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FEAR ITSELF: The Man of Galilee

But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.
Mark 16:6,7

“…and Peter.”
Those words kept ringing in the Galilean fisherman’s ears all night, filling him with both excitement and dread as his boat bobbed on the waters of the Sea of Tiberias. The salty scent of the sea and the cool breeze had been commonplace to him for much of his life, but after a three-year stint away from the trade, he realized that he’d missed it. The familiarity of the scenery was probably what he needed right about now.
Simon and his brother Andrew had left their fishing business to follow their teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. Oh, but he was so much more. This miracle-working rabbi had changed their lives with his message of bringing God’s kingdom to the world, and showing that it starts in the hearts of men. Simon – or ‘Peter’ as Jesus called him, the unshakeable stone – and his friends were convinced that he was sent of God and was, indeed, the son of God. Those last three years had changed their lives forever. Most especially, those three days at Passover.
Jesus was killed by the people. It was a spectacle that ruined Passover for the whole nation gathered at Jerusalem. His followers had all gone into hiding in the days that followed, afraid they would be next. And then on the third day, Jesus suddenly was not dead anymore. The grave was empty.
He was alive. Again, it filled Simon with both joy and dread.
…and Peter…
The past few days had been filled with some of the most extraordinary events. The women had seen an angel at the tomb, telling them that Jesus had risen. And, sure enough, Jesus appeared to the disciples and spoke with them. He had since been seen at different places, interacting with the people, walking with some as they travelled, coming and going as he pleased, encouraging them. These were truly exciting times to be alive.
But for Simon, as excited as he was, he needed a return to some normalcy. He had decided to go fishing when some of the others asked to come along.
“Ugh, how you folk do this is beyond me,” Thomas said from the stern. He had not been a fisherman before and had come along just to be among his friends.
“For starters, by not making comments like that,” Andrew came back.
“We’ve been here all night!
John smiled. “We’d make a fisherman of you yet. Like my Pa used to say, no fishin’, no eatin’, no sleepin’. We die here.”
Thomas blinked. “Well, looks like we really don’t have to die anymore, eh?”
James shook his head. “It was just an expression. An anachronism, really—“
“I mean, I wouldn’t have believed it myself, but I put my finger in the nail hole of His hand, man.”
“We were there,” Andrew said over his shoulder.
“We should be out there, showing Him to the world. It’s nothing short of incredible. One moment he’s dead and we think we’re goners, the next he’s right there, standing in front of us.”
John chuckled. “You’ve been going over the same thing all night.”
“I mean, I didn’t believe you guys before. It was going to be the last time I allowed myself to accept the supernatural. But then He called me by name. As if He knew.”
“He always did know,” Nathanael said. “Things men weren’t supposed to know, He knew. Like the time he first met me, he told me where I had been earlier that day …”
And on and on they kept recounting events from their times with Jesus. Words he had spoken before suddenly made more sense in hindsight.
But for Simon, memories were what he was running from. The particular memory of that night. The night he denied knowing Jesus.
He had always known himself to be courageous, strong and always ready to take risks for a worthy cause. Maybe that’s why he had stuck out here all night, to once again prove to himself that he was strong and rugged. Because that one night, in the face of something he should have stood for, he had cowered like a rat.
Jesus had known beforehand too, and warned him.
The night Jesus was arrested Simon was ready to die for him, or to even rescue him. He had even snuck around the high priest’s house during the hearings. But then he was found out.
First it was the servant-girl that recognised him as one of his disciples. Sharply, without giving it a second thought, he retorted, “No way! I’m not!”
It was just strategy, he had thought. Soon enough he would be able to get in and get Jesus out of there.
Then as he warmed himself by the fire, someone asked again. “I am not one His disciples!”
But his accent gave him away. And then he found himself believing what he was trying to say. For that moment, swearing and cursing, he yelled, “I have no idea who you’re talking about! I don’t know this Jesus! I have nothing to do with Him!”
And the cock crowed, just as Jesus had said.
He was Peter, the unshakeable stone, the courageous disciple. The one who had always been with Jesus. The one who had seen Moses and Elijah appear to speak with Jesus. The one they all looked to. But when it really mattered, all of that was gone. For the first time, he saw the weakling that he was. That he had always been. He felt nothing like a Peter anymore. Beneath the unshakeable stone that Jesus had thought he was, he was simply Simon, son of Jonah.
