The Gospel of Luke: Caesar Augustus and the Baby in the Manger (Luke 2:1-7)

Today message text of Sunday, November 4, 2018 from Asst. Pastor Travis Jackson

Christmas is almost everyone’s favorite holiday. Stores have already set up Christmas decorations to get shoppers in the mode with holiday jingles. TV networks televised Christmas reruns and advertisement to persuade people to spend their money. In fact, Christmas holiday sales total to 400 billion dollars or more. During Christmas holiday, people traditionally drink eggnog and hot cocoa people install Christmas trees and lights. People have lavish Christmas parties and at those parties, they purposefully stand underneath mistletoes to kiss each other.

Most kids believe Christmas is about Santa Claus and they are on their best behavior to make sure they ’re not on Santa’s naughty list. This belief in Santa Claus causes kids to idolized the fictional character. Parents will take their kids to their local shopping mall or plaza to take a picture on a stranger’s lap who is dressed as Santa Claus. As a kid, I thought if Christmas is about Santa Claus how could it be about Jesus’ birth. Later in life, I discovered that the Santa Clause is not real.
Have you ever wondered why people automatically follow certain traditions of Christmas? Why do people purchase Christmas trees to place them inside their homes along with Christmas lights? Why do people stand underneath mistletoes to kiss each other? Why Santa Claus is a popular figure during the Christmas holiday? Have you thought about these things before? If you have not, I was going to tell you anyway.

Christmas trees became popular because Christians believe that the evergreen tree symbolized life. People also believe that Christmas trees symbolize the tree of life that was located in the garden of Eden. Later on, people added candles onto the Christmas trees ergo people place Christmas lights on trees. And in the nineteenth-century people placed stars on top of Christmas trees to represent the nativity of Jesus.

Many cultures regarded mistletoes as symbols of male fertility because mistletoes have the appearance of male private parts. The Celtics cults used mistletoe for the religious ceremony they would sacrifice two white bulls and used the mistletoes as medicine to cure infertility, and for anti-poisoning, and they also used it for magic. Around the eighteen century, “tradition dictated that a man was allowed to kiss any woman standing underneath [a] mistletoe, and that bad luck would come upon any woman who refused [to] kiss” ( “Mistletoe.” Accessed November 2, 2018. Wikipedia).

The legendary figure Santa Claus was known as Saint Nicholas who was a Greek Christian bishop. Saint Nicholas was famous for giving out gifts to poor people. He was a compassionate and generous guy, in particular, he saved three daughters of a “poor family from being forced into prostitution by paying dowries for them so they could marry. After doing their laundry, the girls hung their stockings by the fireplace to dry. That night Nicholas tossed a small bag of gold coins into each girl’s stocking. The custom of hanging Christmas stockings derives in part from that story” (MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Luke 1-5 141). Saint Nicholas is portrayed as a white-bearded man with freckles—wearing a red coat and who carries a bag full of gifts for children. This has been perpetuated through the use of music, movies, books and other forms of advertising.
In today’s culture, Christmas is ultimately about self-indulgence. Christmas is no longer about the celebration of Jesus birth which is God’s perfect gift to the world, it is about the religion of selfism. People are thrilled to participate in Christmas but they rather take Christ out of Christmas. Modern culture concentrates on self-centeredness. That is, people generally glorify the flesh instead of their Creator, Jesus.

It is important to speak about these things because we need to dispel the delusion that is in Christmas and that surrounds unbelievers and believers. We need to proclaim the true meaning of Christmas which is the birth of Christ Jesus and put Christ back into Christmas. It is far better to tell people the bare naked truth about Christmas instead of perpetuating a lie. And Luke has given us the unadulterated facts about Christmas.

Distractions like Christmas ornaments, Christmas trees, giving of gifts, Santa Claus and other things alike was not a concern for Luke. I understand these things were not around during Luke’s lifetime. It would be impossible for him to have any knowledge of these things, but that is beside the point that Luke has made in chapter two. As he was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he was concerned about accurately writing down accurately the historical events that took place at the time of Jesus’ birth.

In chapter one of Luke’s gospel, he introduced two parallel birth stories and both stories represent one timeline. The first birth story is about John the Baptist (Luke 1:13-17, 24, 57-66, 76-80), and the second birth story is about Jesus (Luke 1:30-35, 42-44). Chapter one focuses mainly on the birth story of John the Baptist that preceded Jesus’ birth. We ought to know by now why John’s was born before Jesus. John’s birth demonstrated the fulfillment of Scripture and he was the forerunner of the Lord, the prophet of the Highest, and his mission was to make preparations for the Lord, that is, he prepared the way of the Lord and made his paths straight (Isaiah 40:3). Therefore, it was necessary for Luke to write first about John’s birth story because the consummation of the Lord Jesus arrival was drawing near, as we read in the chapter. And we learned that John’s birth, childhood, and adulthood was summarized in Luke 1:80.

