Monday, January 3, 2022

“Wisdom of Faith--Seeing, Following, Worshiping” Matt. 2.1-12 Epiphany, Jan. ‘22


1.                        Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Today, we move from the season of Christmas into the season of Epiphany. Epiphany comes from the Greek, meaning to “reveal or shine.” Christmas is often referred to as the celebration of Christ’s birth for the Jews—for people like Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna. But, Epiphany, is sometimes designated as Christmas for the Gentiles, or all nations. Epiphany reveals that Jesus, true man and also true God, comes not only to save his people, but those of every tribe, race, color, and nation throughout the world!

2.                        Matthew’s Gospel provides rich details regarding the Magi who come from the east to see the star, follow it to Jesus, and worship him. These Magi are considered wise men. And our text for this day of Epiphany from Matthew chapter 2 reveals where their real wisdom lies. It’s the same wisdom God’s Word reveals to us: The Wisdom of Faith Is Seeing, Following, and Worshiping Jesus.

3.                        The Magi possibly specialized in studying dreams, stars, and other written material of the past. Some commentators think that they may have been from the area of ancient Babylon. This means that they may have had knowledge of Balaam’s prophecy in the Book of Numbers, which spoke of a star that should rise out of Jacob (Num 24:17). We also know that the prophet Daniel lived in Babylon with his fellow wise companions, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. All counseled King Nebuchadnezzar and other kings when Judah was captive there for 70 years. Such wisdom may have been available to the Magi from Babylonian accounts regarding the coming King and Messiah, Jesus. So, it is reasonable that these Wise Men, after seeing his star in the east, followed it, all with the purpose to worship Jesus.

4.                        Those 3 vital actions of these men are the most prominent—seeing the star, following it, and then worshiping Jesus. This is even more remarkable the more you consider it! Why would the Magi follow this star, for possibly 900 miles in the ancient world (moving at a pace of maybe 10 to 15 miles a day), and with so little to go on? Because that is what wisdom of faith does— it sees, follows, and worships. Noah trusted, “seeing” with the eyes of faith what God told him. Then he followed God’s word by making an ark that saved him and his family from a worldwide flood. Finally, he worshiped God when he was standing again on dry land. Abraham also saw that God would protect him and Sarah when they left his family for another home. He followed God’s will and also worshiped God when he heard he would be the father of many nations. Faith sees, follows, and worships because God always fulfills all of his promises to his people. This is evident in the account of the Wise Men too.

5.                        It is sometimes said, “Seeing is believing.” On account of this, the eyewitness testimony of two or three witnesses is vital for solving criminal cases in a court of law. What is perplexing then to us is that, even though the Jewish chief priests and teachers of the law in Jerusalem “see” and hear what the prophet Micah said about the Messiah being in Bethlehem, they ignored it. So, they also failed to follow him or worship him. Even though Jesus comes for the Jews, his own didn’t receive him! Even though the distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem was miniscule, about 5 or 6 miles, compared to hundreds the Wise Men traveled, neither Herod nor the Jews see, follow, or worship Jesus.

6.                        Now you might think, “Why did the Jews not see Jesus as the Messiah? They had all the prophecies and details!” Because Jesus also said, “Blessed . . . are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28). Sometimes many “see” the Word or hear the Word but never follow it or worship the center of it all, Jesus Christ. Dear friends, all of us have seen colorful Bible stories in pictures and have numerous copies of the Bible in our own language, the Old and New Testament, but are we open to see and hear again the star of the Holy Word, Jesus, and follow him? Do you put aside everything else each day for God to let his Word have his way in your mind, heart, and thoughts? Do you see and hear him in it, follow him and worship him and bring him gifts in thanksgiving for all God gives you day after day? Not always!

7.                        You see, the faith problem is ours too! We are often lazy with faith! King Herod had no faith, only fear of one who might ruin his position and power. Many of the Jews had no faith either, only fear that Jesus would disrupt “business as usual.” What rules your life now? Is it fear, anxiety, and pain or faith, hope, and joy? God cares more about you and your life than you do. Do you hold on to all of God’s promises in his Word to help, heal, and save you? Not always. Oftentimes, I would rather try to solve my own problems before I seek God as the last resort. How often do you worship? How often do you attend God’s house for worship, read your Bible, or share a devotion with your family? Do others see you follow Jesus? Sadly, within American Lutheranism many are content to worship once a month or less. How idolatrous of us, failing to love God first above all things. How much time goes by when we go without God’s Word and Christ’s very body and blood? Dear friend, trust God’s promise to you. He is with you always! Let every anxiety and trouble go. Cast every care and trouble on him, and he will sustain you and never let you fall.

