Monday, January 25, 2010

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:27, for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, "Whose Body is it?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. I have Good News for you! Though we live in a world that is dead and dying, though we live in a world that often chooses death over life, God speaks love and life, hope and healing to us in His Word. He has made us and He has re-made us alive in Christ. That is why we’re here. That is why we listen to His life-giving Word on this Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

People that God dearly loves—babies—are everywhere! They’re selling Michelin tires. They’re babbling away about e-trading. And they’re even roller skating to rap music to sell Evian water! It’s cute! And cuteness works. But what does it say that we accept babies in advertising, yet discard them like old tires even before they are born?

Babies are everywhere! Hardly a week goes by that the celebrity gossip shows don’t gush over another “tummy popping out,” or about another one of the rich and famous adopting a newborn or a toddler from somewhere in the world. It’s cute! And cuteness works. But what does it say that the tabloids celebrate babies—whether the parents are married or not—and also take it for granted that it’s just as OK—and might even be celebrated—when one of them decides to abort because “who are we to judge another’s decision?”

Sadly this shows that not all stories have happy endings. Some are sad and disappointing at best, tragic and shocking in their harshness and horror at worst. Consider for example a former NFL player in prison for plotting the murder of his pregnant girlfriend. The hit man was spared the death penalty even though he was found guilty of “using an instrument with intent to kill an unborn child.” One should stop and note how this guilty verdict also fits as a description of the work of an abortionist. The man who fired the gun said, “I couldn’t bring myself to kill the baby. I shot at the top...” Fortunately the unborn child, delivered by C-section, survived the violence against his mother.

Today we grieve a deadly tragedy. But as we grieve do so by celebrating the gift of life, in the face of a culture that is filled with death. Thirty-seven years ago—on January 22, of 1973—the United States Supreme Court handed down it’s decision on the case of Roe versus Wade, legalizing abortion-on-demand in these United States of America.

How serious is this holocaust? A conservative estimate is that—in our country alone—almost 52 million unborn children have been killed by legalized abortion in the past 37 years. Who might these children have been? The researcher who could be finding the cure for breast cancer or AIDS or Parkinson’s Disease! The police officer, the soldier, the scientist, the writer, the teacher, the mother, the father, the musician, the artist, the missionary bringing the Good News to those who had never heard of Jesus Christ!

Who were they? Who were these nameless members of a lost generation? They were children denied life after conception. They were grandchildren denied life outside the safety of the womb. Perhaps they would have simply been children who delighted those around them with a smile or a laugh. Children that never lived outside the womb to bring the delight and awe and innocence of a child to the world. How much poorer are we for their absence. How much less knowledge, joy, and energy does the world have because they are lost to us. They were God’s creation, given bodies and souls, to live in His world and to live in Christ through the gift of His salvation.
And it’s not only Roe v Wade that we grieve today. We grieve the culture of death which surrounds us, the culture that has made “choice” and “freedom” and “privacy” its unholy trinity of false gods. We grieve RU-486 and partial birth abortions. We grieve the rise of infanticide and euthanasia. We grieve political policies and practices which do not value and protect the life of the smallest and most vulnerable among us. As we grieve we turn to God’s Word seeking answers to this important question: Whose Body Is It?

Let’s start with the positive, with the affirmation of God’s wisdom in designing life and God’s power in creating life. The Psalmist says, “…I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14a).
What mystery and what marvel. From conception on there is a unique human being. This isn’t a potential life but a life filled with potential. All this unborn child needs is time and nourishment—and protection.

For at only 18 days after conception the tiny heart begins beating. At eight weeks the stomach, liver, kidneys, and brain are functioning. Distinctive, one-of-a-kind fingerprints are defined. This child is moving and maturing. The Precious Feet of only ten weeks show little toes already formed and growing. All the preborn child needs to become a healthy newborn is nourishment and time—and protection. For in the womb the growing person is safe and protected and completely dependent. He’s dependent upon the nutrients supplied by the mother. She’s dependent upon the protection supplied by all of the rest of us—through our care and our acceptance and our laws.