But now Jesus was alive.
The angel had told the women, “Go tell His disciples, and Peter…” Jesus had not rejected him despite his denial. He should feel loved, grateful, thankful … but it made Simon feel small. Weak. Helpless. He did not deserve this.
Jesus had appeared to them, but He’d not mentioned the denials. Would He ever?
Simon turned to his friends and caught John’s stare. The younger man had been there that night, but he had not mentioned that bit to the others. No one knew of his denial of Jesus. They would never believe it.
Just as they never would have believed Judas would betray the Master.
“Got new orders for us, Captain?” John asked.
Simon was about to respond when a voice called from the beach. “Shalom aleichem, young men! Got any fish?”
“This would be embarrassing,” Thomas muttered.
“Not yet!” James called. “But we will! Shalom!”
“Way to keep the faith…”
“How ‘bout you cast your nets to the right of your vessel?”
“Just as well. The spectator thinks he knows how to fish better than us —“
“THOMAS!” they all turned to him, weary of his sarcastic banter.
“What?!”
Simon grunted, pulling up the nets. “We might as well. Don’t make no difference, anywhichways.”
“You know what this reminds me of?” Andrew piped.
“Don’t,” Simon said under his breath.
“We all know this story,” John added. “When you first met Jesus!”
“Don’t need to recount it,” Simon said.
“What’s your deal?” Andrew said. “Why are you so down when we’re all… whoa, didn’t expect that.” He pulled harder at the net. “Guys, are you seeing this?”
Simon was feeling it more than seeing it. The nets were suddenly getting tauter by the second. And heavier. It could be anything … but he knew it couldn’t be just anything except…
“Ah!” Thomas yelped as a fish splashed on his face and down on the deck, to the amusement of the others. And more fish came up. The net was tipping the boat on its side as it filled with more fishes, piling and squirming in.
“Is this really happening?”
“Good Golan Heights, put your backs into it!” Simon yelled. “We’ve hit the mother lode, boys.”
“Oi, again with the anachronisms,” James muttered between pants.
Simon felt a nudge. It was John, looking back to shore. “Isn’t this the kind of thing He’d do?”
Simon followed his gaze. The stranger on the beach was still standing there, a smile barely visible from this distance. Barely familiar, if Simon allowed himself to go that far.
John turned to him. “It’s Him! It’s the Master!”
Simon knew. Like in a dream, he realised he had really always known. He knew with all his heart that—
“Whoa! Hold on!”
But Simon had already grabbed his coat and leaped into the sea. He came up for air. “I’m OK! Tie the nets to the stern and drag it to shore.” And with that he swam, hurrying towards shore. Hurrying towards Jesus.
The Master stood on the shore, grinning. A fire of coals lay by his feet, and sure enough fish was roasting on it. He had bread in his hands. Wait, if He already had fish why was He asking for fish? And He still grinned, a twinkle in His eye.
“Master…” Simon ran into His embrace, still wet and cold.
“It’s about time, My friend.”
The others arrived by the boat, the net dragging behind them. If sight were any judge Peter guessed there were over a hundred fish caught. If he were still in the business this would have been a windfall. Amazingly, the net had not broken. But the Master was here. The disciples hurried over to him.
“You guys have been at sea all night,” He rubbed his palms. “Join me. Let’s have breakfast.”
It was just like old times. After they had laid out the fish to dry they sat with the Master as they caught up on everything that had been going on. Nothing else felt wrong in the world when they were with the Master, even though they could not keep their eyes off the holes in His hands no matter how hard they tried. Even Simon’s fears seemed to hang somewhere in the back of his mind now.
When they were done, Jesus turned to him. “Simon bar Jonah. Do you love me more than these?”
“Without question, Master.” He felt the gazes of the others bore into him. He felt John’s the one who had been there that night. He had once felt like the Master’s most loyal follower. Not anymore. But he wanted Jesus to know that he did love him. “You know that I love you, Master.”
Jesus nodded. “My lambs, I want you to feed them. Feed my lambs.”
So Jesus still trusted him with responsibility, just like always.
But He wasn’t done. “Simon bar Jonah. Do you love me?”
He had not put the comparison with the others this time. Simon’s response was less confident. “Yes, Master. You know that I do. Love you.” He gulped. “You know that I love you, Master.”
Jesus nodded. “Feed my sheep.” He sidled closer. “Simon bar Jonah. Do you love me?”
It was the third time.
Just like the three times he denied Jesus.
He knows! And He’s telling me that He does.
“Lord, you know all things. You know that I really do love you.”
I am sorry, Lord.

