What a Bloodthirsty Tyrant Taught Me About Advent

Herod the Great In this post, Ryan Rotz reflects on the unexpected Advent lessons he’s learned from a notorious historical figure.

King Herod the Great is known by most Christians for his role in the Christmas story in Matthew 2. Afraid of losing the throne to a “newborn king of the Jews,” Herod tried to manipulate the three wise men into telling him where to find the rumored child; when that didn’t work, he ordered the killing of Bethlehem’s baby boys.

But there’s a lot more to Herod than just this one scene. Herod the Great’s life is a Hollywood blockbuster waiting to happen. There are overthrown kingdoms, political maneuverings, family feuds, love and betrayal, and unfortunately, a whole lot of death. It is an R-rated story, to say the least, but it can teach us something very important about the significance of Advent—if we look close enough.

A tumultuous beginning

Masada model of fortress

After the Romans pushed out the Hasmonean kingdom in 63 BC, an official named Antipater was installed to govern the land of Israel. Antipater put his son Phasael in charge of Judea and Herod in charge of Galilee. Then in 40 BC the Parthians invaded. Herod’s brother was captured and committed suicide and Herod barely escaped. He hid his family in Masada before fleeing to Rome for help. Read more about the Masad fortress  here

A savvy politician

Using his political savvy, Herod won the support of Mark Antony, who was co-ruling the Roman Empire with Octavian. Mark Antony convinced the Roman Senate to appoint Herod king of Judea; they even gave him an army to fight (and ultimately defeat) the Parthians.

Herod’s political abilities proved to be even more impressive years later. After Mark Antony lost a civil war to Octavian (later named Caesar Augustus), Herod approached the new emperor. He said that although he supported Mark Antony during the civil war he would be as loyal to Octavian in the future as he was to Mark Antony in the past. Octavian was convinced. Not only did he spare Herod’s life, he befriended Herod and expanded his kingdom.

An insecure king

While the Romans favored Herod, the Jews did not. After returning from Rome with an Army, Herod usurped the throne from the Parthians, with whom many of the Jews had sided. Herod was not a pure Jew either; he was an Idumaean, a people group who were forcibly converted to Judaism. Despite his efforts to rebuild the temple, Herod was never fully accepted by the Jews.

A model of Herod's palace-fortress in Jerusalem.

A model of Herod’s palace-fortress in Jerusalem.

Because of this, Herod lived in perpetual fear of revolt. He built multiple palace fortresses where he could defend himself in case of attack. His paranoia knew no bounds, leading him to kill six of his own family members, including his favorite and beloved wife Mariamne, and three of his sons. Even the notoriously bloodthirsty Rome was shocked by his brutality. Augustus scoffed, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son,”riffing on the fact that Herod abstained from pork.

One story perfectly encapsulates the paranoia and insecurity of this aging tyrant. Shortly before he died, Herod invited a number of prominent citizens to a special event. He told them that following his death they would all be killed. He hoped that the people mourning in the streets over their loved ones would appear to be mourning for him. He was so convinced that no one loved him, he was willing to kill for it.

Herod’s biggest fear

With a track record like Herod’s, it’s no surprise that upon hearing of a “newborn king of the Jews” he took action to maintain his power. Herod had experienced a lot of loss in his life and he was scared of losing more. His father was poisoned to death, his brother committed suicide, his people did not accept him, and he was scared of his family overthrowing and killing him. Except for a few political connections far away in Rome, Herod did not have many people in his corner. He was terrified and felt alone.

The irony of Herod’s story is that he pushed away the one thing he really desired:  love. He was so afraid of not being loved that he pushed away the people he wanted love from: his community, his family, his wife, and most importantly, his God. He acted in ways that made him lose what he truly longed for. He chose control.

What Herod taught me

As much as I’d like to end this little biography with a moralistic, “Merry Christmas! Don’t be like Herod!” I have to be honest: I’m a little more like Herod than I’d like to admit. While I haven’t ordered the death of any family members, I do try to control aspects of my life and the people around me. I avoid mistakes like the plague and eliminate threats upon arrival. And just like Herod, it’s all rooted in fear—fear of not being loved, fear of losing my throne, fear of losing everything because I have no idea what is going to happen next.

So when it comes to Advent, I understand where Herod was coming from. The birth of Jesus was a direct challenge to Herod’s control. And it’s a challenge to mine too. For me, Advent is a reminder that Jesus is coming for his throne and I need to step down from it. I am not the King; I am not Jesus.

What I’ve found though, is that when I surrender my desire to control, life doesn’t fall apart like I once thought it would. When I choose to accept God’s love for me, instead of pushing it away, things start to come together and fear slips away. I find the perfect love that I’ve been looking for all along. The love which casts out all fear. The love that Herod was looking for 2,000 years ago but never found.


by Ryan Rotz 


Brokenness: The Protest

Jonah 1

The children’s story about Jonah and the big fish presents the prophet in a rather rosy light: After three days in the fish’s belly, he relents and goes merrily on to Nineveh. End of story. The narrative in the Bible has the same components (storm, big fish, repentant Ninevites) but the context is totally different. From the moment Jonah chose to flee from God’s plan until the end of the book, his heart was rebelling against God.