So whose body is this? See and marvel at what God has done since Adam and Eve first conceived a child. See and marvel at what God still does! The baby and its mother share nourishment and oxygen, a common blood supply through the umbilical cord. Waste removal happens through the amazing placenta even as the growing child “rehearses” the waste disposal process for after its birth. Hear a longer portion of Psalm 139 in another version: “You are the one who put me together inside my mother’s body, and I praise You because of the wonderful way You created me… Nothing about me is hidden from You! I was secretly woven together… with Your own eyes You saw my body being formed” (Psalm: 13-16a Contemporary English Version).
By genetic makeup, this new life is completely unique. No other human being has had or ever will have the exact combination of genes and chromosomes. No other person’s DNA will ever define the complex and complicated person that is alive and growing in utero. But here is also a miracle of God: this isn’t just true of an unborn child, it’s true of the aged and the handicapped though weakened by age or disease, though limited by injury or illness. Each one is God’s creation, each one is wonderfully, uniquely made; each one is still valued and still valuable, unborn or aged, newborn or disabled.

Whose body is it? The slogan, “It’s My Body! It’s My Choice!” has been on too many signs held at too many pro-abortion events for too many years. The assertion is this: “You can’t tell me what to do! Because it’s my body, not yours!” But is it truly your body that you’re trying to control? An unborn baby is not a spleen or an appendix to be removed, or even a kidney or liver to be transplanted. An unborn baby lives within its mother and is dependent upon its mother, but is separate from its mother. From the moment of conception it is a completely genetically unique human life, growing in her womb. Yet, the choice can be made to end this precious and fragile life.

For choice has become “god.” And if this is our culture’s “god,” this “god” must be worshiped and served. This appeal to choice has led to the great confusion that a perplexing number of people view abortion as the taking of a human life, yet grant to a woman the “right” to kill this unborn child.

It’s clear there is both confusion and conflict over this simple question. People disagree over who establishes value, who determines personhood, and who exerts control over this unborn life. These are questions that the Body of Christ, and each follower of Christ, can and must answer. And we do so by listening again to God’s Word. Isaiah the prophet writes: “This is what the LORD says – your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: ‘I am the LORD, who has made all things…’” (Isaiah 44:24a).

Whose body is it? The follower of Christ says, “It belongs to the One who formed it. It is a gift of the One who has made all things.” But our question this morning reveals something more. It reveals that we often live far from the intention God has for us. He designed us to live in relationships with each other and with Him.
So we must confront and confess these sins: separateness and individuality and independence and freedom. These are all sinful when they distance us from God and from each other within His family.

And we must confess that they stand behind the sinful choices we make: convenience and control over the unborn or the aged, the weak or the handicapped. Indeed we’re also guilty of not wanting the inconvenience of being burdened with a life that we’ve decided isn’t of the same value as another, or not valuable enough to others.

Whose body is it? That questions leads us to Scripture’s salvation story. The ultimate “crisis pregnancy” occurred when the unmarried virgin Mary is told she will conceive and carry and give birth to the promised Messiah. And hear Mary’s quiet confidence, “I am the Lord’s servant…may it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).
Know that she willingly accepted shame—for there were certainly those in Nazareth whose tongues wagged about the “trouble” Mary was in. But she accepted this that all the world might know hope! And rejoice that Planned Parenthood wasn’t there to “rescue” Mary from this terrible burden!
For here is a great truth—one that we celebrated barely a month ago: Christ takes a human body. Our Lord takes on human life to give us life. Jesus lives like us in every way so that He can fight the battle we could not fight.

For the body carried in Mary’s womb, the body placed in the manger for its cradle, the body seen by shepherds and honored by Magi—this is the body that Christ will offer on the cross. Jesus will give this body over to suffering and death, to torture and humiliation, to whipping and mockery, to crucifixion and entombment. Whose body is it? It is the body of the very Son of God. And the body of Jesus sacrificed at Golgotha means forgiveness for every sin against life, every disregard for the unborn or every disregard for the young woman pregnant and alone and desperate or every disregard for the woman or the man who still is burdened—ten or twenty or thirty years later—by choosing abortion over adoption.