“Feed my sheep.”
Peter blinked. Really? Despite all that You know? You trust me to feed your people?
Jesus looked up at the others, bringing them into the conversation. “You see, when you were younger, you could dress up and go and do whatever it is you wanted to. When you get older, others will help you get there. You will be too frail to.” He looked into their eyes. “Sometimes your spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He had said the same in the garden, before his crucifixion. Simon remembered this well, because Jesus had said it to him.
“This is the death that would glorify God. The more you grow in My grace, the more you will see My strength aiding you, empowering you in all you need to do. Your dependence on Me, not by your strength. Not the strength you think you have, but the one I give. The arm of flesh will fail.” He turned to Simon. “It always does. This is the death that glorifies God. The death of self, so that My life may flow through you. Without me, you really can do nothing.”
He placed His hand on his shoulder. “Follow me.”
There was something about knowing that Jesus knew every detail of him – his strengths and flaws – and still accepting him that assured Peter that he was in the right place. In the day of adversity, his strength had failed. But this strength that Jesus was promising, this Holy Spirit that He had been promising to send from the Father would help him to be and do all that he needs to. To stand in the face of adversity, to walk in His Master’s footsteps.
To follow Jesus.
And, yes, now he felt like an unshakeable stone. Unshakeable, because he would be held not by his own power, but by the power of God.
Yes, he knew he really was Peter.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Peter in a letter to the exiles of the dispersion, circa A.D. 65-68 over 30 years after the Resurrection

(1 Peter 1:3-5)

—–

To every one of us, our courage can only carry us so far.
And when our strength fails, it makes us feel less than we thought we were. It makes us doubt our strength.
But God sees that. He does not berate us for acting or being weaker than we ought. No, He comes to our very level to show us His strength and enablement, and by His love brings us to His level. As we grow to trust Him more, our confidence in Him is restored, and we grow in Him. Soon we realise that what made us afraid really is nothing in the face of the Lord who is alive in us.
Like David said, “…when my heart is overwhelmed, ‘Lead me to the rock that is higher than I!’ ” (Psalm 61:2)
God’s perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). His love toward us makes us realise then that He does not come to judge us for our fear. He comes to calm our hearts so we can see Him bigger than our fears, and we can trust in His strength.
And that’s what He delights in. Like a Father, He embraces us and sings in our ears, surrounding us with songs of His deliverance (Psalm 32:7). Telling our hearts of His power to save and deliver. This is how He casts out our fear. Through His words to us.
Therefore, we cannot afford to be distant from God’s Word. It is how He speaks to us, through what He has said as it is written. The Holy Spirit is alive and at work in us to give us understanding and to guide us.

This is the ultimate victory over fear, God’s love for us. He showed this completely in redemption, coming as Man to die and rise for our sake, to make us free from the bonds of sin and death.

Our awareness and acceptance of His love toward us is what frees us from fear.

Everything that could ever defeat you has been defeated by Jesus’ death on the cross. Through His victory over death, He has taken away its sting over you. You need not fear death, or anything else. We are more than conquerors ‘…through Him that loved us!’ (Romans 8:37)
I consistently remind myself of the fact that if God loves me that much, He would not let evil befall me. It is not His nature or desire to. So even if there is an appearance of evil looming, like the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil “For Thou art with me.” (Psalm 23:4)
Your victory over fear is not in your confidence in yourself. Rather, it is in your confidence in God’s love for you and His power at work in you. The more you give yourself to His Word, the more your heart receives His songs of deliverance, and the more your mindset is transformed to see your fears as the shadows they simply are in the face of the One Who is in you. Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.
So even if you’ve ever given in to fear, it’s OK. All Jesus asks of you, from wherever you are in your faith walk or lack thereof, is what Jesus has asked of us all. Just as He said to Peter. It’s His Way, the only Way that gives you Life, and Love.
“Follow Me.”

