his
Kingdom to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time
forth and forevermore." So by the time Jesus arrived on the scene it had become clear that the
way God would fulfill the promise to David was to finally raise up a son of David who unlike all
the others was not a sinner who needed to be chastised but who was holy and just and so
who would live forever.
2) So Solomon and his descendants partially fulfill the promise of 2 Samuel 7:12-16 but Jesus
is the final and ultimate fulfillment. His divine sonship is like theirs in that he is a king and will
enjoy God's Fatherly care. But just as Jesus is unique as the final, eternal seed of David, so
also is his divine sonship unique. This is proved by verse 35. "And the angel said to her, 'The
Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore
the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.'"
All the other descendants of David were called sons of God because they belonged to David's
line. Their earthly relations qualified them to be sons in the sense of 2 Samuel 7:14. It was the
reverse with Jesus. His divine Sonship qualified him to be the final fulfillment of David's line.
This is why the declaration of his Sonship in verse 32 precedes the declaration of his Davidic
Kingship. He is not Son of God because He is King. He is King because he is Son of God.
Therefore, his sonship is not like the sonship of David or Solomon or any other man. He is
uniquely the Son of God, in a way no one before or since can aspire to.
The way God chose to demonstrate the incomprehensible character of Jesus' sonship was
through the virgin birth. Mary and Joseph had no sexual relations until after Jesus was born,
Matthew tells us (1:25). Instead of this normal means of conception the Holy Spirit came upon
her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her and the greatest event in the history of
mankind began--the incarnation of God, the appearance of the God-Man. Jesus is the Son of
God not just because He is a descendant of David, or because God chose Him for a mission,
or because He is morally pure like God is. Jesus is God's Son because he was begotten by
God. Not just His role and function and character come from God, but His Being is of God.
His nature is God's nature. As C. S. Lewis says, "When you beget, you beget something of
the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers, and a
bird begets eggs which turn into little birds." (Beyond Personality, New York, 1948, p. 5). And
by analogy then when God begets or fathers Jesus, he begets God. As Paul says in
Colossians 2:9, "In Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily."
There are many scholars who want to keep the divine sonship of Jesus separated from his
virgin birth. And it is, of course, possible to believe in Jesus' divine Sonship without believing in
the virgin birth. But anything is possible to believe. The question is what is Biblical and
accounts for most of the facts. For Luke, or at least for Gabriel, the divine sonship is
inseparable from the virgin birth. In fact Gabriel says that Jesus' unique Sonship ' results from
the fatherly agency of the Holy Spirit in the conception of Jesus: "The Holy Spirit will come
upon you . . . therefore the child to be born will be called . . . the Son of God." (verse 35).
Luke's answer to the question why Jesus is the Son of God would be: Because God not
Joseph was his only father, whose nature he shares.
There is just one added implication of this amazing truth that I want to stress for our faith. We
have seen that Jesus is going to be great, indeed the greatest man that ever lived and greater
than all angels. And we have seen that he is the ultimate fulfillment of the promise to David in
2 Samuel 7:12-16 and that he will therefore "rule over the house of Jacob." He will be the
Messiah, the King of Israel. The last thing to stress is that "He will reign forever . . . of his
Kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:33).
No end! At the ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand of the Father he took his seat as
the God-Man on the throne of the universe and he will reign forever and ever and ever. He is
now untouchable; absolutely nothing can threaten his rule. Death is behind him and an
unending future of glory and peace and joy with all his people stretches out before him. What
an incentive to press on with Christ! If you have an occasion tomorrow to tell someone the
reason for your hope, tell them this: Jesus Christ is the son of God and he will reign with all
those who trust Him forever and ever and ever. Amen.
© COPYRIGHT John Piper