Even more, the body raised on the third day means life for the bodies of all who believe in Jesus Christ. Whose body is it? It is the body of the victorious King of Kings now seated at the right hand of the Father and proof and promise that we will live for all eternity with resurrected and glorified bodies.
It’s time to share another Scripture with you. Maybe it’s the one you’ve been expecting all along!

This Word of God is from 1 Corinthians chapter 12. Here the Apostle Paul writes: “If one part [of the Body] suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part [of the Body] is honored, every part rejoices with it. …[for] we were all baptized by one Spirit into one Body…” (1 Corinthians 12:26,13a).
Whose body are we? We’re the Body of Christ! We don’t live in brokenness, separated from each other, separated from God. The Holy Spirit’s work is to bring us into this marvelous relationship.

In Christ we’re connected: first with God, then with each other. We’re not independent, but interdependent. We need each other. We rely on each other. We support and care for and encourage each other.

Whose body is it? It’s Christ’s body! And because we’re the Body of Christ—because we have this connection to our Lord and to each other—we’re called to care. This is the Body of Christ. And because we’re part of this body we’re empowered and equipped to care as those who have been cared for by the One who (as Michael Card sings) cannot love us more and will not love us less.

We’re called to care for those who have chosen life over death, providing for and supporting a new mother—whether married of unmarried—and her child. Just as we’re called to care for those who have chosen death over life—boldly and lovingly speaking the forgiveness of the cross to those burdened by guilt, that they may rejoice in the freeing grace of God in Christ. We’re called to care for those who are weak or defenseless; we’re called to care for those who are weary and devalued. We’re the Body of Christ. Chosen. Forgiven. Cleansed. Connected. Freed. Called in Christ to serve others, called to affirm life, called to celebrate life, called to protect life, called to share life. Amen


NOTE: When Choice Becomes God was written by F. Lagard Smith [Harvest House Publishers, 1990]. Here is a link to a review of the book: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/1991/11/14/a-review-of-when-choice-becomes-god-by-f-lagard-smith/


Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com
**The sermon today is adapted from a Life Sunday sermon from Lutheran’s for Life, by Rev. Mark Barz.

1. Why is the statement “Who are we to judge another’s decision?” a fatally flawed statement from a logical point of view? What other immoral actions could be protected under this same logic? Abuse, slavery, theft, deviant behavior, drunk driving, etc.

2. Considering over 50 million children have been killed by abortion in the last 37 years in the U.S. alone (not to mention worldwide!!), who might these lost children have been? What contributions of knowledge, love, joy, and friendship have been lost to society?

3. Does the status of being dependent change the value of a human life? This logic extends to the infant outside the womb, to children, to the aged, to the infirm or disable. Dependence does not change the value of life. Even Jesus was dependent, humanly speaking, on his mother from conception through childhood.

4. How does Scripture speak of unborn life? Psalm 22:9-10; 51:5; 71:6; Psalm 139; Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 1:15, 39-45; etc.

5. Whose body is it? 1 Cor. 6:19-20; 12; Rom. 14:7-8; 2 Cor. 5:14-15

6. How is the story of Jesus the ultimate “crisis pregnancy?” What did this body, the body of Christ accomplish for our redemption? How does that join us together in fellowship and concern for one another?

7. What is the true source of peace and healing and forgiveness for those who’ve gone through abortion? How can we spread Christ’s mercy to them? Visit www.lutheransforlife.org for more resources

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sermon on John 2:1-11, for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, "

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. This second Sunday after Epiphany, as we continue the theme of Jesus’ revelation as God and man, we come to His first sign or miracle, at Cana in Galilee. In the Gospel reading Jesus turns water into wine, showing forth His glory and blessing marriage. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

We might find Jesus’ first miracle a little unexpected. What was the crisis? Of course not every miracle Jesus performed involved a crisis. But in other cases Jesus healed a sick person, cast out a demon, raised the dead, fed hungry crowds, etc. Often it was people who were ill or suffering that received Jesus’ miracles, and there was an obvious case of need. But Jesus’ first miracle was under somewhat different circumstances. No one was sick or dying, and no one was starving. In fact the wedding guests already had much to drink, and the hosts were running out of wine. The greatest crisis was that the celebration would be cut short, and the new bride and groom would be embarrassed by a major social faux pas, for running out of wine so soon. We might think this situation too ordinary and mundane to require Jesus’ intervention.

