Herod and Me
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Herod knew there could only be one king. He was right. Pastor Bryan Loritts talks about the sovereignty of God at work--even in the ugly parts of the Christmas story.
Herod knew there could only be one king. He was right. Pastor Bryan Loritts talks about the sovereignty of God at work–even in the ugly parts of the Christmas story.
Herod and Me
Bob: When the magi told King Herod that the Messiah had been born, the one who was long-awaited and prophesied, King Herod went into a blind rage. He ordered the death of all Jewish boys under the age of two. Here’s Bryan Loritts.
Bryan: Why does Herod kill all these babies? Because Herod has reached the conclusion: “There can’t be two kings of the Jews at the same time. There’s only room for one king.” What do I say to that conclusion? “Yes! Herod, you are exactly right! There’s no room for two kings; only one king. It has to be Jesus!”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 24th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
Herod realized there could only be one king in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. Do we realize there can only be one king in our day as well? We’ll hear more from Bryan Loritts about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.
Dennis: Merry Christmas!
Bob: Well, almost—almost. Tomorrow is Christmas; but—
Dennis: I know. Merry Christmas.
Bob: I guess we’ve been wishing people Merry Christmas for a few weeks now; haven’t we?
Dennis: We have; we have, indeed.
Bob: We are going to dive, headlong, into the subject that Christmas is all about—the subject of the incarnation.
Dennis: —and “Who’s the king?”
Dennis: We have a good friend, who is giving the message today—Bryan Loritts, who is pastor at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Silicon Valley. What he does—
—is he gives a great message that is really one for all of us: “Who’s Your King?”
Dennis: Actually, the big idea of his message is—Herod knew there could only be one king. Bryan says he got that right—[Laughter]—there can only be one king.
Bob: This is good for us to be listening to and thinking about, here, on Christmas Eve. Let’s dive right in as Bryan takes us to Matthew, Chapter 2, and reads to us from the account there of the birth of Jesus.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt.
Last time I checked, Egypt is in Africa. Is that what you learned in geography?—cool.
“Remain there until I tell you for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill—
—underline that phrase, because it points to the sovereignty of God—
—His hiding out as a fugitive—
—was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
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 all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.
Just think of the hundreds, if not thousands, who are dead. Jerusalem is covered with their blood—think of the injustice. Verse 17 causes us, though, to scratch our head:
Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children. She refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
Injustice is happening. But when verse 17 says, “Then was fulfilled…” that tells you God’s not surprised by it. I just want you to understand that—this text points to the sovereignty of God.
When Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord,”—verse 19—“appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’ He rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father, Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee. He went and lived in the city”—underline it—“called Nazareth”—here’s that phrase again—“so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled…
So, do you see it?—His fleeing, where He ends up living, the injustice—it’s all a part of the sovereignty of God. Some of it is decreed; others of it is allowed.
I can just come to your neighborhood and my neighborhood—what I take from this text is: “Nothing happens in our lives that God didn’t already know about.”
…might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
If there was a poster child for the word, “ordinary,” or “average,” it would be a man by the name of Eric S. Galt. There’s nothing striking about him. If you saw him walking down the street, you wouldn’t even stop to take a double-take. He was the essence of average and ordinary. His own personal physician says, “Nothing jumps out about him.”
It was the prolific author and Memphian, Hampton Sides, who had this to say about Eric Galt: “Nearly everything about Eric Galt seemed bland and retiring, the details of his appearance falling somewhere in the statistic middle.” Hear these words: “Average height, average weight, average build, average age. The cumulative effect of all these milk toast qualities”—
—I love this phrasing—“made him strangely forgettable.”
Eric Galt—average, ordinary, strangely forgettable—I know what you’re thinking: “So why are you talking about him?” The reason why I’m talking about him is because, on April 4, 1968, this average person made history. Just down the street here, across from the Lorraine Motel, Eric Galt—we know him as James Earl Ray—pulled the trigger. This average man assassinated Dr. King—he made history. The moral of the story is that ordinary, average, strangely-forgettable people can make history.
