Matthew chapter 1, and we're taking a break from our current series on Lord's Day mornings in the Sermon on the Mount. The fact that it is Christmas, and also the fact that I believe I have a message from the Lord for you all, I want to share with you today.
We're beginning our reading in Matthew chapter 1 and verse 18: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS".
Let's bow our heads and pray together as we come to God's word: Our Father, we thank Thee for the name that is above all other names, the name of Jesus. We thank Thee, our Father, that He was called and is called Emmanuel, God with us. Our Father, if the truth be told, all of us - no matter who we are or where we find ourselves today, whether we are among the converted or the unregenerate - all of us need God with us. We pray that through Thine eternal Word that Thou wouldst minister Christ through the Spirit to us. Oh, send Thy Spirit, Lord, now unto me, that He may touch our eyes and make us see. Show us the truth concealed within Thy Word, and in Thy book revealed. Let us see Thee, Lord. Amen.
The title of my message today is: 'The Barren Womb and the Virgin Birth', the barren womb and the virgin birth. It has always fascinated me, the great deliverers that God brought forth from barren wombs - both in the Old Testament and in the New. At a casual glance you will learn that there was Abraham and there was Sarah. Abraham was 100 years of age, and Sarah not far behind at 90 years of age. In Genesis 11 verse 30 we read that Sarah was barren, yet of course the plan of God and the story of God's word is that it was that barren womb of Sarah's that brought forth a deliverer in Isaac. Read further through the book of Genesis and we find Isaac, Abraham's son, married Rebekah. In Genesis 25 verse 21 we find there too that Rebekah's womb was barren. Yet, as we read through, we find another miracle taking place, and Jacob - who later became Israel, the father of the nation - he was born to Rebekah's barren womb.
Then Jacob, he married, he married Rachel. In Genesis 29:31 we find that her womb also was barren, yet it was from her womb that Joseph was born - another deliverer to the people of Israel. We go into the book of Judges to chapter 13 and verse 2, and we read of a man called Manoah, his wife is unnamed. We find in that time when there was no king in Israel and every man did that which was right in their own eyes, and they needed a deliverer, that Samson was born from Manoah's wife's barren womb. In 1 Samuel chapter 1 we read of a man called Elkanah, a woman by the name of Hannah - she too possessed a barren womb. Again a time of great sin and depravity in the nation, again a void of a deliverer - they needed a man to lead them - and we find that from that barren womb of Hannah, Samuel was born.
We read on, we find another barren, widowed womb. It was owned by Ruth. Ruth found mercy in the eyes of the Lord, and we read also that she bore Obed, who begat Jesse, and Jesse was the father of David. Great deliverers born from barren wombs. We go into the New Testament, and we find exactly the same thing - not to the same extent, but we find in the beginning chapters of the Gospels a man by the name of Zacharias and a woman by the name of Elisabeth, also past the age of childbearing with a barren womb. We find that the greatest prophet ever born of woman, John the Baptist, was born of her womb.
It has always fascinated me, but as I have been meditating for messages to bring to you over this Christmas period, whilst I was meditating on this - not specifically, but as I was pondering what I should preach to you today I sensed, I can't tell you how, but just in my mind that the Holy Spirit was causing me in some way to compare these births from barren wombs to the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ from the virgin's womb. Essentially, in doing this, it has brought me to two questions - really one question: what are the similarities between the births from the barren wombs and the birth of our Lord Jesus, and what are the fundamental differences that we must lay down today?