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FEAR ITSELF: The Man of Arimathaea

After this, Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus…’

John 19:38

“Prefect of Galilee. Procurator of Judea. It’s a promotion, they said. It will be a breeze, they said. Well, you know what I say? These Jews are impossible! Every month another uprising. But today, today was the worst!” Pontius Pilate trudged down the steps with his servant barely keeping up.
“It’s not the whole council that’s in the court, sire. Just one of them.”
“What more do they want? To get archers to impale the Nazarene while he’s on the cross too? What, a crucifixion’s not enough? Gods, I’m not shouting all of this, am I? Hope he doesn’t get that idea from me. Sounds don’t carry to the court from this stairwell, do they, Gaius?”
“Not that I know of, sire.”
Pilate grunted. “You were never a good liar, Gaius.”
Soldiers stood at attention as Pilate walked into the courtyard. The Jewish council member turned to gaze at him with forlorn eyes, nodding in greeting. “Most excellent Procurator—“
“Yes, yes, we haven’t got all day.”
“I am Joseph, sir. Of Arimathaea. Member of the Sanhedrin.”
“You lot have interrupted my peace twice today over that man. This had better be quick. You’re here to request for the Nazarene’s body.”
“Yes I am, sir.”
“Tell me this, Jacob, tell me this—“
“Joseph.”
“— you Jews are becoming more Roman with your bloodlust. Never more so than this morning. ‘Crucify him,’ the crowd chanted. ‘Crucify him!’ I understand that you hated the man, but what more do you want with his body?”
Joseph had the carriage of a man familiar with the norms of standing and speaking before authority. But his shifting eyes belied his courage.
“Not all of us ‘hate’ him, sir.”
Pilate arched a brow. “You just didn’t agree with his doctrine.”
Joseph winced. “Sir, I want to give the Teacher the good burial he deserves. I own a sepulchre over by Golgotha. A stone’s throw from the crosses. Whatever the cost, I ask for his body.”
Pilate folded his arms. “This is new. Does Caiaphas and his other cronies know about this?”
Joseph nodded slowly. “They will. Eventually.”
Pilate arched his brows. “And you are ready for their vitriol?”
“Better now than never, sir.”
Pilate took a step closer to Joseph. He too had listened to the Nazarene speak. He too had had his own questions about him. Even his wife had been tormented with nightmares on his account. Something about all this did not seem right. “You were on the Council this morning. You sat there as your people called for this man’s death. But you remained silent.”
“Yes, I did. Because I knew there was much to fear from my people. Hate is a terrible thing in the heart of man, sir, especially when he thinks he hates in the name of God.”
“The man claimed to be God, if I recall. A bold claim among your people. Said he had a kingdom not of this world.”
Joseph nodded, the forlorn gaze remaining in his eyes. “Yes. Yes he did.”
“Seemed to think he really was all that, if you can believe it.”
Joseph looked up at him. “I believe he was who he said he was.”
Pilate smirked. “And yet, he dies on a cross like any mortal.”
Joseph stared away. “Yes, he does.”
“Caiaphas wouldn’t take your words lightly. You could lose your place on the Council.”
Joseph shrugged. “I have considered all of this. I know the cost. But to be silent in the face of truth … I can do that no longer. There are worse things than death, sire. This man did not deserve what he got. My position, my standing … the Council, it is nothing in the face of what is true and right and just.”
Everyone who knows the Truth hears my voice, the Nazarene had said juat this morning.
The sound of Marcellus, the centurion, marching into the hall from outside jolted Pilate from his reverie.
Pilate nodded. “Be that as it may, you would have to wait until after he dies. This may take a couple hours, or days—“
“The Nazarene has passed, sir.” Marcellus said, his helmet in the crook of his hands as he saluted. “He’s dead.”
Pilate grunted. “Now that was fortuitous. One could say a deus exit machina, amiright…”
But the horror on the Arimathean’s face silenced him. This man was grieving.
Pilate pursed his lips. “Few things make a man take the risk you have taken. Love, sometimes. Maybe honour. In this particular case, I am not certain they are mutually exclusive.” He nodded. “You will have his body. Go, give him the burial he deserves, Joseph of Arimathaea.”