But lest the happiness of the guests be interrupted and the new couple be embarrassed, Mary shows sympathy and seeks Jesus’ help. She wants the help now! They have no more wine! It’s time for you to step in and fix the situation! It was good that she showed trust in Jesus to be able to help, but she wanted that help on her time. Jesus’ somewhat impersonal answer shows her that the timing of God’s help is His to decide, not ours. He said, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus repeatedly spoke of this “hour” that was not yet come, throughout John’s Gospel. He meant that the time for His glory to be fully revealed as the Son of God had not yet come. It was only when His time for betrayal, suffering, and death was upon Him that He announced that now the hour had come. So here it was still too soon for the full revelation of Jesus. It was not yet the moment for the full display of His help. But that didn’t mean He ignored this crisis, however great or small.

Don’t we often have the same mindset when we face a crisis? Doesn’t even need to be a crisis necessarily. Sometimes there’s just something that we desire strongly, and we determine to set the time of God’s required help. “God, I need it now! Now is the time to step in and fix the situation!” When a problem is in our focus, sometimes this can dominate all we see, and blind us to everything else. We feel the urgency pressing on us to act. Perhaps we’re loaded down with stress, trying to find a solution to our problem. There seems no logical answer, and we’re panicked for a way out. Maybe we’ve already exhausted all the possibilities we can muster, and still no solution has come. Our resources run short, our options have dwindled, or our estimation of the problem was too small. People that we’ve depended on proved unreliable and we’re caught in a bind. So we cry out in prayer: “God help me!” Maybe it’s not in our words, but it’s in our heart that we’re silently demanding for God to send an answer quick!

But Jesus reminds us that God will set the timing of His answer to prayer. He may not give us the answer we want or in our time frame, but God will act. And our concerns don’t always have to be life or death issues, as this miracle of the Wedding at Cana illustrates. Sometimes it’s our health or a matter of our life. Sometimes it’s a financial problem, or a work problem, or relationship problem. It’s easy to think that our prayers might be too small to be important to God. But we need to have the persistence of Mary to pursue God’s help, even when our requests may seem small. At the same time, we should learn from Jesus that the timing of God’s help isn’t the same as ours. We may become impatient and stressed about when and how God will answer our prayer. Sometimes just the passing of time will show that God will work things out in a better way than we planned or anticipated. Sometimes the crisis may grow to even greater proportions. But what doesn’t change is that God’s help is always available to us.

I found a wonderful quote about this in a 16th century sermon by the Lutheran preacher and hymn writer John Gerhard. He wrote: “If our prayer to God is to be acceptable and be heard, then of course we are not to prescribe the time and manner for help, especially in bodily needs. For here we hear from Christ that He has a specific hour, i.e., He has actually already in His heavenly counsel decreed when and how He will help us. We should patiently wait for that hour. However, to a certain degree one can glean from the story of this Gospel lesson what sort of an hour it will be. Mary thought that it was the right hour to help, while there was still a little wine left, so that the lack of wine would not yet be made known to all the guests. However, Christ shows in actuality what is the universal hour for help from God the Lord: When everything else has declined to a dead end, when human reason no longer knows how to come up with answers. Philo wrote a beautiful saying about this: “Where human help come to an end, there divine help comes to the rescue.” Truly the universal hour of God’s help is when we no longer have the answers or solutions, and everything’s left to God’s hands. Then divine help comes to the rescue.

This sense of patience and delayed answers for our prayers relates well to marriage. Just as two individuals wait for God’s answer to their prayers to find a lifelong mate. I know I often wondered when and how God would provide a wife for me, and often became impatient along the way. I couldn’t see God’s plan or timing, and couldn’t know the blessing that He would bring into my life through my wife Kristine. But the waiting was worth it, and God did answer my prayers, in the most unexpected way. But in His timing—not mine or ours!