Bear with me today, we must understand what barrenness meant in the Old Testament. When you read through the Old Testament it's not long before you gather that barrenness was considered to be a curse, it was seen by women in Israel to be an affliction, and they believed that it was an affliction sent by God. You remember the story of Abraham and Sarah, remember Abraham lied to King Abimelech about Sarah, he didn't tell him that she was his wife, but he said: 'She is my sister'. Because of that, to save the nation from sin and to save Sarah, it says: "The LORD had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah Abraham's wife". It was the Lord did it, and therefore people in Israel assumed that it was the Lord who took away this ability to procreate. Because God had given this gift of procreation it was considered to be both a commandment and a blessing of God, if it was taken away it was seen to be a curse and an affliction of God. It was commanded to procreate in Genesis chapter 1 and verse 28: "And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth". We find that when Noah landed the ark there on Mount Ararat, that he too and his family was told the same thing: "Go forth, and multiply, and replenish the earth".
Right through the Old Testament, in Psalm 127 especially verses 3 and 4, we can see how it was considered a blessing. He says: "Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth". So in Israel fertility was one of God's blessings on His ancient people, on His ancient nation. So how else could these people interpret barrenness? Only as a curse and an affliction from God.
In the light of that let me make a short digression, because this is extremely important - and I get more and more distressed with the confusion that is made between the Old Testament and the New Testament today in Christendom. A great deal of doctrinal confusion, and more than that, a great deal of personal pain is caused because people - whether they be preachers or the ordinary people in the pew - wrongly apply the Old Testament principles to New Testament believers today. We are not Israel, we are the church. We are not a physical people, but a spiritual people. You must realise in your mind that in the Old Testament Israel's blessings are concerning a physical land, the promised land, that physical land would bear for them physical blessings - but we are not Israel. We are a spiritual people of God, we are the church with spiritual blessings.
What I mean is this: yes, children to us, even as God's people today, are still a blessing from the Lord to any Christian - but it should not be interpreted to be the opposite, that without children it is because of disobedience and God's displeasure toward us. Get that out of your head! We are God's spiritual people today, it was the blessing of being in the land that meant fruitful wombs in Israel, but we do not live for physical blessing of the grapes in clusters falling down, for the riches of the promised land, we live for a heavenly home. Paul says: 'We are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ'. He says in Philippians: 'Our conversation', a better translation, 'Our citizenship is in heaven; from there also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ'. We are a heavenly people.
Even though that is the case, childlessness is still an awful burden for anybody. You can see that from the case of Hannah. She is one of the most poignant characters in the whole of the word of God. It says that she was greatly distressed because of her predicament, she was in bitterness of soul, she wept and would not eat, and she cried continually out to God because she couldn't have children. For her it was a cause of embarrassment, it caused feelings of failure within her soul, like it does for 10 to 15% of marriages affected by the same predicament today. It can breed feelings of inadequacy and guilt, it can even turn to anger, and even anger against God. It can become a fear of the future, growing into old age without children and grandchildren - the fear of loneliness and frustration. Now let me say this, and this is a delicate subject but I feel I have to say it: please do not jest with young couples about when you will be hearing little feet pattering. It amazes me the insincerity of some believers today! Recently I have witnessed young Christian girls breaking their heart because of the insensitivities of Christian jokers. If we need anything as Christians today it's greater love for one another, it's a greater concern for each other, a greater sensitivity that there are others hurting around us that we don't know about, and we might never know about.
But as we find from scripture, there is little that anyone can say to help a woman who cannot bear a child. Elkanah found that out to his detriment, for he turned to his wife Hannah in verse 8 of chapter 1 of 1 Samuel: 'Hannah, why weepest thou? What's wrong with you, why are you not eating? Why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?'. The answer was: 'No'. Undoubtedly Jacob too proved his love by working for Rachel - you know the story, 14 years - Rachel could never have doubted that he loved her. Perhaps, probably as it was the custom in those days, he loaded her with jewels. She was beautiful, the word of God says, to look upon. But none of those things: the love of Jacob, the jewels, her own beauty upon her face and body - none of it was a compensation for the lack of a son. The terrible truth of it all was that Leah had four laughing lads about her skirts, but an unfruitful Rachel was mocked by men, and women shot out the lip against her.
