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God’s promise fulfilled

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. Luke 2:1-7 NLT

In the Christmas narrative written by Luke, he mentioned the name of Augustus. By stating his name this lifted the narrative out of the provincial scene in Judea to the universal significance. The gospel is not for the Jews alone, but the whole world is its field of concern. Caesar Augustus was the highest authority in the Roman Empire, and this was the biggest part of the world known in that time and place. He was representative of the whole. Not only that, the use of his name separated the following narrative from the claim that the birth narrative was a myth invented for some certain purpose. This birth was a real event, and the use of the emperor’s name gave it a definite point in time. It was the historian’s way of dating a happening. Also, Augustus supplied the reason that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Jesus being born in Bethlehem was the town that had been prophesied where the Messiah will be born. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf” (Micah 5:2). The home of Jesse, the father of David, was appropriate because of Jesus’ lineage in the house of David. All this became associated with the decree of a Roman ruler. Although he was unaware of it, Augustus had an important role in the fulfillment of the prophecy of the God he did not know. Augustus stood at the crossroads of the history of Rome. At the decree of Augustus that a census is taken throughout the provinces, Joseph with Mary went back to their ancestral home of Bethlehem. The reason why Augustus decreed a census to be taken was for the purpose of taxing all the people. It was prompted by greed yet unbeknownst to Augustus that he was taking part in fulfilling the prophesy that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. A thousand years before, David had grown up in this very town and watched his father’s sheep on these very hills. It had been prophesied that from this small town, Bethlehem Ephrathah, would come the ruler of Israel (Micah 5:2), the successor of David, whose rule would be forever.


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