Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Unto You is Born This Day, Day 1

Dannah Gresh: Caesar Augustus was the most powerful ruler during his day. But he was just a pawn in God’s plan.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: When you think that your life, your situation, is so helpless, is so far out of control, just remember that the same God who got Caesar Augustus to issue this edict can issue whatever edicts are needed on your behalf to see His Word fulfilled in you.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Consider Jesus, for Wednesday, December 18, 2019. 

How are your holiday preparations going? Still have some gifts to buy? Meals to plan? In the midst of the busyness, let’s just pause for a moment to think about the first Christmas. Here’s Nancy with more.

Nancy: If you have your Bible with you, I want to invite you to turn to the gospel of Luke, chapter 2—or you can scroll or click or whatever you do to get to Luke 2. I want to encourage you when you hear Revive Our Hearts, if you possibly can, to have a Bible in front of you—a digital Bible, a paper Bible (that’s my Bible of first choice), but whatever you can. I know sometimes you’re listening in a place where you can’t do that, but I want you to have your eyes on the text and to be letting the Lord speak to you.

God doesn’t just speak to me through His Word; you have His Holy Spirit, too. As you open up a familiar passage like Luke chapter 2, I think there are fresh new things the Lord wants to say to us.

This may be one of the best-known chapters in the whole Bible. I can remember as a little girl in Christian school, year after year we would memorize Luke chapter 2 (some part of it) verses 1–20.

We would memorize it, we would recite it in the Christmas program, and I still have it in my head in the King James. “They were sore afraid!” Somebody asked me last night, “What does ‘sore afraid’ mean?” Perhaps your family is planning around Christmastime to read this passage as a part of your Christmas celebration.

I hope that you’re reading this and other passages. But this chapter is the most detailed account we have of the details surrounding the birth of Christ—the first Christmas. So we want to take a fresh look, in this short, little series the next few days, at some of these familiar characters and events. We want to consider how this ancient account speaks to our lives today.

As we prepare our hearts in this season to celebrate the birth of our Savior, let’s ask God to help us see all of this with new eyes and wonder. Today, we’re going to look at the first seven verses in Luke chapter 2, and then in the next couple of days we’ll move a little bit further into that passage.

Luke chapter 2, beginning in verse 1:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

This is the Word of the Lord.

And, oh Lord, how we pray that You would come and speak to our hearts. Give fresh understanding, fresh insight. We will, by no means, plumb the depths of this passage, but I pray that something that is said will be fresh and will minister grace to our hearts this day. I pray in Jesus’ name with thanksgiving for this amazing story!

What a good gift giver You are, oh God. So we come to receive Your gift of Your Son Jesus, to say “thank you” for letting us know about this part of the story. Give us fresh eyes, fresh wonder, we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

“In those days,” verse 1 says. In what days? Well, it was the days of Caesar Augustus, and a decree went out from Caesar Augustus. Augustus was the founder and the first emperor of the Roman Empire. He was the grand-nephew of Julius Caesar and was officially adopted by Caesar.

When Julius Caesar was assassinated, in his will it was stipulated that his successor would be Caesar Augustus. That wasn’t his name at the time—we’ll learn more about that—but Caesar Augustus ruled for more than four decades—from 27 B.C. until his death in 14 A.D.

He was the emperor at the time when Jesus was born—not during the time of Jesus’ adult life and ministry, but when Jesus was born. Most of Augustus’ reign was a time of relative peace. He brought in what was known as the Pax Romana—the Roman Peace. It was an era of some sort of peace that lasted for some 200 years.

There was not a lot of war during this time, and the major reason for this was not because he was such a great emperor, but because he had conquered all the surrounding nations and they were terrified of him! They didn’t dare to peep or squeak . . .

They just did what they were told. They paid the taxes they were told. It was a time of tyranny and oppression called the Pax Romana—the Roman Peace era—really not the kind of peace that we want to have.

His given name was Gaius Octavius. The name Caesar Augustus was a title given him by the Roman Senate. “Augustus” means “great” or “venerable.” The title, “Caesar Augustus,” means, essentially, “revered emperor.”

Augustus was a bigger-than-life figure. As far as the people of that day were concerned, he was no mere mortal. You remember how the Roman emperors came to be known as gods, and this actually started as Julius Caesar was considered to be a god. Therefore Augustus was the son of a god, and then the emperors came to be known as gods.