Nothing you can say or do can meet that need. I can imagine Rachel, her eyes red from weeping, and her hair dishevelled, and the voice hoarse with groaning, coming before Jacob with the piercing cry that we find in Genesis 30 verse 1: 'Give me children or I die!'. Nothing we can say or do can meet that need, but if I can just say this: if there's someone here today thinking 'I must have done something terrible, God must be cursing me'. Maybe you're looking to your past and recalling something you've done in your youth, and you think subconsciously that it's for that reason that you don't have any children today - banish the thought! Banish the thought! Be liberated from it today, it is the lie of the devil! I cannot tell you why this is your lot, but don't for one moment believe it is God's curse on you, because it is not!
Can you imagine today what an extra burden it was for an Old Testament woman to bear the burden of God's displeasure? Feeling that it was God displeased with her, and also the fact that Israel as a nation needed a deliverer, and she would have longed to be that one who would have brought Israel's deliverer into fruition - but she couldn't even bear a child! Can you imagine the pain? The extra burden that would be?
The surprising thing to me as I studied this this week was: although the general thinking of the Old Testament was that God had shown displeasure with you, that you had been disobedient if you had no children, there are several instances in the Old Testament were barrenness is not attributed to disobedience. If you look at Sarah, there's no occasion of disobedience whereby her womb was shut up - the same with Rebekah, the same with Rachel, the same with Manoah's wife, the same with Hannah, the same with Elisabeth in the New Testament. In fact, as I have been studying, I've found it difficult to find one woman in the Old Testament whose name has been cursed of God by childlessness. The only example I can find that is even near it is Michal - remember, she laughed and mocked David for dancing naked in front of the Ark? It says that from that point on she bore no children - but that mightn't even have been a curse from God, that might have been estrangement that had come into the marriage from that point on.
So, how are we to understand these women's barrenness? Why does it happen? If it's not a disobedience to God, even though it may be perceived to be so in the Old Testament, why has God delivered Israel, and brought deliverers, out of barren wombs? Well, if we could see the first three cases in the word of God: you have Sarah, you have Rebekah, and you have Rachel. If you think about it for a moment you will remember that these three women were ancestresses of Israel, they were wives to Israel's patriarchs. The first, Sarah, was the wife of Abraham, and God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be as many as the stars of the sky and the sand of the sea shore - God had promised Abraham. God had blessed Isaac in Abraham, God had blessed Jacob in Isaac, and so on - and right throughout the twelve tribes and over the whole nation the promise of God was given to them, yet all of these men brought forth their children from barren wombs.
What was the reason? Do you know what I believe the reason is? God was asking these couples in pain and anguish: 'Is your sterility an insurmountable barrier to me accomplishing my plan and my promise? Is your barrenness a threat to all that God has said? Is it impossible to me?'. God would come into their home, into their life, and He would overcome by His power and by His promise an obstacle that seemed to be insurmountable for the testimony of His glory and His name. Now listen, God has not given us that promise, God has not promised to us that we should have children - but, my friend, He gave the promise to Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob. God was saying: 'Even though you have a barren womb, nothing will be an obstacle to my plan and my purpose'.
Isn't that good to know today? Isn't it? God was proving that nothing would stand in His way, and that's what the Psalmist means when he says: 'He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children'. Praise ye the Lord, for nothing is impossible with Him! I don't know about you but I, as an accomplished sinner, can sympathise with these women's failure when it came to believing God. As you go through the record we find that Sarah laughed, we find that Sarah and Rachel - both of them - encouraged their husbands to take surrogate wives, Hagar for Abraham, Bilhah for Isaac, to raise up children by the flesh rather than by the promise of God - to do it their own way. You can see what's happening here, here is an insurmountable problem, here is the promise of God - and the promise of God seems not to be fulfilled in their sight and in their understanding, so they try to fulfil the promise of God themselves.
