To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17)
The world has known many kings, even if you have never lived under an earthly one. The world has known cruel kings and merciful kings, proud kings and humble kings, powerful kings and trembling kings — but the world has never known a king like ours.
When God sent his one and only Son, our King, he came against the backdrop of broken, weak, and evil kings — even the kings of God’s very own people. Saul, Israel’s first king, was filled with envy to the point of rage. King Solomon, with all of his wisdom, still wandered away after women — *lots* of women — who loved other gods. King Rehoboam abused the very people God had entrusted to him, dividing the kingdom in two. Even King David, the man “after God’s own heart,” was consumed by lust, committed adultery with Bathsheba, and had her husband, Uriah, murdered.
Jesus himself was born in Bethlehem of Judea under another king, a king as wicked as any other, Herod the Great. In God’s providence and love, however, Herod, and every other evil ruler since, serves to reveal all that our King of kings is not.
The Humble King
When Jesus was born, Herod had already ruled in Judea for three decades. How did he respond when he heard the King had come? “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled” (Matthew 2:3). Wise men, perhaps kings themselves, ran from the east to worship the Christ, but Herod felt threatened, even desperate. If a new king had been born, what did that mean for him? His pride blinded him, even to the “radiance of the glory of God” lying in a manger (Hebrews 1:3).
Our king, however, was not plagued with Herod’s pride. “Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6–8). Though he sat on a throne of infinite power and glory, he bowed down to earth to serve the very ones who had sinned against him, the ones who had despised his power and glory to serve themselves.
Unlike any other king, the humble King came “from a throne of endless glory, to a cradle in the dirt,” and then eventually to a cross of nails and wood.
The Merciful King
Very few in history can imagine the horrors Herod unleashed when Jesus was born. When the wise men avoided Herod and spoiled his plan, he had every infant son murdered in Bethlehem. “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” (Matthew 2:16). A good king does everything in his power to protect the weakest and most vulnerable. A wicked king sacrifices his people, even the weakest and most vulnerable, at the altar of his own selfish desires.
While Herod murdered innocent children to try and save his throne, Jesus left his throne to die for those, like us, who deserved to die. The apostle Paul, who had murdered Christians before coming to Christ, writes, “I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16).
When he could have righteously wiped us out because of our sin, the Merciful King carried us with patience and clothed us with mercy.
The Sovereign King
Pity any king who must kill babies to protect himself. It is the height of weakness to abuse the weak to preserve one’s power. When Herod sent soldiers to kill the infants — notice he did not go down to Bethlehem himself — he revealed just how little he could really do. After thirty years in power, he crumbled before a newborn in a manger.
The strongest kings and men, however, use whatever power and authority they have been given by God to serve and protect — and not to harm. Before he went to the cross, Jesus said, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). And why did he lay it down? “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11) — for the weak, the needy, the sinful, the desperate.
When our Sovereign King looked the weakest, hanging from the cross, he was wielding the greatest power, strength, and love the world has ever known, and he was wielding it in love for you.