Nowhere is this more clearly seen than thousands of years before 1968 and that fateful April day.
There was a man by the name of Jesus Christ. Isaiah is quick to describe Jesus as being an average, ordinary man. Isaiah 53, which was written 750 years before Jesus Christ comes to earth—it says of Jesus that He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him. He was, at best, average-looking in form and appearance. Ladies, if you saw Jesus Christ walking down the street, you wouldn’t think twice about Him. You wouldn’t stop and look in His direction again. Average/ordinary—in form and appearance He was strangely forgettable.
But not only is He strangely forgettable in His form and appearance, but where He grew up was also strangely forgettable. Our text tells us, right at the end, that He is a Nazarene.
He grew up in a town called Nazareth, which is a little hamlet on the south side of Galilee, of which it was openly questioned, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Strangely forgettable in form and appearance, strangely forgettable in His upbringing, and He works a strangely forgettable job for much of his life. He’s trained as a carpenter. His pedigree, as it just relates to his earthly dad and mom, is strangely forgettable.
Feast on this: If Jesus’s biological Father was the Holy Spirit, who ascended—or descended, rather—upon Mary, then where did He get His strangely forgettable looks?—His mama! I don’t mean this in any disrespectful way; but if Jesus is, at best, average-looking, His mama isn’t winning any beauty contests.
There’s Jesus—strangely forgettable in form and appearance, strangely forgettable upbringing, strangely forgettable work, strangely forgettable parents in a lot of ways—and yet, thousands of years later, thousands of churches across the world, on this day, we are talking about this strangely-forgettable man, who is, ironically, not strangely forgettable; because He is a history-maker. This average, ordinary-looking person hung and died on a cross, buried in a borrowed tomb, resurrected the third day, ascended on high, and is coming back again. Jesus Christ merely reiterates what we learn from Eric Galt—that, here, you have an average person making history.
If I can just come to your house really quickly, put my feet on your coffee table, and encourage someone right now: “You may look at your life and think: ‘I’m average; I’m ordinary. I grew up average. I’m strangely forgettable. Can God use me?’
“I’m here to tell you that God specializes in using average, ordinary people to do extraordinary things. I’ll walk you through Scripture.”
Here’s David—his dad didn’t even esteem him enough to bring him out on the A-team to introduce him to the Prophet Samuel, who’s looking for a king. He’s just an average, ordinary shepherd; and yet, he goes on to become one of the greatest kings to have ever reigned.
Again, Mary: average, ordinary-looking woman that the angel shows up and says, “God’s going to use you as His instrument to birth the Messiah.” God specializes in using strangely-forgettable people to do extraordinary things.
Oh, friends, I hope you believe that. If you’re looking at your life—you’re thinking, “I’m a failure,”—you’ve made huge mistakes—or you’re going, “There’s nothing striking about [me],”—you are right in the crosshairs of the profile of the kind of person God has historically used.
As our text wraps up, though, we learn something interesting. Here is Jesus, our text tells us, and He is living in Nazareth. Again, this is the place upon which it was openly wondered and queried, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” A lot has been made of kind of the small-town vibe and the Podunk nature of Nazareth. Nazareth is just a cool place to rip on. But what you need to understand is a little-known fact that few scholars have begun to illumine; and that is, Nazareth, of all the hamlets and villages, had the best view of the world. Nazareth sat on the rolling hills of southern Galilee, and it overlooked the Mediterranean and the great Damascus Road.
I imagine Jesus Christ, maybe as a young boy, sitting there on the side of one of these hills—and maybe, as Luke tells us in Luke 2:52, as He is increasing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man—that Jesus is looking out. To the east—there, He sees the Mediterranean Sea, filled with ships—and people upon people aboard these ships—going to and fro across the then-known world. Down to the west, He looks; and there’s the great Damascus Road. It was the preeminent road that connected the then-known world with Africa. There He sees businessmen peddling their wares, entering into trade and commerce with one another.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say: “Here is Jesus—maybe at 15, 16, 20 years of age—taking a break from His carpentry, sitting on the side of one of these hills, looking at a view of the world as never before and thinking to Himself:
“’I am going to die one day for those people on those ships. I am going to die one day for those businesspeople traveling back and forth from Africa.’” Nazareth gives us a view to the world.
