Ready, Set, Go! – Sermon on 1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5 for Septuagesima.

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1 Corinthians 9:24-10:5

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Paul compares the Christian life to a sporting event. They didn’t have the best sport – baseball – in Paul’s day, but they had sporting competitions. The city of Corinth, in particular, hosted a series of games every other year called the Isthmian Games which were the second most famous athletic competition in the world after the Olympics. The events included racing, wrestling, jumping, boxing, javelin, discus, and even poetry. Thousands of athletes would show up to compete in the events, and throngs of people would come to watch. The winners of each competition would end up being famous throughout the Roman Empire and get statues and monuments. isthmean-games-celery-crown.jpg
But the immediate reward, the prize they got right after the competition, wasn’t a gold medal placed around their neck. No, they got a wreath made of dried, withered celery. Yes, celery – that vegetable that is tasteless when you eat it alone but ruins every dish you add it to.

I can just imagine the first guy to win. He ascends the podium while the crowds cheer and receives his celery wreath. He holds it and thinks, “Celery? I get celery? I thought I was competing for a salary.”

To compete in the games, athletes would be required to devote ten months to training. They had to focus their complete attention on their training, give up any bad habits, and even had to give up things that weren’t bad in general but were a hinderance to their training. The competitors had to have the will and self-control to let go of anything that would distract them from winning first place. And when it was time to compete, they had one goal – finishing first.

Paul takes the imagery of those athletes who wholly dedicated themselves to training, running, and winning a perishable wreath of withered celery and says, “You, Christian, should have even more dedication to receive the imperishable prize of forgiveness and eternal life.”

Now, this analogy Paul is using is good and beneficial, but all analogies have their limitations. So, we have to pause for a moment here to make sure everything stays clear.

One limitation comes when Paul says, “all the runners run, but only one receives the prize.” In the Christian race, all believers win the prize. It should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. It isn’t as though only one person will be saved. If that were the case, Jesus wins period and no one else. His perfect life and perfect obedience in thought, word, and deed have never and will never be matched. Not even close.

Another limitation to the analogy is that you aren’t saved because of your work, your training, your dedication, your self-control. This has to be clear – if you don’t get this, you will completely miss the point of this entire text, this sermon, and the whole Bible. Salvation isn’t earned or deserved. You don’t earn eternal life by being better than most people. Getting a “C” in “Morality” doesn’t cut it. You’ve probably heard the joke about two guys (we’ll just say Sven and Ole) who are camping in the forest. Outrun the BearThey see a bear eyeing them and licking its chops. Sven looks over at Ole who is bent over tying his shoelaces. Sven says, “Ole, do you really think you can outrun a bear?” Ole pulls the laces tight, stands up, sniffles and says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I only have to outrun you.” Salvation is not like that. You aren’t saved because you are better than most people. You are saved by grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone.

But here is the point Paul ismaking in these verses. You can fall away. Salvation can be lost. And if you don’t take salvation seriously, you are like an athlete who shows up for a race but has no plans of actually competing to win. Paul points to Israel’s ancestors (whom we heard about a little bit in the Old Testament text [Ex. 17:1-7]). Of the six-hundred-thousand men plus women and children who were brought out of Egypt by God’s mighty hand, only two of them – only Joshua and Caleb – got to enter the Promised Land. All of them had been given physical deliverance, physical food, physical drink. But they had also been given spiritual deliverance. They had been given a type of Baptism. They were given spiritual food and spiritual drink directly from Christ who gives water that wells up to eternal life (Jn. 4:13-14; 7:37-38). But with most of them, God was not pleased, and they were overthrown in the wilderness.

Because faith and salvation can be lost and because so many were overthrown in the wilderness, you need to run after the prize of eternal life. Discipline yourself. And that doesn’t mean that you give yourself a spanking or something like that if you sin. No, discipline yourself in a way that keeps you from running headfirst into sin.

If you know that you are prone to falling into sin when you go to that certain place, when you hang out with that crowd, when you drink too much, or when you surf the internet late at night, have the discipline to refrain, to stay away, from those things. In other words, don’t get lazy about your sin. Practice self-control. Do all of this so that you aren’t running aimlessly, so that you don’t box as one beating the air, or so that you don’t get disqualified. This text is exhorting, urging, prompting, and prodding us to good works and to live as Christians.

But with all that said, I need to confess something. The more I am told to do a certain thing, the less I want to do it. It is too easy to look back on how I’ve failed in the past. My failures and sins easily haunt me, and it is tempting to give up. Maybe you have the same problem. That is what Paul is addressing in this text. He wants to focus us on the imperishable prize so that we keep working, keep striving, and keep pressing toward it.

The Bible is constantly pushing us forward toward the prize, but we are too often looking back at our past sins and failures. And those sins and failures get us down and discouraged so that we are tempted to give up even trying. We can’t do that.

