Summary: By his sacrifice of himself, Jesus has proven his love for us. And because of that we worship him. We acknowledge him as Savior and Lord not because we have to but because we want to!
Do you remember the story of the emperor’s clothes? If I am recalling it right, someone persuaded the emperor to buy a suit of clothes that only people with the most exquisite taste in fashion could see. Of course, the emperor could not see the clothes, nor could anyone else – because the peddler was lying. There were no clothes to be seen. But no one would say so, not even the emperor! Why not? Because no one wanted to admit that they couldn’t see the clothes the emperor had spent a fortune buying.
Of course, the emperor wanted to show off his new clothes. So a parade was arranged. And there, on the street, with thousands of onlookers, the emperor rode along, completely exposed. But, knowing that they themselves would be exposed as having less than refined taste, the people wouldn’t speak up and tell the truth. The emperor was out in public in the raw! And no one would say it…except a little boy in the crowd. And, of course, he blasted out the facts: The emperor has no clothes!
It’s a child’s tale, to be sure, but it exposes – if I may use that word – some very grown-up truths. Vanity leads to self-deception, and fear of those with power over us causes us to collude in their despotism by flattering them. In other words, we all have a tendency to live a lie.
Now, since we’re picking on emperors, let me read you something:
We should consider the [birth of the] most divine Caesar [as] the beginning of all things [good]…for when everything was falling into disorder and tending toward dissolution, he restored it…and gave the whole world a new [quality]. Caesar [is] the common good Fortune of all…, the beginning of life and vitality…. All…cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine Caesar as the new beginning of the year…. The providence that has regulated our whole existence…has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us the emperor Augustus…who, being sent to us and our descendants as Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order. And whereas, having become god manifest, Caesar has fulfilled the hopes of earlier times…. The birthday of the god Augustus has been for the whole world the beginning of good news concerning him.”
What does that sound like to you? It sounds an awfully lot like what the angel said to the shepherds, doesn’t it? These are the words of an inscription found in modern day Turkey and dated a few years before the birth of Jesus. The words represent a widely used formula in ancient times for ingratiating yourself to those in power. If you wanted a special favor for your town, or protection even, you might set up a monument to the emperor and put a plaque on it, calling him “savior” and “lord” and declaring how he had brought “peace on earth, goodwill to men” and how that was “good news of great joy.”
So, what does this fact have to do with the angel’s announcement to the shepherds? Does it render it a false claim for the baby lying in a manger?
No. Just the opposite, in fact. It invalidates the claim of all the others to the titles of “savior” and “lord.” How can I be so sure of this? Because all the others wear such titles as self-serving badges to prop up their own egos. Not so with the baby in Bethlehem. He stands out in total contrast. He is Savior and Lord not for his own sake, but for the sake of his subjects.
You may read in 2 Corinthians 8, verse 9, that “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”
If you turn to John, chapter 10, you may read there how Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11).
If you go to Mark, chapter 10, you may read, again, how Jesus said of himself that “even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45).
We may exalt some who, like Augustine, exact our praise, and we may even yield to them because they claim authority over us. We may even allow them to take credit for whatever so-called peace there is – we may do that because of our fear of them.
But we exalt Jesus and praise him – indeed, yield ourselves to him and attest to the peace he brings – not because we are afraid not to but because he is worthy. “Worthy are you,” say those assembled in the heavenly court to Jesus – “Worthy are you…for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God form every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
By his sacrifice of himself, Jesus has proven his love for us. And because of that we worship him. We acknowledge him as Savior and Lord not because we have to but because we want to!