These are my notes for tomorrow's Bible class.
Did you see the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight, last summer? In the movie, the Joker does his best to destroy Gotham City by creating such a strong feeling of fear among the citizens that they would turn on each other and start harming each other. He wanted the people to kill each other. He created chaotic situations in which people were tempted to kill others in order to either save their own lives or to save their loved ones. In effect, the Joker played the role of Satan. Like the Joker in The Dark Knight, Satan manipulates circumstances to produce confusion, fear, and anger in our lives so that we are tempted to do wrong in order to cope with life. He did it with Job. He does it with us, too.
What does this have to do with our series on the Christmas narratives? Over the past two weeks, we have looked into the characters of Joseph and Mary. They were two of the heroes of human history. When times were tough, they rose to the occasion. They trusted in God and followed his instructions. Today, we will examine one of humanity's failures. In King Herod, we will see a man who was driven by fear and anger, a man who abused the Scriptures for selfish purposes, and a man who resorted to cruelty when he lost control of his circumstances. He was an easy target for demonic manipulation. By examining his failures, I hope to prepare us to meet the challenges in our lives. If we can see our vulnerabilities as we look at Herod's, hopefully we will be able to work on strengthening our character so that we can face temptations successfully.
Let's read Matthew 2:1-20 to set the context of our character study of King Herod.
First, we need to see that King Herod was driven by fear and anger. He was a powerful but insecure man; and that made him dangerous. When he became king, he executed over 40 priests who had opposed his ascension to the throne. In 29 BC, he executed one of his wives because he suspected her of plotting against him. In 7 BC, he executed two of his sons for the same reason. As he was dying, King Herod ordered several of Jerusalem's prominent men to be arrested. He instructed that they be executed as soon as he died so that all of Jerusalem would mourn on the day of his death. (Those orders were ignored, and Jerusalem did not mourn his death.) Even as he was dying, he ordered a third son be put to death. King Herod lived in fear and anger his whole life. He lived in insanity because of it.
When we adopt a lifestyle of fear and anger, we are putting ourselves in a vulnerable position. With little effort, we can become a destructive force in others' lives--and even in our own. Psalm 37:8 warns,
"Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing" (New American Standard Bible).
If we live as angry and worried people, we set ourselves up to do evil. Through his recovery ministry here at the Contact Church, Todd Box has taught us about the acronym H.A.L.T. When we are
we are most vulnerable to falling into our sinful patterns and addictions. When we are anxious and angry, we are ready to sin. Some of us may fall to drunkenness or drugs, some to gossip, some to sexual immorality, some to theft, some to unkindness, some to rudeness or to another sin. All of us are vulnerable to some kind of sin.
A few years ago, I was going through some health problems. They were not serious, but I didn't know it. I had no idea what I was facing, so I became anxious and somewhat angry. I took off a day from my job to see my doctor. Of course, he could not tell me anything specific. He had to make an appointment for me to see a specialist a few weeks later. I went back to work the next day with even more anxiety. When my substitute approached me to tell me about the job, I responded sharply and without a hint of kindness. Even worse, she had said nothing to provoke me. She was simply trying to prepare me for what I might face that day. As she teared up, I recognized how poorly I had treated her and apologized immediately. I was totally to blame. I was living in fear and anger, and it was hurting the people around me as well as myself.
Instead, I should have been following the instructions of Psalm 37. I should not have been worrying. I should have been concentrating on trusting God and doing good to others. If I had, I would not have damaged a relationship with a co-worker even for a few minutes. If Herod had trusted in God and devoted himself to doing good, his legacy would have been completely different. He would have stood out as a healthy and solid man of God. He would have been a biblical hero. Instead, Herod is known as a paranoid murderer.
Next, I would like to consider Herod's misuse of the Scriptures. He did not approach the Bible to get closer to God or to conform to his standards and will. He used the Bible for selfish purposes. He called on the biblical scholars of his day to find out where the expected Messiah would be born. He didn't want to worship or honor the baby. He wanted biblical information so that he could eliminate the competition.
Several years ago, a young man came to me for marriage advice after his wife kicked him out of the house. The problem was: he had a habit of committing adultery. His wife needed some relief. Now he was upset. He told me, "She claims to be a Christian, but she won't forgive me. I told her that the Bible commands her to forgive me, but she won't listen." I couldn't believe my ears. I had to tell him that it wasn't his place to preach to her about her need to forgive. He needed to change himself. He needed to commit to being faithful to his wife, apologize for the wrongs he had done to her and their children, prove his trustworthiness, and give his wife time. She might forgive him, but he could not demand it from her. He was interested in the Bible as long as he could misuse it for his own selfish purpose.
Our challenge is to approach the Bible honestly. We cannot approach it like Herod and my friend did. God knows our hearts and cannot be fooled.
Finally, the last characteristic of Herod that I would like to examine today is his cruel selfishness. He didn't really care about other people. He had goals. If anyone got in his way of achieving them, their lives were in danger. A couple of dozen dead infants and toddlers did not matter to him as long as he was able to retain his throne.
Our challenge is to be Herod's opposite. While he was cruel and selfish, we need to be kind and selfless. We must not allow our goals and obligations to get in the way of expressing concern for other people. On the day after Thanksgiving a few weeks ago, a Wal-Mart employee in New York was trampled to death by shoppers who were goal-oriented rather than people-oriented. Nobody stopped to help the victim. They had goals in mind. They could not be bothered by someone in need. I don't want to be like that. Sometimes goals, ambitions, and schedules need to be set aside in order to care for people. In that way, we can be the antithesis of King Herod.
We can be different than Herod. We can trust in God, devote ourselves to doing good, read the Bible honestly, and care about people around us. When we do, we will be living as God always intended. We will be able to face temptations successfully.