Monday, January 19, 2015

Sermon on 1 Samuel 3:1-10, for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, "Speak, Lord, for your servant hears"

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The life of the prophet Samuel in the Bible has much to tell us still today, but today we see a major turning point in his young life. Who are Samuel and Eli in the passage? “Samuel” means “God has heard.” Samuel was God’s answer to the earnest prayers of a young Hebrew wife Hannah, living in Old Testament times, who was unable to have children. She earnestly prayed to God for a son, and God heard her prayer and blessed her with Samuel, who, from a young age, she dedicated Samuel to serve in the Lord’s house. Eli was the priest of the Lord at the tabernacle, the tent of worship for the Lord. Hannah had brought her young son to serve under Eli. While Hannah was a woman of great faith, Eli believed in God, but did nothing to stop the wickedness of his two sons, who were complete scoundrels. They committed brazen acts that dishonored God’s name and house—sexual immorality in God’s house; abusing their authority to collect the best sacrifices for themselves, scoffing at their duty.
Surrounded by apathy toward God’s Word, disgraces being done in God’s house by the priests, the sons of his own master—the young and innocent Samuel arrives. He was serving under Eli, but had not yet received a vision from the Lord, and the “word of the Lord was rare in those days.” And later it says, “he did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” Samuel is young, na├»ve, and innocent to the corrupt dealings that are happening in God’s house, but God was going to give him a mighty purpose. In this first vision from the Lord, he would be required to deliver a strong rebuke and prophecy against Eli and his sons because he did not restrain their blaspheming of God. Eli, perhaps to our surprise, demanded that Samuel not hold back any of the words that God had spoken to him, and accepted the words as a just decree from the Lord.
God raised up young Samuel, who at first did not know the Lord, in the days when the word of the Lord was rare, to be a mighty prophet—a servant who heard the word of the Lord and obeyed. What made the word of the Lord rare in those days? The people’s sin? That they didn’t pay attention to God’s Word, or recognize it when it came? Or because God had hidden His face from them and was silent? Perhaps all of the above? In any case, when the chapter is over, God has the ears of at least one faithful servant who is listening, and God is speaking.
Could we say that the word of the Lord is rare today? Do we suffer from a lack of God’s Word? Or maybe instead a lack of hearing or paying attention to God’s Word? This happens easily enough in everyday life. Do any of you have trouble listening or paying attention? To your spouse? Children? Boss? Teacher? Employees? We can list our excuses—distractions, busy-ness, stress, boredom, etc—but at the end of the day we still aren’t listening. We might be missing vital information or creating communication barriers; or our learning, our relationships, and jobs might suffer for it. How much more so, if we are not listening or paying attention to God’s Word? Not only will we miss vital information—God’s own truth, and His Word for our lives—but our relationship with Him, our knowledge of Him will suffer.
One problem might be that we look in the wrong places or listen to the wrong voices. St. Paul warned that this would happen. It happens throughout human history. We turn to what our itching ears want to hear, instead of to the truth of God’s Word, especially when it confronts our sin. Our sin itself plugs up our ears so that we don’t want to listen. We hear only what we want to hear, and sift out the rest. As the rest of the story of Eli and his sons shows, sin is deadly business before God, and we urgently need for that to be made right with God, by putting our sin away and calling on His mercy and forgiveness. God is ready and willing to give it if we will humble ourselves, but won’t forgive those who despise and dishonor Him, and have no use for His forgiveness. The way to His mercy is humbling ourselves before Jesus.
Being at church is hopefully a very good start to show that we are listening—but we can still occupy our seats with minds and ears tuned out, following all sorts of distractions. But if we are indeed listening, then like Samuel we say: “Speak Lord, for your servant hears.” Our lives are open to God’s message and we know He is calling, and we know that we have need of His Word in our life. Even if we are competing with the static from our everyday life, and filtering out distractions, we pray that God speaks to us, and that we would hear. Hearts and ears tuned in, God will speak to us.
Will it come in a vision, like for Samuel? Are we to wait for a still, small voice that speaks while we sleep? While Samuel, and elsewhere Joseph and Mary and others received visions or visits from angels, we understand that these were not everyday occurrences. God does indeed speak this way to people at various times, and still can. But we aren’t lead to believe that every Christian will have these experiences, or even to put our trust in them. In fact we are even warned that even the devil can masquerade as an angel of light to deceive, so we must always discern what truly comes from God (2 Cor. 11:14). We are also warned not even to listen to an angel from heaven, if they speak something contrary to the good news of Jesus Christ that we have received (Gal. 1:8).
