Credo: A Sermon Series through The Apostles’ Creed // pt.8—“who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”

It is rare that I do a double-take on religion polling…but I did a double-take on this one. Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay released their 2022 “State of Theology” report[1], and one part of it actually stopped me in my tracks. Here it is:

Brothers and sisters in Christ, in 2020 30% of self-professed Evangelical Christians agreed with the statement, “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.” 30% agreed that Jesus is not God. And last year that percentage increased to 43%.

43%…of Evangelicals…do not believe…that Jesus is God.

Church, this represents a staggering failure on the part of the church to teach theology and to teach theological teaching. This is why something like the Apostles’ Creed is so important, especially insofar as it prompts us to dive deeper into the doctrinal realities of our faith.

Lines 4 and 5 of the Creed are especially important here. Let us listen again:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary

These two lines of the creed will help us establish two important biblical truths that will then lead us to our doctrinal understanding of who Jesus is. The two truths established by these lines are:

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit:         Jesus is fully God.
born of the Virgin Mary:                                Jesus is fully man.

Let us consider these truths.

That Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary establishes His full humanity.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. Matthew and Luke highlight this, but we will focus particularly on Luke’s account in Luke 1 at this point.

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

You will notice Luke’s emphasis on Mary and the very many human and earthy elements in his account. For instance:

  • Gabriel comes to a city with a specific name (Nazareth).
  • That city is in a specific region (Galilee).
  • He came to a virgin (Mary).
  • She was betrothed to a man with a name (Joseph).
  • Mary found the angel’s announcement emotionally troubling.
  • Gabriel has to comfort Mary.
  • He tells Mary she will be pregnant.
  • This baby will be given the name Jesus.
  • He will fulfill the line of a very human king, David.
  • He will reign over the house of a very human patriarch, Jacob.

In other words, Luke’s account emphasizes the human element while moving on to the miraculous and divine element. A great scholar of Luke’s gospel, Darrell Bock, writes:

Luke chooses to present Jesus from the “earth up”—that is, showing how, one step at a time, people came to see who Jesus really was. He starts with Jesus as the promised king and teacher who reveals himself as Lord in the context of his ministry. Only slowly do people grasp all of what is promised.[2]

In other words, Jesus was fully human. He was a man. He did not merely possess a human appearance like a façade. No, he was human with a human mother. He grew in the womb of Mary before He was born!

He was “born of the Virgin Mary.” He was a man! He walked and talked and ate and slept and sneezed and got headaches and His back hurt sometimes and He got up and stretched in the morning and He opened His mouth wide and yawned at night and He told jokes and He laughed and He cried and He could get angry and sometimes He got tongue-twisted during a sermon and everybody would laugh and He would laugh and start over…and He was a man!

Born of the Virgin Mary.

Over the years there have been many denials of the full humanity of Christ arise among those who profess to be His followers. “Docetism” is the name normally given to these heresies. The Anabaptist Melchior Hoffman “stressed that Jesus did not have a human body but was a purely divine being with celestial or angelic flesh. Jesus’ body passed through the Virgin Mary as water passes through a pipe.”[3] In other words, the humanity of Jesus was in appearance and not in reality.

This we must reject! It is vitally important that Jesus was fully human, that the Word really did become flesh (John 1:14). In this way, Jesus was able to reach us, to be tempted like us but without sin (Hebrews 4:15), and, ultimately, that He could die as a substitute for us! And it is vitally important that Jesus be fully God, so that He could fulfill the just demands of a Holy God and be the once-for-all, sinless sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Alister McGrath has offered us a helpful way of thinking about this.

Imagine two people—let us call them A and B—who enjoy a close relationship, which breaks down completely over some misunderstanding. A is convinced that it is the fault of B, and B is sure that A is in the wrong. So strongly do they hold their views that they refuse to speak to each other. The situation is, unfortunately, all too familiar from everyday experience—whether it is a matter of personal relationships or industrial or international relations. We all know situations where this has happened; we may even have been unfortunate enough to have been involved with them ourselves. But how can the situation be resolved? How can A and B become reconciled? It is clear that the situation demands a mediator, a go-between. But who is qualified to act in this capacity?

