************ Sermon on Luke 2:1,11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 25, 2007
"Caesar or Jesus"
In Luke 2:1 we are told about Caesar Augustus. Have you ever wondered why Luke includes Caesar in the story of Jesus' birth? There are a couple of reasons. Luke wants to tell us the geopolitical setting for the Messiah's birth. Luke also wants to firmly establish Jesus' birth as a real historical event. The main reason, though, that Caesar and Christ are mentioned together is because the Christmas story is a story about two saviors and two kings.
Within the Roman Empire everyone knew that Caesar claimed for himself the title, "Savior of the World." He boasted that he ruled the entire world; therefore he demanded that all acknowledge him as king and ruler. Unknown to him, in the year 4 B.C., a rival was born, Someone Who also claimed to be Savior and King.
On this Christmas Day, Luke is calling his audience and he is calling us to make a choice between the two saviors and two kings of Christmas. Who is our savior: Caesar or Jesus? Who is our king: Caesar or Jesus?
I The Two Saviors
A At the time of Jesus' birth in 4 B.C. the Roman Empire was filled with discouraged, dispirited, and confused people. This confusion, despair, and discouragement was the end product of many years of warfare and destruction and turmoil.
The conquered peoples did not know who or what to believe in anymore. Back then each nation had its own gods on whom it depended. When a nation lost a war, that meant their gods had either forsaken them or were not powerful anymore. The Roman Empire was filled with conquered people. So these people had no gods left. And without the gods, on whom would they depend, to whom could they look? No wonder these people were discouraged, dispirited, and confused.
B Augustus, who was a very ambitious man, planned to change all this. He decided to provide the security these despairing people needed after the loss of their gods. He would give them a new way of life, a new world order. He would give them the order and peace and justice of Rome. Augustus asked the conquered peoples to forget about their gods – who had not been able to help them anyway – and to depend on the new Roman order, that way of life of which he, Caesar Augustus, was the symbol. Worship Augustus, hail Caesar, and he will provide peace and prosperity! Augustus proposed a new world-wide religion, the worship of the Caesars of Rome.
To achieve this, to bring all the world to his feet in worship, Caesar ordered a census to be taken of all the people and nations under his rule. This was the first step in establishing the new world order. This was the first step in getting all people to worship Caesar.
Augustus proclaimed himself as the savior of the world's discouraged, dispirited, and confused people. He was going to save the world by his brilliant politics, his careful administration, his powerful military, his excellent economics, and by the beauty and magnificence of Roman culture.
In later years Augustus was remembered as the Emperor who had pacified the world. His victories put an end to the civil wars that had ravaged the Roman realms after the assassination of Julius Caesar. In the Roman Forum there was a shrine of the pagan god Janus; this shrine always stood open in times of war; thanks to Augustus the doors of the shrine were at last able to be closed. The "pax Romana," the peace of Rome, brought by Augustus marked the start of a glorious age of pastoral rule over a peaceful world. To symbolize this, there was erected around 13 B.C. a great altar to the peace brought about by Augustus. Caesar's birthday was a holiday for the entire Empire and marked the new beginning of time.
The refrain heard as Caesar's plan was being carried out, praised man and his greatness. The anthem that was sung said, "Glory to man in the highest."
C People today still practice the religion of Caesar Augustus. People today still believe in the greatness of man. Man continues to look to himself, his abilities, his discoveries, for his own salvation.
As in Caesar's day, men put their heads together and proclaim new orders and new saviors. Countries turn to the political right or the political left and propose their new leader and program to be the country's salvation. People in Eastern Europe and the former U.S.S.R. overthrew their communist masters and looked to democracy and political freedom and capitalism for salvation; now some of them have switched back to the former communists. Scientists put their hope in some new discovery or achievement which will make life more meaningful for us all. Technologists propose the computer and the computer age as the key to happiness. Researchers look for the perfect cure, educators try to discover the perfect teaching model, and psychiatrists seek the key to the human psyche – all of this supposedly spells salvation and an end to despair.
Once again it is the old refrain: "Glory to man in the highest." Man can save himself. Man will create utopia, a perfect society, here on earth. The end to despair, the beginning of hope, is man himself.
D Luke comes with a different message. Man can't save himself. No Caesar, no political freedoms, no computer, no cure, and no discovery can spell an end to despair and the beginning of hope.
