Every year, sometime around Thanksgiving, the reports start rolling in about how some are disturbed about the message of Christmas. We hear about another store won’t allow their employees to wish everyone a “Merry Christmas.” ESPN got in on the conversation this year. First they said they wouldn’t show a commercial for the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital because of the line, “We celebrate the birth of Jesus.” Then they reversed their decision and now they will show it. We hear about another policy being implemented by a school district canceling Christmas parties and announcing the date of the “Holiday” party, another city won’t allow the public display of a Nativity scene, and the American Atheists roll out a new campaign to slam Jesus and His followers. This year is not any different than years gone by. I saw an ad, produced by the American Atheists that was showing in Times Square in New York City last week. Let me show it to you.
Some folks are just not happy about Christmas are they? Can I share a secret with you? That was the case long ago when the announcement of Jesus’ birth was first made. At the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod wasn’t happy about the announcement at all. Turn to Matthew 2 with me and let’s read the Scripture together.
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. (Matthew 2:1-3 NIV)
The Magi, in their enthusiasm and excitement had traveled from the east to see the One who was born king of the Jews, but when Herod heard the news he was “disturbed.” Herod was disturbed. Not only was Herod disturbed, but we read at the end of verse 3 that he wasn’t the only one who was disturbed. Matthew says that among those who were disturbed were “all Jerusalem with him.” There were lots of folks disturbed about the announcement of Jesus’ birth. The Greek word that Matthew uses, which is translated, “disturbed,” is the word, “???????” (tarasso). The word means, “to agitate, to stir up, or to strike one’s spirit with fear and dread.” What was it that Herod feared? Why was he so stirred up when he heard about the One who was born king of the Jews? That’s a great question that has so much application for our own lives if we will take the time to learn.
Herod is one of the most fascinating, disturbing, and tragic people that we read about in the Bible. He only makes a cameo appearance in God’s Word, but he left his mark on the land of Israel in such a way that it is still visible today in the buildings he built. The Bible gives us very little information about Herod, but we can learn much from history. Let me share with you a snippet of his story.
A civil war broke out in Judea because of two men, two brothers, named Aristobulus II, the last Hasmonean king who ruled from 66 to 63 B.C., and John Hyrcanus II, the high priest who ruled from 76 to 40 B.C. The conflict between the two brothers became so intense that a civil war broke out in Judea and the Roman government intervened. Judea lost its sovereignty when the Romans made Judea a Roman province.
The Romans divided Judea into five districts and made an Edomite, or Idumean, named Antipater the procurator of Judea. There was a long standing hatred between the Jews and the Edomites. For Antipater, an Edomite, to be in power over the Jewish people was almost unbearable. Antipater used his position to give his two sons, Phasael and Herod, political power as governors of two of the districts. Herod, at the age of 25, became the governor of Galilee.
Herod was always looking for an angle, looking for an opportunity to gain more power, so he sent bribes to Mark Antony and Octavian to try and gain their favor. That sounds a lot like politics in our own day doesn’t it? Well, Herod’s plan worked. In about 40 B.C. the Roman Senate, under pressure from Mark Antony and Octavian, gave Herod the title, “King of the Jews.” Herod’s power increased as he became king of Judea. The Jews despised Herod. He wasn’t Jewish, he was an Edomite. He wasn’t a religious man at all and the Jews knew that the only reason Herod wanted the title “king of the Jews” was to show his power. Herod had a thirst for power that was unquenchable and he was as paranoid as any king who has ever lived. Herod sought to eliminate every perceived threat to his power and throne. Let me give you an example.
Herod had ten wives. His second wife, Mariamne, came from a prominent Hasmonean family, a Jewish family. Herod didn’t really love Mariamne, but she was his ticket to try and gain favor with the Jewish people. Mariamne had a brother named, Aristobulus, and she begged Herod to make her brother the high priest. Herod consented and Aristobulus became the high priest.
Herod made a trip to Jerusalem to see Aristobulus officiate at the Temple as the high priest for the very first time. Herod saw that the people loved Aristobulus. He was tall, handsome, young, and had a wonderful way in relating to the people. Herod was jealous. Aristobulus became more and more popular with the Jewish people and Herod saw him as a threat to his power. Herod thought to himself, “What if they want to follow Aristobulus as king instead of me?” Herod couldn’t tolerate any perceived threat to the throne so he arranged to have Aristobulus drowned. Norman Gelb, in his book, Herod the Great, tells the story how Herod arranged for Aristobulus’ drowning by his troops.