There’s an inscription that an Internet search yielded from nine years before Christ, 9 B.C., that reveals how Augustus was viewed by his contemporaries. Listen closely to this. It’s a little lengthy, but I think it will give you an idea of how people perceived him.

The most Divine Caesar we should consider equal to the beginning of all things. For when everything was falling into disorder and tending toward disillusion, he restored it once more and gave to the whole world a new aura.

Caesar! The common good fortune of all—the beginning of life and vitality. All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the Divine Caesar as the beginning of the new year.

Whereas providence has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us the Emperor Augustus—who being sent to us and our descendants as savior—has put an end to war and has set all things in order.

And whereas, having become god manifest, Caesar has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times in surpassing all the benefactors who preceded him. And whereas, finally, the birthday of the god Augustus has been for the whole world the beginning of good news concerning him [good news—uon hellion—do you recognize that term? You’re going to see it in Luke 2] therefore let a new era begin from his birth.

Now, that’s talking about a man! It calls him: “most divine,” “beginning of all things,” “savior,” “god manifest,” “he has fulfilled all hopes,” “he has surpassed all who preceded him,” “his birthday has been, for the whole world," "the beginning of good news.”

That was written by a contemporary of Caesar Augustus. In the time, “in those days,” a decree went out from this man. Augustus was the most powerful man in the world in those days, but he was still a man—and we need to remember that as we get into this passage because we’re going to see him contrasted with a lowly couple who had no standing compared to that of Caesar’s, as far as the world was concerned.

He was not divine, and there is no man other than the Man Christ Jesus who ever was or will be divine or all-powerful.

The Roman Empire, which Augustus founded and of which he was the first emperor, that empire was feared. It was fiercely powerful, but there is no human government—ultimately—that controls the affairs of this world, no matter how much they think they do.

The One True God was still on His throne in those days, and He is still on His throne in these days! No ruler, no matter how good or bad, is God. And no government ultimately controls the affairs of this world.

God—Jehovah God—is Sovereign over every circumstance, every detail of this universe. We sing it, and it’s true: “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” He is directing the affairs of this world, whether it was back in the Roman era, whether it’s in our era or any era to come.

He’s also today directing the affairs of your world, whatever may be going on in your world. It may seem that boss or that husband or that child or that neighbor or that person at work that is acting arrogant or all-supreme or all-sovereign, but they are not sovereign. They are not God. They are not in charge.

They do not have the power to make your life miserable if you don’t give them that power. The One who rules the universe is the One who gives and takes joy. If you are His child, you can have joy! He is directing all the affairs of this world.

Caesar Augustus thought he was in charge, he thought he was all powerful, but he didn’t realize that he was nothing more than a pawn in the hand of the Supreme Ruler of the universe. He—this little Caesar Augustus—was merely carrying out God’s plans and God’s purposes in this world.

That’s important for us to remember today. It was important for those first-generation believers to know in the first century, in that little church, as some of the emperors would come and try to wipe out the church.

We have governments and rulers in the world today who are trying to wipe out Christianity, who are killing believers—brothers and sisters of ours—in other countries of the world. It’s important for us to remember that Heaven rules! Jesus rules! Caesar does not rule! We render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we render to God what is only God’s!

And so, in those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus. He ordered a world-wide census for the purpose of taxation. Sometimes the census would be for the purpose of mobilizing an army, but this in time it was a census for the purpose of taxation.

This was a decree—it was an edict, it was a rule, it was a law—it was binding on everyone. Luke 2:3 tells us all obeyed the law, they obeyed the decree, they “went to be registered, each to his own town.”

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child” (v. 4).

Now we know from chapter 1 of Luke . . . I have had the joy in my quiet time recently of reading again through these early chapters in Luke. I love when that happens around Christmastime, because you’re reading just different angles, different aspects, different scenes in the Christmas story.

In chapter 1 we saw how an angel was sent to Mary to tell her that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit, that she would bear a child who would be the Son of the Most High, the Son of God.

Joseph was the man that she was engaged to. This was not Joseph’s child, although he—after the child was born—married Mary and had relations with her. They had other children, it appears according to Scripture. He had to go to Bethlehem to the land of his birth, the land of his ancestors.

But Mary and Joseph lived where? Not in Bethlehem, but in Nazareth. The journey from Nazareth—in the northern part of Israel—to Bethlehem—in the southern part of Israel—is some eighty miles.

