Herod the Great knew how to throw a party. Every four years he held a great festival to honor Caesar in a lavish amphitheater outside Jerusalem. He invited all the important people of the nation to come and enjoy the spectacle of athletes, musicians and entertainers. He had lavish prizes for the competitors, including those who won the horseback and chariot races.
Herod also brought in a supply of lions and other wild beasts to fight each other in the great arena. To make the event even more interesting he often took condemned men from his prisons and made them fight to the death with the animals. When a king has the resources, he can really throw a wild party!
When Josephus wrote about Herod’s great festival, the word he used was panegyris (pawn A jir iss), a common Greek word for an important public celebration. This word occurs once in the New Testament, when another King decided to throw a party.
Hebrews 12:22 describes a great celebration in the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. There seem to be no wild beasts tearing men limb from limb, but there are thousands of angels in “joyful assembly.” This is our King’s festival for his invited people, the church of the firstborn. He will give out lavish prizes for the winners—those who have kept the faith. What a party that will be!
But a word of caution. We should remember Hosea 2: 11 and what happened when Israel forgot God and tried to go on with her celebrations without him. God warned the he would put an end to it all: festivals, New Moons, Sabbath Days—all her “appointed feasts” (panegyris).
If we want to have a party, let’s be sure to let the King be in charge.