Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!


Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lutheran Evangelism

Lutheran Evangelism
A Paraphrase of Matthew 28:19-20
The Giving of Authority and the Great Promise

Is there such a thing as Lutheran Evangelism? I say yes, especially when we understand the dynamics that we “practice what we preach.” In other words when we understand there is a direct link between what we believe and how that is lived out in our lives. Because of our Lutheran teachings, I believe we are taught to practice evangelism is a specific way. To that end, I want to paraphrase Jesus’ great giving of authority and promise at the end of Matthew’s Gospel as a summary of what I believe is truly Lutheran evangelism.

Jesus said, as you are going about your lives, in response to all the good gifts and blessings I have given and continue to give to you –the faith, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation– live in your vocations in such a way that your lives are offered as living sacrifices to me. And as you are living out your vocations, you will naturally make disciples of all nations (children included because a child is a citizen of the country in which it is born). Make disciples by always being ready to give an answer for the hope that you have, the hope that comes from the faith I have given you. The answer that you will give comes from your regular use of the means of grace, each and every Sunday and as often as offered, diligently, patiently and persistently, those external means through which I give you the gifts and blessings you are given, those means of grace offered in Divine Service, where you as a Christian are strengthened in order to go out into the world and do witnessing. The answer you give comes from your regular reading and hearing God’s Word, from your remembrance of your Baptism, from your confessing your sins and hearing the most beautiful words in the world, “Your sins are forgiven,” and from participating in My life, death and resurrection through eating and drinking My body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins in My Holy Supper. Do not be concerned about your confidence or your words because I will give you the very words and the courage to speak at the appropriate time, words which I have given you through My means of grace. I give you My authority and My promise that I will be with you in all these things even until the day of judgement. And please understand that none of this depends on you because I will send the Holy Spirit, and He will work faith when and where He pleases through My Word which you will speak on My authority and with My confidence. And I will greatly multiply according to My will.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Preaching the Good News - January 27, 2013 - Third Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Luke 4:16-30

