Let’s talk about three kings – not the ones you might be thinking. From the ivory palace of Caesar Augustus to the halted kingdom of David to the straw-filled manger throne in Bethlehem. Spoiler Alert – The humble baby in the manger is the King of kings.
Caesar – the not-so powerful king
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire should be registered. This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town. (Luke 2:1-3 CSB)
In these opening verses, we meet the first of the Roman Emperors – Caesar Augustus. This man was originally known as Octavius. He came to power after the assassination of his great uncle Julius Caesar. Octavian brought order and stability to the Roman Empire, expanding it broadly. He ruled for 41 years ushering in the historic “Pax Romana.”
The Caesar is flexing his muscles here for the whole empire to see. And he does it by a decree. Imagine how people across the empire would have responded. Some would have been quite impressed. “Our man is getting the job done! Look at his power! Rome is great! This is the future!” Some would be quite intimidated. “This man can issue a decree and uproot our lives! We’re like cockroaches to be crushed. Many dark days are ahead. Buckle in.” Some would be angry. They’d rise up and say “enough”, and they’d rouse people with speeches of taking back the land (see Acts 5:37).
Whether angry, intimidated, or impressed all three people have the same problem. They assume that Caesar has more authority and power than he really does. There is One who has the greater decree.
Proverbs 21:1 – “A king’s heart is like channeled water in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever he chooses.”
Prov. 19:21 – “Many plans are in a person’s heart, but the Lord’s decree will prevail.”
The Bible teaches us is that we should not be overly impressed or intimated by not-so-powerful kings. This is quite relevant for us today!
Consider what’s really happening. Caesar’s decree is being used by God to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. And what will happen in Bethlehem?The prophecy will be fulfilled – “Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah; one will come from you to be ruler over Israel for me” (Micah 5:2). Who is this ruler? One who will shepherd his people, and whose “greatness will extend to the ends of the earth” (5:4). If you think the Roman Empire is big, how about the very ends of the earth!? Jesus is the King of kings, and that includes Caesar. While Caesar was flexing his imperial muscles, God was quietly infiltrating the situation to bring us the Savior of the world.
The doctrine of the sovereignty of God should give us deep comfort. This was probably stressful for Joseph and Mary. “Come on, she’s pretty far along. Are you really going to make us take a 3-day trip to Bethlehem? What about Mary’s family?” Yet God knows exactly what He’s doing. He’s sovereign! Sovereign over Kings. Sovereign over legislation. Sovereign over the taxes. He’s sovereign over 2020!
2020 has been the supreme year of things not going our way. You’ve likely had some not so flattering moments in the midst of it. Perhaps you’ve complained this whole year and put people around you on edge. Perhaps you’ve taken the approach of not caring, and have stopped praying, stopped engaging with God. Perhaps you’ve sought escape through vices – numbing yourself to your frustration, only to be left feeling dead inside.
Whatever the response may be, the sin underneath is unbelief – a shortsightedness that says “my life is out of control, and God is nowhere to be found.”
In looking at the not-so-powerful Caesar, we have an argument from the greater to the lesser. If God was in control working His purposes out for His people with something as big as that, then surely He’s in control and can work out His purpose for you.
May we have the heart of Mary, who said, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
In our next post, we’ll look at David – the incomplete king.