And so big or small, however you measure the crisis at the wedding banquet in Cana, Jesus took this opportunity to perform a miracle and bless the bride and groom with a wedding gift no one would soon forget. He rescued them from their dilemma and in the process He revealed His glory and showed a first glimpse of His power as the Son of God. He used this, His first miracle, to give His blessing to marriage as a holy institution honored and pleasing to God. On many occasions He even used wedding celebrations to describe the kind of joy there should be for the church the bride to be joined to Jesus Himself, the groom.

As my pastor explained to us in our preparation for marriage, there is no other vocation or calling where two people will so closely live in the forgiveness of sins. All the challenges and blessings of a shared life together will put husband and wife in the constant need of God’s forgiveness. But they can also live with the constant joy of being forgiven and living together under God’s love and blessing. The command is given in Scripture for us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and our wife is our nearest neighbor, so consequently she should be our dearest love. And vice versa for wives! It really should come as no surprise that Jesus so honored and blessed marriage, as it’s such a unique place for the working out of forgiveness and reconciliation and displaying the love that is a reflection of Jesus’ own sacrificial love for His church.

Yet greatest importance was the fact that this miracle showed forth who Jesus was. The result was more important than the bride and groom being saved from embarrassment—more important than guests having enough wine; even more important than His blessing of marriage. The most important result of this first sign, was that His glory was revealed and His disciples believed in Him. We’re to be drawn to Jesus in faith as we hear and learn of His miracles. And there’s something in God’s character that’s revealed when Jesus did this miracle. The master of the feast had no knowledge of the miracle that had transpired—but when he tasted the wine, he gave the objective evaluation that this was truly excellent wine! While most hosts served the good wine first, he thought that this host had saved the best wine until now. His astonishment verified the miracle as the genuine article. He didn’t know that it was Jesus, not the host of the wedding that saved the best for last.

Truly when Jesus’ glory is seen, we know and understand that God really does save the best for last. Though Jesus doesn’t always act in the hour that we hope or in the timing we desire, God’s plan is ultimately the best. We may not fully see it in our lifetime, but it will be evident in heaven. When Jesus put Mary off for a brief moment by saying, “My hour has not yet come”—there was the hint that something more momentous and more significant was to come. When that hour came, the hour of Jesus’ glorification as the Son of God—it certainly didn’t seem like God’s plan was shaping up exactly as planned. When the suffering and shame of the cross occurred, it seemed as though God’s plan had completely gone awry. People mockingly demanded of Jesus that He act now, and show a miracle by taking Himself off the cross. But He resisted. He stayed there. His hour had finally come. It was the hour for the glory of Jesus to be seen in the suffering and humility of the cross.

For Jesus was there on the cross preparing for us His most bountiful gifts that don’t run out, like all other earthly things. His death prepared for us the Sacrament of the Altar—the mystery of Christ’s body and blood, which we receive as His lasting covenant with us. Sunday after Sunday throughout nearly 2,000 years of Christendom, Christians have shared in the body and blood of Christ, yet this gift never runs out. Christ’s blood for the forgiveness of our sins is never exhausted. In contrast, while the wine at Cana was an enormous quantity, it’d eventually run out. It was a one-time miracle, creating a large quantity of wine for an earthly purpose. But Christ’s miraculous gifts of grace for a heavenly purpose, continue to be given, Sunday after Sunday, year after year. He’d prepared the best for last. His last and greatest miracle on earth was to rise from death to new life in a healed and superior body. This best gift He saves for last for us. After our deathbed we’ll cross over from death into His new and better life.