Luke takes our attention off John the Baptist’s birth narrative and he writes solely about the birth narrative of Jesus. Previously, we learned and read about the pronouncement of Jesus birth of which the angel Gabriel came to Mary telling her that she would conceive a child by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-38). Chapter two of Luke’s gospel initiates the background of Jesus’ birth narrative. The setting in chapter two is as follows: the story of Jesus birth according to chapter 2:1-7 (cf. 1:26-38), the story of angels announcing to shepherds who were in the field herding sheep that Jesus was born in manger according to 2:8-21. And in chapter 2:22-40, Jesus was presented during the reconstruction of the temple for circumcision which is in accordance with the Law of Moses.

 

Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-2)

Luke carefully introduces the historical setting of Jesus’ birth. At the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod the Great was king of Judea and Caesar Augustus was the emperor of Rome. The first time we read of Herod is in chapter one of Luke’s Gospel (cf. Luke 1:5). He was an Edomite and served as a governor of Judea but held the title asking during the Roman occupation of Israel. Luke wants us to bear in mind the socio-political climate that Jesus was born into. My grandmother is eighty-eight years old and she has shared with me some of her life experiences. She was born in the 1930s and in her lifetime she lived to see the inaugurations of fifteen presidents, world war 2, segregation and desegregation of public schools. All of you can share stories about cultural, social, and political events during your birth and childhood. Again, this is Luke’s intent concerning the cultural, social and political climate surrounding Jesus birth.

And as we have read, a decree was sent out by Cesar Augustus. Decrees were considered unchangeable laws that everyone had to obey and the importance of it was similar to the Constitution of the United States (cf. Job 6:6-9, 12-15); whenever the emperor made a command citizens of Rome followed the command without questioning it (cf. Acts 17:7; Acts 18:2) because decrees were foundational laws. And typically laws are created for military and monetary reasons, but the decree that Cesar Augustus enforced was for taxation (Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary). He wanted to know how many people he could tax and the only way to tax people was to have them volunteer to be registered. There were twelve Caesars in total during the Roman era and at least three of them is mentioned in the Bible (cf. Luke 2:1, 3:1; Acts 18:2). For example, the Caesar that is in Luke 2:1 is not the same person in Luke 3:1. This means Jesus lived during two ruling Caesars. When Jesus said “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Luke 20:25), he was referring to Tiberius Caesar which is the person named in Luke chapter three verse one.

Caesar Augustus was a title that was given to the person who rules Rome. The word Caesar means “emperor”, while Augustus means, “highly esteemed” (MacArthur, p. 143). And, Gaius Octavian is the person that is mentioned in our text this morning, according to verse one. Octavian came from a rich family. His grandfather was a commander in the Roman army and his father was a senator. His uncle Julius Caesar was the first to be emperor of Rome and later on in Octavian life he was adopted by his uncle, Julius Caesar. After Julius was assassinated, Octavian was inaugurated as Caesar August in the year of 44 bc until 14 AD, which means he was in power while Jesus was a baby and teenager.
Octavian was an intelligent man. He advanced engineering projects like temples and roads and those same roads were used by the apostles to further the gospel; the majority of these ruins still exist today. He was one of the most prominent figures in Roman history. After he defeated a man named Mark Antony and Cleopatra of Egypt, which was a strategic victory, he unified the Roman empire that which established Pax Romana, that is, “an era of peace and prosperity throughout the Greco-Roman world” (MacArthur). Since peace and prosperity was being enjoyed, the people of Rome built an altar to honor Octavian and naming the alter Peace of Augustus or the Alter of Peace.

All of this is important to know since Luke gave us the historical background of Jesus’ birth, so let us compare together Octavian and Jesus. Octavian brought universal peace to the Roman world, in comparison, Jesus who is the Son of God, and the Prince of Peace of the universe who was born into this world to give everlasting peace for all humanity (cf. Isaiah 9:6-7). Jesus said this of himself, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27; cf. Ephesians 2:14-15).

Whenever men or women are in a position of power two things will occur, they will either humble themselves before God, or they will become their own little god (cf. James 4:6). This is true for people who are presidents, kings, and tribal leaders. For example, people in North Korea are indoctrinated to believe their Supreme Leader is a god-like figure. This too was true for Octavian Augustus. Around the time Jesus was one in age, Rome declared that Octavian Caesar Augustus was to be worshiped as a god. They deified him. Worshipping of emperors in Rome lasted for one hundred years.

