Journal

Liturgical Seasons

SOUNDINGS: “Epiphany: A Power Crazed Megalomaniac vs. Jesus”


*During this season of Epiphanytide, we are going to spend some time looking at the story of the Magi – specifically, highlighting the main characters: Jesus, Herod, & the Wise Men. They all have a lot to say to us today about power, status, politics, and the Christian life.  See our previous post which helps us understand the Epiphany season and how revelation always prompts reprisal.

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem.”
Matthew 2.1

We meet all three of our main characters in this first verse, and we’ll take them in the order they appear.

Character #1:  Jesus

Even though Herod gets most of the ink in this passage, of course it’s ultimately about Jesus.  How to describe him?  I’ll just let the Bible do it, here are some of his names lifted from Scripture:

He is Jesus of Nazareth.
He is the Christ, he is the Messiah.
He is the Son of Man and the Son of God.
He is the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah.
He is the Bread of Life and the Light of the World.
He is the New Adam and the Second Moses.
He is the King of the Jews and the Head of the Church.
He is the Lord of Glory and the Prince of Peace.
He is the Conqueror of Death and the Prince of the Life.
He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
He is the Word Made Flesh and the Captain of Salvation.
He is our Rock, he is our Redeemer, he is our Savior.
He is the Beloved, he is our Beloved.
He is… Jesus.

This, from St. Paul in Colossians 1.15-20: 

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”  

Amen, and praise him.

Paul often refers to the “mystery of Christ.”  It’s not that Jesus is mysterious, rather a mystery in New Testament language is something that has been hidden but can now be known because it has been revealed and made known.  

Epiphany.

And what was hidden but can now be known is that Jesus Christ is God—God come to earth in human flesh and as a baby.  He’s the first character to emerge in the story that begins in Matthew 2.1.  He is the protagonist, but there is an antagonist.  Jesus is the hero under threat, hunted by a villain:  “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king…” (v1)

Character #2: Herod

With that phrase, ‘in the days of Herod the king,” the story begins with a chill.  At the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod was almost to the end of his 40-year reign.  Herod was a violent, power-hungry, megalomaniac who would stop at nothing to preserve his position and memorialize his own name for posterity.  He eliminated anyone who he perceived as a threat, intent on preserving his power at any cost.  This led him to put to death one of his seven wives, his grandfather, his brother-in-law, and three of his own children.  And that’s just family.  

He regularly killed political rivals, once putting to death 300 military leaders and a number of Pharisees.  You can imagine he was not popular amongst observant Jews, who doubted his fidelity to the Jewish religion even though he claimed to be a Jew.  Herod created massive building projects across Judea for the sake of his own name, including literally creating a mountain on which to build his palace/fortress called “the Herodian.”  According to scholars, even the Second Temple in Jerusalem, called “Herod’s Temple,” was built so that Herod would  “have a capital city worthy of his dignity and grandeur.” When he is visited by the Magi seeking the new King of the Jews, it becomes crystal clear that Herod valued power over truth, with bloody consequences.

These wise men from the East arrive in Jerusalem seeking the new King of the Jews saying in v2, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?  For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  Verse 3, “This troubled Herod, and all of Jerusalem with him.”  So he gathers the chief priests and the scribes, and asks, and this is important, “Where is the Christ to be born?” (v4)

Notice, he didn’t ask where the King– a political term– would be born, but rather, “the Christ… the Messiah”– a religious term, referencing the fulfillment of 2000 years of prophecy that represented true hope for the Jewish people, if you truly were a Jew.  This is stunning.

Herod, an old man by now, is about to try to kill all of the realizations of his country’s dreams just so he can stay in power for a couple more years. Talk about selfish, short-sighted, and small.  It’d be simply sad if it weren’t so tragic.  The chief priests and scribes tell him “Bethlehem,” in fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy uttered centuries earlier.

Now pay special attention to verse 7.  If the people, the regular God-fearing Jews, got word that the Messiah had been born and could figure out when and when, Herod would have a problem, for even he couldn’t put down that revolution.  “So Herod summoned the wise men SECRETLY” and figured out from them when the star had appeared to them, so he could do the math.  Notice, he doesn’t send his leading religious scholars and leaders to find out whether or not the Messiah has been born, but rather the foreigners, telling them SECRETLY, “Find him, come back and tell me.  Why?  So that I too can come and worship him.” (v8)

 Again chilling.

Herod is using the guise of religious motivation as a front for his own preservation of power.  And in verse 9 we read that the wise men listened to Herod.  They set off in pursuit of the star, and they found the baby.


Next Saturday, we conclude our journey into the Epiphany story as we turn our gaze to the three wise men and how their responses to Jesus might inspire our own.

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