I love Christmas, but I don’t know anyone who gets as excited about Christmas as my husband. He starts the countdown for next year on December 26th. He breaks out the Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving (because I hide it until then) and begins greeting folks with, “Merry Christmas!” by December 1st. Can you imagine how sad he was when folks stirred up a fuss and asked him to say, “Happy Holidays,” instead? As we’ve thought and prayed about a reply, we’ve come to this conclusion:
It’s not the first time someone tried to take Christ out of Christmas.
“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?’” Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV)
Herod was a cruel and maniacal king, appointed by Rome to rule over Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth. He was a great builder, restoring Jerusalem’s Temple, constructing palaces, and adorning Judean cities to match the lavish splendor of Rome. But building talents couldn’t save Herod from himself.
Suspicion and paranoia haunted him. Herod suspected his wife and her family of betrayal and had them killed. Certain some of his sons were plotting to steal his throne, he ordered their executions as well. Is it any wonder that Herod and all of Jerusalem were disturbed when Magi (wise men) from the east arrived saying a new king of the Jews had been born?
Herod’s role in the Christmas story can be found in Matthew 2:1-18. After the Magi’s question, Herod called the chief priests and teachers of the Law to determine where this new king was to be born. He secretly asked the Magi when they first saw the star and then sent them to Bethlehem, asking them to report back to him when they returned.
The Magi needed no direction from Herod. God’s sovereignty led them by the same star to the exact house in Bethlehem where Jesus lived.
“Having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” Matthew 2:12 (NIV)
When Herod realized he’d been duped, he remembered that the Magi saying they’d first observed the star two years ago. So this cruel king ordered all boys in Bethlehem, two years old and younger, to be slaughtered. Crazy, right?
Actually, yes. Plagued by a long list of chronic ailments (fever, whole-body itching, intestinal pain, tumors of the feet, abdominal inflammation, and gangrene), Herod’s final commands added mental instability to his physical maladies. When he realized death was near, Herod locked up all prominent Jewish leaders and made plans to execute them upon his death. Why? To ensure mourning at his burial.
F. LaGard Smith said, “Evil bears within it the seeds of its own destruction.” Herod’s life bears out the principle. A leader who knowingly tried to kill the Messiah, he was eventually swallowed up by the evil flourishing in his body, soul, and spirit. But God used even an indisputably evil leader like Herod to fulfill His sovereign plan.
“[Joseph] he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” Matthew 2:14-15 (NIV)
If you struggle with today’s commercialized Christmas—take heart. Herod couldn’t kill Him, and neither can the checkout person wearing the silly elf hat who says, “Happy Holidays.” God is still greater, and His good plans prevail. God. Wins.
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Discuss: Why do you think Herod asked the Magi to return with a report about the new king of the Jews? Why did God need to warn them in a dream not to return?
If the star led the Magi to the exact house in Bethlehem after they stopped in Jerusalem, why didn’t God take the Magi to Bethlehem first? Why involve Herod in this process at all?
Did Herod the Great have an opportunity to believe in the Messiah?
Can you think of current-day examples of governments, regimes, or individual “bad leaders” who try to kill God? How does the example of God’s sovereignty during Herod’s reign encourage you today?
Pray: Heavenly Father, thank you for showing us this example of Your absolute authority over evil. Though each of us has freedom to choose evil over good, we trust Your sovereign plan to save and bless Your people. Thank You for Jesus’ birth, for protecting Him from Herod, and for His death and resurrection—so we can live with You forever.