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Message for 12-29-13 FREEDOM FROM THE NEED TO CONTROL

“FREEDOM FROM THE NEED TO CONTROL”

Matthew 2:1-12

 

            Today we’re going to take a look at Herod and Jesus: a control freak, and a child who rules by very different rules.  As we look at the lives of these two, we’ll see that the life of Jesus is far more attractive as a model for our own.

Herod the Great was a desperate, ruthless man.  Caesar Augustus once said, “I’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son.”  (I’d rather be his hus than his huios.)  When he died, the people of Herod’s kingdom mourned not for him, but for all those Herod had slain in his reign of terror.

Pastor Bill Hybels comments that Herod was a contradiction: rich in what the world values, but bankrupt as a human being.  He ruled by carrying “Me First” to its logical conclusion.  To Herod, there was no problem that bloodshed couldn’t cure.

Herod was not a logical candidate for the throne of Israel.  He was not a descendant of David.  He was not even a Jew, but an Edomite (the Edomites were ancient enemies of the Jews).  How did this character end up on the throne of Israel?

Herod got his original job as governor of Galilee as a political payoff from Caesar.  When civil war broke out in Judea in 40 BC, the Romans needed a guy who was loyal to Rome who could rule this trouble spot with an iron hand.  Herod seizes the opportunity, sails all the way to Rome, and persuades his old friend Caesar that he’s the man for the job.  So the Roman Senate votes to declare Herod “King of Judea.”

Herod was a skilled tyrant, every bit as skillful as Saddam Hussein.  He was also a lavish giver of gifts.  He used gifts to buy the favor of everyone, so much so that he sickened people with his flattery.  Herod’s desire to inflate his public image also led him to become a master builder, one of the greatest in the history of archaeology.

Herod built magnificent buildings, aqueducts, gymnasiums, and theaters all over Judea, bankrupting his kingdom in the process.  He even built entirely new cities.  He built the brand-new seaport city of Caesarea, stretching piers out into the ocean to create a harbor on a shallow beach.  He rebuilt the ancient cities of Samaria and Jericho.

But Herod’s greatest construction job was his magnificent rebuilding of the Temple, replacing the older stones with much finer work, with huge embossed stones that are a trademark of Herodian masonry.  (The so-called Wailing Wall is the last piece of Herod’s temple complex that is still standing today.)  By building this impressive house for the Lord, Herod hoped to win the favor of his people.

But Herod had his dark side.  Herod was ruthless with anyone he thought was a threat to his hold on power.  Herod was painfully aware that the throne did not rightfully belong to him by birth.  He was a foreigner.  He had no legitimate claim to the throne, and that thought haunted him continually.

Consequently, Herod becomes a man driven wild by paranoia, suspicion, and insecurity.  Often he’d execute servants of his without trial on the mere suggestion that they were plotting against him.  He’d torture person after person at random until he got the information he wanted, whether it was true or not.  People in Herod’s palace start using baseless rumors as a way of getting rid of their rivals.

Herod executes a high priest, his favorite wife, and 3 of his sons, all because he thinks they’re plotting against him.  He outrages Jerusalem by executing 40 Jewish leaders who cut down the Roman eagle on the gate of the Temple.  And when he is about to die, Herod imprisons all the city leaders of Judea at the horse track in Jerusalem with plans to kill them when he dies, so that the Jews will be forced to mourn his death.

Herod is determined that no king will rise to the throne of Judea as long as he’s alive.  So when a mysterious band of stargazers from the East shows up in town with a report about a new King of the Jews being born, Herod is alarmed.  So are his people; they dread what’s coming next.  Herod drags out his experts to find out what intelligence he can, and then he tries to con these visitors into helping him find this child.

When Herod find he’s been double-crossed by these visitors from the East, Herod is furious.  To insure that this newborn King will never pose a threat to his rule, Herod gives the order to eliminate every boy in Bethlehem anywhere near the age of this newborn King.  Herod’s desperate cruelty knows no bounds – a man to whom a defenseless child is such a dangerous enemy that he must die, no matter how many innocent children had to die in the process.

