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Before you read this encounter, I want to tell you this is not your normal pleasant Christmas tale. This is a piece of the Christmas story we don't hear often. But as I read Matthew 2:18, I was moved by the horror that accompanied Christ's birth and childhood. As Isaiah foretold, the bright and shining light would come into gross darkness. Christ's world was a world of darkness which He penetrated with unmatched brilliance.

By Angelo Visconti (1829 - 1861) (Italian) (painter, Details of artist on Google Art Project) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH,
WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING,
RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN;
AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED,
BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.

Matthew 2:18

Captain of the King’s Secret Police

Herod is a cruel man. I’ve never thought of myself that way. I just do as I’m told. But these days—I can’t look in the mirror—he has turned me into a monster.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done my share of killing in the king service. I’ve turned a blind eye to indiscretions. More than once I’ve lied for him before the temple authorities. They love Herod’s results, but just don’t have the stomach for his methods. When it comes to tactics, Herod figures the less they know the better.

About eight years ago, Ovidius, the king’s right hand, recruited me out of the Roman garrison here in Jerusalem. He had heard of my reputation as a brawler among the ranks. In the past my foul temper cost me many a promotion, but in Herod’s service, my brutality is rewarded handsomely.

I moved through the ranks of the kings secret service, until about a year ago I was placed at the head of his primary unit. Ovidius gives us the dirty jobs, where silence is required and conscience forbidden.

About six weeks ago some foreigners came through Jerusalem asking about a child born nearby they thought might be the king of the Jews. They started asking around at the temple, but soon ended up in King Herod’s court.

My station, when the king receives visitors in his Jerusalem palace, is behind him and slightly to his left. I’m alway armed and ready to deal with any threat to the king’s life.

Three of these strangers in there garish costumes were admitted to the throne room. There were probably twenty more in their party. By the look of them, they had been traveling for some time. They looked road worn and tired. They traveled with more than a dozen camels and other live stock as well. It made a spectacle on the streets of Jerusalem.

The spokesman for this band of travelers told a fantastic tale about following a star, and their search for this special child—this king of the Jews. They had apparently read some ancient prophecies about a Jewish deliverer coming to set His people free from oppression.

At the words “king of the Jews” I saw Herod twitch. I knew even without seeing his face that he was formulating a plan.

These visitors asked the king if he had heard of such a child.

Herod sent a runner and summoned the temple scribes. The scribes spent their days in the ancient writings. They transcribed them letter for letter and them proofed them repetedly to ensure their accuracy. If anyone would know the details of those Hebrew fairy tales it would be those scroll lovers.

As soon as the spokesman for the Babylonian star-gazer posed his question, the scribes huddled together and started muttering about this scripture and that. One turned to the runner and instructed him to bring back a few volumes from the archives.

In short order they were pouring over the writings four or five of the old prophets from centuries gone by. They spread these scrolls over the kings tables and pour through passage after passage.

After most of the afternoon had passed they seemed to come to a consensus. The chief scribe looked up and announced, “Bethlehem.” The one to his left read:

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”

When Herod heard this he said,

“That’s it, Bethlehem. I must go and worship this king too.” Turning to me he continued, “When these men have found their king, bring them back to me. We’ll see to it that all Jerusalem worships this young Messiah.”

He had no intention of worshiping a child. He had no intention of giving up his throne to anyone. I heard his voice slide into the tone he used so his words would lull the listener into trust as he prepared his betrayal. These wisemen were about to learn a lesson they would not forget. We would let them find this baby king and then kill the lot of them, and that was just fine with me. I had no use for these outsiders.

That was ten days ago, and they never returned. The next thing I knew the king called me into this private chamber.

“Why didn’t you have them followed?” Herod’s tone was threatening. “We’ve lost them, and the baby king lives on.”

I knew the look in his eye, and the tone of his voice. He was about to kill, and for the first time, I thought it might be me. “How are you going to fix this? How will you find this king? I want the body of this child in my chamber tonight.”