So, what’s the answer? What will motivate us to do good works and live as Christians? Don’t look back at your failures and sins. Forget them. Know that God has forgiven your sins through Jesus’ cross, death, burial, and resurrection. In Isaiah 43:25, God says, “I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Or Jeremiah 31:34 where God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Because God has forgotten your failures, you don’t need to dwell on them either. Paul uses similar language in Philippians 3:13–14. That passage is in your Scripture insert. Listen to this: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Your past failures and sins are just that. They are in the past, and they are forgiven and died for by Christ. You have received the entire forgiveness of all your sins, and you are about to receive the very Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. Believer, every promise of Scripture lies before you. The eternal party, the never-ending feast of God lies before you. It is a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. There, God will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces (Is. 25:6-8).Augustine on 1 Corinthians 9_25.JPG

Listen to what Christ Himself says is your goal, your prize from Revelation 2-3: To the one who conquers, God will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. The one who conquerors will not be hurt by the second death. The one who conquerors will be clothed in white garments, and Jesus will never blot his name out of the book of life but will confess his name before God the Father. The one who conquerors will be made a pillar in the temple of God. And the one who conquerors will sit with Jesus on His throne (Rev. 2:7, 11, 3:5, 12, 21).

Christian, this is your goal, your prize, your imperishable wreath. And it is worth running for. Ready? Set. Go! Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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The Lamp & the Darkness – Sermon on 2 Peter 1:16-21 for the Sunday of the Transfiguration of Our Lord

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2 Peter 1:16-21

transfiguration-icon16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Peter, James, and John saw Jesus do many amazing things. Just think back on the sermons from the last few weeks. They were there when Jesus (according to John), “manifested His glory” by turning water into wine (Jn. 2:11). They saw Jesus touch a leper, and, instead of the disease spreading from the man and infecting Jesus, the cleanness of Jesus spreads to the man and his leprosy was gone (Mt. 8:1-4). They heard Jesus speak a word to heal a centurion’s paralyzed servant (Mt. 8:5-13). They were in a boat that was being swamped by the winds and the waves, and Jesus tells that storm to knock it off resulting in a great calm (Mt. 8:23-27). Peter, James, and John would see Jesus feed the masses, give sight to the blind, and raise the dead.

But, when Peter looks back on everything that Jesus did, and when Peter wants to let people know the truth of the Christian faith, Peter points the people to whom he wrote this letter to the Transfiguration. There on the holy mountain, Peter says he saw the power, the coming, and the majesty of Jesus with his own eyes. The Transfiguration is the greatest manifestation of the deity of Jesus. It is where Jesus’ divine nature, which He always had, shines through His human nature showing that He is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.

The truth that God Himself came down to die and rise again to save all mankind from sin is not some cleverly devised myth. It is rooted in historical fact. Peter was there. He saw with his own eyes. Peter’s own ears heard God the Father preach a very important but very brief sermon, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him” (Mt. 17:5).

So, we could summarize v. 16-18 here as Peter saying, “Listen up. Our preaching of God coming down to rescue us from sin and death is not some myth or fairy tale. We preach Jesus as the Savior of the world because we saw His glory and power and majesty. We preach Jesus because we heard the very voice of God from heaven when we were with Jesus on the holy mountain of Transfiguration.”

And the rest of this text, which is where we are going to focus most of our attention, is the meaning, the take-away, of why the Transfiguration is still important for us today. And the reason might surprise you.

Normally, we think of the Transfiguration as mainly showing us the glory of who Jesus is. The Transfiguration certainly does do that. But listen to Peter’s conclusion: Verse 19, “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention to as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

The Transfiguration of Jesus does show the glory of Jesus, but even more so, according to this text, the Transfiguration shows us the glory of the Bible. Peter says here that it is better for you to have the Scriptures than for you to have been there with Jesus, Peter, James, John, Moses, and Elijah. It is better for you because the Scriptures, every last verse, show you of God’s great love for you. The shining face and dazzling clothes of Jesus point us to the shining and dazzling lamp of the Scriptures that shine in a dark place.

So where is this dark place? We might think that the lamp of the Scriptures shines in the darkness of this world. The Bible certainly does talk about the world being full of darkness and sin. In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, John writes that in Jesus was life, and “the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:4-5). That passage of Scripture says that the light of Jesus defeats the darkness of this world. Or consider Psalm 119:105, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” There, the Scriptures give a picture of the light of God’s Word giving us direction in this dark world so that we don’t stumble or go the wrong way.

But Peter seems to be saying something different here. He says to pay careful attention to the Scriptures as “a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises” – now catch this – “the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Dark HeartYou see, it’s not just the world and things outside of you that are a dark place. Your heart also has a darkness that needs the light of God’s Word. Peter doesn’t use the normal word for ‘dark’ here. In fact, the word that gets translated here as ‘dark’ is the only time in all the Scriptures where this word gets used. When I looked Greek the word up, the first definition is ‘squalid’ which is a word I don’t think I’ve ever used in normal conversation. So, I looked up ‘squalid’ and it means this, ‘foul and repulsive from a lack of care; neglected and filthy.’

Here is the picture: Sinner, your heart and my heart is a filthy, murky, dark place. Peter says that we do well to pay attention to the Word of God shining in the filthy, dirty, neglected, dark place of our hearts.

