At Christmas, many sermons, blog posts, and magazine articles rightly expound the greatness of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Those writings echo the theme of Scripture, which exposes Christ’s glory with unique and superlative terms [my emphasis]:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Col. 1:15)
“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren…” (Rom. 8:29)
“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation…” (Heb. 9:11)
“The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” (Mt. 12:41–42)
“He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.” (Jn. 3:30–31)
While affirming those statements, it is still difficult to grasp the greatness of Christ. We know that Jesus is not just a more accomplished older brother and that He is more than merely “more righteous” than us. He is infinite while we are finite, but being finite we have no capacity to comprehend the fullness of His infinite greatness.
Here also Scripture helps us. Just as a diamond’s beauty is best revealed against a black backdrop, Christ’s greatness is perhaps best seen against the black backdrop of sin. We see the brilliance of Christ when we consider Him against sin and against what He was not. Scripture offers such a contrast in one of the first accounts of our Savior (Mt. 2:13-23). In the story of two kings, the tyrant Herod and the baby Jesus, the magnitude of Christ’s greatness is first revealed. See the greatness of Christ through a series of relational differences between Jesus and Herod [these thoughts are an expansion of a chart in William Hendriksen’s commentary on Matthew]:
Their relationship to self:
- Herod was selfish and self-indulgent, living for self (Mt. 2:3, 16)
- Jesus is self-denying and self-sacrificing, dying to self (Mk. 10:45; Jn. 10:11, 15; Phil. 2:5-8)
Their relationship to sin and Satan:
- Herod yielded to sin and Satan (Mt. 2:16)
- Jesus conquered sin and Satan (Mt. 4:1-11; Jn. 12:31-32; 19:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 2:17-18; 4:15)
Their relationship to mankind:
- Herod was a destroyer of mankind (Mt. 2:16)
- Jesus is the Savior of mankind (Mt. 1:21; Jn. 1:29)
Their relationship to children:
- Herod was cruel to children (Mt. 2:16)
- Jesus is gracious and loving to children, even coming to earth in humility as a child (Mt. 2:1, 20-23; 19:13-14)
Their relationship to authority:
- Herod was afraid of another King’s authority (Mt. 2:3ff)
- Jesus is King over all men and fears no one (Rev. 17:14; 19:16)
Their relationship to truth:
- Herod was a deceiver and deceived (Mt. 2:7-8, 16)
- Jesus is a truth teller and the truth (Mk. 12:14; Jn. 1:9, 14; 14:6)
The contrast between Herod and Christ might be summarized this way: Herod, while a great (i.e., significant) earthly king, lost all things; Christ, as the great (i.e., transcendent and sovereign) heavenly King, was and is in control over all things (Mt. 11:27; 28:18; Rom. 11:36).
It should also be remembered that in himself, every person is far more like Herod than Christ. As Herod feared Christ’s authority and rule and was rebellious against Him and sought to destroy Him, so all men (me, too!) are naturally rebellious against God, unsubmissive to Him, and haters of Him (Rom. 1:18-32; 3:10-18; 5:12). Until God saves them. Then, even while still bearing the flesh, we are more like Christ than Herod because of Christ’s imputed righteousness. He is so great that He declares righteous those who are not righteous on their own and who are incapable of being righteous in any way.
Christ is our great Savior and King, indeed.