Monday, December 13, 2010

Herod the Great

Many churches in America go all out with their Christmas pageants. Some do 'living nativities,' with live donkeys and camels. I saw a recent video of one church's pageant where a stubborn camel fell over onto a pew full of people which was pretty dramatic and ruined the 'silent night, all is calm all is bright' scene.

I don't think I've ever been to a Christmas pageant which dramatized the Matthew 2 scene where Herod slaughtered the innocent children though. Now that would disrupt the most peaceful nativity scene for sure, and I think trying to depict it dramatically would be well, just plain inappropriate. But I would encourage every preacher to wrestle with it, because it sheds some stark light on the brutal world into which Jesus was born.It also calls us to make a stark contrast of two kings, both with a claim to be 'king of the Jews'. King Herod and King Jesus.

Herod was a complex man. By race he was an Arab, by religion a Jew, by language and culture a Greek, and by political affiliation a Roman, crowned to rule over the Jews for the Roman Empire. And rule he did. Good looking and well built, he led his army to victory in ten different wars. He was politically ambitious. He conspired with Anthony and Cleopatra to overthrow Octavius, the Roman Emporer, and when this failed he went and bowed before Octavius with no crown, admitting that he had been faithful to Anthony until the end, saying, “Consider me not for whose friend I was, but for the kind of friend I was.” Octavius reinstated him as king of the Jews and his kingdom was even more secure than before.

But he was an exceptionally insecure man. He had ten wives. He became suspicious of the political loyalty of his favorite wife, Marianne, and murdered her. He also felt threatened politically by two of his sons and ordered them to be to be strangled to death. Just prior to his death he had the crown prince locked in the palace prison, and because of the pain of his illness attempted suicide. The crown prince heard the commotion, and thinking that Herod was dead, asked to be released. Herod survived the attempt however, and had the crown Prince killed.

He died five days later. The last command before he died was to have his soldiers arrest thousands of notable Jewish citizens and have them locked in the stadium at Jericho. He ordered them all to be executed upon his death to ensure there would be mourning, because he knew that nobody would mourn his death.

Herod was a completely self-absorbed, threatened, brutal, counterfeit king. Compare him to the humility, security and utter self-denial of King Jesus in the incarnation.He felt no pressure to guard his crown, but emptied himself as a servant, laying His his life down. Who is the true King? The comparison begs a choice.

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