…a royal feast was held in Jericho to celebrate the holiday, he (Herod) appeared to be in good spirits and paid affectionate attention to Aristobulus. It was a hot day, and some of the male guests went for a dip in the pool to cool off. At Herod’s suggestion, Aristobulus joined them and was soon splashing and laughing with the others. Having been previously instructed by Herod, some in the pool playfully dipped him under the water. Then again, and again, holding him under each time. It was a game. They continued with it until Aristobulus was drowned. (Gelb, Norman. Herod the Great. pg. 56)
Herod cried crocodile tears, he held a lavish funeral for Aristobulus, and built an elaborate tomb for the young, Jewish, high priest. Getting rid of Aristobulus wasn’t enough for Herod. His paranoia was growing. He had Mariamne put to death for allegedly conspiring against him. Herod and Mariamne had two sons, half Jewish sons named Alexandros and Aristobulus III, who were popular with the Jewish people so Herod had them killed as well. Any threat to the throne would have to be eliminated.
When the Magi came asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” Herod was disturbed. Herod perceived another threat to the throne. So, what did Herod do? He was crafty. He told the Magi to report back to him once they found him so that he could go and worship him too. “Worship” was the furthest thing from Herod’s mind when he spoke to the Magi. Matthew tells us that it was “elimination” and not “adoration” that Herod had planned for the newborn King. Look at Matthew 2:16 with me.
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. (Matthew 2:16 NIV)
Herod was near the end of his life. He had reigned for 37 years. He had taken care of every threat, real or perceived, throughout those 37 years. Now, in his old age, Herod’s power was threatened once again. His plan was to find out where the king was born so he could find him and kill him, but Herod realized that he had been duped, outwitted by the Magi. It infuriated Herod! He knew Bethlehem was the place; he just couldn’t identify the individual. Herod gave the order, “Kill them all!” Every little boy born under the age of two was to be killed. Herod just couldn’t tolerate any threat to the throne and truth be known, neither can we.
Many historians will tell us that Herod was cruel and barbaric, a megalomaniac worthy of the Hall of Fame, but I don’t think Herod’s mindset is that much different from our own. Herod was disturbed because Jesus was a threat to the throne…and that is our problem to this day.
Our actions aren’t as brutal and heartless as Herod, but our mindset is more than similar. We want to call the shots. We want to occupy the throne all by ourselves. That may catch some of you off guard. You’ve never really thought about yourself in that way, but I want to take a couple of minutes and teach you what the Bible says about you and me in our natural state.
The Bible teaches that rather than being born “innocent” and pure in heart, we are born sinners, selfish, and alienated from God. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23 NIV) Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Colosse and reminded them, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” (Colossians 1:21 NIV)
So, in our natural state, from the time of our birth, we are born sinners, alienated from God, enemies of God because of our sinful behavior. Now, that’s probably shocking news to some of you who are unfamiliar with the Bible. But wait, there is more. The Bible also teaches us another startling fact and it is this—we are born dead, alive physically, but dead spiritually. Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus and said,
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3 NIV)
Before we come to receive the life Jesus offers us, we are dead in our sins. That’s a ridiculous idea to the person on the street who doesn’t know the Bible. They think nothing about simply living their life and doing what they think is best. The Bible teaches us that simply doing what we think is best is nothing less than living according to the ways of the world. Paul says that all of us lived this way at one time. What time was that? It was the time before we came to know Jesus as Lord and Savior of our life.
As long as we are oblivious to these facts that I’ve just shared with you then there’s no trouble at all. We just keep doing whatever seems best to us. The trouble comes when we are confronted with the truths of God’s Word and we find out that God calls us to give up the throne of our hearts and allow Him to take control. God calls us to turn away from our way of doing things, die to our own desires and plans, and live for Him alone. Joshua, as he stood before the people of his day, said it this way,
14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15 NIV)
Who will you serve? Will you continue to demand your right to the throne or will you relinquish control of the throne of your heart to God? For those who continue to refuse God, the next step is hostility towards God, and anyone or anything that reminds them of God’s claim on their life. Paul wrote,
7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (Romans 8:7 NIV)
We, like Herod, will do almost anything to fight off any threat to the throne of our hearts. What we are seeing in our society is exactly what was going on in Herod’s mind throughout his reign. Our society is disturbed by Jesus and His claims. Rather than submit to Him and relinquish control of the throne, they are seeking to get rid of Him. The new ad by the American Atheists is a great example of what I’m talking about. As the video begins the question is asked, “Who needs Christ during Christmas?” A hand with a marker comes onto the screen and X’s out Christ. The next screen says, “Celebrate the true meaning of XMAS!” And just what is the true meaning of “XMAS” according to the American Atheists? Well, if you read the screen it says, “Decorations, stockings, gifts, charity, lights, family, fun, Chinese food, ice skating, friends, food, rockettes, snow, and music.” The “true” meaning of XMAS? Really? Well, if we are firmly seated on the throne then we can define Christmas however we want, with whatever we want to celebrate…and that’s just the way we like it.
