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The first Grinch wasn’t the one Dr. Seuss created. The first Grinch that tried to destroy Christmas was Herod the Great. This is the The King that Missed Christmas. The fictional Grinch stood on a mountain overlooking the small village of Whoville where Christmas still happened no matter what he did. There really was a king who stood on his own mountain over the original Christmas village. Just like the Grinch, the king missed Christmas despite his best effort to kill it. Let me give you some background on Herod and of the times in which he lived. When Jesus was born Herod had reigned thirty-four years. He was called Herod the Great because he had distinguished himself in the wars with Antigonus and other enemies, and because he had demonstrated great talents, as well as great cruelties and crimes, in governing and defending his country; in repairing the temple; and in building the cities of his kingdom. Herod built a palace three miles from Bethlehem known as the Herodium. It was huge. It was built to house 1,000 soldiers and the royal family for a full year. It had huge storage bins for food and plenty of fresh water brought in by aqueducts from Jerusalem 8 miles away. There was a giant swimming pool, twice as big as an Olympic-sized pool that had gardens around and in the middle of it. It had beautiful artwork, mosaic floors, steam baths, and cold baths. The palace bedrooms were open to the breezes coming from the Mediterranean; as close as you can come to air conditioning. You can still see the ruins of the Herodium from Bethlehem of Judea. At this time Augustus was emperor of Rome. The world was at peace. All the known nations of the earth were united under the Roman emperor. What a perfect time to introduce the gospel.
Matthew gives us some insight into Herod’s Christmas. I hope you have you Bible and will read Matthew 2:1-23.
Verse 1 tells us that magi came from the east, probably Persia or Arabia. These magi were not sorcerers or diviners, they were wise men in medicine, astronomy, and philosophy and they had access to the king. They were smart enough to recognize the sign and to seek out Who had come. They asked Herod, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” They’ve been anticipating His birth for some time. Dan. 9:25 says, “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.” This expectation of a Messiah was well known. Jews were living in Rome, Egypt, and Greece and wherever they were, they had the Scriptures that told them of the coming Messiah. They would have told others about His coming as well. Josephus and Philo both record the anticipation of the people that a person was coming. The magi saw His star. The magi wanted to worship the King of the Jews, but Herod was troubled. Herod grew his kingdom by cruelty. He committed great crimes and shed a lot of blood. He knew of the coming Messiah just like everyone else and he feared his reign would come to an end.
So what did Herod do? Look at v. 4. Herod gathered all the learned men he could. The lawyers, the priests, the religious men of the day who knew the Scriptures, who knew of the prophecies, who knew of the coming Messiah. Herod, “Inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.” Herod knew Jesus was coming, but he wanted a location. They knew where Messiah would be born and responded without hesitation in vs. 5–6 quoting the prophecy of Micah 5:2. “Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.” (Matt. 2:7) He asked the magi secretly. He wanted to know how old the Messiah would be at that time. He sent them to Bethlehem. This tells you that Herod believed the prophecy, believed that Messiah was born, and was born in Bethlehem. Herod instructs them, “When you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” (Matt. 2:8) It all sounds so good and right.
Let me leave Herod’s problem there and tell you about some other people that weren’t so great.
Luke 2 is probably the most read Scripture during this time of year and I want to talk about the shepherds. Take a look at Luke 2:8-15. Linus read this passage in. “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” When the shepherds heard that Messiah was born, they immediately went to the manger. The shepherds worshipped the child. They left the child radically changed. When you have a real encounter with Jesus, you can’t stay the same. What a contrast; Herod and the shepherds. Herod had more power and more money than anyone around. The shepherds spent their time watching over the flocks at night; Herod spent his time lounging around in the Herodium or one of his other three palaces. Herod lived in luxury; they lived in the fields. Herod feasted on a bounty of food; the shepherds lived day to day. Herod had a council of smart guys that told him Messiah was born; the shepherds were frightened when the Angel of the Lord appeared to them. It wasn’t Herod who was excited about the news; it was the shepherds. For most people, Christmas is defined by what you get. We are consumed with parties, get togethers, shopping, traveling, go, go, go. There is precious little time to sit back and remember the Christ child.
(This is where the podcast picks up)
Many people think they know the Christmas story. They’ve watched, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol,” all of the “Santa Claus” movies, and even “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” In all there are 309 Christmas themed movies and TV specials – none of which include the Christ child. In research conducted last year by Lifeway, nearly 70% of people said that many of the things they enjoy during the Christmas season have nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Few people know the Christ of Christmas. It can happen to us. Committed believers who get so wrapped up in the season that we forget the reason.
The only way to find Christmas is to find the Christ child. Of all the gifts that you can give this Christmas, give the only gift that make an eternal difference. According to November research, Americans will spend about $700 this year on Christmas for every man, woman, boy, and girl in America. That equates to $218,878,322,600. Now that’s a hard number to visualize so let me help you. In America, we’re spending $5,066,627 spent – per minute from Black Friday to Christmas day. Somewhere we got the idea that if we spend a lot of money, we must really be celebrating Christmas and be filled with Christmas spirit. Herod missed Christmas. The shepherds found it. Set aside the time this year to find Christmas. The shepherds worked around the clock, but they found Christmas. God went to considerable effort to make sure Herod got the word of His arrival on earth. Wise men told him. Herod’s advisors told him where the Lord was born. Even with all the guidance necessary to find Christmas, Herod missed it. The king missed Christmas. He had no faith, no trust, no need for a Savior. He was immersed in his own greatness.
If you visit the Herodium today, you’ll find it in ruins. Everything Herod ever owned lies in the broken ruins and dust of the Middle East. What was once a place of extreme opulence is now just a rock-covered hill. It was once covered with fresh, cool water, a jungle of plants, right in the middle of the Judean wilderness. Occasionally a new discovery is made about the man history calls “Herod the Great.” To put Herod’s greatness in perspective, there are no hospitals built in Herod’s name. No colleges or universities. No charities that inspire people to give. If it weren’t for the Christmas story, most of us would have never heard of Herod the Great. On the other hand, there is Jesus; born in a manger to simple parents. Homeless. But in the end, Herod was dead and Jesus lived. Even after He died, Jesus rose again. Today, the world is a changed place not because of Herod “the Great,” but because Jesus lives. Don’t let the materialism of this world hide the real reason we have Christmas. Don’t miss Christmas like Herod did.