The inhabitants of Nineveh were Assyrians, a people known for their aggression and cruelty to others. Since they were the sworn enemies of Israel, Jonah had good reason to despise them. But God loved the Ninevites and desired their repentance. The task of ministering to them carried an additional purpose: breaking Jonah’s unloving spirit—an attitude so strong that he preferred to die rather than see the enemy saved (Jonah 4:3).

God longed to mold the prophet’s character to reflect His own—He wanted a willing, loving servant. But Jonah resisted at each and every turn. Pride and hatred drove him ever deeper into rebellion and away from the Lord. The Lord wasn’t fooled; He knew Jonah’s heart remained hard, even after the people repented. While the Ninevites rejoiced over deliverance, their minister stewed in his bitterness. Emotional and mental anguish were high prices to pay for resistance.

What keeps you from serving the Lord fully? You likely know the area of your life that He is trying to break. Though the process may be painful, it’s done for your good and His glory. Give in to Him.

Unto Him That Is Able

“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.” (Jude 1:24)

There are three wonderful doxologies in three New Testament epistles extolling the transcendent ability of God to accomplish and perfect our eternal salvation. One is our text above, assuring all who are “looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 1:21) that He is fully able to bring us joyfully into the presence of God in glory.

Then, look at Ephesians 3:20: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” Furthermore, His power is able to keep us forever. “Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began” (Romans 16:25).

Little wonder that the apostles exhort us to praise such a wonderful God and Savior! But in addition to the three doxologies, the Word of God contains many other testimonies to the omnipotent ability of the Lord on behalf of His people. “He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). “He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). “The Lord Jesus Christ: . . . shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).

With such a Savior and heavenly Father, we can join with Jude as he concludes his doxology: “To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 1:25). HMM

Easter without Good Friday

For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake. —Philippians 1:29

God will crucify without pity those whom He desires to raise without measure!…

God wants to crucify us from head to foot—making our own powers ridiculous and useless—in the desire to raise us without measure for His glory and for our eternal good….

Willingness to suffer for Jesus’ sake—this is what we have lost from the Christian church. We want our Easter to come without the necessity of a Good Friday. We forget that before the Redeemer could rise and sing among His brethren He must first bow His head and suffer among His brethren!

We forget so easily that in the spiritual life there must be the darkness of the night before there can be the radiance of the dawn. Before the life of resurrection can be known, there must be the death that ends the dominion of self It is a serious but a blessed decision, this willingness to say, “I will follow Him no matter what the cost. I will take the cross no matter how it comes!”

Lord, I come before You on my knees to say, “I will follow [You] no matter what the cost. I will take the cross no matter how it comes!” Amen.

God Will Know When to Exalt Us

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. James 4:10

Christians have often asked: “Must I humble myself and meekly accept every situation in life?”

I think this is the answer: As Christians, we must never violate morals or truth in humility.

If in humbling ourselves we compromise the truth, we must never do it. If it means a compromise of morality, we must never do it.

I am confident that no man or woman is ever called of God to degrade himself or herself, either morally or in truth. But we do have a calling from God to humble ourselves under His mighty hand—and let the other party do the rock-throwing!

In this call to His people for true humility, God adds the promise that He will exalt us in due time! “Due time.” It will be the time that God knows is best suited to perfect us and a time that will bring honor to God and the most good to men. That is “due time.”

It may be that in God’s will He will expect us to wait a long time before He can honor us or exalt us. But God knows what is best for each of us in His desire to make us the kind of saints that will glorify and honor Him in all things!

It is well for us to remember here that Jesus willingly humbled himself under the hand of men and so He humbled Himself under the hand of God!

The Need for Reverence

God is greatly to be feared… and to be had in reverence. PSALM 89:7

Many persons who have been raised in our churches no longer think in terms of reverence, which seems to indicate that they doubt God’s presence is there! Much of the blame must be placed on the growing acceptance of a wordly secularism that seems much more appealing than any real desire for the spiritual life that is pleasing to God.

We secularize God; we secularize the gospel of Christ and we secularize worship!

No great and spiritually-minded men of God are going to come out of such churches, nor any great spiritual movement of believing prayer and revival. If God is to be honored and revered and truly worshiped, He may have to sweep us away and start somewhere else!

Let us confess that there is a necessity for true worship among us. If God is who He says He is and if we are the believing people of God we claim to be, we must worship Him! In my own assessment, for men and women to lose the awareness of God in our midst is a loss too terrible ever to be appraised!

Dear Lord, forgive me for those times when I rush right in and start “dumping” my complaints and needs on You without first acknowledging and honoring You as the Almighty God. I humbly bow before You, Lord.