Like Herod, I want the throne. I don’t want God or anyone else to define how I should l live my life. I want to write my own rules, create my own values, and pronounce my own judgments. Isn’t that the society in which we live? Those who reject God have their own morality. It’s always been interesting to me that those who get all up in arms about the morality taught in the Bible have their own morality that they value. Let me give you an example. In Galatians 5:16-25, Paul drew a contrast between our behavior before we came to know Jesus as Lord of our life and the qualities that should characterize our lives after Jesus comes to live in our hearts. Paul writes,
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-25 NIV)
Some of the things that Paul says are “acts of the flesh,” contrary to the will of God, are the very things that those who refuse God embrace as their right, even demand that we believe as they do. If the followers of Jesus won’t embrace their right to behave in such a way then we are just narrow-minded, bigoted, and ignorant. I know this is true because this is the mindset I use to have before I came to know Jesus. I would say things like, “You can’t tell me what to do! Who are you to try and control me? It’s my life and I’ll live it however I want!” I would not relinquish the throne of my heart. I would fight off every challenger. I didn’t want anything to do with God. I wanted to call the shots, and I did. You know what I found? My life was a mess. My mind was a mess. My relationships were a mess as well.
We think that by refusing God and clinging to control of our life that we’ll get where we want to be in life, but nothing could be further from the truth. Now, I’m pretty small and insignificant, but Herod, now there’s a person from history that people are still talking about. So, how did his life turn out? He clung to power, he called the shots, he refused God, and fought off all challengers to the throne, right? So, how did it turn out for Herod? There’s no doubt that Herod was a huge success as we define “success.” He reigned for 37 years. He brought prosperity to Judea. He gained the title, “king of the Jews.” He was the most prolific builder possibly of all time. He built Caesarea by the Sea and created the most amazing harbor where ships could bring their goods to trade. He built an unbelievable fortress on top of Masada that you can visit today. Archeologists are excavating the town Herod built called Herodium, where most believe Herod is buried. Herod’s list of accomplishments goes on and on, but no accomplishment can rival the expansion of the Temple Mount. The rabbis, who either ignored Herod or had nothing good to say about him, said in the Talmud, “Whoever has not seen Herod’s building has not seen a beautiful building in his life.” He was a success and yet we consist of more than our accomplishments don’t we?
There’s a book written by Aryeh Kasher, called, “King Herod: A Persecuted Persecutor: A Case Study in Psychohistory and Psychobiography.” It’s a massive work at over 500 pages. Megan Broshi, wrote an article, King on a Shrink’s Couch, about the book for the Hebrew newspaper, Haaretz. In the article she writes,
From adolescence Herod showed signs of paranoia, exhibited in pathological suspiciousness. He trusted no one (apart from his quarrelsome sister) and had delusions that people were plotting against him. He suffered from extreme mood swings that became progressively worse over the years. His paranoia increased, too: Not only did he execute his bodyguards, servants and courtiers, but also his three sons (the last one five days before his own death), his brother-in-law, his mother-in-law and his adored wife. Some of his victims were cruelly tortured before their deaths, testifying to sadistic tendencies. No wonder the people, and presumably many of his close associates, feared and hated him. (Magen Broshi, Haaretz. June 29, 2007.)
Wow! I’d say that Herod needed Christ during that first Christmas wouldn’t you? Herod had it all! Wealth, fame, power, but he never had a moment’s peace in his own mind. Herod was larger than life, but his mind was a mess. He had all the power and yet he was afraid of everyone. That’s not that much different than your life or my life. Oh, we may not have power, we may not have wealth or fame, but we know how our minds can lead us into such dark, dark places where there seems to be no peace. There’s only One who can give us the peace that we so desperately need and His name is Jesus.
I think the American Atheist’s question stops short of the real question you and I need to deal with this morning. The question is not, “Who needs Christ during Christmas?” The real question is “Who needs Christ every minute of every day?” The answer to that question is…Everybody! For our salvation? Absolutely! But also for our sanity. Our minds, Oh how our minds can lead us astray, hold us captive, and convince us of so many things that simply aren’t true. God sent His Son to die for our sins, but Jesus also came to restore to us the peace that God desires for us. Won’t you invite Him in this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
December 15, 2013