Archive for category Christmas

Luke 2: 1-2: Augustus, the Census and Rome

Rome © 2018 Simon Peter SutherlandWell, the Christmas season is upon us! Yet recent months and hours have been a strange time for the people of Britain. England is politically divided and chaotic, the country appears to be tearing itself apart and it is difficult for the average person to see any bright future? However, I have repeatedly stated that an East Wind is coming, and I believe it is. But I know that God is in control.

Sometimes in this wicked world, it is necessary for a person to set himself apart and come away a while. In November I visited Rome. This was my third visit. Rome is a bustling busy city, and being there is like walking through an outdoor museum. The streets are filled with ancient rubble. A person who visits Rome is walking in the footsteps of historic giants.

Rome Forum © 2018 Simon Peter SutherlandThe Roman Forum is by far one of my beloved areas of Rome. Here I can bathe myself in Biblical history and bring myself back to what really matters. Biblical Truth! Here stands The Arch of Titus, The Temple of Caster and Pollux, The Curia Julia, where Paul stood trial. The location of the conflict between Peter and Simon Magus.  The Mamertine Prison, where tradition claims Peter and Paul were imprisoned.

Across the way from the Mamertine, there stands the remains of the ancient Forum of Augustus. This forum was inaugurated in 2 BC by the man who decreed the census to be taken around the time when Jesus was in the womb of Mary.

In Luke 2: 1-2 it reads: “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.” (NKJV)

By Luke’s reference to “all the world” I take that to mean all the Roman world. The Greek (G3625) is with special reference to a part of the globe, “specifically the Roman Empire”. However, the facts surrounding the census are still a matter of much debate.

Yet in The Mausoleum of Augustus, Rome, there once stood Bronze pillars which had an engraved reference to a Census of Augustus. This funerary inscription is known as “Res Gestae Divi Augusti“. It was upon this inscription where Augustus recorded the achievements he had made during his life. One such achievement reads “CENSVM-POPVLI”. This when translated reads ‘I did a census‘.

Dates for this census are well established, but my question is; could this reference be remotely related to the census written about by St. Luke? After three visits to Rome I have concluded that Luke probably wrote his Gospel from this ancient City of Seven Hills. However, some modern scholars claim there is no historic evidence for the census of Luke 2: 1-2. Yet in claiming this they assume Luke’s narrative is not a reliable source. Likewise, they sometimes fail to explore the possibilities of other arguments and views that differ to their own. They often likewise ignore the possible translations issues concerning the correct rendition of (G2958) and the possibility of a continued or repeated census.

In a pause of reflection, what strikes me about Augustus and the “Gestae Divi Augusti” is how historically absolute it is that this Roman Emperor was distinctly associated with a census. Whichever way we look at it, we cannot dismiss that Augustus was known for a census of the Roman world.

What Luke was communicating was a fulfilment of the Scripture that a ruler over Israel would come out of Bethlehem (Micah 5: 2). That the ancestral home of Joseph was Bethlehem. Yet, when Augustus Caesar did his census, he thought he was bringing this about of his own power. But Luke was communicating that it was God who was bringing it to pass, not man.

Here we can learn. The world is a mess. People are sinful and depraved. Does that mean that Christ is not reigning or a Ruler? Has God lost control of His universe? On the contrary. There is no greater way to cause people to change their ways than pain. In the Scriptures God often hands nations over to corrupt leaders to teach them and bring them to repentance. Yet He must have been reigning in order to have done such things.

It is Christ who holds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1: 3) there is no governing power outside of Him. By bringing about a Census, Augustus was doing the will of God, not the will of man. We all must learn from that. Christ is in control.

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Surely, it is better to witness Christ at Christmas, than to give out Christmas cards or speak into the air!

Christmas in Rome © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland

Christmas in Rome © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland

Christmas is an excellent time to witness to unbelievers and religious people about the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The season often brings with it a merry spirit and even in the UK, it can be a time when our shut up hearts are opened and we feel right to wish seasons greetings to fellow human beings.

With this in mind, what a wonderful time it can be to tell people about Jesus and why He came to earth, what He said and what kind of claims He made about Himself? And the biggest question of all; did He really rise from the dead and if so, what does that mean for us.

Christians can have the answer and a simple gospel track or a good word can lighten someone’s day with the good news that God loves us and Jesus died for us!

If I am critical, and I confess I am, I must state that all too often I see far too many evangelical preachers standing on street corners preaching to passersby who are not actually listening, and most of the time the preachers are speaking into the air because their sermons are spoken as they would be if they were in church. In other words, it is useless preaching a sermon to passersby if that sermon has a structured beginning, middle and end. By the time the preacher has made a point of reason, it is meaningless because the passersby have long gone and he is speaking into the air.

But is there a better way? Well, yes there is a better way. In fact there are many better ways!

Surely it is better to do what Scripture says and to reason with people in the marketplace (Acts 17: 17) and not merly speak while people are not listening. Surely it is better to engage with individuals or groups or create a forum of some kind from which to preach. Even better, why not try reading out scripture that the Word of God may be set abroad among our fellow-man. Surely it is better for people to hear the truth than to ignore it because it makes no sense to them.

As I have expressed in previous posts, I am content to doubt that the historical Jesus was ever born on December 25, I affirm it more likely that He was born at Nissan. But never the less, that does not stop me seeing beyond my understanding, and seeing Christmas as a time to proselytize and win souls to the truth. But none of this will happen if we keep silent (Romans 10: 14).

If we walk past our fellow-man and ignore him, minding our own business, we are ignoring souls for whom Christ died and are guilty of watching souls slip further away from heaven and deeper into the pit.

Christian, a majority of us have no problem giving out Christmas cards, how is it then only a minority of us are willing to give out tracks or evangelise? Christian, let us do better and not hide the light in the darkness, but make a difference in this dark world we live in.

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Martin Luther and the Christmas tree

 

christmas-tree-light-2016-simon-peter-sutherland

Christmas tree light © 2016 Simon Peter Sutherland

Christians are divided over issues concerning the Christmas tree. Many regard the tree as part of a pagan celebration and not Christian.

Some Christians also claim that Jeremiah 10: 1-10 speaks against the Christmas tree? But I doubt that the text is speaking of anything like that, for the context of Jeremiah’s passage speaks more against the idol worship that then existed and cannot rightly be connected to a mere celebration of Christmas which did not begin until many centuries later.

There is a 16th or a 17th century claim made by the early Lutheran church that the Protestant reformer Martin Luther was the first one to come up with the idea of having a Christmas tree in the home.

The story goes like this; Luther was one day in the woods and he saw the trees amongst the snow and thought it would be a good idea to cut down a tree and put candles on it to remind people of Christ’s birth?

The story itself has no actual historical evidence to support it, but really, I don’t see what evidence a person can find for such a claim. What would it matter anyway?

I think what I personally see from the Christmas tree is a reminder of Christ, who is the light of the world, crucified on a tree (1 Peter 2: 24) and that all His people who are crucified with Him and have died to self and are the light of the world (Matthew 5: 14)

That is what I see when I look at the Christmas tree, just a simple reminder of what Christians should be and a simple reminder of Christ who died for us.

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