Have you noticed the way people talk today? It was not so long ago that people spoke about things they knew or things they believed. Logic and empirical data were what determined what was right and true and what was to be believed. That is not the way it is today. Today people talk about how they “feel.” These feelings are what determine what is right and true and what is to be believed. Unfortunately this way of thinking, that feelings validate what is true, does have a profound affect on our Church. Too often today people want only to believe the parts of the Bible which they “feel” are right and thus are true for them. I must confess to you this morning that I come from the “old school.” I really do not care how people “feel” about the Word of God, because I am convinced by Holy Scripture that it is the Word of God and that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the [people] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17) as Paul tells young pastor Timothy in his second letter to him.
Last week, in our Gospel reading, we watched as Jesus performed His first miracle, changing water into wine. This first miracle was one of many which demonstrated to the people that He was God in flesh. We might say that this miracle was one of many which gave proof of Jesus’ Divinity. This week we move to the account of Jesus preaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath and we see the response of the people. Remember, it was the Sabbath, the last day of the week, the day in which God rested from all of His work of creation and the day our Lord commanded us to rest. Jesus was following His usual custom which was regular, every Sabbath, worship attendance. He was in His hometown and all His family and friends had gathered for worship and to hear Him speak.
The custom of the day was to ask the visiting rabbi to read and to make a few remarks on the appointed text for the day after he read it. Jesus is the visiting rabbi and He is asked to read. The portion of Scripture which He read is from Isaiah and the words He read are these: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
After Jesus read these words He handed the scroll back to the attendant and He and everyone sat down for the sermon. Now remember, this was Jesus’ first sermon in His hometown. We might compare what is happening to a newly graduated Seminarian going to his home congregation and giving his first sermon to his family and friends. Jesus read the scroll and sat down. Jesus’ first words are, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Certainly some bold words from our bold Savior. Now, for a moment, our text tells us that Jesus was getting favorable reviews, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” Today we might say there were being nice, but that does not last long.
Maybe it was how He said it, or maybe it was what He said, but the crowd did not approve for very long. As they listened to Jesus speak they begin asking themselves, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” In other words, as we might hear it today, they are asking, “Who does this guy think He is?” We watched this boy grow up and now he is preaching to us. The approving crowd begins to become the disapproving crowd.
Jesus, being God, knows what they are thinking and so He moves to address the issue that is on their minds. Now realize they did not say anything out loud. Jesus is addressing what they are thinking and so He is saying out loud what they are thinking in their minds. He quotes a proverb which addressed their issue, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your home town what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” Jesus had not done any miracles here in His home town and so these people have only been hearing rumors of what He has been doing. He is here now and they want proof, they want to see first hand what they have been hearing, like the changing of water into wine, otherwise they will not believe. And to this Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, a prophet is not accepted in his hometown.” And then He goes on to give them two illustrations of what this means.
His first illustration is that of Elijah during the drought and the helping of the widow of Zarephath. Elijah was a recognized prophet of the Lord. He is looked up to and revered by these people to whom Jesus is speaking. He was a prophet sent by God to his own people and yet he was not able to find help and comfort among his own people. His own people rejected him, the God who sent him and his message from God. So, instead of finding help among his own people he had to find help from a foreigner. That was His first slap to their face.
Jesus’ second illustration is that of Elisha and the healing of Naaman, who also was a foreigner. Elisha was another recognized prophet of the Lord. He is looked up to and revered by these people to whom Jesus is speaking. He was a prophet sent by God to his own people and yet he was not able to perform any works of healing among his own people because they too rejected him, the God who sent him and his message from God. So, instead of being able to help his own people he could only provide healing for this foreigner.
Today we might mentally understand both of these illustrations and I wished I could have come up with something to compare today, yet we have no comparison today, mainly because I do not know of anyone who can do miracles. But, in case you missed it, the point that Jesus is making is that both Elijah and Elisha, who are, at Jesus’ time, looked up to, were both despised by their own people when they were here on this earth serving the Lord. And now, right here in front of His hometown, Jesus goes so far as to put Himself in the same category as Elijah and Elisha. He, Jesus, is a prophet of the Lord and yet, He knows that He too will not be accepted by His own people. Of course, this goes over big with the crowd. Our text tells us that “all the people in the synagogue were furious.” They were all so upset that they got up as one mass in order to take Jesus out to the edge of town to throw Him off a cliff.
Now, this next statement in our text should have tipped these people off. We are told that “[Jesus] walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” Jesus is divine. He is God. He is the prophet, the one sent, the Messiah. Just like their ancestors, they cannot see nor do not want to see that Jesus is who He says He is.
And to add proof to what Jesus is saying, the next two verses after our text tell us that “[Jesus] went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. They were amazed at his teaching because his message had authority.” These people were not His family and friends and so these people believed. Thus, Jesus was able to do miracles. And, we are told, His message had authority. Notice it was not that the people “felt” like His message had authority, it was not something from the people that gave His message authority, but because His message was the Word of God, it had authority.
