The Way of Herod: a reflection on the death of the holy innocents

Choosing a way is sometimes an exercise in seeing contrasts.

It is not light alone that helps us to see the world around us best. It is through high contrast that vision improves. For example, it can be difficult to distinguish one thing from another thing in the dark. However, it is not light alone that helps to improve our ability to see. 

It is the contrast in our vision that differentiates between blue skies and rocky brown mountains, between green leaves and red apples in a tree, between rich dark soil and Springtime flowers emerging from it. Likewise, it is easiest to see the right way when it is contrasted with another way. So I want us explore the way of Herod the Great, who plays a significant role in Jesus’ early years, first appearing in Matthew 2 in the episode with the magi. 

While there are several “Herod” figures in the Bible – this was a big and multi-generational family – the “Herod” in Matthew 2 is Herod the Great. Herod was born in 72 BC, and ruled in one way or another in the Holy Land from 47 BC until his death in 4 BC. He was not Jewish, but Idumean, and became King of Jews in 37 BC based on his family’s allegiance to the Roman authorities since the time of Marc Antony. While viewed as Jewish by the Romans, the Jewish people never fully recognized Herod as their king. 

Herod instituted many significant building projects, including a massive remodeling of the Jerusalem Temple, but became increasingly paranoid and violent near the end of his life.

When the Magi follow the star in search of the newborn king, their journey leads them to King Herod.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:1-3)

Here we see something about Herod’s way. He wields power in a way that is disturbing to people. This became increasingly true in his later years. Herod sought after power, marrying Mariamne, the daughter of one of his opponents, but later in life, he executed her when it seemed she threatened his power. Herod had ten wives and each of their children vied for power against one another. Herod executed more than one of his children when they sought at times to come against him. When the Scripture tells us in Matthew 2:3 Herod was disturbed and all of Jerusalem with him, it is no joke. The way that Herod the Great used his power during this time was disturbing to people. 

A little later in the same episode we something else about Herod’s way. He uses knowledge for his own ends and to mix it with deception. When the chief priests and teachers of the law tell him that the Messiah will arise from Bethlehem, Herod does not use that knowledge to soften his heart but to harden his heart against this possible prophesied king. Then he asks the magi to report back to him where this new king is after they find him so, he says, “that I too may go and worship him” (2:8). This is a leader bent on consolidating his own power at any cost. Truth is meaningless and he bends it to his own will. This is the way of Herod the Great. 

But it doesn’t end there. It continues with violence. The Magi are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, but to go another way. And this leads to another revelation about Herod’s way.

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.'” (Matthew 2:16-18)

Along with wielding power in disturbing ways and bending truth toward his own ends with deception, Herod controls the situation through violence. While there are no extrabiblical accounts confirming what happened here, it is entirely consistent with Herod’s activities at the time.

With the population of Bethlehem at this time being roughly 1000 people, and given typical rates of birth and infant mortality, there were probably around 20 children who were killed in this episode. Such a terrible but small-scale event might not have been more than one more in a series of Herod’s terrifying deeds. 

This is the way of Herod the Great:

  • wielding power in disturbing ways 
  • using knowledge for selfish ends and bending truth with deception
  • controlling situations through violence

May we choose a different way in our approach to living. May we turn from the way of Herod and turn to the way of Jesus.

Jesus the Joy-Bringer

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we began a new preaching series entitled “Joy Appears,” which continues our celebration of Christmas and the joy that has appeared in Jesus our Messiah and Savior. In this first week of the series, Pastor Nic Fridenmaker explores how Jesus brings joy in His birth and ministry. What is joy? How does Jesus really bring joy? How is this different from manufactured joy? How can we experience joy in Jesus?

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people..”  (Luke 2:9-10)

A Little History Lesson

Christmas

Epiphany

A Little Language Lesson

Happiness

Joy

A Big Announcement

Matthew 2:1-12

Luke 2:1-15

Joy then, and joy now.

Fear

Joy

Community


Dig Deeper:

This week dig deeper into Joy:

  • Watch this video again, and as we celebrate the Christmas Season, find ways to share Joy with those around you: https://bibleproject.com/explore/video/chara-joy/
  • Memorize on Isaiah 51:11.
  • The Gospel brings “great joy to all people.” Share the gospel this week in a tangible way. 
  • Merry Christmas!