Herod is the ultimate control freak.  How very different is the child he viewed as such a threat to his throne!  Yes, He is the supreme Power that rules the universe, and yet He comes as a baby born in a stable, a helpless newborn who can’t lift one finger to save Himself, a child who is powerless to pull any strings to control what’s happening.

But Herod cannot control this child.  He tries to pull as many strings as he can.  He tries a sweet-talking con job on the Wise Men, but he fails to get their help.  He tries military force to remove this newborn threat to his throne, but the child is already safely on his way to Egypt.  And in a very short time, God removes Herod as a threat to this child.  As N T Wright has written, Jesus shows us “how an infant in a cow shed overturns the brute force of Caesar.”

This child, as he becomes an adult, continues to live as the very opposite of Herod.  He never pulls rank.  He never uses bribery, flattery, threats, coercion, or other forms of manipulation.  Aside from one act of violence, Jesus never uses force, and even there, He uses it, not for His own needs, but out of zeal for God’s house.

Jesus controls His own destiny in ways that none of us ever will.  But He never uses that control for His own selfish benefit.  Try as he may, the devil cannot touch Him, and when He dies, He pulls no strings to engineer His rescue.  He dies, not as a victim of forces beyond His control, but so He can give death the knockout punch once and for all.   

Jesus shows tremendous restraint.  He has power to control us if He wanted to.  But Jesus has no need to manipulate anyone’s life against our will.  He rarely overrides our free will, and when He does so, it is always in mercy.  But most of the time, Jesus refuses to rescue us from the trouble we bring upon ourselves.  He shows us a better way, but He never forces us to take that way.  He never forces us to love Him.   

Jesus rules the world in a totally different way from Herod’s way.  Jesus leads by example.  He shows us a vision of someone so loving and so free from sin, we want to be more like Him.

Jesus shows us a lot of room for improvement within ourselves.  If we take a deep look inside, we may be surprised how much desire for control we may find.  We may be surprised how often we try to control the outcome of every situation, and worry about what we can’t control.  We may be surprised how often we try to run other people’s lives, trying to straighten them out, trying to fix them, trying to rescue them from mistakes we think they are making.  At times, we may find ourselves trying to bribe people with favors and flattery to put them in our debt, pulling strings, maybe even trying to manipulate folks with threats, coercion, shame, guilt, helplessness, or sob stories.  It’s not easy to let go and let God run the show instead of trying to do it ourselves.

Sometimes we can see our need for control when we worry about having the perfect Christmas, wanting everything to turn out the way we planned.  We can see it when we’re afraid to delegate our work because “no one can do the job correctly but me.”  Or, we are afraid our loved ones will fail or make what we think are poor decisions.  And the more that person means to us, the more we will be tempted to control what they do.

Sooner or later, we discover that our efforts to control the world have been useless.  There is so much we cannot control.  We cannot control the outcomes of our labors.  We cannot control the weather or outside events.  We cannot make people love us.  We cannot control what they think.  And try as we may, we cannot control God.  God is not a soda machine where we can plug in a few coins of faith and make our selection.

Friends, we will find tremendous release when we let Jesus set us free from our constant need to control what happens to us in life.  We don’t need to make everything happen the way we want it to.  We don’t need to run everyone else’s life.  We don’t need to worry about fixing people or rescuing them from the consequences of their actions.  There is wonderful freedom in letting Jesus be the One who sits on the throne of our life.

Jesus, the One whose birth we celebrate today, rules the world in a very different way from Herod.  Jesus is no control freak.  He is able to let God completely run the show.  He leads us by showing us a vision of someone so loving and so free from sin, we want to be like Him.  Let’s let Jesus be the One who sits on the throne of our life.

Let us pray.  Lord, help us quit trying to control all that happens to us.  Help us quit trying to fix people or run their lives.  Help us to let You run our lives.  We ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen. 

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