What does this look like today? Today we address the same issues Jesus was addressing by asking several questions. The questions we will want to ask ourselves today are these, “Do we believe the Bible is the Word of God or do we believe the Bible only contains the Word of God?” “Do we believe that Jesus is the Messiah or that He was just a good man or that He was only God?” And finally, “Does the Word have an affect on us?”
So, “Do we believe the Bible is the Word of God or do we believe the Bible only contains the Word of God?” The difference in these two beliefs is the difference in believing that the whole Bible is the Word of God and that we live according to it, whether we like it or not. Or believing that we must some how be the judge of what is in the Bible and, like a detective, find what really is true about God and what is not true. This second way of looking at the Bible brings with it more power for us, because we become the ones who are deciding who and what God is and thus, as many have in our world today, we can create God in whatever image we want. Here I would refer you back to the first commandment and that fact that if we have other gods we stand judged and condemned before God, in other words, this means eternal spiritual death.
Now, to our second questions, “Do we believe that Jesus is the Messiah or that He was just a good man or that He was only God?” This questions reflects our answer to the previous question because it is only as we believe the Bible to be the Word of God that we can actually believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah and that He gave His life for ours. To believe in anything less is, again, to stand condemned before God, in other words, this means eternal spiritual death.
Finally, to answer the last question, “Does the Word have an affect on us?” Here I use the word “Word” in the multiple sense that the gospel writer John uses the word. First, does the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ Himself have an affect on us, the way we live, the way we think, what we say and do? And second, does the Word, the written Word of Holy Scripture, the written Word of God, also have an affect on us? To paraphrase our text, when Jesus comes down to Westfield, Texas, a small town on the outskirts of Houston, and when we hear His Word read and proclaimed on Sunday morning, are we amazed at His teaching because His is a message with authority? Does His Word have its way with us or do we constantly refuse and reject His Word. Truly, it is only when, with the help of the Holy Spirit working through this Word of God that we believe this Word of God and are able to stand in righteousness before our God, in other words, this means eternal life.
Our words and our actions betray us. We show forth the faith that is in our hearts by our words and our actions. How we respond to the Word which we hear and believe shows if we are like the people of Jesus’ home town or if we are like the people of Capernaum.
My prayer for each one of you this morning is that the Lord will be with you, filling you with His Holy Spirit especially as He does through His means of grace, as you remember your Baptism, as you hear His words that your sins are forgiven, as you hear His Holy Word and as you are given His body and blood to eat and drink thus participating in His life, death and resurrection, so that as you leave the safety of this building, this sanctuary, where it is okay to be a Christian, and go out into the rest of the world, to your various jobs, occupations, careers, and vocations, so that you will show forth the faith that is in your heart, faith given and strengthened through the dynamic Word of the Word of God. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Part Three - Spiritual Blessings

Fruits of the Spirit
This leads to our last topic of gifts and blessings from God, and that is how these gifts and blessings are shown forth through the fruits of the Spirit.
Paul speaks of the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5:16-26:
16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Notice that Paul first speaks of the opposite of the fruits of the spirit by outlining the desires of the flesh. Certainly we can get a better grasp of the positive when set out against the negative. Notice that Paul shows us how the fruits of the spirit flow from the gifts of the spirit. It is faithfulness that flows out of the faith given by God through the means of His Word and Sacraments. It is love and forgiveness flowing out of God’s love for us and His first forgiving us.
When you plant a fruit tree, you take care of it, cultivate it, fertilize and water it. After a while you expect to harvest the fruit of that tree. Likewise, as our Lord has given us all the gifts and blessings He has to give; both physical: clothing and shoes, house and home, meat and drink, family and friends; and spiritual; faith, forgiveness, life and salvation; and as He continually cultivates, takes care of, feeds and waters us with even more gifts, the result is fruits of the spirit. Fruits of the spirit are those ways Christians, given to by God, show forth the faith that is in their hearts.
God called each one of us to life at conception. He calls us to faith through Holy Baptism. He calls us to live lives of faith what we call our vocation, using the gifts, talents and abilities in service to Him by serving others. He calls some men into the Office of Holy Ministry. As the Lord has called us and as He pours out His gifts and blessings on us, our response of faith is to live and serve in our vocations as priests in the priesthood of all believers. The work of a priest is to offer sacrifices, and so our work is to offer our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord with His help and to His glory.
How does this look in real life? It looks like faith and doctrine, what we believe, teach and confess, in action. Evangelism or better said, Lutheran Evangelism is basically one living one’s vocation always being ready to give and answer for the hope one has in Jesus, and that answer is given by God through one’s making regular and diligent us of the means of grace so that the Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to bring others to faith so they too might be a part of His kingdom and live in Godly vocations as well.
In summary, or in other words, God gives life. God gives faith. God gives all we need to support our body and life, physically and spiritual. God gives through means, both physical blessings and spiritual blessings. As we partake of the physical blessings, we grow in our body. As we partake of the spiritual means of grace, making regular, whenever offered, and diligent, taking God’s Word seriously, use of the means of grace, our Lord works through those means to give us the words we will speak when asked of the faith and hope that we have as we live lives as priests in our vocations. God gives, and we are given to. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Part Two - Spiritual Blessings

