Luke 23:6-12 “On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends -before this they had been enemies.”
We are told that in those days in Jerusalem an arrested accused man could be tried in any one of three places, at the place of his birth, and so with Jesus it would be in Bethlehem, at the place where he had established his residence, and so that would be Capernaum, or at the place where he had committed his crime and that would be Galilee. So for at least two of those reasons Pilate had the legal right to call Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee, to be involved in the trial of our Lord. So we read of Pilate, “When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time” (v.7). Pilate was glad that Jesus came from Galilee as it gave him the opportunity to get out of the responsibility of passing judgment on Christ. We are told that he heard someone say that Jesus came from Galilee and he pricked up his ears and asked if this were the case. “Is he a Galilean?”
Herod was a tetrarch, that is a governor of Galilee and Perea. He bore the title ‘king’ but it was more officiously than officially. He was certainly not of the line of David. He was in fact of the line of Esau; he was an Edomite – Esau and Edom are interchangeable terms. So Jesus, the King of the line of David, appears before the king of the line of Esau. The one has crowned himself and wants to be acknowledged as a king. The other will soon have a crown of thorns thrust on his head.
Let me remind you about this king Herod Antipas. He was the son of Herod the Great who had the Bethlehem baby boys under two years of age and had them killed thirty years earlier. This Herod whom Jesus is now meeting had taken the wife of his own brother Philip from him and he lived in an adulterous relationship with her, Herodias. The sin of the king had been spoken of and denounced in the preaching of Jesus’ forerunner John the Baptist, and so the outraged Herod had had him arrested, and then, to satisfy the whim of his daughter Salome, because of the pleasure he’d had had at her dancing on his birthday, this Herod had then had John beheaded. We can see that Herod was a monster, a fleshly man, cruel, tyrannical and rapacious just as his father had been before him. His family was all rotten. There were five Herods altogether. Herod’s Antipas’ nephew, Agrippa, was the man who killed the apostle James the brother of John, and hewanted to kill Peter too, and then there was that nephew’s son (also called Agrippa) to whom Paul spoke at his trial and he mocked Paul, “You’ve almost persuaded me to become a Christian.”
Let me point out to you that Herod had been in the background throughout the gospel. Luke is the only gospel writer to tell us that he’d wanted to hunt Jesus down two years earlier during his ministry in Galilee. In Luke chapter 13 and verse 31 we are told that some quasi-friendly Pharisees had told Jesus, “Herod wants to kill you.” Let me also remind you that this scene of Jesus meeting Herod is not mentioned by Matthew, Mark or John. In fact John never mentions Herod in his entire gospel. Luke alone records the encounter before us underlining the importance of Herod.
IRRELIGIOUS MEN CAN BE PLEASED AT CONTACTING JESUS.
We are told that when Herod saw Jesus he was “greatly pleased because for a long time he had been wanting to see him” (v.8). Now why was this? A number of explanations are given. The first would be that he felt honoured that the Roman governor Pontius Pilate has invited him to share in these proceedings. He was flattered. That was certainly one reason. Others say that Herod was greatly pleased because now he could put Jesus to death – something he had determined to do a year or two earlier. Killing people was the final solution to all the Herods’ problems. There is much truth also in that reason for his pleasure (as we see what happened in the trial). But there is thirdly the religious reason and that is the most important of all. We know that before Herod had had John the Baptist murdered he had had a great deal to do with him. You recall what Mark surprisingly tells us; “Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him” (Mark 6:20). Think of it! Herod the murderer feared and protected Jesus’ forerunner because Herod believed he was a righteous and a holy man. We are also told that Herod often listened to him – probably when John was preaching in the open air and Herod went in disguise to hear him. Then also when Herod put him in prison, the king would slip down to the dungeon and talk with him. “He liked to listen to John,” Mark says.
Then when Jesus began his ministry Herod heard of him. There is in fact a fascinating connection with Jesus. We are told by Luke in chapter 8 and the third verse that Herod’s butler was a man named Chuza the employee who managed his household – the top man in the palace and estate. Chuza had a wife named Joanna, and she was a follower of Christ, in fact she was one of the three top women disciples who supported Jesus and the twelve giving them money to buy food and pay for their lodgings and the ministry of mercy in which they were engaged. So here was the husband of a devout Christian and he met Herod virtually every day, and it would be impossible with Herod’s curiosity to know about Jesus that Chuza did not answer his questions speaking of our Lord in favourable terms. In fact to Herod’s ears Christ sounded very like the man he’d had killed. Who was this man called Jesus? What conclusion did Herod come to? Listen! “He said, ‘John the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead’ ” (Mark 6:16). You might have thought that the man who had had John murdered would not have wanted to see Jesus, that he’d have sent his assassins in months earlier, but he had a conscience as God has given to every one of us, and the sight of the body-less head of the man he loved to hear, carried into his presence on a platter, no doubt often rose before his eyes and stole his peace.