God faithfully continues to grant us rich supply throughout our lives until He returns. And when we reach heaven, we’ll find out that truly the best wine has been saved for last. All the delayed gratification, the unfulfilled hopes, the longing, and the great trials of patience that we endured in this life as we waited, will finally be satisfied with the joys of heaven. We may not have ended up with the things we wanted, but God will always supply something better. Just as the gifts that Christ has given us in overflowing abundance through His Holy Spirit and through His Word and Sacraments have sustained us through life. These have comforted us in times of trouble, and filled us up when we were lacking. Through faith we’ve believed in the promises of God, and look forward to the resurrection of the dead. Then, when we finally reach heaven, we’ll taste of the fine wine and rich food in heaven that Isaiah prophesies about, “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines” (Is. 25:6). The wine of Holy Communion is a heavenly foretaste of this feast to come; the heavenly feast where Christ is the groom and the church is His holy bride. When we reach heaven the wine won’t run out, and we will marvel like the master of the banquet, saying to God, “Truly, You have saved the best till now!”

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.blogspot.com
Listen to audio at: http://thejoshuavictortheory.podbean.com

1. What crisis led to Jesus’ first miracle? Why might this come as a surprise?

2. How does our impatience in prayer and in waiting for God’s help often express itself? Is persistence bad? Read Luke 18:1-8. How is persistence different from demanding the time and form of God’s answer to our prayers? (think about who should be in control). What does Jesus’ answer to Mary teach us about the timing of God’s help/answers to our prayers? When is the “universal hour of God’s help?”

3. How does marriage teach us about the blessings that God gives and the patience of waiting? What does Jesus use marriage to depict? Matthew 25:1-12; 9:14-17; 22:1-14; Eph. 5:22-33. How is marriage a place for practicing and living out forgiveness with a fellow Christian? How deep should our love be for our spouses if we’re called to love our neighbor as ourselves? Our spouse is our nearest neighbor, so they should be our dearest love.

4. What did the miracle show about Jesus and His character? How does God save the best for last? What was so significant about “the hour” that Jesus was waiting for? Cf. John 12:23ff; 13:1; 16:1; 17:1ff. What happened then, and how did it prepare “the best for last?”

5. How do Jesus’ last gifts prove the most enduring of all His miracles, and the best of His “wine?” How does God’s grace continue to pour out through your earthly life and beyond?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12, for Epiphany, "Come and Worship!"

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. We observe Epiphany today, which traditionally falls on January 6th, the 12th day after Christmas. As we do, we end our Christmas celebrations and begin the season of Epiphany which emphasizes Jesus’ revelation as God and man. The word epiphany means to reveal or make known. Throughout these coming weeks of Epiphany we’ll focus on how God revealed Himself in human flesh as Jesus. We begin this Epiphany season with the invitation to come and worship Jesus with the Magi who first came from afar to worship their infant King. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Come and worship Jesus! Though it may sound like a common invitation—there’s nothing ordinary or common about coming to worship Jesus, our King. The Magi or Wise Men who traveled from the East came without invitation or promise of what they would find, but they came searching for the honor of worshipping this child who had been born King of the Jews. How did they know to connect the star to Jesus’ birth? What did they expect to find? What reason did they as strangers and Gentiles have to believe that they would be welcomed at His birth? There are many fascinating questions we’d like to know about these Magi, but even the gospel writer Matthew gave no more specific information than that they were from “the east.” It’s usually thought that they came from Babylon or Persia because the word “magi” was used in Persia to describe royal astrologers or advisors. Also, people from there would have been in contact with the exiled Jews taken to Babylon and Persia as prisoners of war. Perhaps there they heard or read the Hebrew scriptures, like Numbers 24:17 that prophesied the star of Jacob: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.”

Whether they knew directly this prophecy of a star and a ruler coming from Israel, or whether they simply knew that the Jews were expecting a Messiah whose birth would be heralded by a star—they knew that they had arrived at a momentous occasion. It’s highly doubtful that these magi went on delegations to visit the birth of all foreign-born royalty in distant lands. Even more since no one announced this birth that happened in a backward corner of a small occupied state in the Roman Empire. Apparently they didn’t have the whole Old Testament scriptures at their disposal, especially since they didn’t know Micah’s prophecy that the birth would happen in Bethlehem. So they naturally assumed to go to the capital city of Jerusalem and speak to King Herod, the present king.

