Epiphany

Preached: January 6, 2008

This Star Leads Us to Our King
Matthew 2:1-12

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who pours out his Holy Spirit on us through his Word and Sacraments. That Word for us to take to heart and put into practice is Matthew 2

When Jesus had been born in Bethlehem in Judea during the days of King Herod, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the one born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this, he was stirred up and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering all the people's chief priests and scribes together, he inquired from them where the Christ was born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem in Judea. For thus it is written through the prophet:‘And you Bethlehem, the land of Judah, are in no way least among the leaders of Judah. For from you a leader will come, who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called the wise men and carefully discovered from them the time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and carefully search out the child. When you find him, report to me so that I also may go and worship him.”
After hearing the king, they set out, and behold the star, which they had seen in the east, led them forward until they came and stood before the place where the child was. Seeing the star, they rejoiced with very great joy. Coming to the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother. Falling down, they worshiped him, and opening their treasures, they presented to him gold, incense, and myrrh. Since they had been warn by a dream not to return to Herod, they went back into their own country by another route. (Matthew 2:1-12)

This is the Word of our Lord

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints of God:

Look up at a clear winter sky, especially now as the new moon approaches and marvel at all the stars. That's one blessing of living out here where light pollution is so much less than in a big city. When I look up, I can find Orion, and if I try hard enough, I can usually figure out the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper. But that's where my recognition ends.

Yet those magi, the wise men, knew the night sky well. The Bible never calls them kings. They were wise men who studied the skies, probably coming from the area of Babylon. The Bible doesn't tell us how many came. But their entourage was large enough to cause a stir in Jerusalem. They knew the skies well and had seen something they had never seen before -- a special star directing them to the King of the Jews.

What is it that shines into the darkness of our night and leads us to the King? What is that star for us? Let's think about that for our theme today as we consider the coming of the wise men.

A) Know where to look for this star

1. What things cannot lead us to our King? What is the star that lead us to him?

First of all we need to know where to look for this star that leads to our King. For we need more than just a light in the night sky. Even that special star was not enough for the wise men. They knew that the King must have been born. But where would they find him? Wouldn't it be reasonable to look in the city of Jerusalem, the city of the ancient Jewish kings? So they travel to Jerusalem and ask.

Now Herod ruled over the Jews under the hand of Rome. Herod, though, was not a Jew, but an Idumean. He was known for brutally guarding his throne. He doesn't know about this newborn King, but he does know whom to ask. He calls together the chief priests and experts in the law. They know where to look. The look into the Scriptures, the prophecies that God himself had the prophets write down. They turn to the prophet Micah, who foretold about the birth of the King in Bethlehem.

That brings us to the first point for us to take to heart. Know where to look for that star that leads you to your King. Even though the night sky is filled with millions of stars, none of them will lead you to this King. Yes, looking at the night sky leads us to realize there must be a kingly god. Who but a mighty god could fashion and make such an immense universe? Each of those stars is a sun shining like ours. The vastness of it all! What wisdom and glory must be his! He must be a great king to rule all this. But what you see with your eyes whether peering at the stars through a telescope or looking at cells through a microscope or simply enjoying the great outdoors hunting or ice fishing, none of that will lead you to your King.

The wise men reasoned that the King would be at the capital, Jerusalem. Their reasoning was wrong. So also our reasoning, whether philosophical contemplation or day-to-day common sense that gets things done, won't lead us to this King. For our human minds look in the wrong place. We look to what appears kingly: the powerful, the famous, the rich, the influential, the successful, the Jerusalems of our day. They seem to move emotions, bend wills, and create success. Everything an earthly king would want. But they are not our King.

What led the wise men to look in a place of weakness and foolishness, in the small town of Bethlehem, for the King? The Gospel prophesied by Micah and written in Scripture did. And that is our star that leads us to our King. The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, our Savior from sin. The Gospel revealed in the Bible and brought to you through Word and Sacraments. The Gospel, that is our star. Know where to look. Open the Book.

B. Follow it joyfully

1) How have we failed to joyfully follow the Gospel?

Then follow where the Gospel leads. Follow joyfully, for it leads to your King.