Part Two - Spiritual Blessings
God gives, and we are given to. God gives us all that we need for the support of our bodily lives, all we need, not necessarily all that we may want, because we can always want more. And yet, God gives even greater gifts. His greatest gifts are His spiritual gifts, those gifts and blessings that are given, freely given and that give eternal life. Very often we speak of the fact that God in Jesus rescues us from sin, death and the power of the devil. We speak of the fact that Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection defeated sin, death and the devil. We speak in terms of Jesus giving us the strength to resist the unholy three of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh. We speak of the fact that God gives faith, forgiveness of sins, life in this world, eternal life, salvation, strengthening of faith and so on. So, the question we might ask ourselves is this, “How does God give us these gifts and blessings?”
The answer to “How does God gives us these gifts and blessings?” is that He gives them through external means, in particular through the Means of Grace: the Holy Word of God, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Confession and Absolution. God’s usual way of working with us, of giving to us is through means. God’s unusual way is directly. Now certainly we know that after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, after the day of Pentecost God gave His apostles the ability to perform signs and wonders, to do miracles, and this ability was given as confirmation to attest to the words they were proclaiming. Yet, as the apostles died, so did the ability to do such signs and wonders.
Again, God’s usual way of coming to us and giving to us is external, through means. His unusual way is internal, directly. To direct one internally, that is to direct a person to look inside himself to find the answers to life’s questions leads either to despair because all we find inside ourselves is a sinful nature, or it would lead to self and works righteousness because a person might actually believe s/he could live by the demands of the law which, according to our conceived and born in sin nature, is impossible. And so we are directed to look outside ourselves. We are directed to the external means of grace. It is through the very means of Grace, the very means of God’s Word, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Confession and Absolution that God gives faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
Paul encourages us in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11:
1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. 4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
Notice that Paul does not encourage us to look inside ourselves, rather his words are an encouragement to look outside ourselves to look to God the Holy Spirit. As he says, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” It is God the Holy Spirit who works externally through the means of His Word and Sacraments, in particular Holy Baptism to give us faith and to stir in us to say that Jesus is Lord.
Our doctrine, what we believe, teach and confess, determines our practice, how we live out what we believe. As momma used to say, we “Practice what you preach.” So, how does our doctrine look when we say that God gives His gifts through means? First and foremost God gives faith, and the faith He gives He usually gives soon after birth through the waters of Holy Baptism when water and His name are put on us. It is through these simple ordinary means that God does great and extraordinary things, namely giving us faith, forgiveness of sins, and writing our names in the Book of Life.
If we were not baptized and given faith as a child, certainly God works through the means of His Holy Word. The Holy Spirit working when and where He pleases works through our reading and hearing of the Word of God to give faith, forgiveness and eternal life.
Jesus purchased and won forgiveness of sins on Calvary. He distributes that forgiveness through His Word as well as through Confession and Absolution. When we confess our sins we hear the most beautiful words in the world, “Your sins are forgiven.” Those are the most beautiful words in the world because with sins forgiven we know we have life and salvation. And yet, God also distributes His forgiveness through Holy Baptism and through His Holy Supper.
If we were to be pointed inward, to look inside ourselves, to look internally for the gifts of God, we would live life looking for some inward sign, some manifestation of, perhaps being “slain” in the spirit, being able to do signs, wonders, even miracles. We would be disappointed, even in despair if we were not seeing such inward manifestations thinking that we are doing something wrong. Our worship service would be a time for spiritual manipulation, a time to be worked into a frenzy until we might “feel” something, even anything that would make us “feel” like we have been given something from God. Certainly to have an inward focus would mean pointing to ourselves, and the bottom line is that then we are indeed our own gods and idols.
Focusing on the means of grace looks like Divine Service, that is it looks like God’s service to us, first and foremost, and second would be our response of faith. Focusing on the means of grace means being reminded of our Baptism usually through an invocation. It means confessing our sins and hearing the words of absolution, wherein and through which the gifts of forgiveness are distributed and given to us. It means hearing God’s Word read and expounded. It means speaking back to God the very words He has given us to say through the words of the liturgy, not some man-made bit of pomp and circumstance, some rhyming poem or ode, but speaking God’s Word. It means being given God’s gifts through His Holy Supper wherein we partake of our Lord, participating in His life, death and resurrection. And it means concluding the service with God having His name put on us again.
Notice how our doctrine informs our practice which teaches our doctrine. Notice how God’s gifts are distributed through our practice which flows out of our doctrine. Notice how these all tie together and are the very means through which our Lord gives to us the gifts and blessings He has to give.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Blessings - Part One, Physical Blessings

God gives and we are given to. God gives first. He is the prime mover. In the beginning God created all things out of nothing. Nothing exists that has not been made by God. Thus, even we who are His creation have been given to by Him. We have been given life at conception, new life through Holy Baptism, even eternal life earned and paid for by Him. As Dr. Martin Luther so well states in each of his explanations of the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed that God’s gives. God has created me. “He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.” It is Jesus “who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death,” The “Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”

The following was first presented at a regular Wednesday morning Bible Class and is presented here from what can be remembered of the presentation, which was not recorded. This presentation seeks to expound on the gifts and blessings God gives to us each and every day. Certainly we hear of the gifts and blessings our Lord gives: faith, forgiveness, life and salvation, but what does that mean? From where do these gifts come? What other gifts and blessings does our Lord bestow on us? This presentation is divided into two parts. The first part will concentrate on the physical bodily blessings our Lord gives, and the second part will focus our attention on the most important gifts and blessings, spiritual blessings.