“Glory to the Newborn King”: Christmas Eve message 2021

Here is the message I was to deliver at Eastbrook Church at Christmas Eve services before coming down sick. Thanks to Jim Caler for delivering it in my place.


I love singing Christmas carols and Christmas songs. Maybe you do too. A couple weeks ago I was at a Christmas party, and we sang a couple Christmas songs together and I noticed that as the songs got going people just lit up and joined right in.  If you had to make a choice, what would you say is your favorite Christmas song or Christmas carol? Maybe turn to someone near you and share that right now.

A little earlier in the service we sang the song “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” It says:

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King”
Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled
Joyful all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies
With angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

There are few Christmas hymns that are so jam-packed with good theology and biblical truth while also being so singable and full of joy as “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

That phrase, “Glory to the newborn king,” is so rich with meaning. But that meaning is twofold. First, Jesus comes to bring us His glory. And second, we, in return, bring our glory echoing back to Him. 

We bring glory to Jesus the newborn King because the newborn King first brings glory to us.

The Newborn Kings Brings Us Glory

We heard earlier of the birth of Jesus. We’re told that Mary gave birth to a son and Joseph gave him the name Jesus: “She gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus” (Matthew 1:25).

Later, when the Maji from the east arrive, they say they have come, following a star, to find a newborn king that they might worship Him: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

There is a newborn King who comes to bring us His glory. 

Now, there are a lot of different kingdoms on earth. There are great kingdoms of the past and there are great kingdoms of the present. There will even be kingdoms of the future that we have not yet encountered. 

But Jesus brings a different sort of kingdom. He comes to bring God’s kingdom. At the beginning of His preaching and miracle-working ministry, Jesus declares: 

“The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

This newborn King brings a new sort of kingdom that calls us to repent, which literally means “turn around” or “do a 180,” and embrace the good news. Why is this new kingdom a “good news” kind of kingdom? Because it reveals the glory of God.

All through the Bible there are glimpses of glory, specifically the glory of God. What is “glory”? Well, it is the visible radiance of the being of God – God’s beauty or majesty – His goodness and greatness unveiled to us. 

Jesus, this newborn King, has come to bring God’s kingdom and reveal to us God’s glory – His majesty, His beauty, His goodness, His greatness. 

As the early Christian leader Paul writes in Colossians 1:15: 

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Colossians 1:15)

And this newborn King, Jesus, brings this glory close to us, right where we live in our everyday lives. Hear it again:

“‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” (Matthew 1:23)

God with us. His glory brought to us. Not just to a select few of highly regarded and well-groomed people, but to all of us. 

Yes, I know we all tried to get dressed up for this Christmas Eve service, but deep down we all know we’re a rag-tag bunch of rough & tumble people who need God to intervene in our lives. 

We may be special or stand out for one reason or another that our mother enjoys, but Jesus doesn’t base His decision to bring glory to us on that sort of thing. He brings His glory to anyone who wants a taste of salvation’s savor; to anyone who longs to behold God’s beauty; to anyone, no matter how apparently undeserving, who wants to join the shepherds and the wise men at the manger in worship.

Ordinary people – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, you, and me – we all can experience the glory of God that the newborn King Jesus brings to us.

We Bring Glory to the Newborn King

But the second half of the great truth of Christmas is that we have the privilege of echoing back glory to that newborn King.

Maybe you already know that an echo is just sound bouncing back to us from a hard surface. It’s one thing to experience an echo in the shower where your singing never sounded so good, but it’s an entirely different thing to hear an echo bounce back over a tremendous distance in the perfect environment, such as a canyon or rock face near water. 

Or even in a built environment, such as the Hamilton Mausoleum in Scotland, that will sustain echoes of 15 seconds before they fade from our ear.

An echo is not the original sound, but it does replay or return the sound that originally was released.

Just as sound released in the right environment brings forth an echo in response, so God’s glory in Jesus Christ searches for a right environment in human lives bringing forth echoes of glory in response. 

