The Birth of Jesus Christ (Part 1)

Luke 2:1-7

Tom Pennington  •  December 16, 2012
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The Birth of Christ, Part 1 
Luke 2:1-7
December 16, 2012
Tom Pennington, Pastor
Countryside Bible Church

Well, as I mentioned to you last week, I want us today to step away from our ongoing study of the Sermon on the Mount and consider this Christmas season. As I was thinking this week about the fact that our country and most of the Western world, (a large portion of the population of the planet) is moving toward the celebration of Christmas, I was thinking about the surprising, even shocking variety of responses to the birth of Jesus Christ.

If you read the newspaper, if you watch television, if you look at the blogs and the comments posted there, you begin to get a feel for these different responses to Jesus. What are some of the common responses to Jesus? Well, they're the same today as they were in the first century, around the first Christmas.

One response we might identify as "settled antagonism." There are many people on this planet who are openly antagonistic to everything that has to do with Jesus Christ. If you doubt that just spend a little time on line reading the vitriol that pours out of people in their hatred of Jesus Christ. And the reason is always the same. It's the same as it was with Herod the Great in the first century who was antagonistic to Jesus; and that is, they don't want another king intruding on their personal sovereignty. They want to do what they want to do, and want no one to tell them otherwise. They want to be king.

There's another response that's common to Jesus and to His birth, and we could call it "scholarly skepticism." The religious leaders of Jesus' day were like this, they gave every appearance as being genuinely spiritual, interested in the things of God, but by Jesus' own diagnosis He said their hearts were far from God. How did they respond to the birth of their Messiah? Skepticism. "Really? Messiah's been born in Bethlehem? He's from Nazareth? Can any good thing really come from Nazareth? Do we really even know who this Carpenter's father truly is?" You read the gospels, and you see their sarcasm just dripping through the comments that they make.

"Skepticism."

Sadly, there are plenty in our world who respond to Jesus with "scholarly skepticism." You see it in the pulpits across our country. You see it in college classrooms, in television so-called documentaries, filled with scholars who are skeptical of Jesus. "Who really was the historical Jesus after all? Surely you don't think that we can trust the biblical record about His birth and His life? Don't you understand that all of that was just fabricated by His later followers, and we need to cut away the clutter from the legend and find out who the Man really was?"

There's a third common response to Jesus, and that is, "distracted indifference." Like most of the people in Bethlehem on that first Christmas or in nearby Jerusalem, most of the people around us are just too busy with their own lives and what they have going in their jobs and responsibilities and families and the trappings and the traditions of the Christmas season, to even stop long enough to think seriously about the Person whose birth they're celebrating. Most of the people who are enjoying the Christmas season won't take five minutes to think deeply about Jesus Christ. "Distracted indifference."

There's another response that's very common to Jesus and His birth. We could call it "shallow acceptance." I suspect this is the most typical response here in North Texas. These are the people who say the right things, who go to all the Christmas services, who on a surface level believe the facts of Christmas, they have warm thoughts about Jesus and His birth, but it's all primarily sentimental. If you start beginning to ask them some hard questions, you quickly discover that their relationship to Jesus is really no different than that of the demons.

They believe the facts, or excuse me, they know the facts. They believe that they're essentially true; but like the demons, they continue to deny the Lordship of Jesus Christ in their own lives. Oh, they may profess Him like the many Jesus says that will gather together on the judgment day and say, "Lord, Lord," and then He says, "Why do you call Me Lord, Lord and not do the things which I say?"

A fifth common response to Jesus and His birth is "sincere worship." You see scattered throughout the gospel records of the birth of Jesus, you find both men and women who understood Jesus. Who worshiped Him as Lord, from Mary and Joseph, to the shepherds, to Anna at the temple, to Simeon, to the magi; early in Jesus' human life He was surrounded by people who got it, who knew who He really was, and who responded in "sincere worship."

Isn't it interesting that all of those responses are still around today? But as you and I who are followers of Jesus Christ think about celebrating the Christmas season, I want us to consider how we should respond to the birth of Jesus our Lord. How should we think about it, and how should we respond?

