Robert Jeffress - A Portrait of Two Kings - Part 2
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Christmas is just a few weeks away but, as we celebrate the birth of our Lord, it's important to remember that not everyone received this news with joy. Today I'm going to share the other side of the Christmas story. It's a story about a misguided king who bought into the world's philosophy for success. My message is titled "A Portrait of Two Kings," on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
One of the great interesting, ironic things is Herod was more interested in the birth of Jesus than even the religious people were, and that's why he said in verse 8 to the wise men: "Oh, go find Him and come back and tell me where He is, so that I may too come and worship Him". Right, ha, ha. Look at verse 9: "And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they came into the house and they saw the Child with Mary His mother; they came and they worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold," to celebrate his deity, "and frankincense," celebrating his purity, "and myrrh".
Verse 12 says: "And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way". Think about it. Why should a powerful monarch like Herod get all riled up about the birth of a baby in Bethlehem? I mean, it makes no sense when you think about it. By the way, it really doesn't make any sense today when you think about it, that people get so angry about the Christmas message. They try to stamp out the singing of carols, the display of the nativity scene, saying "Merry Christmas". I mean, how do you explain such a response? If all of this were simply a fable, why would people even care?
The fact that there's such anger toward the message of Christ and people tried to do... to try to stamp out the Christian message today, to me, that's one of the greatest proofs of the credibility, the authenticity, of the Christmas message. The war on Christmas, you've heard me say on television, it's very real, but it's nothing new. It began 2000 years ago with Herod. Herod launched the war against Christmas, as we'll see in just a few moments. Herod's unusual response to the Coming of Christ certainly authenticates the gospel. But I want to go a little bit different direction this morning for the final minutes that we have. Herod's response also illustrates the world's philosophy of how you obtain success in life.
I want you to think about Herod for a moment and how he responded through his life and especially at the birth of Christ. And I want you to think about three phrases that I think sum up Herod's philosophy of success in life: the world's philosophy of success in life. I just jotted these down this week. Jot 'em down, would you? Philosophy number one: "Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Enemies Closer". That was King Herod. Who was this King Herod? To me, this is fascinating in history. King Herod, Herod, we call him Herod the Great, was the son of a man named Antipater. Antipater had been appointed by Julius Caesar to be the governor of all of Judea and because of the special things Antipater had done for the Roman Empire, when he died the Roman Senate voted to confirm his son Herod as the king of the Jews, the king of Judea.
Now, Herod was not a Jew himself. He was an Edomite and, for that reason, he always felt like he was an outsider. He always felt like his reign was tenuous. And so he was always trying to do things to curry favor with people in order to gain their respect and their followership. For example, by the time he came to the throne as the king of the Jews, there was another emperor named Caesar Augustus and in order to gain Caesar's favor, Herod built a beautiful portside city called Caesarea by the Sea.
Again, many of us have been there to see that spectacular display. That was built by King Herod to pay tribute to Caesar. He tried to gain favor with the citizens by building race tracks and theaters. He even tried to gain the favor of the Jewish people himself by launching a great rebuilding project of their temple, and that began in 19 BC and it was the temple that Jesus would worship in. His whole purpose in doing that is not because he really cared about these people. It was for his own glorification. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. But sometimes the Mr. Nice Guy routine didn't work, and so Herod had another philosophy that guided his life, the phrase: "Don't Get Mad," what is it? "Get Even". And that was Herod.
You see, Herod's father, Antipater, had been killed by his political enemies, so Herod knew you had to stamp out any kind of rebellion quickly. Historians tell us that one evening Herod had invited all of his political enemies to dinner and so all of his enemies arrived for dinner and they were greeted by Herod's hit men who killed them immediately. The historians tell us that night the king slept well. And yet, Herod also realized that revenge alone wouldn't do it. Sometimes, you had to be on the offense.
And that led to his third philosophy: "Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto You". Herod was always looking to stamp out his opposition. For example, he was fearful that his brother-in-law, Aristobulus, who was the high priest, was plotting an attack against him so he had him killed. And then for good measure, he had his sister killed. And then he had one of his wives killed, and then he had his mother-in-law killed. We understand the last one, but the others, I mean, they were horrendous acts. When Herod felt like his two elder sons were plotting against them, he had them executed as well. Realizing how hated he was among the Jewish people, Herod realized that when he died, the people would be rejoicing. He couldn't stand that idea.
