Call to Worship December 20 2020
“Let us ever rest our souls on the thought, that times are in God’s hand. (Psalm 31:15.) He knows the best season for sending help to His church, and new light to the world. Let us beware of giving way to over-anxiety about the course of events around us — as if we knew better than the King of kings, what time relief should come. ‘Cease, Philip [Melancthon], to try to govern the world,’ was a frequent saying of [Martin] Luther to an anxious friend. It was a saying full of wisdom.” (J.C. Ryle, Luke: Expository Thoughts on the Gospel, vol. 1, [Carlisle, PA., Banner of Truth, 2012], pg. 39.)
Luke tells us that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus. His decree was to number the people of the Roman world for the purpose of taxation. The Roman Empire was vast in those days-from East to West and North to South, it encased the Mediterranean Sea. Its reign reached inland regions, which included most great cities surrounding the Sea and even barbaric lands to the north of Israel, and Eastern and Western Europe. So large was the empire that to tax the Roman Empire brought great wealth to Caesar. Yet as Caesar thought he ruled the developed world by his decrees, it was the God of heaven and earth that used Caesar’s decree for His good pleasure.
God had decreed before time to save a people for Himself. His decree included the sending of His Son to be born in human flesh and dwell on earth. It was God who decreed and planned before time to use Caesar and his work to usher in the birth of Christ. Caesar thought he was in control. He lived as though his work ruled the world.
During his reign the Jews were often persecuted as a nation for various reasons and the remnant of believers in those days waited for relief. God used Caesar’s decree to bring lasting relief to fruition in the coming Messiah. No, this would not be the relief that many expected from a present day political perspective, but it was much greater. Most Jews did not understand the promised Messiah was not simply an earthly King or worldly political figure sent to restore the Jewish monarch on earth. The promised Messiah would not only show His power over the Kings of the world, but would reveal His work as the covenant King of God’s people including those from the rest of the world.
Caesar thought He was the ruler who brought the Roman peace, but Christ would bring peace between God and sinners. Caesar’s decree was all about his manifesto to reign and rule far and wide. He promised peace to his countrymen and allies, and death to his enemies. His purposes did nothing to bring real change on earth. Men were still sinners before God. Men continued their ignorant, arrogant, and prideful ways. He was just another earthly ruler, who governed by human order and might. He used his decree in earthly planning, but God used Caesar’s decree in an eternal plan.
God’s decree outranked and usurped the decree of Caesar. Caesar thought the times and Roman world were in his hand, but God had the times and the whole universe under His command. No matter which earthly people are in political power, God has a plan and by His decree all men will eventually bow before His throne. The birth of Jesus the Christ, His sinless life, His death on the cross, and His resurrection from the grave guarantees that all who turn from their sin and trust in His person and His work will have peace with God. Caesar Augustus has been dead for over 2000 years. He did not bring lasting peace, but the opposite followed him in Roman times. Do not trust in kings, princes, presidents or yourself to govern and bring peace. Trust in the one and only King of heaven and earth, He alone accomplished eternal peace between God and sinners. Soli Deo Gloria!