23 December 2008

King Herod, the believer

by Dan Phillips

Though he appears in the narrative after the birth of Christ, King Herod ("the Great," 47-4 BC) is one of the well-known villains of the Christmas story. He's notable in history for his viciousness and jealousy; he's known to Bible readers for his infanticide.

But King Herod should also be known for his deep faith in the Bible.

The magi had asked Herod, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?" (Matthew 2:2). Herod himself was part-Edomite, not of the line of David, and thus not "born king of the Jews." To this murderously jealous man, the question was - well, let Matthew tell it:
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 "'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.'"
7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 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."
Herod called a plenary session of the Sanhedrin (as Lenski observes), and ἐπυνθάνετο παρ᾽ αὐτῶν ποῦ ὁ χριστὸς γεννᾶται — demanded of them where the Messiah would be born.

So Herod looked forward to the Messiah in faith — just the formula some theologians use of saving faith in the OT. Faith? Herod had faith. He believed in Bible prophecy. He believed in Messiah, that Messiah would be a literal individual, who would be king of the Jews. Herod's faith was informed, firm and motivating. It even issued in works!

So Herod believed — but he didn't believe. Without breaking out the theological Latin, Herod had knowledge, he had understanding, he even had a degree of acceptance — all of which are elements of saving faith.

In some ways, Herod's faith was superior to many who confidently call themselves "evangelicals."

But what did Herod lack?

Herod lacked the personal embrace of and repose on the truth he intellectually accepted and acknowledged. To use my favorite analogy: he saw the boat, he knew a lot about the boat, he may even have thought the boat could (theoretically) hold him. But he did not get in the boat. In fact, to work the analogy, he hated the boat. He tried to sink the boat.

So in Herod we see that awareness of Biblical facts is not enough, acceptance of Biblical fact is not enough; even a degree of action on the basis of Biblical facts is not enough.

Now, before our occasional mystical drive-bys get too excited, let me say this: if those factors alone are not enough, then how deficient is "faith" that lacks those elements? The problem isn't their inconsequentiality. It is their inadequacy. It isn't that they are dispensable. It is that they are, by themselves, insufficient.

Saving faith must be of a different kind than Herod's faith, which is fundamentally the same as Satan's faith. The demons are aware of far more Biblical facts than we; they acknowledge the truth of (at least) many of those facts. They even respond to those facts in a deeply emotional manner (James 2:19).

In spite of all his awareness and acceptance of facts, one fatal factor remained in Herod. It lurks behind his response:
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 (Matthew 2:16)
Herod believed in Messiah - and he wanted to kill Him. There wasn't room in Herod's universe for two kings, and he insisted that he be the one left standing.

So it is for many today, including many "evangelicals." They know some true things, they accept some true things, and to a degree they even act on some true things. But that core sin remains, lives, and thrives: pride, the motivator that transformed the anointed cherub into Satan, the Devil. Saving faith must be a knowing fact, an accepting faith — and a repenting faith, a submissive faith, a pride-crucifying faith.

That's why, when push comes to shove, they buckle and bail rather than push ahead and fight. Whether in conflict with inner passions or worldly fads, their faith isn't worth fighting for, suffering for, dying for.

One more thought: is this not why Christmas is not great good news to more people? In their hearts, they know the truth of the Christmas story (Romans 1:21). But it is not a welcome truth — because there is not room for two Kings, two Gods, in their universe. For them to remain king and god, Messiah must die. Since they can't accomplish it literally, they bury Him under trivial distractions and whistling past the graveyard — particularly that graveyard with the empty tomb.

But what makes it a Merry Nativity to us is we've seen the ruination and despair wrought by our own wretched attempts at godhood and autonomy. We're glad beyond words at the birth of Christ the King, the Savior. The history of Christ is the best news we ever heard! So we rejoice at and glory in the birth of Jesus Christ, who topples us off our cardboard thrones and saves us.

Scary man, Herod.

And instructive.

Dan Phillips's signature

41 comments:

mag said...

Very instructive!
This reminds me yet again how important the pride issue is. There are just so many lessons in the nativity story - thanks for this one. No room for two kings!

seeingclearly said...