Part One
Physical Bodily

As we said, God gives, and we are given to. God has created all things out of nothing so that all that is has been created and given to us by God to use in service to Him in His Kingdom. Certainly we understand that although in the beginning God created all things prefect and holy, because of man’s sin, we now live in a world that is under the curse of that sin so now all things are not perfect, but are imperfect. Yet, all things have their origin in God.
God gives. God gives life at conception. Along with life God gives us all our senses: hearing, taste, touch, sight, smell. God gives us a house and a home as well as clothing and shoes, meat and drink, wife and children and all that we have, all that we need to support our body and life. God even gives us each our vocations, that is those roles in life through which we serve Him by serving others, such as husband or wife, mother or father, carpenter or miner, banker or lawyer, doctor or plumber. All these vocations are given by God as He gives each of us gifts, talents and abilities to perform the various works of service in each vocation.
Now, let us focus in on one physical item from God, that of food and in particular the food of oatmeal. From where does oatmeal come, other than off our pantry shelf. Normally we purchase our oatmeal form the grocery store. But, what does it take for the grocery store to have oatmeal on the shelf. The “flow chart” here presented helps us to understand all the complexity and all the gifts God gives in order for us to purchase oatmeal and have it on our pantry shelf so that we might be able to have a meal of oatmeal.
In order for a Grocery Store to function properly it must have an owner who must hire workers who stock the shelves as well as sell the items and keep the store clean and running.
In order to stock the store there needs to be trucks which deliverer the good to the store from the warehouse which must also have a staff of employees to make sure the warehouse is properly stock to fill the orders from the stores.
The warehouse gets its goods from the factory which produces the products it sends to the warehouse to be distributed to the stores to be sold to the consumer. The factory must have a staff of workers as well as the right equipment and packaging to produce and package the product. The equipment must be built and maintained in order for the factory to function properly, and the packaging must be available to appropriately distribute the product. Both the equipment and the packaging call for their own set of subroutines to function properly. And the factory must have workers to run the equipment.
The factory needs raw materials and in the case of oatmeal, the factory must purchase the oats it uses to make oatmeal from the farmer. The farmer must have good seed to plant as well as fertilizer and other farm equipment, workers, water and so forth to grow a good crop of oats. Ultimately the farmer depends on God for good weather and a good growing season in order to produce a good crop of grain.
Indeed the Lord blesses us with oatmeal and all we need through the labor and vocations, the gifts, talents and abilities of many workers, and yet we see it all begins and ends with the Lord.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why Infant Baptism

Church History Supports Infant Baptism
For the first 1500 plus years of the church prior to the Reformation, the church practiced infant baptism. There was no question concerning whether or not infants should be baptized. The question of infant baptism came after the Reformation as some followed tainted human reasoning and logic, or illogic, pointing on to self for certainty of salvation. Yet, we depend not on human history or tradition in matters spiritual. What does God say in His Word?

The Importance of Children and Child-like Faith
The following four passages are probably the same scene, but this information is so important that all three of the four Gospel writers wrote about it. In contemporary language we might say it played on three of the major networks.

Matthew 18:1-6
1At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.5“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,  it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Please note that in verse three the word translated as turn is στρέφω (strepho) which means turn, bend, twist, or convert. The NASB uses the word converted.

Here we see that Scripture affirms the saving faith of children and infants directly and indirectly, by ascribing to children the fruit and effect of faith, namely eternal life. The denial of infant faith was born out of a rationalistic understanding of faith. Thus, not only does Scripture affirm the faith of infants and children but also encourages adults to have such faith.

Mark 9:33-37, 42
33And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

42“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

Mark 10:13-16
13And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

Please note in verse thirty-seven in chapter nine and in verse fifteen of chapter ten the word translated as “receive” (the word in Greek is dechomai) which means to be given to, and in this sense dechomai is equivalent to faith.

Luke 18:15-17
15Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Again, please note that in verse seventeen, again the word translated as receive (dechomai) means to be given to and in this sense dechomai is equivalent to faith.

So to sum up these passages, we might make note that:
  1. Jesus loves the children.
  2. Jesus says that children have faith. Children can and do have faith, even babies have faith. They simply do not express their faith as an adult because they cannot speak the language.
  3. Jesus offers their faith as an example to us.
  4. Jesus never asks children to have faith like an adult because we as adults have learned to be skeptical, that we have to take care of ourselves, you cannot trust everyone, etc.

Other Passages Supporting Infant Baptism
Matthew 28:16-20
16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Please note that children are citizens of the nation in which they are born. No child born in any nation is not considered a citizen of some nation. Their birth certificate tells to which nation they belong. Likewise, when Jesus says to baptize all nations, children being citizens of a nation are included. Notice He does not say, baptize all nations except children.

Mark 7:3-4
“3(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches)” (emphasis added).