“How can I know who this king is? If I brought you the body of every boy in Bethlehem you still couldn’t be sure you killed the right boy!”

“Perfect—do it—do it today!” he screamed.

“Do what?” I asked, but I was afraid I knew.

“Kill them all! How long did they say they were following that star? Was it two years? Kill every boy, two and under, in Bethlehem—in the whole county. Take whomever you need. I want it done today. If you miss one of them it will be your head.”

I can’t even tell you how much threatening it took to get my men to carry out this atrocity. Many men deserted, and a I had to kill two of them just to get the others to follow my orders. I took three units, and we surrounded the area. We blocked every road leading in or out of the region. Then we invaded, house by house. No explanations were giving—no reason for our presence. In every house where we found a male child we left a weeping mother. These Jews believe in big families. Hardly a home was without one sacrifice to the kings wrath, and in many there were two and even three. Soon the sound of the wailing filled the streets as the blood ran and the horror spread.

While we did it, while we—I killed these untainted little ones, I felt like I was not in my own body. I couldn’t kill like this. I wouldn’t do it. My own code would never allow for such action. And yet, here I was, not only doing it, but demanding that my men carry out this horrific campaign against a peaceable nations children.

I can no longer sleep. My hands are covered in the blood of hundreds of innocents . When I reported to Herod what we had done, he actually chuckled. That was when I realized he had turned me into a monster. I can’t live with this any longer. I must find a way to get away from this guilt—this shame.

~~~

To read the original story, see Matthew 2:13-18 and Micah 5:2.

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If you appreciate these first person accounts from the gospels, you can find forty more in my book Encounters With Jesus. There are a few others in the Encounters tab as well.

I pray you have a great advent season and that you allow the light that Herod tried to extinguish to shine in and through your life.

cropped-BenHeadshot.jpgBlessing,

Keep shining.

Ben

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Kingdom of HeavenOur king, Jesus lived under protection of special forces—God’s own secret service—from His earliest days.

Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him." - Matthew 2:13 NASB

Isn’t it remarkable that Jesus—God incarnate—Creator of all things, stooped so low as to put himself into the hands of a carpenter and his bride-to-be? Jesus was a flesh and blood toddler and vulnerable to any of the dangers we might face. So His Father sent a royal guard to watch over Him. His angelic watchers would get a heads up from heaven that there was trouble brewing, and give the intel to Joseph. He would then pack up hearth and home and head out-of-town.

What follows Jesus’ exodus to Egypt was one of the most gruesome acts of terrorism in the history of humanity, Herod’s boy-hunt. It’s horrific.

Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:

"A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.” - Matthew 2:16-18

History is full of men who killed and slaughtered innocents for their own gain. But this story makes me so sad. While these magi—these wisemen—walk away from their lives, and follow a star to honor this king, Herod, who had been raised as a Jew, was willing to kill his own nation's future to preserve his own power base. It would be decades before a child king would be any threat to him or to his throne. Still he slaughtered all the male children in this suburb of Jerusalem.

Horrible.

But when it was all over, Jesus’ secret service got the ‘all clear’ from headquarters, and passed the word to Joseph.

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, "Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child's life are dead." - Matthew 2:19-20

cropped-BenHeadshot.jpgThanks for stopping by.

Keep the light on.

Ben

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Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel? - Acts 1:6 NASB

Three years have come and gone. Jesus taught the boys to carry the kingdom of God wherever they went. He sent them out to do wonders—healing the sick—setting the demon possessed free—even showed them how to raise the dead.

After He fed the 5,000 they wanted to make Him their king.

He made His triumphant march into Jerusalem, and everyone watching thought that was the day—friend and enemy alike—that He would take the throne.

Then all hell broke loose. Less than a week later He was in a tomb. It was unthinkable.

But we all know, that was last week. We saw Him rise from the dead. He’s Alive. He is risen!

And with the risen Christ comes the old question—Now Lord?

Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?

Months, perhaps years, earlier when everyone was figuring out that He might just be the Messiah, Jesus told His disciples to beware the leaven of Herod.

This desire to have Jesus take up political power is a corruption of His anointing.

When they asked Him this question on the day of His ascension, He refocused them on what they needed to do. His call to them was not to bring morality to the nations, but to be His witnesses.

He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." - Acts 1:7-8 NASB

Today, many American Christians want to put Jesus on a political throne. We—like Herod—dress Him in a purple robe and ask Him to legislate—to be King of America. We consider ourselves a Christian Nation and recast Jesus as a pundit with a political agenda.

It’s the leaven of Herod, and it just won’t do. The problem with leaven—yeast—it impacts everything it get’s into. Jesus told us to BEWARE.

I understand and agree that Jesus must impact every area of our lives. He will impact how we vote, how we behave as a society.

I long for the day when the Christians in the US—and around the globe—are known primarily for the way they love—the way things are just better when their around.

Jesus made the political rulers and religious rulers crazy, not by usurping their power, but doing—DOING—what they should have done.

He didn’t gripe about policy’s that fed the hungry, He fed the hungry.

He didn’t complain protest the laws that prohibited Him from healing on the Sabbath, He made men and women whole.

He didn’t moan about high taxes, He simply preached to rich and poor alike, a message of aggressive generosity.

Hey, I know He got on the Pharisees case in Matthew 23. My point is simply that He didn’t let Himself get all caught up in political arguments, He just did the good that was needed.

Ben NelsonLet’s go do it too!

Shine!

Ben

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My favorite preacher these days, Bill Johnson[i], teaches about the 3 leavens that Jesus talks about. It is a wonderful message. It is truly instructive about 3 spheres that can permeate our hearts and souls.

These 3 leavens are

  • The Leaven of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6, Mark 8:15 and Luke 12:1)
  • The Leaven of Herod (Mark 8:15)
  • The Leaven of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:3 and Luke 13:21)

Each of these ‘leavens,’ starts as a thought or attitude, but like leaven, in short order it becomes a worldview, a paradigm by which we see and judge everything around us.

Jesus told the disciples

Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. (Luke 12:1 NASB)

He is talking here about a religious spirit. This person takes on a pious and condescending air. As Jesus says they are marked most predominantly by hypocrisy. They talk the talk, but do not walk the walk. They pick at the sins of others and do not deal with their own sin. These are those with plank in eye disease.

Jesus also speaks of another leaven

Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. (Mark 8:15 NASB)

In Herod we see a Political spirit. This is a heart that is always vying for position and holding on tight to worldly style authority. This is the kind of authority that lords it over those in subjection. Someone pretending to be a Christian yet leavened by this heart attitude might try to legislate his or her religious views.

Frankly these are both prevalent today and both destructive. If the truth be known, most who do not know Christ, thinking about Christian, think about one of these two groups. They are not thinking about people permeated by the forgiveness of a Savior who looked past  REMOVED all their sin and redeemed them to the uttermost.

They think of a political rant about school prayer, or the homosexual agenda.

They think of a hateful banner waved in front of an abortion clinic or gay pride parade.

They don’t think of a family willing to give a home to a child who was the product of rape, or a date gone bad whose only judgment is to judge the baby worthy of a home and the woman worthy of love.

They don’t think of a friend willing to bring them into their home and help them to deal with the guilt and shame that has always been attached to their way of life, and help them find a way out.

Folks, it is time for us to put down our prejudices and love those who are bound and trapped in sin. [Tweet This]

It is time for us to stop holding trespasses against people when God has dropped the charges and paid the fines.

Let the leaven of the gospel of Jesus Christ Who loved you and gave Himself for you infiltrate your entire being.

BenThanks for coming by today.

Ben

photo credit: jazzijava via photopin cc


[i] This is not meant to be a summary of Bill Johnson’s sermon, rather musings on the 3 leavens he points out. I highly recommend this sermon. You can get a copy at iBethel.org.