Made Man by Craig Hamilton
Hands Up If You (Don’t Really) Believe In Miracles
What’s the bit about God being a man that you find the most difficult to swallow? Perhaps it’s hard to imagine Jesus, as a twelve year old, teaching with authority in the Jewish temple. Or rescuing a dry bar at a wedding party by turning water into wine. Or what about the sick, who come to him in droves, and are healed at a touch and a word?Are there bits that privately, you shake your head in disbelief and go, “Nup, couldn’t happen.” ?
Or perhaps you’ve got a problem a bit further back. You see, there’s a sore spot amongst some friends of mine and it comes up every now and again: The virgin birth. For whatever reason, this is the miracle that they have the biggest problem swallowing. Not Jesus resurrected after being buried for three days. Not turning water into wine, or healing people. But Jesus born as a baby to a woman who’d never had sex.
The Virgin Birth
What I found wonderfully helpful in Made Man, is that Hamilton points out that the Bible has a history of surprising births and that this, the most surprising of all, a virgin birth, was quite difficult to swallow at the time too. “The first thing to notice in Matthew’s account of the virgin birth is that no-one jumps to the conclusion that God must have miraculously imparted life into Mary’s womb.” (p. 66)
As a student in my scripture class blurted out, “Wouldn’t Joseph have been really upset?” Yes he was, and the Bible isn’t silent about it, “Joseph...had in mind to divorce Mary quietly.” (Matthew 1:19) I wonder what changed his mind? He received a visit from an angel in a dream. And after receiving the message from God, obeyed it and took Mary to be his wife. (Matthew 1:20-24) But what about for the community around them, what did they make of it all? I found Hamilton brought lots of satisfying tracing out of the limits of what we can know and not simply being content with paradox, while being careful not to overstep and say things that we just can’t prove from the Bible text. I’d never noticed before Hamilton pointed it out to me, that the Pharisees thought Jesus’ birth details were dubious and pour scorn on him when they say, “We were not born of sexual immorality.” (John 8:41)
Before Hamilton gets to the virgin birth bit he rewinds back through the Old Testament showing how it’s “the other womb [apart from Mary’s] from which Jesus is born, the womb of Israel and the Old Testament.” (p.49) This was a surprise that was just as shocking for the Jews as his immaculate conception. All the miracles of Jesus are a sign that the Kingdom of God is coming, “that the life of the age to come is bubbling up within the present age.” (p. 74)
Conversation & Confession
Reading this section of Hamilton’s book and chewing over all the details of the virgin birth increased my confidence in the truth of the gospels and the accuracy of what they portray, while also helping me to be content with what I can’t know now.
I feel just that little extra confidence to talk more with my friends about their doubts over the virgin birth. I can now say for example, that those in Jesus’ day were extremely surprised by the idea of a pregnant virgin teenager too, and I might then encourage taking a look at how people’s initial responses played out. Joseph, “a good man” (Matthew 1:19), changes his mind from disbelief to belief. After meeting an angel in a dream, listening to what the angel says, and obeying, he takes Mary to be his wife which is completely different to his initial, and understandable reaction of wanting to break off the engagement and divorce her. The Pharisees however, harden their hearts. Despite every miracle to the contrary they so dislike the idea of Jesus claiming to be the Son of God that they miss what the miracles are pointing to. Mary, probably the most surprised of all, is initially troubled by what the angel Gabriel tells her (Luke 1:29), later accepting (Luke 1:38) and then full of thanksgiving (Luke 1:46-55). As visitors come to see her new baby boy declaring God’s praises, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) No doubt remembering what the angel Gabriel told her about her son. Who was seeing God clearly? And who missed him when he was standing right in front of them?
Most of all I feel more confidence to passionately declare the miracle of the incarnation because this is at the heart of my Christianity. Saying the Apostles Creed is all the richer for having read this book, particularly the “born of the Virgin Mary” bit. It makes me look in fresh wonder at my Lord, made flesh, for my sake and for the sake of the whole world. How amazing is his love and goodness to me. Most importantly, as a Christian, I want to take seriously the things I am asked to believe, and not sit in doubt when I can ask God to show himself to me more fully. “Lord, I believe; Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
You might like to read through the Apostles Creed, a gift from the early church, and ask yourself, "Do I (really) believe these things?" And pray through them in the quietness of your mind, thanking God for adopting us into his family through the blood of Christ and making us a part of his incredible story. A story that still today - though unbelievable to some - more than two thousand years on, continues to shake the world.
The Apostles' Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Meet Katie Stringer
Katie loves books, baking and beaches. She leads a Bible Study with young mums at her local Anglican church in the inner west community of Sydney. She also teaches the Bible at two local High schools and enjoys hearing what teenagers think about Jesus. Please pray for Katie as she starts studying at Moore College this year.