2015 Christmas Eve Message “Glory to the Newborn King” Luke 2:1-7
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
What do self-centered politicians, higher taxes, and unpopular laws have to do with our joyous celebration of the birth of God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ? Well it turns out that 2,000 years ago, the Lord God designed a plan to use taxation, egotistical leaders, and a very unpopular government regulation to accomplish some of the details of the first Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ.
That truth leads to two questions: (1) How did God do that? and (2) what difference should that make to us today?
How did God do this? Follow as I read Luke 2:1-7: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room available for them at the inn.”
Unless you are an historian of the Roman Empire, our temptation is to skip over the historical setting that Luke provides for us in vv. 1-2, but if we do so, we will miss much of what he wants us to see. Consider the person of Caesar Augustus in v. 1. This ruler of the Roman Empire was born with the name Gaius Octavius, and he was the grand-nephew of Julius Caesar. Julius adored little Gaius, and when Gaius had reached the age of twenty, Julius Caesar adopted him as his own son, and declared him to be the heir to the throne of the Roman Empire! (Therefore he was known as Caesar, after his adopted father.)
After Julius Caesar was murdered, Gaius ruled for 45 years as the absolute monarch of the Roman Empire. He possessed great military skill and political skill, and while he extended the Roman Empire from Britain to Persia.
In 27 BC the Roman Senate gave him the name “Augustus” meaning “worthy of honor or worship,” and he became the object of divine worship throughout the Roman Empire. He was also called “Son of God.” Statues, games, festivals, celebrations and ritual sacrifices were all dedicated to the Emperor Caesar Augustus.
Because he put an end to all the civil wars and brought in the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace, he was called “Bringer of Peace.” He was also known as the “Subject of Good News,” because he built an effective transportation system throughout the empire, and because he instituted a free monthly distribution of grain, along with monthly games for the people’s entertainment, giving them the familiar “bread and circus.” His deeds were proclaimed as “good news” or “gospel”, because they so greatly benefitted the people of his empire.
If that weren’t enough on his resume, there is also an inscription inscribed to him, and it says, “Caesar Augustus, savior of the world.”
But guess what all these free government programs required? That’s right, more taxes!
Caesar decided to have a world-wide census of all the people in his empire, every 14 years. Why? So he could impose an addition census tax on every person. And to make the record-keeping easier for the Roman IRS, everyone was required to register for this census in their ancestral hometown. You can imagine then that this government regulation was unpopular among the Jews because it was being forced upon them by foreign government; because it required them to pay more taxes; and because it was very inconvenient, as each person had to register in one’s ancestral hometown. You can imagine people in Nazareth complaining about taxes, political leaders, and very unpopular government regulations! It sounds just like today!
So what does all this have to do with Christmas, and why should we be joyful about it?
Two main reasons:
First, Luke wants his readers to appreciate a comparison between the great emperor Caesar Augustus and the lowly baby Jesus.
Caesar was exalted as divine and as the “Son of God;” he was called the “bringer of peace,” the “subject of good news”, and as the savior of the world. But all he was and all he did eventually crumbled into dust. His peace, his titles, his empire, and his adoration are no more. His body has returned to dust, and no one worships him anymore.
On the other hand, this baby who was born in Bethlehem in such a lowly setting, is now crowned King of Kings of Lords, hallelujah! He who was born of a humble virgin is truly divine, the eternal God the Son! He left His home in heaven to become the real Savior (v. 11), by offering Himself in our place on the cross. Through his death and resurrection He became the true Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:7; Lk. 2:14). And He who was proclaimed by the angels as the subject of the Good News (v. 10) is still the One today who brings the life-transforming power of God in his glorious gospel!
So you see that all that Augustus had claimed for himself was, in reality, fulfilled by this one child born in a far flung corner of the Roman Empire. “What was supposed to be true of Augustus turns out is actually true of Jesus! Jesus Christ is the real Son of God, the authentic Savior, the genuine Prince of Peace, and the true subject of Good News, the gospel!
The second thing Luke wants us to see is the sovereign hand of God Almighty directing all of human history, including Caesar’s decrees, in order to accomplish His divine purposes.
You see, the very decrees that Caesar Augustus issued, that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world, was used by God to move Joseph and a very pregnant Mary to travel 90 miles to Bethlehem, so that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, the town where the Scriptures prophesied the Christ would be born (Micah 5:2)
So while Caesar Augustus appears to be in full control, ordering people around to register for a census, and making them pay taxes, the reality is that this emperor is a pawn in the hand of the Lord Almighty. So even the self-centered intentions and laws of the most powerful kings and presidents on earth are used by God Himself to bring about His divine purposes.
So what difference should this make today for us?
As we chafe under increasing taxes, big-ego politicians, and burdensome government regulations, let’s remember two things. The first is the lowly baby who was born in Bethlehem is infinitely greater and more glorious than any emperor, any king, prime minister or president. The second is that our God sovereignly rules over all these earthly leaders; as Prov. 21:1 reminds us, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it…wherever he pleases.”
Our celebration of Christmas this evening should remind us that while the world is full of imposters who claim to be this or that, it is only the Lord Jesus Christ who has the true and glorious credentials to deserve our honor, our worship, and our full surrender to His will!