Sermon Notes for 2nd Sunday after Christmas, The Twice Dead King, 3 January, In the Year of Our Lord 2016th. (Anno Domini, Given at St. Andrews Anglican Church (AOC), Enterprise, Alabama
19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. 21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. (Matt 2:19-23 KJV)
Just as all mortals born of woman are destined for the grave and good as dead at birth, there is a second death that is of far greater consequence, and that death is unto eternal damnation. This is the death suffered by King Herod (the Great) after his horrific murders of the innocents at Bethlehem. Herod was a vain and pompous politician who murdered even his own son out of coveted jealousy. The Jewish historian, Josephus states, “many slaughters followed the prediction of a new king“; and is more manifestly referred to by Macrobins, a Heathen author, who reports, that “when Augustus heard, that among the children under two years of age, whom Herod king of the Jews ordered to be slain in Syria, that his son was also killed, said, it was better to be Herod’s hog than his son.”
Based on traditional computations, it appears most likely to me that Herod died when our Lord Jesus Christ (sojourning in Egypt) was about three years of age. Herod died a horrible death, not in God’s vengeance for the murder of the innocents in Bethlehem, but as a sign of terror to any who would be as evil as Herod. There will be ample torture in the first five minutes of Hell to atone for his cruel murder of the innocents. His death was unusually gross as was that of his son later mentioned in Acts. Josephus says that King Herod died of an extreme condition (probably kidney failure) that caused his whole flesh to burn and itch interminable, and Josephus further states that his “private parts were eaten by maggots.” The text simply says that Herod, and those who sought the death of baby Jesus, were dead. Herod’s son Antipater was complicit with his father in the carnage at Bethlehem and even Antipater was killed by his father five days before Herod’s death. At the final moments of his cursed life, Herod changed his will to allow his younger son, Archelaus to take power in Judea. He, too, was unmatched for wickedness.
The death of Herod is profoundly informative to those who would live an evil and wicked life. Though all who are born into this world are subject to the first death, woe to those who are destined to die TWICE. As Jude says: “trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots.” (Jude 1:12) Being plucked up by the roots means there is no further source for life and all hope is forlorn. We read, as well in Hebrews: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” (Heb 9:27) Some men go to their graves with the second judgment a foregone conclusion – such was Herod. Those who persevere in Christ to the end have no need of worry of that second death: “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” (Rev 2:11)
Egypt, prophetically speaking, represents the land of sin. We all are born in Egypt (sin) and need to be brought out by the strong, outstretched arm of the Lord. Like Joseph, Jesus was taken into Egypt to escape the treachery of the rulers in Judea. Joseph, son of Jacob, too, was carried into Egypt for the sake of being the savior of his brothers who had sold him into bondage. Jesus was kept secure in Egypt for a time in order to save all who will believe and persevere. But we are never to make our permanent home in bondage to sin (Egypt). We must be liberated by that precious blood of Christ!
There is a wonderfully powerful painting entitled on exhibit at the Louvre in Paris entitled, Rest on the Flight into Egypt, by Orazio Gentileschi, (1628) that depicts the Virgin Mary seated at the feet of the Sphinx. In the distance behind are the shadowed pyramids, and before the scene are Joseph and his donkey resting beside the only fire light. The light is reflecting from before the Sphinx and around the Holy Family; but to the rear of the scene and behind the Sphinx, the wilderness recedes in darkness. I take the meaning to portray the only Light of the World resting amid the sins of the world (Egypt), and all of the darkness of the past receding from His presence. I was only a child when my father took me to see this great work of art, but its memory is emblazoned on my soul.
We should never get comfortable in our sins, but feel an undying urge to leave them behind by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. In due time, and Angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph to direct him to leave Egypt and return to Israel. Later, he would direct Joseph to avoid Judea due to the evil Archelaus ruling in the stead of his deceased father. Both were equally evil and Herod Archelaus would suffer a fate no less gruesome than that of his father. (Acts 12:21-23).
So Joseph circumvented the area of danger and proceeded to Nazareth. Nazareth means ‘guarded.’ It is situated in a pristine little valley surrounded by hills. It appears as a rose nestled among the rugged hills of Galilee. Nazareth was a secluded little hamlet that was looked down upon by the more ‘sophisticated’ urban dwellers of Jerusalem. That which the world rejects most often is precisely what the Lord approves. “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” (verse 23) Nazarene means ‘separated one, or anointed.’ Our Lord was certainly separated from the sinful world for the purpose of our salvation, and He was anointed for the task by His Heavenly Father. Christ was not the separated, or anointed, one because He dwelt in Nazareth. He was anointed and separated to be our Redeemer before the foundations of the world.
Our constant hope and assurance is in God to bring about good for us from the most reviling of evil hearts. Though we may suffer a short time of immeasurable hurt from the world, our Lord offers a love and joy that surpasses all understanding for a period of all eternity. And never mind our desires to exact vengeance on those who persecute and despitefully use us – that remains the realm and domain of a Holy God.
I tremble at the thought of the price that God will exact on those demons of the Islamic faith who are beheading innocents today in the same country as Herod before them! Let not our souls be soiled with the imaginations of such evil. Trust in God, and that will be sufficient.