But despite the uncertainty of their destination, and the cultural differences that made the Jews wary and of foreigners like them, they pressed on to this foreign land for the sole purpose of worshipping and paying homage to this newborn king. Something convinced them that their journey wasn’t foolish, and that they would be received before their King, despite all obstacles. Oh that we would have the same desire and enthusiasm to worship Jesus our King! We’re asked to make no journey or pilgrimage or leave behind our home, but simply to come to God’s house and worship. That we wouldn’t be worried about what other people might think as we go to worship Jesus. Come and worship Jesus with the conviction given by the Holy Spirit, that Jesus will receive you. Whoever is estranged from God, come and worship Him with the repentant heart of a prodigal son who wandered from home, but now returns to his father. Whoever does not know God, come and worship Him and see how this King redeems and saves you. Whoever hides from God in shyness or fear, come and worship Him and receive the new heart and courage that He gives to believers. Whoever is sorrowful and lost, follow the Light of His star to the crib of God, and see how meekly and how approachable God has made Himself, by taking on human flesh. Come and worship with the wise men!

Come and worship Jesus with the sincerity and truth of the Magi. They came to King Herod searching out the truth about Jesus—and where was that truth found? In the Holy Scriptures, in the prophet Micah—telling that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. The lowly and insignificant town of Bethlehem would gain new honor and prominence because from there would be born a new King to shepherd Israel in a fuller and more complete way than David—the shepherd-become-king of 1,000 years before. The chief priests and teachers of the law in Jerusalem knew the truth of the scriptures, they knew the prophecy about the Messiah, and now they had inquiring Magi from afar confirming that this prophecy was now being fulfilled at this very time! And what did they do? Did any of them go to worship the Messiah with the Magi? None. Was it fear of King Herod and his vicious jealousy that kept them from joining in this search for the Messiah? Was it a cold indifference or skepticism to the reality of this promise unfolding before their eyes?

Matthew tells us that when Herod heard the question: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him,” it says that he and all of Jerusalem with him was disturbed or troubled. Now why would all Jerusalem be troubled with Herod? Wouldn’t they be ecstatic at the fulfilling of their long-held hopes? Probably the best explanation is to understand the insane jealousy of Herod. We read in Matthew’s gospel how he later ordered the death of all male children in Bethlehem in a last-ditch effort to destroy this newborn king who might present a threat to his throne. It’s hard to believe such a monstrous act of cruelty could be carried out…but it fits perfectly with the record of other ancient historians. Herod was so suspicious and fearful of threats to his throne that he murdered several of his own family under the suspicion that they might usurp his throne. He even arranged to have many Jewish noblemen murdered at the same time as his own death to ensure that there would be weeping and not celebration at the death of one of history’s ugliest tyrants. So it should come as no surprise that Jerusalem was fearful—though probably for different reasons than Herod. Who knew what irrational act of violence he might perpetrate against the Jewish people?

So while it’s understandable that they didn’t go, it was nevertheless left to Gentile strangers to go and worship King Jesus. And Herod sent them on their way with the chilling lie that he wanted to worship the baby also. We face no such fear or threat on our life when we come to worship—but still may we come and worship as the wise men with sincerity of heart and a search for truth. Do not come deceptively, do not hide from fear, and do not stay away from indifference. Come and worship with the sincere love of your King Jesus, and with the search for truth that is rewarded and answered in the Holy Scriptures that cradle our King. Come and worship with abandon—not fearing what it may cost you in this life, but with the confidence of the Holy Spirit about what it will gain for eternity.

Come and worship Jesus with the joy of the wise men. It says that when they continued on from Jerusalem and saw the star again shining before them, pointing the way to Bethlehem, they rejoiced with an exceedingly great joy. Have we ever known or felt that kind of joy that just spills over from deep inside of us when our heart wants to leap out of our chest? Fear and darkness can often conspire to quench our joy—to cast clouds on the daylight—but the light of Christ, the Morning Star that rises in our hearts (2 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 21:16) casts a brighter beam that gives light in the deepest darkness. Are our eyes lifted in hope to see the light of Jesus, or are our eyes fixed miserably on the earth, keeping our heads low? Come and worship the miracle of Christ, born in the manger, and allow yourself to stand in wonder at the miracle of God’s salvation. Rejoice with exceedingly great joy at the way God works.

