The Virgin Birth
Merry Christmas! Today as we eagerly anticipate December 25th, we’re opening up a two-part series on the first Christmas. Chris shares little-known details about the Jewish context of the virgin birth of Jesus this week. From prophetic instructions in Isaiah to details of Joseph and Mary’s relationship in the Gospels, the Old Testament and New Testament converged in a miraculous way.
When Jesus was born, He fulfilled Scripture and established a glorious opportunity for all people to know the Lord and enjoy a relationship with Him. He was truly the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. We hope you enjoy this insightful look at Jesus’ birth and learn something new along the way. Have a wonderful Christmas, and remember to reflect on the first Christmas and the blessings we enjoy because of it!
Steve Conover: Welcome to The Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover. With me is our host and teacher, Chris Katulka. We have an exciting show for you today once again, but before Chris comes, I'd like to remind you to visit FOIradio.org. We have over five years worth of programming on our site for you to listen to. I also invite you to browse around and enjoy the content we offer on our main ministry webpage. There, you'll find trustworthy and accurate news on Israel in the Middle East. Also while you're there, you can support our ministry by clicking on the, "donate," button to help us continue teaching biblical truth about Israel and the Jewish people. Again, visit FOIradio.org.
Chris Katulka: Steve, one of the most important parts of the Christmas story, of the Christmas account is the virgin birth of Jesus. It's incredibly important. It wasn't something that just appears in the New Testament. It actually has links back to prophecies of the Old Testament, specifically, Isaiah 7:14. So we're going to be looking at the virgin birth of Jesus. What does that mean? What does it mean for us as believers in Jesus that he must have been born of a virgin? So I think we're going to have a great episode looking at that from the scriptures.
But also listen, if you're out there and you're wondering, "How do I get connected with The Friends of Israel? “I would love to learn more about what you do, to find out about resources that you have, trips that you might be able to go on to Israel, events that you can attend.” Well, listen, you can just go to FOIradio.org and there, you can sign up for our Friends of Israel Up-Close newsletter, all of the information that you need to know about Friends of Israel, how you can get involved. The resources and all of the great material that you can get from Friends of Israel can be found by signing up for our Friends of Israel Up-Close newsletter. I hope you do that at foiradio.org.
Christmas is such a significant part of the year because it's our time as Christians to retell the story, the account of the birth of Jesus Christ. We retell the account of the incarnation when God became man. Honestly, there can be so much pontificating about the Christmas season, but to me, the most important thing that you can do for you and your family is to just do something very simple, just retell the account. Go to Luke chapter two and read about Jesus's birth. Let the Word of God itself settle into the hearts and minds of your family and your children and your grandchildren as you connect them to the most significant event in human history.
The Christmas account begins with a divine encounter between the angel, Gabriel, and a woman, a Jewish woman, Mary. Her real name is Miriam. She was engaged to be married. In Jewish customs of the first century, a woman who was engaged was technically married at that point and she was set apart for her husband. Her husband was probably busy preparing a place for them to live, preparing a place for them to have a family and to grow together. The next step to the Jewish marriage would have been the bride groom coming without notice, coming without warning for his bride to complete the marriage ceremony and consummate the marriage.
Luke highlights twice in one verse that Mary was a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph. And again, he says, "The virgin's name was Mary." Luke wants us to know that Mary is a virgin. When Gabriel is explaining to Mary that she has been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, the King of Israel, the Son of the most high God, Mary stops and says to Gabriel in Luke 1:34, "How shall this be since I have no husband?" And again, Mary is saying, "I'm a virgin." Luke is actually an interesting gospel because scholars believe, think about this, scholars believe that Mary was a significant source for Luke's writings. Luke opens his gospel by saying that his research was done by going to those who had eye witness accounts. So Luke gets us into the mind and the heart of Mary herself.
It even says in the gospel of Luke in Luke chapter two, that, "Mary kept all these things pondering them in her heart." So Luke's account of the birth of Jesus could be coming from the very person who was there that day who gave birth to the Savior of the world. Matthew tells us Joseph's dilemma when Mary was pregnant. It was a pretty good sign to the rest of the world that she probably had committed an act of adultery. Matthew wants to focus in on Joseph for a moment. Joseph was confident it wasn't his child, and it's not often that a woman can say that the Holy Spirit came upon her and she became pregnant.
