What is so profound is how easily God uses the most powerful men on the planet for His purposes.
GOD’S PROVIDENCE (1-4)
Luke mentions the historically mountainous figure: Caesar Augustus. This is not his name, but his title. Like Christ is not Jesus’ last name, but his title. Caesar means “emperor” and Augustus means “revered”. Caesar Augustus is a title that means “Revered Emperor”. His real name is Gaius Octavius. He ruled Rome from 27bc until his death in 14AD and is arguably the greatest person in Roman history. He was part of the 2nd Triumvirate defeating Julius Caesars assassins Brutus and Cassius. He defeated Antony and Cleopatra. He is part of that history Shakespeare wrote about in Julius Caesar and Antony & Cleopatra. Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian, aka Caesar Augustus, established the Pax Romana, the era of peace. He accomplished incredible infrastructure projects and promoted the arts. It is said that on his deathbed he declared, “I found Rome brick and left it marble” – and many agree. This is the Caesar at the time of Jesus’ birth.
Application: Take note that God’s dealings are historical. They do not take place in some imagined world. This isn’t fiction or fable. God is at work in history, real history – working in real nations, real rulers, real political-economic systems, real people, in real places at real times in human history. God is “all mixed up” in the affairs of man. So do not have a disjointed view of your faith, that there is the “real” world out there and then there is this “retreat” into a little imaginary cave where we read the Bible. That kind of thinking divorces the reality of God from the reality of your life and the world you are living in. When you leave this cave called Church the same God you heard about is the God out there.
He is also the Caesar who ordered a census be taken. A census was taken for 2 reasons: military service and taxations. The Jews were exempt from serving in Rome’s military, but, not taxation. So this census Luke mentions would have been for that purpose.
There is criticism of Luke’s history here. People pounce on the fact that he says this census took place under Quirinius. For them, it proves Luke made an error, that the Bible can’t be trusted, and God is not really the One behind the words of Scripture.
The problem is that if this census happened under Quirinius, then it happened too late for Jesus to be born. We know Jesus was born around 4BC, when Herod was alive. We know Quirinius wasn’t governor of Syria until 6AD, after Herod’s death. And we know there was a census in Israel was taken in 6AD – as the Jewish historian Josephus recorded. This census caused an uproar and a riot in Jerusalem, Josephus says. Luke refers to this census and riot in Acts 5:37.
The point is: how can Luke say Jesus was born during this census when “everything we know” says the census took place 10 years after Jesus was born.
Well, that’s that folks. They got us! Close your Bibles and go home. We’re wasting our time. We cant trust the Bible so lets disband and quit this whole charade.
The best explanation is that Quirinius served two times as governor of Syria. The archaeological evidence comes through here. In Tivoli Italy in 1764 a stone fragment was discovered that belonged to the tomb of Quirinius. It says that this Quirinius was twice governor of Syria during the reign of Caesar Augustus.
Application: The Bible is not proven wrong. It may not be proven right, but that is different than it being proven wrong. What I mean is that the Bible has been vindicated time and time and time again. How many times in history have skeptics criticized something about the Bible only at some later time evidence, like archaeology, is discovered verifying the word of God. Trust the Word of God no matter how much the devilish scoffers doubt. Your faith will be rewarded.
So this census is issued. Our heading is the Providence of God. What do I mean by that? Providence refers to God working out His plans within human activity. God works providentially through the political activity of Rome to accomplish His purpose. God didn’t rapture Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. He may have sent an angel to inform them about the pregnancy, but God didn’t send an angel to order them to move to Bethlehem. God used the circumstances to move people where He wanted. He used what was happening in the normal flow of history, of life on earth, to get things done He had in mind.
When a job change moves you to a new location and you see God doing great things in your life in that new place that’s God’s providence. When COVID leads you to a new church home that’s God’s providence. When you have a setback and meet someone who blesses you – someone you never would have met had you not had that setback – that is God’s providence. When you and your wife met because she originally was dating your best friend and if she hadn’t you would never have met her – that’s God’s providence. See how providence is God working through the situations and circumstances of our lives to bring about things He has in mind? “The LORD works out everything for His own ends” Proverbs 16:4 says.
Now think about this: in the first 3 verses we see the most powerful person on earth, Caesar Augustus, being used by the most powerful person in the universe. God has plans and His plans will be accomplished. What is so profound is how easily He uses the most powerful men on the planet for His purposes.
There was no one with greater power on earth at that time than Caesar Augustus. And Caesar decided in his heart that he would issue a decree for a census to be taken. A census would be issued at that time for 2 reasons: 1) to figure out how many men were available for military service and 2) for taxing purposes.
But whatever human reasons Caesar had for a census, whatever gain for his empire it would bring, God’s higher purpose was simply to move two people from one small town to another. God promised a long time ago that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). And the woman God chose to give birth to the Christ needed to be moved from Nazareth, 70 miles south to Bethlehem.
Like Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar before him, Caesar was the most powerful man on earth. But like Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar before him he was a pawn in the hand of God. “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) Or Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”
There is no one who is too powerful for God to control. There is no one who is too big for God to subdue. There is no one who is too great for God to bring into submission to Himself. The greatest of kings down to the lowest of slaves are powerless under the mighty hand of God. Psalm 2 is a great Messianic Psalm and it says, “The Lord rebukes the kings of the earth in His anger and terrifies them in His wrath…Therefore you kings, be wise; be warned you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for His wrath can flare up in a moment.”
God is not only the Lord of lords and King of kings, but the Caesar of Caesars. The problem in Rome was they never called God “Caesar”, and instead began to call Caesar “God”.