As for the mode of baptism, God does not prescribe the mode, i.e., sprinkling, immersion, or simply a few drops. I do not believe that when the dining couches were baptized, washed, that they were immersed.

Luke 1:44
“44For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

Notice that the baby heard the word of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and having heard her voice, leaped in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. Here we see the importance of a pregnant woman being in Divine Service where she and her baby might hear the Word of God and through that very Word be given faith.

Colossians 2:11-12
“11In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Here we have the comparison of baptism to circumcision. Babies were circumcised at the age of eight days old. If circumcision identified one as a member of the Jewish faith at the age of eight days, how much more should we seek to identify our children as Christian children through the sacrament of Holy Baptism at eight days or even at birth?

1 Peter 2:18-22
18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him (emphasis added).

“As ‘the waters of Noah’ raged, a total of eight people were saved in the ark. This number eight can signify a new beginning, as when an infant entered the covenant of circumcision on the eighth day (Gen 17:10-12). The eighth is the first day of a new week, the day of Christ’s resurrection (Mt 28:1). Thus the apostle Peter associated the salvation of the eight in Noah’s ark during the flood with the Sacrament of Baptism, ‘which now saves you . . .  Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ’ (1 Pet 3:21).” (Concordia Commentary, Isaiah 40-55, R. Reed Lessing, Concordia Publishing House, © 2011, p. 642.)

When we approach the Word of God through exegesis instead of eisegesis, that is when we listen to what God says instead of attempting to put words into His mouth, the evidence for infant baptism is overwhelming. Since God’s Word declares that He gives faith, forgiveness and eternal life through Holy Baptism, nothing should keep us from baptizing our children.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Christ - January 13, 2013 - Baptism of Our Lord/First Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Luke 3:15-22

Three weeks ago we celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Last week, for the first time in eleven years, since 2002, we celebrated an actual Epiphany Sunday and the visit of the Magi, the first non-Jewish, Gentile visitors to see the child Jesus and bear homage by bring gifts of gold, incense and oil. Because Epiphany fell on a Sunday, this year we did not have a Second Sunday after Christmas. The usual reading for the second Sunday after Christmas is the only other account we have of Jesus’ life from His birth and visit by the Magi until we hear about Him in our text for this morning and His baptism by John. The account we skipped was the account of when Jesus was twelve years old and He had traveled to Jerusalem with His parents to celebrate the Passover. That account tells us how Jesus stayed behind in the temple listening to the chief priests and teachers of the Law and how He was seen as having much wisdom, at least at that time, at the age of twelve. This was before the chief priests and teachers of the Law knew who He was and I guess He was not yet a threat to them at that time. This week we fast forward and have skipped to the time when Jesus is now thirty years old and is ready to begin His earthly mission and ministry. The Bible does not record what happened from the time of Jesus’ birth until He is twelve years old, nor does it record what happened from the time that Jesus was twelve years old until He turned thirty. The reason these events are not recorded is because they are not important, or at least our knowledge of these events is not necessary for our salvation. Remember, what we have recorded in the Bible is what we need for our salvation. And so we pick up our narrative this morning after Jesus turned thirty and today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord.
I might remind you that John the Baptist was about six month older than Jesus. And, although he was a relative of Jesus they probably did not have too much contact with one another, at least not until this point. John was born for the purpose of preparing the way for the Messiah, the Savior promised long ago. John spent his time in the wilderness calling people to repentance and to be baptized with his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Too many of the people were living their lives, like many people do today, just going from day to day, oblivious of anything other than the cares, concerns and worries of this world. They did their religious duty by attending synagogue on the Sabbath, by attending the three required festivals and they thought that was all they needed to do. How often do we find ourselves today thinking that if we go to church on Sunday, or every other Sunday or so, put our five or ten dollars in the offering plate, that means that we have done all that is required of us and the rest of the week is ours to live our lives as we please. John’s work was to prepare the people for Jesus’ first coming. The work of pastors today is to prepare people for Jesus’ second coming. And unfortunately, just as many people ignored and discounted John, his work and his message, so too today, too many in our world discount and ignore our pastors and the Word of the Lord he delivers.
As John worked to get the people ready for Jesus’ first coming, he did such a good job that many of the people were wondering if John might possibly be the Christ, that is, that he might be the Messiah. John’s response to them was that the Messiah is more powerful than John. John uses the comparison of the lowest slave who’s job it was to remove the master’s shoes and to wash the master’s feet. John says he is not even high enough to do this lowly task.
And so, John is out doing his work, preaching to the people, getting them ready for the Messiah when one day the Messiah shows up. Jesus comes out to John in order to be baptized by him. In the other gospels we are told that John hesitated to baptize Jesus, suggesting that Jesus should rather baptize him. Here we see John knowing and understanding his place and role. He knew the Messiah would be perfect and holy, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins was totally unnecessary. John is the one who had a flawed life. John was the sinner and should have been baptized by Jesus, but Jesus, wanting to make sure that He fulfilled all the laws perfectly was baptized by John.
At this point in the narrative there is often a question concerning John’s baptism compared to Jesus’ baptism, “What is the difference?” The difference between John’s baptism and the baptism of Jesus is a difference between a baptism with water and a baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire, as John says, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John is looking through time to Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Remember, John’s baptism was a complete baptism. When Jesus commissioned baptism He added the element of the coming of the Holy Spirit whom He would send following His return to heaven. Thus, at our own baptism we are baptized with water and God’s triune name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
John’s work was to prepare the world for Jesus’ coming. Jesus’ work was to fulfill all righteousness, in other words Jesus’ work was to be the true Israel, to live as Israel was supposed to live, to live perfectly for us in our place, as well as for all people, of all places, of all times. His work was to give His life for ours. His work also consists of judgement, because all those who do not believe in Him are judged to the place of unquenchable fire. The way to heaven, the way to eternal life is a narrow way. Have you ever wondered why all the religions of the world hate Christians? Have you ever wondered why Christians, true Christians are despised by our so called tolerant, diverse thinking world? It is because the Christian faith is a faith in an intolerant God. We worship a God who does not tolerate sin. We worship a God who is a jealous God and who demands our complete faith in Him alone for our salvation. We know that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Even our Old Testament lesson for this morning reminds us of the justice which our Savior brings. And His justice is such, that only those who believe in Him will be saved.
Yet, Christ’s work consists not just of justice but also of grace. Remember, both water and fire can be used to refine or we might use the word, to judge something. And both water and fire can be used to cleanse or we might use the word to give grace to something or someone. Let me put it in these terms, what justice would there be if you stood before a judge with a hundred parking violations and he said, “Well, I know you are a good person and you did not mean it, so I will let you go free this time.” I do not think any of us would agree that this person is a fair or just judge. Likewise, if faith alone in Jesus is what saves, would we say we have a just and fair God if in the end He would say, “Well, I know everyone, even those who hated me and persecuted my faithful followers, and everyone really meant to believe in me, so I will let you all come in this time.” I am sure Jesus would be sitting there asking why He bothered going through what He went through, suffering and dying on the cross. No!, faith in Jesus alone is what saves, unbelief condemns and gains only eternal spiritual death.
Getting back to our text, we were witnessing Jesus’ baptism. When John baptized Jesus we were given a glimpse of our God, our triune God. We see Jesus, God the Son, standing there in flesh and blood. We see a dove descend in bodily form and we are told that this was God the Holy Spirit. And we also hear the voice of God the Father from heaven stating, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Quite an awesome display.
So, what does all this mean? It means that we are in the right place and we are believing in the right Savior. At His baptism Jesus is confirmed by His Father as being the Christ. He is who He says He is, the Messiah. He is the one who was promised so long ago in the Garden of Eden. He is the one about whom the prophets proclaimed would come to save the world, all people, you and me included.
At His baptism, Jesus was confirmed in His Christ-ness, in His Messiahship, in His mission and ministry by God the Father. In a very real way Jesus was commissioned, pronounced ready to begin His work. It is after this baptism event that He began teaching and preaching, casting out demons, curing the sick, raising the dead and the like. It was after this baptism event that, at least for a short time, people began flocking to Him to hear Him and to believe in Him. And it was three short years later that He accomplished our salvation by giving His life on the cross for ours. He suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty which should have been ours.
And finally, at Jesus baptism we are given confidence in our own faith. How do we know that we are right and everyone else is wrong? Quite simple. All the religions of the world can be divided into two categories. Category one consists of all those religions which proclaim a salvation based on how good you are, what type of character you posses, if you have done enough good things to gain your own entrance into heaven, in other words they all point you to yourself as your own savior. Thus, all these religions can never give you any firm confidence that you have done enough, that you are good enough, or that you can be sure one way or the other. And then there is the Christian faith which has as its base in the fact that we are saved, not because of anything within us, but we are saved by someone outside of us, by God and His grace, by His undeserved love poured out on us. We are saved by simple faith in Jesus Christ alone, faith which He also gives to us. And because this is a gift which is given to us and comes from outside of us, we can be sure, we can be confident, we have a hope which is a certainty that we are saved.
This morning as we celebrate Jesus’ baptism, I pray that you are reminded of your own baptism. I pray that you will daily be reminded of your baptism because it is through your baptism that you have been made a part of God’s family, that you have forgiveness of sins and that when the Lord returns, or when your last hour comes, you can know for certain that you will be in heaven with Jesus and all the saints who have gone on before. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Why Am I Here?