For hope and salvation, Luke directs us to "a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger" (vs 12). Luke comes with Good News that works; He comes with Good News that results in salvation: "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you" (vs 11). This Savior's name is not Caesar Augustus; rather, "he is Christ the Lord" (vs 11). His birth meant "peace to men favored by God" (vs 14). The testimony to His peace was not a manmade altar, such as was made to the "pax Romana"; rather, it was a heavenly host of angels that proclaimed "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" (vs 14). His birthday, not Caesar's, marks the new beginning of time.
How does this Savior operate? How is He going to save a dispirited, discouraged, confused people? He doesn't do a census. He doesn't send His legions into the world first. He doesn't force Himself upon the people as savior. To put it simply, He dies upon the cross. This Savior brings hope and salvation through His blood and Spirit. He comes to earth as a man and dies upon the cross.
Caesar, as savior, is worth nothing. His plan of salvation comes to nothing. But Christ, He as Savior is beyond worth. His plan of salvation works and results in redemption. Why? Because the salvation of Christ depends upon God. It is God Who works out salvation through the blood and Spirit of Christ. God can succeed where Caesar fails. Only God can save!
The anthem that echoes forth with this Savior, the refrain that is heard, does not praise man; rather, it praises God. In the heavens, says Luke, there was a multitude of angels singing, "Glory to God in the highest" (vs 14).
That's the big difference between the two saviors and the two salvations: one brings praise to God, the other brings praise to man. No wonder that the salvation of Caesar fails whereas the salvation of Christ succeeds.
II The Two Kings
A Christmas is a story not only of two Saviors but also of two kings. The name of the one is "Caesar Augustus." That is not his real name, of course. It is a title that he took for himself. It means "The Exalted One."
Caesar is one of the great men of the world. He commands the thousands of the Roman legions; his is an empire that stretches to the far corners of the earth. His is power and might. Augustus commands and the whole world is on the road to be enrolled. People heed his every command and follow his every wish. Again we hear the ancient refrain being sung: "Glory to man in the highest."
B On the other side is a little child born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is very significant to the Christmas story. It appears in all three parts of the Christmas story. Joseph went up to Bethlehem (vs 4). The angels announce that is where the Savior has been born (vs 11). And, we are told that the shepherds hurried to Bethlehem (vs 15,16). What is so important about Bethlehem? Just in case we don't know, two times we are told that Bethlehem is "the town of David" (vs 4, 11). David, of course, is Israel's greatest king. Furthermore, we are told that Joseph "belonged to the house and line of David" (vs 4). The prophet Micah tells us that the Messiah, the Christ, the King, is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem (Micah 5:1). Here is a clear statement, that Jesus is the new-born King.
But, can He really be the King? There is no room for Him at Bethlehem Inn so He is born in a stable and laid in a manger. The only ones bowing before Him are some poor shepherds. By His own admission, His is an invisible kingdom that is not of this world; His is no army or soldiers. Yet, He claims to be king. Not too impressive, is it? Yet, in His rule we hear the song of the angels being sung: "Glory to God in the highest."
C Nearly 2000 years have passed since the days of Caesar. Where is Caesar today? He is gone, His empire is gone, His legions are gone. But we can't say that about King Jesus, can we? Christ is still here.
What a turn-around: Christ's birthday, not Caesar's, is a time of celebration. Christ's Kingdom, not Caesar's, is growing day-by-day. Christ's rule, not Caesar's, is still in effect. In fact, Christ now sits at the right hand of God and has been given all rule, all authority, all power, and all might.
D Caesar is gone. His kingdom is gone. Christ still rules. His Kingdom is getting bigger and bigger. The kings and kingdoms of this world are shown to be nothing. Yet, what does man do? Man continues to elevate himself to the throne of Christ. Man pretends that he is master of his life and controller of his destiny. Man fools himself into thinking that he is in control.
Man plays at being God. There is genetic manipulation of humans before birth; genes are implanted to prevent certain genetic diseases. Unborn babies are being aborted when tests reveal that the child is flawed in some way. Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide appears to be growing in acceptance. There are all sorts of dire predictions of global warming and what mankind must do – as if the cycle of heating and cooling the earth has gone through for thousands of years is totally in our control.
Luke is calling his audience and he is calling us to make a choice between the two saviors and two kings of Christmas. Who is our savior: Caesar or Jesus? Who is our king: Caesar or Jesus? We have to make a choice between "Glory to man" and "Glory to God."
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