Herod and the Baby Jesus

Title: Herod and the Baby Jesus

Text: Matthew 2:1-18

Time: December 11th, 2011

 

We’re only two weeks away from Christmas day, which happens to fall on a Sunday this year. I remember a few years back Christmas fell on a Sunday and I learned that a number of larger churches canceled Sunday church because they wanted families to spend time together on Christmas day. I’m not sure how I feel about that — canceling Sunday church in order to give families time together on Christmas Sunday. The rationale of the bigger, mega-churches is that since they have services on the Saturday before Christmas Sunday, people can simply come to church a day earlier and then have all day Sunday to spend with family celebrating Christmas. I understand the logic of it all, I’m just not comfortable with the idea of canceling Sunday church for any reason – family time or holiday – whatever. It may be a symptom of our age — that we bump God, church, prayer or the Bible, because of some agenda or plan we have in life. It may be a worldly practice that bows to the priorities of the modern world. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be legalistic about anything connected to the practice of Christianity. Just as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 14:5-6, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regard on day as special, does so to the Lord.” So maybe it’s not so bad an idea, some churches not meeting on Christmas Sunday. I’m not comfortable with it, but that’s just me. Call me old fashioned. But anyway, we are again this week talking about the Christmas account in the New Testament. Last time I talked about the Holy Spirit in connection with the conception of Jesus, how the New Testament underscores the truth that Jesus’ conception was holy – as opposed to unholy, as some thought. Joseph at first thought that Mary was pregnant through some unholy means, but in the end he believed the angel who explained to him that it was the Holy Spirit’s doing – or as the literal Greek states, “the Spirit which is Holy.” This week I’d like to look at another familiar passage in the Book of Matthew, the section that describes Herod’s reaction to the announcement of the Magi that a baby king is born. Part of the fun of the Christmas holiday season is we can explore all these interesting themes that relate to the Nativity. Here’s an interesting verse, “When King Herod heard this (the announcement by the Magi that a king is to be born) he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him,” Matthew 2:3. I’ve always been interested in this verse. What does it mean that King Herod was disturbed when he heard a king was to be born? And what does it mean that the whole city of Jerusalem was disturbed also upon hearing the news? Come with me this morning as we explore this peculiar passage. Maybe we can learn a little more about that first Christmas –and maybe God can teach us something we can apply to our lives today in modern times.

 

First, Herod was disturbed. Matthew 2:3, “When King Herod heard this (the announcement by the Magi that a king is to be born) he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” Now picture the familiar scene. The Magi had seen a bright star way over in the East, probably in Persia or some land far east of Israel. These Magi were astronomers – or more accurately, astrologists. They believed strongly in a correlation between the heavens and earth, between the stars and actual events on earth. So they studied the skies for clues as to what might happen on earth, in the present and in the future. They made predictions based on what they saw in the heavens – on the alignment of stars, planets, the sun and moon. The Bible doesn’t endorse astrology. God’s Word doesn’t encourage us to try to predict the future based on the zodiac or astrology. God simply used the bright star these men saw in the East to guide them into the land of Israel for the Nativity. So they set out and after many miles and many days arrived in Israel following the star which they interpreted was to signify the birth of a king. But when they arrived in the land of the Jews they found that nobody knew anything about the birth of any king! That must have been a shock. I imagine they were thinking that nearly everyone would know and be able to guide them to the newborn king, but when they entered the Promised Land they found nobody knew anything about the birth of a king! So they headed to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Surely someone in Jerusalem would know. So they went to Herod, but he was like everyone else – he was surprised about news of a newborn king. But he was not only surprised; he was disturbed. Why? Because he was king! And it was from his line, his family that future kings of Israel would come. Who was this other so-called king? He probably felt paranoid and threatened. It says he was disturbed. Now you have to understand a little of the background of King Herod. History shows that he was indeed a very paranoid ruler. In fact, he had his wife and sons murdered because he was afraid they were plotting against him. So he was a very insecure and violent man. If he felt threatened, his first instinct was to strike in violence against his perceived enemies. Now to be fair, that wasn’t all that Herod was about, because he was one of the great builders of the ancient world, constructing cities, monuments and other public works, even the great Temple in Jerusalem. But in this instance he felt threatened by the birth of a baby who could be a future king of Israel. So he was greatly disturbed by the baby Jesus. Imagine, the great King Herod intimidated by the baby Jesus! God came to visit earth and humanity in the form of a little baby in order to not intimidate us by his appearing. If God in all his glory appeared we’d be so scarred and intimidated we all might have heart attacks on the spot! But as hard as it is to believe, there are people who are still intimidated by the baby Jesus. Maybe that says more about their state of hostility towards God than anything else. God comes in peace in the form of a baby in order that we might relate to him better. Have you let the baby Jesus into your life yet, or are you still, like Herod, defensive towards God? There’s more.

