“The Worship of the Wise Men” (Matthew 2:1-12)

The Epiphany of Our Lord
Monday, January 6, 2020

“The Worship of the Wise Men” (Matthew 2:1-12)

Today is the Epiphany of Our Lord. It is a major festival of the church year, and it always falls on January 6–much like Christmas always falls on December 25, regardless of the day of the week. Epiphany likewise is a fixed-date festival, and that’s why we’re here today. Actually, we’re here today not merely out of strict adherence to an ancient tradition–although there’s something to be said for sticking to ancient traditions unless and until you have a good reason not to. No, we are here today because God wants to bless us today with his gifts of Word and Sacrament. We are here today because Jesus is here, and we have come to worship him.

“We have come to worship him.” That’s what the wise men said when went in search of the one who was born king of the Jews. “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Well, we heard that Jesus would be here today at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, and so we too have come to worship him. You know, there’s a lot that our worship has in common with the worship of the wise men, so let’s explore that now, under the theme: “The Worship of the Wise Men.”

And I have four points that I want to make in that regard: 1) The worship of the wise men was led by God. 2) The worship of the wise men was focused on Christ. 3) The worship of the wise men was joyous. And 4) The worship of the wise men was sacrificial. So let’s go.

Point 1: The worship of the wise men was led by God. You know, these guys didn’t just wake up one morning and say to themselves, “Hey, fellas, let’s pack up our gear and travel hundreds of miles, bringing costly gifts in search of some newborn ruler who’s going to save the world.” No, they didn’t come up with that idea on their own. Rather, it was God who led them to it.

And God did it through his word. These wise men from the east presumably came from some place like Babylon or Persia–pagan lands, but lands that had had contact with the religion of Israel. Think of Israelites like Daniel or Esther or people like them, who had been scattered to those lands centuries before. And they took with them their faith and their Scriptures and the promises God had made to his people. And chief among those promises were the prophecies of a Messiah to come, a great deliver who would come and rescue Israel, and not only Israel, but would bring salvation to all the nations of the world. These prophecies included one that the coming of the Messiah would be associated with the appearance of a great star in the sky. Centuries earlier, there was this prophecy from the Book of Numbers: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” That’s the prophecy the wise men are referring to when they say, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose.” The birth of the Messiah would be signaled by this star. So God had provided the prophecy, and then he provided the actual star to lead the wise men on their journey in search of the Christ.

Our worship too has been led by God. We didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “You know, I think I’ll become a Christian today. I’m glad I thought of this.” No. God brought you to the faith. The Holy Spirit worked faith in your heart through the gospel. It is God’s word, active, alive, and effective, that gives you the faith to know God and to worship Christ. You and I don’t come up with this on our own. God leads us to Christ, and he does it through his word. God’s word is the shining star that leads us to Christ, just like with the wise men. How we need to be in God’s word, then, so that our faith is strengthened. And the Holy Spirit will do his work, giving us the desire to come and worship Christ.

Point 2 then: The worship of the wise men was focused on Christ. They came looking for the one born king of the Jews. They were looking for the Messiah, the Christ. And when God led them to the place where the child was, there they went into the house and saw the child and fell down and worshiped him. Their worship was focused on Christ.

So it is for us. We come to worship not primarily because our friends are here. That’s a nice side benefit, but that’s not the main reason. We could go to a coffee shop and hang out with friends. We come to worship not primarily because we like to sing hymns. I like to sing hymns–I like to sing–but that’s not the main thing. We could go to karaoke night at a bar and sing. We come to worship not primarily to hear a great public speaker. If that were your motivation, I must be a huge disappointment. For it’s not that I’m such a dynamic speaker. Rather, it’s because I’ve been assigned to deliver to you the most powerful, dynamic, life-giving good news, the most beautiful gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. You’re not going to get that anywhere else but in church. That’s why we come to worship. It’s to come and hear the good news of Christ. He is the star attraction here, just as he was for the wise men.