Clearly, the best mediator or go-between is someone whom both A and B know and respect, but who will be impartial. Let us call this mediator C. C must represent A to B, and B to A. He or she must not be identified with either A or B, yet must have points of contact with both if he or she is to be accepted. He or she must be close enough to both of them to represent them both and yet sufficiently different from them both to prevent being identified with either.[4]

We lose much if we lose the humanity of Jesus.

That Jesus’ conception was of the Holy Spirit establishes His full deity.

He was born of the Virgin Mary, but He was conceived by the Holy Spirit! If His being born of Mary establishes His full humanity, His conception by the Holy Spirit establishes His full deity.

In Matthew 1, we find the angel comforting Joseph with these words:

20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

In Luke 1, we find Gabriel comforting Mary with these words:

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And 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.

Here, then, is what we know about the conception of Jesus:

  • Jesus’ conception was “from the Holy Spirit.”
  • The Holy Spirit “came upon” and “overshadowed” Mary.

We are not given further information, nor do we need it. This is a miracle to be marveled at, not a curiosity to be prodded. One idea we can certainly rule out, and that is the idea that this conception happened by virtue of some kind of actual coupling, as if the Holy Spirit took on flesh and there was an actual physical union. This is an absurd notion. The Holy Spirit wrought a miracle in the womb of Mary. There was no incarnation of the Spirit before there was an incarnation of the Son. This is not Greek mythology, where the gods couple with women. Rather, this is a miracle of great power and beauty!

Concerning our desire to have more information before we decide whether or not to place our faith in God, St. John Chrysostom, “The GoldenTongue,” has some helpful words:

Do not speculate beyond the text.  Do not require of it something more than what it simply says.  Do not ask, “But precisely how was it that the Spirit accomplished this in a virgin?”  For even when nature is at work, it is impossible fully to explain the manner of the formation of the person.  How then, when the Spirit is accomplishing miracles, shall we be able to express their precise causes?  Lest you should weary the writer or disturb him by continually probing beyond what he says, he has indicated who it was that produced the miracle.  He then withdraws from further comment.  “I know nothing more,” he in effect says, “but that what was done was the work of the Holy Spirit.”

            Shame on those who attempt to pry into the miracle of generation from on high!  For this birth can by no means be explained, yet it has witnesses beyond number and has been proclaimed from ancient times as a real birth handled with human hands.  What kind of extreme madness afflicts those who busy themselves by curiously prying into the unutterable generation?  For neither Gabriel nor Matthew was able to say anything more, but only that the generation was from the Spirit.  But how from the Spirit?  In what manner?  Neither Gabriel nor Matthew has explained, nor is it possible.[5]

To this we say, “Amen!”

That Christ’s conception was of and from God establishes His deity. Like begets like. The Lord God’s Son is Himself divine, and “Son of God” carried this connotation, as we have seen.

The first verse of John’s gospel remains the great text for establishing the deity of Jesus.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

There are numerous other evidences in the scriptures for Jesus’ full deity. Yet, for our purposes, it is enough to see that the two realities of Jesus’ (a) conception by the Holy Spirit and (b) birth by the Virgin Mary establish two fundamental building blocks of our Christology: Jesus was God and man.

Jesus is one person with two natures (divine and human).

To recognize this as biblical truth is one thing. To be able to articulate it rightly is another. And the church, over time, worked out its best way of speaking of the God-Man Jesus. These two aspects of our Christology can be seen in the wonderfully concise and informative statement from Paul we find in Galatians 4.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law

Here are two building blocks once again:

  • God sent forth His Son.
  • Born of woman.

Fully God. Fully man. We dare not lose either of these.