Many celebrities and influential people have been saying for a long time, “Follow your heart.” It sounds nice. It sounds good. But it is totally unscriptural. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” Or maybe you have seen the little cartoon, it floats around social media from time to time. The picture is of a small child standing before Jesus and offering Jesus a red heart that looks like a nice valentine saying, “It’s all I have.” And Jesus is reaching out to take it replying, “It’s all I ever wanted.” That isn’t the picture that the Scriptures give us. It would be better if that heart were the color of dung. And Jesus says, “I’ll take that filthy, desperately sick thing from you and give you a new heart” (Ez. 36:26).

But back to Peter’s picture of the Scriptures shining like a lamp in the squalid (there, now I’ve used it), dank, neglected, filthy darkness of our hearts. We need the clear lamp of the Bible to shine through the dark places of our heart.

We walk around in a dark, dirty, and ugly house. We have all sorts of temptations within ourselves to sin. Whether it is more money, a better relationship, an image of something pleasant to look at, a bigger house, or accolades from others, we are tempted to think that those things will bring us happiness. And we are willing to do whatever it takes, whatever sin is necessary, to grab on to those things. But, when we pay attention, the lamp of the Scriptures shines in the darkness of our heart, we see – we clearly see – that those things are filthy. We see that those things are not worth comparing to the greatness of the treasures of God’s promises.

So, pay attention here because I’m going to read a long passage of the Scriptures to shine some of their light in your heart. It comes just a few verses before our text today. 2 Peter 1:3–11 (turn there if it will help you follow along) “[Christ’s] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so Light shining in darknessnearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

This is what the Scriptures do for you, believer. They shine in your heart to give you faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.

Dear saints, don’t be blinded by neglecting your Bible. You have been cleansed from your former sins. Grow and abound in the godly qualities that are yours through your God and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rebuking the Storm – Sermon on Matthew 8:23-27 for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany

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Matthew 8:23-27

23 And when [Jesus] got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

After hearing this Gospel lesson, I want you to consider again these words from our call to worship because I think it sheds a beautiful light on this text:

“Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! They saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. For He commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed” (Ps. 107:24-25, 28-29).

Jesus Calms the Storm Asleep in SternImagine Matthew in this storm. Remember, Matthew – unlike Andrew and Peter and James and John – Matthew wasn’t a fisherman. He was a tax collector when Jesus called him to be a disciple (Mk. 2:14). Typically, he had hands stained from handling coins all day not clammy, saltwater-drenched hands. Matthew was used to sitting in a tax booth not on the rail of a boat bailing water so that it doesn’t sink. Matthew had seen Jesus rebuke demons, rebuke sickness, and rebuke the Pharisees and religious elite. But now, in the middle of a storm that threatened Matthew’s life, the Man who had called him saying, “Follow Me,”lay peacefully sleeping and undisturbed in the back of the boat on a cushion (Mk. 4:38).

In this text from Matthew, the disciples cry out to Jesus, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” But in the Gospel of Mark, the disciples collectively ask Jesus, “Don’t You care that we are perishing?” (Mk 4:38). The folk singer Gordon Lightfoot wrote a song about the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. One of the lines from that song is, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” Those are the types of thoughts going through Matthew’s mind and the minds of the other disciples.

Now, hold on to that thought while I change scenes.

Remember the story of Job? Job was a man who was blameless and upright. Job feared God and turned away from evil. This was what God said about Job (Job. 1:1,8). There was a day when God asked Satan what he thought about Job. And the devil replied, “Does Job fear You for no reason? Haven’t You put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has on every side? Just stretch out Your hand against Job, and he will curse You to Your face.” And God basically says to the devil, “Go for it,” (Job. 1:9-12). Then, one day Job’s servants came one after another to tell him that all his sheep, oxen, donkeys, and camels were all destroyed. Finally, another servant comes and says, “Your seven sons and three daughters were feasting together, and a great wind,” catch that, “a great wind came and struck the corners of the house and killed your children” (Job 1:18-19).

Now, who sent that wind? The devil did. Satan took control of the wind and used it to bring down the house where Job’s children were. But, and you have to remember this, Satan could only do that because God had given the devil permission to do so.

One more scene change. Bear with me.

Think back to our Old Testament lesson (Jon. 1:1-17). Jonah was told to go and preach to Nineveh and call them to repent of their sins. But Jonah turned tail and went the opposite direction. He boards a boat in order to flee from God’s presence. Verse 4 says, “But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.” God sent that wind. God sent the storm. God sent those waves.

So, God can send a wind to come after Jonah, and God can allow the devil to send a wind to do harm. Now, the question is this: who sent the storm in this Gospel text? Was Satan sending this storm to try to drown Jesus or to cause the disciples to doubt Christ? Was God sending this storm to cause the disciples to trust in Jesus more than they had before?

Well, honestly, we don’t know. But that, dear saints, is the point. Either way, whether the devil was behind this storm or God was, God was in control of the whole situation even though it seemed like He didn’t care and was sleeping. At a simple word from Jesus, the winds and waves stopped, and there was a great calm. And this miracle causes the disciples to marvel, “What sort of Man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?”