And notice, even in his infancy, there is a hint of the great saving work that this child would grow up to do. The wise men call him “king of the Jews.” And that is the title, some thirty years later, that Pontius Pilate would have placed over Jesus’ head on the cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” So already here at the start of Jesus’ life, we’re looking ahead to why he came in the flesh in the first place, namely, to die for the sins of the world. This is how Jesus Christ would bring salvation to Israel and to the nations of the world, to lost sinners like you and me: by being the Savior who dies in our place, bearing the punishment for our sins, so that we would be forgiven, which we are, through faith in him. Epiphany worship, the worship of the wise men, is focused and centered on the person and the work of Christ.

Point 3: The worship of the wise men was joyous. Notice what our text says: “When they saw the star,” when the wise men saw the star that was leading them to Christ, “when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Notice how Luke describes this. He could have just said, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced.” But he doesn’t do that. He could have just said, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly.” But no, he doesn’t stop there. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with joy.” That would have been more than enough, but Luke takes it one step further. He really piles up the joy language. He writes: “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” It’s like quadruple joy that he wants to emphasize!

So it is for us–at least it is, when we stop and contemplate what we have in Christ. Even when we’re bogged down with the humdrum of life, even when we’re feeling the aches and pains of getting older, when we feel the misery and the heartbreak and the sorrow that comes with living in this fallen world, you and I have a joy that lifts our spirits and surpasses all our losses. We have Christ. We have all the blessings and the benefits that come with knowing Christ. We have forgiveness for when we have done wrong. We are not living under the crushing weight of our guilt before God. God has wiped the slate clean because of Christ. We have the promise of our ultimate healing in the resurrection of our bodies. This is the sure hope we have, as evidenced by Christ’s resurrection. This is the inheritance that’s waiting for us, with our names written on it: the sure hope of everlasting life. And this living hope animates our life in this gray and cloudy vale of tears. The light of life shines through, undimmed by human tears. Our Epiphany worship is enlivened by this joy, even as it was for the wise men.

And that brings us to our fourth and final point. Because God has led us by his word to worship Christ, because our worship is focused on the person and work of Christ, because our worship is enlivened with the joy of knowing Jesus–because of all this, point 4: Our worship can even dare to be sacrificial. Think of the wise men: They traveled hundreds of miles–and not by plane or car, either–they traveled hundreds of miles to come and look for the Christ child. That was no cheap or convenient venture. It was sacrificial in time and costly in money. It took effort. But the outcome, the result, was more than worth the effort. And think of the gifts they offered in worship: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gifts fit for a king. These were not cheap grab-bag gifts. These were costly items, offered gladly in gratitude and worship to God. The worship of the wise men was costly and sacrificial.

So it is for us. When we take hold of how wonderful a treasure God has bestowed on us, when we know that we can trust our heavenly Father to take care of us, when we realize how important the church’s ministry of the gospel is–that there is nothing more important going on in the world today–when we realize all this, then our hearts are emboldened, and our pocketbooks are opened, to dare great things for the gospel. We can give costly gifts to our Savior. We are willing to go to great effort, to great lengths in time and expense, for the work of the church. This is part and parcel of our Epiphany worship, the same as for the wise men.

Friends, it’s when we realize how wonderful the gift of Christ is. For he made the only sacrifice that counts for our salvation: He offered himself, the greatest price of all, for our eternal good. Not with gold or silver, but with something far more valuable: with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. This is how we are saved, and this is why we worship.

The worship of the wise men–and the worship of wise men and women in all ages–is characterized by these four things: 1) We are led to worship by God. The shining star of God’s word leads us to where Jesus is. 2) Our worship is focused on the person and work of Christ. He is the king of the Jews and the Savior of the world, your Savior and mine. 3) Our worship is marked by joy. The wise men “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy,” and so do we. And 4) Our worship can dare to be costly and sacrificial. We may not have gold, frankincense, and myrrh to offer, but we too can open our treasures and offer our gifts, such as they are.

Dear wise men and women of God, wise with the knowledge of Christ, today is the Epiphany of Our Lord. Therefore we have come to worship him, to worship Christ. May the good Lord grant us his Holy Spirit, so that we too will know and experience the worship of the wise men.

Published in: on January 5, 2020 at 11:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for the Epiphany reading. It is just what I needed to hear on this day.

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