The Passion’s Herod

I remember the day so clearly.

It was a Tuesday morning at my high school, and the group of us who had congregated on the small mound in the middle of the open area of the school compound joined hands together and prayed.  We were going to need it.  We’d never heard of anyone doing anything like what we were about to do, and it seemed risky.

Somehow, God made use of a few willing students who wanted to actively promote the Gospel of Christ on their campus.  The very public presentation that morning before school started included testimonies and drama, and we clearly presented relationship with Christ as the only way to God in a relevant manner.  About a hundred students altogether saw it, and over a dozen committed their lives to Christ by the end of it.

Isn’t it amazing how doing something like that often seems to stir the waters of contention?  Immediately word about the event buzzed around, especially in the bureaucratic chambers of the public school’s administration.  Despite the clearances they had given us to do exactly what we did, the higher-ups obviously didn’t like this overt presentation of the Gospel to an open campus, and they would later try to shut us down for a second round.  But that’s another story for another time.

However, I remember distinctly that morning one set of people whose response was much more muted.  In fact, some would consider it a lack of response—if that’s possible.  I’m referring to a group I’ll call “the casual observers”.  Most of us at some point in our lives probably have joined this group of people, whether it be at church, at school, at work, or even at home.  The casual observer is characteristically disconnected from the events at hand, often interested only so far as it is personally gratifying.  I remember distinctly looking out over the crowd that had gathered for our on-campus event, and seeing many casual observers spread out across the campus, around the perimeter of the open area in which we were presenting.  Involvement didn’t seem to enter their minds, though our prayer was that God would reach their hearts somehow.  Even so, for many their approach seemed to be one of, “Well, I don’t really care about what they have to say, but maybe they have some entertainment value.”

One of the most interesting moments in The Passion of the Christ is when Christ is brought in before Herod.  At his court, Herod comes before Christ and questions Him with interest.  Likely, Herod had heard some rumblings about a man from Nazareth who was a miracle-worker, able to perform amazing feats.  In the film, Herod appears particularly interested in this—essentially he says, “Show me a miracle, if you are the King of the Jews.”

But when Christ performs no such miracle, Herod immediately loses interest.  “Take him back to Pilate,” he says, with a wave of his hand.

This response, though having occurred nearly two millennia ago, seems decidedly familiar somehow.  I began to think of the American culture’s general response to the Gospel message, and many of the students from my high school.  “Do something for me that will convince me of your beliefs.  Where are the miracles?  Where are the amazing feats of power?  Where are the healings, the casting out of demons, the resurrections?”  If they don’t happen, many turn away disinterestedly, their casual attention drawn to another interest.

The role of casually observing the Christian faith illustrates the danger of settling for superficial spiritual answers.  Those who do so end up treating Christianity as nothing more than one more “organized religion”, one other “possible spiritual road” to happiness.  I can’t count how many people I’ve come across over the years whose response to Christianity was one of, “Well, whatever works for you.”

Welcome to Herod’s world, one where the relative value of a philosophy was based on its ability to provide instant gratification.

I submit to you that miracles and the exciting, epic natures of Christianity are not gone, but their manifestation is often hidden from those who seek them for their temporal value.  Even Jesus refused to perform a miracle for the religious leaders of His day, citing them as examples of a “wicked and adulterous generation” that sought a sign rather than the Messiah (Matthew 16:1-4).  Ironically, in doing so these Pharisees inherently rejected their spiritual roots of faith in favor of the instant gratification of paganism.

The problem with only casually observing the Christian faith is that it demands quite the opposite.  The Christian faith demands our full attention to be understood, our whole hearts to be lived out in excellence.  A casual response is not enough.  Herod didn’t take the time to understand Christ, nor did countless others even during His time on earth.  And because of this, their response even to a miracle would likely be limited to a “Wow, where can I schedule you to perform next?” without any love for the Person and the Purpose of Christ Himself.  Doesn’t that sound vaguely familiar even today?  A host of Christians are unfortunately even now being swept away in some movements full of entertainment and temporal appeal that demand no personal responsibility to respond as God has designed.  They seek fulfillment without faith, miracles without a Master, passion without a price.

“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from Me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:22-23)

It’s a heavy message, but it is one of truth as well as eternal reward.  The Christian faith is an extreme—God demands all, not some.  That’s why Christ was misunderstood: He was true to His calling and purpose even when it didn’t make sense to those around Him, because He knew His God.  He refused to sacrifice His purpose on the altar of popularity; and while it cost Him His temporal life, it gained Him the Kingdom of resurrected and eternal life.

And it is those who take hold of their faith in Christ with abandon and live it out with purpose who will be maligned, misunderstood, called crazy, and even crucified.  Then again, only the crucified life enters in to Kingdom that Christ came to establish, and experiences the fullness of all that God has created it to be.  Exciting and miraculous events occur even today in the Christian faith, and wondrous things are prepared for us, far beyond our imaginations and hopes.  But until we view them as means to touching God’s heart—by employing them for His glory, to see a lost world redeemed—instead of making things the end focus of our pursuit, we limit their effectiveness to a temporal entertainment instead of an eternal redemption.

I challenge you and myself in this: Don’t just casually observe Christianity.  Don’t be satisfied with temporary gratification.  Don’t settle for superficiality in your response to the Gospel and the Christian life.  Enter into the depths of God’s heart, and by doing so, experience all that you were truly meant to be.

—Mark Knoles

Maxim of the Moment

Where there is much love there are few regrets.