In the midst oFranticf that storm, in the middle of the wind and the saves and terror, Jesus asked the disciples, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” This question from our Lord’s lips confronts us today. What are you afraid of? The devil may be behind the things you fear. Satan may want you to enter “emergency mode,” “crisis mode,” “God doesn’t care and is sleeping mode.” The devil wants nothing more than to rob you of the peace and security that comes from being a child of God. So repent. The devil is very cunning and dangerous, but he is also totally and completely predictable.

But what is God doing in allowing you to experience those things that you fear? Why is God permitting Satan to do these things to you? That is an unanswered question in the Bible. If there was an answer in Scripture, I’d be more than happy to tell you, but the Bible seems to be more interested in keeping that answer from us. We know why the devil knocked the house onto Job’s children, but we aren’t told in the whole book of Job why God allowed the devil to do it. We might think that God sent the storm upon Jonah in order to get Jonah to Nineveh to preach and call those people to repent, but there may have been even more reasons that we are completely unaware of as well.

We aren’t told what God is doing when we are in the midst of trials and tribulations. But we can know with confidence, that whenever God sends storms and trials our way or when He allows Satan to send us trouble and tribulation, we know that God has nothing but our best interest in mind. We know because Scripture tells us that God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Ro. 8:28). Scripture says, “Count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Ja. 1:2-3 see also Heb. 12:6-12, 1 Pet. 1:7, Rev. 3:19).

Here’s the main point. When you are faced with trials, temptations, and crosses you are tempted to think that God is sleeping. You are tempted to think that He doesn’t care and is totally apathetic toward you and your plight. Don’t look at your troubles and try to gauge what God thinks about you.

Jesus Cross Heaven & EarthIf you want to know what God thinks about you, you need look no further than the cross. While you were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for you (Ro. 5:6,8). If you are going through a storm of sickness, a storm of family strife, or whatever it might be, look at it through the lens of Christ crucified and risen for you. And know that God is in control and He will never leave you nor forsake you.

The sailors that Jonah was using to flee from God’s presence had to wake Jonah up and throw him overboard to still the storm. Jesus only has to speak, and the waves are stilled and the storm is hushed. And even though Jesus wasn’t thrown out of the boat in this Gospel text, He was thrown overboard in a much more important way.

On the cross, Jesus was thrown into the place of God’s judgement against your sin and the sins of the whole world. Jesus wasn’t swallowed by a great fish, He was swallowed by death in order that He might defeat death for you. As Jonah was in the belly of that fish for three days, Jesus was in the grave for three days. And He is risen again.

Today, you have different storms, different winds, and different waves tempting you to fear. But you have the same Jesus who slept in the boat, who woke up, who rebuked the wind and the waves and they listened to Him.

Whatever storms you face in this life, bring them to your God. Let those trials teach you to pray. And marvel at the wonderful answer of your God and Savior. Cry to Him in your trouble, and he will deliver you from your distress (Ps. 107:28). Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Mercy Over Anger – Sermon on Matthew 8:1-13 for the Third Sunday of Epiphany

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Matthew 8:1-13

When [Jesus] came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.”And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

centurion with a sick servantWhen he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.”And the servant was healed at that very moment.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

All the Scripture lessons today (2 Kgs. 5:1-15; Ro. 12:16-21; and Mt. 8:1-13) speak of both mercy and anger. Naaman, the commander of Syria’s army has leprosy and is mercifully healed by God through the prophet Elisha when he washes seven times in the Jordan. But, when Naaman first heard about how this healing would come, he was angry and wasn’t even going to do as God directed him through Elisha.

In our Epistle lesson (Ro. 12:16-21), we Christians are told to be merciful instead of getting angry and vengeful. We are told to not be haughty, but to associate with the lowly. We are told to not repay evil for evil and never avenge ourselves, but leave vengeance to the Lord. We are commanded to overcome evil not with anger but with good.

But the theme of mercy and anger is a little harder to notice in this Gospel text. Mercy is easy to see. Jesus is merciful to two men. First, to a leper who was physically and spiritually unclean but then receives better than he asks. And second, to a Gentile centurion who had a sick servant. This centurion, a commander of at least one hundred men, believes that even though he was unworthy to have Christ come under his roof our Lord has both the ability and mercy to speak a word from far away and heal his servant. So, you might be wondering, where is the anger in this Gospel text?

After Jesus praises the centurion’s faith, Jesus talks about the anger of those who spend eternity in hell. In the outer darkness, Jesus says people will experience only weeping and gnashing of teeth for eternity. That phrase “gnashing of teeth” is not some sort of torture, like an eternal dental procedure. “Gnashing of teeth” a Hebrew expression of anger and rage. A person who is angry gnashes his teeth at the one who has made him angry. (You see this in Ps. 112:10and other places in the Old Testament.) You can watch this happen when children are angry with their siblings or peers. They clench their jaw, show their teeth, and growl. Hell is where anger and rage never go away and is never satisfied. And we need to consider this for a bit to see the horror of hell.

