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A Very Taxing Situation

by David A. DePra

     The story of the birth of Jesus Christ provides us with a great

deal of information as to how God works with His people today.

For just as Mary, the mother of Christ, had Christ formed in her in

a physical way, so we must have Christ formed in us spiritually.

And the circumstances surrounding the story of His birth also

correspond to our experience. They show us clearly that we should

never rely upon circumstances as an indication of what God is


     Mary was a young girl. She was probably less than 20 years of

age, indeed, some scholars have said she may have been as

young as 17. It was not unusual for girls that age to be married in

that day. By all accounts, there was nothing particularily unusual

about Mary. Nothing to indicate what was going to happen to

change her life forever.

     We must be settled about the fact that Mary was NOT sinless.

The Roman Catholics, of course, claim she was sinless. She was

not. But rather than detract from her as Jesus' mother, this simply

gives us all the more hope. For God was willing to lower Himself

to become the tiniest speck of human life, all within one who had

been born in Adam. Again, a type of us. A type of our condition

when we are saved.

     When Mary went to bed on the night which the angel was to

visit her, it was probably like any other normal night. No reason to

suspect what was about to happen. She had been betrothed to

Joseph months before, and these days had been spent looking

forward to their wedding. But everything was about to change. And

most of it was NOT going to be enjoyable.

     The angel came to Mary and said, "Blessed are you among

women." (see Luke 1:28) Mary did not understand why the angel

would address her as such. After all, why was this angel here? And

what was so blessed about her -- among all women?

     The angel then told her. She was blessed, not because of

anything about herself. But because of what God was going to do

in and through her. She would "conceive" in her womb a son. His

name would be Jesus.

The angel said:

And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son,

and shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be

called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him

the throne of His father David. And He shall reign over the house

of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

(Luke 1:32-33)

     Now notice something here. You would think that Mary would

easily jump to the conclusion that the angel was talking about a

son she would have with her soon-to-be husband. You would

think that she would say, "Oh. That is wonderful. A son. I will look

forward to the day when Joseph and I can have this special first

born together." I mean, why would it so much as enter into her mind

that the angel was talking about anything else?

     Yet it did enter her mind. She knew, from the words of the angel,

that this son was NOT going to be the product of her marriage with

Joseph. How did she know that?

     She knew it because the angel of the Lord had told her that very

fact. The angel clearly says that "He shall be called the Son of the

Highest." Not the "son of Joseph!" Mary clearly understood this in

a literal sense. Her son would be the Son of God!

     We see this in her answer. She did not say to the angel, "I will

look forward to this wonderful son once Joseph and I get married

and start having kids." No. Rather, she said, "How can this be,

since I know not a man?" (Luke 1:34) Joseph was completely out

of the picture in her answer. She knew the angel was talking about

a Father other than Joseph.

     But there is even more indicated in her answer. Mary did not say,

"Ok. But when will I meet the father of this child? And what am I

supposed to say to Joseph?" No. None of that. Her immediate

answer indicates that she knew this was to happen WITHOUT

Joseph -- yes -- but also without ANY natural father at all.

     Mary's answer, and her puzzlement over what she had been told,

indicates that she understood that the angel was talking about a

virgin birth: "How can this be since I have not know a man?" These

are words she would not have uttered if she had understood the

promise of the angel to mean anything but that she would conceive

and give birth to a son while remaining a virgin.

     We must see this and be certain about it. Why would Mary ask

HOW she would have a son without "knowing a man" if she did not

understand the angel to be saying that she WOULD have a son

without "knowing a man."? She would not have even asked the

question to begin with.

     It is here important to understand that the Jews had no

expectation of a virgin birth. Their concept of the Messiah did not

include that. So it isn't as if such a thing was something which would

have been on the mind of Mary. Yet she was going to have a son.

And it would be without "knowing a man." A virgin birth.

The angel told her HOW this would be:

The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the

Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which

shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Lk. 1:35)

     This is the answer to HOW Mary would be able to have a son,

not fathered by Joseph, indeed, not father by any man. There is

therefore no question as to the fact that the birth of Jesus was a

virgin birth. There is no question that this is what the angel said,

and no question that this is how Mary understood it.

