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Epiphany 2011 Sermon — Matthew 2:1-12

January 6, 2011

January 6, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And Herod sent [the wise men] to Bethlehem, saying: ‘Go and search diligently for the Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship Him.’”

The Magi had come to Jerusalem looking for a new king. Like the shepherds in Bethlehem, they had been given a sign. But for them, it was not an angel declaring good tidings of great joy. No, the Magi had a different sign: “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, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.’” These men studied the stars. But now their study revealed to them a great event for the people chosen by the Lord as His own.

So the wise men come to worship this newborn king. This was a diplomatic mission. Whenever royalty is born, the surrounding nations send gifts and congratulations. The Magi had long served as advisers to the royal courts of ancient Babylon and Persia. So they go as ambassadors to King Herod, expecting to bestow gifts upon his newborn son. However, this birth was different than other beginnings of royal life. The One whom the wise men had come to see was not an ordinary king, but was their Savior and Lord.

Remember how King Herod reacted to the Magi’s message: “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.” Herod had not fathered another son. There was no new heir to be found in Jerusalem’s palace. So who could this Child be? Immediately, Herod’s mind went to the thoughts of the Messiah. It is likely that Herod himself thought them to be myth. But he was familiar with the basic plotline. Herod knew that this Messiah was spoken of as an heir of David, one who would possess the Davidic throne forever. So he wants to know where this king which the simple and religious people expected was supposed to be born.

The chief priests and scribes also knew the Messianic prophecies. Studying the Scriptures, they recalled the Lord’s promise: “They told [Herod], ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.”’” Bethlehem, the City of David, would be the birthplace of the Christ. It was where David had been elevated from a shepherd, anointed by Samuel to be king of Israel. From David’s lineage the Anointed One would come to shepherd the Lord’s people.

The repetition of a prophecy being fulfilled got Herod’s attention: “Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship Him.’ After listening to the king, they went on their way.” Herod wanted to find that king, the One who was a threat to him and his reign. But the wise men also wanted to see the new king, in order to honor and worship Him with their gifts: “And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” After worshiping Him, the wise men were given another message: “And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”

These two different motivations of finding Jesus are still present in our day. There are many who would attempt to prevent, overthrow, or ruin the reign of Jesus. They do not want what the Christ would bring, for He is a menace to them. His work is to put an end to everything that threatens mankind and creation, especially sin and its effects. Having a victorious and powerful Christ means that the power and prestige of earthly kings must give way. Those who are overlords and oppressors see their places of privilege taken away by Him. If they can harass Christ’s people, perhaps His reign would be lessened. It was so with Herod, who would send his soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all the male children two years old and younger. The same actions can be found in the persecutors of the Church. And even if it isn’t persecution, the lies and deception of Satan are used to move people from following Christ’s way of life.

But the other motivation of finding Jesus is also found in mankind. Just as there are those who do not want anything to do with Christ’s work, there are others who want to benefit from the effects of His reign. They are given to acknowledge Him as the bringer of salvation. Through the Lord’s words brought to them, they know the true identity of Christ. They desire what was promised, such as what Isaiah declared: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” For those who are subjugated to the effects of sin and the assaults of Satan, the promise of divine light shining on them is most attractive. It is their desire to have it.

The two motivations of finding the Christ stem from the division of all mankind. Tonight, the command of Herod is still given: “Go and search diligently for the Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship Him.” So why will you seek Him? Is it because you find Jesus to be a challenge to you, a threat that you would wish to remove? Are you another duplicitous Herod who would rid yourself of Jesus and His ways? Certainly, that is a tempting thought that your sinful natures may bring to your minds. It is so, when Christ’s identity and teachings cause sacrifice and suffering. Perhaps habitual sins will bring forth the motivation of Herod to you. Maybe it will be when your identity of being a Christian requires you to forgive someone that you really don’t want to or to waive your claims to what is right out of love for other church members.

But there is the other motivation also. Think again on the words of the psalm prayed this evening. Hear the requests and consider them through the prism of Christ: “May he judge Your people with righteousness, and Your poor with justice! . . . May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor! May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations! . . . In his days may the righteous flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more! May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! May desert tribes bow down before him and his enemies lick the dust!” These are the pleas of people who desire a strong Ruler to shepherd and govern them forever.

The psalm’s petitions should also be the words that flow from your heart out through your lips. For you need the light of Christ to permeate the darkness of your sinfulness. You need Him to dispel the shadows of death. His truth is required to counter the lies of Satan that surround you. This is what has been made known to you, as the Apostle Paul’s words declare: “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him.” The riches of Christ have been revealed to you, proclaimed in His Gospel. So you know that He is your Savior, not an enemy to oppose, but an eternal ally to cling to and trust.

So you can “go and search diligently for the Child.” Christ is present here for you to find. You can come and worship Christ, by bowing before Him. Opening your treasures, you may give offerings in honor of Him. You can pray with the psalmist, appealing to Christ’s strength to aid you in your life now. But more importantly, Christ is here, so that with boldness and access, you may obtain the gifts that He has for you. You can find His salvation in the signs that He has left you, especially the pledge, seal, and token of salvation offered from the altar this evening. With that, you can live in anticipation of all the prophecies about Christ being fulfilled for your benefit, including the promise that you shall live under Him in His kingdom for all eternity.

In this way, you become part of the Epiphany story. The identity of Christ has been revealed to you. You know His purpose: to bring salvation for you who were plagued by the oppression of sin and the threat of death. The exceedingly great joy of the wise men is meant to be yours, because the duplicity of all the Herods of this earth is being thwarted. Even more so, the thick darkness of Satan is being dispelled. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” That light is found in Christ. “Go and search diligently for Him” here where He has made His unsearchable riches of salvation to be found now, so that you may bow down and worship Him when all His people eternally gather together.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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