2016 Lenten Midweek Sermon
When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9 So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. – Luke 23:6-12
“Ironies of the Passion” is our theme for the midweek services in Lent this year. “Irony can best be defined as that middle ground between what is said and what is meant, or others’ understanding of what was said and what was meant.” This Lenten series examines a number of ironic situations recorded in the Gospels relative to Jesus’ Passion leading up to his death. Tonight the irony we will examine is that of King Herod Antipas, whom Luke says was “wanting to see Jesus.” The reason we assume that the King of Israel would want to see Jesus is not at all Herod’s reason.
The scene is the examination or Jesus before the Roman governor of Jerusalem and Judea, Pontius Pilate. The Jerusalem temple leadership had captured Jesus and demanded a hearing before the Roman Governor, accusing him of blasphemy and of conspiracy against the Empire. But when Pilate learned that Jesus was from the northern district of Galilee, outside of his jurisdiction, he ordered Jesus sent to King Herod who ruled that district. Pilate, who is remembered for his fondness of hand-washing, was in a sense trying to wash his hands of the sticky case of Jesus, deferring instead to the judgment of Herod. So Jesus was sent off to stand before Herod.
This King Herod was Herod Antipas (Antipater), one of the sons of Herod the Great. Herod the Great was the King at the time of Jesus’ birth. It was that Herod the Great who conferred with the Magi who came seeking the new born King of the Jews, and who ordered the murder of the male babies of the region, hoping to get rid of the newborn king Jesus. Herod the Great was nothing more than a puppet monarch under the powerful empire of Rome, and when he died Rome appointed his sons as co-rulers of the land of Israel. The Herod in our story, Herod Antipas, was one of those sons, awarded the district of Galilee and Perea (east of the Jordan) to rule as his kingdom.
Herod Antipas was no better than his bloodthirsty father, Herod the Great. This Herod Antipas of tonight’s story conspired against his brother Herod Archelaus who ruled the southern district of Judea, so that Archelaus was deposed and Rome appointed instead a Roman governor in his place. Herod Antipas of our story tonight conspired against his other brother, Phillip, convincing Phillip’s wife to leave him and come over to be his wife.
John the Baptist preached against that shocking display of perversion and adultery going on in Herod’s palace, for which Herod had John imprisoned, and, eventually, beheaded. And then after John had been murdered, Herod heard about Jesus, his powerful preaching and his astonishing miracles, and he became convinced that Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead.
So in our story tonight, this wicked Herod Antipas had long wanted to meet this famous Jesus. Now, at first glance we might think, or hope, that this wicked Herod wanted to see Jesus because he was sorry for all he had done, and he wanted to repent of his perverted adultery, and that he was consumed by guilt for beheading John the Baptist. But that is not the case, and thus we find the irony. Herod wanted to see Jesus “because he hoped to see some kind of miracle. No doubt Herod had heard reports of the amazing miracles Jesus had performed all through Israel. Perhaps Herod hoped he could see Jesus walk on water, or turn water into wine, or heal a cripple, or cleanse a leper.
Herod wanted to see Jesus only to be entertained, or to have his curiosity satisfied. Sadly, he was not interested in what Jesus had to say. He did not want to hear about sin or repentance or forgiveness. Standing in front of Herod that moment was the very Savior who could forgive his sins and restore him to God. But Herod wasn’t interested in that. He was interested only in seeing a show, a display, a few miracles by this famous Jesus.
Building on the irony of that moment, Luke tells us that Herod was in Jerusalem for the annual Passover festival of the Jewish nation. There before him was the ultimate, final Passover Lamb of God who had come to take away the sin of the world. But Herod wasn’t interested in that. He came to Jerusalem for the sake of politics, perception, and courting public opinion. He was willing to put on a show of piety, of religiosity, of joining the people in the greatest festival of Judaism. But it was a hollow shell. Inwardly he was spiritually dead, completely lacking in faithful adherence to God’s Word. So salvation passed Herod by, just as Jesus passed him by when he sent him back to pilate.
Herod’s irony is still with us today. How many people are willing to put on a display of piety and religiosity, to assemble in some church or cathedral, not to pay serious attention to God’s Word, but to be entertained. Have you ever been tempted to bypass this little church, which many outside would describe as drab, dull, and boring, and join the crowds that pack some large, glorious, popular place described as exciting, inspiring, fun, enjoyable, and entertaining? Churches like that are not hard to find, including some Lutheran churches. The prime objective in such churches is to make church fun, entertaining, enjoyable, thrilling, and uplifting by their own definition. And sometimes we wonder how we can compete with that? Folks come away from those entertaining churches saying, “it was so much fun… it was exciting… the teenagers really like it. And they bear the name ‘Lutheran,’ so it must be OK, right?”
But standing before Herod that day was a beaten, bloodied, suffering Jesus destined for the cross. There was nothing fun, or exhilarating, or entertaining about that Jesus in Herod’s eyes. He was dull, drab, and depressing. He had wanted to see an entertaining Jesus who did amazing miracles. When Jesus did not satisfy his expectations, he sent him back to Pilate to be crucified.
Standing before us in Lent is that same beaten, bloodied, suffering Jesus headed for the cross. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we preach Christ Crucified! That Christ is not as the world sees it fun, or entertaining, or exciting, or inspiring. Our world still prefers a Jesus who avoids the topic of suffering and engages instead in exciting miracles, or at least in the hope and promise of miracles… of an “empowered” life, of blessings and prosperity for you in your life. In all those churches focused on entertaining their attendees, where is that crucified Christ? When is that bloodied, bruised, beaten, sorrowful Christ ever presented as the heart and core of what Christian teaching and preaching should be all about?
In Herod we see our own fallen nature and what we would be were it not for the grace of God. In Herod we see what we must fight against with God’s help! We are not redeemed by the exciting, entertaining, amazing miracles of Jesus— walking on water, turning water into wine, healing the sick, casting out evil spirits. We are redeemed by the beaten, bruised, bloodied, suffering Son of God who died on the cross for us. That Christ is not entertaining in the worldly sense, but he is inspiring, empowering, paying for our sins on the cross, and rising again to prove our justification.
Herod wanted to see Jesus…. For all the wrong reasons. Do you want to see Jesus? The real Jesus? You will not find him in the fun, entertainment, bright lights, popular sounds of the entertainment churches. You will see him only where the “Crucified Christ” remains the message and the focus. Amen.