This morning, and Lord willing next Sunday morning, I want us to examine together one of the most well-known passages in all the Scripture. It is the simple, unvarnished, and yet truly remarkable record of the birth of Jesus Christ. Of course, it's found in Luke 2. In the nine years I have been pastor here we have studied many aspects of the Christmas story, but we have never come to these seven verses and studied them together. And that's what I want us to do. These of course are next to John 3:16, probably the most familiar words in our English Bible. They're the stuff of Christmas pageants and songs and carols that we're constantly exposed to; you've probably read or heard read, this passage of Scripture dozens, perhaps hundreds of times in your life.

But here's what I want you to do this morning. I want you to pretend that you've never heard it before. I want you to try to approach it with a true first-time attitude, and learn what it is the Holy Spirit and Luke who penned this letter, want us to learn, from this simple account of the birth of Jesus our Lord. Let's read it together, Luke 2:1.

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Two other gospels refer to the birth of Jesus Christ in passing, but only Luke the historian, sets the context of Jesus' birth, and describes its unique circumstances. I think the theme of these seven verses, we've just read together, is probably best captured by Paul's famous words to the Galatians. In Galatians 4:4, when he said this, "… when the fullness of [the] time [had come] …, God sent forth His Son, [to be] born of a woman," [When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son to be born of a woman.]

As Luke describes the details surrounding Jesus' birth in this text, he does so in a way to stress to us that Jesus' birth perfectly fit the divine plans that had already been put in place, and that had already been prophesied. And so, that's the vantage point from which I want us to look at it together.

We want to begin today by looking first at the fact that the birth of Jesus was at the right time. It was at the right time. You see this in verses 1 to 3. Now if you would ask the average person when Christ was born, what would the answer typically be? "Well, it's obvious isn't it, the year zero?" Well, first of all, there is no year "zero" in our calendar, it moves from 1 BC to 1 AD, and secondly, it's even more complicated than that, because the reckoning of our calendar, based on the birth of Christ did not begin until the year 525 AD. It was in that year that the church asked a man named Dionysius, Dionysius to prepare some Easter tables, and in that to calculate the calendar to sort of reorient the calendar that they were accustomed to, to the birth of Christ.

Here's what he wrote, "We have chosen to note the years from the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ." That was in the year 525 AD; that was the first time that the calendar was reckoned on the life of Jesus Christ. He did a lot of things well. He had some information, he came close, but he didn't have all the information, and some of the information he had was flawed. And so, our calendar system is not exactly accurate.

But in spite of the numerous difficulties that are along with this process, here's the remarkable thing; we can be relatively certain about the time frame in which Jesus was born. And for that we are especially indebted to Luke. Luke intentionally establishes the birth of Christ in its historical context. Let's look at it together; look at verse 1. "Now in those days.…" Keep your finger there, and go back to Luke 1:5, and it'll tell us what days he has in mind as he begins his record of the life of Christ, in verse 5 of chapter 1, he says, "In the days of Herod, king of Judea.…" and then he tells the story of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus.

Now go back to chapter 2:1, "… in those days …" that is in the days of Herod, king of Judea. Jesus was born toward the end of the reign of Herod the Great, over Palestine, under the Roman Empire. And specifically, Luke goes on to tell us that it was during the reign of the great Roman emperor, notice verse 1, Caesar Augustus.

Now, you're familiar with this figure from secular history. He was born Gaius Octavius on September 23, 63 BC. He was the grandnephew of Julius Caesar. In other words, his mother was the daughter of the sister of Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar loved Octavion. He showered him with gifts and honor, he held him in high esteem. After Julius Caesar's famous murder in 44 BC by Brutus, Octavion discovered to his shock that in the will of Julius Caesar, Julius Caesar had made his grandnephew Octavion his rightful son and heir of everything. So, Octavion changed his name to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavionus. In English, we simply usually refer to him as Octavion.

