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Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 14


Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 14

Before you begin: Read Matthew 1:1-25

35. What is the meaning of “conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary?”
That the eternal Son of God, who is (1) and continues true and eternal God,(2) took upon Himself the very nature of man, of the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary,(3) by the operation of the Holy Ghost;(4) so that He might also be the true seed of David,(5) like unto His brethren in all things,(6) except for sin.(7)
(1)Jn. 1:1; Rom. 1:3-4. (2)Rom. 9:5. (3)Gal. 4:4; Jn. 1:14. (4)Mt. 1:18-20; Lk. 1:35. (5)Ps. 132:11. (6)Phil. 2:7. (7)Heb. 4:15; I Jn. 5:20.

36. What benefit do you receive from the holy conception and birth of Christ?
That He is our Mediator,(1) and with His innocence and perfect holiness covers, in the sight of God, my sin, wherein I was conceived.(2)
(1)Heb. 2:16-17. (2)Ps. 32:1; I Jn. 1:9.

A Christian radio host was discussing the various attempts that have been made, throughout history to depict in the form of paintings or statues, the appearance of The Lord Jesus. Was he dark skinned, olive, or white? Was he the ‘American Jesus’ – with the hippy style flowing fair hair, or the ‘Catholic Jesus’ often shown on the cross, or the Jesus of the ‘Passion of the Christ?’ Noting that ANY attempt to portray Jesus must be, in itself a contradiction of God’s command in the Ten Commandments…
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, Exodus 20:4-5
…the radio host remarked, ‘The only thing we can be sure about the physical looks of Christ, is that he was ‘very like his mother!’

That must surely have been true, for Christ was born of a Virgin mother, with no male human involvement. John described it like this:
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John 1:14. And Paul wrote:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. Galatians 4:4

As he teaches us about the Grace of God in Christ, the catechist continues to analyse the Apostles’ Creed, and reaches the phrase, ‘Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary. What then, does our instructor tell us about the birth of Christ?

  1. Jesus was and remains,* fully God, and fully man. The early church was riven with Trinitarian and Christological issues, and a series of ecumenical councils met to debate these issues, to refute heretics and to formulate correct doctrinal statements. The Athanasian Creed, reflecting the doctrines defined at Chalcedon in AD 451 puts it like this:- our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Essence of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Essence of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood. Who although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by assumption of the Manhood by God. One altogether; not by confusion of Essence; but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man; so God and Man is one Christ; (Interestingly, the Athanasian Creed uses the Nicene word homoousios (of the same substance) to describe the relationship between Christ and his mother (Mary) as well as the Father, as did the Council of Nicea. (* I say ‘remains’ with good reason, – because as we shall see in Q49, our instructor teaches us that we have ‘our flesh in heaven, as a sure pledge, that He as the Head will also take us, His members, up to Himself.’)
  2. His birth was like no other birth. We are familiar with the story of Christ’s birth. We remember it and celebrate it every year in December. Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, – we know the era, and we know the location. We know that his birth was a lowly birth, in a stable, and we are told that his birth came about with no human intervention from a man. In this sense his birth was completely different from every other birth. (‘Birth’ has become a modern ethical and cultural issue. We are cloning baby animals. Medical scientists are able to creat babies in a test tube and then implant them into a mother’s womb. Medical advances have brought help for thousands of childless couples through IVF, and we applaud those efforts. But with all that new medical technology has come other cultural demands too, as people who want to live in same-sex relationships now demand the ‘right’ to have children too, yet for a lesbian couple, a male donor is still needed – there is always the need for a father – the implantation of male sperm, to fertilise a female egg) Jesus’ birth was therefore unique. There was no human male involvement. Listen to how this is described in Scripture, Luke 1:30 – 35 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. … And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35And the angel answered 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.” The Bible tells us that this was so – we accept the Biblical record, for there is no scientific or natural way that this could ever have happened. It was God – the same God, who created the world, who made Adam out of the dust of the earth, and breathed life into him. Mary’s participation in redemption was in itself an act of grace! God chose her, when she had no merit of her own to commend herself to him. The Davidic factor was also part of that divine choice and purpose. Mary was a direct descendant of King David and this was important, for God had made a covenant with David, that his son would forever reign. Consider 2 Samuel 12:12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.3 Your throne shall be established forever.’ ” 17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David. God was making a promise concerning Solomon, but look at how many times the words ‘for ever’ are included. Solomon would not reign for ever, and he was certainly sinful and imperfect – yet David’s throne would be established forever in Jesus. Isaiah foretold the birth of this eternal King when he wrote in Isaiah 9:2 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on 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. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. Mary, chosen by the Grace of God, of the line of David, was to bring forth into this world the Saviour, the Messiah, who would reign forever on King David’s Royal Throne.
    With one exception, He had all the characteristics of humanity. Compare Q35 and Q36. Note the difference between the conception of Christ, and our conception. Because Jesus had no earthly father, he did not inherit Adam’s sin. We, on the other hand, are sinners from the very moment we are conceived in the womb. In every other respect, Jesus was just like us. He was hungry, he was tired and needed sleep, he wept at the tomb of his friend, he loved… Hebrews 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

