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By Campus Pastor Ian Hewitson, Folkestone and Heartwood
The very first verse of Luke 2 says,
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.”
The words in verse 1 form a preface to the story of the birth of Christ, a once-and-for-all unrepeatable event that happened in history. Where? In the Roman world—in that place—Bethlehem. When? Under the imperial rule of Caesar Augustus. In the very year—when Jesus was born—Rome issued a census, the purpose of which was to integrate the Promised Land into the Roman world.
Luke, however, is doing even more than locating the time and the place of these events. He is drawing attention to the time and place in world history that is reaching a crisis point: the birth of Jesus Christ.
There are some things that we should keep in mind about Julius Caesar so that we can understand how Julius Caesar Augustus Octavianus was viewed at the time of Jesus’ birth.
Julius Octavianus brought order and peace out of chaos to the Roman Empire 27 years before Christ was born. At that time, Octavian took the name Augustus and he became known as Caesar Augustus. “Augustus” means ‘consecrated, sacred, to be venerated.’
The title, Augustus, gives to Octavian a half-way status between God and man. Augustus is a demigod, one who is more than a mere man. He has divine qualities and he receives the honors of divinity. He was a fantastic leader; he was the “Prince” who brought peace to the Roman Empire. He is the “Prince of peace, sacred and consecrated.”
And thereby hangs the tale ...
What Luke is saying by using the name Caesar Augustus is that over against the Emperor worship of Caesar Augustus, the “venerated, the sacred, the Prince of peace, the Saviour”—over against all that, Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is born. Born in opposition to Caesar, Jesus will claim to be the Son of God! Not a demigod, but God in the flesh! Jesus will receive divine honors. Jesus will be venerated. Jesus will be worshiped as Savior and Lord. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord—yes, even Caesar.
As we stand on the threshold of the year 2022 A.D., it is Jesus Christ that stands at the center of world history—not Caesar Augustus (AUC 2775). Jesus Christ, upon whose shoulders the government rests, has issued a decree—not Caesar—that the renewed world should be registered. In fact, Luke tells us in Acts 28 that the Gospel was being proclaimed in the city of Rome, the heart of Caesar worship. There, a census was taken, and that census is going on today here and now and on each Lord’s Day through the preaching of the Gospel. Names are now being written into the Lamb’s Book of Life. How, we may ask? Luke answers that question, beginning in chapter 2:1. Luke says in that place and in that time the birth Jesus was registered as a subject of Caesar Augustus. Luke will go on to tell us that, in the hour of His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ—not Caesar—was declared to be King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The issue before us today is the same as it was in the time of Luke 2: who is our Lord? Who is our God? Who is our Savior? If it is Christ, then let us wholeheartedly serve Him in the new year.
May the Lord be pleased to bless us and our residents in the year 2022 A.D.
About Pastor Ian Hewitson: I joined PHS in 2019 as Pastor at Heartwood in Crosby, MN. Prior to PHS I was the Associate Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at University of Northwestern-St Paul. I currently serve as Pastor at both the Heartwood and Folkstone locations. I live in Bloomington with my wife Jill and two boys Andrew and Michael. When I’m not keeping busy with work, you can find me reading theology and following Formula 1 racing.
The Light for the Way series provides staff with an examination of a biblical reading to deepen our focus on scripture. Thank you for engaging with this series as we seek wisdom through prayer and reflection as a Christian Ministry.
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