John Calvin said the human heart is a factory of idols. That is, the human heart is gravely depraved and desires to make idols out of anything. Humans were created to worship someone but if their adoration is not properly placed in the One who created them, then by nature people will worship and revere anything and anybody (cf. Acts 12:22). Revelation 9:20 says “the rest of mankind … did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk (cf. Psalm 115:4-7). Idolatry is not only the worship of idols but it’s worshipping God in a false way.

Again, Octavian Augustus was believed to be a god; however, Jesus was not only a man but also one-hundred percent God. The Roman world believed Octavian Augustus was the savior of Rome; however, Jesus Christ was not only the sovereign ruler and Savior of the Roman empire but for the entire world. The Romans built temples to honor Octavian Augustus; however, Jesus Christ built and purchase the church with his own blood that allowed Gentiles and Jews to become one in Him. We are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 3:21). Luke wanted us to understand that the true Savior and giver of peace was not Octavian Augustus but it was and still is Jesus.

 

Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:3-5)

The Romans conquered many territories that extended from modern-day Rome to modern-day turkey. This was considered as all the whole world, as you can see on this map that is behind me. Nevertheless, Caesar Augustus decreed for the entire world to be registered. Verse three says “all went to be registered, each to his own town” (Luke 1:3).

Although Mary was nine months pregnant, the decree that Caesar Augusts issued caused Joseph and Mary to travel a total of eighty to ninety miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem in the winter season. Many of us will not walk one mile during Ohio winter seasons let alone ninety miles. This wasn’t an easy family vacation; they didn’t have the convince of purchasing a plane ticket. But obviously, there was a deadline for the married couple to register for the tax census. And only the Lord really knows why Mary and Joseph was so motivated to travel far from their home even though Mary could have given birth at any time.

Keep in mind that that registration was ordered for the Roman people to pay taxes. If pastor Gus was a citizen of the Roman empire, I think he would not have enjoyed paying higher taxes, pastor Gus is the type of guy that will make a penny bleed. Nobody wants to pay more money for someone else greed. But ultimately everyone pays taxes for someone else sins. For example, our tax dollars are being used to federally fund legal murders of innocent babies, that is abortions, but we are still required to pay our taxes on time to the IRS.

The Jewish people hated the Romans and anyone who worked for them. They hated Caesar Augustus just as much as tax collectors. They viewed tax collectors as traitors of Israel and sinners, but Jesus died for them too. The apostle Matthew was a tax collector and God us Matthew to write the first book of the New Testament (cf. Matthew 9:9; Luke 3:12).

The truth of the matter is, Joseph and Mary were obedient and faithful people despite the fact that they had to obey the decree of Cesar Augustus who was a worshipper of false idols and a person who hated God. If they can submit to an unholy and ungodly government that persecuted Christians, how much more should we submit to the rulers of our government? Scripture commands us to obey those who rule over us. In Romans 13:1 Paul said “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Paul said further, “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: Taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed” (Romans 13:5-7). Joseph and Mary’s obedience is a stark contrast against those who will lie while they complete their tax return form. Please understand that God has instituted all governments by his foreordain permissive will. So, God will hold anyone accountable if they are lying and cheating on their federally and state tax forms. God desire obedience from us, not sacrifice (cf. 1 Samuel 15:22).

Joseph and Mary’s obedience is not the only thing I want you to grasp, but understand this too, it was ultimately by God’s providence that set everything in motion. Yes, Caesar Augustus issued the decree for everyone to be registered but God willed him to do it. Yes, Joseph and Mary decided to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem but God willed them to do it. The actions of men are pawns in the hands of God. And God accomplished his plans by using the actions of Caesar Augustus. Scripture says “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1).
Far too many Christians become frazzled whenever a person they like or don’t like is elected as president of the United States. People like or didn’t like George Bush Sr. and Jr, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, democratic elected Hillary Clinton and inaugurated president Donald Trump. If we become shortsighted by politics we will lose sight of God’s sovereign providence us not become short-sided by politics, if we d the Donald Trump became president whoever you vote for No president, king or queen or dictator is able to stop God from accomplishing his plan (cf. Acts 5:38).

God is God and since he is God he does whatever is pleasing to Him (cf. Psalms 115:3). God uses all things for the sake of his own glory. For example, God accomplished his plan to saved Israel from enslavement by the Egyptians by which displaying his own glory through the ten plagues upon Egypt and hardening the heart of Pharaoh (Exodus 7:3, 13-14) God said to Pharaoh, “For this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power” (Exodus 9:16).

