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Today many people are living in fear. For some, the fear was brought on by post-election disappointment or disillusionment. Some are filled with anxiety as cable news commentators proclaim that our country is near economic collapse. Some are terrified at the news coming from the Middle East. But we are not the only generation living in uncertain and challenging times. Since the Fall of Man in Genesis 3, this world has been broken and messy. It was an especially bleak time when God entered the pool of humanity.
When Jesus was born Rome ruled the world. After Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, his two sons, Octavian and Anthony shared the throne. But co-rulers never work out well. Anthony soon fell in love with the Egyptian Queen named Cleopatra. They married and decided that Octavian was an unnecessary third wheel. So they went against him for sole power of the throne.
In the Battle of Actium in 33 BC, Octavian’s armies defeated Anthony and Cleopatra. Remember what they did? The hightailed it back to Egypt and in fear and desperation committed suicide. That left Octavian as the sole ruler of the Empire—The Caesar.
Four years later Octavian named himself the chief citizen of the Roman Empire and took the name Augustus. Caesar Augustus ruled the world.
The poet, Virgil, called Caesar Augustus the “present deity,” the “restorer of the world.” Augustus built roads throughout the Empire. Great buildings were constructed. Magnificent coliseums were built to entertain the people with sport. Circuses traveled throughout the country. Under Caesar Augustus, the world experienced Pax Romana—The Peace of Rome.
Things were going well in the Roman Empire except for this little piece of land called Palestine. In this little strip of land lived the Jews. They served one God named YHWH and their daily practices came from His instruction. They would not bow before Caesar. They would not follow the Roman customs.
The Jew’s hatred for the outside world started years earlier when a Greek ruler named Antiochus tried to force the Greek culture on them. They refused and things got messy. Antiochus flogged a 90-year-old priest to death for refusing to eat pig’s flesh. A mother and her seven sons refused to bow before an idol, so the soldiers killed each son…one by one. They killed the mother last so she would have to endure the unimaginable. She died seven deaths before they took her life. And in an act known as the “Abomination of Desolation,” Antiochus took a pig into the holiest part of the temple and sacrificed it on the altar in honor of Zeus and smeared the pig’s blood on the sanctuary.
That was the last straw. The Jews revolted. In 164 BC Judas Maccabee led a successful revolt to take back the temple and rededicated it to the Lord. The Jewish celebration of Hannukkah comes from that victory. Hannukkah—which means “dedication” or “consecration”—will be celebrated by Jews this coming week.
Amazingly the Jews held their independence for almost 100 years. Then the Roman army marches into town. It took around 30 years for the Romans to crush all signs of rebellion. But crush it they did. One commentator (Barclay) said that between 67 BC and 37 BC, no fewer than 150,000 Jews died at the hands of the Romans.
During this time, the Romans installed Herod as their puppet king. It is said that as he watches the Romans crush the rebellion—killing men, women, and children in their homes, in the marketplace, and those who took refuge in the temple, he asked a Roman general,
Would the Romans deprive the city of all its inhabitants and possessions and leave me a king of the wilderness?
Around this time, a Jewish rebel broke into an arsenal in the city of Sapphirus to arm his followers. Sapphirus was about 3 miles from Nazareth. The rebel was caught, the city of Sapphirus burned, and 2000 Jewish rebels crucified. And if the killings from the rebellion were not bad enough, in 31 BC an earthquake hit the area killing an estimated 30,000 people.
It was during this time—with people living in oppression, political unrest, poverty, their country in ruins—that God sent His angel Gabriel to a broken and messy world to make an announcement to a young woman named Mary.
Jesus did not come to overthrow Rome. His kingdom is not of this earth. He came to fix the problem of man’s sin, fear, and brokenness one person at a time.