Summary: 2nd of series based on Galatians 4:4 - why Jesus came when He did. This one shows the time was right POLITICALLY - God used the Roman system. God is the Way-Maker!
Acts 14:26-27 – God Can Even Use Governments
A young African boy listened intently as the missionary teacher explained why Christians give presents to each other on Christmas Day: “Because it’s an expression of our joy over the birth of Jesus and our love for one another”.
When Christmas came the boy brought the teacher a very beautiful sea shell. “Where did you find such a shell?” He told her how there was only one spot, several miles away where they could be found. “You shouldn’t have gone all that way to get a gift for me!” His eyes brightened as he said, “Long walk was part of gift.”
It was the long walk that Jesus made that makes Christmas special. It wasn’t that God sent a prophet – He had done that before, and they were already part of this world. But for Jesus to come was a long walk, part of this story called Christianity that brings a wonder and a fascination to it all.
Last week we began a series on the timing of Jesus’ birth: why did He come into the world when He did? Galatians 4:4 tells us that it was just the right time, that the time was perfect. Last week we saw that at the time of Jesus’ birth, 90% of the known world spoke one common language: Greek. The time was right culturally for Jesus to come into the world, when the message of God’s love could be easily communicated to many people.
This week, we are going to look at the political setting that Jesus was born into. Let’s read Acts 14:26-27. This passage shows that God had done and was doing something new. Salvation was taking on a whole new face. A person no longer needed to be Jewish to be right with God; one only had to receive Jesus. That was such a new thing. Now, nobody thinks twice about it. Who would think nowadays that you’d have to convert to Judaism and submit to its laws like circumcision and dietary rules, just so you could call yourself a Christian? But at the time, it was revolutionary. God had opened up the door of faith to all peoples.
And that was a good thing, too, because the Jews were surrounded by foreigners. They may have been in their homeland, the land God had promised them back 2000 years before, but they were still encircled by outsiders. And they had been for some time. First the Assyrians came and conquered them. Then the Babylonians. Then the Persians. Then the Macedonians, with their far-reaching Greek language. And as we saw last week, by the time Jesus stepped into history, the Jewish homeland, called Palestine, was ruled by the Roman Empire.
Now, at this point, I want to say 2 things that perhaps didn’t come across well in last week’s sermon: 1) I said that the province of Macedonia was overthrown by the Romans in 165BC, but Palestine, the Promised Land, the Jewish homeland, didn’t come under Roman rule until 65BC, 100 years later. There’s a whole section of history I didn’t mention last week, like the Jewish wars and Judas Maccabees. But what I did want to correct was this: that Roman occupation was still very new in Jesus’ day. God did not wait long to bring His plans into effect after the Romans started to rule. And 2), the Romans ruled in name. They ruled politically. But the dominant language was not Latin. It was Greek. The victorious Romans ruled the world, but the defeated Greeks still ruled the culture.
So what was the Roman world like? What kind of civilization did the Romans bring to their defeated lands? Why did God choose the regime of the Romans to bring His Son into the world? Well, realistically, looking back, we can see so many advantages that the Roman world brought to the spread of the gospel, the story of God’s love.
The 1st blessing that came from the Roman system was peace. It was called the Pax Romana. The world was relatively at peace. The wars had been fought. The land had been taken. And the Roman Empire would remain more or less stable for the next 300 years. This is fairly significant. Wars have a tendency to distract us. Wars cause us, by necessity, to batten down the hatches and prepare for the worst, without giving too much thought to ourselves, our well-being, our futures. Wars are too often pointless. Wars devastate the economy. Wars make things difficult on the homefront.
But what the Pax Romana did was enable the early believers in Christ to share His love. Things were going pretty good. People had time to sit back and consider their futures. It would not always be like that, granted, but at least in the start, Roman peace would be able to spread the gospel.