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Birth Through Travail
by David A. DePra
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. (Luke 2:1-3)
This decree for taxation came to the most terrible time possible for Mary and Joseph. Mary was nine months pregnant. But now they had to make this long, difficult trip, on the back of a donkey down to Bethlehem.
In this story we find a great Truth revealed about how God works. That Truth is found other places in the Bible, but it is certainly found here. Mary and Joseph had been chosen for, and been the recipients of, a great miracle. Mary would be the mother of the Son of God. Joseph would be her husband. God had miraculously announced this. He had brought it to pass. Mary was pregnant. It was a miracle wrought of God.
If there ever was a person who was typical of a new-born believer it was Mary. She had Christ in her. Today Christians have, "Christ in you, the hope of glory." This too, is a miracle. It is a brand new life Ė which is NOT of men, but received from above from God.
As the birth of Jesus drew near, Iím sure Joseph and Mary had expectations. It would have been natural for them to have expected that God would take care of them. Sure. But to them this may have meant an easy time. They may have expected for everything to fall into place. Instead, right from the start what they got was trouble. They got persecution from their own brethren over Maryís pregnancy. They now had to make this difficult trip down to Bethlehem, at the worst possible time. They could not find lodging in Bethlehem. Once Jesus was born, their lives were in continual danger for a time.
God let all this happen to them Ė despite the fact that they were faithful. He let everything come against His own purpose. During this time, God spoke to them once or twice. But it must have seemed as if they had gotten off the track. And Iím sure during most of the worst of this God was silent.
Have you ever noticed that God will begin a purpose by speaking His Word to us, even if only through the Bible, and then it seems as if God disappears? God speaks and then God is silent Ė He doesnít seem to be around at all? It was like that with every single saint in the Bible Ė both in the OT and the NT. Why? Why is God so often silent at the very time that He allows such difficulty to come upon us?
One of the most difficult trials is the silence of God. Note what I just said: The silence of God Ė the fact that God is silent Ė THAT can be a great trial. It is one thing to suffer because of circumstances. But when God is silent to us in our suffering, then this becomes the real trial of our faith. Why is God often silent to us during those times when we are convinced that God must speak to us?
It is during the times when God is silent that it is easy to assume that He has forsaken us. We think, "Maybe we have sinned." Well, itís not maybe. We have. Letís get that settled. But if God had the habit of withdrawing from us every time we committed the slightest imperfection we would all be lost. But worse, He would be denying His own Son. Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sin. Is there ever a time when God is going to ignore that? No. In fact, He tells us to boldly approach Him for grace and help in time of need on the basis of what Christ has done.
God is always fully redemptive in His desires toward men. In other words, if I have committed the worst sins possible, it is Godís desire to set me free and bring me into a relationship with Him through Christ. It is never too late. With God, it is always UNTO CHRIST. Unto Truth. Unto HIS purpose.
There is also the tendency for us to interpret the silence of God as the result of us having, "missed the boat." Maybe we did the wrong thing. Maybe we misinterpreted God. Maybe we got off the track and have no way of getting back. Well, surely we are all capable of getting off the track. In fact, many Christians today are in great error. But God has an answer for this possibility. Jesus said, "My Spirit will guide you into all Truth." In other words, it doesnít matter where you are and how you got there. If you turn to God and ask Him to show you the Truth no matter what it takes, He has already committed Himself to doing so. Simply turn to Christ Ė HE IS THE WAY. HE is the Truth. It is great to know that even if we are off the track that in Christ we can get back on track in an instant. This also was made possible through His death and resurrection.
If we are off the track with God, God is not sitting up in heaven waiting for us to figure things out. Iím not saying we arenít accountable for the Truth we do know. But since God promises to always lead us into all Truth, then this means that if I am off the track it is ALWAYS the will of God to get me back ON track with Him. Get that. God never rejects us for making mistakes. He never rejects us for missing the boat. Even if we suffer consequences for these errors, it remains the purpose of God to get us back into the Truth. He never changes that desire or purpose for any of us.
So what we see in all of this is that because of Jesus Christ, there is no possibility that anything can separate us from God. It isnít that Jesus simply removed all obstacles between us and God, but rather, His very presence in us make us ONE WITH GOD. Thus, what we sense as the silence of God is never because God has forsaken us. In fact, the silence of God may indicate that God is working on a even greater purpose than we can presently discern.
Can you imagine what it was like to be Mary and Joseph Ė two simple people in a terrible world Ė and to realize that Herod himself was looking to kill you? Can you imagine what it was like to have to flee to Egypt? Why all this trouble if we are in the will of God? They might have said to themselves, "We are carrying Godís own Son. Why doesnít God make this easy? What are we doing wrong? Have we missed the boat?"
But if we read the Word of God we find some answers. When God is birthing a great purpose Ė when God is bringing forth HIS SON in any of us Ė then trouble is not removed. In fact, trouble is absolutely guaranteed. Indeed, trouble is essential. If God is forming Christ in you there will be nothing but trouble, opposition, and suffering. You wonít need to go looking for it. It is the nature of things.
Have we realized that just as Jesus Christ was born into this world from the outside, that Christ in us is born into us from outside of this world Ė from outside of us Ė INTO US? We really are, "born from ABOVE." His life is NOT of this world. And because this is so, His life is going to meet animosity from this world. I am here talking not so much about people Ė but about the spirit of this world and the god of this world. Thatís ok. Because He has already won the victory. It is just a matter of it being worked out.