 

Second, the Jews in Jerusalem were disturbed. Matthew 2:3, “When King Herod heard this (the announcement by the Magi that a king is to be born) he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” Now we understand why evil King Herod might be disturbed – he was not right with God and he was paranoid of any rival leader who might challenge his ultimate power and control. But why were the people of Jerusalem disturbed? Well, the reason could be as simple as they were disturbed because Herod was disturbed. We don’t know what it’s like to live under a sovereign ruler or king. Even the people in England who live under the Queen don’t really know what it’s like to live under an absolute monarch. The King or Queen today in England is more of a figurehead than a real person of power and authority. But back in older times, the king ruled and his word was law. He held the power of life or death. If the king was angered or upset, disturbed or mad, then the entire population under his authority could be effected. Especially considering the kind of king Herod was, what the historical record shows about Herod, anything that might disturb him would give the people reason for alarm. Well, look at what he did when the Magi failed to return and report back to him about the baby in Bethlehem. He sent soldiers to kill all the babies two years old and under. That shows what kind of king the people had to put up with on a daily basis. So no wonder they were disturbed when he was disturbed. I can’t think of any other reason why they might be disturbed at the birth of a future king of Israel in fulfillment of ancient prophecy. Weren’t Jews looking for the Messiah? Weren’t they seeking deliverance from Rome? Wasn’t a future ruler or deliverer what they prayed for each night? Why would they be disturbed by the report of a newborn king? Unless, of course, they feared it might trigger violence and bloodshed in the land – which it could, if, for example, the Romans, saw it as a threat. Or, as happened, Herod saw it as a threat. Maybe the people were really concerned about a change in the status quo. Even though they prayed for change, maybe when change drew near they actually feared a change in the status quo. Isn’t that a lot like we are at times? We pray for God to change things for the better in our lives, yet when he starts to bring about changes we may become fearful because deep down often times we love the stable, comfortable status quo. It’s predictable, it’s regular, it’s something we know we can handle. But change, especially radical change, even if it’s for the good, we may hesitate or even oppose it simply because it’s different. Is that what you do when God brings change into your life? Maybe we should pray to God that he change us and also to give us the courage to walk into the new will of God for our lives. There are probably a lot of things God wants to change in your life, in my life, but we simply need to let go and let God. Are you willing to trust God for a better future?

 

Third, we don’t have to be disturbed if we keep our eyes on God. Matthew 2:11, “On coming to the house, they (the Magi) saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” How different a scene in Bethlehem, at the manger of Jesus, than in Jerusalem with Herod and the people of the city. Back in the capital city they were all worried and disturbed. Herod was worried about a rival king threatening to take away his power and control. The city people were worried about a violent uprising that might occur, or some kind of change that might make life different for them. But in Bethlehem, around the baby Jesus, there was peace and quiet, there was calm. The Magi had left a tense situation in Jerusalem with King Herod and the citizens, but when they arrived on the scene of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – as the song Silent Night says, “All is calm, all is bright.” I think that’s an appropriate contrast that we see in our world today. People without the peace of Jesus are running here and there, worrying about the economy, about world peace, about politics and business – and all kinds of things. They don’t take the time to focus on God. They don’t take time for prayer or Bible study. They don’t take time for church or Christian fellowship. They are go, go, go – making money, shopping, striving after the pot of gold under the rainbow, or chasing the American Dream or pursuing the “good life” in the United Sates. We need to stop and reflect on the Nativity, the first Christmas. There was calmness, there was serenity, there was love and joy. All the best things in life were on display that first Christmas night because people were focused and centered around Jesus. That same principle of life applies today as well. As we center our lives on Jesus — not money, not possessions, not “things,” not “success” or “achievement” or any of the other things that the world says are essential for living the “good life,” as we center our lives upon Jesus, he gives us his peace and we feel the love of God no matter what we are going through. That’s what the Bible calls in Philippians 4:7, “the peace that passes all understanding.” If you are going through financial stress today, you can still have God’s peace if you focus on Jesus. If you are going through career troubles or out of work looking for employment, you can still have peace by focusing on Jesus, just as the people at the Nativity scene did. The Magi had King Herod looking over their shoulder, but they still had peace as they focused on Jesus. Even Mary and Joseph, as we later learn, would face the stress of fleeing from Israel from Herod, but by focusing on Jesus they too kept their peace. No matter what problems, challenges and difficulties you face this Christmas season of 2011, if you would only do what these people did so many years ago by focusing on Jesus, you’d find that God would give you his supernatural peace. Let’s pray.

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