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“Seven Scenes from the Advent-Christmas Story: Herod Fearing”
Matthew 2:12-21


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Advent Service III—December 14, 2011

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The theme for our services during Advent this year is, “Seven Scenes from the Advent-Christmas Story,” including, “John Preaching,” “Shepherds Watching,” “Angels Singing,” “Mary Praising.” “Joseph Dreaming,” and “Wise Men Worshipping.”  We continue with this evening’s Gospel Reading, and the story of “Herod Fearing.”

Matthew’s Gospel tells us, “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 have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him.’  When Herod the king heard this, he was frightened.”

Why is King Herod frightened?  So frightened that he even wickedly tries to slaughter the newborn Babe of Bethlehem?  Beginning about a decade ago a series of oppressive, evil dictators have been overthrown and defeated in countries throughout the Middle East.  Last year this movement accelerated in what was called the “Arab Spring.”  That’s what King Herod is frightened of.

The Roman Empire had installed him as puppet ruler over the conquered people of Israel.  But, although King Herod was given the title “King of the Jews,” he wasn’t actually Jewish.  He was in fact Arab, ruling over a very resentful and rebellious Jewish population, which he kept under control by being a notoriously ruthless, oppressive, evil dictator.   So, King Herod doesn’t fear an Arab revolt.  He fears being overthrown and defeated by a Jewish revolt, against him. 

“Behold, Wise Men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?  For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him.’  When Herod the king heard this, he was frightened.”  Herod is frightened because he is supposed to be the King of the Jews, but he fears the oppressed Jewish people will rally around this newborn rival revolt against him.

Some 33 years later the Babe of Bethlehem had grown into the adult Jesus of Nazareth.  It is ironic that his trial before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, most likely took place in the very same palace where the now dead King Herod had once met the Wise Men.  When Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” he replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. . . my kingdom is from another place.”

As the Wise Men say, the Babe of Bethlehem is indeed the newborn King of the Jews.  In fact, he is the Ruler of the whole universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  But, he was not born into our world to establish an earthly, political kingdom, or to overthrow King Herod or any other earthly ruler.  In fact, the Apostle Paul says in Romans, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves,” and he tells Titus, “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities.”

So, King Herod had no reason to fear losing his throne to this newborn King.  For, Jesus was not born into the world to overthrow King Herod and seize control of his worldly kingdom.  The kingdom of King Jesus is not political and earthly, but spiritual and heavenly.  But, although he does not covet the throne of King Herod, Jesus did come to overthrow and defeat for us all not just one but three oppressive, oppressive, evil dictators, three oppressive, evil spiritual dictators.

“Everyone who sins,” Jesus says, “is a slave to sin.”  Jesus came to overthrow for you the oppressive, evil dictator of sin.  There’s a Greek word translated “redeem” and “redemption” in the New Testament that literally means “to buy back and set free from slavery.”  That’s what Jesus did for you.  He bought you back and set you free from slavery to the oppressive, evil dictator of sin.  He bought you back and set you free with his own life, death, and resurrection. 

“For the Son of Man came not to be served,” he said, “but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Jesus gave his life as a ransom for you.  Using the word for “redemption” that means “to buy back and set free from slavery” Paul says in Romans, “We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.”

Jesus also came to overthrow for you the oppressive, evil dictator of death.  As the book of Hebrews says, “He freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”  “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus says.  “Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live.”  His resurrection, his victory over death and grave, means that you will finally be victorious over the oppressive, evil dictator of death and enter into eternal life.  “Because I life,” Jesus promises, “you also shall live.”  “Thanks be to God!” Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jesus came to give you the victory over the oppressive, evil dictator of sin; Jesus came give you the victory over the oppressive, evil dictator of death; and Jesus came to give you the victory over the oppressive, evil dictator of the devil.  Paul puts it this way in Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  By ourselves we are powerless against the overwhelming forces of evil.  But, Paul says in Colossians that Christ has “triumphed over them by the cross.”  As Martin Luther says in his most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress”:

Though devils all the world should fill,
All eager to devour us.
We tremble not, we fear no ill,
They shall not overpower us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

The “little word” that defeats the devil is the Gospel, the Good News that your sins are all forgiven.  When Satan attacks you, when he assails you with doubts about your salvation, cling to that Good News, for he cannot fight against it, and the Gospel always defeats him.

“Behold, Wise Men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him.’  When Herod the king heard this, he was frightened.”  King Herod had no reason to fear losing his throne to this newborn King.  For, the kingdom of King Jesus is “not of this world,” not political and earthly, but spiritual and heavenly.  But, like those oppressive, evil dictators recently toppled in the Middle East, Jesus did come to overthrow and defeat for you and us all not just one but three oppressive, evil, spiritual dictators: sin, death, and the devil.

Amen.

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