Strangely, some Christians will ask why the birth of Christ, the Virgin Birth really matters at all. What is the relevance of this doctrine for the believer? Our instructor helps us there too as in question 36 he makes application of this biblical truth. He reminds us that Christ’s coming into this sinful world at Bethlehem brought us certain benefits:-
He came into this world with the mission of being my mediator and redeemer. Hebrews 2:16-1 For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.
He, being sinless was the only One who was capable of atoning for MY sin. The catechist has already explained this, in LORD’S DAY 6 Q/A 16. Why must He be a true and righteous man? Because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should make satisfaction for sin; but one who is himself a sinner cannot satisfy for others. Isaiah 53:3-5 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

An Ethical Emphasis.
There is an additional, yet I suspect quite unintentional point made by the catechist here, for he speaks of my sin, ‘in which I was conceived’, and in doing so he attributes human worth and dignity to a child at CONCEPTION, rather than at BIRTH. The child at the moment of conception inherits Adam’s sin, is a sinner, who will need to be saved, and is thus an object of intrinsic value in the sight of God, – a person, for whose sin, Christ has died on the cross. This is perfectly scriptural, as the psalmist reminds us in Psalm 51:4, Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
But this biblical dignity, accorded to our unborn, is far from the liberal worldview of modern mankind, where a woman’s ‘right to choose’ trumps the rights of the unborn life within her. Claiming that their unborn babies are clumps of human cells, with no value or dignity of their own, without rights of their own, some women have no compunction in destroying them when those babies threaten their lifestyle, their career, their enjoyment, their ambition, or their perverted notions of sexual liberation. The false god of modernity, the merciless idol of self love, is demanding the lives of our unborn children as human sacrifices, just as insistently as the wooden and metal idols of Molech and Baal demanded the sacrifice of the firstborn in the past and with offered endowments and rewards that are just as worthless and transient.
For the Christian, then – abortion is an affront to biblical values and human dignity. The Christian accepts and champions the rights of the unborn child, as an individual human person, a baby, more than just a foetus.

False Teaching and Belief Regarding the Virgin Birth
Roman Catholic errors. The whole area of the conception and birth of Christ has been subject to multiple errors and additions by the Church of Rome, in their doctrines of Mary as Mother of God (theotokos).