Those who are in hell insisted on going their own way in this life. They want to be their own lords rather than let God be their Lord. They insist that they be judged according to their own righteousness and merits (which is only a big, smoldering pile of scat anyway), and so they will be. They will be judged and condemned because their trust is in their own righteousness rather than in Christ’s righteousness won for them on the cross and given to them by God’s grace and mercy. And they will be angry with god because they think God has been unfair. In hell, people are given over to their own anger for eternity.

Jesus gives this picture in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt. 25:31-46). The goats are justly condemned to hell for their sins, but they are angry with God for not seeing what they thought were their plethora of good works. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk. 16:19-31) Jesus also shows how unbelievers grumble and angrily insist on their own way even when they are suffering. The rich man is in anguish and sorrow in hell begging Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers. Abraham says, “They already have Moses and the prophets.” In other words, they have the Scriptures, so they don’t need any further warning. But the rich man says, “That won’t work. My idea is better. Send Lazarus.” Even in there in hell, the rich man rejects the power and truth of God’s Word and angrily insists on his own way.

AngerHell is the place where people are given over to their anger. It is full of people whose pride has lead them to think that God owes them something because they are so good and righteous or because they belonged to the right club or had the right lineage. But they are wrong and so they are in torment stewing in their anger against God and there is no relief or release. All of that is the gnashing of teeth. So, when Jesus speaks of what hell will be, He gives a picture of darkness, sorrow, and anger.

Now, we need to consider this picture of hell as a place of eternal anger a bit because anger is so prevalent in our society. Anger is probably the most acceptable sin in our culture. We give in to it all too easily and quickly, but our expressions of anger reveal only our pride.

Someone cuts us off while we are driving, and we get angry. We sinfully think, “How dare that guy think he is so important that he cut me off like that?” Well, maybe he actually is more important. Maybe he is going to say goodbye to his dying relative.

Someone jumps into an empty line at the grocery store with a full cart while we have to wait holding only a gallon of milk. Or a coworker fumbles through a task leaving us to pick up the slack. Or our child forgets to do the chore we expected them to do and because of their absent-mindedness we end up behind schedule. We get angry because we see every inconvenience as an injustice against us. Our pride has been hurt, and we try to get even with that person or we take our frustration out on the first vulnerable target in our sights. In doing so, we act as though any hinderance to us is of cosmic significance. And our anger leads us to respond wrath and vengeance.

But by becoming angry – listen to this now – by becoming angry, we are stealing from God. “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says God. To give in to anger is to bring a little piece of hell upon yourself. In doing so, you hurt yourself and those you love. Your anger reveals your pride, and it is weakness. It is unhealthy and dangerous.

Repent. Let it go. Turn the other cheek. The Holy Spirit does not ever move you to anger. None of the fruits of the Spirit – neither love, nor joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, nor self-control – none of those have anything to do with anger. Instead, the Holy Spirit moves you to pity, compassion, patience, forgiveness, and mercy.

Now, pay careful attention here because this is the most important thing about this sermon. Mercy triumphs over anger. Consider Naaman in our Old Testament text. He went off in a rage when he thought Elisha’s prescribed ceremony was foolish. Naaman was a strong man, but we see that his strength was not in his military might rather in his humility and submission to the Word of God.

Same with the centurion in this Gospel text. While he had authority over many men and could order them around, he lacked the authority to make his servant better. He could not say to his servant’s sickness, “Go away.” And he lacked the authority to say to his servant, “Get getter.” jesus-lamb-slain-silver-goldHe couldn’t do it because he didn’t have the strength or authority. The centurion’s truest strength was his submission and faith that Christ’s authority far surpassed his own. So, the centurion in faith and hope asks Jesus to merely speak the word, and his servant is healed at that very moment.

Dear saints, your Savior’s mercy is more than His anger toward you. Trust in that mercy. And when you are tempted to be angry with others, remember that God is just. He is just and merciful. May we, as His children, be like Him. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Gifts and Mercy – Sermon on John 2:1-11 for the Second Sunday of Epiphany

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John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” wedding at cana water into wineNow there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.”And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.”So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have become drunk, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Notice first that John doesn’t call this miracle of Jesus a ‘miracle.’ It is, of course, a miracle to take somewhere between 120-180 gallons of water and turn it into wine in an instant. But John doesn’t call it a miracle, he calls it a ‘sign.’ And importantly, this is the first of Jesus’ signs and manifests His glory. This sign becomes the standard by which all other signs of Jesus are known. This sign shows how Jesus loves to give good gifts even when they aren’t known, recognized, or appreciated. And, therefore, this sign shows us how beautiful is Christ’s love and mercy.

Jesus attends a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Galilee is a region that isn’t all that important. The kings, rulers, religious leaders are mainly in Judah to the south. And Cana is a town that was so small and insignificant we still aren’t sure where it is – archeologists haven’t discovered it yet.

At that wedding feast, the wine had run out. Either those planning the wedding didn’t plan properly, or (and probably more likely) the guests had been too busy refilling their glasses. The master of the feast (and we’re going to come back to his statement) will say that the good wine that Jesus provides is a mistake because the guests have become drunk using the same word that the Scriptures will repeatedly warn against.

