A king with wealth and standing, Herod, can do almost anything he wants. Still, an unfulfilled longing yearns within him—to meet Jesus. “For a long time, he wished to meet him because of what others said, hoping to catch him do some miracle.”
The tax collectors and prostitutes repent around this Jesus, and He warms their hearts with the Father’s forgiving love. The teachings from His mouth cause the crowds to hang on His every word. In His youth, as a 12-year-old boy, Jesus surprises the learned teachers of the Law with His knowledge of the Scriptures. Yes, Herod wants to spend many moments with this rabbi, hoping to catch sight of some wonder.
First, we need to identify which Herod. For the New Testament mentions more than one. About 30 years earlier, another Herod ruled, when the Christ-child rested among the animals. The Magi came to visit Him, and this other Herod murdered the baby boys in Bethlehem, trying to rid himself of a feared, potential threat.
Soon after, this murderous king dies. The Scripture for today tells us of his son, Herod Antipas. Northern Judea, a territory across the Jordan (Perea), and Galilee are his areas of rule. So, Antipas doesn’t rule in Jerusalem like his father, Pilate does.
So, Herod is in Jerusalem for the Passover, and Pilate delivers a prisoner to him, someone who grew up in Galilee, Herod’s jurisdiction. The prisoner arrives, and this king is enchanted. For months, he waited for this moment, to meet this man.
This Herod is the one who beheaded John the Baptizer. Remember, John’s preaching captivated this king, though his words also disturbed him. At a party, his new wife’s daughter, Salome, dances for him. Much did her dancing please him, for he promises her up to half of his kingdom. So, at her mother’s bidding, she asks for John’s head.
The time moves on, and another becomes well-known for His teaching, Jesus. The Baptizer captivated Herod, but the rumor tells him this Jesus is healing others and bringing the dead back to life. Why, this may be John the Baptizer, alive from the grave, he thinks (Mark 6:14-16). With this idea caught his head, he can’t wait to face this marvel of a man, back from death, to take his breath away.
Should this surprise us? The nature of the sinful beast inside us is restless and unsatisfied, wanting more. The best this world can offer now stands before Herod. Not until now did God become one of us. The glory and power of the Almighty hide within the body of this man, in shackles before an earthly king. Veiled in front of Herod’s eyes is God, soon to be dead before the day is over.
The Almighty in human flesh stands before Herod. So also is He here today. Let us catch sight of Him with faith-filled eyes. In His words of forgiveness, earlier in this service, He came. Now, He is here, entwined within the preached Word. Be content with the best miracle of all—life and salvation delivered to you, here and now! Like Herod, we may want to be with Jesus, but for the wrong reason.
All Herod needs to do is to convince Jesus to perform some sign. Oh, how exciting and engaging! Dazzled eyes, emotions stirred, and wonder-struck minds matter more than salvation.
Don’t turn into Herod, wanting something else, not what the Savior gives. Often, our hearts are cold, unmoved, to welcome Jesus when and where He promises to meet us. For if so, something else is enslaving you, keeping you from your Lord. Repent!
By their actions, both the King and Governor consider Jesus to be the criminal. Oh, how wrong they are! For He is the innocent One. Like them, we also twist reality around, making the guilty innocent and the innocent guilty. Every time we blame others for what is wrong within us, we are at fault, blaming others for our sins.
Before Jesus, a guilty ruler stands, who thinks he is the innocent one, who sends Him back to Pilate—to die. So, what does the Prisoner do? Die, He will die for Herod.
Unlike us, Jesus is sinless, so our Lord doesn’t blame others. No, as the sinless One, He chooses to take into Himself Herod’s sin and die for his salvation. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t realize what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Does our forgiving Lord do any less for you? No, for His Father declares every moment of your life as sinless because of Jesus. Now, faith doesn’t make God’s forgiveness real, but faith believes such is true, and so receives and delights in this truth for life eternal.
