An Emperor, a Puppet King, and Bethlehem

Nearly everyone is familiar with Luke’s account of the Christmas story. It starts with those familiar words: “Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered…”

It was this census that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Right at the point in her pregnancy where nearly every MD would never recommend traveling – Let alone on the back of a donkey!

But the prophet Micah had marked Bethlehem eight centuries earlier as the birth place of the Messiah. “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,. . . 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.” (Micah 5:2)

I marveled as I read those words again recently. How do you get a young woman in her final trimester to pack up and move to Bethlehem just long enough to have a baby?

God in his sovereignty accomplished that by bringing to power a Roman emperor, who because of a strained relationship with a King in Palestine, (by the name of King Herod) decreed a census. The only problem? The Romans didn’t require people to return to the towns of their ancestors for a census.

But Herod, who understood the political climate of his land, more than likely put a Jewish spin on it. If you were going to be counted anyway, best to be counted in the birthplace of your ancestors. And so Joseph, a descendent of King David, placed Mary on a donkey and headed to Bethlehem – and in so doing fulfilled an 800 year old prophecy!

Amazing! A pagan emperor ruling from a Roman throne and a self-serving king ruling in Palestine were used by God to accomplish His purposes regarding the birthplace of His Son – Jesus Christ. It gives me hope, that in these uncertain times, God is still the One sovereignly overseeing the affairs of men.

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A Special Christmas Program

I love Christmas programs.This is my recounting of one of my favorites.

Wally was nine years old and in second grade, but he should have been in fourth. Wally tried hard, but he had a learning disability.

Christmas season came, and Wally was delighted to discover he was chosen for the part of the innkeeper in the Christmas pageant. The director reasoned Wally only had one line. How hard could that be?

The big night came and all of the children were excited, but one was especially excited. Wally was captivated by the story line. The director was a little concerned Wally might forget his spoken lines. Wally stepped on to the stage, and announced clearly, “Be gone! There is no room in the inn!”

The seven-year old Joseph looked back at Wally, and expressed that Mary was great with child. Awkward silence as Wally struggled with what to say next. He knew his line, but could not bear to send Mary and Joseph away again. With tears in his eyes, he forced out yet another “Be gone.” Joseph began to exit, and this is where this pageant became different from all others. For Wally never left the stage. As if frozen in time, Wally’s mind was racing for a creative alternative. The big smile on his face signaled that this inn-keeper had come up with a room. “Wait, Joseph!” Wally blurted out, “You and Mary can have my room!”

A burst of laughter came from the audience, then silence, and then tears flowed freely as the reality of Wally’s statement settled in. Wally had made room for Jesus.

Two thousand years ago there was no room for the Christ-child in the inn. This Christmas season will there be room for Jesus Christ in your heart? The Scriptures tell us that Jesus enters a person’s life by invitation only. You invite Him by believing that He came to save you from your sins (Romans 10:9-12). This year why not make the decision to trust and follow Jesus Christ? As you make room for Him, you’ll discover, as did Wally, life will never be the same again.

Jesus was right on time

I nearly missed the birth of our 4th child. Before you are too critical, please know that the supervising nurse had advised me to slip out and get some lunch – she thought it would be a long time. It wasn’t.  The fast-food service wasn’t all that fast, but my wife’s labor was, fortunately I got back just in time. Typically parents don’t have a lot to say about the day their child arrives.

I’m sure it was inconvenient for Joseph to head to Bethlehem in the final trimester of Mary’s pregnancy. But God had a specific time for the birth of Jesus. Paul recorded this truth for us in his letter to the Galatians,

3Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (Galatians 4:3-5).

The word fullness is used elsewhere to describe the 12 baskets that were left over at the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:43). They were full baskets – they weren’t half empty. When describing time it means the “end of an appointed time.” That night in Bethlehem it was long enough and Jesus came. The word communicates that even in the timing God was in complete control.

Why was the sending forth of the Son so important? Because we were in bondage to the world (4:3). The Greek grammar communicates that our bondage was ongoing, thorough and complete. It further reveals that it is something that happened to us. One translator used the word “kidnapped.” We had been kidnapped by the world. So at “just the right time” Jesus came to buy us out of our bondage and to set us free.

So it was that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered (Luke 2:6).

So glad I didn’t miss the birth of my son.

Praying this season you don’t miss the reason for the birth of His (John 3:16-17).