     Those skeptics today who deny the virgin birth include even

some so-called Christian ministers. But sorry. Once you deny the

virgin birth you deny the entire Bible. Futhermore, if Jesus was not

born of a virgin, then the only other option is that He was born of

two earthly parents. And if that was the case, then He was NOT

God. He then had a sin nature, and was not able to be our Saviour.

The virgin birth therefore stands as an essential Christian Truth.

It must be, or all else falls.

A Predicament

     We can scarcely imagine the kind of predicament Mary would

find herself in because of God's will. She was a young girl, who was

betrothed to Joseph. In just a few months, her pregnancy would be

obvious. What was she going to do, tell everyone that she was to

be the mother of God's Son? That her Son would be born of a

virgin? Who would believe that?

     In those days, pregnancy out of wedlock was a disgrace. But

much more. It was a violation of a marital contract. The betrothal

was as binding as was marriage -- in the sense that a bill of

divorcement was necessary to break it. Stoning was also a real

possibility. Entire families were involved in these betrothals, if not

entire communities. You didn't just hand back a ring. This was a


     And then there was Joseph. How was Mary to explain her

pregnancy to him? If she told him the truth, it would sound like the

biggest whopper of an excuse for infidelity anyone ever came up

with. Why should he believe her? What sanity was there in any of


    The fact is, when Mary said to the Lord, "Let it be done unto me

according to Thy word," she had consented to something that

would change her life forever. It would bring upon her possible

disgrace and shame. It would possibly destroy her intended

marriage to Joseph. But nevertheless she said, "Let it be done

according to Thy word."

     Notice the great parallel to our life in Christ. When we initially

receive Christ, we are making a decision which will change the

course of our life forever. There will be no way back. And just as

was the case with Mary, the course upon which our decision will

send us is not necessarily going to be a smooth one. In fact, the

choice to receive the Son of God within may involve the risk -- if not

the reality -- of losing everything.

     This applies, not only to initial salvation, but to the stages of our

spiritual life after salvation. We will have many choices to embrace

Jesus Christ. And if we say "yes," it will result in consequences and

results which will change our lives forever. This is the COST of

Christianity: We are no longer our own. We belong to God.

     Imagine if Mary had said NO. She could have. And if she had,

God would have chosen another. There is always a choice. And

our part is to make it.

The Visit to Elizabeth

     After the angel had visited her, the Bible says that Mary "arose in

those days, and went into the hill country WITH HASTE," to visit

Elizabeth. Elizabeth was perhaps 50 years of age. Yet the angel

had told Mary she was with child. Mary evidently wanted to go and

she for herself. After all, maybe her encounter with the angel had

been only a dream.

     Mary went "with haste." Sure. I would too. Wouldn't you? This

thing was about to close in on her. She wanted to get out of town.

The angel had told her about Elizabeth, who was too old to have

children. Mary wanted to see if Elizabeth was with child.

     You can't blame Mary. She was being asked to accept

something quite remarkable. Notice, however, how different this is

from seeking after a sign or wonder. God had told her Elizabeth

was pregnant. Mary simply wanted to see. This is different from

Mary saying to God, "The only way I'll believe You is if you make

Elizabeth pregnant."

     God knows exactly what we need to prop up our otherwise

weak faith. God knows. It is always wise to step out of the way

and let Him handle such matters. He knows what we need and

when we need it.

     When Mary arrived, the baby in Elizabeth's womb leap for joy.

Elizabeth would have been 6 months pregnant. This pretty much

puts to rest as to whether an unborn child is a human being in the

eyes of God.


     It is not certain as to the time frame when Mary told Joseph the

news. Matthew simply says, "Before they came together (in

marriage) she was found with child of the Holy Ghost." (see Matt.

