What Luke Reveals About The King of Kings

The real Christmas story is an epic and radically revolutionary message.

Everything about the Christmas story narrative in Luke’s Gospel defies the saccharine, fairy tale, and Christmas card concepts that we have become familiar with in our time. The real Christmas story is a truly epic and radically revolutionary message that confronts the world’s ideas of power and glory and reveals them for what they are in relation to the power of God.

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Think about it. Luke begins the story in a manner familiar to the ancient forms of literature, introducing the great characters, and the powers of that time. In this case, it is Caesar Augustus, the most powerful king of the greatest empire in the world at that time, and his governor of the eastern provinces of his vast kingdom, Quirinius. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world be enrolled…” (Lk 2:1). The ruler of the world decreed that a census be taken. A census gives the ruler information that is necessary to advance his power to raise and to collect taxes, or to conscript great numbers for his armies. It is a worldly tool of immense power. Luke is contrasting the power of the great Caesar with a newborn baby, who we know is the true king of all of creation.

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Where do Joseph and Mary, pregnant with Jesus, go to be counted? To Bethlehem, the city of David, in the lush hill country of Judah. This is the same area of Israel where King David received the Ark of the Covenant, bearing the Commandments brought down from Mt. Sinai, dancing for joy. Mary is the new Ark, bearing in her womb a tiny baby, the Messiah, the true King of Kings. Caesar lives in a palace at the top of the Palatine Hill in Rome, the greatest house in the world, filled with everything needed to meet his every wish or need. Jesus is born in a cave in a dusty outpost at the eastern edges of the empire to an anonymous Jewish couple and is laid in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes.

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The baby Jesus is “wrapped in swaddling clothes, bound up tight for warmth and comfort, and laid in a manger. This is a complete contrast to Caesar, the ruler of the world, who is clothed in the finest of clothes, eats the finest of food at a sumptuous table, and has the freedom and unlimited power to do whatever he pleases and to go wherever he wishes. What does the manger mean? It is a receptacle made of wood and is used to feed animals. The wood of that manger connects us to the wood of the cross that Jesus would die on at the order of the local Roman power, Pontius Pilate. Jesus being laid in that manger that is used as a feeding vessel connects directly to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: “This is my body, which is given for you” (Lk. 22:19-20). Or as Matthew puts it, Jesus blessed the bread gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body” and then the cup saying, “Drink it, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:26-28).

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The great Caesar Augustus’ power was vast in terms of the world, but it was as nothing compared to that tiny newborn infant who was born in anonymity and laid in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes. The Empire of Rome was at its height at the time of Jesus’ birth, but its imperial might belongs only to history and its great edifices are all in ruins. Empires have come and gone since then. Great and powerful worldly rulers of every kind have wielded their powers for good and for evil, but they, too, are left to history and lay in ruins. And the great rulers of today, who vie for power, who use their powers for their own worldly purposes will fade into history and to dust just as surely as all the others. But as Matthew tells us in his Gospel, that Jesus laid his hands on Peter’s head and said, “And I tell you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18). This church, founded by the real King of Kings who was born in a cave and laid in a manger has seen them all come and go. And it remains today and will to the end of the age.

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This tiny baby, born to a poor and lowly couple in the little village of Bethlehem in the hill country of Judah is the real King of Kings. We are challenged by this birth each year to contemplate who our real ruler is. Do we give our allegiance to the perceived “powers” of current political icons, or to the famous and the wealthy of the world, or do we follow and give our all to Jesus who was born in a cave, was wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger? The One who would give his life on the cross for our sake, and who rose again from the dead conquering our greatest enemies, sin and death, once and for all. Our answer to that question is everything.

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