Is God our Caesar? Is the Provident One in whom we trust? Are we not daily faced with our own inabilities? Do we not almost moment by moment find ourselves too small for the task? Does not life often seem to overtake us and leave us in danger of being swallowed up? Yet, if we can begin to live with the expectation that God is sovereign then we can begin to stop living the lie that we are in control and live with confidence that God is in control of our lives. So often we try to pretend that we live confidently when we are secretly trying to control. Real confidence is in God, not in ourselves. If He controls even the kings and the presidents and the dictators for His purposes so too then He controls my puny life.
GOD POSITIONED (4-5)
When I say God positioned I mean that God has positioned everything exactly how he wants so what He wants to happen will happen exactly how he said it would. This extends the idea of His Providence and shows more of how He governs global and individual affairs towards His ends. Remember God determines the times and places people would be born (Acts 17), and he is also determining things here. You see things are God-positioned geographically, chronologically, ancestrally, prophetically, pregnantly.
Geographically you see Joseph and Mary move 70 miles south from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Why Bethlehem? Well one reason is because during a census everyone had to return to their ancestral home. Joseph was a descendent of David, and Bethlehem was David’s town, and so Joseph had to go there for the census.
This leads us to the prophecies being “God-positioned”. In other words God has positioned things on earth to now fulfill several prophecies that have been hundreds of years in the waiting.
First is that Jesus was a descendent of David. The Messiah, as we saw last week, was always going to be in the line of David. Here He is, born in the line of David. And to make things even better, Here He is born in the town of David: Bethlehem.
Which brings us to the 2nd prophecy God was making good on: the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. The old prophet Micah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared 500 years earlier that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. He said in Micah 5:2, “But you Bethlehem, in the land of Judea, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”
Here’s the stakes: If the Christ did not come from Bethlehem and was not a descendant of David, then God would not be faithful. His word could not be trusted. He is not worth believing in.
But the Savior does come from Bethlehem just as God said He would. Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth. In order for the Christ to be born in Bethlehem, and fulfill Micah 5:2, they needed a reason to go to Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth. It is not coincidental that Caesar ordered the census at this time. God sovereignly caused him to make the order so that Joseph and Mary would need to go to Bethlehem.
Who knows how many other things were accomplished by God through this census. But, whatever was done, of all things, God was fulfilling what He promised through Micah long ago.
APPLICATION: God is faithful to His word. He is perfect in His wisdom and knows the best course. He is perfect in power and orders history according to His plans. I’m sure there was grumbling among everyone over the census. The Jews hated the census because they saw it as another tactic of Roman oppression. It was a great inconvenience and disturbance to have to travel so far for so long and be away from home for all that time. It wasn’t a cheap trip either. It was grueling, dangerous, and uncomfortable – especially for a woman who is long into her pregnancy
APPLICATION: How we often complain, or get frustrated, or become angry, or blame God or others for our circumstances. Do we ever stop and remember the sovereign hand of God at work around us in our lives?
He didn’t make it comfortable, convenient or easy for Joseph and Mary, but still they were heading in the direction that He wanted them to whether they knew it or not.
“The Lord works out everything for His own ends…the Lord determines a man’s steps.” Those are the words of Proverbs 16. You may not understand what is happening in your life right now. You may be on a tough road like Joseph and Mary. Maybe they asked the questions too: “God why is this happening now?”
But however much it doesn’t make sense to our minds, remember God is faithful and His plans are always best.
Remember the words in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
It’s in those times when life is out of our hands that we must remember that our life is always in His hands.
**Oh does your heart swell with assurance when you read this? My heart rises up in faith when I see that our God is faithful to His word. I know that He can be trusted when he speaks and what comfort for my heart that is. God can stand and say as He did in Numbers 23:19, “I am not a man that I should lie or the son of man that I should change my mind. Do I speak and then not act? Do I promise and then not fulfill?”
The situation was God-positioned chronologically too. This means that the situation was timed according to God’s perfect wisdom. “While they were there” verse 6 says, “the time came for the baby to be born.” The time no doubt was not soon enough for Mary, considering how 3rd Trimesters go! But this “time”, meant more than just the time for a pregnant woman to give birth. It meant that, for sure. But it was time for Christ’s grand – er, humble – entrance. Galatians 4:4 says, “When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman…” The historical epochal wait was over. The time was now. Divinely guided history had arrived to this moment. Christ was here!
GOD’S PLACE (6-7)
Verses 6-7 say, “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 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 for them in the inn.”
This passage begins with God involved in the life of the most powerful man on earth and ends showing Him active in the lives of two of the littlest people on earth. God moved mountains to move those two little people where He wanted them to be. Yet, God used two little people in His plan to save the world.
Listen to Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 as he talks about who God uses for His purposes, “Brothers think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many of you were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.”
..MILLIE PECK POEM
God’s place was in a manger. They didn’t have a place for him in the inn. But that was even God’s design. The humility of Christ was total. The descent from His glorious place above was all the way. Born in the humblest of places. In the end, died in the most shameful of places – a cross. What did Philippians 2:8 say again? “He humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”
More importantly today the question of God’s place relates to your heart. Your life. Are you like the Inn and have no room? Or, are you ready to give God His rightful place? “Here I am!” Jesus says in Revelation 3, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in…”
Don’t be an Inn. Let Him in. Don’t let your life, like the Inn, be too crowded, distracted to let your Maker and Savior come in.
But then notice in these verses how God gets involved in a more intimate way. A child was expected. Oh how that phrase is so loaded. Mary wasn’t the only one expecting a child. Israel should have been. Isaiah 7:14 says, “And the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Expect a Son. And two chapters later Isaiah says it again, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Expect a son.
Has this Christmas been for you about expecting Jesus? This Christmas Christ has been expecting you. Don’t be Israel and miss Him. Instead, receive Him.