That’s not if you’re taking a train or a car, but that’s a hard journey on foot and donkey—or whatever it was that was the means they got there . . . especially for a teenage expectant mother! She’s great with child. This is a hard journey.

But in this account, we see Mary living out that same humble submission to the will of God that she expressed in chapter 1 when she was told she was going to have this child. It was totally not on her script, not in her game plan, not on her agenda.

But when the angel said, “This is what’s going to happen,” what’s Mary’s response? (This is my life verse. If I have one, I want this to be it!) She said, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

She said, “Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord—I will give You my body, and I’ll let You place Your Child in it, and I’ll let that Child grow in my womb. I’ll give birth to this Child.” It wasn’t convenient. It wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t what she would have planned at all. It kind of messed up her engagement, from a human standpoint. But she said, “Yes, Lord.”

And then, when Joseph says, “We have to go to Bethlehem to be registered,” she says, “Yes. I’ll do this.” It’s a woman who trusts in the Lord. Now, we don’t know all the story. We don’t know what challenges she may have had, whether she asked questions.

She wasn’t perfect, so maybe she complained, maybe she whined. But we certainly have no evidence of that in the Scripture. We do have evidence of her being a grateful woman, a praising woman, a thankful woman, and a woman who was rooted in Scripture.

Her Magnificat in the gospel of Luke recites many, many Old Testament Scriptures. So she knew the Word of God, and she knew that she was being given the privilege of being a part of seeing that come to pass. And so she says, “Yes, we’ll go.”

Now, Bethlehem, where they headed—the original town of Joseph’s family . . . The word “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” How fitting is it that the One who is the Bread of Life would be born in Bethlehem—in the house of bread. This was all part of the plan of God from before the foundation of the world.

Centuries earlier, God had promised that the Messiah—His anointed One—would be born in Bethlehem, the southern part of Israel. You’re familiar with that verse, perhaps, in Micah chapter 5, verse 2.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah [a nobody town; just a nothing village], from you [who are too little] shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

This is speaking of the God/Man, the Son of God who had been in existence for all of eternity past, who was going to step into this world—leaving the gates, the throne, the magnificence of heaven—coming to this earth to be born in little tiny Bethlehem, the house of bread.

But, again, the problem was that Joseph and Mary lived in Galilee in the town of Nazareth, in the north of Israel. But that wasn’t a problem for God. He said the baby was going to be born in Bethlehem, so what did God do? He sovereignly intervened and orchestrated the events of world history to bring about the fulfillment of this Old Testament prophecy.

How did He do it? He moved Caesar Augustus, who thought he was God, to issue an edict that got Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem so His Son could be born there in fulfillment of Scripture. That’s the kind of God we have!

When you think that your life, your situation, is so far out of control, just remember that the same God who got Caesar Augustus to issue this edict can issue whatever edicts are needed on your behalf to see His Word fulfilled in you.

So, picture now this vast Roman Empire, this powerful Emperor who is worshiped as God. Then picture, by contrast in this account, Mary and Joseph—two simple Jews. Mary, a teenage girl and her fiancé, Joseph, who lived far away from the centers of power and influence in the Roman Empire.

In the scheme of things, they were nobodies. Augustus was everybody. He was everything. He was almighty, all-powerful—so they said. Mary and Joseph are nothing. They’re nobody, and they’re subject to the orders of Caesar Augustus. They had no control over their own circumstances, over their own lives.

I read here from one of the great Bible expositors of the twentieth century, G. Campbell Morgan. I love how he says this as he’s talking about this passage. He says,

Look at the woman! Her womb is the tabernacle of the Son of God as she travels . . . Look at the man! The one passion of his life is to guard that woman. Things are oftentimes not what they seem, if we can only climb high enough to look down on this world from Heaven’s vantage ground.

Did you catch that? “Things are oftentimes not what they seem, if we can only climb high enough to look down on this world from Heaven’s vantage ground.” He said,

When I read Micah’s prophecy, uttered six-hundred-and-fifty years before these events, I see that the really insignificant person in the drama is the little puppet in the City on the Seven Hills called Caesar Augustus.

He’s a nobody in the big scheme of things, and the significant personalities are the woman in whose womb tabernacles the Son of God—and the man who is guarding her.

God is always orchestrating the events of this world, including the circumstances of your life, to accomplish His holy eternal purposes and to bring glory to Himself, and to redeem this fallen broken world.

