The accounts of Jesus birth have become so common that few of us recognize the subversiveness present in the Biblical Christmas stories. When the books of Matthew and Luke speak of the newborn Jesus as King, Lord, and Savior they are making the bold, implicit statement that Caesar, despite the claims of the imperial cult of Rome, is not King, Lord, and Savior. When the Bible tells us that Jesus is the bringer of peace, that He is ushering in a new world, and that He is bringing new life, it is clashing with empire’s claim’s to bring peace and life.
Jesus is a better King with a better way of bringing peace.
This should lead us to the question, “What is the way of Jesus and how is it different than the way of Rome?”
Rome was not evil. The Roman empire brought civility, prosperity, and protection to much of the world. The empire brought opportunity to many who had none. It pushed back the barbarism of the uncivilized world. It brought peace to regions plagued by conflict. The “divinely” ordained emperor was the Savior of world. He was the Light of the world. Rome was the city on a hill.
Rome’s empire was extended and maintained through strength. Rome conquered nations and expanded its boundaries with the greatest military force on earth. The culture of Rome was extended to the far corners of the world by its military garrisons stationed in cities far and wide. Rome maintained peace by its iron grip: peace through strength.
Here is where the way of Jesus clashed with Rome. Rome was the Light of the world based on strength. Jesus was the Light of the World based on weakness. Caesar was the Prince of Peace based on violence. Jesus was the Prince of Peace based on sacrifice.Where Caesar flexed his muscles and crushed his enemies, Jesus turned the other cheek. Where Caesar demanded unquestioning loyalty, Jesus gave Himself.
Rome is the way of violence. Jesus is the way of anti-violence. Rome fights for its rights. Jesus prefers others. Rome demands to be heard. Jesus speaks softly. Rome demands vengeance. Jesus walks the extra mile. Rome never lets you take advantage of it. Jesus gives away His own shirt. Rome strikes first. Jesus lays down His life.
Most of our world embraces “peace through strength.” We want a leader like Caesar. We want power, victory, and conquest. We have followed the way of Rome rather than the way of Jesus. We love the victory procession much more than the march to the cross.
I believe that if we wish to be followers of Jesus we must be people who completely embrace the way of weakness and sacrifice rather than the way of strength and violence. Jesus’ peace comes by laying our lives down.