Let us no longer exchange his glory for our own, as our inclinations once were, but let us be continually transformed.

And although we are stuck in between the already and the not-yet of the reign of Christ, we pray that his reign will continue overcoming our hearts, and look forward longingly to the day when his reign will be actualized upon this earth! Even so come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Johnny Dialectic said...

"To use my favorite analogy: he saw the boat, he knew a lot about the boat, he may even thought the boat could (theoretically) hold him. But he did not get in the boat."

That IS a great analogy.

And then there are some who are even IN the boat and then proceed to make it a shipwreck. Hymenaeus and Alexander come to mind,

NoLongerBlind said...

I also love the "boat" anology, especially the outworking of it!

My pastor has used a similar anology for genuine, saving faith:

Several years ago, a man tightroped across Niagra Falls pushing a wheelbarrow, to the thunderous applause of an approving crowd. He then asked "How many of you believe that I could do that again?" Most, if not all, answered in the affirmative. The performer went on, "No,no, I mean, how many of you really, truly believe that I am able to do that again, right now?" Again, most answered affirmatively.
After a couple more attempts to elicit the "genuineness" of their "faith", the performer then said, "Alright, if anyone of you really does believe I can do it, come on up here and get in the wheelbarrow!"

Antoine said...

Great post. That's all I want to say. This was just a great post.

LeeC said...

Very good Dan.

This always amazes me even though I know it along with the facts that Satan knows Scripture too, and hates it, demons are basically orthodox in thier beliefs, Judas and the Sanhedrin had more evidence in the area of signs and wonders than you or I could imagine and it profited them nothing, the Sanhedrin knew for certain that Christ arose and preferred to pay off the guards to lie. It's *almost* like we need God to give us a saving faith and belief.

Happy Easter! (Can't have one without the other now can we?) :D

DJP said...

Thanks for the kind comments.

Let me just interject something, since many seem to "check out" on holidays or weekends. I am thinking about doing a post on using Christmas for witness, on Christmas Day (since it's Thursday, "my" day).

Many Christians spend Christmas with unbelieving relatives, and look for ways to redeem the opportunity.

At the risk of "spoiling" my own post, one of my suggestions would be to read something like this as part of the Christmas reading. This, or one of the many superior examples of pointed tellings of the Christmas history.

John Haller said...

On the other hand, the magi came because they seeking, believed what they saw, believed it was the sign of the Messiah, and acted on the faith.

DJP said...

...and worshiped, honored and adored what (Whom) it led them to.

Good point.

LeeC said...

I think something like this would be an awesome way to put the true Gospel out in front for Christmas.

Often they are so used to hearing the Christmas story from Luke ala Linus from Charlie brown that all they here is the Charlie Brown "Wah, wa,whah, born in a manger wah, wah, wah."

Angus W. Duncan said...

That picture of Herod. He kinda looks like...*gasp* Santa Claus!

Jmv7000 said...

After Phil threw a bone to the Arminian/Calvinism debate, I thought you might top him by bringing in the amil/premil debate. :)

Thanks for the hard work!

lol

DJP said...

rats! another missed opportunity!

Matt said...

Excellent post, Dan. I like the idea of reading this post (or something like it) for the benefit of unbelieving family. Great idea. It cuts to the heart.

Saving faith must be of a different kind than Herod's faith, which is fundamentally the same as Satan's faith. The demons are aware of far more Biblical facts than we; they acknowledge the truth of (at least) many of those facts. They even respond to those facts in a deeply emotional manner (James 2:19).

Excellent. This reminds me of something The R.C. once said (I believe on The White Horse Inn). Instead of focusing on inadequate faith, he was discussing inadequate 'personal relationship with Jesus'. 'Even Satan has a personal relationship with Jesus', he responded, 'the question is "what's the content of that relationship?"'

Ron B. said...

Great Post!
As I was reading, I just kept thinking this would be a great sermon.
All Christians are believers, but not all believers are Christians.

Solameanie said...

