The First Sunday After Epiphany January 9, 2011
89, 717 [TLH alt. 129], 127, 130(1-2, 6)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Have you ever wanted to know what God is thinking? How does the Father in Heaven feel about you, your situations, your fears, your concerns, the things you are thankful for? Would it surprise you if I told you that you can know what God is thinking?
Jesus Christ is the “window” into the Father’s will and thinking. He once told His disciples “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father…I am in the Father…The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing His work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:9ff). John writes in the first chapter of his Gospel account “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18). As amazing as it sounds, it is true. Jesus is God together with the Father and as God together with the Father He knows exactly what the Father thinks and wills and does, and He tells those things to you.
So if you want to know what God is thinking you can find out, but you must be close to Jesus. You must hear His communication to you. You must be in touch with His words and come to know them well. Then you will know the Father.
There is, however, a harsh reality that can get in the way of a person’s contact with Jesus. We confess it Martin Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed when we say, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.”
This confession agrees with Scripture. People cannot simply “decide” to “get close to God.” A person who has never heard the Word of God or knows nothing of Jesus Christ and the work He did to gain man’s salvation can’t and doesn’t just wake up in the morning and out of the blue declare, “Today I’m going to enter into a relationship with Jesus.” On our own, we cannot and do not come to God in any way or fashion. If you don’t believe me, believe Romans 8:7 which says “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (NIV).
Instead, God must draw us to Himself. He must bring us to Jesus. He must show us the Savior’s words and persuade our hearts to accept them in faith. It is by God’s power and God’s power alone that we are brought to Jesus. It is by God’s power and God’s power alone that we have come to believe in the things the holy Scriptures have revealed. It is by God’s power and God’s power alone that we are Christians relying on the Savior.
The actions of King Herod reveal the natural human thought process when it comes to Christ. Herod pretended to the wise men that he wanted to worship Jesus, but we all know that in his heart he had no intention of kneeling before the Child. He was concerned with one thing and one thing only: keeping his own power as ruler in Judea. He didn’t want Jesus in his life at all and had no intention of moving even one step toward the manger himself. He sent the wise men to find Jesus and then “report back to him.” People by nature cannot make that step toward Jesus by themselves. They must be drawn to Him by God Himself.
Now look at the wise men in contrast to Herod. They came to Jerusalem and went on further to Bethlehem with great joy and with tremendous excitement. God the Father Himself had been instrumental in bringing them to Jesus. Think about it, there was a star in the sky—the likes of which had never been seen before. Then somehow it was made known to the Magi that the star meant the Messiah had finally been born. Then they traveled to Jerusalem and through the word of Micah the prophet, the Father was again active in drawing their hearts and their feet ever closer to His Son.
Only God was able to bring these men from the east all the way to the house where the young Child was. Only God was able to inspire their hearts to make such a journey. They would not have even begun to saddle their camels without divine intervention. That’s why we pray this Epiphany Sunday: “O God—Draw me to You! For only You are able.”
Are you disappointed to learn that you cannot step toward Christ on your own? Are you frustrated to hear that only the divine hand can bring someone to faith in Jesus? You need not be disturbed at such teaching. It is really of the greatest comfort to your soul.
It is good that your faith doesn’t depend on you. What if you had to make some effort, do some penance, make some sacrifice to God for your own sins—do something to gain fellowship with Jesus Christ. If that were so, you would never have a certain and secure salvation. If your eternal life hinged on how well you approached Christ, you would never be good enough and you would always wonder if you had done enough or done it rightly.
Imagine if God told you, “Say the Lord’s Prayer once in your lifetime with perfect devotion of heart and mind without any distraction entering your head whatsoever and you will be part of my Son’s holy family.” Would you even with such a simple task be able to bring yourself to Jesus? I don’t think so, and you would always be left wondering if what you thought was “perfect” was perfect enough.
But since God alone is able to draw the soul to the Lord and Savior, the forgiveness of our sins and our resurrection from the dead depends completely on His mighty power. Thus, there is nothing to worry about. It is the mighty power of God that brings us to Jesus—especially the mighty power of His Word.