So the Scripture actually tells us exactly how we can expect to hear from God today—“In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old through the prophets, but now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.” (Heb. 1:1). We hear Him in the Word of Jesus, His Son. Jesus said God’s Word is Truth (John 17:17), and that He came to bear witness to the Truth (18:37). We don’t need a special vision or an angel to hear God, we have His Word right here in our Bible! So you may very well hear from God at your bedside—if that’s where you keep your Bible! But you won’t hear anything unless you open it and read it, or are hearing God’s Word elsewhere as well. We are so richly blessed with God’s Word, that it is far from rare today—it is accessible to us everywhere. You can get free audio recordings, if you want to listen, we have an abundance of English language translations (some better than others) to read; we have church services and Bible studies and devotions that all open up the Scriptures for us. Hearing God’s Word together as a church, and reading it on your own, opens up God’s Word to you. Consider saying Samuel’s words as a prayer when you open the Bible to read each day: “Speak, O Lord, your servant hears!” And be ready, because God will speak!
And, if your life is immersed in the Holy Scriptures, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you when words of Scripture already placed on your heart, come back to speak to you later at an appropriate time. That is the work of the Holy Spirit, speaking to your heart, taking Scripture that you have heard and applying it to your life. These are life-giving words that God gives, and the Holy Spirit’s toolbox to work in our lives. Many Christians have been richly blessed by storing up words of Scripture through memorization, frequent study of God’s Word, though the repetition of the liturgy or Christian hymns and songs—and later come to benefit from that rich treasure they have stored up in their heart. Christians who have endured terrible persecution and been locked up in prison for many years, with no access to the Word of God, have testified to the Light that God’s Word gave them in the darkness, just from what they had memorized. Or for people who are ill or aging, and losing their memory, it is often things like Psalm 23, the Creed, or the Lord’s Prayer, or a well-loved song, that are the last to go. Folks here at Emmanuel who have gone caroling have even seen people who are otherwise almost completely unable to speak, be able to mouth the words of a favorite Christmas carol or the Lord’s Prayer, because those words were stored up when they were young.
When we are ready and listening to what God speaks to us, we will hear His calling on our lives. We will hear the call to repent of our sins, to believe in Jesus, and to go and serve Him in love. Young men or women may even hear the call to go and tell God’s Word to others—serving as a teacher, missionary or pastor. Or you may be called to use your gifts and talents for any other God-pleasing vocation where you can serve your neighbor.
History cycles through ages of people who listen faithfully to God’s Word like Hannah and Samuel, and generations who ignore or despise His Word. Servants who listen, and others who don’t. Jesus was born into a time of apathy and shallow regard for God’s Word; a day where disgraces happened in the Temple of God; much like the time of Samuel. Jesus too, was raised up by God for a mighty purpose. But He was greater than a prophet; greater than all the prophets. He came to a people who would not hear—but He Himself listened. He listened faithfully to God as a Servant, and as God’s own Son. He listened; God spoke, and Jesus obeyed. In servant-like obedience He went to the cross, where He bore our sin, our deafness and inattentiveness to God’s Word, and crucified it there. He rose from the grave so that when our ears are opened and listening at last, that it would not only be the judgment of our sins at the cross that we hear, but also His rising victory in Life! The words He speaks, they are Spirit, and they are life! When we hear them and live by them our life is built on the Rock, and the storms of life cannot shake us.
Lord, open our ears! Make us eager and ready to hear your Word. Help us listen through the distractions and noise of daily life, and listening—help us to obey and do your will. Give us ears to hear, so that when You speak we will hear the Good News of your beloved Son Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose to give us life. We praise you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sermon on Romans 6:1-11, for the Baptism of our Lord, "Baptized into Christ"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today we remember God’s gift of baptism. We honor the Baptism of our Lord Jesus, when He came to the Jordan River to undergo a sinner’s baptism, in solidarity with and for us. We also remember our own baptisms into Christ Jesus, and what that means for our life today. St. Paul opens our reading from Romans 6 with some provocative questions: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” To understand his meaning, we have to look a chapter earlier, and see that he has just been talking about the incredible greatness of Jesus’ free gift of forgiveness and salvation. A gift that we did nothing to earn, that is ruled by no law, that is conditioned by no demand, but freely given by Jesus Christ. Because the Gospel is so free, and what Jesus has done for us comes as pure gift, Paul asks: Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? He’s saying, if God is so free and generous in forgiving, why don’t we just sin more to increase His grace? Wouldn’t that mean more of His grace?
