“…and you shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins.”
By Irvin Baxter
Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Mary was a young virgin living in the city of Nazareth, Israel. She was engaged to be married to a fine young man by the name of Joseph.
With no advance warning, an angel named Gabriel appeared to Mary. His message was both thrilling and somewhat disturbing. “Mary, you are highly favored by the Lord, and God has a special plan for you.”
“What could that be?” Mary asked.
“You are going to have a son, and you are to name him Jesus,” the angel pronounced. “He will be very great and will inherit the throne of his father David. Your son will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.”
As Mary attempted to absorb the stunning announcement of the angel, she had to ask the inevitable question, “How can I have this child of which you speak when I am a virgin?”
Gabriel replied, “I know this is highly unusual. As a matter of fact, it has never happened before in the entire history of the human race. The Holy Ghost, God Himself, will overshadow you and cause you to conceive. That’s the reason your child will be called the Son of God.” With this, the angel departed.
Mary sat, looking off into the distance for some time, trying to absorb the impact of what she had been told. The inevitable questions began to flood her mind. “I’m going to become pregnant without being married? What will everybody say? What will my parents say? O my…what will my future husband Joseph do? Will he even believe me when I tell him all of this? Could he possibly decide to cancel the engagement?”
In spite of all these troubling questions, there was a peace that surrounded Mary. If no one believed her, she knew what she had just experienced. She felt total assurance that God would work it all out!
After the euphoria of the angelic visitation somewhat dissipated, the practical side of Mary kicked it. “How am I going to explain this to Joseph?”
Mary quietly slipped to her knees. “Dear Lord, you know I’m going to need your guidance. No one has had this experience before. I have no one to turn to but you.” As Mary had done many times in her life when needing help from God, she opened her Bible. Her eyes fell on one particular scripture. It seemed like it jumped right off of the page at her. It was Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
By the time her next date with Joseph rolled around, Mary had physical evidence that she was pregnant. She knew she had to talk with him. As they sat in the swing on the front porch, Mary said, “Joseph, I have something very important to talk to you about.”
“Okay, Mary. What is it?” Joseph replied.
Mary reached for her Bible that she had carefully placed on the table beside the swing. “I need to ask your opinion about a scripture.” She opened the Bible to Isaiah 7:14. “Here, read it,” she urged Joseph.
Joseph read, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” “So, what are you asking me?” Joseph inquired.
“Have you ever read this scripture before?” Mary inquired anxiously.
Joseph responded, “I probably have, but I can’t say I’ve ever really focused on it. I really can’t quite understand it. It talks about a virgin conceiving and having a son. I can’t see how such a thing could happen, unless it was a totally supernatural occurrence.”
“But did you notice the phrase, ‘…the Lord himself shall give you a sign?” Mary asked anxiously. “What do think that could mean?”
Joseph looked at Mary thinking, “Where is this going?” Mary was asking these questions so urgently. Finally, he turned to her and said, “What’s the point? What are you trying to tell me?”
A tear trickled down Mary’s cheek. She summoned her courage and said, “Joseph, there is something very important that I’ve got to tell you. It may be hard for you to believe.” She then proceeded to tell him about the visitation of the angel Gabriel.
“So you think this prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 is talking about you?” Joseph asked incredulously. “Mary, are you telling me you’re pregnant? Have you been unfaithful to me? How did you really become pregnant? Who does the baby really belong to? Just tell me the truth!”
Mary could tell Joseph was very upset. He stood up abruptly. “I’m going to go now. I’ve got some serious thinking to do,” he said. Mary watched him walk down the steps, wondering if she would ever see him again.
The rest of the day, Joseph wrestled with a thousand thoughts. “I thought Mary was the finest girl I had ever met. How could this have happened? What a mess!” While struggling with his turmoil, every once in a while, the scripture would push its way to the forethought of his mind, “The Lord himself shall give you a sign…”, but then he would angrily brush it aside. The practical side of him would take over.
By evening, Joseph’s decision was made, “I’ll put Mary away, but I’ll do it quietly. I have no desire to destroy her. I just can’t marry her. I still love her in spite of what she has done.” Sleep didn’t come easily that night. Joseph rolled and tossed in his bed until two o’clock in the morning. Finally, weariness overtook him and he fell into a deep sleep.
