From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.
Devotional Homily: Matthew 1:1-8, 16
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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 15, 2017, and this is Day 13 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to “King Herod’s Song,” from the original 1970 rock opera recording Jesus Christ Superstar, by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Michael D’Abo, a former lead singer of Manfred Mann, sings the part of Herod.
Yes, i know, I know… Different Herod. The Herod that ruled Judea during Christ’s Passion Week—the setting of Jesus Christ Superstar—was the son of Herod the Great, whom we meet during the Christmas story… But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Besides, I don’t have a song about Herod the Great!
Our scripture is Matthew 2:1-8 and verse 16, which I’ll read now:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
And then skipping to verse 16: “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.”
The Herod we meet in the Christmas story was famously wicked. He was paranoid; he was desperately afraid of conspiracies against his rule. So, for example, he had one of his many wives killed—and two of his sons killed.
Julius Caesar, who appointed Herod “king” over Judea is reported to have joked with his courtiers that it’s safer to be one of Herod’s pigs than it is to be one of his sons. Because Herod, out of respect for Jewish dietary law, would have refrained from eating pork and thus killing a pig; whereas he had no problem killing his own sons!
But… Let’s give Herod some credit: At least he understood exactly who Jesus was and the threat that he posed! Herod knew, among other things, that if Jesus was the Messiah, the king of the universe, and the Son of God, it meant that everything in Herod’s life would need to change; it meant that he couldn’t continue to rule his life and the lives of others in the same way; it meant that the world wasn’t big enough for two kings, and Herod would have to step aside. So naturally, Herod wanted Jesus dead!
What about us? Aren’t we at least a little like Herod? Not that we want Jesus dead. But aren’t there parts of our lives where we resist Jesus’ rule? Don’t we say, through our actions and attitudes, “Jesus, I don’t want you messing around in that particular area of my life. This throne in my heart isn’t big enough for both of us to sit on, so you’ll have to step aside.”
I like the way pastor Tim Keller puts it in his recent book, Hidden Christmas. He says that even for us Christians who claim that Christ is our Lord, we, like Herod, have “residual anger and hostility to God.” He writes:
Why do you think it is so hard to pray? Why do you think it is so hard to concentrate on the most glorious person possible? Why, when God answers a prayer, do you say, “Oh, I will never forget this, Lord,” but soon you do anyway? How many times have you said, “I will never do this again!” and two weeks later you do it again? In Romans 7:15 Paul says, “What I hate I do.” There is still a little King Herod inside you. It means you have got to be far more intentional about Christian growth, about prayer, and about accountability to other people to overcome your bad habits. You can’t just glide through the Christian life. There is still something in you that fights it.
I would only add that there’s also something outside of you and me that also fights the Lordship of Christ—and that’s the devil. Satan has a way of making the “little King Herod” inside each of us a hundred times more dangerous!
So… where are you currently resisting Christ’s rule in your life? Why won’t you trust the One who created you knows more about what you need to live a better, happier, more joy-filled life—and a more useful life for God’s kingdom?
1. Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas (New York: Viking, 2016), 73.