A while back, I mentioned that I didn’t have the Godhead all figured out. A young man approached me and told me he could tell me everything I need to know about the Trinity. Wow! He had God all figured out. Well, that must be nice. I smiled and said, “I’m not sure anyone can adequately describe God.” Our finite minds will always grapple with understanding an infinite God. I personally think that is exactly how it ought to be; how it is meant to be. If we truly did grasp the mystery of the Godhead, we most likely would think too much of ourselves. Hey, listen to me, I’ve got the answers that you are not smart enough to figure out. And it is here that we come to an infinitely important juncture in our faith: can we trust in a God that we cannot pigeonhole into a nicely packaged definition?
Luke 9:7-9 is the account of Herod grasping to come to terms with who Jesus was. One of the purposes of this passage is to illustrate how far the reports of Jesus were traveling. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was a tetrarch. Mark, using common, rather than technically accurate terminology, calls him a king. The term tetrarch was more technical. The Romans often divided up a region into fourths. Herod ruled over a fourth of what his father Herod the Great had ruled over. So, he was a Roman minion with some authority. But he was a tetrarch and most of the time what happened in Galilee would have flown well below his radar. But healings and raising little girls and young men from the dead and casting out demons and all of that was bound to come to his attention.
Luke tells us that he was perplexed. The word means to be thoroughly perplexed. It has the idea of exhausting all options and still being at a loss; not finding an answer. For Herod, Jesus was the unsolvable equation. And for Herod, this may have been a result of him not wanting to believe the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah. Herod was not Jewish, but he would have known about the Jewish expectation. And this expectation may have been something he scoffed at. Some will be perplexed by Jesus because of the simple fact that they don’t want to except the possibility of him being more than just a man. That would change things; that would demand things. But on another level, we should be perplexed by Jesus. Jesus will not fit nicely into a convenient or comfortable niche. He was fully man and yet fully God. I can grasp the fully human part, but I have never been fully God. So all of my attempts to shove Jesus into a box will fall short and any claim of having figured him out will be a bit presumptuous. Don’t misunderstand. We can know Jesus and follow Jesus. But that knowing and following is a constant learning process. And in that way we should be somewhat perplexed as well. More like the disciples, who are asking and wondering and growing and less like Herod who is refusing to accept the implications.
There are three explanations of who Jesus was that had wafted up to Herod’s palace. Some believed that John the Baptist had come back from the dead. Many believed that someone coming back from the dead would possess superhuman abilities. So, even though the lives of Jesus and John had overlapped, they tried to explain Jesus with superstition. Some thought that Elijah had returned. And here we are getting close. In Malachi 4:5 God tells the people that he is going to send Elijah before the coming of the great and terrible day of Yahweh. Most Jews believed that Elijah had to come before the Messiah came. So, Jesus may not be the Messiah, but he is the one who comes before the Messiah. The third explanation was that one of the prophets of old had risen again. Israel had experienced a prophet drought. Many longed for a man of God who powerfully proclaimed the word of God and was also able to do amazing things like outrun chariots and raise the dead. It is interesting that all of their explanations involve somebody coming back from the dead. Herod blurts out that he had killed John. And then he asked the important question, “Who is this man?” The final statement is sad. He kept seeking him. I think this is meant to be taken both physically and ironically. He sought in vain because he refused the possibility; because he refused to allow Jesus to tell him who he was.
Don’t be perplexed in the same way as Herod Antipas. Don’t look at all the options and reject them all. Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Son of God. He is the Savior. Be perplexed like the disciples who had also asked “Who is this man?” They asked and watched and learned. Don’t think you can shove Jesus into a comfortable explanation. Accept him for who he is and be wowed. Perplexity can be good. Peace, Walter