While reading Matthew chapter 2 where the story of the Three Kings, Wise Men, or Magi is found, I was captivated by the part King Herod played in the story. Herod, who had befriended Mark Anthony and Octavius, had been given the rule of Palestine and was crowned King of the Jews. When the Magi embarked upon their journey to find the Christ, they came to Jerusalem literally hoping to get direction from Herod as to the location of their destination, the birthplace of the Jewish Messiah. They assumed that if they were looking, surely the Ruler in Jerusalem would be too, and might be able to pinpoint the exact site. “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” They asked him. “We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (vs. 2)
Herod’s immediate thought was, “One born King of the Jews? Worship him? I am the crowned King of the Jews!” And so it began. Herod immediately felt the challenge to his power and authority, and he had no intention of relinquishing it quietly. His strategy was to play along, gathering as much information as he could, and then to use it for his own purposes. First he “called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, and asked them where the Christ was to be born.” (vs. 4) They answered that it was in Bethlehem in Judea.
Then, having obtained the location, he “called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I may go and worship him.’” (vs. 8) Of course his intention was not to worship, but to destroy.
Ultimately, when Herod realized that these Wise Men had double-crossed him and were not going to reveal to him the location of the Messiah, he refused to be thwarted and carried out the horrendous massacre of all the little boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem, from newborn to age two; ripping them from their mothers’ arms and killing them before their eyes. An inconceivable crime!
It is appalling to realize that Herod clearly understood that he was seeking to kill the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah; the very one every mother since Eve had hoped to conceive. While it is possible that he did not understand that this Christ was actually God incarnate, and may have believed he was searching for the one who was to be an earthly king sent to rescue Israel from their Roman captors; he, nevertheless, knew that this Messiah was ordained and sent by God. There was no doubt in his mind that he was plotting to destroy God’s Anointed One, and was therefore fighting against God himself; and yet, he still had the audacity to pursue that course of action.
It is natural for me to sit in judgment as to what an abominable person Herod was. It is natural because my internal law barometer tells me that the degree to which he was willing to fight in order to protect his personal power and authority was off the charts. What is not as easy to see or admit is that Herod is simply the extreme example of what every one of us is like to some extent, and that perhaps the only thing which keeps us from his extremism is the fact that the degree of power and authority we wield is much smaller than Herod’s.
Every one of us experiences a thrill at the very thought of supremacy, at the tiniest taste of control. It was the suggestion of potential god-like power, and the implication that perhaps the Creator God was intentionally withholding it from our first parents which brought about the downfall of the human race. From that time until now the desire to be, at the very least, the ultimate King of our own lives has consumed us. Even though we, like Herod, are clearly aware that it is God with whom we are fighting for control, we still boldly and audaciously press on. There is something in the basest part of our natures which wants to kill the King who has come to usurp what is actually our pitiful illusion of power and authority.
Herod died within a couple of years after the birth of Jesus. His plans did not succeed; but he caused immense hurt and destruction in the struggle. And while the amount of suffering we cause may not be as significant as Herod’s, we achieve the same end when we fight against God.
The irony is that our propensity to fight in order to retain our imaginary power is the very reason God knew he had to send Jesus into the world as a tiny baby, born to be a king unlike any other. One who would earn his title as King of Kings and Lord of Lords by dying on behalf of and at the hands of his unruly, ungrateful subjects who were bent on destroying him once and for all, but who, by the incomprehensible mercy of God were, instead, reconciled, rescued and redeemed by him.
Thank God that, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son….” (Romans 5:10) and that now, “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Colossians 1:13) so that we can joyfully sing with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest heaven; and on earth, peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)