By God’s divine providence he used the hearts of the Jewish religious leaders and Pontius Pilate’s heart to crucified Jesus on the cross and put to Jesus to death. This is why Peter said, “Your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28; Acts 3:23). Every single person that participated in beating and crucifying and putting him to death was predestined to do so, according to God’s will.

And it was by God’s divine providence for Cesar Augustus to issue a decree; so that Joseph and Mary would travel to Bethlehem; so that Jesus can be born in Bethlehem.
“providence orders all things for the fulfilling of the scripture, and makes use of the projects men have for serving their own purposes, quite beyond their intention, to serve his” (Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume 1827). Pastor John MacArthur said, “God directed the mind of the most powerful man on earth, Caesar Augustus, to accomplish His purposes” (Proverbs 21:1).

Therefore, Caesar decree was intended for financial gains, but unbeknown to him, God used Caesar’s intentions to make sure Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Verse four says “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the one of Nazareth to Judea to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David”. God the Father had sworn that the Messiah would establish the throne of David and so every Jewish person knew that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem (cf. Matthew 2:5-6; John 7:42; 1:44-46; 7:41, 52).

Every Jewish person knew this passage from Micah that speaks of Christ Jesus being born in Bethlehem, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). And Bethlehem means the house of bread which so it was fitting to place for Jesus to be born since he is the bread of life (Matthew Henry).

 

The Baby in the Manger (Luke 2:6-7)

Joseph and Mary finally made to it to Bethlehem and it was time for her to give birth. The predictions of Jesus birth was foretold by the Scripture that a virgin was to give birth. Isaiah 9:1-7 and Luke 2:1-7 are two parallel passages that were read this morning and they both speak about the birth of Jesus. Isaiah 9:1-7 is the prediction of Jesus’ birth and Luke 2:1-7 is the actuation of Jesus’ birth. was read this morning. These two passages speak of Jesus birth. It says in Isaiah 7:14 “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
In Hebrew, the name Immanuel means God is with us. And this is what Isaiah said, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

I want to turn your attention to Herod the Great because it is relevant to Jesus’ birth. At the time Jesus was born, Herod was reign as king was coming to an end. He was easily threatened by anyone who he thought was a challenge to his throne. In fact, when Jesus was born Herod tried to murder him (cf. Matthew 2:13). He was unsuccessful in his attempt at murdering Jesus, however, he slaughtered thousands of babies in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger (Matthew 2:16).
This illustrates to us that the nature of man hasn’t changed. Every intention of the thoughts of [people’s] heart [is] … evil continually (Genesis 6:5). Herod tried to murder Jesus when he was a baby. How paranoid can you be to be threatened of a baby who was sleeping in a manger? As a footnote, the only difference between his method of murdering thousands of babies in Bethlehem and Plan Parenthood’s method of murdering millions of babies each year is that Herod murdered babies outside of the womb and Plan Parenthood massacre babies while they are inside the womb.

 

The second person of the Trinity step into time and space which was according to the plan of the Godhead. Scripture says “He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” Jesus birth when Jesus was born he was weak and feeble. He was needed of his mother’s care. She breastfed him, changed his diapers he needed the care of his mother. He was breastfed and yet dependent on his mother. The God-man was born, who thought he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:6) And the apostle John said “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Christians do not know exactly the correct date of Jesus birth. December 25th is based on tradition and we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25 that tradition was passed down by the Roman church. According to tradition, the church in the late third century wanted to “offer an alternative to the popular pagan holiday known as the birthday of the unconquered sun, which their century to honor several sun gods” (MacArthur, 140). The church believed the pagan sun festival was a threat to the church so they wanted to Christianized the holiday on December 25.

A Jehovah Witness asked me why Christians celebrate Jesus birth knowing that no one actually knows his birthday? That person failed to realize that it is okay to celebrate the life of someone. There are countless people who do not have any documentation of their birthday and they don’t know their exact age, but it is perfectly fine to assign a day to celebrate their life. And the exact date of Jesus birth was not a concern for Luke. If God the Holy Spirit wanted Luke to write down Jesus birthday he would have done it (cf. Genesis 40:20). Knowing the exact date of Jesus’ birth is not the point of this text. The point is that we celebrate Jesus’ life.

One Christmas holiday, my mother purchased the very first Nintendo gaming console for me and my brother. We were so excited!

Although he created the world and everything in the world belongs to him, he was born into a family that financially wealthy. Possibly they did not have a place of their own to stay. Their financial instability is evident in verse twenty-four of chapter two which indicates that they were following the Law of Moses which says “And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons” (Leviticus 12:8).

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.

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