Summary: Today we are going to talk about a real person, an individual who plays an important part in the Bible's account of Jesus' birth, but who is seldom mentioned in Christmas programs or sermons. His name is King Herod.
The man who hated Christmas. Who am I talking about? Is it Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser whose motto for Christmas was "bah-humbug"? Or is it The Grinch, the creature who tries to steal Christmas because he can't stand to see people happy? Well, neither. Today we are going to talk about a real person, an individual who plays an important part in the Bible's account of Jesus' birth, but who is seldom mentioned in Christmas programs or sermons. His name is King Herod. In the book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, the Herdman children are fascinated with this fellow they call "King Harold." They want someone in the play to beat him up and have the pageant end with him being executed. But, that is not quite how the story goes. Today, we are going to return to Matthew, Chapter 2, and take a closer look at Herod, the man who hated Christmas. I think it will also be a good time for us to examine our lives to make sure our attitude toward Christmas is one which is pleasing to the Lord. Let's pray the Lord would speak to each of us this morning.
Herod: The man who hated Christmas. Who was Herod? Historians tell us that Herod the Great, the king of the Jews, was born in 73 B.C. His father was Antipater II, a Jew who was appointed by Julius Caesar as governor of Judea. Herod was appointed "King of Judea" by Mark Anthony in 40 B.C., and, after a three-year civil war his power was never really challenged. Historians regard him as an effective, but cruel, authoritarian ruler. In a fit of rage he had his wife executed and in 7 B.C. he had two of his sons killed because he saw them as a threat to his throne. Before Herod's death, a third son was executed for the same reason. When Herod died he was replaced by three remaining sons who divided up his kingdom. One was Herod Antipas, or Herod the Tetrarch, who we read about in the rest of the New Testament. He is the fellow who executes John the Baptist and who sends Jesus back to Pilate when the Jewish leaders bring Jesus before him. The date of Herod's death is something which has been discussed by scholars over the years. Traditionally, historians have said that Herod died in 4 B.C., which means Jesus was probably born in 5 B.C. You might wonder how Jesus could be born five years before Christ. Remember, however, the Bible does not give us a date for Jesus' birth. It tells us He was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus in the days of King Herod. Recently, some historians have made a strong argument that Herod died in 1 B.C. which would place Jesus' birth at about 2 B.C. Anyway, when the Wise Men, or Magi, arrive in Jerusalem, Herod the Great is the king.
Matthew tells us of Herod's attempts to kill Jesus. There are really two attempts, both which failed. When he hears what the Magi have to say, he becomes jealous and angry. Matthew 2:8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." His first plan is to have the Magi locate the Baby for him, so that he can have the Child killed. But his plot is foiled. 2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. It is only five miles between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, so it doesn't take Herod too long to figure out that the Magi are not coming back. 2:16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. This is certainly one of the most terrible crimes ever committed. I still remember hearing this story for the first time when I was in Sunday School. It sent a shiver down my spine, and it still does today. Just to make sure he eliminates the newborn King, he has every boy in Bethlehem under two years of age killed. This does not mean that Herod had any reason to think Jesus' birth had occurred many months earlier. He just wanted to make sure he got rid of Jesus, and he had no qualms about killing others in the process. Now, Bethlehem was not a large city. It is estimated that there were probably no more than ten to twelve boys killed by Herod's soldiers, but it was still a very cruel act.