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: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.
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."
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.