Now Sarai was barren; she had no children. Genesis 11:30
By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Hebrews 11:11
Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. Genesis 25:21
"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God." Luke 1:34-37
It is amazing how many times the topic of barrenness plays into the unfolding story of redemptive history. Few issues have brought as much heartache over the centuries as a woman who is desperate to hold a child in her arms and is frustrated month after month by a failure to conceive. Certainly the story of Hannah’s barrenness and its happy resolution in the birth of Samuel in answer to her fervent prayers is encouraging. But it is nowhere near as significant as the babies who were conceived by the wonder-working power of God leading to the Christmas joy. God’s Spirit hovered over some women at key moments resulting in miracle babies essential to our salvation.
Sarah is the first. She and her husband Abraham were unable to conceive for the entirety of their married life until he was one hundred years old, and she was ninety. Her womb was said to be dead. But God made a promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. And he made a specific promise that it would be through Sarah that the miracle baby would come. Abraham believed that promise. So did Sarah. By that faith the child of the promise, Isaac, was conceived and born. Isaac was not just any baby but was the living picture of every child of God, born by the power of God, not in the natural way. (Galatians 4:29) Rebekah was next, barren, waiting month after month, year after year for a baby. Isaac prayed, and God answered. Again, by the power of God the twins, Jacob and Esau, were conceived. And the promises of God were extended through Jacob. Another miracle baby.
"Isaac was not just any baby but was the living picture of every child of God, born by the power of God, not in the natural way."
So it was also with Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. She and her godly husband Zechariah were unable to conceive for decades. They had prayed and prayed for a child. And God heard their prayer. But only when the perfect time came, and it was obvious that their child would come only by the wonder-working power of the Holy Spirit were their prayers answered.
Of course, the one that matters the most is the one most obviously conceived by the direct power of the Holy Spirit… Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. The angel Gabriel told Mary that it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that this baby would be in her womb given that she was a virgin. He used Elizabeth’s pregnancy as a precedent, but he could have used all of these examples. “For nothing is impossible with God.”
Salvation entered the world through Mary’s miracle baby. Jesus’ conception apart from a human father is unique in all of history. But every child of God is born again through the direct activity of the Spirit of God as Galatians 4:26 implies. And this biblical history of barren women enabled to conceive by the power of God is a delightful picture of that salvation.