Cross Road: In The Fox’s Den
Today we take what I would call a slight detour on the Cross Road in order to study the encounter between Jesus and King Herod. After the trial before Caiaphas, Jesus was led away to Pontius Pilate. Pilate’s quick response was to send Jesus on to Herod so that he, Pilate, might not have to render a judgment in this case. He tried to pawn Jesus off on the puppet king of Galilee. It is this meeting between the Lamb and the Fox that I want us to ponder now.
I call King Herod “The Fox” because that’s what Jesus called him. In Luke 13, it is recorded that some Pharisees came to Jesus to warn Him that Herod was out to capture Him. Jesus replied: “Go and tell that fox, “Behold I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.” Jesus called Herod “That fox.” Today when we apply the word “fox” to a person, we are referring to that person’s cunning or cleverness or perhaps even a person’s beauty. But in Jesus’ day, the fox was considered to be a worthless and insignificant animal. Therefore, when you called a person “a fox,” you were expressing contempt for that person. Jesus regarded Herod as a spineless ruler, a tin-pot monarch, a pipsqueak king—so He derisively called Herod “that fox.”
I call Jesus “the Lamb” because that’s what the Bible calls Him. In the Old Testament, the lamb was the animal sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people. In the New Testament, Jesus Himself becomes the sacrifice, offering His own life for the sins of the whole world. So right from John the Baptist on, Jesus is called “the Lamb of God.”
There in the royal palace in the ancient city of Jerusalem, the Lamb faced the Fox. I remind you that there was only one king in that palace, and although Herod wore the royal robe and the be-jeweled crown, He was not that king. Let’s join Luke in looking at what happened there in the Fox’s Den…
First, Luke says: “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad…”
Of course, it is not difficult for us to imagine someone being glad to see Jesus. I remember once sharing a platform with a distinguished doctor who had collected many years. Yet as he stood to speak, there was about him an obvious radiance, a smile bedazzled his deeply-lined face, a lilt gave life to his voice. He began his speech with these words: “I may look as old as Methuselah, but actually I have just had my fourth birthday. You see, it was four years ago last Tuesday that the joy of Jesus Christ became real in my life.” He had met Jesus Christ, and he was glad; and it showed. That’s always true. Whenever one is in the presence of the Master, there is always going to be a sense of gladness—and that gladness is going to be beautiful to behold.
However, there are times when that gladness can be wrong. Herod was a case in point. Luke writes: “When Herod saw Jesus, he was glad for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him and he was hoping to see some signs done by him.” In other words, Herod wanted a floor show. He wasn’t looking for a saviour—he was looking for a sleight-of-hand expert. He wasn’t looking for a master—he was looking for a magician.
Yet what else could we expect from the likes of Herod? Remember that he was one of the three sons of Herod the Great. You know him. That’s the Herod who dealt with the Wise Men and who killed the infants of Bethlehem in an effort to snuff out the life of the baby Jesus. Herod the Great had three sons, one of them was this Herod—called Herod Antipas in order to distinguish him from his father. Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee. Soon after he ascended the throne, Herod Antipas fell in love with his brother’s wife—an incestuous act. The woman, Herodias, divorced her husband and married Herod, an act roundly criticized by John the Baptist. Herod had John jailed, and later, beheaded.
Do you recall Lord Acton’s dictum? “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Herod took that dictum one step further. He had little power, but what little power he had corrupted him completely. His personal deterioration was rapid and irreversible. He was a man enslaved by his own foul conscience. And in a pathetic attempt at easing the living hell of his days and his nights, he turned his court into a carnival. He brought in entertainers, singers, dancers, jugglers—anyone who could take his mind off the sorry state of his own life. So he was glad to see Jesus. He had heard about the miracles worked in Galilee. It would be a welcome diversion for his court. He wasn’t looking for a saviour—he was looking for a show. He was glad, for all the wrong reasons.
Next Luke says: “He questioned Jesus at some length…”
Interesting. Of course, this was a pretense. He pretended to want to know about Jesus just to get the preliminaries out of the way so they could get on with the show. It was a sham. If Herod was any kind of a king at all, he was the king of the hypocrites.
I have been in the ministry long enough to know that conversation about Christ is not the same thing as conversion to Christ. I have been in the ministry long enough to know that the words that cross a person’s lips do not necessarily testify with truth to the state of that individual’s soul. I have been in the ministry long enough to know that hypocrisy has made itself at home in the hearts of every single one of us. In Scotland, dogs called border collies are used to control flocks of sheep. The dogs are beautiful and it’s very interesting to watch them work. I remember hearing an old Scotsman say that on rare occasions a border collie will become a sheep-killer. But when that happens, the old man said, the dog does his killing only at night. During the day, the dog is friendly and does his job well with the sheep—but at night, he becomes a killer. That’s what a hypocrite is like—parading in garments of goodness and friendliness and sincerity, but all the while, inside, a beast of prey. A hypocrite is like…like a fox!