Now, Octavion also had a famous relative other than Julius Caesar, because Octavion's sister married Antony, of Antony and Cleopatra. And Antony, you know, eventually left Octavion's sister to pursue his infatuation and adultery with Cleopatra. And as you can imagine, as a brother he didn't take kindly to that desertion, but in addition to that, Antony named Cleopatra's child by her affair with Julius Caesar as his only rightful and legitimate heir. Of course, basically saying, that Octavion's claims to the throne, were bogus. As you might imagine, war between the two erupted, but eventually in the famous naval battle of Actium in 31 BC, Octavion soundly defeated Antony and all of his forces. Of course, shortly after that came the famous suicide of both Antony and Cleopatra.

With Antony's death, Octavion became the defacto leader of Rome. And in fact, in 27 BC, 27 BC, the senate of Rome gave Octavion, or Gaius Julius Caesar as he had become known, the title Augustus, meaning the majestic, highly revered one. He became the emperor of Rome.

Now, Augustus was a remarkable person in many ways, although he gained his power through his life by being completely ruthless. By being a brilliant strategist on the military battlefield, he eventually became one of Rome's, in fact I think the greatest emperor of Rome. He was a gifted administrator and organizer. He was an effective general and discerner of men. He even had the wisdom to be gracious to the countries that he conquered. He allowed them to continue some measure of self-rule. He respected their customs and their religious convictions, and he even allowed them to have their own laws to the extent that those laws did not conflict with Roman law.

He was an accomplished builder. In fact, on his death bed, Caesar Augustus said this, "I found Rome of brick, I leave it to you of marble."

He was a patron of the arts. He even encouraged cleaner and more ennobler arts, and along that line he befriended all of Rome's great writers such as Avid, Horace, Virgil, and Levy.

But by far the greatest contribution of Caesar Augustus was what you learned in history class, the "Pox Romana" – the great Roman peace. Through his military conquests and through his wise leadership, he established a peace across the Mediterranean world that outlived him and lasted literally two centuries. He was without question the greatest Roman emperor and the most important man in the history of the Roman Empire. Caesar Augustus. He reigned as emperor of Rome from the year 27 BC to the year 14 AD. Luke tells us it was in that window that our Lord was born.

Now during his long reign, undoubtedly Augustus issued many royal decrees, but of all the countless decrees he issued during those many years, ultimately only one of them was truly important. Look at verse 1. Only one of them was eternal. "Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth."

Because Augustus was an effective leader and a good administrator, and because he inherited the empire in a state of upheaval because of a series of civil wars that had rocked the empire, he decided the best thing he could do was to consolidate the empire, and the best way to do that was to know how many people there were, to know how many of them were available for service in the military, and as a tax base to fund the future help of the empire, and so he ordered a census of his entire realm. Notice that expression, "… all the inhabited earth." That's a phrase that doesn't mean everywhere on the planet, it is specifically a reference to the entire world as ruled by Rome, the Roman Empire. No corner of the Roman Empire was to be exempt from this census.

Now, there is no specific secular record to this exact census, but there are many historical records of censuses that were carried out throughout this time period, and so both secular history and biblical history agree on this in principle. Normally, a census was decreed to determine who was eligible for military service, but the Jews were not required to serve in the military, and so this census was about taxes. Typically, the data they collected in their censuses were the same thing that are collected in ours. They found data such as the person's name, their address, their occupation, their marital status, their income, and especially in that day, their property if they owned any.

Now, the verb in the Greek text in verse 1 about this census may imply that the decree was not merely about a single census, but rather a system of recurring censuses. In archeological discoveries, or archeological evidence from Egypt, actually demonstrates that that's what happened. Under Augustus, a census of the empire occurred every 14 years. Josephus tells us that one of those 14 year intervals fell on the year 6 AD. And by the way, that's the census that Luke mentions in his second writing, the book of Acts, in Acts 5:37.

Now if you subtract 14 years, the interval between the normal census times, from 6 AD, you come to 8 BC. That was the time this census was ordered. But for several reasons (that I'll tell you in a moment) this census was not carried out until a couple of years later, probably around 5 BC. There are a number of reasons for that; one of them is because communication in the ancient world was slow and difficult. For word to get from Rome to Palestine and then throughout the province took time; for the actual process and logistics to be worked out took time.

