Pawns in the nativity story


THERE is a popular song in the Motuan language that tells the story about the census which took place at the time of the Saviour’s birth.
Called lada iabidia neganai (the time of name registering or census), it is sung by the Gabagaba Sunday School ministry. I took an interest in that song because it is so well written and follows the story precisely. In fact, I have heard renderings of it in the Hula and Toaripi languages as well. The song is taken from Luke’s nativity account and a perusal of it will reveal how God in His sovereignty caused certain events to take place, as He had prophesied, to pave the way for the birth of Jesus the Messiah!
Before we look at the famous census, however, let’s begin by seeing what other verses of the Old Testament pointed towards the coming of the Lord Jesus. It is obvious that God was preparing the scene for His son’s coming way back in the book of Genesis and throughout the Old Testament. Here are some of those verses which were fulfilled in the life of Christ:
Prophesies of Christ’s first coming
Gen 3: 15, 21 – Back in the chapter of the ‘Fall’, we see a picture of Jesus, the “offspring of the woman (Eve)” who would crush the head of the devil.
Gen 12: 3; 22: 18 – We know Jesus was of Jewish descent and therefore was the seed of Abraham. We are told that through Abraham’s offspring “all nations on earth will be blessed.” As Christians, we believe Jesus is the fulfilment of this promise.
Numbers 24: 17 – We also know that He is from the line of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. “A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel.”
Isaiah 11:1 – He was also from the line of Jesse, the father of King David: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit. The spirit of the Lord will rest on him.”
Jeremiah 23:5-6 – He was from the line of King David: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land … This is the name by which he will be called: the Lord our righteous saviour.”
2 Samuel 7: 12-13 – to confirm that Jesus was to come from the line of King David, these words were spoken by Samuel to the King David: “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
Micah, 5:2 – He was born into the tribe of Judah in the region of Ephrathah, in the town of Bethlehem: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” It is this prophecy that we will look at in detail later in this article.
Isaiah 7:14 – He was born from a virgin: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and you will call him Immanuel.” The name Immanuel means “God with us” and indicates the divinity of Jesus.
Psalm 72: 9, 10 – We see that Jesus would be worshipped by shepherds from the desert, and that foreign kings would present gifts to Him: “May the desert tribes bow before him and his enemies lick the dust. May the Kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the Kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. May all Kings bow down to him and all nations serve him.”
Jeremiah 31:15 – When Jesus was born, King Herod murdered a large number of children in an attempt to kill Him. This heartless killing if babies was prophesied by Jeremiah thus: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Hosea 11:1 – In response to the attempt on the life of the baby Jesus, Joseph is warned in a dream to take Jesus to Egypt, where they stayed until Herod died. This was prophesied by Hosea: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”
So we have seen how the prophesies that were made hundreds of years before were fulfilled to the letter through Christ.
God’s purpose for the census
Coming back to our census story, we see what God does to move men like pawns on a chess board for His own purposes. Luke 2:1 tells us, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world”. Verse 2 adds in brackets that this was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
This additional information on Publius Sulpicius Quirinius, a Roman aristocrat who was appointed legate governor of Syria, is to give the timing of the event that took place. It was under Syria that Judea was placed for the purpose of the census, which would be overseen by Caesar Augustus. Augustus was the greatest of the Roman emperors, greater even than his granduncle, Julius Caesar. Of him it was said that Rome was a city of brick upon his arrival, and when he left, it was a city of marble. Caesar Augustus reigned as emperor for 41 years. During that time he gave to the world the famed pax romana, the great Roman Peace that spread across the Mediterranean world. Yet, as far as God was concerned, Augustus’ greatest act was none of the above. It was his call for the census that fulfilled Scripture!
Historians tell us that the whole empire may not have been counted at the same time. Due to the slow system of communication in those days, it might have taken several years for the census to be completed in some of the outlying provinces. When the time came to take the census in Israel, it is possible that a compromise was made to take into account Jewish custom. The Romans usually enrolled men where they were currently living, but the Jews counted families according to their ancestral hometowns. That explains why Joseph and Mary had to return to their hometown of Bethlehem at a most inconvenient time – in the ninth month of Mary’s pregnancy.
It is possible that this great emperor, Caesar Augustus, had never met Joseph or Mary and he never knew of a certain Jewish baby born in a village outside of Jerusalem. Yet, the most important thing he ever did was to order the census, so that Mary and Joseph would be in Bethlehem for the birth if the Messiah. This was prophesied in Micah 5:2, as we read earlier. A small insignificant town would be used by God to bring forth a “ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times”. Indeed, Augustus was another pawn in the hands of God whose prophetic word will always come to pass!
All for you and me!
Why did God go through all that trouble to bring forth a Saviour for the world? Why did He move people and rearrange events throughout history? I believe He had you and me on His mind. All that fuss in the Garden of Eden down through history to bring Jesus to earth “at the fullness of time” (Gal 4: 4) was for one purpose – so we (mankind) will have a chance to get back into the presence of God for eternity. Look at your life. God is also moving situations around. Events happen, both good and bad, through which He is trying to get your attention. If you have not yet met Him personally, maybe this would be a perfect time to.
In a couple of weeks’ time, we will celebrate Christmas. Why don’t you spend this coming week preparing your heart for the birth of the One whose coming was prophesied? Ponder over and be grateful for all God did to make sure Christ came when He did, lived, died and rose up when He did – so that you and I can trust Him and be saved!

  •  Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer and can be contacted on 7673 0892/7929 3896 or email [email protected]