Sermon – Matthew 2.1-12 (Epiphany Sunday – 2019)
Let us pray: Lord God, heavenly Father, You have given us the light of Your holy Word, the guiding star that leads us to the Christ-child: Send, we beseech You, Your Holy Spirit into our hearts, that we may receive this light and make use of it for our salvation, and that we, like the wise men, when they were seeking the star, may not be afraid because of any hardship or peril, but put all our trust in Your only-begotten Son as our only Savior, devote our earthly possessions to the advancement of Your kingdom, and in all things serve Him, Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
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,
2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
6 `But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.'”
7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. (Matt. 2:1-12 NKJ)
These are Your words heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.
The Word Reveals Christ
Dear fellow redeemed,
Perhaps it has happened to you. You’re travelling and going to visit this place that someone said you really need to go see. It may be a really special restaurant, or an isolated area with a spectacular view, or something like that. And you have your directions or your GPS leading the way. But the directions are taking you a very unusual way. You find yourself driving down an alleyway in a bad neighborhood. Or you’re driving down a road that is in terrible shape, and the surroundings is nothing special at all. You can’t imagine that that really cool destination is at the end of this path, but you go ahead and follow the directions. And sure enough, you find yourself and the destination is more amazing than you expected.
This is kind of what happened with the wisemen. They went to go see the newborn who is the King of the Jews. And they went the route that would make sense. Where would you find the King of the Jews? Where would you go find the Lord God that you may worship Him? Why, you would go to Jerusalem. Everyone knows, even Gentile people from the East would know that Jerusalem is the most prominent city of the Jews. That is where the palace is. That is where the Temple is, where God is present with His people, and where the people go to worship Him.
So that is where they go. And they inquire about the King, asking where exactly they may find Him. Herod heard about this inquiry, and was troubled by the birth of this child. And so he asked the chief priests and scribes about where the Christ was to be born. And they quoted the prophecy that God spoke through Micah 700 years earlier, “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.”
Bethlehem! Luther said that Bethlehem is a cowshed compared with Jerusalem.
Even though, it is the city of David’s birth, it is not the kind of a place that the King of the Jews would be found. But the wisemen, being told by Herod that Scripture foretells of the child’s birth in Bethlehem, didn’t despise the lowly town, but believed the Scripture and went to go find the Christ in Bethlehem. And God gave them also a sign from heaven to help them on the way as they obey the words of Scripture.
And they arrived, and most certainly, the destination wasn’t quite what you would expect. Joseph and Mary are poor and lowly. We don’t know their dwelling there at the time of the wisemen’s visit, but it certainly wouldn’t have been a palace. And the child, the King, isn’t accompanied by helpers, or by soldiers guarding him. There is no sign of wealth, power, and a grand inheritance waiting for Him. By all appearances, this is just another peasant child. But it is the Christchild, and again they do not despise the lowliness and the poverty, but they trust the Scripture fell down before the Christchild and worshiped Him. And they gave Him gifts worthy of a King!
Like the wisemen, we cannot find the Christ without the Scripture. Without Scripture, we look for a Christ that is different than who He truly is. In Luther’s day, the Church, trusting not in Scripture, but on popes and councils, pictured Christ only as a judge and a jailkeeper, and thus they had to look for salvation elsewhere like in their works and in Mary.
And now today, many picture a Christ without a lowly gruesome cross. Without a cross, you do not have His substitutionary atonement for our sins, and without that you have a false Christ. And so they look for a Christ that encourages you to achieve your potential. Or they look for a Christ that would bring glory to our nation. Or they look for a Christ that would be a champion for the wickedness of this decaying culture. They look for a false Christ, not the Christ of Scripture, not the Christ who was crucified.
That’s why in many of the megachurches that are only concerned about numbers don’t have a cross in their sanctuary, and very rarely in their preaching. The crucified Christ is offensive, and so they’ll present to unbelievers a Christ that they’re looking for, a Christ without the cross, a tame digestible Christ, a Christ that doesn’t save.
So, it is only through Scripture can we learn of Christ, that He is the Lord, who was crucified and is risen for our forgiveness and eternal salvation.
So Christ is revealed to us through Scripture. But what do we do with the Scripture? As I already said, there are some who disregard the Scripture and look for Christ apart from Scripture. But we see in our text a couple other examples of what a person might do with the Scripture. You have Herod, who used Scripture against Christ. First, he misunderstood Scripture, thinking that Jesus was going to be the kind of king that would threaten his earthly kingdom, and secondly, he uses Scripture so that he may find where this Christchild is so that he may kill him.
We are guilty of this when we twist the Scripture to justify our sin. As one pastor put it, “I love to sin, and God loves to forgive. What a deal!” And what is this but making a mockery of Christ and His suffering for the sake of our rebellion against God.
But then there was the response to Scripture that the scribes and high priests had, which reflects the guilt that we find in ourselves. They know the Scripture, they suspect that the long-promised Christ has indeed been born in Bethlehem, but they do not go with the wise men to go worship Him. The text doesn’t spell it out for us, but it is possible that they feared Herod. Knowing what Herod was like, for example, by this time he had killed one of his wives out of jealousy, and put to death three of his sons, because he didn’t want to give up his throne. And so knowing Herod’s capacity to murder, they were afraid that going to worship Christ would put their lives in danger. Like the scribes and high priests, we search the Scripture to learn God’s will, but we either do not want to follow it, or don’t follow it out of fear of what others may think or do.
But this breaks the first commandment, for we fear our neighbor more than God, when we ought to fear, love and trust in God above all things. Christ’s judgment is clear for these, “The servant however who knows the will of is lord and has not prepared himself nor done his will, will have to endure many stripes” (Lk 12:47).
But then there are the wisemen, who hear the Scripture and believe. Though they are wise in the things of the world, and well-educated, they put all aside all expectations of Christ, and cling only to the wisdom of Scripture.
And what a wonderful Christ is revealed to us sinners through Scripture. He is presented to us as a loving and lowly servant. He is the King of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles, as we learn from the Scripture and the example of the wisemen. He is the eternal King, come down from heaven. But through faith gifted to us by God, we do not despise His lowliness, or His cross, but we bow down and worship Him, our King and our Savior. We worship Him by seeking His mercy and giving Him our sins, for that is what He wants. He comes to bear them and take them all away. Though we have searched for Him apart from Scripture, though we have used Scripture against Him as Herod, or neglected the will of God out of apathy or out of the fear of man as the scribes and high priests, Scripture points us to a humble and gracious King, who invites us to Himself, to behold His nail pierced hands and feet by which He has removed your sins and brought you into His kingdom. And having His forgiveness, we joyfully offer Him ourselves, our lives, as a living sacrifice to our King.
Scripture reveals Christ to us! But it not only functions like a GPS or a set of directions that show us the way to Christ. But Scripture is like the lowly Bethlehem holding Christ Himself. We find Christ in Scripture, and also in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. The disciples of Christ saw Christ ascended into heaven, and disappear behind the cloud. Where then shall we find the Christ when He has ascended into heaven? We find the conquering, eternal King of heaven and earth, in the lowly means of Scripture, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. And so in faith, we do not despise their lowliness, but we find Him there, and receive Him, and we rejoice with exceedingly great joy, because there we behold the Christ our King, who holds for us and grants to us the heavenly treasures He won for us! Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.