Two Saviours and Two Kings
Reading Luke 2:1-14
In Luke 2:1 we are told about Caesar Augustus – . And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. Have you ever wondered why Luke includes Caesar in the story of Jesus’ birth? There are a couple of reasons. Luke wants to tell us the geopolitical setting for the Messiah’s birth. Luke also wants to firmly establish Jesus’ birth as a real historical event. The main reason, though, that Caesar and Christ are mentioned together is because the Christmas story is a story about two saviours and two kings.
Within the Roman Empire everyone knew that Caesar claimed for himself the title, “Saviour of the World.” He boasted that he ruled the entire world; therefore he demanded that all acknowledge him as king and ruler. Unknown to him, in the year 4 B.C., a rival was born, Someone Who also claimed to be Saviour and King.
Let’s take a closer look at the two saviours and two kings of the Christmas story.
The Two Saviours
At the time of Jesus’ birth in 4 B.C. the Roman Empire was filled with discouraged, dispirited, and confused people. This confusion, despair, and discouragement was the end product of many years of warfare and destruction and turmoil.
The conquered peoples did not know who or what to believe in anymore. Back then, if you remember, each nation had its own gods on whom it depended. When a nation lost a war, that meant their gods had either forsaken them or were not powerful anymore. The Roman Empire was filled with conquered people. So these people had no gods left. And without the gods, on whom would they depend, to whom could they look? No wonder these people were discouraged, dispirited, and confused.
Augustus, who was a very ambitious man, planned to change all this. He decided to provide the security these despairing people needed after the loss of their gods. He would give them a new way of life, a new world order. He would give them the order and peace and justice of Rome. Augustus asked the conquered peoples to forget about their gods – who had not been able to help them anyway – and to depend on the new Roman order, that way of life of which he, Caesar Augustus, was the symbol. Worship Augustus, hail Caesar, and he will provide peace and prosperity! Augustus proposed a new world-wide religion, the worship of the Caesars of Rome.
To achieve this, to bring all the world to his feet in worship, Caesar ordered a census to be taken of all the people and nations under his rule. This was the first step in establishing the new world order. This was the first step in getting all people to worship Caesar.
Augustus proclaimed himself as the saviour of the world’s discouraged, dispirited, and confused people. He was going to save the world by his brilliant politics, his careful administration, his powerful military, his excellent economics, and by the beauty and magnificence of Roman culture Pax Roma
The refrain heard as Caesar’s plan was being carried out, praised man and his greatness. The anthem that was sung said, “Glory to man in the highest.”
People today still practice the religion of Caesar Augustus. People today still believe in the greatness of man. Man continues to look to himself, his abilities, his discoveries, for his own salvation.
As in Caesar’s day, men put their heads together and proclaim new orders and new saviours. Political parties turn to the right or the left and propose their new leader and program to be the country’s salvation. People in Eastern Europe and the former U.S.S.R. overthrew their communist masters and looked to democracy and political freedom and capitalism for salvation; now some of them are switching back to the communists. Scientists put their hope in some new discovery or achievement which will make life more meaningful for us all. Technologists propose the computer and the computer age as the key to happiness. Researchers look for the perfect cure, educators try to discover the perfect teaching model, and psychiatrists seek the key to the human psyche – all of this supposedly spells salvation and an end to despair.
Once again it is the old refrain: “Glory to man in the highest.” Man can save himself. Man will create utopia, a perfect society, here on earth. The end to despair, the beginning of hope, is man himself.
Luke comes with a different message. Man can’t save himself. No Caesar, no political freedoms, no computer, no cure, and no discovery can spell an end to despair and the beginning of hope.
For hope and salvation, Luke directs us to “a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (v12). Luke comes with Good News that works; He comes with Good News that results in salvation: For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. (v11). This Saviour’s name is not Caesar Augustus; rather, he is Christ the Lord (v11).
How does this Saviour operate? How is He going to save a dispirited, discouraged, confused people? He doesn’t do a census. He doesn’t send His legions into the world first. He doesn’t force Himself upon the people as saviour. To put it simply, He dies upon the cross. This Saviour brings hope and salvation through His blood and Spirit. He comes to earth as a man and dies upon the cross.
