Offstage Christmas: King Herod

Historical Setting: King Herod ruled from 37 B.C. over the kingdom of Israel, assigned by Romans in 40 B.C. Ruled with power and might. He was intent on proving to the world that he was the Messianic king. He was not a Jew (nominally Jewish by religious conviction but not by ethnicity). Jews rejected him as the Messiah (wasn’t anointed by the High Priest, but puppet of Rome). He rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem to curry favor with the Jews but offended them by putting an emblem of an eagle (symbolizing Rome). His building projects were more about exalting himself (cf. Herod’s palace). He also built a house overlooking Bethlehem on top of a man-made mountain (taller than great Pyramids in Egypt) - as if he was towering over the city of David (insecure).

He married politically (Mariamne, granddaughter of last Jewish king), but he killed her uncle, brother, mother, and Mariamne herself. Their two sons were a threat so he had them executed by the Romans.

So when Magi came to his palace seeking the Christ-child, it threatened him. He was “distrubed” - he was almost 70 and would die two years after Jesus was born, but he was still frightened and insecure. He sends his troops to slaughter boys under the age of 2 (to kill Christ-child).

So why include Herod in the Christmas story? It points to the evil and brokenness of our world, sometimes as a result of cruel and violent leaders who rule out of fear and insecurity. Matthew includes this story because (writing to Jews), he’s pointing back to another story of another young boy (Moses) who escaped the ruthless ruler, Pharaoh. Matthew wants readers to know that One like Moses has come, rescued by the courageous act of his parents from certain death from a king so Jesus was also rescued by the courageous act of his parents from certain death from a king. One greater than Moses is here!

What This Means For Us: There’s a little of Herod in all of us - insecurities and fears that make us live in contradiction to the faith we profess. The fear mechanism was designed by God to protect us, to run away from danger. But it becomes a problem when it intersects with our sin mechanism - we blow things out of proportion. Instead of just acting out of ways to save us, we act out in ways that hurt other people. We can think of a lot of ways in our own lives, in our towns country and world where we see this playing out. You don't have to look very far!

A couple questions for you: Where are your insecurities? What are your fears, and how do you act out on them? What if you decided to seek peace with people you’re afraid of  or hate? “Perfect love casts out fear.” Jesus' birth, life and death - he brought peace in the midst of a world of angst/hate.