Everybody knows that virgins don’t conceive! Mary certainly knew that. After all, she asked the Angel Gabriel at the announcement that she would conceive and bear a Son, “How can this be, since I do not know a man” (Luke 1:34)? The answer is, of course, the same as that which is given to the question surrounding the mysterious miracle working of God at creation. Here, it is the mysterious miracle working of God in the new creation. “The Holy Spirit…will overshadow you” (Luke 1:25). Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters of creation, so He hovered over the virgin Mary at the great work of bringing about the new creation through the incarnation of the Son of God. The Scriptures are replete with instances in which the Holy Spirit was actively working to foreshadow the new creation in a manner similar to that by which He had worked at the original creation. Consider the following:
“The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” are some of the first words of Scripture. With each creative word, the Holy Spirit was bringing about what the Father had ordained and the Son had spoken into existence. The Scriptures are clear that the Holy Spirit is the creative agent of the Godhead. Concerning all living things, we read, “You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:30). The importance of the Spirit’s role in creation is understood as we consider His role in the work of the new creation.
Typical New Creation
When God destroyed the world with floodwaters (i.e. the undoing of creational blessing), He covered the world with the waters that He had separated when He created the world. With the flood, there was judgment and curse with the same waters from which life and blessing had once emerged. When God had mercy on Noah and those with him in the Ark, He sent a strong wind to blow across the face of the waters. Stephen Dempster makes the following important observation: “Following the flood, which is represented as a return to the pre-creation chaos of Genesis 1:2, a new creation occurs with the presence of the Spirit of God pushing back the primal waters (Gen. 8:1).” The Hebrew word for “wind” and “Spirit” are one and the same—or, at least, have the same root. There is an intentional relation of the wind and the Spirit by our Lord Jesus in His regeneration discourse with Nicodemus in John 3.
The next typical act of re-creation (or new creation) in Scripture is the Exodus. When God brings Israel through the waters of the Red Sea, it is hard for us not to see the similarity of language between the creation account and this great typical act of redemption in the OT. We are told that God caused the waters to blow back by a strong wind. In the same way as the waters were parted at creation, so they were parted at the Exodus. Then, dry land appeared. The Holy Spirit was effecting this typical new creation. Israel coming through the Red Sea, and their enemies being destroyed in the waters (as God’s enemies had been destroyed in the flood water) was a picture of death and resurrection. There were to come through the waters and be a new people to the Lord God.
It should not surprise us to find the Spirit at work from the very beginning of our Lord Jesus’ life and ministry. The Spirit was the One who filled Mary, Elizabeth and Zacharias as they prophesied about the Redeemer and His forerunner. However, the great appeal to the Holy Spirit in the incarnation comes when the Angel Gabriel told Mary that “the Holy Spirit…will overshadow you.” As He hovered over the waters at creation, the flood, the exodus, so now He would come over the womb of the virgin and begin the work of bringing about the new creation through the incarnate Christ. Sinclair Ferguson captures the relationship between the miracle of creation and the miracle of the incarnation so well when he notes:
We are meant to be staggered…We tend to pride ourselves that we know this so well; and we say, “It doesn’t stagger me that He was virgin born.” It staggered Joseph that He was virgin born. It staggered Mary that He was virgin born. “She pondered these things.” It staggered Matthew; and, it ought to stagger us. We ought to understand that this is a singularity in the history of the universe, that this is unique, because this is Emmanuel—this is God entering our world. Of course, God has been present working in history, governing history; but what happens here is that He actually becomes part of history. And, if I may say so, He becomes the tiniest part of history—the One who threw the stars into their places, who created the vast cosmos is coming into the womb of the virgin Mary through the secret work of the Holy Spirit, in the sheer tininess of embryonic form, in the total dependence on His humanity upon His mother, in the long months in the fetal position; and then coming forth from His mothers womb in a cave, back of a house; this is the mystery of the incarnation; this is the supernatural work of God. And yet, we understand as Christian believers that this—the great miracle—is simply all of a piece with the first miracle. What was the first miracle? Creation out of nothing! Creation out of absolutely nothing—this world, people, the planets, the stars, everything, designed from the immensity and brilliance of the mind of our Lord Jesus Christ and then brought into being by through His powerful word. He who creates cosmos out of nothing is well able, in the mystery of His purposes, to give His Son, into our world, by means of conception in the womb of a virgin.