Today’s Scripture reading: Luke 2:1–20.
In Luke’s Gospel, the Christmas story begins on a throne and ends in a manger. As we read the unfolding of its plot, we learn valuable lessons about sovereignty, humility, value, worship and evangelism. Today, let’s look at the first two items on that list.
The Christmas story begins on the throne of Gaius Octavius, the nephew and heir to Julius Caesar. In 27 B.C., the Roman Senate proclaimed him Caesar Augustus (“the exalted one”), making him the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. Under his reign, Rome expanded its boundaries and established peaceful conditions throughout the lands under its control — the so-called pax Romana (“peace of Rome”). These lands included Palestine.
Empires are costly things, and at some point, Caesar Augustus decreed a census of his empire for the purposes of taxation. Such was the power of his sovereignty that thousands of miles from Rome, an affianced couple packed their belongings to make their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem so they could be enrolled for the census.
At one level, of course, the Christmas story is about the sovereignty of the Roman emperor. It is about his ability to make unknown people far away from him jump through hoops to bring him more money. And yet, a greater sovereignty is at work in the Christmas story, for biblical prophecy foretells the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), not Nazareth, which is where Joseph and Mary resided. Caesar Augustus may issue the decree, but it is ultimately God calling the shots. He makes Caesar jump through hoops to bring us a Savior. Now that’s sovereignty!
But to what end does God exercise His sovereignty? Does He pull strings so that the Savior is born in a palace? No. The home of a wealthy person? No. A nice hotel? No. A cheap motel? No. There is no room for Israel’s Messiah in any of these places. Instead, a cave where animals are penned is Mary’s hospital room, and a manger where animals feed is Baby Jesus’ incubator. If God has the power to make Caesar Augustus do His bidding, why doesn’t He provide better circumstances for Jesus’ birth?
The answer comes in one word: humility. The humble circumstances of Christ’s birth allow everyone to draw near to Him. Rulers have bodyguards to protect them from the crowds. The wealthy live in gated communities that keep away uninvited guests. Hotels and motels have front desks that limit entry to all but paying customers. By contrast, anyone can walk into a barn. Jesus is humble; all are welcomed to draw near to Him.
Even those who wish to kill Him. In Philippians 2.8, Paul links Jesus’ humility with His death on the cross for our salvation. Jesus does not bother to surround himself with layers of protection to keep the people away. Instead, from birth to death, He draws all people to himself. And in His humble sovereignty lies our salvation.
P.S. This article is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com. For earlier posts in the Songs of Christmas devotional, see here:
- The Songs of Christmas, Part 1
- The Songs of Christmas, Part 2
- The Songs of Christmas, Part 3
- The Songs of Christmas, Part 4
- The Songs of Christmas, Part 5
- The Songs of Christmas, Part 6
- The Songs of Christmas, Part 7
- The Songs of Christmas, Part 8
- The Songs of Christmas, Part 9
- The Songs of Christmas, Part 10