Sermon for Sunday Evening, January 29th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
The title for this evening’s sermon is “Herod Contra Mundum.” This is, as we’ve seen, the third Herod, also known as Herod Agrippa. “Contra Mundum” is a common Latin phrase literally meaning “against the world.” The connotation is that when a person is “contra mundum” they are against everyone and everything.
Perhaps this is a bit like Rambo. One man against a whole army.
Sometimes “contra mundum” is used in a positive way, saying something like Augustine believes the Bible against anyone and everything in the world that speaks contrary to it. But here I’ll be using “contra mundum” in a negative way, showing how Herod set himself against everyone, and especially against God which led to his death.
In our text we find that Herod is
– Against the Christians
– Against his own sentries
– Against Tyre and Sidon
– And ultimately against God.
I. Against the Christians
Herod has already put James to death. And he was about to put Peter to death, but an angel of the Lord rescued Peter from prison for him to go safely back to the praying disciples meeting at the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark.
Herod, as a worldly leader, wanted no other to contest his position, his kingship. Well, he had to bow to the greater power of Rome and was satisfied to be a lesser ruler in a rural province. But with a hardened heart, he certainly wasn’t about to bow to the truth of Jesus Christ.
He saw the Christians as an indirect threat to himself. The Christians weren’t raising an army, but they were proclaiming Christ as King, and this was sure to draw the attention of the Romans. And Herod didn’t want to draw their attention. At least, he didn’t want to draw it in a negative way. He’d be find with praise from the Romans, but he certainly doesn’t want their chastisement.
The Christians had to go. And, as a benefit, the Jews liked it when Herod put Christians to death. It was popular, and Herod was glad for the fan club.
II. Against his own sentries
We see more of the character (or lack thereof) of Herod Agrippa in that he is also against his own sentries. He knows nothing of forgiveness. Whether he “buys” their story or not, it is not said. We don’t even know if they had a “story.” One minute Peter is there, the next he is gone. But you’d think maybe one of them saw the angel or saw the gate open or the chains drop off Peter’s wrists. But Herod wants nothing to do with it.
Rather than believe the unbelievable, Herod ordered that they be put to death.
I’ve always like the story of Henry Ford at one of his automobile factories. He used the failure of an employee not as an opportunity to fire the man but as part of his training. The story is the man made some sort of error that shut down a machine and even caused the whole assembly line to shut down for a time. And one of Ford’s managers asked him “Why didn’t you fire the man for his mistake.” And Ford said something like, “Fire him, I just a million dollars training him!” That man would be sure to never make the same mistake.
Well, Herod isn’t so lenient. He has his sentries, his very own people, put to death.
And see there the contrast between Herod and Christ. Herod puts his own to death, Christ dies himself FOR HIS OWN.
Then Herod goes down to Caesarea. “Down” from Judea to Caesarea means “down in elevation.” Whether they had maps with the North as “up” or whether they had any maps at all, I do not know. But Judea is in the hills. Caesarea in the lowlands. And so Herod went down.
III. Against Tyre and Sidon
As we continue in “Herod Contra Mundum” we find that he also is angry and against the people of Tyre and Sidon.
These are the prosperous cities on the coast of modern Lebanon. It was called Phoenicia in the ancient world. And they had many ships and did a lot of work trading goods on the mediterranean. But they didn’t have much for land and fields and crops of their own. So they depended on the grain of other places, like the lands under Herod’s control.
It is not said why Herod is angry and Tyre and Sidon. But apparently he stopped the grain shipments. And so the people of these cities came to Herod and Caesarea to appeal to him for food, for their very lives.
And Herod, in all pomp, “put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them.” And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!”
I have wondered whether the people were just playing along, saying such lofty things of Herod in order that they do not starve to death. But from the fact of what happens next — Herod’s death by the angel of the Lord — it is clear that at least some of the people honestly were worshipping Herod. They thought their food came from Herod and not from God. This is a bit like thinking that our food comes from the Supermarket and not from the farm!
Well, again we see the stark contrast between Herod and Christ. Herod is arrayed in all splendor with royal robes upon a throne, but Christ is born in a manger and is crucified wearing a crown of thorns.
But the Lord makes himself known in the sudden death of Herod.
This is a warning against narcissism and all who would exalt themselves.
Though Herod has shown his power over those he is against (Christians, sentries, and Phoenicians) the Lord now shows His power over Herod. The Lord is truly in charge.
IV. Against God.
So we have seen Herod against the Christians, Herod against his sentries, and Herod against Tyre and Sidon. And now Herod against God. Quickly it becomes God against Herod. And the fight doesn’t last very long. His death is immediate.
23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.
Clearly these aren’t in the exact chronological order. His last breath happened BEFORE he was eaten by worms. But this is all said to show the type of horrible death that awaits the enemy of God.
Much the same was said of the death of Judas Iscariot. Back in Acts 1, Luke said of Judas that he “fell headlong into the field he bought and burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.”
Passing by these gory details, we might ask “what is the point of the death of Herod.”
The point is this: God never shares his glory. Isaiah 42:8 – “I am the Lord, that is my name, my glory I give to no other,”
We see also in history the contrast between Herod and the Apostles, the ambassadors of God. There are no followers of Herod. There were likely few even in his time. But the Apostles led many through the Holy Spirit to follow Christ. They produced a lasting movement, seeking and receiving the truth of God.
Herod was dead.
But, as for the Apostles, the word of God which they preached increased and multiplied.
The theme of the growth and success of Christ’s church continues in the book of Acts. And when all seems lost, the Lord intervenes.
I pray that this might be the case in the War in Ukraine. That the Lord will quickly bring it to an end and bring lasting peace.
In the end, Herod and all who are opposed to Christ will be subdued. Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.