Caesar’s Census and God’s Sovereignty

Who’s in charge? Who has the power and position to influence the events of history and create change in the world, for better or for worse? 

If you had asked that question of the citizens of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago, the likely reply would have been: Caesar Augustus. He was, after all, the most powerful man in the most powerful empire in the world. In addition, he was the man responsible for a whole range of positive change in the Empire. He ushered in the era of pax romana and his rule brought stability to a constantly changing government. New construction projects were undertaken at his command, and trade and commerce were allowed to flourish.

Whatever the citizens of the Roman Empire thought of their Caesar, it was pretty clear what Caesar thought of himself. He had no qualms with taking on lofty titles like: “lord” and “god” and even “saviour”. 

So, if Caesar Augustus wanted a census taken of the known world in order to keep track of all the people who had to pay him taxes, all he had to do was decree it so. And that is what happened. With a stroke of his pen, Caesar set the Empire in motion, disrupting the daily lives of its citizens and inconveniencing those who did not live in the towns where they had to register. 

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…

Luke 2:1

One imagines Caesar sitting outside his home overlooking the hills of Rome and feeling rather powerful. Lord and god. And yet, he was but a pawn in the hands of Almighty God. 

Unbeknownst to mighty Caesar his ambitious census had put into motion events that would shape the world forever after. In far off Nazareth, a young couple was loading up their donkey for the long trip down to Bethlehem to register themselves in the census. The young woman was quite pregnant with her firstborn child, and her fiancé was undoubtedly concerned at the prospect of having to leave home and make the arduous journey so close to the due date of their child.

And yet, God’s hand was clearly on them as he directed their steps to the City of David where the child would be born. The child would be called saviour, or Jesus, and later in life many would also call him Lord and God. 

And so, in Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ birth we see how beautifully, and mysteriously, God works in the events of history in order to unfold His plan. As we step back and observe the wider scope of the Christmas story we cannot help but marvel at the goodness of the sovereignty of our God. Our God is the God who works all things, including the lofty ambitions of an emperor, for the good of those who love him. Praise God that the caesars, presidents and dictators of the world have limited power and that not one of their decisions or actions falls outside the sphere of God’s sovereignty.

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