Here is Jesus, as He’s increasing in wisdom and stature—Luke 2:52 tells us. Here is Jesus, having left the comforts of heaven—Philippians, Chapter 2—taking on the form of a servant, emptying Himself. The Greek word, kineo (κινεω)—from which we get such words as “kinetic” from. Here is Jesus, having left the privileges and comforts of heaven to disadvantage Himself to be mocked/ridiculed; this Jesus, whom many deemed to be strangely forgettable, misunderstood—
—hanging out with lepers, dinners with tax collectors and sinners, feet kissed by prostitutes. This Jesus—Matthew 25:31-46—feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, visits the imprisoned. That is this Jesus—enjoying the privilege and comfort of heaven—but Philippians 2 tells us: “He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.”
Here’s Jesus—all the privilege. Here’s Jesus—all the status. Here’s Jesus—all of that wonderful stuff. Never did He lose His status—He just chose to not use His status for His own advantage, but He disadvantaged Himself for our advantage. Why does He do this?
The preeminent figure in our text is a guy by the name of Herod. Herod, you need to understand, is king of Jerusalem. This gets very confusing in the first century world; because you’re going: “Wait a minute. I thought Caesar was the emperor; I thought Rome was ruling. What’s this about Herod, a Jew, king of Jerusalem?” You need to understand, in general, the Romans were not very micro-managing. They would allow a modicum of power to their conquered nations. They allowed Herod a modicum of power. He was king, but he was not one who had ultimate authority. His sovereignty was under the purview of the sovereignty of Caesar (which was under the purview/under the sovereignty of God).
Here is Herod, allowed by the Romans to be king of Jerusalem, which means he’s king of the Jews. Herod gets the news that the Messiah is born. He knows his Bible well enough to know that this Messiah would also be king of the Jews. And here is Herod—he has sense enough to know—I’ll come back to this in just a few moments—that there is not room for two kings. So what does he do?
Our text tells us that he goes on a killing spree. Instead of bowing to the lordship of Jesus Christ, he rejects the lordship of Jesus Christ; and not only that—that sends him on this killing spree—but please pay careful attention—here is Herod, this man who doesn’t know Jesus, who has rejected Jesus, who uses the structures and the systems of government to mete out injustice.
I want you to hear this—it is something we minorities already know—but it is something majority culture, our white brothers, needs to understand. The word of God teaches it; you didn’t learn it on the flannel board. This text is but one of many in the Bible that shows us that injustice is not just personal; it can also be systemic and structural. Herod uses the government to kill babies.
If I could just stop by your neighborhood, let me just make this point: “Sin—I think our text is teaching us—is profoundly social.
“My sin is not just vertical—it’s not just something I do to break the heart of God, although that’s first and foremost—but sin”—a healthy, robust theology, or what theologians call hamartiology, which is the doctrine of sin, tells us that—“sin is not just vertical; it is also profoundly horizontal. My sin affects my relationships with others.”
The flip side of that is also true—that righteousness enhances the relationships of others. Please understand this—if you read your Bible / if you were to do a word search on the word, “righteous,” more times than not the righteous person is not just pictured as a person who reads their Bible all day long, who memorizes Scripture, who has a quiet time—those things are important; I’m not demeaning those—but more times than not it is the righteous person, who shares his goods with the needy of the world—that’s the righteous person.
In fact, this is exactly Jesus’s point in Matthew 25:31-46 when He says that: “It was the righteous who visited Me in prison,” “It was the righteous who fed Me,” “It was the righteous who clothed me.” They’re not just at home reading their Bible; they’re out there, sharing their goods with the needy.
