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Herod's Fear

The Fear's of Christmas  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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I am surprised by the lack of detail in the Christmas story. Luke and Matthew are both rather vague in their accounts. We place far more emphasis on their accounts then they seem to.
We end up with a Christmas story that has more detail and facts then the one we read in the Bible.
We have a nice wooden stable with a star over it, an inn keeper and three wise men
It is unlikely Jesus was born in a stable, as we imagine it - cave or a house
It is unlikely there was an innkeeper
It is unlikely there was a star the night Jesus was born
It is unlikely the wise men arrived at Jesus’ birth and that there were only three of them
We don’t know where exactly the wise men came from, how many there were or how old Jesus was when they visited
We don’t know where exactly the wise men came from, how many there were or how old Jesus was when they visited
We don’t know where exactly the wise men came from, how many there were or how old Jesus was when they visited
We don’t know the exact date of Jesus’ birth (likely not December)
It is not wrong to add some of these details to our story, some of these things are possible, we simple do not know from the text.

2 Warnings

Don’t give Biblical weight and authority to information not given in the Bible
While it is OK to speculate and try and fill in some detail, those details do not carry the same weight as the information given in the text.
We do know Mary was a virgin, we do know Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth and traveled to Bethlehem, we do know Jesus was visited by Magi from the East, we do know King Herod tried to kill Jesus
These facts carry weight and are more important because the Spirit of God moved Matthew and Luke to include them in the account.
It can be tempting at Christmas to find some detail of the story we have missed before or some strange truth we never knew
To preach a sermon on the “theological significance of the stable” or the “three characteristics of the three wise men” is to wander outside of the scriptures into conjecture.
Instead
We must even be careful about information we know from history but is not given in the Bible.
There is a reason Matthew and Luke included the information they did
I’m going to give you some historical information about King Herod this morning that is not found in the Bible but is historical fact.
Trust the information the Bible gives as sufficient
The facts that we have are all that we need in order to be all God wants us to be.
Sure, there are questions I have and it would be nice to have a bit more information but God gave us all we need. Instead of trying to find out what information is missing we should seek to understand what God has given us.
Why did Matthew and Luke include the details they did?
How does the information Matthew and Luke include fit with the purposes of their letters? - the nativity accounts are only part of a larger narrative
How does the information given help us to see Jesus and transform us into His image?
What I’ve said here applies to any passage of scripture but I find we tend to wander a little more at Christmas than other times of year because of the familiarity of the story.
2 Timothy 3:16–17 ESV
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
This includes the Christmas story and it is true no matter how many times you read a passage or how familiar you are with it.
Matthew 2:1–18 ESV
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. 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, and 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 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 in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 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.”

Setting

Timing - “now after Jesus was born...” - This passage fits in chronologically after - How long after we do not know. I would guess some where between 6-18 months.
How long after we do not know
How long after we do not know. I would guess some where between 6-18 months.
People involved - “Herod the King” - Herod the Great. Herod was not a Jew, he was an Edomite (from Esau). He was therefore not the rightful King of the Jews. Rome had placed him as King, he was therefore under Rome’s authority. Herod is known as a Master builder, building and financing many temples, palaces, fortresses and even harbors. He is also known for his desire for control and power. He “murdered his own wife, several sons, and other relatives” (ESV) who he thought were trying to overthrow him.
The Jews hated Herod because he was not a Jew and he was loyal to Rome. In an effort to appease the Jews he began a remodeling of the temple. While his renovations were impressive he did not win the Jews favor. Herod reigns from 37 - 4 BC.
He is not to be confused with his son Herod Antipas who tried Jesus and had John the Baptist beheaded.
Wise men from the east” - a more accurate translation might be “magi”. Best guess is these men were from Babylon although we cannot say for sure. The term magi “by this time is applied to a wide range of people whose practice included astrology, dream interpretation, study of sacred writings, the pursuit of wisdom and magic.” (ESV) So we don’t really know where they are from nor what they do, a good guess would be that they were involved in some study of the stars because they had followed one. What we do know is that they are important and distinguished men.
We normally think they were three wise men but the text doesn’t tell us how many. They gave three gifts (hence 3 wise men). It is very likely that due to their status and distance of travel that a large entourage is with them. Could be as many as 40 people including servants and guides.
Location - So when Matthew says they came to Jerusalem, it would have caught the attention of people there, it’s a big deal.
So when Matthew says they came to Jerusalem, it would have caught the attention of people there, it’s a bug deal.