So you have to go back to the law and the Old Testament. The punishment for idolatry was the death penalty, to be stoned to death according to Deuteronomy chapter 22. Joseph could have either taken her to trial for her adultery and for breaking the marriage vows and commitment that they had made, or he could just quietly sign a bill of divorce. It looked like he was willing to try to make it as harmless of a process for Mary as it could be. Matthew says he actually intended to divorce her privately. Joseph was willing to show her kindness and grace, a real indication, I believe, of the character of Joseph. It's probably the reason Matthew highlights that he was a righteous man for this very reason.
But it's Joseph's dream that we have in Matthew one that connects this New Testament concept of Mary's virgin birth to the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, and his prophecy. In Joseph's despair, an angel comes to visit him and says, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." This all happened, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled. Look, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son. They will name him Emmanuel which means God with us.
The angel takes Joseph back to the prophet, Isaiah, in 7:14, "Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign, behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanuel." And this is such an interesting prophecy. First, it has to be stated that that Hebrew word for virgin in Isaiah 7:14 is almah, which is translated sometimes as virgin, but most of the time, it's actually translated as a young woman. In Genesis 24:33, almah is used to describe a virgin. Abraham sent his servant to find his son, Isaac, a wife, and he finds an almah, a virgin. The Hebrew word is more commonly used though, not associated with being a virgin or sexual experience, it's more connected to a young woman, a woman who is of age, but a young woman.
However, what's interesting is that between the second and first century BC, Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew Bible, that's our Old Testament, into Greek. This is fascinating and it's significant for what we're looking at here. Because see, the Hebrew is an archaic Semitic language that's very fluid with its words. While Greek, which is what the New Testament was written in, is much more defined and specific. So these Hebrew scholars, prior to the coming of Christ, translated the Hebrew Bible, think about this, into Greek because many Jewish people living outside of Israel were more familiar with Greek than Hebrew at this point in history. So it was more important for them to have a connection to their faith so they could read their scripture. So they translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek.
When the Hebrew scholars translated the Hebrew word almah here in Isaiah 7:14, they didn't use the word for young woman in Greek. They used the specific word for virgin, and this is important because it gives insights into how the Jewish community that was looking at this prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 saw that word almah. They understood it to be a virgin. But let's go back to the surrounding events of prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. At this point in Israel's history, the kingdom was divided between the Northern 10 tribes of Israel and the Southern tribe of Judah where the house of David was. The house of David is the family line that Jesus is connected to. That's what gives him the authority to be the Messiah, the King of Israel.
In Isaiah chapter seven, the Northern 10 tribes of Israel allied themselves with Syria to the North of them to attack Jerusalem and take it over. Getting rid of, they wanted to get rid of the house of David. Isaiah, the prophet, is commissioned by the Lord to talk to King Ahaz, is the King of Judah at that time, who is shaking in his boots. The text says that Ahaz, and the heart of his people, the Judites, the Jewish people shook like trees of the forest before the wind. Isaiah attempts to comfort Ahaz and says to him, "The Lord is on our side. Jerusalem and the house of David will not be destroyed. In fact, Ahaz, the Lord is going to give you a sign," but Ahaz said, "I don't want to sign." And then Isaiah says, "Well, guess what? God's going to give it anyway."
Isaiah met with King Ahaz at the end of the upper pool on the road where they wash and dry clothes. That's what it says in Isaiah 7:3. Now, the sign God gave Ahaz was that a young woman, a virgin, would give birth to a son and he will be called Emmanuel. Now, in the context of Isaiah 7:14, which is what Gabriel, the angel, reveals to Matthew, the actual context of Isaiah 7:14 is that he's actually probably talking about a woman who is a virgin who is right in front of him at the washers field. Later, she would marry and have a baby, and that young boy that she would give birth to would be a sign that Judah and Jerusalem and the house of David would not be destroyed.
That young boy, as King Ahaz is shaking in his boots because the Northern 10 tribes of Israel and Syria want to come down and get rid of Jerusalem, take it over, get rid of the house of David, God gives Isaiah this vision, a sign that this young boy that will come one day will live to see the demise of Syria and Israel, those who are trying to destroy the house of David, that this young boy Emmanuel will live to see the day God delivers his people. Now, that's the actual context of Isaiah 7:14, the prophecy of the virgin birth, but God also intended it to point forward to a different sign, another sign that God wasn't through with the house of David, that the faithfulness of God would prove itself true in the coming of Jesus Christ just as the young boy from Isaiah was raised up during a time of calamity in Judah, so Jesus was born in a time of calamity.
