Caesar Augustus was the most powerful man in the world. The Roman Empire touched three continents and had subjected numerous nations to its rule, including the little crossroads of a nation, Israel. When Augustus decreed that a census be taken, it was for historical purposes—to record and commemorate his power and reach.
When a dictator says “jump,” his subjects, like it or not, say, “how high?” and they hop to it. For Joseph, a carpenter in the town of Nazareth, that meant packing up his fiancée and making the seventy-mile trip to Bethlehem. Why? Because he had to be registered in the town his family was from, the place of his roots: the city of David, his ancestor and the great king from whom the Messiah would come.
So Joseph made the trip with his very pregnant fiancée, Mary. I’m sure the trip was difficult, what with her condition and the tenuous understanding he likely had about the nature of her pregnancy. He wasn’t the father. She claimed it was miracle of the Holy Spirit, and an angel had told him the same in a dream—all very confusing. After seventy hard miles of walking over three or four days they arrived in Bethlehem, only to find it swarming with people who were there for the same reason they were. The only place they could find to sleep was a stable, alongside the animals.
Apparently a three-day walk is an effective way of inducing labor, because Mary’s time had come. There, in that stable, she gave birth to a son, her mystery baby. She wrapped Him snugly in cloth to keep Him warm against the night’s chill and held Him close like good mothers do. Joseph and Mary laid Him in a feed trough to sleep when the time came. It was the humblest of beginnings and a story to regale the family with at get-togethers for years to come. Almost unbelievable really, this sequence of events.
But isn’t that often the case?
When God moves, the mundane and inconvenient become pivotal in His plan. The decision of an emperor to magnify his own glory leads to the birth of the King of Glory. And not just the birth, but the fulfillment of prophecies dating back centuries.
Caesar decrees a census and the Emperor of emperors is born.
In seven short verses, God reveals the difference between the world’s idea of kingship and His own: Rome vs. Bethlehem, royal robes vs. swaddling cloths, thrones vs. troughs. The wisdom of man is foolishness to God, and God’s wisdom is revealed in the unlikeliest of times, ways, and places—like a small barn, in a small town, in a small country where the Son of God entered the world to save sinners and rule for all time.
Written By Barnabas Piper