Did you notice that the high priests and teachers of the law didn't bother to follow where the prophecy pointed? They went about their business. So did Herod. So did all the others in Jerusalem. Only the wise men followed. What does it mean to follow the Gospel star? It means to believe the Gospel, to trust it, to depend on it with your entire life and being. They followed the Gospel and in faith they went to Bethlehem to find their King.

What a miracle that was! These foreigns, these non-Jews, these Gentiles, listened to God's Word, believed the Gospel, followed it and found the King. And even though he was born King of the Jews, he was born to be their King as well -- the King for all who seek him in faith.

How about you? Are you following where God's Word leads? How great our sins in this matter! For we are often like the chief priest and experts in the law. We are familiar with the Gospel. You may even know passages by heart. But we just go about our daily business and let God's Word fit in if we have the time. “If I miss church this week, I can just go next week or the week after that.” And that's just one of the must obvious ways it shows. Does God's Word shape your thoughts, words, and actions both day and night? How often the world and the media around us shape our character, priorities, and behavior! And when we do follow the Word, do we do it with the same joy that the wise men had? Here too we must confess that reluctance, sluggishness, duty-driven attitudes infect us even when we do follow the Word. Forgive us, O Lord. Forgive us.

2) To what lowly places does the Gospel lead us to find our King?

Yet in his grace and mercy, he has brought our slow, stumbling feet to that house in Bethlehem over which the star stopped. Not a palace, just an insignificant house, on a lowly block, in a tiny town. But in that house is your King who saves. Yes, dear friend, your Savior-King. He is your Joy.

So follow the Gospel joyfully, even though it leads us to lowly places to find our King. For still today, our King lives in the outwardly lowly places of his Word and Sacraments. Joyfully follow the Gospel in the words of Scripture. Even though we might think those words are boring and confusing at times, yet in these lowly words of Scripture is your King who saves. Joyfully come and worship him. You first met him through the lowly water and word of Baptism when he washed away your sins. Even many who call themselves Christians see little power in Baptism and don't even have their children baptized. But in that lowly place is your King who saves. Joyfully come and worship. Likewise, many consider the Lord's Supper unimportant, they come maybe once or twice a year. But your King is there in the lowly bread and wine. He brings you the forgiveness of sins that alone can save. Joyfully come and worship.

Joyfully follow the Gospel in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments. Though it brings you to what seems a lowly place, there is your King. There is your salvation. And what joy is yours when you know this King. Come and worship him.

C. Worship him to whom it leads

1)Why and how do we worship Jesus as our God, our Sacrifice, and our King?

When the wise men came into the house, they bowed down, and offering their riches, they worshiped Christ, their God, their Sacrifice, their King.

Worship Jesus Christ, to whom the Gospel leads you. Worship him as your God. For he is the eternal Son of God. Bring your prayers before him like incense of old that was offered with the prayers at the temple. Worship him by going to him in prayer. For that Child in Mary's arms is your God, who became flesh for you.

But how would prayers from sinners like us ever be acceptable to the holy God, much less sweet smelling incense? Our sin separates us from God and pollutes our prayers. But you see, Jesus, your God, came to be the Sacrifice for your sins. He carried the sins of the world to the cross and offered himself there for you. His blood makes your prayers like incense, for his blood, the blood of God's Son, purifies you from all sins. Prayers that flow from faith, and only such prayers of faith, are a sweet-smelling incense to our God. So worship Jesus, worship him in faith by trusting and believing that he alone is the Sacrifice that pays for all your sins. Worship him as the Sacrifice, who died on the cross for you and whose body, anointed with myrrh, was buried in the tomb until he rose in glory on the third day.

So also worship Jesus as your risen, glorious King. He is worthy of all our gold, of all that we have and are. For he has conquered sin and Satan for you. He has defeated death and opened the grave. He is the your King. Worship him in victorious joy. Worship him by gladly offering him all that you have and all that you are.

So tonight, or any night, when you look up at the stars, think about the Gospel in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments. The Gospel is your star. It leads you to your King. Follow it in joy offering all that you have to worship him who is your God, your Sacrifice, your King.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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