1:18) This may have been immediately after Mary returned from

her visit to Elizabeth. At that point, the Bible says that Mary would

have been at least 3 months pregnant, and maybe more. (see

Lk. 1:56)

     Joseph was obviously devastated. But he did love Mary. As a

result he sought to avoid public humiliation. Rather, "he was minded

to put her away privately." (Matt. 1:19)

      Joseph would have given Mary a bill of divorcement, and this

would have dissolved the engagement. Of course, everyone would

still have know about the situation. But at least there would be no

public disgrace or announcement.

     Now we have to understand something here. It is vital to the

story. If Joseph had broken the engagement with Mary, he would

have actually been proclaiming his own innocence. After all, the

first one everyone was likely to suspect to be the father of the

unborn child was Joseph. By divorcing Mary, Joseph would have

been making a loud and clear statement to the effect that his

betrothed had cheated on him and he was not going to marry her

because of it. All of the "guilt" would have fallen on Mary.

     We cannot blame Joseph for considering this course of action.

After all, he WAS innocent of wrong doing. He had been faithful. It

was Mary who was pregnant, and not by him. There is no possible

way that it could have even been in his thinking that her child was

of God -- that she was still a virgin, and had been faithful to him.

     We do not know whether Mary had yet told Joseph what was

really going on. We don't know if he initially refused to believe her,

although if this was the case, we cannot blame him. The chances

are, Mary did try to explain to him, but to no avail. Therefore, God

sent Joseph his angel in a dream. The angel basically told

Joseph the same thing he had told Mary.

     Joseph arose from the dream and took Mary as his wife. There

was no hesitation. He had believed God. And as mentioned, he

knew there would be a great cost. The fact that Joseph married

Mary was equal to an admission that he and Mary had been with

each other before wedlock. To the eyes of others, this was HIS

child. And at some point, it probably became clear to both Mary

and Joseph that it was useless to try to defend themselves against

such accusations.

     It is a fact that even 30 years later, it was commonly known -- or

we should say, assumed,-- that Jesus was born out of wedlock.

The Pharisees said to him, "You were altogether born in sins, and

you would teach us?" (John 9:34) This is likely a reference to the

supposed illegitimate birth of Christ, and an indication that Joseph

and Mary, and now Jesus, had to bear the stigma of such from

self-righteous people all their lives.

     It is a common ploy that when you cannot refute a person's

argument, that you resort to personal attack. That is what the

Pharisees were doing here to Jesus. It did not matter what He said

or what He did, they were not going to accept it. In the end, they

stood face to face with the Son of God, heard His words, saw His

works, and called Him an agent of the Devil. And then they

handed Him over to be put to death.


     Joseph and Mary could give no explanation for what was

happening except that it was a supernatural act of God. They had

no proof otherwise. To them alone had the angel come, and to

them alone was the knowledge imparted as to who this child was.

To most everyone else, Mary was pregnant by either Joseph, or

by some other man. And all this supernatural stuff was surely a big

cover-up for the immorality which had resulted in Mary's conception.

     There is a parallel to this today. More than ever, Christianity is

being attacked on an intellectual and historical basis. None of

these attacks have any facts behind them, and when the dust clears,

it is always Christianity which proves to be intellectually and

historically sound. But the church has made a big mistake in this

area. Instead of standing our ground, we have moved over into

the arena of the intellect and history, and by doing so, have given

agreement to the notion that it is THERE that the proof of Christianity

is found.

     The proof of Christianity is NOT found there. It never has been.

In fact, if it were, we might say that there could be no real Christians

until science and research gets to the place where the death and

resurrection of Jesus could be historically verified. And even then,

that proof would be at the mercy of the subjectivity of people. In

this modern day and age, there is plenty of historical proof for much

of the Bible. But even that is not accepted by those who will never

accept anything which suggests that they are accountable to God

their lives.

     The proof of Christianity is found in only one thing: Jesus Christ.

The child HIMSELF. When the gospel was preached in the first

century, there weren't history books, scientists, or experts to tell us

how to think. There were only few copies of the Old Testament. Yet

people were converted. And it was REAL.

