…He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
Peace is not a word anyone would have associated with King Herod. History records him as an unstable tyrant, given to spending money lavishly and executing those who upset him, including several of his family members.
He appears in our Bibles in Matthew 2. Magi from the east have arrived in Jerusalem asking where the one who has been born king of the Jews might be (Matthew 2:2). Herod is so threatened by the thought that somewhere in his kingdom there is a baby who might one day seek to usurp his throne that he tries to trick the Magi into returning to tell him exactly where to find the child. When they don’t, and he realises he has been outwitted, he solves the problem by ordering the massacre of all the baby boys in Bethlehem. This is not the response of a man at peace.
Herod had gained his position by cunning, conflict, manipulation, and a strategic marriage. He had worked hard to get where he was, and he had to keep working hard to stay there. When your position and power is entirely of your own making, you can’t rest for a moment. You must continually be on the alert for threats and challenges, trusting no one, always looking out for sly looks and subtle insults, ever aware that one mistake could mean the end.
When Isaiah prophesied about the birth of Christ, he said that one of Jesus’ titles, and one aspect of his identity, would be Prince of Peace.
This was true in the sense that he would make peace between us and God (Isaiah 53:5), but also in the sense that he embodied peace – peace with God, peace with the world, and peace with oneself. He could sleep in the midst of a storm, and could follow the Father’s leading day by day without anxiety about what he and the disciples were going to eat, or where they would stay that night. In the midst of the most stressful situations we are ever likely to face, he demonstrated what it means to have a peace that passes understanding.
How could Jesus, who was in very nature God (Philippians 2:6), take on human flesh and live in the lowest possible place – as a working class refugee from an occupied country – and be totally at peace, while Herod, in his position of great power, lived in constant turmoil?
Herod had got to where he wanted to be, through his own efforts. Jesus was where God wanted him, through God’s power. He hadn’t had to strive to get there, and he didn’t have to strive to maintain his status.
A squalling infant was enough to send Herod into a murderous panic. Jesus could face an angry mob and a squadron of highly trained executioners with perfect peace.
Herod thought he was in control of his own destiny, but his desperate scrabbling to keep hold of every vestige of power shows that he knew it could all be ripped away at any moment. Jesus was under no illusions as to who was in control of his life, and that freedom from having to try to do it all himself gave him a deep, abiding, sustaining peace.
You can’t give what you don’t have. Herod’s gift to the people he ruled was fear and insecurity, because that was the content of his character. Jesus also imparts the contents of his character to those whose lives he rules. As we become more like him, we find his peace beginning to take root and grow in our hearts.
How can you pass on the gift of peace to others?
- Have you ever worked with someone highly strung, or someone really easy-going? Their very presence can change the whole mood and atmosphere in a room. In the same way, focussing on Jesus and his presence can introduce peace into our own hearts and into the circumstances around us. It doesn’t resolve our problems, but it helps us to see them in a right perspective.
- The best way you can give peace to those around you is by cultivating it in your own life. Do you tend to be a Herod, striving to keep all the plates spinning and to prove your worth to the world, or are you more like Jesus, secure in the Father’s love and confident in his plans for you and his power to provide for your needs?