J.C.Ryle says, “There are many great and rich men like Herod, men without God, without faith, and living only for themselves; they generally live in an atmosphere of their own, flattered, fawned upon, and never told the truth about their souls, haughty, tyrannical, and knowing no will but their own. Yet even these men are sometimes conscience-stricken and afraid. God raises up some bold witness against their sins, whose testimony reaches their ears: at once their curiosity is stirred; they feel ‘found out,’ and are ill at ease. They flutter round his ministry, like the moth round the candle, and seem unable to keep away from it, even while they do not obey it; they praise his talents, and openly profess their admiration of his power: but they never get any further. Like Herod, their conscience produces within them a morbid curiosity to see and hear God’s witnesses ; but, like Herod, their heart is linked to the world by chains of iron. Tossed to and fro by storms of lust or ungovernable passions, they are never at rest while they live, and after all their fitful struggles of conscience, they die at length in their sins. This is a painful history. But it is the history of many rich men’s souls. Let us learn from Herod’s case to pity famous wealthy men.” They are admired by a whole generation of young men and women, football players with their vast wages, singers and comedians with their fine houses and expensive cars, but in their home lives and relationships they are utterly lost. Within the expensive clothes they live as strangers to peace. I was reading an interview with John Lloyd the producer of TV classics like Spitting Image and Blackadder. He believes that life is all chaos and so how can anyone believe in anything. That’s totally crackers. Here you are reading these words and understanding them though you may never have met me. You believe that this is rational and meaningful. So the interviewer, Lesley Garner, asked him what he thought was the meaning of life. He hesitated and said, “Be kind and have no fear.” That’s it. But we are gong to die and be separated from all that we know and love. No fear! And here is the Lord Jesus Christ, and he claims to give us a reason, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” He says, “Come unto me and I will give you rest . . . I go to prepare a place for you and I will take you unto myself.”
So here is Herod, through the good graces of Pilate he has the opportunity of seeing Jesus face to face, and you know how pleased we are when questions we have, that have been playing at the back of our minds for the past months, can be answered, especially our silly superstitions. Surely this man can’t be John Redivivus! John the Baptist Risen! Oh no! . . . but then it might be, he thought. Herod was a man lacking in self-assurance. He was an Edomite, of the line of Esau, and yet here he was in Jerusalem for the greatest Jewish religious festival of the year. What was he going to do there? Would he sing the psalms and hear the readings, and take part in the rituals of the Passover – as a son of Esau? Would he do this secretly or would he do it in a very splashy way, his whole entourage surrounding him on a royal visit to the Temple, soldiers pushing people out of the way in the narrow streets? And he had heard that Jesus was also in the city and that Christ had ridden into it with fanfares and shouts of ‘Hosanna’ from the lips of thousands of people who had carpeted the route he took with their own coats and cloaks. Who was this Jesus? Now the man whom he feared and yet wanted to meet, all of a sudden was sent to him by Pilate in chains, and he had been given by Rome the power of life and death over Jesus. Isn’t life strange? No wonder he was greatly pleased. For a long time he had been wanting to see Jesus but now he could and in this wonderful way, not going in disguise to hear Jesus preach, but having him stand bound in front of him, in the dock, to be officially interrogated, under his authority.
But there was another reason why Herod wanted contact with the Lord Jesus. Luke tells us, “From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle” (v.8). What a combination of personalities he hoped to meet in Jesus, a stimulating convicting preacher like John the Baptist has been, but someone who could frighten him too with his warnings, and also a super magician, a circus performer par excellence. Jesus could do some tricks for him. People love to be entertained by mysteries, to laugh in amazement and ask, “How did he do that?” Remember the occasion when some religious folk came to him. Matthew records the exchange in chapter twelve of his gospel; “Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you’” (Matt. 12:38). What did Jesus do? Did he multiply a loaf of bread and feed them? Did he turn one of their bottles of water into fine old wine? Did he cause a cloud to rapidly run across the face of the sun and give them some shade? Did he cause a short sighted Pharisee to have 20/20 vision? No, nothing like that at all.
