There are two kings in the story of Jesus’s birth: (1) Caesar Augustus, and (2) Jesus. These are two very different kinds of kings, but they have a bit in common.
Caesar Augustus was the most powerful man in the civilized world at the time of Jesus’s birth. Roman rule did the unthinkable when it overpowered the Greeks and extended its kingdom beyond that of even Alexander the Great. Caesar’s empire expanded from Spain to modern day Iraq by way of northern Africa and southern Europe. His kingdom was huge and citizens many.
When you have an Empire this big, you have the privileges of collecting a lot of taxes. In fact, Rome was growing so fast that it was hard to keep track of all the taxes it should be collecting. Corresponding to this, it would have been difficulty for Caesar to keep track of how many people were living under his rule.
In order to keep the numbers in order (and to tax to the fullest), Caesar called for a census (Luke 2:1). This meant that everyone across the Roman Empire needed to be counted so that they could be taxed. So, Caesar Augustus decreed for all to return to their home towns to be counted. This census is why Jesus’s earthly parents were traveling to Bethlehem while Mary was very pregnant with Jesus. Everyone had to pay taxes. It was the law.
When we read about the birth of King Jesus against the backdrop of Emperor Caesar, Jesus seems, well, small and inconsequential. Caesar has so much power that he can simply decree something so as to move the masses to collect their money by force. Jesus, on the other hand, is just a baby, born in a lowly manger to lowly parents. He can’t even talk. Jesus isn’t a king dressed in fancy robes, sitting on a throne in an opulent palace, counting his people and money. Jesus is just a baby wrapped in a cloth, innocent, and fragile. Caesar has armies, chariots, legions, and battalions. Jesus has a few shepherds in a barn.
Do you know what the funny thing is? Just like Caesar, people travelled from far away to pay tribute King Jesus; the Wise Men. There is a key difference between the power of Jesus and the power of Caesar Augustus, however; the Wise Men, unlike the citizens of Rome, came willingly with hearts overflowing to pay tribute to their King. They willingly gave King Jesus their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Jesus didn’t need to issue a decree. Jesus didn’t need armies and chariots to force folks to offer him their best. These men came to Jesus out of selfless love and utter devotion to King Jesus. They loved him so much that they couldn’t give him enough.
There’s another key difference between King Caesar and King Jesus in this story. The Wise Men who come to King Jesus travel from lands unknown by the Roman Emperor. Rome’s kingdom has boundaries, but Jesus’s kingdom knows no bounds. In fact, Jesus’s rule extends as far away as the stars in the night sky that point down to where he lay. The stars pay King Jesus tribute. Even Caesar Augustus can’t pull that off.
Jesus, as God incarnate, does not force himself on people. While he is the all-powerful Creator of the universe, he does not force people to love him; but those who do, would die for him in an instant out of devotion. That is true power through humility.
It is rumored that Napoleon Bonaparte once said of Jesus,
I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him.