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“The Characters of Lent: Herod”
Luke 23:1-12

Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Lent Service III—March 11, 2009

The Herod family had run-ins with Jesus at the very beginning and very end of Jesus’ earthly life.  It was Herod the Great, the father of Herod Antipas, who met with the Wise Men and then tried in vain to kill the new-born king of the Jews by slaughtering the baby boys of Bethlehem.  Now, 30 years later, his son, Herod Antipas, has the chance to finally finish what his father started.

Herod the Great had been recognized by Rome as the king of the Jews and ruler over all Palestine.  Herod Antipas wanted to follow in his father’s steps as king, but instead he was made merely a “tetrarach,” ruler of one-fourth of his father’s former kingdom.  Most galling of all was that the prize of his father’s kingdom, Judea and the capitol city of Jerusalem, was under control of a Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

Herod Antipas did everything possible to discredit and embarrass Pilate, hoping that he would be deposed as governor and perhaps Herod would be appointed king in his place.  That is why Pilate and Herod were enemies.

On Good Friday, Pontius Pilate found himself between a rock and a hard place.  Emperor Tiberius had warned Pilate that any more problems in Judea would result in his dismissal as governor.  Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, he had in fact already declared Jesus not guilty.  But, the chief priests would not be satisfied until Jesus was put to death.  If Pilate did not give in to the chief priests demands, a riot might break out.  Pilate had only a few hundred troops to control the Passover crowd of over 200,000.  A riot would be a disaster, just the kind of problem the emperor had warned about. 

But, on the other hand, executing an innocent man was an unforgivable breach of justice for a Roman governor.  If word got back to Rome that Pilate had crucified Jesus after publicly proclaiming him innocent, that too would mean the end of his career.

But, then, Pontius Pilate thinks he has been provided a way out: “The chief priests insisted, ‘He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.’  On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.”

Pilate executed a legal maneuver called “change of venue.”  He sent Jesus over to be tried by Herod Antipas.  For Pilate, this killed two birds with one stone: It was a great compliment to Herod Antipas, maybe helping to patch up their relationship; and, Pilate probably assumed it would result in someone else being responsible for the Jesus’ death.  The Herod family was notoriously ruthless: Herod the Great had executed anyone he thought threatened his throne, including his wife, mother-in-law, two brothers-in-law, and three of his own sons.  Herod Antipas had recently followed his father’s violent example by executing John the Baptizer.  Since Jesus claimed to the king of the Jews, a title which Herod Antipas desperately wanted for himself, surely Herod could be counted on to “take care” of Jesus for Pontius Pilate.

But, Herod looked upon Jesus not as a threat but as a court jester: “When Herod saw Jesus, he was delighted, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what Herod had heard about Jesus, he hoped to see him perform some miracle.  He asked him many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.”  Herod did not take Jesus seriously at all; he only wanted some entertainment from the marvelous magician he had heard about.  When Jesus would not cooperate, “Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.”

Jokes are sometimes made about those whose relationship to Christ’s Church is limited to being baptized, married and buried, “hatched, matched and dispatched.”  But, even the Herod family had such run-ins with Jesus, at the beginning and end of his earthly life.  See to it that you and your family have much more than just an occasional run-in with Jesus. 

That is the lesson of the Lenten story of Herod Antipas.  Amen.

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