And so he ordered his officials to round up all of the leading citizens of Jerusalem and have them imprisoned, and then he gave the instruction, "When I die, I want you to kill them immediately as well". Why? He said, "When I die, I want the residents of Jerusalem weeping, even if they're not weeping for me". That was Herod the Great. But for perhaps his most monstrous act is the one that Matthew records when, as an act of paranoia, he had all of the Hebrew children, 2 years of age and under, slaughtered in order to exterminate this Messiah that the magi had informed him about. Look at verse 16: "Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and he sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi".
We read this without realizing the horror of this. Can you imagine being a parent with an infant? In the middle of the night having your door kicked down, Roman soldiers entering, taking a spear and thrusting it through the heart of your newborn child? That was King Herod. You know, as evil as Herod is, if we're honest this morning, we have to admit there's something of the spirit of King Herod in all of us. I mean, we all have dreams and goals in life. What's our natural inclination? It's to mow down anyone who stands in the way of our dreams. We all want to get to the top and we think the way you claw your way to the top is over the bodies of other people.
We think the way to be successful is to rule over other people, to put our desires before other people. That was the spirit of Herod. But contrast Herod's formula for success with that of another kind who is found in this passage: the real King of the Jews, King Jesus. What is the philosophy that guided his life? His desire for success, which he had, by the way, his desire for significance, what were his philosophies?
Well, to answer that question, turn over to Philippians chapter 2, the passage we read just a few moments ago. Remember the church at Philippi was being torn apart by internal factions, and Paul wrote this letter in part to help solve the divisions in the church. And he gave them the formula for a smooth-running church. He said in verses 3, 4, and 5, here's the way to have smooth relationships: "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interest of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus".
What was the attitude that governed Jesus's life? Well, just like I gave you three mottos that governed Herod's life, here are three mottos that governed Jesus's life. Motto number one: "If You've Got It, You Don't Have to Flaunt It". If you've got it, you don't have to flaunt it. Do you know one way to spot a weak leader? Ha, he's always running around reminding everybody he's in charge. Any time somebody has to constantly remind people they're in charge, guess what? They're not. That wasn't Jesus. He never had to do that. Look at Philippians 2, verse 6, talking about Jesus, it says: "Although He existed in the form of God, He did not regard His equality with God a thing to be grasped, but He emptied Himself".
Don't let anybody tell you that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that that's the first time he arrived on the scene. No, that's when he came in human form. But Jesus is co-equal to God the Father. He existed from the very beginning and will exist for all eternity. Jesus is not a subservient figure to God; he is equal to God the Father. In fact, Jesus, did you know, is the one whom the Scripture says is responsible for the created universe? In Colossians 1:16-17, Paul says, "For by Him," Jesus, "all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things have been created by Jesus and for Jesus. And Jesus is before all things, and in Him all things hold together". Jesus is God. So here's the million-dollar question: Why is it that Jesus, co-equal with God, was willing to take off his heavenly robe and come to earth, to empty himself?
Well, that leads to the second motto that describes Jesus's philosophy and that is: "Others First". Others first. In Mark 10, verse 45, we find this remarkable self-testimony Jesus gave about himself. He said, "For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, to give His life as a ransom for many". You know, the fact that God was willing to come and plant all of his being in that tiny embryo in Mary's womb, the fact that he did that, has great implications for all of us. One thing, the incarnation, the Coming of God in the flesh, means is that God understands you. He's walked where you've walked before. There's no heartache, there's no trial, there's no sadness you face that Jesus himself has not experienced.
Dads here today, are you sometimes worried about how you're gonna provide for your family? Jesus understands that. He didn't have a family himself but he knows what financial hardship is about. He lived hand-to-mouth most of the time, not knowing where his next meal was coming from. Moms here today, are you tired, bone tired, from the monotonous menial task of running a household? Jesus knows about that as well. He knows what it is to work to the point of exhaustion. Teenagers, single adults, watching on day one today or here in our service, do you ever feel like an outsider? Ever feel like you're an alien, nobody understands you? Jesus has been there. He knows what it's like to be misunderstood by friends and even by family members.
There are some of you right now, this is a hard Christmas for you because you're still mourning the loss of somebody you loved very much. Jesus understands that. He understands what it is to stand over the grave of somebody you loved more than life itself. Jesus understands because he came in human form. And that's why the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 4:15-16: "For we do not have a high priest," Jesus, "who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who was tested in all points as we are, and yet without sin. Therefore let us draw confidently to the throne of grace, that we might receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need".