Insurmountable is the problem of sin today in humanity, and it always has been. My friend, if you're here today and you're not saved, I want you to know from the word of God that your sin cannot be overcome by the flesh - your fleshly actions or any flesh of any man - it cannot be done. It must be God's way and God's way alone. Certainly this barrenness that was in these women's wombs was not a consequence of the individual's sin, but certainly typically it can speak to us of the barrenness of the nation of Israel, of the need for a deliverer, and ultimately the need for a Saviour. It would seem insurmountable, wouldn't it seem impossible to you that God could save men and women that are on their way to hell when He's a holy God, He's a righteous God, when He can't look upon iniquity? But isn't it wonderful, isn't it wonderful today that God not only promised Abraham that his children would be like the stars of the sky and like the sand on the sea shore, but He promised Adam in the very Garden of Eden that there would be a Saviour.
He may have said to Abraham: 'Thou shalt surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in thee'. But how would all the nations of the earth be blessed in Abraham? I'll tell you: 'I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel'. Whether it's the barren womb, or whether it's the virgin womb, there is one thing in common right throughout the whole scripture and it's this: God would have His way, God would bring that Man forth, God would do it in His own time and in His own mechanism - and, praise God, we're the other side of it today and we can read in the Scriptures: 'When the fullness of time was come, God brought forth His Son made of a woman'. Hallelujah! Made of a woman!
Do you know that His birth was the dream of every Jewess? In Daniel 11:37 we read these words concerning antichrist: "He shall not regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all". Many expositors and preachers have interpreted that 'he will not desire the desire of women' as meaning that he is a homosexual, a sodomite, as meaning he is a member of the Roman Catholic faith and is chaste and does not marry. I don't believe that's what it means - the desire of women right throughout all of the Old Testament was to give birth to Messiah, and antichrist will not regard the desire of women, Messiah.
The desire of all women in Palestine was to be the vessel to bring Messiah to Israel. You can all see it coming together when you come into that nativity scene in Luke chapter 1 verse 28, the angel came unto Mary and said: "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women". She was a virgin: 'I know not a man, how can this be?'. The obstacle in Mary was not a barren womb, but was a virgin womb - but it wasn't an obstacle, it wasn't a barrier, the word of God would teach us that it was an absolute necessity that she was a virgin! Even the virgin womb was no obstacle in presenting us today with a Saviour. Women who were barren in the Scriptures brought forth the noblest of children - we've looked at it, remind yourself: Sarah, barren until 90 years of age, begat Isaac. Rachel's piercing cry, 'Give me children or I die!', was answered and she bore Joseph who delivered the nation. Manoah's wife bore Samson, another deliverer of the nation. Hannah, a smitten soul, after sobbing in the sanctuary and vowing vows and continuing in prayer, ignored Eli's scorn poured on her soul and received her answer in Samuel, giving a prophet to Israel. The barren and widowed Ruth found mercy and bore Obed who begat Jesse, the father of David, of whose line came John the Baptist, of who Jesus said: 'There is no greater prophet born of women'.
But, my friend, look at the difference today: the Lord Jesus Christ would not be born of a barren womb, but rather He would be born of a fruitful womb! That womb would be fertilised not by man, but by the Holy Spirit of the Living God! What a difference! Barrenness wouldn't do, only a virgin womb could give sanctuary to the Son of God. There's no parallel with this conception, there's nothing to compare. This wasn't a miraculous conception like the rest, this was a virgin conception! In fact, this was beyond the natural, there was no natural process at all within the conception of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, His birth was normal, but His conception was of the Holy Ghost. Yes, He would be a Deliverer; yes, He would come to a barren nation; yes, there would be no insurmountable objects that would prevent God bringing Him to the people. But, my friend, His Father was God Almighty! That took a virgin birth.