Sin is primarily social. We must never be surprised at the depravity that is in our brothers’ and sisters’ heart and the depravity that is in our own heart. When we reject Christ as King, the next domino to fall is we violate the imago Dei, people who have been made in the image of God.
Sin has many faces, and one of those faces is racism. I’m not here to cast judgment on what happened on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, or in New York City; but I also want you to see that sin is not only profoundly personal—
—but because flawed, depraved people make up systems and structures, they then, therefore, contaminate those systems and structures. Apartheid, Jim Crow, the systemic legalization of abortion—all point to the fundamental nature of that we live in a world, not just a fallen people—but because those people make up structures like government and other systems—we live in a world of fallen, flawed structures; so we need not be surprised at the depravity of people and systems.
Why does Herod kill all these babies?—because Herod has reached the conclusion: “There can’t be two kings of the Jews at the same time. There’s only room for one king.” What do I say to that conclusion?
“Yes! Herod, you are exactly right! There’s no room for two kings; only one king, and it has to be Jesus.”
Dale Bruner, the scholar, writes: “The main point of Herod for the doctrine of human nature is this: ‘Herod is not dead. Herod lives on in us, the people of God—the exaggerated ambitions, pretensions, self-centeredness, grief for position, grudge against God, guile, and finally human cruelty and insensitivity. The fruit of our war with God must be contended with, even by Christians, until the last judgment. There are two kings at war in the world and in all of us: Herod and Christ. We know who will win; but meanwhile, the battle rages. Herod is here in Scripture partly as a warning to the Christian reader of who he or she, in no little measure, still is.” What is Bruner saying?—he’s saying: “Herod’s not dead.
“All of us are either submitting to Herod’s lordship or Christ’s.”
If you’re here today, and you don’t know Jesus Christ, I’m glad you’re here. I believe the same phrasing that we see in Matthew—“This was done to fulfill…—is used of this moment with you right now. The same sovereign God—who orchestrated where Jesus flees to: Egypt; where Jesus ends up: Nazareth—is the same Jesus who has orchestrated the events of your life so that you would be here, at this moment, to hear this message.
Christ is King. Stop worshipping Herod; stop living life on your own terms. Kneel to the lordship of Christ. He brought you here, if you’re not a believer, to hear that fundamental message. Stop worshipping Herod; worship Christ—He’s King.
But for we, believers, every day poses a new challenge: “Who’s reigning in your life?”—Herod or Jesus? “Who’s reigning in your marriage?”—Herod or Jesus? “Who’s reigning in your finances?”—Herod or Jesus? Every day, you need to eulogize Herod—every day, you need to have the funeral; every day, you need to pronounce the eulogy—every day, you must decide, “Christ, You will be King.”
Bob: What a great reminder from our friend, Bryan Loritts, talking about the King who came and whose birthday we will celebrate this week.
Dennis: He came for us to crown Him. Paul said basically this in Romans 12, verse 1:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”
Here, on Christmas Eve, there is no greater act of worship than to surrender afresh to the King of kings, Lord of lords, who visited this planet and who we celebrate this Christmas season.
Bob: Tomorrow, we’re going to hear from Bryan, talking about why Jesus came as we celebrate the birth of Christ.
Before we wrap up here today, just a reminder that New Year’s is a week away. We’re in the final days of asking our listeners to be a part of what God is doing through the ministry of FamilyLife® by making a yearend donation and helping us take full advantage of our matching-gift opportunity.
Dennis: And if you haven’t given in 2018, this would be a good evening to do that—on the eve before the greatest gift ever given to humankind—
—to help keep our boat floating, here, on FamilyLife Today and stand with us with a generous gift.
Bob: You can do that, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. In fact, here on Christmas Eve, that’s the best way to get in touch with us—to make an online donation. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
Well, we hope to see you back, again, tomorrow as we consider why Jesus came.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. Have a great Christmas Eve. We’ll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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