A Savior Is Born
December 24, 2017 | Randy Smith
A Savior Is BornLuke 2:8-14
Sunday, December 24, 2017
Pastor Randy Smith
It's been said, "Nothing exists without its opposite."
For the most part that statement proves true when we consider the Bible. There is good and there is evil. There is a heaven and there is a hell. There is God and there is the devil. There are believers and there are unbelievers. Biblical concepts are often in pairs and learning one helps define the other.
Many contrasts are easy to see, but our passage from Luke 2 sets up an intentional contrast that most readers of the Bible miss entirely. In arguably the most popular Christmas passage in the Bible, there is a contrast not with Jesus Christ and Satan, but rather with Jesus Christ and Caesar Augustus. This morning on Christmas Eve I would like to take you through five of these contrasts.
The first contrast I am calling, "God's Control." And for this one, we'll take you back to our sermon from last week.
You can see that Luke immediately begins this account in verse 1 by introducing us to Caesar Augustus. Back then "all the inhabited earth" (as verse 1 says) was under Roman rule. And the key ruler of the world was this man named Cesar Augustus. Originally born under the name, "Caius Octavius," in 27 BC he was honored with the name "Augustus" meaning "Exalted One." It was supreme dictatorial power until his death at age 76 in AD 14.
In verses 1-3 we learned that he demanded each person return to his hometown to be registered for the census. This was enacted to help organize his tax collections, but also to exert his power over the region. And when Caesar told you to do something, you were very careful to make sure it got done! Even is that meant a poor man with a pregnant teenaged girl leaving their notorious home of Nazareth to travel 80 miles across the mountains to city called Bethlehem. Within a short time, Caesar would be sitting on a throne and Jesus Christ would be born in a wooden feeding trough.
Talk about a contrast!
So to the naked eye, who appeared to be in control? Was it Caesar or was it Jesus? It certainly looks like Jesus was a pawn forcibly moved by the hands of Caesar. Yet under closer examination we see just the opposite.
You see, hundreds of prophecies were made in the Bible hundreds of years before Jesus was born. One of them came from Micah 5.
"But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity. Therefore He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel. And He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth. This One will be our peace" (Mic. 5:2-5).
Caesar appeared to be in control. No doubt Caesar thought he was in control, but in all actuality God was in control. Regardless how much Caesar flexed his muscles; God used Caesar behind the scenes to get the couple to Bethlehem so that His Word might be fulfilled.
Point of Application - Regardless of how the world behaves or what you might personally be experiencing, God (not weather, people, luck or circumstances) is in control even when He doesn't appear to be.
Let's move to the new material as we look at our second contrast. I'm calling this contrast, "God's Announcement."
As we just saw, Caesar made an announcement that was taken to the inhabited earth and all people in obedience responded to what was expected of them.
Yet also in this section, God makes an announcement as well. However His announcement also "for all the people" (verse 10) does not initially go to all people, but rather a few shepherds (verse 8) that will begin to take the "Good News" to all the people.
How much do you know about these shepherds? The pictures of them that we have in our minds that often come from Nativity Sets and Christmas Cards couldn't be much further from the truth.
According to Jewish literature of the day, shepherds were under a ban. They were regarded as thieves. And the only people lower than them on social lists were the lepers. Since they worked day and night in the fields, they were often excluded from the religious and social life in Israel. And possibly most striking was the fact that their testimony was not valid in a court of law because they were considered untrustworthy.
Do you see the contrast? Caesar's message of the census went out probably to his most powerful people and it made it to the ears of all. God's message, infinitely more valuable, goes out to none other than shepherds. These are men who had no credibility, availability, mobility or authority, men disqualified from bringing witness. It was God's intention that these men would make the message known to all.
Let's look at this announcement to the angels. Verses 8-9, "And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened."
Caesar's palace never experienced blinding glory of God in his presence. Nor did the Temple in Jerusalem experience God's glory after the glory of God had already departed. Yet here it first comes to none other than shepherds.
And then in verses 12-13, "And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger. And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God."
In contrast to Caesar's announcement, God's announcement was truly glorious. It was delivered by God's messengers which is the same as saying God's angels. First by one angel and then "a multitude of the heavenly host" (verse 13) appeared. It was an angelic army beyond count bringing an announcement not of bad news of an unfavorable census for all the people (as Caesar's messengers would), but rather, verse 10, "good news" that will bring "great joy" and is intended "for all the people."
So I ask you, two-thousand years later which announcement is now most familiar to the world? Which announcement is ultimately being obeyed?
Point of application - God's Word comes to humble messengers that the glory of Christ be proclaimed to the world.
We need to move to the third point, "God's Peace."
Let's start with Caesar Augustus. All historians agree that ancient Rome ensured a relative peace over the Mediterranean region. It was referred to as "Pax Romana." It lasted for 200 years and began with the reign of Caesar Augustus. The goal of the Roman leaders was to guarantee law, order and security in the Empire. And it was brought about by conquering nations and severely punishing all who would threaten this peace. Perhaps this was the greatest example of "world peace," but it was a peace only achieved under oppression, threat and cruelty that resulted in terror, slavery and taxation.
There was a peace, but it was peace through force. As one author said, it was a peace achieved "with the Roman foot planted squarely on the necks of the vanquished foes" (Wengst, Pax Romana, p. 12).
Do you see any contrast as to how God will bring peace? Written about 600 years before the birth of Christ, we read from the prophet Isaiah, "For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace" (Isa. 9:6-7).