     How? By a clever message? By air-tight arguments by those

who had studied at seminaries? By great wisdom? No. God

converted people by revealing to them His Son Jesus Christ. And

He was birthed in them. They were changed forever.

     Many of these early converts were called fools. They were

ridiculed, misrepresented, and of course, put to death. No one

really understood them. There had been birthed in them a new life

and they had nothing they could say to explain it other than to say,

"God did this. It is of the Holy Spirit." Just like Joseph and Mary.

Today we are in the same position. But it seems that we are

less willing in the church to bear such a reproach. We would look

foolish and stupid. Or -- to make matters worse -- we get our focus

off of Christ onto other things which ARE foolish. And then when the

world ridicules us we deserve it.

     God says that we should expect to be ridiculed for our faith. But

let's not be ridiculed for our foolishness. All that does is

bring reproach, not to Jesus, but to our misrepresentation of Him. And

this does nothing to please God.

     Joseph and Mary spend their entire lives under a certain amount

of reproach and suspicion because of what God did in their lives.

They could not defend themselves with any facts or proof. They

could only point to the One who had been born.

     When we receive Christ, and take His name as our own, we must

be willing to bear reproach. Perhaps not in quite the same way as

did Mary and Joseph, but a reproach nevertheless. As Paul the

apostle once said:

For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with

wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none

effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish

foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For

it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to

nothing the understanding of the prudent. (I Cor. 1:17-19)

     Note what Paul is saying: The gospel is NOT effective because

of the "wisdom of words." It is effective because of the Cross of

Jesus Christ. Try to present the gospel on any other basis and

the results will, generally, not be real. You will convert people, not

to Christ, but to good arguments and true doctrines about Him.

     The new birth is not the outcome of a history lesson, or the

outcome of historical research. Neither is it the outcome of a

debate or logical argument. It is the product of meeting God

through Jesus Christ. The world wants to be able to document

the birth of Jesus Christ in us -- but God says it cannot and need

not be documented. The child itself is the proof. Take it or leave

it. You cannot miss the Truth if you really want to see it.


     God had called Mary, and Joseph, to be instruments in the

greatest event in the history of the world: The birth of His Son. They

said "yes." We might suppose that the outcome of their obedience

would be that everything from that point would be smooth sailing.

After all, this was God's Son being born, wasn't it? God was in this,

and surely He would see to it that everything was going to work out

easily and without conflict. Right?

     Well, not exactly. In fact, the opposite was the case. From the

time Mary conceived the child, and Joseph took her as his wife,

they had trouble.

     First, there was the reproach they had to bear. The whispers.

The suspicions. The disbelief. Perhaps they were considered to

be crazy. Maybe even Joseph's carpentry business suffered. The

fact is, from the moment Mary and Joseph said "yes" to God, things

were plunged into a continual state of conflict, and into danger.

     One prime example of this is the census which was ordered by

Caesar Augustus. He wanted to count all the people for the

purpose of making sure all of them would be taxed. But to the

dismay of Mary and Joseph, they had to travel to Bethlehem to

obey this edict. It was a three days journey, and had to be taken

at the very point that Mary was "great with child." (Luke 2:5)

     Ask: Did God make things easy on Mary and Joseph? I mean,

God could have seen to it that the census was ordered at another

time -- even a month later would have been acceptable. But no. It

had come right now, at the point of Mary's greatest burden. Or God

could have seen to it that Mary was pregnant at a slightly different

time -- not at a time which coincided with the census.

     There was more. Mary had, just six months earlier, visited

Elizabeth. Elizabeth lived not far from Bethlehem. So Mary had

been, only six months earlier, right in the backyard of the place to

which she would now have to travel nine months pregnant. Why

hadn't God simply added this bit of information onto the angel's

announcement to her? Or to the dream He gave Joseph? After all,

God gave Joseph other dreams telling him where to go and what to

do. Why this ommision? Why not just make things convenient and


     We can imagine the conversations which may have taken place

between Mary and Joseph. "We know God did this thing. But now

look at what we are up against! Have we gotten off the track in this

somewhere? Did we somewhere along the line get out of God's


     Things did not get any better once they reached Bethlehem. It

was so crowded that there was no room for them anywhere. The

same God who wrought this incredible miracle could not even make

sure there was a room available? The same God whose Son was

to be born did not even provide a proper place FOR that birth? This

was strange indeed. How could things be like this if God were

working in this situation?

