This post comes to us from Alison Kjergaard:

They both had a problem. To Pontus Pilate it seemed like just a nuisance, an irritation that was thrust into his lap. For Herod the Great there had been whisperings that this would happen, but as the three foreigners approached, the problem was real. It was now a threat to earthly power.

Herod and Pontus Pilate: the beginning and the end of Jesus’ life. One tyrant foreshadows the other. Jesus’s birth anticipates his death.

Herod’s wasn’t a particularly prestigious position in the Empire, but it was at least a position of power, even if the Jewish people were antiquated and could be an irritation. Still, he was the governor of Judea and the problem of this upstart “King of the Jews” first fell to him.

To be king of Judea meant supporting the Roman Empire, but what did it matter if it kept you king? Paranoia already threatened the king, his building projects were ambitious and costly, and there was a callousness and bloodthirst that was unquenchable. But then came a muttering that the prophesied “king of the Jews” had been born.

Those who only know control and coercion are threatened when it comes head-to-head with divine power, when they realizes their own power is finite, they will seek to destroy the one with surpassing authority. Herod ordered destruction; the slaughter of the innocents. When Pilate asks “What is Truth?” to the very face of Truth, it will only back away in terror. Under the guise of passivity it will turn over the Word made Flesh to be destroyed.

The paranoid tyrant of Judea was threatened by a mere baby born in a stable. “Men from the East have come seeking the King of the Jews.” The message is delivered to Herod in fear, they are giving news to a man who thinks little of human life. The Magi are sent to speak with the supposed King. “We follow the star and have come to worship the child.” Herod is reminded that there is a greater authority, one that causes the Gentiles to seek it out in order to worship it. This divine power summons the very stars to announce its coming. Fear gives way to anger, which slowly simmers into a plan.

“Tell me the prophecies again. What do they say?” “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel” (Mic 5:2). A ruler, a shepherd sent to usurp the tyrannical rule of earthly power. “Please go and find the child so I might worship him too.” It is a lie, the proud cannot submit to worship the humble. Herod’s rage and fear blinds him that what is happening is far outside his authority. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).

Thirty years later, the governor of the Roman Empire looked upon this carpenter’s son brought before him, bound and bleeding. Pathetic, but deserving of death? “This isn’t my problem, take care of it yourselves.” “We want him to be crucified and we need you to do it.” Pilate looks him over. “Are you the King of the Jews?” There are no straightforward answers to the questions Pilate asks. “My kingdom is not of this world.” Delusional. “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth” (Jn 18:37). Born in Bethlehem, fulfilling prophecy after prophecy, surviving one tyrant only to be tried by another. Pilate now stands face to face with the silent gaze of Truth and Life. Still a mere carpenter’s son. Still bound and bleeding. But the growing unease has mounted to anxiety. A snide retort “what is Truth?”

As days tick by, Herod realizes the astrologers from the East aren’t coming back. They won’t be his spies and they won’t tell him where the child is. Furious and enraged that his power has been undermined, an order is sent, and there is mourning in Bethlehem. But even amidst the tragedy and slaughter the plan of redemption will not be stopped. The Christ child survives. Herod’s fury will not unravel a plan that was foretold long ago in a garden.

Ecce homo Pilate

“This man or Barabbas? One can go free.” But Pilate already knows, the people cannot bear the gaze of this man upon them anymore than he can. The cries for Barabbas reach Pilate’s ear. “Flog him, perhaps they are just bloodthirsty.” Afterwards he is again face to face with him. The crown of thorns, the purple robe, the blood stains on his face, the pitiful fool he had thought he was addressing earlier now makes him afraid. The weight of his claim terrifies Pilate. Do I stand before the Son of God?  “I have the power to free you or crucify you, answer me!” “You have no authority over me, unless it has been given to you from above.” Earthly power is put in check by the greater authority, and with that he turns away. “I wash my hands of this. His blood is on your hands.” But the blood stains are still there as the King of the Jews is led away. The serpent strikes.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.” Herod tried to kill him, he would not even spare his own family from his sword, but the Son of God would not be killed by him. He could not lay a finger on him. Pilate sentenced him to be crucified. He watched as the Son of God was led away, unsure of what he had just done. But it had all been foretold. With the words “it is finished”, the serpent’s head was crushed, death lost its sting, and every mortal was free from their deserved death. The two tyrants stood under the shadow of a stable and the shadow of a cross, all their powers fall away when faced with the true King.

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.