He was the sinless, spotless One. That took a virgin birth. He was the first ever of His kind, He was a divine Deliverer to be born among men, and only a divine Deliverer could come forth from a virgin womb. 'A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us', why did it have to be a virgin womb? I'll tell you why: because God was not supernaturally creating something out of nothing, the Lord Jesus was the pre-existent Christ. He is the Ancient of Days, without beginning and without ending. He was not created like the universe - 'bara', created out of nothingness - but He has always existed and will always exist. That womb of Mary's was only used as a medium and a mechanism to bring the Eternal One into time. Do you see the difference?
These other births were miraculous, but this is something else. Listen to Hebrews, this is wonderful, this has thrilled my heart this week: "Wherefore when he cometh into the world he said, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldst not, but a body hast thou prepared for me". This is above the rest, this is beyond them, this is eternally transcendent of anything we find in the Old Testament or in the New - Almighty God here, look at it, is using a virgin's womb as a vehicle for Himself to come among men! A teenager's womb to transport a prepared sinless, separate, sanctified body, a body divinely engineered by God for the task that Christ would undertake, a body that was kept uncontaminated while in Mary's womb - Mary who was a sinner! Even though she was a sinner I do not hesitate one iota to say that that was a blessed womb to host the holy Son of God.
Oh, this difference is supreme. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the Incarnate Deity. Can I leave you with this in closing in the last couple of minutes? Romans chapter 8 verses 22 and 23 reads like this: "We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to know, the redemption of our body". This earth cries out like a woman in birth pains for its redemption. Like Rachel crying for a child, the human race has cried out through all time for a Saviour. The problems that would seem insurmountable, the many sacrifices, the many sins, the law of God that they couldn't climb up or climb over, all of it seemed impossible - but what a message! For He has come, and all our sin is gone; and a barren womb or a virgin womb could not hinder God in His holy plan - in fact, God made the virgin womb a necessity. Why? Because our God, in the midst of us, is mighty and He will save!
Think of this for a moment: He gave up the warmth of the eternal light of heaven to be folded in a cosy, dim female womb. The Word of God from all eternity, who spoke and the worlds were, was sentenced to nine months dumbness in Mary's belly. Infinity walled in a womb. The Saviour's first earthly taste was the country barn's bare floor. His first earthly smell might have been the dung of the cattle shed as He was crushed from the womb of that virgin. Why was it all so graphic? Why did it have to be this way? I'll tell you why: because eternity was being squeezed into time! The wonder of it all, and the blessedness of it all today, that from His imprisonment I am made free! Because He took a body, one day I will transcend the body! Because He took terrestrial, one day I will take and put on celestial! From the sweet silence of that babe in the womb, I now can sing a new song from my heart even praise unto our God. Because He was forsaken at Calvary in human flesh, my hand is now clasped by the hand of God, and in His death I have glorious life! Isn't that wonderful? Isn't the lengths that God went to wonderful to save you and me?
Can I ask you today: have you lost the wonder of it all? Have you lost the wonder of it all?
'A child He was, yet had not learned to speak,
Who with His words the world before did make.
His mother's arms Him bear, He was so weak
Who with His hands the vault of heaven could shake.
See how small room my infant Lord doth take,
Whom all the world is not enough to hold.
Who of His years, as of His age, hath told,
Never such age so young, never a child so old'.
Oh come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
Our Father, we thank Thee with all our heart that Thou didst send the Lord Jesus Christ from His throne in heaven to that lowly cattle shed. We thank Thee that He came as a Man to save men, but our Father we bless Thee that He came as God to do the eternal work. Father, we worship Him today. We worship Thee: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the plan of salvation. We thank You, Lord, for saving us - and we ask Thee that the wonder of the incarnation, that led to the redemption, and one day to glorification will never cease to thrill us through this pilgrimage until we get to glory. Lord, we would just pray that if there's anybody here today that's never been saved by this wonderful Saviour, that today they would know the Lord Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Bless us now we pray, for Christ's sake. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly, Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "The Barren Womb And The Virgin Birth" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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