Summary: There were four responses to the Christ Child. How do you respond to Him?
During this time of year, in churches around the globe the story of Christmas–the coming of Christ to earth–is told. We tell of the shepherds, of Mary and Joseph, of the inn keeper, of the wise men or magi from the East, but there is one actor in this divine drama, who, though often mentioned is generally over-looked. It is the King, Herod.
Herod was born around 73 B.C. His father Antipater, a Jew of Idumaean (Id-oo me-an) descent, attained a position of great influence in Judaea after the Roman conquest and was appointed procurator of Judaea by Julius Caesar in 47 BC.
He in turn appointed his son Herod military prefect of Galilee, and Herod showed his qualities by aggressively ridding the area of the bandits and highway robbers that plagued that region; the Roman governor of Syria was so impressed by his energy that he made him military prefect of Coele-Syria. (Pronounced Seely Syria)
After the assassination of Caesar and subsequent civil war, Herod enjoyed the goodwill of Antony. When the Parthians invaded Syria and Palestine and set the Hasmonaean Antigonus on the throne of Judaea (40–37 bc) the Roman senate, advised by Antony and Octavian, gave Herod the title ‘king of the Jews'.
It took him 3 years of fighting to make his title effective, but when he had done so he governed Judaea for 33 years as a loyal ‘friend and ally' of Rome.
He is known in history as Herod the Great. His family had been forcibly converted to Judaism by John Hyrcanus (134-104 B.C.), and thus the family of Herod was, at least technically, Jewish.
But Herod in his rise to power had systematically executed the ruling Hasmonaean family, which included one of his ten wives and her two sons. Herod was a brilliant military strategist, a shrewd politician, and a prolific builder. He rebuilt many cities and the Temple in Jerusalem.
But nothing that Herod could do, not even the expenditure lavished on the Temple, endeared him to his Jewish subjects. His Edomite descent was never forgotten; if he was a Jew by religion and rebuilt the Temple of the God of Israel in Jerusalem, that did not deter him from erecting temples to pagan deities elsewhere. Above all, his wiping out of the Hasmonaean family could not be forgiven.
Herod himself was 25 years old when he rose to prominence, and was appointed King of the Jews in 40 B.C. Herod was a paradox of strength and weakness. Suspicious to the point of paranoia, Herod ruthlessly dealt with anyone he perceived as a threat to his kingdom; including his own sons, which led Caesar Augustus to remark that it was better to be one of Herod’s pigs than it was to be one of his sons.
The reason that we tend to overlook Herod is because from the beginning Matthew identifies him as the antagonist in the Christmas story. But I want us to consider this historical figure because in him we discover some disturbing truths about the human condition in general, and perhaps about our own selves. Whether or not we like to admit it, there might be a little Herod in us all.
Here’s how our text starts: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:1–3, NIV84)
Now this is kind of strange. Jesus was born less than 5 miles from Jerusalem. The first to visit the baby were the shepherds, and Luke makes it clear that these shepherds spread the news of this baby far and wide. “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,” (Luke 2:17, NIV84)
Given the proximity of Bethlehem to Jerusalem, and given the likelihood that these shepherds were Temple employees. Many scholars believe that given the proximity of Bethlehem to Jerusalem, these shepherds were raising the sacrificial sheep. How appropriate that God’s announcement of Jesus the Lamb of God would come to shepherds keeping the sacrificial lambs!So it is highly unlikely that news of this birth and this baby had not reached Jerusalem.
Furthermore, the time between the events recorded in Luke 2 and Matthew 2 is 2 years. The wise men were not at the manger. By time they arrive on the scene, our text says plainly that they encountered the Christ child "in a house." (v. 11).
Now, I say all of this to make an important observation about what is happening here. No one in Jerusalem, Herod included, is concerned with what is obviously a supernatural event, a story that has circulated freely through the streets for two years. As long as the message was that of a savior being born–which was the gist of the shepherds’ message—there seems to be no concern