  1. The Perpetual Virginity. That Mary lived out her whole life as a virgin and died a virgin. This was supposed by Jerome in the 4th Century, and supported by Bernard of Clairvaux, who believed that the virgins of Rev14:4, must surely include Mary. Yet the Gospels speak clearly of Christ’s brothers!
  2. The Immaculate Conception. The false teaching that Mary was conceived without sin. In RC church it is a sin to disbelieve this! It is entirely contrary to Scripture. Luke 1:46 “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed. By her own admission, Mary needed a Saviour – she was, like all of us, a sinner.
  3. The Assumption of Mary. The false belief that Mary was received bodily into heaven following her death, and when in heaven given a special place of honour, as the Queen of heaven, with a special role as a mediator. This was only accepted as RC dogma in 1950. Pope Pius XII, in his Munificentissimus Deus: ‘We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.’ To believe this doctrine is blasphemous, for to say that Mary rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to be enthroned there, with intercessor work is to place her on a par with Christ. It is unbiblical and diabolical.
  4. Mary as Mediatrix and Redemptrix. RC’s teach that Mary is the co-redemption, along with Christ, playing a role in the salvation of mankind.

The website of the ‘Church Society‘ explains:-  St. Antonius (250-350) claimed: ‘All graces that have ever been bestowed on men, all came through Mary.’ St. Bernard (1090-1153) wrote ‘[Mary is called] the gate of heaven, because no one can enter that blessed kingdom without passing through her.’ Alphonsus de Liguori (1696-1787) describes how Mary is given half of God’s kingdom to rule. Mary is considered a source of salvation and a mediator between God and man. He also claims that outside of Mary there is no salvation. She rules jointly with Christ and is to be served, worshipped and given devotion to by men. These views are obviously extremely misguided and heretical but instead of recognising his views as such, Alphonsus de Liguori and his teachings have been embraced by the Roman Catholic Church to such an extent that he was declared to be a doctor of the Church, canonised as a saint and his book endorsed and reproduced (even today). Notice the similar impact The Glories of Mary had with the Transitus Mariae (which was the first major writing to introduce heresy regarding Mary into the church) in that just one writing drew so many people into heresy and shaped the path for future error.

It can quickly be seen that Rome has added much to the Doctrine of the virgin Birth, and none of it is biblical or helpful.
Liberal disbelief.

  1. David Jenkins. I name him in particular only because he achieved some notoriety, when as Bishop of Durham he denied the Virgin Birth, miracles and resurrection of Christ. But he was not alone. In liberal church circles such apostasy was and is widespread.
  2. William Barclay, the enigmatic professor of theology at Glasgow University for some 28 years, was an engaging writer; his ‘Daily Study Bible’ giving insight into biblical background and the interpretation of the biblical languages in a manner that was easily understood. Yet he was a theological liberal, a modernist who believed that the Virgin Birth need not be accepted in ‘any literal or physical sense’. Barclay continually quotes the theologian C.H. Dodd, – one of the most outspoken modernist, liberal scholars of his day. It was because of his charming writing style, his usefulness in Biblical background and his apostate opinions that Lloyd Jones dubbed him, ‘The most dangerous man in Christendom.’
  3. Rob Bell, in more recent times, a man who once masqueraded as an ‘evangelical’ but whose views and opinions on biblical doctrine were distinctly post modern and emergent, treated the Virgin Birth with total contempt when he wrote in his book ‘Velvet Elvis’ ‘What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births?’ What kind of ridiculous argument is that? So…

Sceptical arguments. There were many virgin births! One of the continual lines of argument out forward by sceptics is that there have been several ‘virgin birth’ stories circulated, most by mystery religions and cults. Why should the biblical story be any more realistic? And as the ‘Christian’ Rob Bell suggests, what’s to say that the gospel writers didn’t simply borrow from the existing myths to make their story more appealing to the pagans?

Think About It…

  1. Tell or write in your own words, the story of the birth of Jesus, then compare what you have said or written with the Gospel narratives. How accurate was your first written or spoken account?
  2. Why is Jesus’ conception and birth different than yours?
  3. Why is it important that Jesus was born without inheriting Adam’s sin?
  4. When does human life and value begin?
    1. At conception?
    2. At the third trimester of the pregnancy?
    3. At birth?
  5. State and explain some Roman Catholic errors about Mary.
  6. The catechism states that Christ, ‘with His innocence and perfect holiness covers, in the sight of God, my sin’. Try to explain this in your own words.
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