The woman who was chosen, think about this, at the washers field, the woman who was chosen, that was a very random woman. There was no rhyme or reason to God choosing that woman. The same could be said for Mary. God choosing Mary and that woman at the washers field, there's no rhyme or reason to it. The text is that Mary was highly favored and both their births were a sign that God's not through with the Jewish people, to bring salvation to the world. That's why the angel, Gabriel, says Jesus's name means salvation. He would bring salvation to his people, Yeshua. The name Emmanuel too from Isaiah 7:14 is perfect. It's reassurance that God... Emmanuel means “God is with us.” God's with us. The name Emmanuel is perfect. It's reassurance that God is with us. He is faithful to his promises.
But there's a reason for the virgin birth. And before we get to that, I want to introduce you to a book here that we have at the Friends of Israel. It's called, "They Called Her Miriam: The Virgin of Nazareth." It's a book by Dr. Victor Buksbazen, our very first executive director here at The Friends of Israel. Victor does a fantastic job of looking at the world that Miriam, Mary, grew up in. It looks at her history and what she was doing in the gospels, the poems that she has, the Magnificat, the birth of Jesus. It even looks at how Mary was understood in the church after her death and after the death of Christ as well.
So it's something that's very important. If you want to learn more about Miriam... Remember, Mary was a Jewish woman and the virgin birth is an incredibly important part of the story, the account of Jesus's birth, and you want to get your hands on this book, "They Called Her Miriam: The Virgin of Nazareth." Steve, can you tell our listeners how they can get their hands on a copy of this book?
Steve Conover: To purchase a copy of, "Miriam," by Dr. Victor Buksbazen, visit us at FOIradio.org. That's FOIradio.org. There, you'll find a link on our homepage that will direct you to the book, or you can call our listener line at (888) 343-6940 and someone will return your call during our regular business hours. Again, that's (888) 343-6940. To order in Canada, call (888) 664-2584. Once again, in Canada, call (888) 664-2584.
Chris Katulka: So we've been talking about the virgin birth and in the previous segment, we looked at the historical context of Isaiah's prophecy that looked forward to the virgin birth of Jesus. Another name for the virgin birth is incarnation, which is a person who embodies in the flesh deity. The birth of Jesus is God's way of saying that he's not compromising his holiness to welcome sinners into a relationship with him, but that in his grace, he's willing to sacrifice everything on his own to reconcile and redeem his creation. John definitely shows us that through the incarnation, Jesus is God. But even in Matthew and Luke's account, you can see the divine side of Jesus's birth when the angel of the Lord announces to Joseph, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins."
Even in the gospel of Matthew and Luke, which highlights the physical birth of Jesus, you have the gospel writer showing that Jesus's birth isn't usual. Matthew shows us that Jesus was conceived from the Holy Spirit, but why is it important for Jesus to be divine? Well, first, I think it's important for us to note that Jesus being divine means that Jesus has God. When God... If you think about the divinity of Jesus, you have to put yourself in the mind of the gospel writers here. When he stoops down and washes the feet of the disciples, you see that even in Jesus's divinity, he reveals that God is compassionate and merciful and loving, that the creator of heaven and earth is also the same God who cares about you and me on a unique level. That shows us that God is both capable of sustaining all things and reaching down at the same time to shepherd us on an individual level.
Second, Jesus's divinity is what enables him to do miracles. Jesus isn't walking on water and transfiguring in front of the disciples or raising people from the dead because he's 100% man. No, it's because he's both 100% man and he's 100% God. He has authority over his creation. Finally, one of the reasons Jesus needed to be 100% human and 100% divine is to fulfill his mission to be our sacrificial substitute. Christ needed to die. But at the same time to make the sacrifice eternal, he needed to be God. The writer of Hebrew says this about Jesus's sacrifice, "For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them by providing ritual purity, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to serve the living God?"
Friends, this is so important. Sacrifices of the Old Testament were limited in their nature, but Jesus's death on the cross is both eternal and effective. Jesus's sacrifice purifies our conscience to serve the living God. Friends, the sacrifice of Jesus being both 100% human and 100% God provides the way for sinners to become saints through faith alone without God ever compromising his holiness. This is the reason Jesus was born of a virgin. Let me leave you with this. Only God could solve the issue of sin, and that's exactly what he did through the incarnation of Christ. God never compromised his character for us. Instead, he sacrificially gave what mattered to him most, his son.
Through his son, he provided a way through faith alone to have a relationship with him. So if you're ever wondering if God cares, if you're ever feeling lonely, if you're even doubting that God exists, this Christmas season, remind yourself that God loves you so much, that he reached down into a sinful world and provided a way for him to be with you, a gift that we could never pay back. So I pray that you accept it with joy this Christmas season.