———-

Joseph of Arimathaea is another figure that pops up on the stage of Scripture in one or two verses, does something, and pops out. But what he did had an effect on history forever. And it wa an act of courage over fear.
Joseph was a wealthy man and a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council of leaders. He was a secret follower of Jesus, ‘for fear of the Jews’ (John 19:38). He was likely there when Jesus was being tried, but to expose himself as a follower of Jesus would have risked his position and standing in the community, and even his very life.
But later he courageously went to Pilate the governor to request for Jesus’ body. He had a rock-hewn tomb, something only the rich could afford, and he asked to bury Jesus’ body there.
Going to Pilate was an open statement to all, especially to his colleagues who hated Jesus. This same tomb later caused the priests to request for guards to seal it.I do not blame Joseph for hiding the fact that he followed Jesus at the time. But it tells me something about fear.
One thing that fear does is that it makes us silent in the face of what is right. It makes us comfortable with what is wrong as long as we do not take any risks. But this mindset is what allows evil to be perpetrated, especially in these depraved times.
But Joseph took a courageous step and used his tomb.
Apart from the world outside, for ourselves, fear keeps us from reaching out into the much-more that God has prepared for us. If Joseph had done nothing he would most likely have still had a good life. But he did, and he got into something more fulfilling, being a vessel in God’s hands.

To be a part of what God wants to do in us, vessels in His hands, we need to be courageous.
Do you know that Jesus being buried in that kind of tomb was a fulfilment of prophecy, that he would be buried with the rich (Isaiah 53:9) and that his body would not decay (Psalm 16:10). By acting in courage, Joseph became engrafted into a plan God had set in motion long ago.

Courage is not the absence of fear. Rather, it is doing what is right even in the midst of fear.

For a child of God, our courage is rooted in the knowledge and assurance that God is for us and with is and in us, even when we don’t ‘feel’ it, but because God’s Word says so. And that is Truth.It is why when Joshua became the leader of the Israelites to lead them into the Promised Land, God told him over and over to be courageous. He told him to keep on meditating on the Law, the Words of God. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

You know, Joseph of Arimathaea reminds me of another Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. He too had to make a courageous decision, to stick by Mary when she was pregnant, at a time and in a society that would have shunned them. But he trusted in what God said and courageously stayed with her. This was the kind of man God trusted to father his Son.Isn’t it just like God to place two Josephs, one at the beginning and the other at the end, to take care of His Son’s body?

To conceive, bring forth and nurture God’s counsel in our lives and in our world, we need to be courageous. Fear is just an illusion in the face of what God can do through you. Don’t let it limit you.And when we do what He calls us to, then we find our true and best selves.

Trust in His ability.

Be courageous.

Point to consider: What things do you know you ought to do that fear has fear kept you from doing?

FEAR ITSELF

Ever since the Fall, sin and death have held men and women in bondage, so that life becomes a sprint from birth to death. In the space in between, the enemy has used the fear of death to keep humanity in bondage.
Fear keeps us shortsighted, blinding us to the salvation God has provided.
It keeps is stagnant, afraid to venture out and expand into greater things.
It causes us to base our hopes and lives on variable and fickle things that will crumble.
The fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of loss. All rooted in the fear of death.

But Jesus came to change all that. In His death amd resurrection He defeated sin and death, and came to “…deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Hebrews 2:15
He defeated death and turned into into a doorway to the best parts of our eternity, when it is time.
He is ever with us, so we need not fear death.
Yet, in our lives, we encounter fears in one form or the other.

Over the next couple of days I’ll be putting 3 men in the spotlight. These guys were players in the background during the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And each of their stories are pictures of some fears we face. We will look at them and see what we can learn from them, and how they overcame fear (for those who did).
The casualty of fear is a price we need not pay. Jesus did, so we can live boldly and free.
I hope you enjoy this series.
Thanks for coming by.