Paul immediately rejects this idea, and says, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” He rejects the idea that our response to God’s free gift, would be to continue sinning as though nothing had changed, or that we were ungrateful. But then Paul immediately turns to how God’s free gift affects and influences how we live. Where does he begin? Baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
What does it mean to have been baptized into His death? Jesus died on a cross, 2,000 years ago. Thousands of miles away in Jerusalem, the land of Israel. Many of our children, whom we’ll be recognizing later, were baptized here at Emmanuel Lutheran, on Maui. In the last several years. How is their baptism, a baptism into Jesus’ death, 2,000 years ago? Or your baptism, for that matter? Wherever and whenever it happened? Are they just reenactments? Going through some motions? Or does it mean more? How is baptism our death with Christ Jesus? What does His death and resurrection have to do with our baptism?
Simply put, baptism joins us to Jesus’ death and resurrection. It unites us with Him, and the saving power of His life. Jesus went to the cross, freely, in love to put sin to death in His body, and securing forgiveness for us. This incredible free gift, He gift wraps and delivers to you in baptism. None of us were even born—probably few if any of us have ever even been near the site of His crucifixion, the hill of Golgotha. Yet in baptism those very events and Jesus’ own life and death are miraculously brought to us and made our own. You don’t have to travel through time or space to get it, but God brings it to you. We are united to Jesus and what He did for us there. True by God’s Word and promise. Not by any magical property of water, but God’s almighty power in His Word. And by His power we die and are raised again.
How do we die? No nails, splintered cross, or crown of thorns—as Jesus experienced. But the death of our sinful nature. Paul calls it “crucifying” our old sinful nature. It’s that we repent of our sins, reject the evil and wrong-headed desires of our old self, and turn to God for His mercy. We reject any strength, power, or merit of our own, for the sake of having only His pure, perfect, and innocent life to stand to our credit. We die, as Jesus said, to ourselves, surrendering everything to Him. Is this a painful death? Well, as painful as pouring water over your forehead. Plenty of babies cry when that happens. But in all seriousness, probably the greatest pain in this death of baptism, is the pain to our egos. Infants are beautifully free of this pain or sensitivity. They model pure receptiveness to God’s gift. But as adults, our ego, our pride takes a heavy blow when we die to our old sinful nature. When Jesus calls us to die with Him by dying to ourselves. It’s a blow to our pride that wants to gain the whole world on our own strength and achievements, and doesn’t need help from anyone.
Paul calls this bringing the body of sin to nothing. It’s not our hands and feet that are hammered into helplessness, but our sinful nature that is nailed to the cross. Our rebellion against God. Our seeking our own way apart from Him. This body of sin, this compulsion of ours to disobey and seek our own will instead of God’s, is put to death as we are baptized into Christ. But even more wonderful is that baptism is not just the death of our sinful nature, but the raising of our new nature. We are just as much joined to Jesus’ resurrection, as to His death and burial. “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” God has a new walk, a new plan in store for our life. Not the dead man’s walk of sin and disobedience, of foolish paths that lead to death. But the walk of newness of life, in God’s truth and the wisdom of Christ Jesus. A holy walk.
What does that walk look like? It’s not a holy swagger, or an “I’m better than thou art” stroll. But it’s a humble walk with Christ, with brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a servant’s walk to help and love others. It’s a walk of encouragement and hope as we lift up those who have stumbled in any way, band together against temptation and the attacks of the devil, and care for one another as we have needs. A walk where we lovingly warn and call to our brothers and sisters who start to wander off the path, or get distracted, and encourage them to fix their eyes back on Christ. To walk in newness of life with Jesus Christ is to have His attitude, and to be His hands and feet of service to our neighbor.
Obedience to Jesus Christ is “obedience from the heart”, as Paul describes it in Romans 6:17. This means we are no longer enslaved and controlled by sin, but set free to live in Christ Jesus. Jesus breaks the chains of sin, brings the old self or body of sin to nothing, through His cross. He stands in our defense and comes to our aid in our weakness. As our bulletin quote describes, if we’ve received the gift of forgiveness in Jesus Christ, it works within us. It changes and influences us. Even when we fail or are ashamed of not succeeding, Jesus forgives and walks with His disciples. “As long as we walk with Jesus, listen to Him, and don’t want to be without Him, He will influence our lives” (Giertz, To Live With Christ, 440).