For a little twist, it's interesting to see how similar Herod's sin was to Satan. Both wanted to in essence usurp God. Makes me wonder if Herod said, "I will...I will...I will...as he planned the slaughter of the babies.

Pedro Rodriguez said...

Masterpiece.

Dan, you have helped me by reflecting on my own internal "Herod", realizing that I am worst than the historical one and it is only by God's grace that we can be regenerated from a God hating creature into a God loving one.

Let's give all the glory to the triune God for our salvation and let our unbelieving friends and family know this.

Rachael Starke said...

"Saving faith must be a knowing fact, an accepting faith — and a repenting faith, a submissive faith, a pride-crucifying faith."

This is a really frightening thought, as I have family that I fear don't have that kind of faith. My attempts to broach this with them have been met with anger and, yep, pride. And ironically, when I have confessed and repented of sin to them, it has been met with questions about my own salvation. Which, to be honest, I welcome. Aren't we all admonished in 2 Corintians 13 to examine ourselves?

It's not what we know. It's what we do with what we know.

Thanks for the reminder.

ErnestoPerdonado said...

Dan, great to read your suberb Post on Herod, I am doing something similar on Herod in my blog (in spanish).

you touched a Herod theme i had not contemplated, the fact he believed but not with a saving faith, and thus made my understanding more complete and thus made Herod's Picture look scarier heh.

thanks for your greater insight. God bless

Tom Chantry said...

My favorite illustration of faith has to do with a fire in a large building, in which a group of people hear that firemen are at the window of a room across the hall with a ladder.

In my illustration one person is out of the room at the time the message comes, thus lacking bare knowledge. Another hears about the firemen, but doesn't believe, thus lacking assent to the truth of the message. A third believes they are there, and even goes to see them, but is so afraid of the drop from the ladder and so untrusting of firemen that he refuses to go. A fourth has knowledge, belief, and trust, and is thus carried to safety.

But you've reminded me of yet another individual: the one who hates firemen so much that he rushes at the window and attempts to push the fireman off the ladder!

Strong Tower said...

"Herod believed in Messiah - and he wanted to kill Him. There wasn't room in Herod's universe for two kings, and he insisted that he be the one left standing."

Here in is one of the deficiencies of a faith that lack the adequate relationship. Faith, Hebrews says is sure and certain. Herod, and the Satan attempted to stop what faith says is sure and certain. Paul makes the assertion that he knows Him in whom he has believed. This is not a claim of some prophecy yet to be fulfilled. Instead, faith is that which is accomplished from the beginning.

An inadequate faith says if I do this then, or if I do not do this then... But neither is faith. Faith is most appropriately, "My Word which goes forth out of My mouth will do that which it was sent to do and will not return to Me void." Or, it might be couched in, "We are now seated with Him in the heavenlies, blessed with all Spiritual blessing, co-heirs with Christ."

Doulogos has a great post on the prayer of faith. The distinction he makes is quite appropriate to this post.

http://doulogos.blogspot.com/2008/12/prayer-and-faith.html

thatbaddog said...

Not only did King Herod believe" in the Messiah, but the other Bible Herod, the Tetrarch, rejoiced at His presence.

"And seeing Jesus, Herod greatly rejoiced, for he was wishing to see Him for a long time, because of hearing many things about Him. And he hoped to see some miraculous sign being brought about by Him." (Luke 23:8)

And like the first Herod, his true heart was revealed not long afterwards.

"And having humiliated Him with his soldiery, and mocking Him by putting around Him luxurious clothing, Herod sent Him back to Pilate." Luke 23:11

But there is this, at least.

"And on that same day, both Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for before they were at enmity between themselves." Luke 23:12

Jesus brings people together.

Strong Tower said...

Jesus brings people together.

LOL

DJP said...

Ron B.I just kept thinking this would be a great sermon

Thanks. Glad I could share it with you all. This is the first Christmas in about 5+ years when I haven't had an opportunity to preach at Christmastime.

So I guess you're it!

Which...

(c:

and

)c:

Rita Martinez said...