Also, the final years of Herod's reign, which is what we're talking about here, were filled with instability, and upheaval, and political entry. Not only was Herod very ill, but there was a power struggle among his sons to see who would succeed him. In fact, during those years leading up to the birth of Christ, he actually had three of his sons executed, and three separate times he changed his will. We know that because his will had to go to the Emperor to be approved. Throughout this upheaval, the emperor Octavion became disenchanted with Herod. And in fact, we have correspondence where he tells Herod, "Look you're no longer going to be a ruler you're going to be a subject." He was essentially telling him, "Look, you've got a no-confidence vote from me. You may still be in power, but I don't trust you."

Now, when you combine all of those issues with the Jewish resistance to Roman occupation and taxation, then you can certainly understand why there would have been a significant delay between the order in 8 BC and the actual census itself being executed.

Now, Luke adds another piece to the historical context in verse 2. He says, "This was the first census taken …" [and it was] "… taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria." Now we know that Quirinius was governor of Syria from 6 to 7 AD, and we know that he was in charge of that census that happened in 6 AD. It's possible that Quirinius served two terms including a term as governor in the years before Christ's birth. But there's another possibility. Look again at verse 2.

The Greek word that's translated "governor" there, is actually a non-technical term for anyone in a position of authority. He was in a position of authority leading up to the time of the birth of Christ. In fact, at the time of the first census, that it was ordered in 8 BC, Sir William Ramsey a British archeologist, writes that there was a different man who was actually the governor over Syria. He says Varus was controlling the internal affairs of Syria, but Quirinius was commanding its armies and controlling its foreign policy. So, Quirinius then, was in a position of authority and would likely have been tasked with overseeing the census.

Now, if you had lived in the first century, and you had read these verses, you would have seen that Luke was providing you a tight window of time marking the birth of Christ. For us, since we don't know when exactly that first census was in Israel, we need one more piece of information, one more piece of evidence to help us narrow the years in which Jesus was born, and that piece of evidence has to do with the death of Herod the Great. For us this is now the most helpful piece of evidence in fixing the year of the birth of our Lord, the death of Herod the Great.

We know biblically that Herod the Great was alive when Jesus was born, right? Matthew 2, when the magi come, they come to Jerusalem, "Where is He … born King of the Jews?" He's already been born. And Herod the Great receives them, and of course hatches his evil plot to kill all the infant children in Bethlehem. So, he's alive when Jesus is born. We know from secular history that Herod died in a very tight range. We know that he died somewhere between March 29th and April 4th, so just a few days, in the year 4 BC. So, the spring of 4 BC Herod died. That means that Jesus was born no later than the winter of 4 BC, and no earlier than 6 BC. Because, remember Herod had all the children two and under killed; that means the magi told him the time, and it was less than two years at that point. So, Jesus' birth came somewhere between the death of Herod and back two years before that, so 4 to 6 BC.

Now that raises another question people often ask, and that is, "Well okay, but what time of year was Jesus born?" We celebrate it in the winter; is there any basis for that? Well, there's no way to be sure, but I will say this; the evidence points toward winter. Now, I'm not going to drag you through all the ways to get here, but let me give you the big picture.

We know that the priests served in a predictable rotation in the temple; and in fact, in the Dead Sea Scrolls we found a six-month almanac that told us when the priests' rotation began. We know Zacharias, remember John the Baptist's father, was serving at the temple as a priest when he got the announcement that he was going to have a son. We can put that together with the rest of the time line of Elizabeth's pregnancy and Mary's pregnancy, and when you put it all together it comes out like this: the annunciation to Mary was apparently in the spring, and Jesus' birth was around the time of the winter solstice.

Now, of course, the next question is, what about the day? Do we know the exact day Jesus was born? And the answer is we can't be certain, but, there is ancient evidence, ancient tradition, in the Western church of December 25th. Now I've read all the articles saying, oh no that's just the concoction of later Christians in the 4-500's who were just attaching the celebration of the birth of Christ to the pagan festivals. But there is evidence that predates that. Let me give it to you.