8.                        This Epiphany, the Wise Men again provide wisdom for faith to see, follow, and worship this newborn King. The star of God’s Word always brightly points to Jesus, the light of the world, the one God sent to save you. Jesus didn’t come to overthrow King Herod or rule as an earthly king. No, Jesus comes to rule your heart and life. That is why these Wise Men brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (of tremendous value in the ancient world). They believed Jesus to be the best and truest jewel, the most precious object of all. Jesus Christ, your pearl of great price, didn’t serve himself, as did Herod, who would soon slaughter many innocent children in Bethlehem. No, Jesus, who is worshiped by the Magi, brings heaven and all the riches of God to us: righteousness, grace, glory, and, finally, eternal life in heaven.

9.                        Jesus served Israel and all nations, and Jesus Christ brings light, life, truth, grace, mercy, peace, and love to you and me as well. This innocent child comes to save the whole world, to make the ultimate sacrifice to serve us all on a cross. God never lies to you! The miraculous star which led these men to Jesus is an incredible miracle. But new miracles happen every day—as you notice if you see, follow, and worship him. Each time a new baby is born is a miracle. Each day that your heart beats and your lungs breathe is a miracle. Each spring when new leaves grow on trees is evidence of God and his life. Each day your Baptism is like a fresh shower washing away all your sins, leading you to eternal life in Jesus Christ. On this special church feast, you are offered another miracle in this meal. Through bread and wine, the Lord Jesus Christ mysteriously gives you his body and blood in this Sacrament to forgive all your sins and strengthen faith so that you may always see, follow, and worship him. Thank God for his Word, and for pastors who continue to deliver all of his goods, so that in thanksgiving, we bring our offerings so that the star of Jesus is seen by all.

10.                    After the Wise Men made it to Bethlehem, they knew their journey was worth it because they saw with their own eyes the greatest gift of the world, God’s Son in the flesh. Even though your life’s journey may feel long now, God brings new blessings to sustain you every day. Someday you, too, are promised to also see Jesus face-to-face, as these Wise Men did. But until that day, God gives you wisdom for faith so that you may always see Jesus in his Word and follow and worship him as the Savior of the world. Jesus gives you all you need—the forgiveness of your sins and peace with God through his mighty salvation. Amen. Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.



“Shining in the Darkness” Isaiah 9.2–7 Christmas Eve


1.                Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” Isaiah 9:2 says. And even tonight, the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.

2.                Light isn’t supposed to shine in darkness. Except that it did at the beginning of creation. God said let there be light. He separated the light from the darkness, and the light he called day and the darkness he called night. So, God gave us time. He gave us day and night. He gave us time for the light and time for the dark. And it was good.

3.                Until it wasn’t. It was in the day that Adam and Eve wanted to know the darkness of evil. Now, darkness was used for covering sin. The beautiful couple no longer liked what they saw in the day. So, they used leaves to conceal their shame from one another and trees to conceal themselves from the Lord. Since their walk of shame couldn’t get them far enough away, they hid in the dark shadows of the garden . . . until they saw a great light.

4.                Light isn’t supposed to shine in darkness. Except that it did when God came walking where his people had sinned. He came calling for Adam and Eve. He asked, though he knew their evil, and he called, though he saw their hiding place. He brought light to the shadows. He put off the old—what leaves poorly hid and concealed. And he put on the new—another’s skin that completely covered their own. The LORD renewed the day, the time, and even the people. And wouldn’t you know it . . . by the very woman who sought the darkness, God promised he would bear in her a saving light.

5.                The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Light isn’t supposed to shine in darkness. Except that it did in the exodus of God’s people from Egypt. Darkness is not just the time for standing still but also for leaving town. After 400 years yoked in slavery, it was time for deliverance by a plague of darkness and another of death. But it’s hard to see and hard to know where to go, especially when you travel at night. It doesn’t help to look over your shoulder and see 600 chariots of Pharaoh unleashed on your heels. So just when the people had nowhere left to walk . . . they saw a great light.