"Many Christians spend Christmas with unbelieving relatives, and look for ways to redeem the opportunity.
At the risk of "spoiling" my own post, one of my suggestions would be to read something like this as part of the Christmas reading. This, or one of the many superior examples of pointed tellings of the Christmas history."


That's exactly what I'm planning on doing.


NoLongerBlind
"My pastor has used a similar anology for genuine, saving faith:"
I heard a variation of that analogy from a pastor of another church, instead of a wheelbarrow the performer was riding a bicycle across the rope, and the question was if they believed he could cross it again but this time with someone on top or something along those lines..

Marie said...

This is exactly what our pastor preached on this past Sunday. Also, mind-boggling that none of Jerusalem's "religious" made the 6-mile trek to see the prophesied Messiah.

Stefan said...

To pass over your application (which is excellent—thanks) and go off on a slight tangent, one of our non-senior pastors preached on this passage the other weekend. He pointed out—citing an author or pastor whose name I can't recall now—that there's no indication that any of the chief priests or scribes actually bothered to act on their knowledge that the messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, and go there to see for themselves. Jesus Christ's birth was apparently every bit as much an inconvenience for them 2000 years ago as it is for so many people today.

Stefan said...

I hadn't read Marie's comment before I posted my own. (The comment window was open for a long time.)

lawrence said...

well said homey.

~Mark said...

Well put DJP!

Daniel said...

Extremely excellent and insightful DJP. Well done!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

DJP: "Thanks. Glad I could share it with you all."

I'm the one who's immensely grateful. I'll be sharing it with others who are either non-believers or who are so lukewarm and backslidden and fruitless, that I surmise that they are non-believers.

trogdor said...

"Also, mind-boggling that none of Jerusalem's "religious" made the 6-mile trek to see the prophesied Messiah."

It's even worse than that, really. There's a real tiny phrase in there that's real easy to overlook, but it speaks volumes:

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.

Not only did they not leap for joy at the news that the long-awaited Messiah had come, they were disturbed by it.

Why would that be? Possibly there had been so many self-proclaimed Messiahs they were suffering from a bit of burnout - oh, no, not another zealot. They probably had bad memories of the way Herod had dealt with previous Messianic wannabes. In any case, they were most likely terrified of what Herod/the Romans would do when word of the Messiah got out. For the elites, perhaps they were afraid of losing their position (John 11:47ff).

All of which shows faithlessness on their part. Burnout from false messiahs led some to believe this couldn't possibly be the real one. Supposedly they were looking for the Messiah to overthrow Rome and restore Israel - yet when he came they were terrified of what Rome would do to them, as though God couldn't deliver on his promise. For those who craved their position over God's Messiah, it's just the sins of Jeroboam all over again. So none of them went to pay homage to the king, except some despised shepherds and some foreigners.

Of course, the reasons many don't worship our king today are the same as back then. This week as I visit my family, I'll be praying for God to overcome these barriers in them and bring them to worship the king of kings.

jeff said...

Another false response of Herod is that he wanted to worship the Messiah. A desire to worship Christ is held up as the greatest thing a person can do these days. Unfortunately, many worship they know not what. WOrship without an understanding of the object of worship is merely blasphemy.

Kevin Stilley said...

Herod was bah humbugillenial, even after being visited by the Magi of Christmas past, present, and future.

Chris Brauns said...

Thanks Dan.

We reflected on this text as a family this evening after dinner. If you had been here, the discussion would have been richer.

DJP said...

Thanks.

I'm sure if I'd been able to overhear, I'd have been the richer.

JustJan said...

DJP - Thanks for this post!!! As I read it I was thinking it would be a great thing to share with unsaved family and friends, just as you suggested.

John said...

Wow, that second to last paragraph was awesome, man. Merry Christmas.

Stefan said...

Trogdor wrote:

"So none of them went to pay homage to the king, except some despised shepherds and some foreigners."

Yet another reason why we can affirm with confidence that the OT and NT are one seamless whole. This is exactly the pattern we see, where God extends His grace to the likes of Rahab, Ruth, and the Ninevites.

Daniel said...

GREAT stuff. Forwarded to some family & friends.

Merry Christmas and thanks to all the Pyros.