According to a man named Apollotus of Rome, and Apollotus wrote a commentary on Daniel, by the way the manuscript evidence for this is very strong, he wrote, we know this, between the years 202 and 211 AD, very early. And this is what he wrote in his commentary on Daniel, "The first advent of our Lord in the flesh when He was born in Bethlehem was December 25th."

Now, the church didn't celebrate the birth of Christ for several hundred years, they didn't celebrate it at all anytime, and they didn't celebrate it on the 25th until when it began to be celebrated later in the time of Constantine and Augustine.

So, let me put it all together for you. Based on the census ordered by Caesar Augustus, the governorship of Quirinius, and the death of Herod, we can construct a tight window of time for Jesus' birth. Jesus was likely born in the winter, probably either in December of 5 BC or December of 6 BC and very possibly on December 25th, the day that we celebrate His birth.

Now, let's go back to Luke 2. Because of the census that Caesar Augustus ordered in 8 BC, and it was finally executed in Israel around 5 BC, verse 3 says, at that time then, "… everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city."

In much of the empire people were registered in the city of their residence. But for the Jews, their census was according to the original allotment of land back in the time of Joshua, which had been by family and by region. For most of the people who were still living down in the south in Judea, they were living in or near their home towns, and so, for them this was an easy process, but most of the Jewish people that lived now in Galilee were also from the southern tribes, and so that meant a difficult three-day journey down to Judea, because of this decree.

Now that, folks, is the historical context of the birth of Christ. Now, I know what you're thinking; you're thinking, "Well that's all good and wonderful, but that's history. I mean that doesn't warm my heart. Can't we talk about the Baby?" Listen, why does Luke, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God include this historical timeline?

In fact, let me point something else out to you. Luke spends three verses talking about this historical background and only one verse talking about the actual birth of Jesus. Now, if you were writing of the birth of Jesus is that how you would have done it? It's not how I would have done it. I would've wanted a lot more detail about what happened around the Baby in the cave there at the manger. Tell me some more of that. One verse. Of course, he comes back to the shepherds but even that is largely about what happens in the fields outside of the city.

So, why does Luke give it so much space? That's the question that I struggled with over the last several weeks. And let me tell you why I think this is true. There are three crucial implications of the time and space that Luke devotes to the historical background of the birth of Christ, and these are very personal, these are very important to each one of us.

Implication number one, Jesus was a real person who lived at a particular time and place in human history. The birth of Jesus is a fact of history. Luke wants us to understand that Jesus is an historical figure who existed at a particular time on the stage of human history. Now, why is that important? Well sadly, because we live in 21st century America, we are so far removed both in time and space from where all of this transpired that I think it's easy for us even as Christians to unwittingly think about Jesus in the same way we think about Santa Clause. Yeah, you know it's a fun tradition, and yeah there's some historical truth down there somewhere, and yet there's a lot of historical fiction added. Listen, Luke doesn't allow us to think like that. He is crystal clear that Jesus' birth is the stuff of history, not of myths, and not of fairy tales.

You see more than any other gospel writer Luke is an historian, and intentionally so. Go back to where he begins his gospel, Luke 1:1, because he tells us how and why he's writing. He says,

"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us," [In other words, even by Luke's time, and by the time he's writing this, there have already been several written accounts; undoubtedly one of those is the Gospel of Mark. He says there've been these written accounts, just as these things were that were accomplished among us] "… were handed down to us …," [and notice not by some long series of oral tradition that could easily be misunderstood, but,] "… handed down to us by those who from the beginning …" [that is from the beginning of Jesus' earthly life,] "… were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word,"

Luke says those things were passed to us, what I'm about to write to you, was passed to us by the eyewitnesses of the events. Because of that, verse 3,

it seemed fitting for me as well, [now watch this,] … having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, … [that is from the beginning of Jesus' earthly life. Luke says, I investigated it all. And therefore,] … to write out for you in consecutive order … [that is in logical order,] … most excellent Theophilus, [this was the man receiving this gospel, maybe the patron who funded the research and the writing,] … so that you may know the exact truth about the things … [you've] been taught. [Now I want you to know the exact truth, literally, about the things you have been catechized in.]