Once fast asleep, Joseph began to dream. An angel appeared to him in his dream saying, “Joseph, don’t be afraid to carry through with your plans to marry your wife, for the child she is carrying was conceived in her by the Holy Ghost. She will have a son, and you shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke from his sleep, the first thing on his mind was, “Behold, I give you a sign. A virgin shall conceive…”
Joseph knew what he had to do. He quickly made his way to Mary’s house. She was sitting on the porch swing all alone. Filled with apprehension, she stood to meet him. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight. Then he told Mary how the angel had appeared to him in his dream, assuring him that everything she had told him was true. Mary smiled happily as the tears of joy ran down her face.
Soon, Joseph and Mary were officially married. At that time, Rome ruled the world. Consequently, all of Israel was subject to decrees from Rome, especially the Roman tax.
In the last month of Mary’s pregnancy, a decree was issued by Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor at that particular time. The decree required that every person under Roman rule must travel to the city of his birth in order to participate in a census and to be taxed.
Joseph apologized to Mary. “I know it’s going to be difficult for you to travel, but Roman law is Roman law. We have no choice.” He was able to obtain a good strong donkey for Mary to ride during the 100-mile trip to Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown.
By the time they arrived, every room in every available inn in Bethlehem was filled. Mary said to Joseph, “You’d better get something quickly. I believe the baby will be born before long.”
Finally, in desperation, Joseph went to one of the innkeepers explaining the urgent situation. “I’ve got to find a place for my wife. She’s in the process of having a baby!”
The innkeeper lifted his hands helplessly. “I don’t have one room,” he explained apologetically.
Joseph looked out the window, noticing a stable in the back. “Sir, please. Could I make a place for my wife back in your stable? I don’t know what else to do and I’m out of time!” Joseph explained.
The innkeeper shook his head slowly and said, “It’s not a very good place for a baby to be born, but I understand how desperate you are. Do the best you can. Here’s a broom, a mop and a bucket of water. I’ll send one of the maids out with some blankets and sheets.” Joseph thanked the innkeeper and hurried out the door.
Joseph quickly told Mary the situation. He said, “Wait here with the donkey. I’ll go get things ready the best I can.” Inside the stable, there was one area where there were no animals. Joseph quickly swept the area clean. He found fresh straw with which he prepared a bed for Mary. The maid brought a large supply of blankets and sheets. She covered the straw with the blankets and the placed clean sheets on top. They made Mary as comfortable as they could. Two hours later, Jesus was born.
After the birth, Joseph and the maid cleaned things up as much as possible. They took one of the sheets and wrapped it around Jesus, laying Him over in the manger. Mary was so tired after the long journey and then the birth, she quickly drifted off into a deep sleep.
A few hours later, Mary and the baby awoke. Even though the situation was not ideal, it was so peaceful with just Joseph, Mary and Jesus there.
Suddenly, there was a gentle knock on the door. Joseph and Mary looked at each other questioningly. When Joseph opened the door of the stable, several shepherds stood outside. “Yes? May I help you?” Joseph politely inquired.
One of the shepherds answered, “We’re looking for the Messiah. We were told we would find him wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger. Are we in the right place?” Joseph looked back at Mary, and she gently nodded. “Come in,” Joseph said to the shepherds.
They reverently stepped into the humble surroundings and, one by one, they dropped to their knees, worshipping the child. Finally, Joseph broke the silence. “How did you know to come here?” he asked.
The leader of the group began to tell Joseph and Mary what had happened to them. “As we do every night, we were tending our sheep on the hillside just outside of Bethlehem. Suddenly, angels appeared above us and the glory of the Lord lit up the sky. We were all very afraid. However, the angels told us not to be afraid because they were bringing to us wonderful news. They said that this day a savior was born, Christ, the Lord. Then they told us that we would find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. We felt like we had to come, so we left our sheep with a keeper and came as fast as we could. Sure enough, we found you here.”
Joseph looked at Mary, and she was looking at him with tears brimming in her eyes. Once again, Joseph heard the voice in the back of his mind saying, “The Lord himself shall give you a sign…”
Some days later, Joseph heard the sound of camels outside the house where they were now staying. He looked out to see several well-dressed and important looking men making their way toward the door. “I wonder what this is all about,” Joseph thought to himself. When they knocked, Joseph opened the door. “May I help you?” he inquired.
