On January 6 the church celebrates Epiphany. This is the celebration marking the revealing of who Jesus is, true man and true God. On Epiphany we hear about the Wise Men who come to worship Jesus in great joy, but we also hear about King Herod who was not overly joyful at the birth of Jesus. This is how it is with God becoming flesh and coming into the world. John says it like this, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:10-11) When God becomes flesh our sinful nature wants nothing to do with God, even so far as to crucify the Lord of Glory.
When Herod hears of the birth of Christ, the King of the Jews, he and all of Jerusalem is greatly disturbed. Herod was a crazy man killing anyone, even his own family, if he thought they were conspiring to take his throne. The suspicion didn’t even need to be founded on facts. If Herod was even remotely suspicious he would kill you. A historian is quoted as saying, “It is more safe to be one of Herod’s swine than his child.” Herod wouldn’t touch a pig because it was unclean, but everyone else was fair game. Herod is evil but he is nothing other than man’s sinful nature left unbridled. We all have a little “Herod” in us.
Consider why Herod wanted to remain king. It wasn’t so he could serve his people. Herod wanted to remain king because he got whatever he wanted. No matter what others needed, as long as Herod had his, he was happy. This is precisely how the devil tempts us, he appeals to our desire to be served. The devil appeals to our sinful nature that wants all for himself or herself. We want to be the one above all else. This is why Jesus is such a threat to Herod and us.
Sure Herod mistakenly thought Jesus was a threat to his earthly throne, but in reality the greater threat that Jesus poses to sinners is that he is a threat to the throne of our heart. This is ultimately why the world rejects Jesus and crucifies him, because Jesus claimed to be God. Jesus is the one who is to be worshipped above all else and that is too much for our sinful nature. Jesus must die. In order to get our own way we must kill God. We must do away with him. This is the foolishness of the gospel, that indeed Jesus, true God and true man does die.
Jesus knows the heart of man yet he gladly and willingly hands himself over to be killed. But Herod will not carry this sentence out, it is first necessary that Jesus fulfills all righteousness. Jesus does this to take away our own death. God takes upon himself the just punishment for rebelling against him so that we who are born enemies of God may be made his children.
Jesus dies and then in three days was raised and was seated above all at the right hand of God. Without so much as a bullet fired or sword drawn, Jesus takes all death, sin and the world captive to his reign. God’s kingdom comes when he forgives our sins and stops the plans of the devil. He is king of kings and Lord of lords. He was no threat to Herod’s throne, in fact it was downright foolish for Herod to think that a baby would threaten his throne. Just the same, Jesus was no threat to Pilate’s rule, yet the world fears Christ in an unhealthy way.
We Christians will be feared by the world just as Christ was. It is rather foolish that we be feared, but we carry with us Christ. With Christ comes rejection. With Christ comes the cross. We are feared so much that the world will threaten us with death and lawsuits claiming that we have wronged them by not accepting their lifestyle. Many of us will lose these lawsuits. Many Christians will lose everything they own in the courts of law and public opinion. What are these losses but the taking away of our false gods?
What can they take from us?
What was Herod able to take from Christ? Nothing.
The only things we can lose are the things that we won’t voluntarily give up because we have enthroned those things in our own hearts and don’t fully trust God to take care of us. Epiphany is the revealing that in Christ, God is indeed taking care of us. All of his promises are being fulfilled. God is in the flesh dethroning our fleshly desires, killing our sinful nature so that we would be a new people of his own possession. The kindness of God leads us to repentance, and so too our kindness to our enemies will hopefully lead them to repent and hear the Gospel as well. Our desire is that through our suffering our enemies would come to the realization and rejoice with us in the epiphany of who the Christ child is. Christ has no “Herod” in him. Christ takes his throne so he can serve us, not himself. So like the Wise Men we should be willing to bring our costliest treasures to Christ, willing to travel any distance to worship Him.
Happy Epiphany! See you on Sunday.
In Christ, Pastor Ottmers