So, this first sign, this first miracle of Jesus isn’t like His other miracles in the Gospels where Jesus gives sight to the blind, makes the lame walk, gives hearing to the deaf, cleansing to the lepers, freedom to those possessed by demons, and resurrection to the dead. But this turning water into wine is not simply a parlor trick that Jesus does to impress people. It is an act of pure mercy. Jesus turns water into good wine for a bunch of people who already had wine.

Mary lets Jesus know the party has run out of wine. And Jesus doesn’t seem to want to get involved. But Mary has faith that Jesus will do what is good, so she tells the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Jesus could have told everyone the feast is over, pack up, and go home. But He doesn’t. His mercy extends far beyond our imagination.

Jesus tells the servants to fill six stone water jars that are there for the Jewish rites of purification. These rites of purification were an addition to God’s commands for His people to be clean. The Pharisees had a bunch of rules about washing before eating (see Mk. 7:1-5where the Pharisees will accuse Jesus’ disciples of not following these man-made rules). So, these jars aren’t there to hold drinking water. In fact, you probably wouldn’t want to drink water from these jars as much as you wouldn’t want to drink from a bowl of water that people had used to wash their hands.

Water into Wine at the Wedding in Cana.jpgJesus tells the servants to fill the jars with water, and they fill them up to the brim. And, at Jesus’ command, they take some of it to the master of the feast. The master tastes it, and it isn’t water anymore. It is wine. The master didn’t know. The guests didn’t know. Only Jesus, Mary, the servants, and the disciples know that this had been water miraculously turned into wine.

Now, we have to slow down for a minute and consider the words of the master of the feast: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have become drunk, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

Practically speaking, the master is absolutely right. You don’t waste the good stuff on people whose taste buds are numbed and who are probably going to throw it up anyway. You serve the good tasting wine first and serve the crummy wine when they don’t really care what it tastes like any more.

But in doing this, the master of the feast takes on a satanic role. And, I think (you can disagree) that is why John quotes the master of the feast. He is saying that there is a huge waste in giving good wine to people who cannot appreciate it, people who are going to abuse it, and to people who have been abusing it. You could almost say that the master goes to the groom and says, “You are some fool for giving people good wine when they can not appreciate it.”

This is what the devil says about God as God continually gives us His gifts of grace and mercy. Satan is enraged that God would love and forgive us who do not appreciate His gifts and mercy.

Cross and CommunionBut, dear saint, that is precisely the point. God is willing to give His gifts and mercy anyway. This isn’t a license to go on and sin because God will forgive you anyway. In fact, you are to abhor what is evil and hold to fast to what is good. Love one another. Outdo one another in showing honor (Ro. 12:9-11). And do all of that as you remember that God gives better than you deserve or appreciate.

Finally, remember that this sign occurs, as John says, ‘on the third day.’ This third day is the last in a series of days that John tells us about. The first day was back in Jn. 1:29where John the Baptizer says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Then, John says ‘the next day’ Jesus called His first few disciples. Then, this miracle occurs ‘on the third day.’ John could have kept his reckoning of time any way he wished. He could have said Jesus is proclaimed to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world on Tuesday; on Wednesday, Jesus gets His first disciples; and on Thursday, Jesus was at a wedding in Cana. Or, John could have just kept saying, ‘the next day, the next day, the next day…’ But John doesn’t. John is pointing us to the fact that this is ‘the third day’ which is a foreshadow of the resurrection. ‘On the third day,’ the day of the Resurrection, Jesus gives wine is not earned, deserved, or even appreciated to sinners who at best deserved to be told to go home.

Dear saints, you live in the time of ‘the third day.’ Jesus lives. The shadow is past. Your sins are died for and forgiven. The resurrection is now. The marriage feast has begun. The Holy Spirit is given. You receive the best wine and all of Jesus’ gifts. But it is still not what it will be.

Jesus will return. The trumpet will sound, and then the wedding of the Lamb of God will begin in earnest. And never forget that you are His bride, His beloved. Come and receive now what you have not earned, deserved, or can even fully appreciate. Receive it knowing that your Lord is not afraid to give it to you. His love reaches to the heavens; His faithfulness stretches to the sky (Ps. 108:4). Come and receive His gifts and mercy. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Exalted – Sermon on Matthew 3:13-17 for the Baptism of Our Lord.

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Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus' Baptism Spirit Descends13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”Then he consented. 16And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our texts today (both this Gospel lesson and the Old Testament lesson [Josh. 3:1-3, 7-8, 13-17]) bring us to the banks of the Jordan River. And to understand what is going on at Jesus’ baptism, we have to understand what happened in Joshua.

In that Old Testament reading, all the people of Israel are outside the land that God had promised to give to them. They had been waiting and wandering in the wilderness for forty years. Their leader, Moses, went up on a mountain to die. And Joshua, as God’s appointed man, takes over the leadership responsibilities.

