Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
From the Bible: Luke 2:1-4; Romans 13:1; Daniel 4:30; Micah 5:2; Proverbs 21:1
Luke 2:1a (Holman) In those days a decree went out. . .
What days? The days abuzz with gossip and excitement over the birth of John the Baptist, history’s second greatest man. News of the mighty forerunner would now be pushed off the front page by news of his mightier Successor.
Elizabeth’s son was important, a precious gift of God to our world. The virgin’s Son was more important, God’s most precious gift to our world.
Luke 2:1b . . . from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire should be registered.
Caesar Augustus was the most powerful ruler on Earth. Adopted by Julius Caesar as his son and heir, he had to fight to earn the throne after Caesar’s assassination.
Augustus was brash to the point of impertinence. After a defeat at sea, he dragged Neptune’s statue into the water. Fortunately, our God, the one and only true living Lord, cannot be dragged down by anyone anywhere at any time.
After Augustus defeated Marc Antony, the golden era of Rome began. It was said of Rome, Augustus found it brick and left it marble. He made the name of Rome synonymous with wealth, power, and authority.
The Romans believed Augustus was divine. When he died, they comforted themselves by saying, “Augustus was a god, and gods do not die.” Trust me. He was dead dead. The child of Bethlehem lives on.
The one true living God would not let the world be saved by a man who became a god, a trait the Romans claimed for their Caesars. God saved the world by letting Himself become a man.
Luke 2:2 This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.
One of Caesar’s subordinates was Quirinius, Governor of Syria, the Roman Province to which Palestine belonged. Had we told the story of Jesus’ birth to the people alive at the time, and then asked them to name the main characters in the account, they would have said, “Augustus, Quirinius, and who?”
Now the response of millions would be, “Jesus, who, and who?” Augustus and Quirinius are only echoes of ancient times. The baby still rules as King.
Luke 2:3-4a So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, . .
Joseph obeyed the government, though he was in difficult straits, his wife nearing the end of her first pregnancy. Compliance to the edict was difficult, but done. As Christ-followers, we are subject to the powers that be unless they order something contradictory to God’s expressed will as written in Scripture.
The Bible is clear on this issue. “Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).
During a time of intense persecution against believers, our hero Tertullian told the authorities we Christians would do all we could to obey Caesar, because “He is more our king than yours; our God ordained him.” We believe God determines who will or will not govern.
His purposes are inscrutable. He appoints particular rulers in order to bless or punish a nation. God reserves this prerogative for Himself.
Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful king of his day, learned this lesson about God the hard way. One day he bragged, “Is this not Babylon the Great that I have built by my vast power?” (Daniel 4:30b).
He was immediately sentenced by God to seven years of insanity, to living in the field like an animal, to make him “acknowledge that the Most High is ruler over the kingdom of men” (4:32b).
God is the big boss. Joseph reminded us God often bosses in and through governments. Thus, submit unless ordered to do anything contrary to God’s will.
Luke 2:4b . . . to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, . . .
Worth noting is the fact God set the story of Jesus’ birth in a secular context. He wanted to remind us He is Lord of all history. Even the Emperor of Rome was but His servant. God used Rome’s decree to carry out Heaven’s decree.
Seven hundred years earlier, God had pronounced where Messiah would be born. He who later chose the womb had chosen the place seven centuries before.
The prophet Micah (5:2) left no room for doubt on this issue. “Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; One will come from you to be ruler over Israel for Me. His origin is from antiquity, from eternity.” Ephrathah, Bethlehem’s original ancient name, pinpointed southern Bethlehem as opposed to a northern town of the same name.
Scholars debate the exact date of Jesus’ birth, but the when was not as important as the where. God had to have the baby taken to Bethlehem before the child was born. Luke’s account explained how God arranged for this to happen.
The whole Roman Empire had to be set in an uproar in order that two obscure peasants might be forced to travel. Joseph and Mary wouldn’t have tried this journey otherwise. Only a legal necessity would have made them venture on a 75-mile trip this arduous and dangerous during a pregnancy.
Augustus thought he was enrolling the people for the purpose of taxation. He didn’t know he was actually enrolling them in order to fulfill Scripture.
God, who knows the end from the beginning, orders all events to fulfill Bible predictions. Jesus was not an afterthought or a footnote to history. He had always been the main character. He did not disrupt history. He fulfilled it. His was the most important birth ever on our planet, the hinge on which history turns.
Man proposes; God disposes. We plan; He decides. What people intend for one purpose God often intends for others. His Sovereignty often yields results far beyond, and different from, the results intended by free will.
Pilate scourged Jesus (John 19:1), seeking to placate the crowd. He was actually fulfilling Isaiah 53:5d, “We are healed by His wounds.”
Soldiers made Jesus a crown of thorns to taunt Him (Mark 15:17). God wanted thorns, which were brought into our existence after we sinned (Genesis 3:18), to serve as a physical image picturing the fact the sins of the world were being borne by Jesus.
Rather than tear Jesus’ robe into pieces and divide it among themselves, soldiers gambled to see who would win the bigger winner-take-all prize (John 19:24). In gratifying their greed they fulfilled what God said. Robes of the High Priests were not to be torn (Exodus 28:32), including that of the Great High Priest.
The leaders asked Pilate to break the legs of the men on the cross. They did this to the two thieves, but God made sure this was not done to Jesus (John 19:33). The Passover lambs which had pictured Jesus could have no broken bones (Exodus 12:46b), nor could the ultimate Passover Lamb.
One soldier on a whim pierced Jesus’ side (John 19:34). God had said, “They will look at Me whom they pierced” (Zechariah 12:10b).
No one is strong enough to thwart the plan of God, not even a king. “A king’s heart is a water channel in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses” (Proverbs 21:1). Sovereignty and free will both operate simultaneously, with the former reaching farther than the latter.
Find comfort here, dear believer. The Person who loves us most is the Person in charge. He orders events and circumstances to our advantage. He is the loving Filter through which all of life must flow before it passes our way.