     The fact is, things WERE like that, and God WAS fully in control of

the situation. This should give us great hope because it goes to

show that circumstances -- neither the ease or difficulty of them -- is

necessarily any indication of what God is doing.

     This was a VERY TAXING SITUATION. Joseph and Mary were

being taxed, not only by the government, but by God through this

trial. Their faith was being tested.

     In order for Christ to be born in us, we too must pass through

many trials and difficulties. Perhaps it seems as if everything is

conspiring to see to it that we cannot reach our destination. Maybe

it even seems as if God has forgotten us. But no. He always has

a place. He is fully in control of the situation.

     Mary and Joseph were not given any place to stay. And of

course, this means that Jesus was given no place to be born. Yet

they did finally find a stable, perhaps a cave. There, in the most

humble and lowly setting, the Christ child was born.

     It is ever so with us. Christ can be born ONLY in a place of

humility, spiritual poverty, and bankruptcy. He cannot be born in

a king's palace or with great fanfare.

     Note what this means. It means that God must bring us, through

all of these difficulties, to the place of absolute poverty and total

desperation. He must allow contradiction and conflict and trouble

to bring us there. Then Christ can be born within us, and we will

know that it was not because of us that He was. It was because of


A Sword Shall Pierce

     Things did not get any easier for Mary and Joseph. In fact, the

travail and difficulty would only increase. This was actually foretold

by Simeon in the temple at the circumcision of Christ. He told Mary,

"A sword shall pierce through your own soul."

     It did not take long for things to start moving in that direction. In

less than two years, Herod would make an all out effort to put the

child to death. He would kill all the children of the region who were

two years of age or less. Joseph and Mary would have to flee to


     It is easy to get so wrapped up in the traditional Christmas story

that we forget some of the practicalities which surely must have

been upon Joseph and Mary. Go to Egypt? This meant that

Joseph had to leave his carpentry business. And since they were

desperately poor, how would they live?

     Here God provided. Remember the gifts of the wise men? All

valuable items. Could it be that God had provided these so that

Joseph and Mary would have a means for living during that time

they spent in Egypt?

     Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt, being warned by God in a

dream. Likewise, they were told when to come back. But they

returned and lived in Nazareth. (Matt. 2:22) This would also have

been an inconvenience, since it is clear that it was NOT where

they originally intended to go or live.

     Incredibly, years later, this too would be used against Jesus.

It was commonly known that the Messiah would come out of

Bethlehem. Because Joseph and Mary settled in Nazareth of

Gallilee, they would be known to be FROM there. This issue

popped up 30 years later in the ministry of Jesus:

Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out

of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the

seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?

So there was a division among the people because of him.

(John 7:41-43)

     Here we see people refusing to embrace Jesus Christ on the

basis of historical facts -- which, in this case were in error. Jesus

had been born in Bethlehem. But they "knew" Him to be from

Galilee. They meant He could not be the Messiah!

     We see here a prime example of the folly of relying on a history

lesson. They were looking at the Son of God face to face. Had

heard Him teach and seen His works. God in the flesh. But they

said, "Nope. Can't be Him. He's from Galilee. The Messiah is

from Bethlehem."

     Again we see that God is not going to judge us based on

whether we have all of our facts straight. He is going to judge us

based on our moral accountability and our moral choices before

Him. Is Christ nothing more than a doctrine to us? An argument?

Such that if a better argument -- perhaps based on faulty info comes

along -- that we will that easily toss Him in the trash?

     The proof of Christianity is Jesus Christ. He is either real or not

real. You can argue away historical facts and data. But "unto us

a child is born." You cannot argue Him away. Not if He is real and

living in you.