God promises peace through the Messiah. And we see it right here in this passage. In verse 10 the angels tell the shepherds they need "not be afraid." And in verse 14 we see the birth of Christ has come to bring peace on earth. How?
In total contrast to Caesar Augustus, God true peace will come to those already suffering through God's humility and suffering. God will bring peace through the Messiah. It will not be His dictatorial rule (though as God He had every right to), but rather His willingness to lay His life down for His people.
And it will be a true peace, a lasting peace between God and people and people and other people that love God and even peace that people can have with themselves. And this wonderful peace is available to, verse 10, "All…people." Do you have it? Do you want it? Then how do you receive it?
Point of Application - True peace is only achieved through the suffering of Christ and can only be found in a relationship with Him.
That naturally takes us to our fourth point, "God's Savior." We'll start with Caesar Augustus.
Here's an Inscription dedicated to Caesar Augustus from Halicarnassus dated after 2 BC. "Since the eternal and deathless nature of the universe has perfected its immense benefits to mankind in granting us as a supreme benefit, for our happiness and welfare, Caesar Augustus, Father of his own Fatherland, divine Rome, Zeus Paternal, and Savior of the whole human race, in whom Providence has not only fulfilled but even surpassed the prayers of all men: land and sea are at peace, cities flourish under the reign of law, in mutual harmony and prosperity; each is at the very acme of fortune and abounding in wealth; all mankind is filled with glad hopes for the future, and with contentment over the present; [it is fitting to honor the god] with public games and with statues, with sacrifices and with hymns."
Another Inscription under a statue of Caesar Augustus in Myra in Lycia.
"The God Augustus, Son of God, Caesar, Autokrator [Autocrat, i.e., absolute ruler] of land and sea, the Evergetes (Benefactor) and Soter (Savior) of the whole cosmos, the people of Myra [have set up this statue]."
From the inscriptions we see Caesar was considered God, specifically, "The Savior of the World." Look at his life and what he accomplished and it was easy for people to draw that conclusion.
And then comes Jesus who also will be called, "The Savior of the World." "And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world" (1 Jn. 4:14; Jn. 4:42). Yet when we begin to read Luke 2, we have to wonder how. How will a baby born to poor people in an insignificant town ever be the Savior of the World?
Clearly the angelic concert tells us this baby is unlike any other. After all they did announce in verse 11 that He is the true Savior. "For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior."
You see, God came to earth to save us from our greatest enemy. And that is sin. It's our sin, our continual violation against God's holy law that separates us from His presence. Sin is what robs us of peace. What we need is Someone to take away our sin. We need a sacrifice to stand in our place and receive our sin and be punished for it so that justice may be accomplished and that we can we eternally forgiven. We need a true Savior.
In Matthew 1:21 we read, "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins." Jesus is the Savior of the World!
So any student of the Bible knows how this works. Sin immediately comes into the world and then throughout the entire time before Christ animal sacrifices were required to atone for sin. The unblemished innocent would shed blood and die for the guilty. Yet all these sacrifices only pointed to the ultimate Lamb of God who would put away sin eternally. That's why God became man (the opposite of Caesar - a man that tried to become God) that first Christmas morning. Animals can't stand in our place, but another human, a perfect human can represent us.
Jesus was ultimately born to die as our sacrifice to be our Savior. In this account we see at least two glimmers of that reality.
First, we consider the shepherds. They were watching over their sheep in Bethlehem. The surrounding hills made for prime grazing. And since Bethlehem was close to Jerusalem, many scholars believe it was conceivable that they were watching over sacrificial sheep to be used in the temple sacrifices in Jerusalem. What a picture of Jesus. Jesus is the true Lamb of God who will lay His life down in sacrifice that that we might be God's forgiven children now cared for by the Good Shepherd Himself.
Another interesting thought is the humility of Jesus that is seen in this account especially in contrast to Caesar. It seems as if He's lost and arguably the loser in the events if we judge according to human standards. Yet according to the angels, this was one of His finest hours! In verse 14 they exclaimed at His birth, "Glory to God in the highest!"
The same is seen at His greatest hour, about thirty years later at Calvary when He would die on a cross. Probably only the angels were again proclaiming, "Glory to God in the highest!" Because to the naked eye, Jesus was rejected by the religious establishment. He was declared a criminal of Rome sentenced to the worst penalty of execution. He was deserted by almost all his most loyal followers. And worst of all, He was "nailed to a tree" meaning He was accursed by God (and He was as He stood in our place). Yet through His death and resurrection He showed Himself (in contrast to Caesar) to be the true Savior of the World!
Point of Application - Jesus Christ is the true "Savior of the World."
Let me briefly take you to our last point, "God's Lord."
When you talked about a lord, which can be translated "master" or "ruler," most back then reserved that title for Caesar. To the people, Caesar became a god, the lord. It led to actually worshipping the man and going forward from Augustus, almost every emperor (with only a few exceptions) would be deified after his death.
This is what led the early church to receive much of its harsh persecution. They couldn't say, "Caesar is Lord." Because for them, the only true Lord was "Jesus Christ." It's made clear in verse 11. "For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
Point of Application - Jesus Christ is the true Lord and therefore must be the true Lord of our lives as well.
This is an amazing story, but it only has any significance if it is your story. God gave the world the best Christmas present imaginable. He gave us the gift of Himself. He gave us peace and forgiveness and joy and hope if we simply receive the "good news" on the basis of our faith. Is Jesus Christ both your Lord and Savior?
If you have not done so, will you receive Him as your Lord and Savior to be instantly transferred from darkness to light, hell to heaven, despair to hope and lost to a child of the living God?