Summary: Lent 6 Mid-week: Herod’s treachery, brutality and paranoia showed itself in the taking of many lives. This kind of evil drives some very difficult questions. These find their answer in Jesus, whose love, suffering and sacrifice gave live to many.
During the mid-week Lenten worship services, we’ve spent our time considering the earthly kings who served as leaders of Israel. It’s been a pretty motley crew – hasn’t it? Life at the top of the food chain during the history of God’s people has not been much different from what we find at the dregs of society. We’ve seen murder, idolatry, divination, disobedience, pride, adultery, treachery be a part of the lives of the kings of Israel – and this is just what is on the surface.
Tonight we engage another king – one known as Herod the Great. He is the patriarch of the Herodian Dynasty, the group that held sway in Palestine – albeit as puppet kings of the Roman Empire – before, during and after the time of Jesus. His son, Herod Antipas, is the one who married his brother’s wife, beheaded John the Baptist after being duped by his step-daughter and wife, and he was also the Herod who palled around with Pontius Pilate to railroad Jesus on Good Friday. Herod Antipas was an unsavory character – but know this – the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
Daddy – Herod the Great – was a piece of work. By the way, the title, ‘Herod the Great,’ was not granted because he was such a wonderful leader. He was conceded this because of his extravagant building program that included the Jewish Temple and the city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean Sea. But this is where any positive connotations associated with his name come to an end. The Machiavellian maneuverings that he orchestrated cost lives, but he also got the Romans to name him Tetrarch of Galilee and a few years later “King of the Jews”.
Herod was ruthless. He eliminated his enemies, his wife, mother-in-law and heirs – even his own sons. One historical record says that when Herod fell gravely ill, he had many of the leading nobles of the city rounded up in an arena. Herod had soldiers hold them there with orders to kill these people when he died. Herod’s rationale: “If they won’t mourn me, at least they will have something to mourn.”
It isn’t altogether out of character that this paranoid man would perpetrate the treachery for which perhaps he is best known – the murder of the infants in Bethlehem. This, we remember, is part of the Christmas narrative. When the Magi – the wise men - didn’t come back to Herod to tell him about the One that they went to worship, Herod sent soldiers to kill all the male children in Bethlehem who were less than two years old. And, while history demonstrates that this treachery didn’t affect huge numbers of families, those that were affected endured horror and suffering only – understand this - only because of Herod’s brutality and paranoia.
What was Herod after? Simple, he wanted to destroy a potential rival - the King of kings that God had sent into the world – Jesus Christ. But God’s hand was with Jesus and his parents. He warned Mary and Joseph to flee into Egypt and there, Jesus survived the massacre of the innocents. Isn’t it odd that Herod the Great is best remembered - not for what he did - but for what he failed to accomplish. Herod is the king who couldn’t kill Jesus.
So many questions and concerns surge from this. Like – was it Jesus’ fault that those children in Bethlehem lost their lives? Why didn’t God warn the other families about Herod’s treachery? Why didn’t God intervene in order to stop Herod? And perhaps a more contemporary concern: Why doesn’t God directly intervene in order to stem evil or the tragedies that come into our lives?
A tragedy occurred to a young couple in a sister church 525 miles south of here. A baby of just over three months died in his sleep. As to be expected – the parents were devastated. The mom, Margarita, kept asking, “Why, why?” On the day of the funeral service, she could not, at first, bring herself to enter the sanctuary. She cried – almost hysterically – at the door to the church. “Why, why?” - she sobbed, over and over – “He was my little baby. Why him?” The “why question” is the most difficult one to answer for any Christian. I couldn’t answer the “why question” that Margarita asked.
These are the kinds of questions that get right to where we live. Considering the fairness of things or the rightness of things leads us to question the goodness or the omnipotence of God. C. S. Lewis points this out in his book, The Problem of Pain – he writes: “If God were good, he would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty he would be able to do as he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.” This is the classical argument made by the atheist.