Wise Men Still Seek Him

Epiphany Sunday
January 7, 2018
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
Wise Men Still Seek Him

Matthew 2:1–12 (NIV84)
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Nativity scenes usually have Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in the manger. There may also be some shepherds and a few animals around. Most of the time there is an angel and a star above the stable. And of course there are three wise men giving their gifts to the newborn King of the Jews. If we were going to make the nativity scene more accurate to Scripture we would have to change a little of the typical nativity scene. First, we would need another space where the angel appears to the shepherds. The angel was not visibly at the manger. So maybe we could set up the stable in a prominent place and put the shepherds with their sheep across the room. On Christmas Eve, we could bring out the angel and have the shepherds go to the manger to see their newborn Savior. But what about those three wise men and the star? The Scriptures don’t tell us exactly when the star appeared in the night sky. We don’t know exactly how many wise men came. Three gifts has led to the popular notion of three but the Bible does not tell us for sure. We do know that they came from a long distance. So maybe we start the wise men in the back corner of the yard outside and move them a little each day after Christmas until January 6, Epiphany. Yesterday is the day the Christian Church celebrates the arrival of the wise men to worship Christ. We celebrate this Christmas of the Gentiles a day late today. We are not going to be picky about the exact day. I am also not concerned with exactly how historically accurate your nativity scene is. The most important thing for the wise men was to seek and worship Jesus. The same is true for us today. Wise Men Still Seek Him. We seek him in his Word. We worship him with our lives.

Seek Him in the Word

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

Did these wise men simply see a unique star in the sky and mystically know that the Christ had been born? Certainly, this was a unique star. But could a star contain the good news that Jesus was born? The Magi, or wise men, were the scholars of their day. They studied the sciences of the day including the stars. They would have been well read in the literature available to them. It is very possible that these wise men had learned from knowledge passed down in the Babylonian and Persian traditions. It is very possible that part of this tradition was influenced by a man named Daniel, a Jew. Daniel had been captured by the Babylonians but rose to a high position among the wise men of the land. When the Persians took over, Daniel again rose to a high position. Whether it was Daniel or other Jews in captivity, God’s Word had been in this land of the east. Perhaps these wise men knew the prophecy from the book of Numbers:

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. (Numbers 24:17)

It is the Word of God connected with the star they saw that leads them to the land of Jacob and Israel. They make the long journey and arrive in Jerusalem and stand before King Herod.

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”

The star did not lead them directly to Jesus. It was the Word of God through the prophet Micah that told them where to find the Christ. The Jewish scholars knew the Scriptures and knew that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. So the wise men follow the Word and the star to Bethlehem. They sought Jesus by seeking his Word.

The wise still seek Christ in his Word today. Of course, people are not always spiritually wise. Instead of seeking Christ where he has promised to be found, some seek Christ apart from his Word. Maybe we seek God in our feelings. I’ve attended a few large worship services at the Chapel of the Christ on the campus of Martin Luther College where the feeling was wonderful. The singing was superb. The music was heavenly. It is a great experience and feeling to be in worship like that. It can feel like God is really present there. But this is where we have to be careful. Is God more present in a musically excellent service or when you read your Bible silently at home with no music? You can experience the same kind of feeling in a purely secular concert whether it is classical or pop. Seek the Lord where he is found – in his Word. The Holy Spirit brings us the same gifts of forgiveness and faith in the Jesus born for us through the Word whether it is sung by a 100 member choir or read alone in the quiet of your room.

Some may also seek God in the circumstances of life. It’s been rather cold lately. Does that mean that God is upset with us and withholding the warmth of the sun? Students are or will be getting semester grades soon. Do the grades you get tell you what God thinks of you? Often we humans look for signs of what God thinks of us based on our health, our job, our human relationships, and so on. When things are going well, God must approve. When things fall apart, God must be upset.

The wise men from the east knew where to find the answer to what God thinks of all people. They sought Christ. They found him in the Word and then found him in Bethlehem. The Word tells us that Jesus is our Savior. It tells us that “through faith in [Christ] we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” When God looks at all who believe in Christ, he does not see our sins, but instead sees his perfect Son. Christ forgives us for foolishly pursuing experience over truth and depending on outward signs instead of his Word. Seek Christ in his Word and see that God is with us always. Seek him in his Word and find comfort when human relationships fail. He will never leave or forsake us. Seek Jesus in his Word and find your Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. Find the Shepherd who restores our souls, guides us in paths of righteousness, brings us through the valley of the shadow of death and to the house of the Lord where we will dwell with him forever.

This is the Christ the wise men found in Bethlehem. Their response of worship is also ours.

Worship Him with Our Lives

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

When we talk about worship we often think of what happens for an hour or so on Sunday mornings. Worship is the worship service. In the worship service, God gives us his gifts of forgiveness, new life and salvation through the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. Believers respond to God’s gifts with praise, prayer, and offerings. The wise men have received God’s gift of Christ through the Word and have now arrived at the house where the young boy Savior is staying. We now look at their response, their worship.

“They were overjoyed” is a bit of an understated way of translating their response to arriving at the place where Jesus was living. The original first has a verb for ‘rejoice’ followed by the noun for ‘joy’. They rejoiced joy. A little redundant for emphasis. But wait! There is more. Following the noun for joy is the adjective ‘great’. They rejoiced great joy. And one one modifier is added, an adverb, ‘extremely’, modifying the verb. ‘They rejoiced great joy extremely.’ But since this does not flow off the tongue so well in English, we have, “They were overjoyed.”

How did this great joy show? They bowed down before the child named Jesus. This is the nativity scene image. These very important men bowing before a child. This child is their King, their Good Shepherd, the Christ of God and their Savior. They did not consider it foolish to bow before a child because this child is God’s Son. May we also show this humble joy in our lives. We do this at church when we open nearly every service by confessing our sins. We bow before our God, acknowledging our sins against him and acknowledging that he is the only Savior who can and has forgiven our sins. We bow at the Communion rail as we receive the body and blood of the Christ given and shed for our forgiveness. With humble joy we receive his gifts of forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.

The gifts given by the wise men can also remind us of what it is to worship Christ in our lives. The burning of incense in the Old Testament was a representation of the people’s prayers ascending to God’s throne. We pray to our God through Jesus Christ who has given us access to the Father’s throne of grace through faith in Christ.

The gift of gold can remind us of what is better than gold. Your faith is of greater worth than gold. To trust God is to give him the highest praise. To believe in him above all things is to worship him. And this is not even something we do but faith is his gift to us through the Spirit.

The myrrh can remind us of Christ’s death. The child worshiped by the wise men would be crucified. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea wrapped Jesus’ body in myrrh and aloes and strips of linen. We worship our Savior by trusting in his payment for sin on the cross, his death for our life.

Today, we are putting away the Christmas decorations and the nativity scenes too. Don’t go out and buy a new nativity scene to make every detail right for next year. The Scriptures do not give us all the details we might want. But God has revealed every detail we need for life and salvation in the Scriptures. Be a wise man, woman or child this year by seeking Christ in his Word and worshiping him in your life.

Amen.


 

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