Mary and Joseph encountered this opposition. And we will do so as well. God will tell us what we need to know Ė He will speak Truth to us Ė but then He will seem to disappear into a veil of silence and seem to leave us to the mercy of some terrible things. This can go on for years. It did with Job. It might with us. We might find ourselves crying out to God, "Lord, where are You? Why have You forsaken me? You have promised such and such and instead all of THIS is happening! What is wrong?"
We need to realize that it is entirely possible for everything in life to be going WRONG but for everything in the mind of the Lord to be absolutely RIGHT. It isnít that God causes the wrong situation around us. But He allows those wrong situations to run their course so that in the end the RIGHT will prevail. For the finished victory of Jesus Christ to be made manifest all opposition must be met and defeated in a practical way. But in the middle of this, it may look as if there is no victory. There is. It will happen.
After Jesus was crucified, but before His resurrection, what do we suppose the disciples thought? That the victory and kingdom that Jesus promised was coming? No. They thought they had been mistaken about Jesus. They thought they had been all wrong. Circumstances had run utterly contrary to the promises of Christ Ė or so they thought. What they did not know was that the death they thought ended Godís purpose was actually the most important step in bringing to pass that purpose. Iím sure during those few days they had many questions. God didnít talk to them. Instead, they saw the resurrected Christ.
That is the real answer. In a trial, God will often NOT tell us what we think we need to know. Have you noticed that? Often we say, "If God would just TELL me what to do, or TELL me what I need to know." Well, letís get this settled: If we need to know God WILL tell us. Thus, if He is silent to us, we DONíT NEED TO KNOW. God is faithful to us in these matters. Always.
But why is God silent? And oh how frustrating that can be! Well, I think God would say, "You think you need INFORMATION. No. You need REVELATION." In short, rather than just give us information, God wants to reveal to us His Son.
This was the solution for the disciples. They got no answers to the crucifixion. But then they saw the risen Christ. HE was the answer. For Mary and Joseph, they had to pass through all those troubles. They go no answers. But a child was born. HE is the answer. It is not information about what God is doing that we need. It is to see and know JESUS CHRIST. HE is what God is doing. We sometimes forget this.
There are situations wherein we cry out for God to speak to us. But if God did speak to us the way we think that He ought to speak, it would usurp what God really wants to do. We would never realize Christ. We would easily settle for much less.
God Himself will often create a situation in our lives where we will, at first, cry out for information. But He has allowed the situation Ė and is then silent -- for the very purpose of pushing us to where we will seek to KNOW CHRIST. We will get to the place where we will understand that nothing short of KNOWING HIM will suffice.
Our need to know Christ is usually hidden from us until God allows practical situations to expose this need. We will find that we are utterly insufficient for a situation Ė we will find that even our present knowledge of Christ is insufficient. But this is all good Ė it is God intended. At that point, as Jesus said to His disciples, we will, "ask Him no question." Nope. We will realize that we donít need information or answers. What we need is Christ. We need to know Him in a greater way.
This is really most often the answer to the silence of God. The silence of God can be a very difficult thing to cope with if we are in a terrible trial. But the silence is only because we are listening to the wrong channel. We are listening for answers. God is speaking to us IN HIS SON. And when we finally get to where God wants us on this matter, we will then rejoice that God did not give into our plea for THINGS, for now we have discovered some riches that were HIDDEN in Christ.
God will be faithful to take care of what we DO NOT KNOW. He wants us to know Christ. And it is a fact that when we come to know Christ, everything else that we thought we needed to know is both answered, and falls into place. He is the LIGHT. He is the TRUTH.
A Child is Born
Before His death, Jesus spoke this Word to His disciples:
A little while, and you shall not see me: and again, a little while, and you shall see me? Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembers no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man takes from you. And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:19-24)
You will notice that Jesus acknowledges that they will pass through a time when they will NOT be able to see Him. He says that during this time they will weep and lament. Does this not correspond to those times when God seem to drop out of sight and leave us to fend for ourselves? Sure. Iím sure after Jesus was crucified that the disciples felt like that. Iím sure that Joseph and Mary felt that way. But Jesus says, "Your sorrow will be turned into joy."
Why? What turns our sorrow into joy? The birth that comes to pass OUT of the sorrow or pain. In other words, when God births in us a new revelation and experience of Jesus Christ OUT of our suffering, then we understand by revelation what we could never grasp through information.
To explain, Jesus gives the example of a natural BIRTH. He says that when a woman is giving birth her mind and fixation is upon the PAIN that is required to bring forth the child. THAT is what consumes her. THAT is what her mind is upon. The pain Ė how we wish that the pain would go away! And yet during that time of pain God is being silent! Ask: If God spoke would it make the pain go away? No. INFORMATION is not needed in this situation. INFORMATION wonít take away the pain. In fact, the pain is necessary to bring to pass the birth. The only solution here, and it is precisely what turns our sorrow into joy, is that a child be born. Christ is born or enlarged in us.
God is silent to us Ė wonít give us information Ė because He is birthing in us a revelation of His Son. And if we do want information, hasnít He already told us that this is what He is doing? Sure. So really, we do have information. Plenty of it. What we need is the revelation. And it takes pain and suffering and often, the silence of God, to bring it to pass in our experience.
I like the say Jesus puts it. He says, "In that day you will ask Me nothing." In WHAT day? In the day we see the child. In THAT day we will ask Him nothing because the revelation of Jesus Christ not only IS the answer, but explains everything else that God was doing.
God is birthing Christ into this world Ė through people. It will cause a lot of travail and a lot of suffering. All the forces of hell will come against what God is doing. But God has already WON. The victory is a done deal. It is upon that Truth that we are called to STAND by faith.
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