Anyway, it is time to enter the Promised Land. So, God tells Joshua that He is about to exalt Joshua in the sight of all Israel so that the people will know that God is with Joshua as He had been with Moses. The priests who carry the ark of the covenant are to stand in the Jordan, and the waters of the river will be cut off from flowing so that the people can pass through on dry land. Just as God parted the waters of the Red Sea to lead God’s people out of bondage and slavery in Egypt (Ex. 14), God will lead His people through water into their own land.

The priests were carrying the ark and as soon as their feet are dipped in the brink of the Jordan (which, like our river here, floods its banks) the swollen waters stop flowing. The river stands and rises up in a heap. The people pass into the Promised Land near Jericho. And Joshua is exalted in the sight of the people just as God had promised (Josh 4:14).

So, what does this text from Joshua have to do with Jesus’ Baptism? Well, first the place is the same – the Jordan River, but there is so much more. Bear with me for a bit.

When John was out in the wilderness preaching and baptizing, he was there by the Jordan River – the place where God’s people entered their own land. Now, baptism is something that had been going on well before John ever started doing it. When someone who wasn’t a Jew converted and wanted to become part of God’s people, they would be baptized. The idea was that Israel had all gone through water to enter the Promised Land and become God’s people through their ancestors, so people who were converting would also go through water.

But remember, John was baptizing people who were already Jews. John is out there calling people back to their roots, back to the Jordan, back to where God brought them into their own land and made them a people. And they are being baptized ‘unto’ repentance (Mt. 3:11), confessing their sins, and receiving forgiveness. Sinners are going to John. They receive a baptism that is for sinners and brings about repentance.

Baptism of Christ - TheophanyTo that very place and in that very context comes Jesus Christ, our Lord. And what is He coming to do? He’s coming to be baptized!

John says, “No way! No sinner’s baptism for You.” But Jesus corrects John, and John consents. Jesus enters the waters of the Jordan. The heavens open. The Holy Spirit descends like a dove. And a voice from heaven says, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

There is a lot for us to see in those two verses (v. 16-17). But to get the whole picture, we need to hear what John has to say about this event in the Gospel of John(1:29, 32-34[it’s in your Scripture insert]). After Jesus had been baptized, John is hanging out with his disciples. He sees Jesus and points to Him saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John goes on to say how he saw the Spirit descend on Jesus and remain on Him after He was baptized. And John testifies saying, “This is the Son of God.”

So, here is the whole picture:

When Jesus, our great High Priest, was baptized, He stepped into the Jordan River. But the waters did not part like they did for the priests carrying the ark of the covenant. Instead, the heavens opened, and God proclaimed His presence in this world. And what is Jesus, our High Priest, here to do? He is here to be the sin-bearer.

All the sins of the people who had been baptized by John are there in the Jordan River. Jesus enters those waters. And as He is baptized, Jesus sucks up all those sins into Himself like a sponge. As Isaiah wrote, “[Jesus] has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. The Lord laid on [Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:4, 6, 11). That is why John can say that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

As God lead His people through the Jordan to exalt Joshua in the sight of the people, God led Jesus (who shares Joshua’s name), the new and greater Joshua, and exalted Him by saying, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” And know why it is that God is pleased with His beloved Son. It is because He, in His baptism, takes on your sin. He takes on your sin so He can carry it for you. So He can bear it to the cross for you. So He can bear God’s wrath against that sin for you. So that He can die in those sins for you. And so that, when He rises from the tomb leaving it empty, your sin is nowhere to be found.

Baptism 2Christ’s glory, His exultation is to call you and chose you who are not wise according to worldly standards, not powerful, not of noble birth. Instead, He is exalted to choose us who are foolish, weak, and despised in the world (1 Cor. 1:26-31).

Christ’s glory is to be numbered with us transgressors and to bear our sin (Is. 53:12). He has taken your shame, your pride, your lust, your iniquities and given you His righteousness.

God’s delight and pleasure is in His Beloved Son, Jesus. And that is where you are. In your Baptism, you were united and clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27). You were buried with Christ in your Baptism so that you would be joined to His resurrection (Ro. 6:3-4). Jesus has indeed fulfilled all righteousness, and you are in that. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds inChrist Jesus. Amen.

The Magi – Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12 for Epiphany

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Matthew 2:1-12

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi 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.” herod and the magiWhen 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. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘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.’”

Then Herod summoned the magi 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. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 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. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Before we dive in here, I would just like to note something: One of Martin Luther’s sermons on this text is 110 pages long. As tempting as it is to preach a three-hour sermon, I promise to be slightly more succinct. You’re welcome.

When Matthew says there in v. 1, “behold,” he’s putting up a big sign. Matthew wants us to slow down and be amazed at what is going on in this text. If we put it in today’s language, v. 1 could be translated, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, check this out, magi from the east came to Jerusalem.”

Now, who are these magi? We have to clear up some misconceptions that have become so engrained in our minds. Sometimes, we call them ‘wise men.’ Well, there is nothing in the Scripture that identifies them as ‘wise’ – at least not anything they do is particularly wise, except for when they worship the Christ Child. They may have been educated, learned men, but not ‘wise.’ In fact, we will see how they are constantly dependent on the Word of God to do the right thing. Sometimes, they are called kings like in the hymn “We Three Kings.” But there is nothing to indicate that they were kings or lords or governors or rulers or anything like that. The Scriptures indicate that they are well off financially, but that certainly doesn’t mean that they are kings. And there is nothing to tell us for sure that there were three of them. All we know is that there were at least two because the word magi is plural. They do bring three gifts that are fit for a king – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (The idea of there being three of them is kind of nice unless you like to imagine a fourth magi standing sheepishly in the corner while the other three give their gifts.) So, who are these magi?