Only in Jesus is this life yours. The Sin-slayer let all this take place to carry our sins to the cross. For Herod, Jesus went. Now, if He paid for his sins, He paid for yours. In His Son, the Father forgives you, including your restless heart and unsatisfied mind.
Yes, “Herod continued to ask him questions, but Jesus did not answer.” In ancient days, kings kept wise men at their courts. So, this petty ruler thinks this Jesus will answer the hard questions his wise men can’t. Not so, for He doesn’t play along. On the sidelines, the Jewish leaders do their best to make sure, to stop a miracle before one happens. “Nearby, [they are] shouting their accusations against Jesus.”
The worst possibility they can imagine is this prisoner doing something miraculous and getting Herod on His side. Oh, they worry too much. Those religious leaders misunderstand the Messiah. To die is why He came, so He will not keep the cross from coming His way. For them, for us, for you, He will walk the path of death.
The man of signs and wonders refuses to astound his interrogator. So, what do spoiled children do when they don’t receive what they want? Well, they either pitch a fit or become bored. Both happen with Herod. So, he and his soldiers mock the man who refuses him his miracles, hanging a robe over his shoulders, insulting Him. Without understanding who is before him, Herod sends his prisoner back to Pilate.
Now, if Jesus decides to defend Himself in the courtroom of the Almighty, no condemnation can come His way. Such is not our Savior, for He loves us to death. So, He allows this petty king to abuse Him and deliver Him back to Pilate to die. For this is but another step toward the cross for Him and to life for us. How sad, for Herod doesn’t realize what Jesus is choosing to do, missing the Savior before him.
The Governor first sent Jesus to Herod, wanting to rid himself of a potential, political liability. After Pilate sends Jesus to him, Herod’s dream of meeting the miracle man becomes real. Now, to Herod, the meeting turns out to be a waste. So, he transfers the prisoner back to Pilate, who must still judge Him—but the short spell with Herod didn’t make Pilate any worse off with the Jews.
Earlier, the two authorities considered each other rivals, in competition for power. Now, they set aside their differences, each seeing value in the other. How strange, for they think the best to come of the day is their political rivalry dying its death.
The time with Jesus turns enemies into friends. Oh, this Jesus does, for He takes enemies of God and brings them into His family. The promised Messiah makes people with competing demands into one, bringing them into His body, the Church.
These two former enemies, now friends, experience an echo of what Christ comes to do—but miss the real point of His coming. Forgiven sins and life eternal, which makes us one, which makes us friends. The Savior of us all, calls us to gather to receive what He gives us, for He is the reason we assemble in His name. The secondary effects are the friendships, here in this place.
Don’t be like Herod and Pilate, and let social bonds become the primary reason for Jesus being in your life. Don’t come because a church is welcoming. No, be at the Church which brings you your Savior, Jesus, as He wants you to receive Him.
The friendships will follow, as Christ continues to remake us in His image. For He changes us from the inside, as He comes to us from outside ourselves in Word and Sacrament. Here, Jesus comes. Doesn’t He make the trip worth taking? Yes!
The God of human vesture stood in our place. To keep us from needing to defend ourselves on judgment day, He refused to defend Himself before Herod. In a few hours, Jesus will pay for every sin of every person, including yours.
What does this mean? In Jesus, your sins are no more, and you are one in Him. Here, is where He promises to come to you. The heart of our fellowship and the source of our love for one another stems from Him. Through His Word of forgiveness, God creates friendships anew, as we learn to forgive one another.
In our nation, we believe ourselves to be free—but a better freedom is before us. For, in the God who dies for us, we are free from the power of sin and eternal death.
So, what will we do with this freedom? In our sinful nature, on our own, we will abuse what our Savior offers us—wishing for entertainment, searching for something new, looking for fellowship in all the wrong places.
Oh, how tragic, except we are not on our own! For God calls us by the Gospel and gives us faith. The Spirit works in our lives, bringing us to seek Jesus. Unlike Herod, we want to be in His presence for the right reason—to receive His salvation! Amen.