4th Wednesday of Lent
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you know what the second largest U.S. export is? Now it kind of depends on your source, but it could be argued that the 2nd largest export of our nation is entertainment: movies, music, sports. You could go to any part of the world and you’ll probably find some kind of US entertainment there. Isn’t that interesting? In our nation we are arguably at a time throughout history of unprecedented freedom and wealth like no other civilization before us. And yet, who would ever have imagined that a people with as much freedom and money as we have would spend so much time watching TV, watching sports, surfing the internet. It’s ironic how important entertainment has become to us. But that’s really nothing new. People with power and money have always struggled to fill their time. Tonight we’re looking at Herod Antipas, a man of great power and wealth and a great desire to be entertained.
We’re told that when Pilate learned that Jesus was a Galilean, he thought he could get rid of this problem he had on his hands easily. The Roman law permitted someone to be tried in any of three places: his birthplace, his hometown, or the place where the crime was committed. But just before this Pilate had said, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” By sending him then to Herod, Pilate disregarded his verdict, nullified it, and ended up throwing the whole case wide open again. He sent Jesus to Herod, who happened to be in Jerusalem at that time, Herod had no jurisdiction in Jerusalem, so he was probably there to celebrate the Passover as a nominal Jew that he was.
Who was this Herod? This was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who had all the Bethlehem baby boys murdered around the time of Jesus’ birth. But after Herod the Great died, Herod Antipas was given a part of his kingdom to rule, that part included Galilee, which was a place where a great amount of Jesus’ ministry had taken place- healed sick, taught large amounts of people, led sinners to repent, etc. He would have known about Jesus, but he certainly wasn’t a nice guy. He committed adultery with his brother’s wife, was publicly rebuked by John the Baptist, and then not only imprisoned John the Baptist but also had him beheaded.
Now he wanted to see Jesus. But why? It wasn’t because he wanted forgiveness, it wasn’t because he wanted to find out if Jesus was really the Messiah, it wasn’t because he wanted to listen to what Jesus had to say, rather, he had been waiting a long time to see Jesus and hoped that Jesus would perform some miracle for him. In other words, he wanted to see Jesus do some magic trick for him. What an incredible waste!! The one person who could have made an eternity of difference in this power-hungry, blood-thirsty man actually came to him and all Herod wanted to see was a magic trick.
That shouldn’t really surprise us. People with freedom and money get bored very easily. Why do you think TV and sports and video games and internet sites are billion-dollar industries? How much do they really add to life? But it’s the nature of us sinful people to be restless and discontent. Here, the newest and best thing that would ever come into the world was standing before Herod. Never before in all the history of the world had God come in human flesh. God was standing before Herod veiled in human flesh, veiled in humility, veiled in blood and bruises and Herod completely missed it.
Entertainment blinded Herod to the reality that stood before him. Now we don’t know for sure, but it’s quite likely Herod died an unbeliever. Part of his eternal suffering is knowing that the greatest person ever stood before him and he totally missed it because his sinful heart was focused on entertainment. He put entertainment before the gift God gave the world.
Do we do that? Now entertainment in and of itself isn’t bad, but do we let entertainment drown out the important things of life? Do we spend more time with our TV or with our computer or with our smart phone than we do with the most important things of life? I just heard today that the average working person in America spends on average less than 2 ½ minutes per day in meaningful conversation with their spouse and that the average working person spends less than 30 seconds per day with their children. Is that you? Is that me? Do we let entertainment crowd out the most meaningful relationships that we have in life? But even more important than our relationship with our spouse or our relationship with our children is our relationship with God. Does entertainment rate higher on your priority list than God? Do you spend more time watching TV, surfing the internet, checking Facebook, than listening to your God in His Word, than spending intimate time praying to your heavenly Father?
Are we like Herod? Are we like spoiled children who want to be wowed and awed by entertainment? It takes discipline to be a disciple of Jesus. It takes commitment and work to maintain relationships. It takes determination to grow and study and understand God’s Word. We live in a culture saturated with wealth, free time, and entertainment, a culture that prizes entertainment above all else. Does that have an effect on us? Are we becoming like Herod? Missing the most important things in life?
Herod plied Jesus with questions, but like a lamb before the slaughter is silent, so Jesus did not open his mouth. They dressed Jesus in an elegant robe, they ridiculed and mocked him, and sent him back to Pilate. What irony! This petty little king thought he had power over Jesus, thought he could be entertained by Jesus, but in reality Jesus had all the power of the Son of God and could have stopped this at any moment, but he didn’t. Why not? Jesus let all this happen because Jesus came for a purpose – not entertainment – but he came to ascend a cross to die for Herod’s sins, to die for your sins and my sins. He remained silent so he could be nailed to the cross for all our wrong priorities, for all our love of entertainment more than him, for all our sins.
The answer to our misplaced priorities isn’t rearranging our priorities, it isn’t trying harder and working harder at our relationships. The answer lies in looking at who is standing before us. The only way our priorities are really changed is seeing our God for who He is, seeing Jesus for what He’s done for us. It’s only when we really see Jesus – our Savior- who made us and our salvation his first priority that our hearts are changed. Jesus stood before Herod for you. Don’t you want to grow closer to this Savior? Don’t you want to treasure the relationships with others He has given you?
We Americans have more freedom, more wealth than any nation in history. But there’s a greater freedom than political freedom, there’s greater wealth than money. We’re free from the power of sin and the devil, we’re rich with the promise of eternal life, we have the forgiveness of sins, meaning and purpose for life, and it comes through Jesus. Don’t let entertainment distract you from what is most important in all of life and eternity: your relationship with Jesus through His Word and Sacraments. Don’t let entertainment get in the way of your second most important relationships: with your spouse and your children. Treasure these true gifts of God’s grace. Amen.