The Scriptures call these guys μάγοι which is where we get our word ‘magicians.’ Now, we aren’t talking about street performers who can tell you what card you drew from a deck or pull a rabbit out of a hat. This ‘magic’ that they would have practiced is satanic stuff. The pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar, had some magi at his disposal when he had a dream in Daniel 2(:2-11). Nebuchadnezzar called in his magi, enchanters, and sorcerers (see how these jobs are lumped together). He wanted these people to come tell him what his dream was and what it meant.

So, when the first readers of Matthew came across this term ‘magi,’ they would have understood this to mean these men would have been involved in witchcraft, astrology, sorcery, fortune-telling, speaking to the dead, magi travelingOuija boards, etc. – all things that the Scriptures consistently forbid because they are all demonic, satanic practices. So, again v. 1, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, check this out, magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” It’s absolutely shocking. These are the first Gentile (non-Jewish) people in all the Gospels to seek Jesus, the Son of God.

Through their demonic practices, probably astrology but whatever those practices were, they see a star that leads them to Jerusalem and to Herod. They ask, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star and have come to worship,” not just give Him honor and respect, “we have come to worship Him.” Herod could have legitimately said, “Well, you’re in luck. I’m Herod, king of the Jews. Go ahead and bow down.” But even Herod, for all his evil, wicked, murderous ways, even Herod recognizes he isn’t divine and deserving of worship.

But notice what Herod does do. He summons the chief priests and scribes and asks notwhere the descendant of King David would be born but “where the Christwas to be born.” Herod makes the connection – the King of the Jews these magi are looking for is the Christ, the promised Messiah.

The chief priests and scribes rightly go to Micah 5:2which states that Christ the King will be born in Bethlehem. So, Herod calls the magi back in secretly; he has a private meeting with them to find out when they first saw the star. We know his intentions were evil because right after this text, Herod will use the information from that meeting to try and kill Jesus by exterminating all the boys in Bethlehem who were 2 and under.

epiphany iconThe magi take leave of Herod. The star appears again to lead them (Had it disappeared for a time?). They see it and “rejoice with exceedingly great joy.” And they find what they’ve been looking for, what they have been traveling for months to find. There, in a house, is the infant Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. And they worship the Child who will grow up and die on the cross for them. But then, notice, they have to be warned in a dream to not return to Herod. And they return to their country by another way.

So, there’s the text, and there is so much we could focus on: How an infant Child is worthy of worship. How the chief priests and scribes and all the people of Jerusalem trembled in fear when they should have been crawling to the house to worship the Child. But today, we are going back to behold, to check out, the magi. And most importantly how God graciously leads them to Himself.

God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4) – even these magi who practice demonic arts. And God gives them signs to see even as they live in their sin. But those signs don’t lead them directly to the king they are looking for. God could have used the star to bring them straight to Jesus, but remember that God always works and calls people to Himself through His Word. And those signs lead the magi only as far as the Scriptures. Remember, they followed the star which, initially, only got them as far as Jerusalem and Herod; Herod connects the magi to the chief priests and scribes; and the religious leaders are the ones who introduce the magi to the Scriptures (specifically Micah 5:2).

Now, I want to be clear that I’m going to speculate for a moment here. But it isn’t, at least in my opinion, reaching very far: These magi learn about the sacred text from Micah 5about the one they are seeking. They would have probably been used to studying ancient texts, so it is very conceivable that they would want to know more about what Micah had to say. When you have been traveling for months to find something and stop to get more directions, you want to be sure those directions are legitimate. The passage about the Messiah being born in Bethlehem was from Micah 5:2. And, if you keep reading and get to Micah 5:12, God says there, “I will cut off (lit.exterminate) sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes.” So there is no question that God uses the star to lead these magi to the Scriptures. But conceivably, the magi study the Scriptures further which leads them to repentance of their livelihood, and finally to their Savior.

Now, even if that isn’t the case, here is the point: Don’t give up on praying for your friends and family who are far from God even when it seems that they are so far from God you think they are a lost cause. Point them to the Scriptures. Point them to Jesus, the Word who became flesh and brings God’s mercy, forgiveness, and salvation. To do that, of course, you will have to know the Scriptures.

Cross and CommunionAnd always remember, that God doesn’t give up on you either. Through the same Scriptures, God has led you here to Himself. He hasn’t used a something as uncertain as star or a dream. He has led you with something more certain (2 Pet. 1:19) – His Word. He has led here to receive His mercy, grace, and forgiveness. He leads you now to His altar to receive His very Body and Blood given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. Leave your sins behind. Come, taste, and see that your God is merciful and gracious, full of steadfast love and righteousness. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.