Newsletter Article - December 2012
God gives us His Word which speaks truth, gives gifts and is efficacious, that is it does what it says. God speaks to us concerning our care for others as we read:
17“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 18If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. 20Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. 21But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul” (Ezekiel 3:17-21 (ESV))
I have quoted the above Bible text, because I have a concern for the members of this congregation, St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield. The following may be offensive, especially to those who find themselves convicted by these words, which is how the Law of God works. Indeed, the Word of God is offensive to those who are perishing (1 Cor. 1:18). Yet it is only as the Law lays the foundation in our hearts that the Good News of the Gospel will have fertile soil in which to be planted.
On Sunday, November 18, 2012 the attendance at St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield was 65. You read that correctly, there were only 65 members of our congregation who gathered in attendance to be given the gifts God gives through His external means of Word and Sacrament. This means the 76% of our members stayed away from Divine Service refusing and rejecting the gifts God has to give. On Thanksgiving Eve, Wednesday, November 21, 2012 the attendance at St. Matthew Lutheran Church of Westfield was 26. Again, you read that correctly, there were 26 members of our congregation who gathered in attendance to give thanks to the Lord and to be given the gifts God gives through His external Word. This means that 90% of our members stayed away from Divine Service refusing and rejecting the gifts God has to give (Certainly God understands those who cannot physically attend).
At first I began to think that this rejection was a rejection of me as the pastor. And yes, I know there are a handful of people who do reject the pastor God has called to serve in this congregation and so are truly rejecting God and the gifts He gives, but everyone who absents themselves from Divine Service is truly rejecting God and the gifts He has to give.
We have a spiritual problem in our congregation, as we do in our world today. What is it that I am constantly preaching? Is it not that we are to make regular and diligent use of the means of grace, and we do that by being in Divine Service (and Bible Class) as often as it is offered? Thus, if we are hearing God’s Word and if we are hearing His Word through the man, the servant, the pastor He has called and placed in our midst, should not our attendance every Sunday be a majority of our members? Otherwise, are we not then guilty of refusing and rejecting God’s Word and the gifts He gives through His Word and His Sacraments. If we refuse and reject God’s Word and His Word as spoken by His called servant, then why do we bother having a pastor?
How or why would we expect God to bless us if and when we fail to be where His gifts are given out? If you fail to go to the grocery store, would you not expect to not have groceries? When we fail to be in Divine Service, when we refuse and reject the good gifts and blessings God has to give, how can we then ask for God to bless us? He has blessed us with so much, more than we need and more than we could possibly want.
As I have told people, “I do not go looking for trouble, it finds me.” There are times I hear people say such things as, “Don’t tell the pastor, he would not approve.” If the pastor would not approve, would God approve? Do we not believe the words our pastor is speaking, which from the pulpit, should be God’s Word, thus we do not believe God? Someone once suggested that we think about and determine the things we do by asking the question, “Would I want to be caught doing what I am doing by Jesus?” If I would not want to be caught doing something by Jesus, then should I be doing it at all?
God loves you so very much. He has given you all that you have and need and even much of what you may want. He wants you, and He has you when He has all of you. I would urge you, be given the gifts!    God has given us so much. He has given us life at conception. He has given us faith and new life through Holy Baptism. He gives us forgiveness of sins through Confession and Absolution. He gives us forgiveness and strengthening of faith through His Word and Sacrament. He gives and gives and gives. God gives first, and God gives all we need. How is it that we expect even more from Him when we fail, first to recognize Him as the giver of all and second as we refuse and reject the gifts He has to give? We fail to recognize Him by failing to offer to Him the first fruits of what He has given to us. We refuse and reject His gifts by absenting ourselves from where the gifts are given out.
I am a sinner whom God has called to be the pastor of this congregation and so I lead in a sinful manner. Yet, my life stands before this congregation, as it has for the past ten years, as an example and the example I and my family live is that our custom is that we are in Divine Service every Sunday and whenever offered. And even when we are away on vacation, we find a church in which to be in Divine Service. Even on Sundays when we are at scouting events, either I lead a service for the scouts and/or we are in a church near our scouting event. When it comes to giving of our time, my family gives as much time as we can to attend other congregational events. When it comes to giving, we give our first fruits. I have only owned one new vehicle in my lifetime. We live in a modest house. We do not all have smart phones, as a matter of fact, my wife and I simply have cell phones that make phone calls. Yes, we do have some other amenities in our home, but only what we can afford after giving our first fruits. And God continues to bless us. God gives and we are given to and as we are given to we respond in thanks by returning to the Lord our first fruits of our time, our talents and our treasure know that as He has given to us and as we return, in faith, to Him, He will shower us we even more blessings. No one can out give God.
7From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ 8Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need (Malachi 3:7-10).
And so I get back to the question, “Why am I here?” I have been proclaiming God’s Word, encouraging making regular and diligent us of the means of grace and first fruits giving as a response of faith and yet our actions, our giving and our attendance seem to indicate that either I am not actually proclaiming the Gospel, or it is being rejected and not believed. Truly I see these things as a sign that we are in the end times as our Lord tells us that, as the day of judgment approaches people will fall away, people will seek to hear what their itching ears want to hear, people will refuse and reject Him.
There are several articles include in this newsletter that I hope you will read. Two are from the November issue of the “Lutheran Witness,” and speak about our pastor, one is from a pastor in Arizona who asks if we are ready to die. These articles and this one are intended to get you to stop and think about your spiritual well-being and to encourage you in your spiritual life.
God loves you so very much. He has given you all that you have and need and even much of what you may want. He wants you, and He has you when He has all of you. I would urge you, be given the gifts!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Gentiles Worship the King - January 6, 2013 - Epiphany Sunday - Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Today is Epiphany Sunday. The last time that Epiphany fell on a Sunday was back in 2002. And, unfortunately, Epiphany is not one of our big holidays and so, unless it falls on a Sunday, it usually gets shorted. For those of you who do not know, Epiphany is considered the Gentile Christmas, that is, Epiphany is your Christmas and mine. It is considered the Gentile Christmas, because it was at this time that the Christ Child was first visited by non-Jews, Gentiles. The word “Epiphany” literally means manifestation, or appearing. And so, on this Epiphany Sunday we celebrate the manifestation or the appearing of Jesus, the one who came to save the world, to the Gentiles. Jesus is our Savior too.
