January 6, 2019
Pastor John Hering
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, when Herod was king, Wise Men from the east came to Jerusalem. They asked, 2 “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 He gathered together all the people’s chief priests and experts in the law. He asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, because this was written through the prophet:
6 You, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are certainly not least among the rulers of Judah: because out of you will come a ruler, who will shepherd my people, Israel.”
7 Then Herod secretly summoned the Wise Men and found out from them exactly when the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you find him, report to me, so that I may also go and worship him.”
9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. Then the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them, until it stood still over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with overwhelming joy. 11 After they went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Since they had been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
The star gazers of Babylon were so impressed when they saw it. They knew just about everything there was to know about the stars they could see. They knew planets and star constellations and assumed there were stars out there they couldn’t quit see. But, that didn’t matter. The big bucks didn’t come from watching the stars but from interpreting the stars. People would pay lots of money to know what the stars were predicting. So watching the stars early in the morning were their bread butter. It was a pretty exciting morning when all the sudden they saw a star they hadn’t seen before. There was a big bright light up there that they hadn’t seen before. Was it a comet? No. A junction of two planets? No. They weren’t sure what they were seeing so they started to study their notes.
Is that how it all started? I don’t know. But, what we do know is this: a group of men, probably astrologers, but certainly not kings, maybe three, but maybe not—these men saw a Star rise in the sky and were convinced it was the star that announced the birth of a king in Israel. The Bible tells us that star moved and they followed that star to Jerusalem, then to Bethlehem, then to Jesus. I know they found Jesus, worshiped him and gave him gifts. We all know these facts because the Holy Spirit inspired St Matthew to record these events in his gospel. This Gospel reading has become the historical gospel reading for Epiphany, 12 days after Christmas, on January 6th. That is why we are celebrating the Epiphany (revealing) of our Lord.
Just as I’m not sure how the Maji noticed the star, neither do I know how all of you come to know Jesus. For most of you it began very simply: water poured over your head at your baptism and the Holy Spirit created faith in your heart, or you heard about Jesus from a relative, friend, or maybe from a pastor. How it all began was probably very simple. But, what the Maji found at the end of the star was not simple at all. What they found was spectacular—they found a Savior from sin! Therefore, let us journey with the Wise Men on this Festival of Epiphany and
Follow The STAR!
With Confident Faith
The journey begins:
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, when Herod was king, Wise Men from the east came to Jerusalem. They asked, 2 “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Matthew doesn’t tell us if the Magi understood the Messiah was coming to deliver all nations from sin and death. They were convinced it was a king, probably an earthly king and not a spiritual king. The Bible does give us hints as to how they could have known about this star being related to a king. Yes, while the Magi were not Jewish, they very well could have known about the Jewish nation from their history. They could have known about the OT Scriptures and prophecies in this regard. For instance from Balaam’s prophecy:
“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel”
Then after they arrive in Jerusalem and King Herod inquires of the advisers they gain what seems to be additional information from the Prophet Micah,
“ 3 When King Herod heard this, he was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 He gathered together all the people’s chief priests and experts in the law. He asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, because this was written through the prophet: 6 You, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are certainly not least among the rulers of Judah: because out of you will come a ruler, who will shepherd my people, Israel.”
Finally we can assume and guess about how these men would have known about this star, but just as the Lord revealed to them to return home in a vision, we can not rule out the possibility that the Lord did the same to inform them of the star’s meaning either. We simply don’t have all the answers. But, we do know that the Magi engaged their journey with Confident Faith when they finally arrived at the feet of the baby Jesus and worshiped him.
Now stop and think: we know so much more about Jesus than the Magi did. Most of us could tell the story from his conception to his ascension. We know where he came from, what he did here and why he came here: We’re the reason Jesus came to this earth. He came because he knew the mess mankind got itself into when Adam and Eve fell into sin. He knew about the sins committed by all people past, present and future. He knew every evil idea before it was even thought up by people. He knew the curse of sin would cause us sadness, heartache, suffering, pain and fear and that every evil thought, word, and deed deserved the eternal punishment of God. We know so much more than the Magi. We know how Jesus lived perfectly, died on the cross to pay the punishment our sins deserved in our place. We know about the cradle and the cross, the crucifixion and the resurrection, about heaven and hell. We know so much from God’s Word! Written down. Never changed. Totally true!