Caesar, as saviour, is worth nothing. His plan of salvation comes to nothing. But Christ, He as Saviour is beyond worth. His plan of salvation works and results in redemption. Why? Because the salvation of Christ depends upon God. It is God Who works out salvation through the blood and Spirit of Christ. God can succeed where Caesar fails. Only God can save!
The anthem that echoes forth with this Saviour, the refrain that is heard, does not praise man; rather, it praises God. In the heavens, says Luke, there was a multitude of angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest” (v14).
That’s the big difference between the two saviours and the two salvations: one brings praise to God, the other brings praise to man. No wonder that the salvation of Caesar fails whereas the salvation of Christ succeeds.
The Two Kings
A Christmas is a story not only of two Saviours but also of two kings. The name of the one is “Caesar Augustus.” That is not his real name, of course. It is a title that he took for himself. It means “The Exalted One.”
Caesar is one of the great men of the world. He commands the thousands of the Roman legions; his is an empire that stretches to the far corners of the earth. His is power and might. Augustus commands and the whole world is on the road to be enrolled. People heed his every command and follow his every wish. His birthday is a holiday for the entire Empire. Again we hear the ancient refrain being sung: “Glory to man in the highest.”
On the other side is a little child born in the city of David. He is called “Christ the Lord.” The title and His birth in Bethlehem means that He is the Messiah, the Anointed One, the King. But, can He really be King? There is no room for Him at Bethlehem Inn so He is born in a stable and laid in a manger. The only ones bowing before Him are some poor shepherds. By His own admission, His is an invisible kingdom that is not of this world; His is no army or soldiers. Yet, He claims to be king. Not too impressive, is it? Yet, in His rule we hear the song of the angels being sung: “Glory to God in the highest.”
Nearly 2000 years have passed since the days of Caesar. Where is Caesar today? He is gone, His empire is gone, His legions are gone. But we can’t say that about King Jesus, can we? Christ is still here.
What a turn-around: Christ’s birthday, not Caesar’s, is a time of celebration. Christ’s Kingdom, not Caesar’s, is growing day-by-day. Christ’s rule, not Caesar’s, is still in effect. In fact, Christ now sits at the right hand of God and has been given all rule, all authority, all power, and all might.
Caesar is gone. His kingdom is gone. Christ still rules. His Kingdom is getting bigger and bigger. The kings and kingdoms of this world are shown to be nothing. Yet, what does man do? Man continues to elevate himself to the throne of Christ. Man pretends that he is master of his life and controller of his destiny. Man fools himself into thinking that he is in control.
Man plays at being God. We hear talk now of genetic manipulation of humans before birth; genes are implanted to prevent certain genetic diseases.
Man plays at being God. We hear of unborn babies being aborted when tests reveal that the child is flawed in some way.
Man plays at being God. Some of you might have heard about the computer game called, “SimEarth–The Living Planet.” The write-up for this game says, It not only shows how life may have evolved on earth, but it also let me do the one thing I’ve always wanted to do: play God.
And what a feeling it was! By pointing and clicking my electronic mouse, I could pick up a square of green from one corner of the screen, drop it on a barren stretch of land and watch it blossom into a prairie. I could sprinkle the primeval forest with dinosaurs, insects and birds. I could fill the seas with starfish, lobsters and whales. I could rattle my little planet with computer-generated earthquakes and hurricanes.
Man plays at being God. So we hear of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. MORE THAN 10,000 people in Holland have started carrying anti-euthanasia “passports” because they are frightened of being killed prematurely by over-enthusiastic doctors if they fall ill.
One survey into euthanasia – sponsored by the Dutch government – found that 23 per cent of doctors said that they had ended a patient’s life without his or her explicit request. There is growing concern that assisted suicide is increasingly dominating medical practice to the exclusion of other treatments.
Luke is calling his audience and he is calling us to make a choice between the two saviours and two kings of Christmas. Who is our saviour: Caesar or Jesus, man or God? Who is our King: Caesar or Jesus, man or God? We have to make a choice between “Glory to man” and “Glory to God.”