God’s sovereign, providential rule of the universe should encourage us in the face of powerful world governments, leaders who are arrogant or evil or inept—when we cannot figure out how God’s will could possibly be done, or His kingdom come in this world.

In times of national or international upheaval or chaos or uncertainty, we can be at peace. We don’t have to be overwrought about these world circumstances. We don’t have to be chattering endlessly, and in distress on Twitter and Facebook, and just wringing our hands in despair.

No! Heaven rules! These leaders are mere mortals. No matter what they think about themselves, they cannot do anything that God does not allow them to do. He controls their every move, and He can use them to accomplish His purposes.

And so, while they were there, having made that journey to Bethlehem—thanks to that edict of Caesar Augustus, “. . . the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).

Now, you know that this inn was no Holiday Inn! It was more likely just some sort of simple shelter, an enclosure where caravans could stop to sleep, to spend the night, to water their animals. But even that little stopping-off place was full, so she had no choice but to give birth to her first-born son in the only place available—where the animals stayed, in a manger, a feeding trough for the animals.

According to tradition, it probably wasn’t that lean-to we’ve seen with a straw roof. It may more likely have been a cave in the side of the hill.

In one sense, the birth of this baby was like that of any other baby. It came from the womb of a woman, wrapped up in strips of cloth—that wasn’t unusual—to protect the baby’s limbs and keep it safe and comfortable.

This baby was not treated as a child born to a wealthy or a royal family—much more an ordinary childbirth. J.C. Ryle, who was that wonderful nineteenth century Anglican pastor and bishop says,

We see here the grace and condescension of Christ. Had He come to save mankind with royal majesty, surrounded by His Father’s angels, it would have been an act of undeserved mercy. Had He chosen to dwell in a palace, with power and great authority, we should have had reason enough to wonder.

But to become poor as the poorest of mankind, and lowly as the very lowliest, this is a love that passes knowledge. It is unspeakable and unsearchable!

So, here is a Child born to an obscure village girl on an otherwise ordinary night, but there had never—and has never—been born a Child like this one! And while Caesar Augustus slept in his royal palace in the cosmopolitan Rome, this Infant slept on a bed of hay.

And for a while, Caesar Augustus was a star on the world stage, but this Child, born that night, created the stars and all the worlds. Caesar’s star would one day—soon—plummet, but this Child’s star will forever ascend and never, ever fall!

Dannah: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been giving us fresh insight into a passage a lot of us read every Christmas season. I appreciate being able to join her by digging deep into God’s Word and getting practical insights about this season. Today’s message is part of a series called “Unto You Is Born This Day.” To hear it again, or see this teaching from Nancy on video, visit

Nancy, it’s so meaningful just to go back to the classic story of Christmas and dig into God’s Word about the Shepherds who worshipped Jesus.

Nancy: Yes, I had such a sweet time preparing for this series. Sometimes I’m tempted to think people have heard these familiar passages so often, that I need to find some other obscure verse and come at the holiday from a different angle. But you know what? God’s Word is powerful. The truth is powerful. That’s why we focus on getting women to God’s Word here on Revive Our Hearts day after day.

Dannah: If you appreciate learning from God’s Word—both familiar passage and lesser known ones—we could use your help here in December. We can only offer you this kind of teaching as long as listeners support the ministry financially. And you have a huge opportunity to do that here in December.

Some supporters of the ministry have a real heart to give. And they will match your gift, making it go twice as far. They’ve offered a matching challenge. And no matter the size of your gift, big or small, I hope everyone listening will do something to help meet this challenge.

Nancy: I so grateful for each person who has given this month and who have said, "We want to be a part of helping to meet this need." We’ve shared honestly that we have some serious year-end needs as we move into the year ahead. Dannah, as you know, we remind ourselves often that God is our primary Donor—capital "D." So we look to Him to meet the needs. We share the needs with other, and then we trust the Lord to prompt the hearts of those He wants to give.

Would you ask the Lord if He would wnat you to have a part of helping to meet this challenge? You may want to do what we have heard from many others doing in the past, and that is saying, "Lord, I'd like to give. I'm not sure how or what. Would you provide something special so that I could give to help meet this need? Then just follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. Ask Him what He would have you give and how? Then just trust that He's going to provide all that's needed during this month.

You can make your donation at, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Dannah: Tomorrow, Nancy will pick back up in the second chapter of Luke and help us recapture the wonder of Christmas. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you remember the wonder of Christmas. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.