The fact that God became flesh means we can talk to Jesus about what's happening in our life and know we have a sympathetic High Priest. But the primary reason God took human form is the reason Paul mentions in verse 8: "And being found in the appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross".
Now I want you to listen to me and those of you watching on television. At Christmastime, a lot of times, we try to work up all this sentimentality and warm feelings over a baby born in a manger and, quite frankly, it's hard to keep working that up year after year. Because if we're honest, although it's miraculous, there's nothing unusual about babies being born. Babies are born all of the time. And that night in Bethlehem, there were many babies being born in Israel. The meaning of Christmas is not that a baby was born. That's nothing unusual. The story of Christmas begins with the manger but it has to move to the cross before you can understand the significance.
See, this baby was not any baby; he was God in the flesh. He was a baby who was born to die. And the reason he came and died on a cross was so that he could take the wrath of God, the punishment from God that you and I deserve for our sins. You see, the Bible says we've all sinned, every one of us. Popes and pastors, presidents and prostitutes, we've all sinned, and we've all fallen short of the glory of God. And the Bible says because of that, the wages, our deserved payment for sin, is eternal death.
Every one of us deserves to spend eternity in hell, separated from God. But Jesus came to take that wrath of God, to satisfy that wrath of God that we all deserve. Isaiah the prophet understood that 700 years before Jesus was born. He said this about the Messiah, Isaiah 53, verses 5 and 6: "But he," the Messiah, "was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him and by his scourging we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him," Jesus, the Messiah.
There's a third philosophy that explains the life of Christ and his philosophy for success and that is: "The Way Up Is Down". The way up is down. For all of their differences, Herod and Jesus shared this one thing in common: they both died excruciating deaths. The Jewish historian Josephus describes Herod's death. Josephus writes that Herod died of, quote, "ulcerated entrails, putrefied and maggot-filled organs, constant convulsions, foul breath, and neither physicians nor warm baths led to his recovery". That was Herod. Jesus, the Son of God, died from the most painful type of death known to man, that of crucifixion, but that's where the similarity ends. When Herod died, his body rotted in the grave and his spirit was dispatched to an eternity in hell.
When Jesus the Son of God died, on the third day God raised his body from the dead. Forty days later, he ascended into heaven, and guess what? He's coming back again. And that's what he says in verses 9 to 11: "Therefore also God has highly exalted Him, and bestowed upon Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father". Two different men, two different philosophies, two different destinies.
Now let me ask you the question this morning: Which path are you following to success and significance? Herod embraced the world's philosophy. His life ended in humiliation. Jesus embraced God's formula for success and the result for him is eternal exaltation. God says this about success: The way up is down. The way to be great is to be a servant. Have this attitude in you which was in Christ Jesus. I want you to lean back and relax for a moment, okay? I want to tell you a Christmas story. It's not original with me.
How many of you remember the late broadcaster, Paul Harvey? Paul Harvey used to tell this story almost every Christmas about a hardened old farmer who had turned his back on Christianity. One raw, raw winter night, the farmer heard an irregular thumping sound against the kitchen storm door. He went to a window and watched as tiny shivering sparrows, attracted to the evident warmth inside, beat in vain against the glass. Touched, the farmer bundled up and trudged through fresh snow to open the barn for the struggling birds. He turned on the lights, tossed some hay in a corner, and sprinkled a trail of saltine crackers to direct the birds into the barn.
But the sparrows, which had scattered in all directions when he emerged from the house, still hid in the darkness, afraid of the farmer. He tried various tactics, circling behind the birds to drive them toward the barn, tossing cracker crumbs in the air toward them, retreating to his house to see if they would flutter into the barn on their own. But nothing worked. The farmer, a huge alien creature, had terrified them. The birds could not understand that he actually desired to help them. And so he withdrew to his house and he watched the doomed sparrows through a window.
As he stared at them, a thought hit him like lightning from a clear blue sky: "If only I could become a bird, one of them for just a moment, then I wouldn't frighten them so. I could show them the way to warmth and safety". At the same moment, another thought dawned on him. He had grasped the whole meaning of Christmas. Although Jesus existed in the form of God, he did not regard his equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he emptied himself. Taking the form of a bondservant, he was made in the likeness of men and having appeared in the likeness of man, he humbled himself to become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. That's what Christmas is all about.