Jesus replied to them and said, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign” (Matt. 12:39). It was no evidence of faith in God that they wanted to see a miracle. Faith first asks for the word; superstition first asks for a sign. They did not want the words; they wanted entertainment. We know that the Lord would perform a miracle to support his claims. “I am the resurrection and the life,” and then Lazarus was raised. He would perform miracles of healing to show his compassion to the sick, but he would not perform a miracle to promote himself and excite a wicked and adulterous generation. He was not in Herod’s court as the entertainer. He would no more put on a performance before Herod than turn stones into bread at the request of Satan. Jesus was there in his passion as the suffering Saviour. To the Pharisees he said that he would show them no sign other than the sign of the prophet Jonah, three days and nights under the sea and yet raised from that grave on the third day. Jesus would rise from the dead. He would appear to many for forty days, his unwanted body had disappeared from the tomb. He would make fearful apostles very brave. Who would true valour see, let him come hither. Some here will constant be, come wind come weather. They would turn the world upside down and would be prepared to lay down their lives for the sake of a Saviour more powerful than the grave. That sign of his life-transforming power was the sign he still gives to men today and many of us have been born again by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to a living hope. So there was Herod’s joyful anticipation of meeting our Lord, finding out who Jesus was and seeing him perform a miracle.
JESUS CAN BE SILENT BEFORE IRRELIGIOUS MEN.
I spoke to my friend Lyn when we were in school together. His father had a coal delivery business. Lyn was wise and learned, always higher in the class than myself, and on top of that he was a fine soccer player. I talked to him about becoming a Christian and he said to me that he wanted to taste the world first, and then when his thirst for much that the world had to offer was satisfied that then he would consider God. You can see that he got some things wrong. What a little view of God he had. God was someone who was at his beck and call. God was waiting anxiously for Lyn to do something, wondering would he accept God or not, powerless to intervene in his life. If men should want God at the end of a life in which they had ignored him then God would be chuffed at their interest in him and do whatever they asked. Lyn also saw salvation as a mere opportunity you could take, or not. It all hung on your decision. But what did Jesus say of his heavenly Father? He prayed to him on one occasion and Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” (Matt. 11:25&26). Thank God that you don’t have to be wise and learned to be saved from unbelief. God can reveal his great salvation to little children and they can become little Christian boys and little Christian girls, but Jesus said that God had the prerogative to hide his salvation from the wise and the learned of this world. That was also his good pleasure. I am pleading with you not to take it for granted that one day you will be nearer God than you are today, more serious then about receiving Christ than you are today. Don’t take it for granted that God will be more willing to receive you in the future than he is willing to take you now.
See here in the incident before us what happened when Herod met Jesus. We are told that the king plied the incarnate God with many questions (v.9). He asked him where he was born, and what his father did for a living, and where had he studied, and what had he been doing for the last thirty years. Was he married and did he have children? How is it that he had started to preach? Could he do miracles? Would he do one now? To all his questions Jesus gave him no answer. Not a word. He was as mute as a stone. A man once came into the presence of Jesus and Jesus ignored him. I didn’t think that the Son of God did that sort of thing. He did. Don’t we find that in the Bible? When King Saul cried to God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into Israel’s hand?” We are told, “But God did not answer him that day” (I Sam.14:37). O think what David says in Psalm 18; “They cried for help, but there was no-one to save them – to the LORD, but he did not answer” (Psa. 18:41). Or in the book of Proverbs and the opening chapter, “they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me” (Proves. 1:28). These are great warnings aren’t they, about the sin of presumption, that men think that they can ignore God all their lives until some circumstance makes them cry to him. Why should he answer those who have lived defying him all their lives? Who do they think they are?
