Time. It’s measured in so many different ways.
Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, seasons, and years.
It’s also measured by activities. Time to work, time to sleep, time to play, time to eat . . .
It can also be measure by eras and empires. I didn’t get far into my reading of Luke 2 before my mind was pondering this idea of time. Verse 1 says, “At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire” (NLT).
That reminded me of Galatians 4:4, which says, “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.”
What made this the “right time?”
Quick History Notes
Augustus became the first Emperor of Rome in 27 BC. By 9 AD, while Jesus was still a child, the Roman Empire covered a vast amount of territory. All of these lands were tied together by Roman rule, which brought with it the spread of Roman culture and the Latin language. The ability to travel from one end of the empire to the other improved thanks to the new roads built everywhere.
But the empire wasn’t finished growing. By 116 AD it had spread even further. What does all of this have to do with “the right time?”
By the time Jesus accomplished his mission of dying for the sins of humanity, rising again, and assigning the great commission to his disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), the ability to take his good news to all the nations was becoming that much more possible. God was using the Roman Empire to fulfill his purposes.
Just a Tool
Not only that, but He used Augustus himself! Augustus wanted to count how many people he had under his rule. The pride of his heart was a tool in God’s hands. God, through Augustus’s decreed census, got Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem at just the right time for Jesus to be born there, fulfilling the prophecy of Micah 5:2, which says,
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.”
I do believe prior to the dawn of creation counts as “the distant past.”
In verses 25 and 26 we are introduced to Simeon.
“At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He as righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.”
Huh. There’s that phrase again. Simeon was born at just the right time to one day meet the infant Jesus, and encourage Mary and Joseph with prophecy about their baby. He was led by the Spirit to the Temple on the day they dedicated Jesus to the Lord.
“Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (verses 28-32)
Simeon knew this child was the One God had promised hundreds of years earlier, and God was putting his plan in motion.
“I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness. I will take you by the hand and guard you, and I will give you to my people, Israel, as a symbol of my covenant with them. And you will be a light to guide the nations” (Isaiah 42:6).
“He says, ‘You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth“ (Isaiah 49:6).
Don’t those verses remind you of the disciples’ assignment to go into all the world to preach the good news? Jesus’s life was book-ended by the proclamation that God loves the whole world. The Roman Empire provided the means for the Gospel to spread throughout the known world then. God knew what time it was, and that time was prepared by him from the beginning!
In God’s Hands
We often forget who holds our times, our seasons, and even our very lives in his hands. We fall into worry and cynicism, failing to see him working out his omnipotent plan in the course of history and current events around the world.
Luke 2 is a wonderful reminder of God’s faithfulness to his promises! We may not see them working out the way we expect, but God will always stick to his plan for humanity, for the world, and for our lives. He is able to affect us individually, empires globally, and even work through the hearts of national leaders to bring about his purposes. You may not see him working, but He is! Trust him, and at the right time you will see everything come together.
Can you remember a time when you thought God had forgotten you, but you later realized that He was working behind the scenes to bring things about that you couldn’t have even dreamed of? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
For more on the history of the Roman Empire, visit The Roman Empire: 18 Centuries in 19 Maps