The only Epiphany account we have in Scripture is this account of the visit of the Magi as described in our Gospel reading from Matthew. The Gentile Magi came to pay homage to the new born King of the Jews, the Messiah. And so we ask, who were these Magi? These Magi were astronomers, not astrologers. An astrologer is a fortune teller and one who tries to read the future in the stars and the planets. An astronomer is one who is a scientist and who studies the stars and the planets in order to learn more about the solar system and even our own planet, the times and seasons and the like. These Magi were astronomers who were studying the heavens, looking for signs in the heavens.
These Magi were also Gentiles. They were not Jewish. They were not a part of God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, however, someone, somewhere along the way through their lives, must have shared with them the message of the promise of a Messiah, a Savior. Having heard the message, perhaps having gained access to copies of the sacred writings of the Old Testament, these Magi studied the Word of God, believed the Word and were looking for the coming of the one who was promised, the Messiah, the Savior of the world even their own Savior.
And these Magi were from the east. By all indications, they traveled a long way in order to bring gifts and to bear homage to a stranger. They traveled following the star which God placed in the heavens in order to lead them to this Christ Child. They first traveled to the place of Kings, Jerusalem, the capital city of the Children of Israel. And there in Jerusalem they met King Herod.
Which brings us to King Herod. Herod was King in Jerusalem at the time of the birth of Jesus. When the Magi came to Jerusalem and announced that they were seeking the one who was born as King of the Jews, we are told that Herod “was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod was disturbed because he was afraid of a rival king. All the people were disturbed with him because they were afraid of what he might do, in other words they knew Herod’s jealousy and wondered how far he would go in his attempt to get rid of this child that he believed might challenge him for his throne. Interestingly enough, how often do we find ourselves acting like Herod. Jesus wants first place in our lives, yet we dethrone Him because we want to be the rulers of our lives. We want to do things our way and so we look for ways to rid ourselves of Jesus ruling over us. The question we would ask ourselves is how far will we go, at what cost or expense will we spend, in keeping Jesus from bring the sole ruler of our lives?
Herod’s problem, though, was that he did not know about this king, nor of His whereabouts. And so, the search for truth was on. Herod called in his best men for the job, the chief priests and teachers of the Law. They diligently searched the Scriptures until they found the proof passage, Micah 5:2, “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.” Now here, I just want to make an aside. If these chief priest and teachers of the Law had searched the Scriptures and found these passages which tell about the birth of this Christ Child, the one who would be the Savior of the world, why did they not believe that Jesus was the Savior, the Messiah when thirty years later He came into town and began preaching and teaching?
But, getting back to our narrative. Now Herod knew the place but he still needed to know the time, in order to properly dispose of the problem. So, he called the Magi in secretly and found out from them when the star appeared, when the child was born. This information he later used in order to rid the country of any possible rival kings, by using this time frame for killing any child which might grow up to be king in his place. Of course, this was not told to the Magi. Herod simply asked them to find the king and then to return and tell him, “so that he might worship Him also.”
And so the search continued. The Magi left Jerusalem and continued to follow the star which went ahead of them, leading the way until it came to the place where the child was. Now, please understand, although we tack on the visit of the Magi to our yearly children’s Christmas program and although the Magi are prominently displayed in most of the manger scenes around town, the Magi did not get to Bethlehem until about a year later. By the time the Magi arrived, Jesus is no longer a baby, but a child. One question that does come to mind is, “Why did Mary and Joseph stay in Bethlehem for so long, why did they not go back to Nazareth?” One explanation might be that since Mary and Joseph left when Mary was an unwed, pregnant woman perhaps they did not go back to avoid any further scandal, but that is only a suggestion. Anyway, upon following the star, and here let me make another aside. Some believe the star may have been a coming together of three planets. The problem with that hypothesis is that the three planets would have to remain in that alignment for more than a year. I think the best explanation is God’s Word, that God Himself placed a special star in the heavens and it did as He commanded it. Now, getting back to our narrative, the Magi left Herod and as Matthew reports, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”
Another minor note and word of clarification. Although there are many legends concerning the Magi, we do not know how many there were. We usually see three and I would suggest that is because of the gifts they brought. The three which are mentioned are the three gifts of gold, incense and oil. The Magi did come and worship and they did present Jesus with gifts. And the gifts were of significance.
The Magi presented Jesus with the gift of Gold, the gift for a King. And rightfully so, because Jesus is the King of the Jews, the King of Kings, the King of the Universe, the King of all.
The Magi presented Jesus with the gift of incense, the gift for a priest. And rightfully so, because Jesus is our priest. He is the one who intercedes for us before His Father in heaven. He is also the one who makes sacrifices for us on our behalf and the ultimate sacrifice He made as our priest is that He sacrificed Himself for us on the cross.
And the Magi presented Jesus with the gift of Myrrh, which is an anointing oil, the gift for a prophet. And, again, rightfully so, because Jesus is our prophet. He is the one who continues to come to us through His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments in order to proclaim to us the Good News of forgiveness of sins and salvation by grace through faith in Him.
After worshiping Jesus and presenting Him with the appropriate gifts, the Magi returned to their home land. However, after being warned in a dream, they returned by another way than through Jerusalem. After a time, Herod realized that the Magi were not going to return and here is where the time of the appearing of the star was important. Herod used this as a way to calculate how old the child might be and so he had put to death all the children under two years of age in order to make sure that any rival to the throne might be disposed.
Now, here on January 6, 2013 we continue to celebrate this event. We celebrate this Epiphany, this manifestation of God in flesh, this appearing of the Savior to the Gentiles, because this means that we too have a part in Jesus’ work of salvation. Even though we are not physically born of the family of Israel. Even though we too are sinful human beings. Even though we rightfully have no claim on salvation, even though we are not entitled to salvation, it is ours.
Today we celebrate that we can be sure that Jesus is who He said He is. Jesus is the one promised by God back in the Garden of Eden, the one promised before there was a Jew and a Gentile, when there was just people, Adam and Eve. Jesus is the one promised throughout the Old Testament by the prophets, that a Savior of the world would be born. Jesus is the one who was born for one purpose, to give His life as a ransom, to pay the price for our sins.
Today we celebrate that we have life, even eternal life. Yes, very often we try to dethrone Jesus in our own lives, yet, He continues to call us back to Himself through His Word and His Sacraments. He has already accomplished our forgiveness. He has called us to faith. He gives us all these gifts and blessings, faith, forgiveness and life and we celebrate.
I want to summarize this great Epiphany Event with these words: The prophets, by the power of the Holy Spirit, foretold of this event, which the Magi read and believed and went in search of the newborn King, which the chief priests and the teachers of the law attested to the validity of the Scriptures which Herod also believed and was terrified, so we too believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Savior of the world. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.