6.                Light isn’t supposed to shine in darkness. Except that it did when God came to deliver the people from their enemies. He came speaking to Moses and through the lips of Aaron. He came upon a midnight clear to protect by cloud in the day and to guide by fire at night. As the Egyptians closed in on the Hebrews pinned up against the Red Sea, God’s darkness and light separated the two forces. To one side, he put down the light by cloud—what dimmed the pursuit of Pharaoh’s army protected the people. To the other side, he put forth the fire—what lit the way through the sea guided the people. And wouldn’t you know it . . . God’s people were walking to freedom with a divine night light.

7.                The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Light isn’t supposed to shine in darkness. Except that it did in the judgment against oppression. Darkness now meant living in caves and tents, taking shelter in the hills. God’s people grew crops they never ate. They couldn’t taste the fruit of the land promised to them. They were as slaves, and their shoulders were overshadowed by another task master, this time in their own land. The Midianites were thieves—stealing the people’s harvest every year. They came as locusts devouring every last grain. The sound of their boots came walking every year, meaning no feast for reaping—no harvest joy. But just when you’d think God had walked back his promises with his people hungry in the dark . . . they saw a great light.

8.                Light isn’t supposed to shine in darkness. Except that it did when God came fighting against Midian. He came speaking through Gideon. He came not needing thousands of warriors, just 300. As the middle watch began, at just the right time of the night, they saw a great light. From 300 men, he put forth a great sound of smashing jars and blowing trumpets—what stirred the enemy from sleep. And from the same 300 upon the hill, he put forth the glare of torches into the valley of deep darkness—what blinded the enemy and misguided their swords into their own comrades. So, the people’s crop was their own once more, the land and its fruit their joy. The warrior boots stopped walking. And wouldn’t you know it . . . the light that separated the enemy’s camp burned their bloodied boots as fuel.

9.                The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Light isn’t supposed to shine in darkness. Except that it did in the fullness of time. Now darkness meant silence. 400 years when God didn’t speak. The land was lost, then regained, only to be lost again. Governors and priests and kings wouldn’t see a light even if he shined on them, wouldn’t hear even though they had ears. But outside a little town of Bethlehem, shepherds were keeping watch over flocks in the dark, silent night. And just when they couldn’t walk, stunned and so afraid . . . they saw a great light.

10.             Light isn’t supposed to shine in darkness. Except that it did when God became man. The light shone round about the shepherds as God’s angel came speaking good news of great joy. This news wasn’t just for a few, but its spoil shall be separated and divided for all peoples. God came himself multiplying his people through faith, which is the highest glory to him. God came bringing peace as a Prince on earth, so there would be increased joy to the world. From the manger, God put forth his Son—what confirmed the ancient and angelic message. And on the cross, God’s Son put forth his own arms—silencing sin as he died. And wouldn’t you know it . . . in the good darkness of midday, even Gentiles would confess his light.

11.             The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Light isn’t supposed to shine in darkness, except for Jesus. But we have real darkness in our time. We are born walking in it. And we use it to conceal ourselves and our own walks of shame. We get lost in the dark, not knowing what to do or where to go. It certainly doesn’t help when you hear the boots of demons walking right behind you. They come like locusts, robbing you of God’s Word. They pin you up in your sin. They leave you to sit in darkness. But just before you wonder if God has walked back a single promise or is gravely silent tonight . . . behold a great light.

12.             Light isn’t supposed to shine in our darkness, except for Jesus. For to us a child is born, and to us a Son is given. Jesus comes, not just for one glamorous night, but every day and every night. God is not silent. Jesus comes speaking to you in the shadows. He separates you from the multitude of unbelievers by Baptism—what puts off the old man. He baptizes you into Christ’s righteous garment—what puts on you a skin not your own. Jesus keeps speaking forgiveness to you through the lips of your shepherd. He separates you from the enemy camp by absolution—what puts down the dark shadows of your past and protects you from its pursuit. He absolves you—what equips you with the Holy Spirit, who puts forth his Word as a lamp unto thy feet and a light unto thy path. Jesus never stops speaking his words of promise to you. He feeds you his own body and blood—what keeps you in the one true faith and separates you from death. He feeds you his own body and blood—what gives you a harvest joy from this time forth and even forevermore.

13.             Yea though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . . you see his great light. Do not be afraid. For God was born to be with you, shining in the darkness. The glory of the Lord shines round about you. He has given you faith, which is the highest glory to him. And wouldn’t you know it, risen from the dead—no more darkness—Jesus is forever our light. Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting. Amen.