     Mary would lose Joseph between the time Jesus was 12 and 30.

Probably more toward when Jesus was 30. She would then lose

Jesus 3 and one-half years later. Only then would she realize WHY

Jesus had been born: To die as Saviour of the world.

     During the life and ministry of Jesus, we are not given many hints

of what went on in the mind of Mary and Joseph. It is clear, however,

that they did not fully comprehend what was really going on. The

incident in the temple when Jesus was twelve shows us that. And

the few times the gospels record Jesus' conversations with Mary

confirms this. But in the end, Mary must have marvelled that God

used her. She had been blessed for sure.

God is in Control

     "When God is in something, it will go smoothly. When He is not,

there will be struggle, conflict, and trouble." Have you ever

assumed that? Have you ever assumed that if something was

going smoothly that God just had to be behind it? Or if something

were a mass of confusion and disappointment, that surely God

could not be behind it, and that probably the Devil was?

     We have seen from the circumstances surrounding the birth of

Jesus that we can assume nothing from circumstances. We are

not to look to them. We are to look to God.

     It is both easy and natural to look at circumstances and to draw

conclusions from them. One of the reasons we tend to do this

is that we know God can do anything He wants. And He can do it

with ease. So that means that if God is doing something He will see

to it that there are no obsticles and no struggles! Right? Well, not

so fast. There is more to this than meets the eye.

     The fact is, whether something is going smoothly, or not going

smoothly, has nothing to do with whether God is in it. The will of

God may involve adversity of all kinds in it's outworking. But there

may be times when the way is clear; free of conflict. And the same

goes for the temptations and deceptions of the enemy. In short,

present circumstances do not necessarily indicate God's final

will on any matter. Indeed, present circumstances may not reveal

the mind of God at all. Or -- they may.

     If this seems confusing, it should not. What it really leads us to

is only one possible conclusion. That conclusion is this: We should

never look to circumstances to interpret God. Rather, we should

look to God to interpret circumstances.

Seeking Signs and Wonders

     Jesus said basically the same thing. He said, "A wicked and

adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign

be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas." (Matt. 16:4)

The words of Christ are strong words. They are serious words.

But why is it "wicked" and "adulterous" to seek after a sign?

     Those who SEEK AFTER signs are betraying something about

themselves. They are betraying the fact that they will not believe

God unless He constantly proves to them that He is not a liar, or

unfaithful. They SEEK AFTER signs as a confirmation that God is

really there for them -- even though He has already promised He

will never forsake us or leave us.

     Now notice something here. Notice a conclusion we must draw

from the words of Jesus on this subject of signs and wonders. Ask:

How likely is it that God is today leading us by signs and wonders,

given the fact Jesus told us never to seek them? Not very likely at

all, is it? I mean, what do we think, that Jesus was saying, "Do not

seek after signs and wonders. But God will be leading you by

them."? Nonsense. That would be a total contradiction.

     The Truth is, God rarely leads us by signs and wonders. He

most often leads us by faith. In practical terms, this means that God

wants us to walk in darkness -- not knowing where He is leading.

In effect, the normal Christian walk is one where I do not know where

I am going, but am trusting the One who is leading.

     This does not please our natural mind. Or our flesh. But it is the

way it is. And if we will go on with God, we will find that such a walk

by faith is used of God to accomplish eternal things in us. There

could be no greater gift God could give us.

     Does God ever give signs? Sometimes. But not because we

SEEK AFTER them. Joseph didn't seek after the dreams God gave

him. God gave them because it was necessary.

     So it is not wise to look at circumstances in our lives and to

conclude from them whether we are in God's will or not in God's will.

Circumstances cannot be set up as a sign or wonder indicating

anything. Rather than look to circumstances, look to God. Place

yourself in His hands and He will work out His will through

circumstances -- regardless of whether they are easy or hard


     The story of the birth of Jesus stands as a great example of how

God will bring the pass His will -- and the birth of Christ in each one

of us -- not by always removing difficult circumstances, but in spite

of them.

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