Come and worship Jesus with gifts, as the Magi finally arrived at their destination, and saw the baby Jesus. What an astonishing sight it must have been to have richly dressed wise men bow adoringly before a child! Advisors to kings, they now lay face-down before the only King who had no need of earthly counsel, who had no need of earthly riches, earthly power, or armies. Before such a king as Jesus, what else is there to do but bow in worship and offer what little gifts you have? Even the costly gifts that they brought—fit for a king—were an insignificant tribute to the Creator of all the Universe, the one who holds all the earth in His hands! The hymn puts it this way: “Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a tribute far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all!” What can we bring in worship to our King? Nothing less than our soul, our life, our all! We’re taught in the Psalms that God desires one thing above all else from us: “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit—a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:16-17).

We who have no worthy tribute to bring to our King, can only bring the one thing that He wants—a broken and repentant heart. For He alone can take our hearts, broken by sin, and give us a new heart, and fill us with joy. Then we can bring tribute of our praises with our voices lifted in song—we can make our lives an offering as hands and feet are offered in service of His kingdom. But still what small gifts we can offer in worship to Jesus. But as we, with the wise men, open our tiny boxes of treasure—whatever gifts we bring already belong to God and were first given from Him to us. But as we come in worship to Jesus—the real event of worship is not our sacrificial giving and praise. The real event of worship for the wise men and for us is that God opened His treasures an gave us Christ! Whatever small thanks we show to God in worship, the first and greatest act is that here in worship, and long ago for the Magi, God gives the treasure of salvation.

For the King they and we bow to worship was born no ordinary King in golden palaces. This king was born in a treasure chest that looked remarkably like an animal’s feedbox, and was born to be a Servant King. He was not here to be served, but to serve. So He opened His treasures for us by giving His hands and feet in service to mankind by healing many and with His beautiful feet carrying the good news to others. Until His hands and feet given in service were cruelly fixed with nails to a tree. But there on the cross His helpless hands and feet performed the greatest act of kingly service. As the nails opened His hands, out poured the most priceless treasure—His innocent blood of priceless worth. This blood of Jesus was of infinite worth because it purchase us forgiveness, life, and salvation. The only hint we have that the Magi could have anticipated this act of kingly sacrifice which was for them and for all people, was the gift of myrrh—a burial spice that was in fact also used at Jesus’ burial. It was this future kingly sacrifice that gave the treasure of salvation to all mankind, and made the approach of the wise men to their God possible. It was this sacrifice that makes our approach to God possible. While we cannot worship Jesus any longer as an infant King as the Magi did—we now worship the King who has grown to fullness of age and wisdom, who lived righteously and died righteously, and rose victoriously from the dead and is seated as a King on His Father’s throne. It’s for Him today and forever that we come and worship. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. Epiphany means to manifest, reveal, or make known. How is Jesus revealed as both God and man at the visit of the Magi? His baptism? His first miracle of turning water into wine, etc?

2. What expectation did the Magi have when traveling to see Jesus? Numbers 24:17. How might they have known this prophecy? What expectations can we have as we approach Jesus? How does their hope urge us on to believe that we too can be received by Jesus?

3. How did the Magi’s search show that they sought truth? Where did the priests in Jerusalem find that truth for the Magi? Micah 5:2; 2 Sam. 5:1-2. What was their response to it? Why didn’t they go and worship also?

4. How can we worship Jesus with joy like the Magi? How does the light of Christ, the Morning Star, give us joy? 2 Peter 1:19; Rev. 21:16

5. What sacrifice and gifts can we offer King Jesus? Psalm 51:16-17; Rom. 12:1; Heb. 13:15-16

6. How do the treasures that Jesus opens to us far surpass anything we could give? What treasures does He bring us? 1 Peter 1:17-21. How does Jesus serve us in worship? Mark 10:45; cf. John 13:1-20