In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. (Luke 2:1-6, ESV)
Who are the big people, the well-known people here? There is Caesar Augustus, the emperor of Rome at the time. He was born Gaius Octavius. He ruled over the empire from 27 BC to AD 14.
Ceasar Augustus issues a decree, Luke writes, for all the Roman world to be registered. He issues this decree when Quirinius was the governor of Syria, a province of Rome. Quirinius was another big-time ruler of a Roman province.
The registration or census is for tax purposes. Everyone was to be registered. No one was exempted. That includes Joseph and Mary—two simple folks. Because of Augustus’ decree, Joseph and Mary went up from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of David, his hometown. Joseph must register in Bethlehem because he was of the lineage of David; and Bethlehem is the city of David. Note the Lukan emphases here—that the Messiah comes from the line of David and that he is born in Bethlehem, fulfilling the prophecy of Micah (Mic. 5:2).
Look in v. 6–“while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.” This is Luke’s point–It was according to God’s purpose that Augustus issued a decree. It was according to God’s plan that everyone will go home to his hometown. It was according to God’s period that Mary gave birth.
Big people, big governments, and big laws, serve the will of God. They serve God’s will without knowing it. Augustus never knew that his decree to register everyone in the empire of Rome will bring Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Big people serve the purposes of a bigger God. Big people serve God’s bigger purposes for the sake of little people like Joseph and Mary, but without their knowing it.