So, is the Bible for us really much different than the star for the Magi? The star was real and without telescope, computer or charts they followed the star that lead them to the King! The Bible is
“written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”
So many people saw the same star as the Magi and thought it to be hardly worth their time. Likewise so many today find little time for God’s Word, or dismiss the Bible as a book of nice stories. Yes, it is with child-like faith that we simply follow with Confident Faith for the same Spirit that led the Magi to Bethlehem by a star, leads us to Jesus by his Word
With Fitting Worship
Matthew records for us,
“7 Then Herod secretly summoned the Wise Men and found out from them exactly when the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you find him, report to me, so that I may also go and worship him.”
9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. Then the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them, until it stood still over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with overwhelming joy. 11 After they went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they bowed down and worshipped him.”
We gather from this that Jesus and his parents were no longer in the manger, but now in a house. Jesus was still a baby and no doubt in some pretty modest place to live. Do you think this is what the Magi were expecting? Probably not what they found in modest Bethlehem, after looking for a king in the capital of Jerusalem. But, it didn’t matter to them. They treated Jesus as the King he is and were filled with overwhelming joy when they found him. Matthew says,
“they bowed down and worshipped him.”
They ascribed him great respect, honor and awe in his presence. It was Fitting Worship for the King of Kings!
Doesn’t this cause us to examine our hearts and lives in how we respect and honor our Savior today? (Tell the story of the Vietnamese Christian). I’m the first to admit that when I worship Jesus here or in my life, I don’t often have my nose to the ground in humility, respect and honor. How about you? Has Jesus become too common in our lives? Do you get too busy and forget about him? Look, I’m not saying we all have to drop to our knees, but having a heart with the proper attitude toward worship is a great blessing. Jesus isn’t like an old, comfy sofa we collapse into at the end of the day. Rather let’s see the majesty and the mystery that the Magi saw for the right reason! Soak up the Jesus’ joy, hope, peace, love and forgiveness when we meet him through his Word and Sacraments! Let your worship remember his exhaustive love that brought him from heaven to earth. Remember his perfect obedience he offered to his Father on our behalf. Remember the pain of the cross and punishment of hell he endured for you. Remember his victory over death and Satan. Then ascribe Jesus great worth—that words really can’t express, but you can do your best from a heart filled with thankfulness, respect, honor and love. The Magi discovered Jesus at the end of the star and worshiped him. Offer your hearts and lives with fitting worship for the King
With Kingly Gifts
“11 After they went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
There are all sorts of ideas about the symbolism of these gifts: GOLD fit for a king. Incense for the sacrifice Jesus would offer up to God; Myrrh to anoint his body after death. Some think these gifts fit for a King were sold by Joseph to support this family, soon to be escaping to Egypt. But, let’s not overlook the obvious. These Magi brought meaningful, generous, heartfelt gifts that honored Jesus, the King.
Someone once said that Jesus wasn’t in need of these gifts because he was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, God from God and Light from Light. True, as God he would not need any gifts from anyone. But he was also fully human. Jesus wasn’t making use of his divine power to take care of himself, but he willingly set aside the full use of his power in order to live as humanly possible as we would live. This helps us understand that the Magi’s Kingly Gifts had more to do with them, then with Jesus.
Here’s what I mean. Ask yourself, “So what does Jesus need from me nowadays?” Certainly not my Kingly Gifts in order to survive. There’s no Bethlehem apartment rent due, no travel expenses to Egypt. What Jesus needs from us is that we would be his witnesses. That is a treasure in God’s eyes. Remember what Jesus said,
“19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”
Jesus doesn’t need gold, frankincense and myrrh. But, a Kingly Treasure is for us to proclaim his gospel—the story of his love to others. Those who believe his gospel are treasures that are stored up in heaven forever! St. Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write,
“8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ,”
So, what do our gifts look like? Are they gifts fit for our heavenly King? Now is the time for us to learn more about God’s plan of salvation from his Word. Now is the time for us to share our Savior’s forgiveness and love with our friends, relatives, acquaintances and neighbors. Now is the time to invite people to come and worship Jesus with us, to repent of our sins, be assured of our forgiveness, and to offer our time, talent and treasures to support the gospel ministry at Divine Peace and as a church body, around the world! These Kingly gifts are gold, frankincense and myrrh in the eyes of God.
It took 13 years and is a billion miles past Pluto, but did you hear what New Horizons did? It reached Ultima Thule! I know, we aren’t all that impressed by last week’s outer space discovery. I’m not digging deep into my pockets to send a special gift to NASA so they can find another star. No, rather, let’s follow the example of the Magi who saw a star rising in the sky, followed it to Bethlehem and offered their gifts of love. Then on their return home, they carefully guarded the gift of faith they had received from the baby Jesus. May we also follow the Star of Bethlehem, our Savior Jesus with confident faith, fitting worship and kingly gifts! Amen!