You see where Luke's coming from? Luke says, "Listen, I thoroughly investigated the facts. I spoke with the eyewitnesses." Remember, Luke traveled with Paul, and clearly, he tells us in the book of Acts that he was with Paul during those two years Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea on the coast of Palestine. It was likely during those years that Luke traveled from Caesarea to Jerusalem and to Bethlehem and to Galilee, and he interviewed those whose stories he tells. At that point Mary, and many of the others involved in these events were still alive, and he says, "I researched it, I investigated it, I talked with the eyewitnesses, and now I am writing you an account." Don't you dare believe the lie that says, "Oh well, you know we can't even be sure that Jesus actually lived. And if He was a real person, we surely can't be sure what He said and did."

There is more evidence, far more evidence, about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and the records we have are closer to the events of His life than any other ancient person. This is a lie of the devil, and it is intended for a particular reason, because if you don't understand that Jesus is in fact a historical person, who lived on the stage of history, who made unbelievable claims, then you don't have to deal with Him.

I saw this up close and personal in my own life. Sheila and I, when we lived in California, there was a lady that we came to know by the name of Shirley, her husband was Ron. They'd been married for 20 years. Shirley had become a Christian and was attending our church out at Grace and in fact was playing the piano in our Sunday school class. Her husband Ron was a major arms dealer, a mover-shaker, traveled the world buying the necessary implements to create the Defense Department's weapons, self-made man. He was for many years a confirmed atheist, and by the time I met him, he was a confirmed agnostic. Just wasn't sure there was a God.

But he loved his wife, and when their 20th anniversary came up he told his wife, "Look, you tell me where you want to go, and I'll take you." Thinking, Italy, England maybe. She had learned that Grace to You was about to take its first trip to Israel, and she told her husband I really would like to go to Israel. He said, "Well, uh okay. We'll add on a trip to Europe at the end." And so, he came and in God's providence Ron and Shirley ended up on the bus Sheila and I were hosting.

We had many very interesting discussions. But as the week, 10 days actually, wore on, I could see Ron begin to soften. They left a little early and headed to their European, the rest of their trip, and we had an excursion that we were taking from there, taking the rest of the group on, and so we parted ways. But when we returned to California, to my shock I discovered that when Ron and Shirley were on the plane taking off from Tel Aviv, Ron leaned over to his wife of 20 years, atheist, agnostic, and he says to his wife, "I just want you to know sweetheart, that I've become a follower of Jesus Christ."

When later, I had a chance to talk with him, this is what he said to me. He said, "You know, as an ugly American," those are his words not mine, "as an ugly American," he said, "you know living here, so far removed from all of that, frankly Jesus just seemed like make believe. But being in the land, the place where Jesus lived, where the historical person was, and no one debates that, and where He made remarkable claims, I had to come face to face with who Jesus is."

And in God's providence he found himself at the end of our trip alone in the Garden Tomb, which is a miracle in and of itself if you've ever been to Israel, alone and the crushing weight of all of the evidence that he'd seen in the time he'd been there came to bear on his heart, and in the Garden Tomb he gave his heart to Jesus Christ. By the way, every time I travel out to California I see Ron and Shirley.

What was it? It was the reality that Jesus was a real person, who lived in a particular place in a particular time. Let me ask you, has it ever really sunk into your mind that Jesus Christ was and is a real person? A person who lived just as genuinely as the person sitting next to you, or George Washington, or Caesar Augustus? And He made claims that you have to deal with. You can deny them or you can accept them, but you can't ignore them.

There's a second implication in this passage, verses 1-3, and that is that Jesus was born at exactly the right time in history. It was the divine plan to have Jesus come at a specific moment in human history when everything was perfectly set for the spread of His message. Look over at Galatians 4; I quoted this to you before but I want you to see it. Galatians 4:4, Paul writes,

But when the fullness of [the] time … [had come,] God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, [that is obligated to keep the Law,] so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. [That first phrase,] when the fullness of time had come, [we could translate it,] when the time was exactly right. [When everything was perfectly right.]