Steve Conover: Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life and ministry of Holocaust survivor, Zvi Kalisher.
Mike Kellogg: It is now the time of year when we Christians celebrate the Lord's birth. In Israel, people are also celebrating the feast of Hanukkah, the festival of lights. I recently visited an ultra Orthodox school and talked with some of the students about Christmas and Hanukkah. One student said, "Hanukkah is a very Holy feast." I responded, "Then why is it not mentioned in the Jewish scriptures and yet, Christmas is mentioned several times?" "Hanukkah only lasts for a few days, and then the light of the festival goes out for another year. But those of us who celebrate Christmas have an everlasting light in our hearts. We celebrate the coming of the Lord in whom there is no more darkness and no more sorrow." The pupils listened carefully, but when I finished, one of them said, "Show us where this one is written in the Bible." I told them, "I will be glad to show you passages that speak of him, and then you must show me where the Bible speaks of Hanukkah," and they agreed.
I then read Isaiah 7:14, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanuel." They thought they had trapped me since this passage did not mention Bethlehem, but then I read Micah 5:2, "But you Bethlehem Ephratah, though you are little among both housings of Judah, at heart of you shall come forth to me the one to be ruler in Israel whose goings forth or from of old from everlasting." This made them uncomfortable. I told them, "Now, show me where the Bible speaks of Hanukkah." This put them in an unpleasant position because they knew there was no reference to Hanukkah in the scripture. One said, "You act as if you own the synagogue."
I responded, "If you call this a house of prayer, then it should be a place where all people can come to worship their heavenly Father." Soon, a teacher entered and one of the students told him what was happening, and the teacher became angry with his students. He then asked, "Who are you? Are you a teacher?" "No," I replied. "But if I were, I would want to be considered an honest teacher. You and your colleagues are not being honest with your students. Many of these students have spent most of their lives here studying under your tutelage, but they do not worship God. Rather, they worship books of tradition and the false teachers who wrote them. As one who believes in the true and living God, I must show them and you the right way to worship God according to the Bible."
The teacher then asked, "How did you come to speak about Christ? Do you know who he is?" I replied, "I say Christ, but you say in Hebrew, Messiah. If you like, we can continue in the Hebrew language only, then we can speak freely about Yeshua, Jesus, salvation." The teacher was visibly shaken and excused himself saying he had no more time to talk with me. I was sad the student and teacher are still living in deep darkness. I pray I will have further opportunities to speak with him. Then perhaps some year, they too, will be able to sing, "joy to the world, the Lord has come."
Steve Conover: Thank you for being with us today. Just a few days, it will be Christmas day. So from all of us here at The Friends of Israel, we wish you a Merry Christmas. Chris, where are we headed next week?
Chris Katulka: Yeah. I also want to wish a Merry Christmas to all our listeners. We can't tell you how much you mean to us and we want to thank you so much this Christmas season. Next week, with the birth of Jesus, we also need to think about His mission as well. One of the greatest missions that Jesus was on comes directly from the prophet, Isaiah, in Isaiah 53. So we're going to end our year reading through Isaiah 53, something that I think you'll want to be a part of.
Steve Conover: We do hope you'll join us then. Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong. Mike Kellogg read Apples of Gold, and I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. Our mailing address is FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. Again, that's FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. One last quick reminder to visit us at FOIradio.org. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
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They Called Her Miriam: The Virgin of Nazareth
By Victor Buksbazen
Such legends and myths have been attributed to Mary, the mother of Jesus, that she seems almost too unknowable. But she was beautifully human and relatable, a flesh-and-blood Hebrew woman given the blessed privilege of bearing the divine Son. This book will open your eyes to the heart of Miriam, the Hebrew name of Jesus’ mother, in her New Testament context while revealing her place in God’s redemption story.
IN CANADA? ORDER HERE!
Apples of Gold: Christmas and Hanukkah
As many Christians around the world are celebrating the Lord’s birth, Jewish people are celebrating Hanukkah, the festival of lights. Zvi visited an ultra-orthodox school and talked to some of the students about Christmas and Hanukkah. One student mentioned that Hanukkah was a “holy feast.” Zvi responds with a series of questions about Hanukkah and Christmas and the biblical evidence behind each. His approach to these students is something we can all learn as we talk to our unbelieving friends during this festive time of year.
Zvi’s story is available in Elwood McQuaid’s book, “Zvi: The Miraculous Story of Triumph over the Holocaust,” available at our online store.
More stories from Zvi are also available in his book, “The Best of Zvi,” available at our online store.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.
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