Paul must have anticipated that the talk of our new life, and of living with Christ Jesus would create some doubt and anxiety in the hearts of his hearers. No doubt we often look in the mirror and feel that we have completely failed in living up to the righteous way of life that God has called us to. Some of you may even be troubled by questions like: “Am I really a Christian? Can I really be saved? Am I good enough for God to love me?” Let’s quickly answer those questions in reverse order. Am I good enough for God to love? The answer is no! God doesn’t love us because of how good we are—we aren’t saved by what we’ve done, but by the full and free grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ for our sins. The second question: Can I really be saved? Yes! And the first—are you really Christians? If you trust in Jesus as your Savior and believe that He is the Son of God sent to free you from sin, then you are a Christian. If you were not a Christian, you wouldn’t be bother by your sins or whether you were obeying God. The fact that you are concerned, that you do want to listen to Jesus’ Word and have Him in your life, is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in you. It’s evidence that you love Him and want to do better.
So how does Paul advise those who might struggle with the ups and downs of our Christian life, or the small beginnings of our new life in Christ? He brings us right back to Jesus: Romans 6:9–11 “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Built on the truth that Jesus has died once for all, and been raised from the dead, never to die again, Paul tells us we must “consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” If he has to tell us to think of ourselves this way, doesn’t it suggest that we might sometimes find it hard to believe? But that’s exactly what we need—faith in Jesus Christ. Count on and know that you really are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ, because you know Jesus is truly risen from the dead. With eyes of faith we see we are joined to Him. But with the eyes of our flesh, we still see miserable sin and struggles.
But Paul is calling us not to lose hope! He’s calling us to grab hold of this marvelous reality that is ours in Christ Jesus, that we are dead to sin, and alive to God in Him. However weak you may feel in regards to sin, with you stands the Righteous One, Jesus Christ, who has defeated everything for you. However helpless you may feel; take heart! You have died to yourself and been raised in baptism to new life in Christ Jesus! You walk in newness of life with Him amidst challenges and difficulties—the valley of the shadow of death; no one promises it will be easy. The devil is eager to knock you off the path. But you walk the path chosen for you in Christ Jesus. The path that He has made to the Father; the path that our Good Shepherd faithfully leads us along. The walk where we join other Christians, who know their sin, and even more, they know their Savior. Sin and death are not your masters! Jesus is your Master, and He loves you and leads you faithfully on His way, till our life is complete and one day He raises our new bodies in a complete resurrection like His. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

  1. Romans 6:1 begins with the question: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” This refers back to chapter 5, which describes the incredible free gift of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. The implication is that if grace is free, should we take advantage by continuing in sin? Or if works don’t save us, can we just live however we please? Paul’s firm answer is no (v.2). Why does God’s grace reshape who we are and how we live?
  2. Since God has prepared this new life for us, does that mean it all comes easy, and we won’t still struggle with sin? Romans 7:14-8:1. How does Jesus aid us in our struggles? 1 Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 4:14-16.
  3. Being baptized into Christ Jesus means being baptized into His death. What does this baptism mean for our “old self” or “sinful nature?” What “kills” the old sinful nature? Romans 6:6; Galatians 5:24. How does repentance play a part? Who has the power to raise us to new life?
  4. Baptism not only brings death to our old nature, but new life and regeneration, by uniting us to Jesus’ resurrection. What does it mean to “walk in newness of life?” Galatians 5:16-26.
  5. Why is there no longer any need of sacrifice for sin? Romans 6:9-10; Hebrews 9:24-28. Since Jesus holds power even over death, how does that change how we live?
