Why Are You Troubled, Herod?
St. Matthew 2:13-23 (1/3/16)
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. Matthew 2:13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… Yes, when Herod, King of Jerusalem, heard from the Wise Men that Jesus, the True King of the Jews had been born, he was greatly troubled.
You see, Herod was afraid that he would lose everything that he had worked so hard to gain; and He was willing to do whatever was necessary to hold on to the power and prestige and wealth that goes along with being a king. Herod knew that the prophets of God had testified that a descendant of the ancient King, David, would once again rule over David’s kingdom; and now he feared that this prophecy would soon prove to be true.
And, together with the fear of losing all of his earthly possessions – his position, his prestige, his wealth – Herod was also troubled. He was troubled because of the guilt of his sins. Herod had gained the throne of Jerusalem through deception and bribery and murder, and now his wicked past flashed before his eyes as he reflected upon the career that seemingly was coming to an end for him. In his mind he probably thought that the God who could bring an end to Herod’s kingship could also bring an end to Herod’s life and call him to account for all of the horrible evil that he had done. It would be an accounting that easily would tally up to a full measure of eternal punishment in the Kingdom of Hell.
And yet, Herod should not have been troubled… and neither should you be troubled! Even though each one of us is like Herod, for we, too, have done great evil in the sight of God, we must not be troubled – neither troubled by the guilt of our sins nor troubled about losing our own little kingdoms on earth now that Christ has entered into our lives.
For the Infant King has come not to leave us in the kingdom of Satan, but to draw us out of it forever! The Star of Christmas proclaims that the King is here, that the King of Heaven, Jesus Christ, has descended to earth. That star proclaims that the King has come not to take away our individual earthly kingdoms, but to transform them into a kingdom like His own, an earthly kingdom that prepares us for life in His everlasting Heavenly kingdom with Him!
Yes, when Herod was confronted with the reality of the kingship of Jesus, he was troubled. It is impossible for us to know what troubled Herod the most, but we do know what should have troubled him the most, for it is the very same thing that should trouble each of us: our wickedness before God.
Our disobedience to the commandments of God ought to be greatly troublesome to us. Our breaking of God’s Holy Law breaks God’s own heart, even if it is “just a little sin,” like spreading a little gossip or continuing to hold that little grudge or telling that little white lie or breaking that little promise or sneaking a little peak at something better left unseen. For these “little sins” are just as damning as the “bigger sins” that we try so desperately to keep behind the closed walls of our own little castles for fear that they might be detected and confronted by others.
But the boundaries that God has established by His commandments are for our good; they are holy boundaries, bringing us into the realm of ungodliness when we cross over the lines He has drawn to guide our words and deeds and desires and thoughts. Continually stepping over these lines carries the danger that we might one day cross the boundary from which there is no return – the great divide between Heaven and Hell that forever separates the sinner from God and subjects the sinner to the never-ending reign of the harshest of all rulers, Satan. So, yes, it is good that we ought to be troubled when we cross God’s boundary lines.
But that kind of trouble is the start of something good. Yes, that kind of trouble leads to good because it means that the King, Christ Jesus, is working to establish His own reign over your heart. Being troubled over your sins is a sign that God is alive and active within you, stirring up your conscience to warn you of the dangers of trespassing into Satan’s territory, lest you be trapped behind enemy lines forever. To borrow a phrase from The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther: if you do not feel your sin, “you should stick your hand into your bosom to see if you are still alive; for there will never be a single moment during your life in this world that you will be free from the entanglement of your own sin and in need of this warning.” (Christian Questions and Answers, #20).
And yet, while Herod, and all of us with him, are rightly troubled by our many sins, we must not remain troubled with guilt over them, for the Christmas star proclaims that the King is here, the King Who gives the realms of heavenly day even to us unworthy sinners… by forgiving us our sins and taking away our guilt, today and forever!
For the King to Whom the Kings of the Orient came, bearing gifts that foretold of His future death – the burial spices of myrrh and frankincense – one day mounted His true earthly throne, the throne of His Holy Cross. And on that cross He permitted Himself to be slaughtered as the sacrifice for all of our sins. The Innocent One, Who was far more innocent than all of the innocent boys who were slain by the command of Herod in His desperate attempt to kill the newborn king, the Christ took upon Himself the guilt of all of our sins and took it to His grave. He is no longer buried in the tomb, but your guilt is buried there forever!
You wise men and women have followed His star to this place and you have found Him in His house! For in this very House is our Savior-King, Jesus Christ, in the place where He washes away our guilt in the cleansing water and Word of Holy Baptism. And He declares us guilt-free forevermore by His proclamation of His Gospel: “I forgive you of all your sins, whether small or great.” And He seals His promise of everlasting life with Him by granting to us a foretaste of the Royal Feast to come in the Holy Supper that He feeds to us this day for the consolation of our guilty consciences.
And by all of this action of our gracious King for us, we are led by His Holy Spirit to see by faith what Herod could not see: that there is no reason to be troubled when we are confronted with the reality of the kingship of Jesus over us. There is no reason to fear the rule of Jesus and His claim of kingship over us, for the Heavenly King does not come to take your earthly kingdom away, but to transform it.
For He does not take away your earthly position or prestige, whether you are a king, or a husband or a wife, or a parent or a grandparent, or an employed worker or a retired one, or a student, or even a little a child. Whatever position you hold at present, Jesus transforms it into a holy calling through which Christ Himself serves your neighbor through you, providing your neighbor and you with a measure of daily bread for you both. In whatever you do, you are part of the network through which Christ provides us all with all that we need, as He did throughout the past year and as He will continue to do in this new year.
And, in whatever the King has called you to do, He Himself gives you the strength and wisdom and courage by His Holy Spirit to use the things of your own kingdom in harmony with the rule of His own kingdom, guiding you within the boundaries He has established by His Holy Word, so that His will is done here on earth as it is heaven.
And Christ transforms whatever station we occupy into one of true prestige when He empowers us to faithfulness to our particular calling no matter how simple the calling may seem. For it is in being faithful to our Lord and His calling of us, and thereby carrying out our little part in the chain of His love, that we attain the highest prestige: by His declaration, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord!” (Matthew 25:21)
So fear not, Dear Saints of Divine Savior! In the trouble that your many sins rightly brings to you, do not be troubled by sin’s guilt, for the King of the Jews, The Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, takes your guilt away from you. And do not fear His gracious kingship over you, for He comes not to take away your earthly kingdom, but to transform it that you might faithfully use all things of your kingdom to His glory and for the preservation and salvation of your neighbors and yourself, preparing you now to enjoy later the glorious heavenly kingdom of your King, Jesus.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.