And, here we go…

The Man of Kerioth

The Man of Arimathaea

The Man of Galilee

The third instalment will be posted on Sunday, April 20, 2019

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: King Herod

KING HEROD
“When Herod the king heard this, he was disturbed and troubled, and the whole of Jerusalem with him…” Matthew 2:3
Herod the Great was the designated king of Judea in the days when Jesus was born. Judea was already a client state of Rome and Herod was once a governor of one of its territories, the Galilee territory. When a conflict arose he hurried over to Rome to obtain favour with Caesar and, when Rome responded to quench the uprising and end the status quo hitherto, he was placed as ‘king of the Jews’, sent to rule over the entire country. He is largely remembered for his very ambitious and very expensive building projects such as the building of the cities of Caesarea, provision of water supply to Jerusalem, building of about five fortresses, and most especially the expansion of the Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, a portion of which still stands today as the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall). He sought to make Judea befitting to the standards of the world of his day. He also enriched and gifted other nations, creating a name for himself. These projects brought much employment to the people of Judea.
Son of an Idumean (or Edomite) father and a Nabatean (Arab) mother, his family was circumcised and converted to Judaism. But his decadent lifestyle undermined any religious identification he sought to portray.
The building of the Temple, and his marriage to a Jewess named Mariamne, was all a lobby for the favour of the Jews. But he didn’t stop there. He still lobbied for favour from the pagan population of his land and from Caesar, constructing a Roman Eagle statue over the very gate of the Jewish Temple (an abomination to the Jews), and also building the cities of Caesarea and Sebaste (formerly Samaria) in Caesar’s honour with many pagan idols and shrines. All his building projects were funded by a very severe taxing system that weighed heavy on the people. So while he transformed much of Judea, his motives were anything but selfless, and the people weren’t fooled.
He knew he was ruling a nation that resented him, so he was very paranoid for much of his reign. He had a secret police to monitor and report the general feelings of the populace, a bodyguard of about 2000 soldiers among other units, and he had his opponents forcefully dealt with. He actually had his Jewish wife and her sons for him executed on charges of unfaithfulness and incitement of revolt. So much for Jewish favour there, Herod.
For all his achievements, scholars report that he suffered through depression and paranoia throughout his lifetime. It was in these days that a contingent of Magi, a priestly order of astrologers and royal advisers from the lands of the East, came to visit him. Prepared to host such dignified guests, he was shocked when they declared that they were seeking someone who had been born ‘King of the Jews’, as they had seen his star rising all the way from their lands, and that they had come to ‘worship’ him!
“King of the Jews? I am king of the Jews!” He sent for them and when they had come, he confirmed their quest. It was clear they were seeking someone, and it was definitely not him.
It was all he could do to mask his terror behind a pasty smile. Of course he knew about the expectation in the Jewish conscious of a Messiah that was to come and deliver them from their ‘oppressors’, a term Herod knew many would call him. He mostly dismissed it as the superstitions of a weary people, but the possibility had always stood out in his mind.
Could it be true? Or had these men just come based on the rumors of another possible uprising? News of his turmoil spread to the rest of the city, and everyone else was troubled. They knew that, when Herod fears an uprising, there’s going to be blood in the streets.
Meanwhile, as his people entertained the Magi in an adjoining room, Herod paced. He had to tell them something, or these guys would consider him an uneducated idiot. He had to show these Magi that he was in the know of everything going on in his land. He wanted to find favour in the eyes of these men too. So he sent for the chief priests and learned men in Jerusalem. “So … about this Messiah you all keep talking about…” he began. “Where do the Scriptures say he will be … born, so to say?”
Without missing a beat, they replied him. “In Bethlehem of Judea, your majesty. For so it is written by the prophet Micah, ‘And you Bethlehem…’ ”
But Herod’s mind was already blanking out. He could see the priest’s mouth moving but his pulse thumped in his ears. He rubbed his beard. “Bethlehem, you say?”
His mind was in overdrive. He knew what he must do, but he had to be discrete.
With the priests dismissed he met the Magi privately. “How long ago exactly did you see this star rising?”
“About two years.” They even gave him the exact date, but much of their astrological jargon was gibberish to him.
Could he be late already? He directed them to Bethlehem, telling them to return when they’ve found the child, “…so that I too can come and … worship him.” He felt sick just uttering those words.
That night he stared out into the sky. It looked as normal as any other night sky. He had so much, he had accomplished so much, yet he felt so alone in the universe. No matter how much he tried, he much he acted, he never fully felt appreciated. Now someone else had been chosen to be king of the Jews. A child?! It brought a bitter taste to his mouth. He needed to end this.
