Advent Week Two: The Ghost in the Darkness at Christmas

He was born around 74 BC into the home of a politically astute and active father named Antipater who was from a people group called the Edomites (Descendant of Esau 1st born son of Isaac and Rebecca <2nd Born Jacob> – Abraham’s son.)  Antipater’s ancestors converted to Judaism and he was raised in the Jewish faith.  Antipater cozied up with the Roman General Pompey when he rolled through Palestine and subdued Jerusalem establishing Roman rule.  As the dust settled, Antipater carefully positioned himself as a friend of Rome.  He quickly picked up the family business of politics and became fast friends with a famous Roman General named Mark Anthony.  Yes, the same one who fell in love with one Cleopatra of Egypt.  He was appointed by his father as the governor of Galilee with the backing of his Roman friend Mark Anthony and later was declared by the Roman Senate to be the King of the Jews.

 He is a figure who whom historians (secular as well as Christian) are generally divided over.  He was an effective ruler and built cities and fortresses such as Masada, The Fortress of Antonia (remains in Jerusalem today) and the Great Temple Complex – the foundation ruins of which form the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.  His people did enjoy an elevated standard of living over-all speaking.  He was also an incredibly shrewd, cruel and tyrannical ruler, especially later in life.

When civil war breaks out in Rome after the assassination of Julius Caesar – two camps emerge – Mark Anthony’s vs. Octavius.  Mark Anthony along with Cleopatra are defeated at the battle of Actium.  Our man put his money on Mark Anthony.  In an amazingly bold move, he personally went to the Island Fortress of Rhoades and came before Octavius.  His message was simple, “I am a loyal subject.  I was loyal to Mark Anthony to the end.  I will be loyal to you until the end.”  This bold offer was accepted by Octavius who will go on to be the first Emperor of Rome – the Republic becomes an Empire and Octavius is declared to be the Son of God – a new day rises on Rome and Herod the Great is the number one guy in Palestine. 

The Jewish Historian Josephus relates: He had rivals killed: his brother-in law, his wife her 2 sons, her grandfather, her mother, and 300 military leaders were all killed by Herod’s command if not hand.  He was about gaining, consolidating and maintaining power.  He married for it, bargained for it and even killed for it.  One of the last Pagan historians of Rome would write, “It is better to be his pig than his son.”  If he was happy it was ok to be happy; however, if he was mad – watch out!  He was a man without equal (feared with the power of life and death in his capricious hands) in the region of Palestine when newly minted Emperor Caesar Augustus calls for a census of his new Empire – this catches up a little family and causes them to leave their community in Nazareth and travel to their hometown of Bethlehem.

Who was this man?  The name of this megalomaniac is Herod the Great.

Matthew chapter 2 records some of the worst news Herod the Great could receive.  A King has been born to the Jews.  Right in Herod’s own backyard!  He is a man who does not tolerate rivals of any kind.  He calls the Magi in to find out more about this king.  All Jerusalem is troubled as well; when Herod isn’t happy – no one is happy!  He tells the Magi – you go and find out where he is so that I too can visit him and worship him.  Of Course, this sentiment is dripping with sarcasm because Herod worships no one – in fact, he receives worship he doesn’t give it. 

The Magi find the baby Jesus and in deed, worship Him.  The word worship carries the idea of bowing in subjection, surrender and obedience to the object of worship.  Warned in a dream, Joseph takes his young family and goes to Egypt.  Herod becomes furious when he finds out he has been blown off by the Magi and doesn’t find out who the baby king is.  His horrible reaction is to murder all the baby boys 2 years and younger in Bethlehem.  Unspeakable darkness falls upon Bethlehem homes as the murder of the innocents unfolds. 

What triggered Herod was most certainly fear of a rival but also resistance to worship anyone other than himself.

o   The call to worship Jesus as Lord of our lives can cause us to experience dissonance.  This is the ghost that haunts us – a ghost that hides in the shadows, the darkness – it causes us to feel uncomfortable when we hear things like worship the King and worship Jesus, surrender your life to Him – and we don’t.  To worship Jesus means to fully surrender to Him every part of our lives; this is easier said than done.

 o   Herod was all about himself.  He was about amassing power and maintaining it – not surrendering it. 

o   Could it be, there is a little Herod in all of us?  We don’t want to surrender control.

The familiar Christmas carol Angels from the Realms of Glory… “Come and worship, Come and Worship, Come and Worship Christ the New Born King.”  Do I want to see Jesus as my King? 

Like the trapeze artist said to his partner, “let go!”  Let go; see what happens!

o   You may be reading today and have been going to church for years but struggle with letting God have every area of your life. 

o   You might find yourself constantly asking yourself is this all there is to Christianity – weekly gatherings, singing, smiling, eating potlucks?

God has a whole new life waiting for you!  An exciting new life of possibility, power and even a bit adventure – it’s waiting for you.  No, this isn’t a promise of good times and trip after sniffing some frankincense.  God is reminding us that even though we may be fearful and hiding a little Herod in us – He still loves us and invites us to a new life with Him.

What is holding you back?

·        You might call it fear – fear to be vulnerable (hurt) or out of control.

·        You might call it pride – I don’t need anyone or certainly Jesus.  I will make my life happen.

Receive the love of Jesus in your life – all of it.  When I talk of the love of Jesus, I am talking about resting your faith in Him.  John chose the words “believe in Him” specifically – it’s not a passive invitation but a call to action – like sitting in a chair believing the legs will hold you.  Ghosts are scary and so is letting go of your pride and trusting in someone. 

Think about the Bill Murray movie “What About Bob” – take baby steps – nothing crazy. 

Maybe you’ve been disappointed by life, family, friends and even the church.  I want to remind you this morning that despite how you might feel – God loves you.  Do not to give up and walk away but rather turn in and receive God’s love – I don’t want you to miss out on what God has for you.

·        Come and worship with us.  Come and see.

·        Come and learn with us – ask the hard questions (you’re not alone).

At the end of Herod’s life, he was racked with severe pain and many believe mental illness – many believe it was arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).  Josephus tells us that Herod was so concerned that no one would mourn him when he died, he ordered that a large group of distinguished men come to Jericho.  He gave the order that when he dies, these distinguished men were to be executed so that someone would be mourning.  His surviving son, Archelaus, did not carry out this command.

I don’t want you to miss out on the life that God has for you.  He is doing amazing things in and through Lakeside and around the world – amazing things and you could be a part of it if you’re willing to take that first step of worship = give Jesus your life.  Join us in the journey – you won’t be alone.  This is what Christmas is all about – the greatest story ever told.  God loves you.

I believe you will not regret giving your life in worship to Jesus; not for a moment.

Complete Message Here:

Vince Armfield