Summary: how Jesus birth brought about the sword of Herod, and we can expect the same - a sermon for the minor festival of "the Holy Innocents: Martyrs"
Jesus once said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) The pictures we see of Christmas seem to portray the exact opposite. With Mary and Joseph gently hovering over a little baby in a manger, it’s a very calming and serene picture. With shepherds calmly watching their sheep, and angels even proclaiming “peace on earth,” it’s one of the most surreal pictures in the Bible.
It didn’t take long for that to change. Forty days after Jesus was born, having returned to Bethlehem, the Wise Men came to pay him a visit. Not too long afterwards, we see soldiers enter this sleepy little town and start slaughtering children and infant boys. The sword doesn’t take long to arrive - not at all. Today is a day in the church year that isn’t often “celebrated”, maybe because it is such a grizzly scene. It’s a minor festival called “Holy Innocents, Martyrs.” Yet it’s one that teaches us an important lesson during this Christmas season. What is it?
Expect Death at the Birth of the King
I. There can only be one King
Verse 13 of today’s text introduces to a King Herod, who the angel said, is going to search for the child to kill him. There are several Herods mentioned in the Scriptures - and none of them have good reputations. This is the father of them all - known as Herod the Great. Permit me to give you a little history lesson on this “great” man. He was called the “king of the Jews”, but he himself wasn’t even a Jew. He was an Edomite who was promoted to his throne by Antony and Octavius - otherwise known as Caesar Augustus. The reason the Romans liked him was because from early on, as a governor of Galilee at the early age of 25, he was able to squash a rebellion by a man named Hezekiah and had them all executed without trial. The Jews absolutely hated him because of his cruel and vicious tyranny, but the Romans loved him.
When he was promoted to king, his murderous jealousy for power only got worse. As king he had forty-five of his “competition” executed, along with all of the Sanhedrin except one man. This basically removed any threats to his throne, but Herod wasn’t done murdering. Over time Herod had his own son in law - Aristobulus the high priest - drowned. He also had his brother in law Joseph, his wife, her two sons, and his mother in law executed as well. Five days before his own death Herod was able to execute his nephew Antipater as well for plotting to kill him. In other words, he had a filthy history of murder to keep his throne. It even led Augustus to say, “I would rather be Herod’s pig than his child.” His life was lived with one purpose - to be and remain the ONLY “king of the Jews.” He would not share his throne with anyone.
Herod appears to us as a butcher, and he was. Sometimes we wonder how people like Herod, Hitler, Stalin, and others can be so evil. But it shouldn’t be that surprising - because they are men. As a man, Herod exposed the wickedness that is in every sinful man’s heart. It’s the desire for power - to be number one - to be the king. In some men, it is just more obvious. For Herod, it was all or nothing. There was no in between - no compromise. He had to be the king.