************ Sermon on Luke 2:1,11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 25, 2015
"Caesar or Jesus"
In Luke 2:1 we are told about Caesar Augustus. We see here that Luke is meticulous about historical details. He is making the point that Jesus is born in history in stark contrast to all the gods of pagan religion. None of the Greek and Roman gods, for instance, were born in history; none of them were born of a woman at a certain time and in a certain place; instead, they were born of the gods.
Luke mentions Caesar Augustus because that is the way to date the birth of Christ. And, he wants to date the birth of Christ because time and history are important to God. The Bible tells us God created time and, as we learned from the Song of Zechariah last Sunday night, God routinely visits His people in history. In 4 or 3 B.C., during the reign of Caesar Augustus, the good news of Christmas is that God entered history in the person of His Son. History and time and are important to God.
There are three words concerning time in the New Testament. The first word is chronos, which appears in English words like chronicle and chronology. The word chronos is used in the New Testament for ordinary time and ordinary events.
The second word is kairos which refers to significant moments in time. What we call historic events. Events that change the world and our perception of the world. The World Trade Center attack on 9/11 was such an event. The end of World War II was such an event. The birth of Christ in history was such an event.
The third word is pleroma. This word means fullness and refers to the fullness of time. We find this word used by Paul in his letter to Galatia:
(Gal 4:4) But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,Christ came when the time had fully come. Meaning what? Meaning that God has so directed all of human history and events and politics and nations and men so that all is ready for the most important event in all of human history to take place. God worked things out so Christ was born at just the right time and in the right place and in the right way. By the plan of God the fullness of time involved Caesar Augustus, his accomplishments, his peace, his empire, his language and culture.
(cf Eph 1:9-10)
Let me remind you, again, of Luke's purpose in writing his gospel. He is writing his gospel so Theophilus can be certain about the gospel and the message of Christmas. He is writing his gospel so Theophilus knows that the events of Christ's life actually did happen. They happened in history. They happened when Caesar Augustus was ruler. They happened in the fullness of time.
So, what is Luke's message on this Christmas Day? Luke is telling Theophilus, and us, that the story of Christmas is a story about two saviors and two kings.
Within the Roman Empire everyone knew that Caesar claimed to be the savior and ruler of the world. Unknown to him, in the year 4 or 3 B.C., a rival was born, Someone Who was also 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 4-3 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 Greco-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; but 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 peaceful 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. We heard a lot about the Arab Spring when dictators were overthrown; now many of the same countries are ruled by fanatical Muslims and everyone is worse off. Scientists and researchers put their hope in some new discovery or achievement or technology which will make life more meaningful for us all. In our own country we have seen the approval of gay marriage, the institution of Obama care, the legalization of marijuana, and a push for assisted suicide. All of these supposedly spell 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" (Lk 2:12). 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" (Lk 2:11). This Savior's name is not Caesar Augustus; rather, "he is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11). His birth means "peace to men on whom his favor rests" (Lk 2:14). The testimony to His peace was not a manmade altar, such as was made to the "pax Romana"; rather, it was a heavenly choir of angels. His birthday, not Caesar's, marks the new beginning of time. His birthday, not Caesar's is a kairos event.
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. In the fullness of time He comes to earth as a man and dies upon the cross.
This message of salvation in Christ is emphasized by the presence of shepherds. Commentators have recognized for years that the shepherds at Bethlehem were probably watching over flocks of sheep destined for the sacrificial altar in Jerusalem. The angel tells the shepherds about another Lamb of God, a Savior Who is Christ the Lord. Notice, too, that the angel did not say "a Savior has been born to Mary." No, the "Savior has been born to you" (Lk 2:11). The Savior was for them. Like the sacrificial lambs of their flocks, He was born to them as their Lamb of God. He was their Savior.
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.
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" (Lk 2:14).
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 is mentioned three times in the Christmas story. Joseph went up to Bethlehem (Lk 2:4). The angels announce that is where the Savior has been born (Lk 2:11). And, we are told that the shepherds hurried to Bethlehem (Lk 2:15,16). 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" (Lk 2:4, 11). David, of course, is Israel's greatest king. Furthermore, we are told that Joseph "belonged to the house and line of David" (Lk 2:4). 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. Augustus had no idea when he sent out his decree that he was bringing about the fullness of time, fulfilling Scripture, and laying the foundation for a new empire.
But, is Jesus really the King? I ask that because 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 More than 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 he is master of his life and controller of his destiny. Man fools himself into thinking 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 are growing in acceptance. Man acts like he is in control. But it is Jesus -- not you, not me, not the government -- Who is in control, Who is King and Ruler.
Look, again, at the shepherds. They hear the news that born to them is a Savior and King. They did not dismiss the news. They did not debate it. They were excited. So they said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about" (Lk 2:15). We read that they "hurried off" (Lk 2:16). They found Mary and Joseph and the baby which implies that they had to search. Because it was night time, it probably took them some time to track down a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger (Lk 2:12). But find Him they did. And then they went and told everyone they met the story of Jesus. They told everyone about the angel message and angels' song. They told everyone that Jesus is Savior and King, that He is the Lamb of God and Ruler.
The shepherds are an example to Theophilus of people who took God at His Word and believed it. They are an example to Theophilus of people who were certain about the truth of the Christmas story. They are an example to Theophilus of people who are certain Jesus is Savior and Lord.
Luke is telling Theophilus -- and he is telling us -- to be like the shepherds. He is telling Theophilus -- and he is telling us -- to make a choice between the two saviors and two kings of Christmas. So let me ask, congregation. Who is your savior: Caesar or Jesus? Who is your king: Caesar or Jesus?
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