But the days passed. And the Magi never returned. Herod was furious. The rejection and flouting of his orders stung. He ordered his soldiers to invade Bethlehem and its surrounding hills, to kill every boy two-years-old and under. Surely that would be his boot to squash this ant before it became a problem (spoiler alert: God sent angels in an undercover mission, i.e. while Joseph was asleep ‘under covers’ ;), to warn him to escape with the child and his mother to Egypt before the soldiers arrived)
But the massacre never brought Herod the satisfaction he craved. He died not much longer, but his last days were wrought with much turmoil and political intrigue. Quarrels with his eastern neighbours brought him into displeasure with Caesar Augustus, a relationship he had laboured to build for years. His health dwindled into a ferocious temper as his insides withered. He felt so much excruciating pain that he even attempted suicide. He is recorded to have said to his sister and her husband, “I shall die in a little time, so great are my pains; which death ought to be cheerfully borne, and to be welcomed by all men; but what principally troubles me is this, that I shall die without being lamented, and without such mourning as men usually expect at a king’s death.”* He ordered that a multitude of distinguished men be invited and, upon his death, they should be killed so that there would, at least, be some mourning in the land. Thankfully, upon his death, his son cancelled that order.
He lived his life seeking the favour of men and died that way. He even tried to kill the One who had come to give him a full and abundant life. He didn’t know.
Herod’s story is a picture of many today. We live in a self-conscious culture where everyone wants to be affirmed and appreciated by others. It is a human desire which, in itself, is not bad, but is also sad. On the social media, for example, it is easy to judge our relevance and fulfilment by the number of likes and retweets on our posts and selfies, to feel hurt or that we did something wrong when we don’t get enough or any, to try to please men so that they can favour us. And this has been translated to how we live our lives. If we could, we would even want to know how many people would mourn us if we died!
It is why many are suicidal today. And it is not a joke.
We all want to be affirmed, because no matter how much we try, there is a void inside that cries for more.
And, as the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. Our desire for affirmation tends to lead to selfish disregard for the well-being of others as we crush them in order to obtain some acceptance. We may not all execute those that hate us, but it has become the base evil of humanity. It was the root of the first murder, when Cain killed Abel because he didn’t get the favour he desired. It is the core of every villain, both in fiction and in reality. At their core, everyone, be they heroes or villains, wants fulfilment. How we go about obtaining that fulfilment tells on our very natures. The hero obtains fulfilment in helping others, while the villain obtains fulfilment in hurting others.
It is why people cheat, slander, betray … assuming that putting others down automatically lifts us up. But all it does is send us all sinking into miry clay (or quicksand). It ruins relationships and marriages too, when each person is seeking their own gain, focused on receiving from the other instead of giving, and judging them based on personal needs.
The void in man is a form of death, and it is a consequence of the sinful nature. There is nothing we can do to fill it, and it always cries out for more. Only Jesus can fill it, and that is what He came to do. God came that we may be whole, complete in Him, fulfilled and full-filled. He came so that we can have Life and live it to the full (John 10:10).
He fills our hearts with His love (Romans 5:5) and lets us know that we are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10), lacking nothing. In Him, we see our true selves: beautiful, loved, accepted, affirmed. We are His own, and He is ours. The more we grow in Him the less we will base our fulfilment on the approval of others. Rather we will realise more and more, and it will be more real in our mindsets, how He fills and surrounds us with His everlasting and boundless love. We have never really been alone, and we never will be.
Immanuel.
Herod did not realise that he had a front row seat on God’s plan to answer the cry of his heart. Don’t miss out on the opportunity God has presented before you too. Call to Him. He is closer than near, and He hears. He wants you to know Him much more than you think. He’s got so much for you.
And, from this place of affirmation in Him, we can more effectively be a blessing to others. This is the kind of life that can give to others without expecting appreciation or reward, and would not be hurt if it doesn’t come. It is the kind of heart that can be slapped (or cheated), and will turn the other cheek. It is the confidence that will put out its best foot forward in love, knowing that it might be stepped on but not minding. It is the life that can break through cold hearts, and warm and comfort them with love.
It is the life Jesus spoke about. It is bizarre and crazy, like walking on water. But it is also supernatural and amazing, just like walking on water.
He showed us what it’s like, dying for us when we were still ungodly, sinners, in enmity with God and without a promise or care of responding to His love. He rose to make the way that we may be united with God in Him, by believing in Him. The way is still open today.
Remember that, this Christmas.
You are loved, and can love.
#7DaystoChristmas
*Source of Herod’s dying quote: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter 6, note 5 (translated by William Whiston)