For many living under the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus’ birth, there was only one ruler, and that was Caesar. Following years of war, infighting, chaos, and uncertainty, Augustus Caesar’s reign brought historic peace and unity to the empire. His military triumphs and political successes caused Roman citizens to view him not just as their leader but a god, a “messiah.” He was so revered that in 27 BCE, the Roman Senate changed his name to Augustus, meaning “worthy of veneration and worship.” And whenever Augustus’ feats were announced, they were described using the term euangelion, the Greek word for “gospel” or “good news.”
But Caesar wasn’t the Promised One. Built on the backs of slaves and conquered peoples, his rule elevated the powerful while oppressing the vulnerable, relied on peace begotten by violence, and, ultimately, was centered around himself. Despite his conquests, Augustus wasn’t the savior. He wasn’t the one worthy of worship.
In the surprising story of God’s faithfulness, Israel’s rescue—and our own—didn’t come through an emperor but through a child, born to a teenage girl in a smelly stable. Hardly a place fit for the King. But this is the mystery of our faith. This baby is the only one who is, in Isaiah’s words, our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He is the one who rescues and redeems. He is our Messiah, the only one worthy of our worship.
This Christmas, let’s turn from lesser rescuers to adore the Christ Child about whom Isaiah prophesied—the King who has come and who will come again, just as He promised.
For more on the cultural and political context of the Roman Empire during the time of Christ’s birth, read “Behind Luke’s Gospel” by Kurt Willems.