Now what constituted the right time from God's perspective? You ever thought about this? Why during the reign of Caesar Augustus? Think about this for a moment. It was a time of unparalleled peace. It was one of those few moments when all of those countries around the Mediterranean rim were not fighting one another, because Caesar Augustus had brought the Pox Romano. It's the perfect time for the spread of the gospel message.

Also, it was a time of extensive travel. Because there was one extensive great empire with no national boundaries, so there was no problem traveling everywhere where Rome was, and by the way, they had built a wonderful system of roads, across the entire empire, that Paul and the apostles used.

It was also a time, thanks to the earlier conquering might of Alexander the Great, that the Greek influence, including the Greek language, had spread across the Mediterranean world, and even though the Romans had taken over, the Greek language continued to be the universal language of commerce in that day, much as English is in our world today. Oh, and by the way, Greek is a beautifully nuanced language, that is perfect for contributing and telling intricate doctrinal details like are contained in the New Testament record. It was exactly the right time.

You understand what Luke is saying here? He's saying God providentially raised up the Roman Empire, which, by the way, He'd predicted 500 years before under Daniel the prophet, and then He raised up Caesar Augustus to initiate the Pox Romano, and then this world-wide census and all of that was ultimately accomplished, God's great eternal plan of redemption. Unwittingly, Caesar Augustus contributed to the divine plan. It was the timing of his decree to enact a census, it was the timing of that decree that God used to ensure that an obscure prophecy made by the prophet Micah hundreds of years before would actually come to fruition, and that the Messiah would be born in the little village of Bethlehem. Incredible. The time was exactly right.

There's a third implication in verses 1-3, and that is the birth of God's Son is the center of human history. Caesar Augustus and the Roman Empire, they were merely stage props for the main character of the first century and of all of human history. From God's perspective, all of the senators of Rome, and the emperor, and the leaders of the nation Israel, they were totally unimportant. The people that really mattered to God, and were the focus of the angels during that first century, were a poor, obscure, newly married couple from the little town of Nazareth. Because they were true believers, and because in the womb of that young virgin was God's eternal Son who had taken on flesh in order to redeem us.

To God the most important events on earth were related to the redemption of sinners. Oh, and by the way, the same thing is still true. The rich and the powerful and the leaders of our world, they're not the ones who preoccupy the heart and mind of God. Listen, God is unimpressed by the things that show up on the headlines of the front page of our world's papers. What matters to God, are the nothings and the nobodies on whom He has set His grace and whom He is calling out to make a bride for His Son. That's what matters to God. In fact, the apostle Paul in Ephesians 3 says that the church, that's us, we are the stage on which God is putting His glory on display in this world. His preoccupation is with His Son and the bride for His Son.

It's appropriate isn't it, that our calendars are structured around Jesus' birth? Because in the mind of God all of human history is marked out by that birth. "When the fullness of time had come," that's how Paul summarizes all of human history before the birth of Christ. It was all about Him.

Listen, the center of human history should also be the center of every human life. Is Jesus Christ the historical center of your life? Do you mark your life from the day you came to acknowledge Him as Lord? Is everything else BC, before Christ, and everything else AD, Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord, the years that belong to Him? Is Jesus Christ and the gospel, the center of everything for you? Do you think like God thinks, because that's how God thinks? Jesus Christ is the center of everything. And that's one of the most important lessons the Christmas story has to teach us in this season. In the mind of God, and in the mind of everyone who loves Him, Jesus Christ must be the center.

Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for Your Word to us. Thank You for the brilliant mind of the Holy Spirit who has put this record together in such a way that it shocks us, that it challenges our thinking, that it directs us.

Father, convince us even more thoroughly of the reality of Jesus Christ; and Father, I pray that You would help us, to, as You have, center everything on Him.

Forgive us, O God, for living for ourselves, for placing ourselves at the center. May we repent before You with all of our hearts.

Lord, I pray for those here today who don't know Him, who've never acknowledged Him as Lord. May this be the day that marks their lives between BC and AD?

We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.