The Good News of Jesus vs. the “good news” of Caesar

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8-14)

The term “good news” is not just found in the Christian Scriptures. Darrell Bock, in his NIV Application Commentary on Luke, writes,

“The text refers to the announcement as “good news,” using the verbal form of the word from which we get the term gospel. The term is not culturally insignificant, since the birth of the emperor Augustus was announced with a report of “good news” and the arrival of a “savior.” Luke’s remarks intend a similar declaration of this baby’s greatness.”

Luke’s Christmas narrative is not so much about a “Silent Night,” a peaceful and quaint story that is supposed to give us warm fuzzy feelings.

Scot McKnight spells out how Luke tells a tale of subversion of powers.

“Rome’s gospel told of the significance of Caesar Augustus for the world. Rome’s history took a new turn with Augustus, the adopted son of the dictator Julius Caesar. After his death, Julius Caesar was officially declared to be a god. When Augustus seized power, he was deemed a savior because he ended bitter civil wars and created the peace of Rome (pax Romana). The gospel of Rome was that Augustus, a ‘son of (a) god,’ saved Rome by bringing peace to the world.” ("The Mary We Never Knew," Christianity Today, Dec. 2006, pp. 29-30)

This is the gospel that as is also proclaimed by the Apostle Paul. As N.T. Wright says,

“I have argued at length elsewhere that the word "gospel" carries two sets of resonances for Paul. On the one hand, the gospel Paul preached was the fulfillment of the message of Isaiah 40 and 52, the message of comfort for Israel and of hope for the whole world, because YHWH, the god of Israel, was returning to Zion to judge and redeem. On the other hand, in the context into which Paul was speaking, "gospel" would mean the celebration of the accession, or birth, of a king or emperor. Though no doubt petty kingdoms might use the word for themselves, in Paul's world the main "gospel" was the news of, or the celebration of, Caesar.” (Wright, Paul's Gospel and Caesar's Empire)

When we CONTRAST the Roman Emperor with King Jesus, what we have in the announcement to the Shepherds that the real good news has been announced, that the real savior of the world had been born, and that he is none other than Christ the Lord.

This is the meaning of Christ's birth.

This means not trying to overpower that which is overpowering me or others with worldly strength.

It means being gentle and weak, humble and meak.

It means not trying to manipulate life in order to overcome that which oppresses --
___carrying my own cross,
___dying to my old self,
___and submitting to God's Spirit as he transforms me into that which subverts powers:
______a person capable of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

It is when we follow Jesus in his humility and subversive actions (the baby lying in a manger, the one willing to die on a cross) that we, as His followers, can transform the world.

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Ted Gossard said...

Amen, Bob. And thanks!

Matt said...

I just discovered this too while writing an essay on Mark this term. I posted some of my initial research on my blog if you want to read it.

I hadn't thought precisely on the subversion angle before though. Weakness against strength... hmm...

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas, Bob! I enjoyed the Jesus vs Caesar post... You are an effective teacher and communicator. Our church has been doing a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount called The Brave New World; I think you would really enjoy these fellow teachers' messages. They are teaching the same kind of thing. On a separate note, you are likely familiar with the work of Sara Groves, in Christian music right now. She's a great thinker (good name, too, methinks!)and she challenges Christians to stop grooming their faith and start living it in God's kingdom here and now.
Merry Christmas, Sara Nist