When the church grappled in the 4th and 5th centuries about how best to speak of the biblical truths about Jesus, they essentially embraced this formula: Jesus is fully God and fully man, one person with two natures. The two natures are united in the one person but the natures are distinct. He is fully God. He is fully man. He has a divine nature. He has a human nature, but without sin. In other words, as theologian James Leo Garrett Jr. writes:

The unity of the person of Jesus Christ means that the incarnation did not bring about a reality that is neither divine nor human but instead a third or different reality. Jesus is “a very complex person” but not “an amalgam of human divine qualities merged into some sort of tertium quid.”[6]

The classical statement for this was written in the mid–5th century, in 451 AD, when this statement emerged from the Council of Chalcedon:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

This is a beautiful, if a bit complicated, definition. But it establishes our formula for thinking and speaking about Jesus as God and man. I wanted you to hear it and marvel at the wonderful truth it is asserting. Yet, I wonder if some of us got lost in this? If so, let me conclude with a bit of a different approach that highlights the same truth that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Max Lucado once imaginatively asked twenty-five questions of Mary. I think this will help us get at what is happening here in a more accessible way. Here are Lucado’s questions:

  1. What was it like watching him pray?
  2. How did he respond when he saw other kids giggling during the service at the synagogue?
  3. When he saw a rainbow, did he ever mention a flood?
  4. Did you ever feel awkward teaching him how he created the world?
  5. When he saw a lamb being led to the slaughter, did he act differently?
  6. Did you ever see him with a distant look on his face as if he were listening to someone you couldn’t hear?
  7. How did he act at funerals?
  8. Did the thought ever occur to you that the God to whom you were praying was asleep under your own roof?
  9. Did you ever try to count the stars with him….and succeed?
  10. Did he ever come home with a black eye?
  11. How did he act when he got his first haircut?
  12. Did he have any friend by the name of Judas?
  13. Did he do well in school?
  14. Did you ever scold him?
  15. Did he ever have to ask a question about Scripture?
  16. What do you think he thought when he saw a prostitute offering to the highest bidder the body he made?
  17. Did he ever get angry when someone was dishonest with him?
  18. Did you ever catch him pensively looking at the flesh on his own arm while holding a clod of dirt?
  19. Did he ever wake up afraid?
  20. Who was his best friend?
  21. When someone referred to Satan, how did he act?
  22. Did you ever accidentally call him Father?
  23. What did he and his cousin John talk about as kids?
  24. Did his brothers and sisters understand what was happening?
  25. Did you ever think, That’s God eating my soup?[7]

Somehow I think that last question really does get at how we should best think of Jesus: He is God…but at one time He came and ate our soup. That is, Jesus was fully God and fully man. The Word, in other words, became flesh and dwelt among us. And He died in our stead. And He rose again. And He is coming again. And this, only the God-Man Jesus could do!



[2] Bock, Darrell L. Luke. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Series editor Grant R. Osborne. Vol. 3 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), p.43.

[3] Early, Joe, Jr., ed. The Life and Writings of Thomas Helwys. Early English Baptist Texts. (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2009), p.27.

[4] McGrath, Alister. I believe (p. 46). IVP. Kindle Edition.

[5] John Chrysostom.  Matthew 1-13, Ancient Christian Commentary On The Scriptures, New Testament Vol. 1a, ed. Manlio Simonettie, gen. ed. Thomas C. Oden  (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2001), p.12-13.

[6] Garrett, James Leo, Jr. Systematic Theology. Vol. 1 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers) Logos Edition.

[7] Lucado, Max. God Came Near. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004.

1 thought on “Credo: A Sermon Series through The Apostles’ Creed // pt.8—“who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”

  1. The “bottom up” account of Luke compared with the “top down” of John is really quite helpful; never heard it put so simply and directly in that way. Great ideas that little children can build a life of faith upon. Thank you for making it clear that Jesus Christ was NOT a special “third category” unique to him. Good reminder what to avoid when such thoughts/ideas present themselves from time to time. Some of us OLD kids need that especially. Go Wym!!!!!!!
    CBCNLR team sure do a good job and it shows even in remote online form. 🙂

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