What Happens

If there presence there wasn’t enough their question only heightens the buzz
Where is he who is born king of the Jews?” - There is a really important word in their question - “born” - in other words “where is the legitimate King!” Herod was not the rightful King, he wasn’t even Jewish. These Magi who aren’t Jewish either come asking for the rightful King. These aren’t other Jews trying to stir a revolt. - They want to worship this new King.
The text doesn’t say they go to Herod. The star they have been following has led them to Jerusalem. They assume the King has been born there. Wouldn’t a King be born in the capital city? I think they also assume it would be common knowledge - So they start asking around the city and word reaches Herod.
How do you think Herod would respond to such a question?
“troubled” - “cause great distress, trouble, disturb”
Luke 1:12 ESV
And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.
John 14:1 ESV
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
After all Herod has done to protect his throne the rightful King has apparently now been born
It is both interesting and sad that Matthew writes Jerusalem was troubled too. We would expect Herod to be troubled but Jerusalem should have rejoiced. They knew what this meant. Notice v. 3 - “the Christ” - the magi came looking for the King, Herod and the people rightly connected that this King was the Messiah
Herod assembles the religious leaders, why? - So he can find out where this King is! Why? So he can kill him. Herod has one motive self-preservation. He and he alone will be King, he will have no rivals.
The religious leaders rightly discern that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem! So now Herod has a location, but what vital piece of information is he missing? The age.
Notice he “secretly” (v. 7) meets with the wise men. Herod is a schemer, a deceiver. He flat out lies to the wise men in v. 8. He pretends like he wants to worship the Messiah too.
Ps
Psalm 55:21 ESV
21 His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.
Proverbs 5:3–4 ESV
3 For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, 4 but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.
Proverbs 26:24–26 ESV
24 Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; 25 when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart; 26 though his hatred be covered with deception, his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.
rov 5:3-4
Prov 26:
Not only is he a schemer and a deceiver and wicked but he is also deceived. He is blinded to the truth before him. Herod knows this child is the Messiah and therefore, the rightful king of the Jews.
2 Corinthians 4:3–8 ESV
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;
2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV
4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
2 Cor 4:
Herod's scheming works, the wise men are deceived and fully intend to return to Herod.
The wise men go to Bethlehem and God makes the “star” appear again. Their reaction is what Matthew wants us to see. They rejoice with “exceeding great joy” The wise men confirm the Angels words to the shepherds. Their response to seeing the Christ child is to fall down and worship Him, such would be the appropriate response to the birth of a King. Their gifts also are gifts fit for a King - This is Matthew’s point, Jesus is the King!
It is also interesting that Matthew begins his Gospel with Gentiles coming to worship Jesus and he ends his Gospel with the command to “go into all the world.” Although Matthew is presenting Jesus as the Messiah, the rightful King of the Jews He sees Jesus as the true and rightful King of all peoples. He is not just for the Jews but for all!
Matthew is also drawing a contrast between the response of these Gentile Magi and the Jewish King. The Gentiles fall at Jesus feet and worship Him, Herod, however does not.
God intervenes and sends the wise men home another direction and also warns Joseph to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus.
Herod in v. 16 is Furious! His brilliantly woven plan has failed, but in his pride and arrogance he is not stopped. He has all the male children in Bethlehem 2 years and under slaughtered. Historians believe this would have been anywhere from 12 to 40 babies, Bethlehem was not a big town.
One cannot imagine the heart ache and devastation this would have brought to this small town (v. 18). And why? So Herod could keep His throne. Herod is here contrasted with the wise men but we would also contrast him with Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds whom we have studied. God intervened into each of their lives in very unexpected and substantial ways. Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds all responded with humility accepting God’s will for their lives. Herod, however responses with pride, he will not yield his plans. His insistence on His own way leads him to slaughter innocent babies.
On the surface Herod wins, although he doesn’t kill Jesus he doesn’t lose his throne either. Mary and Joseph will live with the stigma of having an illegitimate child the rest of their lives.
But their lives and our lives will not ultimately be judged by what is seen on the surface. God is the judge and He judges the heart. Is the heart one that worships Him for who He is? Is it a heart that has responded to the eternal love of God and thus overflows with love both for God and others?

Conclusion

I am quick to condemn Herod and while I have never killed anyone or ordered the killing of anyone I have seen within myself the same proud, hard heart that Herod displays. It is easy to hold on to my ways and to hold on to my stuff thinking that God needs those things.
The message of Christmas is that of full surrender and submission and it does not start with Mary or Joseph, rather with God Himself who gave up in order to come to earth
Philippians 2:5–8 ESV
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Phil 2:
The God of life died so that we might live. It is the message of the cross, the Gospel that shatters a hardened proud heart. It is the cross that enables us to see what is truly important.
2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
The assumption in that verse is that we are not rich apart from Christ. In order to gain the riches of Christ we must willingly give all we have to Him. All our dreams, our hopes, our families, our money, our stuff, our jobs, our futures. It is only once we are fully resting in the grace of Jesus Christ that we will know and experience the richness of the Gospel.
It is noteworthy that Mary had little in this world to begin with yet she surrendered what she had. Joseph had little and he too surrendered what he had. The Shepherds likewise did the same. Herod, however had much and was therefore not willing to surrender.
We have much as a nation, as a town, as a church. I pray that our great blessing by God would not become a curse and lead us into lives of complacency and comfort. May we hold nothing back but willingly surrender all to God. May our hearts desire be not for what we have in this world but for what we have in Christ.
Christ deserves it and commands it and our world desperately needs to see a people fully sold out to Him!
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