  6. Paul says in Roman 6:11, we must “consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” If we must be told to “consider ourselves” this way, that means we must be experiencing things that sometimes lead us to believe otherwise. What struggles does the Christian face, that might cause them to doubt or to worry if the Holy Spirit is really working in us? Instead of our personal experience, what objective truth stands as witness to the new start that God has begun in us? Romans 6:3-4; 2 Corinthians 1:20-22; Ephesians 1:13-14.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12 and Isaiah 60:1-6, for Epiphany, "Worship the Light"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The prophet Isaiah said, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:3). The rising Light is Jesus, and His infant home of Bethlehem was bathed in miraculous starlight announcing: the King of the Jews has been born! Wise men came worshipping. Kings came to the brightness of His rising—the dawning rays of Jesus’ infant light drew joyful worship, costly gifts, and hushed awe. Why would such a birth warrant such attention? This was not a king of the Roman Empire, or any similar superpower or great nation. The Jews were a subject people, a broken nation, held firmly under the Roman yoke. King David’s royal line was reduced to nothing but the stump of a tree, by all appearances dead and defeated. Why would the birth of a new king to this tiny, defeated nation, bring any foreign dignitaries at all? What were the wise men hoping to see? Who were they and why did they come?
The clues are limited. Their name—the Magi; their origin from the East; their gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh; and their recognition of the sign of the star. Some think they may have come from Persia, because the Greeks used the word “magi” to refer to Persians or Babylonians, and these empires ruled the Jews while they were in exile. This would explain how they knew of Jewish prophecies and expectations of a Messiah. Others think the Magi or Wise Men were from Arabia, because gold, frankincense, and myrrh were all local to Arabia, and particularly frankincense and myrrh came only from southern Arabia. The deserts of Arabia were directly east of the Jordan River, and would also fit the wise men’s description. But whether the wise men were Persians bringing “imported products”, or Arabians bringing local treasures, the point is that these were Gentiles, foreigners, come to worship the birth of a Jewish king—Jesus. Their presence at Jesus’ birth tells us that His birth and His kingdom was not for Jews only, but for Gentiles—indeed all the nations.
Of course we don’t know what Bible prophecies the Wise Men knew that shaped their expectations of the infant Jesus. It seems though, that they were at least familiar with the ancient prophecy of Numbers 24:17 “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. This passage announces the “star of Jacob”, pointing ahead to the miraculous star over Bethlehem, leading the way to a ruler: “a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” The scepter or ruling staff of a king, who would defeat the enemies of Israel.
Did the magi anticipate a Jewish uprising against their enemies, foretold in this sign of a king’s birth? Did they know other prophecies of who the Messiah, or Christ would be? Unfortunately we don’t know if they knew a little or a lot about what the Old Testament said about the coming Savior. We do know that one missing puzzle piece for them was the exact location of His birth. They naturally assumed Jerusalem, the royal, capital city—but they didn’t know the words of the prophet Micah, chapter 5. But the chief priests in Jerusalem filled in those blanks by turning them to Bethlehem, David’s city, as Micah said “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.” A ruler, a shepherd, strength, security, greatness to the ends of the earth, and peace. Images of who this Christ was to be, come flooding down.
Whether they knew a lot or a little at the beginning of their journey, when they first set out to find the One born King of the Jews, the important thing is that they came. We also must come and worship. They came, they learned from the chief priests, and joyfully went on their way to find and worship Jesus. They found a place for them, at the feet of the ruler, the shepherd, whose greatness would one day reach to the ends of the earth. And today, who can deny that the greatness of Jesus has in fact reached the ends of the earth? The knowledge of Jesus and the worship of Jesus has gone far from that provincial village of Bethlehem, and has circled the globe. And the wise men were the first foreigners to worship at the feet of the king. We too find a place at the feet of Jesus; we too are foreigners included with God’s people.
Back to our Old Testament reading, in Isaiah 60, that said “nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising”—it says a few verses later, (60:6), “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord”. Notably, the camels coming from Midian, Ephah, and Sheba, in Isaiah’s prophecy are tribal regions of Arabia—again lending support to the idea that’s where the wise men came from. But a “multitude of camels” comes, bearing gold and frankincense, good news and praises of the Lord? It’s true that we don’t know how many wise men actually came to visit the child Jesus, and the number three has just been attached by tradition to the three gifts they brought. There could have been two, three, or even a dozen. But nothing in Matthew’s description points to a “multitude of camels.” Even a delegation of a couple dozen wise men would hardly seem to be called “a multitude.” But the connection to the prophecy seems rather obvious. How should we understand this? A commentary helpfully explains that the magi were the forerunners, the first of many powerful and lordly rulers that would come through history to worship Jesus.