Here is Herod the murderer, Herod the man who seduced his own brother’s wife, and he plied Jesus with many questions, and Jesus was silent. Herod didn’t express his deep remorse at what he’d done with his life. What power he exercised, the power of an absolute monarch! What people he could have helped! What human measures he could have introduced into Galilee to educate women and protect children and the elderly. He could have built hospitals and introduced some democracy and lived a blameless married life as loving father and husband. He could have built synagogues and called on Jesus to come to a banquet and preach to all his officers of state and generals and civil servants. He did none of those things. He was a filthy man and a merciless murderer – that fox Herod – and he had Incarnate Grace standing before him. He could look into the eyes of the most loving and pitiful and powerful person that this world had seen, or ever will see, but Herod did not break his heart and weep for mercy. He did not look down and beat his breast and cry, “Lord be merciful to me . . . don’t treat me as I deserve . . . save me from hell.” He saw the meeting as a place where his curiosity could be solved. He wanted to see tricks, and Jesus said nothing to him. Are you concerned to have the Lord Christ address you now, and say to you, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.”? Do you want to know that God has freely pardoned all your sins? Then ask him today for that very blessing. Don’t presume on tomorrow. The only time you can guarantee is today. Don’t leave this place without being sure that God has pardoned your sins, and never cease praying until God has ended his silence towards you, until you know that he has saved you.
The Jesus of the Bible saves. He is not the Jesus who will save you only if you decide, but he is the one who makes you willing to decide before you ever can cry to him. He doesn’t merely offer salvation, but powerfully, efficaciously, irresistibly he works salvation within you. He raises you from death and regenerates you; he summons you with an almighty calling from darkness into light; he strikes you down in true repentance and makes you cry out for him; he implants into your hearts the saving faith and makes you one with him; he imparts himself to you and pours forth all the blessings of his salvation into your life; he justifies you and gives you peace with God; he sanctifies you and gives you a new delight in his word; he dwells in you and bears fruit in you and through you; he makes you persevere even unto the end, and glorifies you; and he ultimately raises your body from the power of death and with every true Christian he gives you a place in the new heavens and the new earth. His name is Jesus because he shall save his people from their sins. This was the Jesus standing there before a reprobate monarch whose past was reprehensible and whose future was unthinkable, and yet Herod spent this precious time in Jesus’ presence interrogating him and asked him to do tricks!
Let me remind you that there were others watching this encounter. “The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there” (v.10), and of course the last thing they wanted Jesus to do was a miracle. Herod and the Jewish authorities, an Edomite and the Israelites, were standing over against one another, the former, eager to see a sign, and the latter doing everything in their power to prevent one. Herod is asking and ordering Jesus to perform, but the others, we are told, were “vehemently accusing him” (v.10). “He is stirring up the people. He works by the power of Beelzebub. He urges people to stop paying taxes. He is a winebibber and a friend of sinners. He thinks you’re a fox . . .” All this clamour was to prevent Herod asking Jesus for a miracle and to draw attention away from our Lord lest he did a miracle.
How easy it would have been for Jesus to play off the Pharisees against the Herodians, to divide and conquer. He could have driven a wedge between them and Herod sent the Jews away without their prisoner. He could have played them off against one another and thus escaped the cross. How very easy for Jesus to do a single dazzling sign from heaven that had shaken them all and covered them with goose-pimples, and then Herod would have kept him in chains in his dungeon for more miracles, and Jesus would not have gone to the cross, and we would not be here today, and the world would be very different. There would be no Lamb of God for the church to preach, the one who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus would not have been lifted up and drawn all the ransomed church of God to himself. O Christ, you have saved others by your miracles, can’t you now save yourself? Didn’t Moses cast Aaron’s rod before another tyrant in Egypt and move Pharaoh to release God’s people? O Aaron slip your hand into your cloak and pull it out leprous and then put it in again and let it be healed. Bring forth, Aaron, your rod that budded and make it now bud again – like a speeded up film of a plant growing. See the leaves, the blossom, the fruit appear in a minute! What a sign! Herod wanted something like that, but the chief priests and the officers of the law drowned Herod’s requests with all their accusations. But Jesus held his peace. Moses performed his miracles to deliver the people from the house of bondage. But Christ is greater than Moses and he performs no miracles because only by entering the house of bondage, nailed to the tree in the anathema, and unable to escape can we escape and be made free indeed. If Christ performed a sign and was delivered from the cross then he would be sinning. He would be stretching out his hand to the tree of life before God’s time had come. At the beginning of his ministry in his forty days in the desert he refused to do a miracle – no leaping down from the Temple expecting angels to catch him and lower him gently to the ground as all the crowds wept – and here at the end he does the same. That was not the way redemption was to come. “I must go to Jerusalem, and must be handed over to the Gentiles. I must be condemned and crucified or there would be no deliverance for the people.” Jesus held his peace that we might sing his praise. Jesus did no miracle that we might be transformed into the likeness of Christ in a new heavens and a new earth.