“Yes,” the men replied. “We’ve come to worship the King.” The men entered, carrying expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, which they presented to Jesus. After bowing before the Christ child for some time, the men arose.
Joseph had to ask, “How did you know the child was here?”
The men explained, “We’ve come from a far country east of here. We saw a great and unusual star in the heavens. We just had to follow it. As we traveled, it was revealed to us that He who is destined to be King of the Jews had been born. Coming to Jerusalem, we stopped by Herod’s palace to ask him where we could find the new-born King of the Jews so that we might worship Him and present our gifts to Him.
“Herod didn’t know how to answer us, so he sent for the High Priest, asking where the King of the Jews was to be born. They immediately supplied the answer from the prophecy in Micah 5:2, ‘But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting.’”
“We immediately came to Bethlehem. As we traveled, the star we had been following reappeared, guiding us right to this place.”
After the wise men left, Mary and Joseph wondered in amazement. Mary spoke first: “So that’s the reason Caesar decided to order the entire world to report to the land of their nativity for census and taxation. God made him do it so that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem where the prophecy said He had to be born. Wow! God is so awesome!”
Joseph nodded in reverence and wonderment. Once again, he heard the voice in the back of his mind, “The Lord Himself shall give you a sign…”
When Jesus was eight days old, Mary and Joseph made the five-mile trip to the temple in Jerusalem so they could present Jesus to the Lord, as the Jewish custom required. Most of Israel knew there was a very special priest who ministered in the temple. His name was Simeon. The Holy Ghost had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. As Mary and Joseph traveled with the child, they hoped that Simeon would be on duty this day.
When they reached the outer court of the temple, they inquired of the priests who served there, “Is Simeon ministering here in the temple today?”
“No,” the priest replied. “He just finished his course of duty. This is his time off.”
Mary and Joseph were somewhat disappointed, but they continued on into the temple nevertheless. As they entered the back door, they saw an elderly priest standing over to the side, near the front. Joseph whispered to Mary, “I think that’s Simeon!” As they walked down the aisle toward the front, the elderly priest suddenly moved toward them. Joseph said to Mary, “That is Simeon. I wonder why he is here.” As Simeon walked up to them, Joseph said, “Simeon, they told me outside that you were not here; that this is your time off.”
Simeon replied, “Yes, it’s supposed to be my time off, but when I got up this morning, something compelled me to come in today.” Suddenly, Simeon’s hands began to tremble as he reached for Jesus. Holding Jesus in his arms he suddenly knew he was holding the Messiah, the savior of the world. Lifting his eyes to heaven with tears rolling down his cheeks, he said to God, “Now let thy servant depart in peace. For now, mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” Joseph and Mary were weeping too, but they were tears of joy and amazement.
As Mary and Joseph left the temple that day, Mary was talking about Simeon being shown he would not die until he saw the Messiah. She said to Joseph, “And he wasn’t even supposed to be at the temple today, but God spoke to his heart that he had to be there. All of this is so incredible!”
Once again, Joseph heard the voice, “And the Lord Himself shall give you a sign…”
So went the incredible and supernatural life of Jesus. Healing the sick; raising the dead; opening blind eyes. Yet many people still didn’t believe He was the Messiah, the Lord of glory.
One day, a group of Pharisees came to Him saying, “Show us a sign that we might believe on you. Jesus said, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, but there shall be no sign given to you except the sign of the prophet Jonah. As Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so must the Son of man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.”
When the ministry of Jesus was over, those who believed not on him nailed Him to a cross. His body was placed in a tomb where it stayed for the next three days and three nights. Early on Sunday morning, an angel rolled away the stone from the sepulcher where Jesus lay, and He walked out of the tomb victorious.
He appeared to Mary Magdalene, then to Peter and John, and then to the Apostles. They saw Him, and they believed.
However, one disciple, Thomas, was not there when Jesus appeared to the rest. When they told Thomas what had happened, he didn’t believe them. He said, “Until I see the scars in His hands from the nails, and until I place my hand in the wound in His side, I will not believe.”
A few days later Jesus appeared to His disciples again. This time, Thomas was there. Jesus turned straight to Thomas. He held out his nail-scarred hands to Thomas and pulled back His robe so Thomas could see His side.
It was as though Jesus was saying once again, “Here’s your sign!”
Thomas fell down before the Lord, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God.”