Summary: Ultimately, the birth of Jesus is about who gets glory. Glory to God!
We haven’t spent too much time thinking about the way things were in the world when Jesus was born. I listened to a talk by speaker Rob Bell this week and I started thinking about what the world was like when Jesus was born. Look at Luke 2:1.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.
Luke 2:1 (ESV)
If the people watched Fox News or CNN 2000 years ago, they would have noticed the cameras focusing on Caesar Augustus. Everyone would have been watching him. He was the emperor of Rome. And the Roman Empire stretched from England to Egypt, from Spain to Arabia, from Morocco to Turkey. Essentially, he ruled the western world.
His name was originally “Octavian.” At age 18 he was adopted by his great-uncle Julius Caesar. After Julius Caesar was assassinated, a power struggle followed and Octavian eventually defeated Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BC. 4 years later, Octavian became the first Roman Emperor and took the name Caesar Augustus.
Augustus means majestic, sacred, sublime, revered. The rule of Augustus was mainly filled with victory. The Roman army was so strong that it protected citizens from attacks from the tribes who lived beyond the empire. The two hundred year period that began with the rule of Caesar Augustus was known as the Pax Romana, or the “Peace of Rome.” Many Romans came to think of him as a god.
In 17 BC, Augustus announced a “nouus annus” – a new age based on virtue, peace, honor and truth. In 14 BC, Augustus was deified by the Roman Senate. He was the first Roman ruler to be worshipped as “divi filius” – a son of god. In 12 B.C., he took the title of Pontifex Maximus, or High Priest.
A poem was written about him:
Next behold the youth of form divine,
Ceasar himself, exalted in his line;
Augustus, promis’d oft, and long foretold,
Sent to the realm that Saturn rul’d of old;
Born to restore a better age of gold.
In 2 BC, a coin – a denarius – was minted with a picture of Augustus. Around the edge were these words, “Caesar Augustus Divi Filius Pater Patriae” – Caesar Augustus, son of the Divine, Father of the Country.
Augustus would provide what was called “bread and circus” for the people. In order to keep the people of Rome from becoming too unhappy with their lives, the government provided them with enough food (or bread) so they wouldn’t starve and enough entertainment (or circuses) so they would be amused.
And don’t forget that the people in the Roman empire were expected to say “Caesar is Lord.” If you didn’t, you’d lose your head.
Augustus died at the age of 77 in AD 14. The bereaved people erected temples and altars in his memory. After his death, a senator announced with an oath that he had seen Augustus “ascend into heaven.” And an account of his life was written called “The Achievements of the Divine Augustus.”
You can almost hear the people singing, “Glory to Augustus! The good news is that Ceasar Augustus is ruling. He’ll give us bread. He’ll give us great joy through the entertainment he provides. He’s our Savior, our High Priest, our Lord. He’s the source of our peace.”
Think with me. This is the ways things were when Luke writes that an angel said to a group of dirty shepherds in an obscure corner of a conquered country:
Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Luke 2: 10-14 (ESV)
In that day, this was radical, revolutionary news! The glory doesn’t go to Caesar. It goes to God! Think about that last verse.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!
Luke 2: 14 (ESV)
Ultimately, the birth of Jesus is about who gets glory. Glory to God!
It gives glory to God when you see Jesus as the One who can free you from your fears,
as your Source of good news, as your Foundation for great joy, as your Savior, as your Cause for peace, as your Christ, and as your Lord. It takes away from God’s glory when we seek alternatives.
Today, we aren’t tempted to look to Caesar Augustus as our source. But we look in lots of other places. It might be job security that you look to for freedom from fear. It might be your spouse that you look to for good news. Maybe it’s how you hope your kids will turn out that you are counting on to give you great joy. Perhaps you are hoping some physician will be the savior of your health. You’re looking to some person in your world to create some kind of personal peace for you. You’re looking in the “how to” section of the bookstore for guidance.