Then Luke says: “Jesus made no answer.”
Jesus could have answered. He could have said something that would have driven a wedge between Herod and Pilate and thus secured His own freedom. He could even have answered Herod’s request with a quick demonstration of His awesome power. And that, too, would have gained His freedom. Instead the Lamb looked at the Fox and uttered not a single word. He was silent.
I must press this point home. Are you still hearing Jesus in your life? There were times in the past when the words of Scripture brought special warmth to your heart. There were times in the past when you knew that Christ was real—wonderfully, powerfully, savingly real in your life. But is that still true? Do no sermons pierce your heart anymore? Does no hymn that we sing put a lump in your throat or a tear in your eye? Can you look at a templed hill or a scintillating sunset and not hear in your heart the whispers of the Almighty? Can you read the pages of the Bible without having your mind and your spirit stretched to new horizons? If not, then beware of the silence of the Saviour.
Think, for example, of the things Jesus could have offered to Herod. Here was Jesus, steely strong—and here was Herod, pitifully weak. Here was Jesus, young, but at peace with life and death—and here was Herod, older, but not a moment’s peace in his waking or his sleeping hours. Here was Jesus, a volcano of spiritual power ready to erupt—and here was Herod, a dank, stagnant pool, slowly dying. Here was Jesus, ruling the awesome flow of human history yet patient enough to spend time with little children—and here was Herod so bamboozled by the swirl of events around him that he was thrashing about like a drowning man. Think what Jesus could have offered to Herod, yet Jesus answered not a word. Why? I think because He knew that it would do no good. As Clovis Chappell says it: “Herod had shut his eyes to the light for so long that his eyes had gone out.”
Please hear me. If you are not hearing the voice of Jesus in your life, if you are not sensing His leading in your experience, then think, man; think, woman; think, young person; think about the state of your soul.
Now Luke says: “Herod with his soldiers treated Him with contempt and mocked him.”
Faced with the silence of Jesus, Herod resorted to anger. “Fake! Charlatan! Fraud! They call you a miracle man, but you can’t do anything. So if you won’t give me a show, then I’ll give you one.” Herod ordered Jesus dressed up in a white robe—the kind the Messiah was expected to wear. Then Herod and his court bowed down in mock reverence, laughing all the while. “Good show!” they cried. “Ha! Ha! Good show.” They played games with God.
But before we are too quick to rise up and condemn Herod and his henchmen, let me remind you that all of us are guilty of playing games with God. All of us are guilty of not taking the Saviour seriously. Someone has written: “We want Christ, but not His cross. We want the Church, but not the discipline it calls for in the use of our time, talent, and life. We want its worship, but not on a rainy day. We want its teaching for our children, but only if we do not oversleep or if the grass is not too high.” We are a lot more subtle than Herod and his men, but we do play games with God.
My friends, if we do not learn anything else from King Herod, let us learn this: Don’t toy with the Lord. Don’t trifle with God, because He will not be trifled with. He will be loved and adored, or He will be hated and cursed, but He will not be trivialized. A few years ago there was a cartoon in the New Yorker—it had two frames. In the first frame a man was looking at a poster which said “Prepare to meet thy God.” In the next frame, you see the man combing his hair! That’s how he was preparing, combing his hair, getting all gussied up! We must never be so casual about the things that are divine. Our relationship to Jesus Christ in this life—that is the most important decision we ever make in this life. Don’t take it lightly. Don’t brush it aside. Don’t be casual about it. Don’t play games with God. Understand, please, that God does not lash out at those who refuse to take Him seriously. He doesn’t blast them to smithereens with some catastrophe. Not at all. He does something infinitely more terrible. He does what Jesus did to Herod. He simply turns away.
I think of Herod in terms of the lines that Green wrote in his History of the English People. He was describing Cardinal Wolsey, a man rather like King Herod. And what Green wrote of Wolsey could just as easily have been written of Herod. Listen. “The hand of judgment crawled across the sundial. The event was put off until all the man’s wrongs were done. Though justice cried out for truth, there was no truth and there was no justice. At least not yet. It was as if God did not see or hear until the cup of sin was filled. Then the finger of God was extended, the strokes of judgment were heard, and the fabric of that faithless life was shivered into ruins.” So it was for King Herod. Ultimately, his life was shivered into ruins.
Jesus, the Lamb of God, does not stand quite so straight and tall anymore. The agony in the garden, the brutality of the arrest, the beating in the palace of Caiaphas, the derision and ridicule heaped upon Him by Herod—all of it has begun to break down this magnificently strong, young carpenter from Nazareth. But I ask you: Who won? The Lamb or the Fox? Who always wins when Jesus Christ confronts those who refuse to take Him seriously?
Well? You tell me.