You know, there are any number of ways that the God could have chosen to put faith into our hearts. I suppose He could have used a bolt of lightning or an earthquake or a simple snap of the fingers to bring us to Jesus, but instead He chose the Word—the medium of printed page and human voice, the medium of a message. This God says in Romans 10:17: “Faith comes from hearing the message.” (NIV). So this is how the Father brings us in touch with His Son. It is through the message about the Son. There are plenty of examples of this in the Bible.
Most recently, we celebrated Christmas. How were the shepherds in the field moved in their hearts to make a quick journey to Bethlehem in the middle of the night? It was through the word of the angels which said, “There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Chris the Lord” (Luke 2:11). The message for them was that someone had been born who would save them from their sins, and they went away with haste to see Jesus.
Consider also the wise men whose coming we celebrate this Epiphany Sunday. They saw a star in the east and that got their attention, but it wasn’t the star that ultimately drew them to the Lord Jesus. They needed a message about the Christ. They needed the Word of God to draw them. They wouldn’t have left for the west to see just any baby—star or no star. But they left to go see this one because they knew this was the Christ. This was the One who would give up His very life on the cross at Calvary to suffer the punishment of all their guilt. This was the Baby whose life would make eternal life possible for them. It was the Word they had learned about Jesus from their Old Testaments that really got them moving. It was what they knew about who He was that drew them to Him in faith and led them to His side.
No, the star alone didn’t lead the wise men. It only got their attention and then disappeared from view for most of their journey. It only reappeared to them in the end when it led them to the house in Bethlehem where the Child was. When they first got to Jerusalem and inquired where the Savior was to be born, the special star was no longer in the sky. It was actually the Word of God that led them to Jesus. It was the word of Micah that drew them to Bethlehem.
It is no different for us. People are drawn to Jesus today by the mighty Word. Yes, sometimes God might use something to get someone’s attention like he used the star to alert the Magi to the birth of Jesus, but it is not the attention-grabbers that have the power to draw people to Christ. We saw that in the disasters of September 11 some years ago in this country. The terrorist attacks got some people’s attention and caused some to paw through the pages of their Bibles looking for answers, but those who did not find fellowship with Christ in His Word were not drawn to love and trust in Him because a couple of towers fell down in an attack. In fact, indications are that America is less Christian now than it was before that fateful day.
No, it is only the message of sins forgiven in Christ Jesus—the glorious truth of Heaven opened for all people—that can lead the heart to the Baby at Bethlehem. It is not church day care centers that create true believers. It is not huge buildings with massive pipe organs that bring people to Jesus. It is not food banks and community service that can win souls for Christ,
It is simply and only the message.
This is why we try to focus on that message. This is why we encourage family Bible reading and personal devotions. This is why we are encouraged by Christ to go out and “preach the word to all creatures” (Mark 16:15 NIV). This is why we have a church and pastors and Sunday School teachers—to preach the Word because that’s the only thing that will ever work. It is a great treasure you have been given—this message that Jesus has redeemed the world through His death and resurrection from the dead. It is a message of unbelievable and mighty power.
That’s why we pray this Epiphany Sunday: “O God—Draw me to You! By Your mighty Word.”
When the wise men arrived at the house in Bethlehem they saw Jesus and His mother, Mary, “and they fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” [v.11]
How can we not pour at Jesus’ feet the treasures of our love? Because of all He meant to them, the wise men worshiped and presented their gifts. They had been drawn by the mighty hand of God to kneel at His feet and offer Him the treasures of their love.
If you are familiar with the story “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, you are familiar with a story of a husband and wife who each, without the other knowing, give up something very precious to them personally in order to give the other the perfect gift. The wife sold her hair to buy her husband a chain for his treasured watch. The husband sold his watch to buy a set of combs for his wife’s beautiful hair. When they exchanged their gifts on Christmas Day neither one of the gifts were useful to them any longer, but husband and wife both realized in an instant the great love they had for one another. Jesus your Savior gave up everything—even His very life—to bring you eternal joy and happiness. What great love!
May we ever be willing to return our best, imperfect as it is, to the Babe of Bethlehem as a token of our thanksgiving and as a small acknowledgment of the tremendous power of God that has given us fellowship with Christ—the Son—and has given us a “window” into God’s ways and thinking concerning us.
Thus, our final prayer on this Epiphany Sunday is this: “Draw me to You! That I too may worship.”
“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’” (Revelation 5:13-14 NIV). Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.