Isaiah 60, like many other prophecies, blends together future realities both near and far in time. He describes the glory and the light that the Savior Jesus would bring to His people, and the worship that would come from foreign nations. But Isaiah also blends together images of the more distant future, like the coming of total peace for His people, and God becoming our eternal light in heaven. The worship of the wise men, with costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, is the first wave of Gentile worship, that continues wave after wave, generation after generation to our very worship service today. Whether we are of great earthly power or small, whether our offerings are shepherd-like or magi-like, we all fall down in worship before the same King and Lord of all, Jesus Christ. There is no difference of social status or worldly power or influence when we kneel before the Lord of all. Kings too must fall before Him in worship.
Whether they knew to expect it or not when they came, the magi met in Jesus the One who would have an eternal kingdom surpassing and superseding all earthly powers—Roman, Jewish, Babylonian, Persian, Arabian, British, American, Chinese, or Russian. The birth of Jesus Christ was not a “provincial affair” of only local interest, but it was of interest for the whole world. Which is why the good news of Jesus is worldwide news today—heard and believed on every continent and across the islands, as Isaiah also said would happen, Isaiah 51:4–5 (NIV84)  “Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: The law will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations. My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm. Jesus light shines not only for His nation Israel, but for all nations, even distant Hawaiian islands.
Perhaps one of the most challenging realizations about Jesus’ kingdom, which came in humility and seeming weakness, was that the primary goal was not political liberation or overthrow of Israel’s earthly enemies. Through time and history, enemies have risen and fallen by God’s command. Instead of dealing especially with oppressive rulers like King Herod, or the Caesars, or Pontius Pilate—Jesus came as King to face a deadlier and more oppressive power. This purpose is bound up with the name the angel gave Him—“you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” When Jesus preached as an adult, His audience always found it easy to see the sins of others around them—especially the oppression of the Romans. Jesus’ own family would have reason to fear and to flee the power of cruel Herod, even before Jesus turned two years old. But more difficult to see are the sins we commit against others. Harder to see than the sins of others, is our own pride, selfishness, resentment, irresponsibility, anger, bitterness, and other sins that so easily creep into our hearts. This oppression of our own sins, is more deadly, but harder for us to admit.
Yet this is the very liberation and freedom that Jesus comes to bring. And this is why His kingdom is greater, and both eternal and universal, by contrast to earthly powers. His kingdom is built on the power of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Whether they knew it when they came or learned it after, this is the kingdom the magi discovered. It’s as citizens of this kingdom that we gather in worship, that we come on this Epiphany to honor and worship the One born King of the Jews. We gladly and joyfully join in the throng of worshippers who forever streams to His throne, giving all thanks and praise to our Savior. His Light and His glory rises upon us, it shines into our dark world, illuminating our sin and our need for a Savior. And whatever the darkness may conspire against Him and those who joyfully go to worship Him, we have this promise, that the darkness has not overcome the Light! Jesus’ Light forever shines upon His people, and we step into that light as people who are forgiven and set free. Come and worship at the feet of our King! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
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  1. Herod the Great ruled under the authority of the Romans, and had been given by them the title “King of the Jews.” Herod was well known as a grandiose architect but also a vicious and cruel man. Why did he perceive the words of the visiting Wise Men from the East as a threat?
  2. What was the star that the Wise Men saw, and how was it connected to Old Testament prophecy? Numbers 24:17. What did the priests in Jerusalem know about the birthplace and identity of the Christ? Matthew 2:5-6; Micah 5:2; 2 Samuel 5:1-2.
  3. Why was the arrival at Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem, the sight of the star, and meeting the child Jesus, a source of such exceeding joy for the Wise Men? Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; Psalm 98:3. Why are we included in that joy? Ephesians 3:6
  4. How was the arrival of the Wise Men a foreshadowing of a grander scale fulfillment of Isaiah 60:6? Who are the multitudes of people who come to worship Jesus now? What praises do you bring to the Lord?
  5. Isaiah 60:1-2 describes Jesus’ coming as piercing a “thick darkness” that covers the earth and the peoples. In what ways did His coming encounter and overthrow the darkness? Matthew 2:13-18; John 1:5; 3:16-21. When did it seem that this Light was extinguished? When did the Light rise again to show victory over darkness? John 20.
  6. What thick darkness covers people today? What clouds and darkens men’s hearts? How does Jesus Christ bring the Light and illumination to our hearts? Why do we need the constant presence of His Light?
  7. Who can you share the Light of Christ with? Where do you see darkness still present?