We should echo back, giving glory to the newborn King who first gifts us with a revelation of God’s glory.

An early church leader, Irenaeus of Lyons, once write that “The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and the life of humanity consists in beholding God.”[1]

We receive the glory of God—His beauty and majesty, His goodness and greatness—into our lives through faith in Jesus and we bring glory to God by living in response to Him today and all our days. Our lives are intended to be an echo. 

So how do we echo back glory to Jesus? 

First, we can take seriously the glory revealed in Jesus. It’s all about Him. We can live with our eyes fixed on Him—knowing Him more, searching the Bible to better understand Him, and digging deeper into a real, transformational relationship with Him.

Second, we can respond with our hearts and our lives to Jesus. We can take a step of faith today with Him, perhaps for the very first time. We can choose to orient our whole way of living around Jesus and His teaching.   

I don’t want to miss the chance for us today to consider what that means for us in our lives in a very real and tangible way.

In the program today there is a response card. It offers some specific ways we can respond to the glory of God revealed in Jesus. I’d like to ask you to look at that part of the program, or those specific responses online.

There is a space for you to fill in your name and information, as well as make one of several responses:

  • I would like to talk with a pastor or staff member about Jesus Christ and the Bible
  • I would like to find out how to explore my faith 
  • I would like to receive more information about Eastbrook 
  • I would like to explore joining a small group to grow in my faith 
  • I would like prayer for something in my life

I would like to urge you, whether you’re online or in person, to take some time to consider your response to God right now. No one else can become an echo for you. Only you can respond to God. 

If you’re in person you can fill out the card and put it in the bins that the ushers will have by the doors as you leave.  If you’re online, you can respond to the online host or send us an email at info@eastbrook.org.

Conclusion

In the late 19th century, Christina Rosetti wrote a poem that was later turned into a song known as “In the Bleak Midwinter.” The poem traces the incarnation of Jesus, reflecting on the wonders of Him leaving the Father’s presence to enter into our earthly realities. It concludes with a final stanza of self-reflection upon what gift we could possibly give in return for the marvelous gift of God’s glory revealed in Jesus. As we conclude tonight, I cannot think of better words for us to ponder:

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a Shepherd, 
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.[2]

Let’s pray.


[1] St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 20, Section 7.

[2] Christina Rosetti, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” stanza 5.

Eastbrook at Home – December 26, 2021

Eastbrook-At-Home-Series-GFX_16x9-Title

Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM.

This weekend we begin a two-part series entitled “Joy Appears,” which continues our celebration of Christmas and the joy that has appeared in Jesus our Savior and Messiah. This two-part series is a pause from our extended walk through the Gospel of Matthew, which we will return to in February.

Here is a prayer for the first Sunday of Christmas from The Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, kindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

We also continue in-person services at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00 AM this weekend at the Eastbrook Campus, and you no longer need to RSVP ahead of time.

If you are new to Eastbrook, we want to welcome you to worship and would ask you to text EBCnew to 94000 as a first step into community here at Eastbrook.

Each Sunday at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts. You can also access the service directly via Vimeo, the Eastbrook app, or Facebook.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in your tithes and offerings to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

His Life, Our Life

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” (Matthew 1:22-23)

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8)

Christmas Day is a time of great celebration. Some of us will open presents. Some of us will gather with family or friends to share a meal. Some of us will enjoy certain annual traditions with those we love. Some of us will remember those no longer with us, feeling both the sadness of loss but also the depth of meaningful memories. 

Regardless of what fills our day, Christmas puts into sharp focus the greatness of God’s gift to us in Jesus becoming incarnate by the Holy Spirit’s power working in the Virgin Mary. From start to finish, Jesus’ story is one of God’s life given for so that we might have life. Jesus enters our world as a baby who will grow into a man destined to save all humanity. His infancy is humble in a variety of ways: coming from glory to earth, born to ordinary parents with little reputation, growing up outside the centers of power, and more. So, too, Jesus’ adult life embraces the humility as he is misunderstood as Messiah, lives dependent upon others’ financial supply, and ultimately in a sacrificial death for our salvation.

His life for our life. This gift is beyond measure. May we celebrate Jesus as we enter into this Christmas Day.