IRRELIGIOUS MEN RIDICULED AND MOCKED OUR LORD AND SENT HIM AWAY.
If the atheists are right then Herod and his soldiers were exactly right to ridicule Jesus Christ. Here was a liar and a blasphemer and a magician who had led hundreds of people astray. He had started off a movement which was spreading everywhere. He would lead millions and millions of people to call him the Son of God. They would pray to him and sing to him and stop working one day a week to meet together to worship him when in fact the man was a crook. That was the conclusion that the soldiers of Herod and their king came to, and they mocked him. And if they were right about Jesus what are we doing here bragging about him, and singing his praises? We should be cursing God for letting this man live as briefly as he did, and preach the Sermon on the Mount as he did, and live the loving blameless life that he lived – like a lamb without spot or blemish so that even a Roman soldier said, “Surely this was a righteous man,” and heal everyone who came to him however sick they were, and why did God allow him to raise the dead? Why did God make the winds and waves be still when Jesus spoke a word to them? This crook should have been strangled in his crib, and when he began his ministry a lightning bolt from heaven should have struck him down. And when we think of all that, and the changes he wrought in men and women, making fiends loving men, blessing families with kindness and grace then we simply can’t ridicule and mock the Lord Jesus Christ. Ridicule ourselves, yes, and Herod and his soldiers, yes, but never Jesus. We can’t take it to ourselves to make fun of the Lord Jesus. We can’t do it. We’ll never do it. We can think back to words we said and things we did and we are covered in shame. We pour contempt on ourselves, but never on him. For us he said and did nothing wrong. He is the altogether lovely one; he is the Son of God. But Herod sent him away. He met Jesus and looked at Jesus and then dismissed Jesus. It’s a possibility.
IRRELIGIOUS MEN ARE DRAWN TOGETHER THROUGH CHRIST.
We are told by Luke, “That day Herod and Pilate became friends – before this they had been enemies” (v.12). That is a wonderful Lukan touch. How ironic! Buddies at last, the Jewish king and the Gentile ruler, but for how long? Luke’s whole gospel has spoken of the influence of Christ reaching out beyond official Judaism, beyond the racial and geographical boundaries of Israel, beyond prejudice and blindness, bringing together Jew and Gentile, young and old, the hated Samaritan and the tax-collector. Now, even without believing in Jesus, Herod and Pilate are reconciled. It is as though, with Jesus on the way to the cross, reconciliation cannot help breaking out all over the place. There is this shady deal struck between the petty princeling and the scheming governor. The one shunts Christ off to the other and then the other shunts him back. What a difference Jesus makes to those joined to Christ Jesus in the rich fellowship of the gospel; “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gals. 3:28). But Luke is alert, and wants us to be alert too, for every sign that the world is becoming a new place through Jesus and his crucifixion. If even Herod and Pilate can become friends through this, think how you too could be reconciled with anyone at all, once you both came under the shadow of the cross. Long feuds can come to an end, broken friendships can be restored, old enmities are forgotten through the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.
But let me turn it this way, the enmity of these two men was laid aside because a common object of contempt and fear and hatred had been brought before them. Whatever else they disagreed about, Pilate and Herod could agree to despise and kill Christ. We see this often in the unbelieving world. Men of opposing opinions can unite in resisting the truth; teachers of the most opposite philosophies will make common cause in fighting against the Gospel. In the days of our Lord, the Pharisees and the Sadducees who hated one another combined their forces to trap Jesus of Nazareth and put him to death; in our own times we have seen it in the ecumenical movement. You ask an ecumenist who are the false prophets our Lord warned us against and very often they will say it’s the fundamentalists. Liberals and sacramentalists will stand together evangelical religion. One common hatred binds them together: they hate the cross of Christ as the one means of forgiveness. To use the words of the apostles in the Acts: “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed” (Acts 4:27). All hated each other very much, but all hated Christ much more.
The true Christian must not count the enmity of the world a strange thing. He must not be surprised if he hears what Paul heard at Rome, the leaders of the Jews in Rome coming to meet him and saying to Paul what did he believe as a Christian, for, they said, “we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect” (Acts 28:22). Don’t be surprised if very different men with different personalities and experiences and convictions are united in their opposition to our gospel. Bless God if it is so! Let not our hearts be troubled: wait for the praise of God. Our Lord said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:19).
18th November 2012 GEOFF THOMAS