“CASTING CALL” – PART 1:
REFLECTIONS OF HEROD
(You can find a recording of this sermon here.)
This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.
Good theology takes the original context of a Biblical text into consideration. This TB tells the Christmas Story in some of its original 1st-century BC context.
Imagine standing on an island in the sky, 1300 feet up with steep cliffs on every side. On your elevated island is a palace with Roman baths, a swimming pool, and other luxuries. Because it is so high and so remote, it is secure, with only three narrow winding paths making their way up to you. You are on the inside of the strong gates at which the paths end.
You might reasonably look around at the view of the Dead Sea and your kingdom with satisfaction and a sense of security. You commissioned this fortress as well as other ones around Judaea; you built a city by the sea – Caesarea Maritima – that became a major port, itself a feat of ancient engineering, along with many other public works.
You played your hand well with the conquering Romans. You and your family were first loyal to Pompey the Great, then Julius Caesar, then Marc Anthony, then the Emperor Augustus, all the while avoiding the wiles of Cleopatra. You killed off rivals (hence the need for the strong fortresses). And you are wealthy.
You are a client-king of the Romans but, nevertheless, King of the Jews.
Does this sound familiar? A man on a high mountain viewing the kingdoms of the world? Read Matthew 4:1-11. There, Jesus is in a showdown with the devil.
Our fortress in the sky is Masada, south of Jerusalem. You are Herod the Great surveying your kingdom. You have managed to hang onto power through successive Roman leaders, all of them powerful, and all commanding legions of well-trained Roman soldiers. Your family rose from obscurity, but your father allied himself with Pompey the Great, who actually stormed Jerusalem and (sacrilegiously) entered the Holy of Holies. During these early struggles you were sent away for safekeeping to another part of the country. Julius Caesar then threatened Pompey, who fled to Egypt and was summarily stabbed to death upon arrival. To keep you safe, your father again sent you away from the threats.
Brilliantly, your father helped Julius Caesar, putting Caesar in his debt and hanging onto power in Judaea when it was otherwise likely that the new strongman would punish your father for his past loyalty to the enemy. You were awarded Roman citizenship and later made governor of Galilee. Then, when Caesar was murdered in Rome, you allied yourself with Marc Antony. With his support, you travelled to Rome and were confirmed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate when you were 33-years-old. With Roman military support you stormed Jerusalem yourself to realize your title. When Antony faded and the first emperor, Augustus, rose up, you in turn gained his favour, remaining king and consolidating power in Roman Judaea.
During this reign you rebuilt the temple, the grandest since Solomon’s. It is from the pinnacle of this building that Satan himself took Jesus to suggest he jump off to see if angels would rescue him. You built cities and public works to the benefit of your people, and managed food supplies during lean times. Being somewhat paranoid, you built strongholds throughout your realm where you would be safe, and had many informers reporting to you. You also executed two of your sons, one of your wives, and the High Priest.
And then, in the year you likely died, you ordered that the babies of Bethlehem be killed because another rival was among them. And so the lives of Herod and Jesus converge at Christmas.
What glorifies God more – contrasting Him with Satan or contrasting Him with us? I think the latter, since we are multi-dimensional beings, rich in contradictions, steeped in sin, and beings who know a whole lot more about ourselves (from scripture and from experience) than we do about Satan.
Herod was not a one-dimensional evil king, but a multi-faceted human leader. We can understand his actions, his pursuit of power, wealth, fame, security, and a dynasty. His motives and behaviour are only too familiar to fellow human beings.
What are inexplicable to us are the actions of Jesus.
His journey is parallel but reversed. Rather than going from obscurity to kingship, Jesus, “who, being in the form of God,” then “made Himself of no reputation” (Philippians 2:6-7). He, too, was then sent by his Father to Egypt for safekeeping for greater things and later was, by the Roman procurator of Judea, confirmed King of the Jews at 33-years-old. A storming of the capital with soldiers did not follow his getting that title, though. It was first displayed above his head on a cross.
In Romans 2, Paul writes about God's righteousness and how this means that God has put us in a right relationship with him. God, in effect, says to us, “Are we okay?”, meaning, “is our relationship alright, are we on speaking terms, is the relationship stable?” The answer, of course, is no – until Jesus. Herod, throughout his career, also asked each rival Roman general/leader, “Are we okay?, hoping that they would overlook his past loyalties and keep him on as a client-king of Judaea. He managed this. And we can understand his tactics because we are similar and would have likely governed the same way. Jesus, rather than saying to the powerful of the world, “Are we okay?”, asked that of humans – rhetorically – and lost the kingship of Judaea to gain the world.
May we prepare our hearts for Christmas during this second week of Advent.
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