A Savior for All Nations
Sermon 1726 Matthew 2.1-12 January 3, 2021
What just happened?
Sometimes our world changes gradually. I have seen the future and it looks pretty much like today, only a little farther away. That sort of stuff. Sometimes our world changes in a moment. A world war breaks out. A nuclear bomb is dropped. The world is never the same again.
But sometimes you don’t know how the events of today are going to alter the future. While we have many of the same reactions to this pandemic as to the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920, I doubt whether a Charleston dance fad is going to usher in a return of the Roaring 20’s with flappers and a speak easy on every corner. Sometimes the change is so beyond expectations, you don’t know what to make of it.
Today’s Sunday School story, The Visit of the Wise Men, is just such a case. What do you make of it? Matthew tells us.
A Savior for All Nations
1. Think big (1-6).
2. Think beyond (7-12).
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: “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 (1-6).”’”
Matthew doesn’t tell us who the Magi were. With apologies to the Christmas carol, they weren’t kings. Matthew would have told us that. But they are important. Not anybody can drop in on a king like Herod and get an immediate meeting. Not everyone can cause the wheels of government to spin like they did when Herod roused the entire religious and academic community to answer the question of the Magi, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” This is big. These Magi are important.
Their message is big. They are not looking for gold or silver deposits to enrich their kingdom. They are not spying out the country to see where its defenses are weak in preparation for a war against the eastern border of the Roman Empire. They have come to see a king. Leave other tasks, war preparations, economic expansion, to the staff to take care of. Mr. Big at the top of the food chain has more important things to do. There are things only he can accomplish. The Magi are seeking nothing less than a meeting, a summit, not with another head of state to discuss stately matters, but with a baby, one whose only accomplishment to date has been to be born.
The object of their search is big. They are coming to worship him. You worship God. Everybody knows that. Oh, in the ancient world people would bow down to statues, crafted by human hands, and worship them. We see statues of these idols in our museums today. Zeus, Mars, Aphrodite. They would bow down to the sun, moon and stars, thinking the movement of the heavenly bodies directed the course of lives on earth. But nobody worshipped a person. Nobody worshipped a baby. Yet, this is clearly what the Magi intend to do. They are saying this baby is big. His birth was heralded by a special star that appeared. It was a real star that continued to shine for the four or five months it would have taken them to travel from the East, perhaps Babylon, perhaps Persia, to Jerusalem. This star-studded baby is God himself, both God and man.
The effect they have in Jerusalem is big. King Herod was disturbed. All Jerusalem was disturbed. Herod is superstitious enough to fear what the Magi are looking for. “Where is the Christ to be born?” he asks his religious scholars and priests. Sometimes we give the impression the Jews of Jesus’ day did not believe in the Promised Savior who was to come into the world. We insinuate they did not believe he would be God and man. That is not the case with Herod. He knows enough about the Christ to want to find out where he is to be born. It was knowledge common enough among enlightened circles that they come up with an answer quickly. Pharaoh stumps his magicians and wise men with his dream of seven fat cattle and seven ears of grain. Nebuchadnezzar exasperates his enchanters and astrologers by demanding an interpretation of a dream he has not revealed to them! But Herod’s chief priests and teachers of the law are Johnny-on-the-spot. “In Bethlehem.” And they quote Micah, our Old Testament reading for today. Of course people would worship the Christ. He is God and Man, Immanuel.
A Savior for all nations causes us to think big, too.
Big celebrations. Big savings. Big presents. Big profits. Big plans. Life lived large. From the Hallmark movies to the Louis Vitton at the Forum Shops, we have embraced and gobbled up Christmas. And that’s what we made of it. A consumer celebration where true love can be found and the highest pleasures in life are discovered in the family circle, as long as there are two new SUVs parked in the driveway. Now I am not saying the American celebration of Christmas is all bad. I’ve even gotten presents in the past from the fancy mall on the Strip—it was the only place William-Sonoma had at the time and we got a set of spaghetti bowls that lasted twenty years! But if that is all Christmas is, we are not thinking big enough. We are like people looking at Henry Ford’s first Model T. Oh, the seats look very comfortable, but how do you hook it up to the horses?
Christ makes Christmas big. Christ alone is a Savior for all nations.
A Savior for all nations. Think beyond.
“Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’ After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh (7-11).”
Herod is thinking beyond. He is planning something so vile, he does not want anyone to know about it. He wants to use the Wise Men as his scouts to find out where the Christ is so he can follow up and kill the baby Jesus. If he were so intent on worshipping the baby Jesus, he could have accompanied the Magi to Bethlehem—it was an easy day’s journey—and they would have spent no more than another day to scour the little town to find the baby Jesus. But worship was the last thing on his mind.
The Magi were thinking beyond. They brought exorbitant gifts for the poor family they discovered. Gold. Joseph was lucky to have a little silver pass his hands. Frankincense and myrrh. Those were aromatic spices and oils. Precious perfume. Ridiculously luxurious air fresheners. Mary was happy to get a bath in once a week, whether she needed it or not. But they bowed down in worship and placed them at the baby Jesus’ feet. Gifts fit for a king, the King of all.
What was Mary thinking? The appearance of the Magi would have been like the appearance of people from another world. They had a caravan of camels, the long distance space ships of the ancient desert. They had wealth beyond anything she had ever seen or knew, so much wealth that they gave their costly gifts without even dropping a hint at what the price tag had been. They had standing and nobility and poise which humble Mary had never seen. In every sense of the word the Magi were beyond Mary.
A Savior for all nations challenges us, especially this year. This New Year is going to be greatly different from the old year. It must be. We cannot expect and plan for a world that is pretty much the way it was. Think big.
Look at the deliverance the Lord has provided for us with a Savior for all nations. We are here because Jesus is our Savior. He has rescued us from a life of ignorance and selfishness, a life led only for ourselves and a life headed for an eternity of enforced quarantine in hell. Jesus is not here to solve life’s little problems, although he can and does! Jesus is here to change everything. He changes our eternal destiny. He changes our way of looking at life. He changes the way we see ourselves. He changes our attitude towards others. The sudden appearance of a royal desert caravan must have shook Mary up. Jesus coming into our world shakes us up. Nothing can be the same. Think big.
The work before us will be big. We are not here to be a social club, once social gatherings are permitted. We are not here to be a self-help group, though lots of help is available. Those things are not essential to the work of the Church. The essential work before us is to proclaim a Savior for all nations. Get the Gospel out. Attend to worship. Lead young and old into a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the Holy Scriptures. That’s big. That takes a pastor, not a program director. That takes the entire body of Christ, not a couple buddies getting together for a few yucks.
A Savior for all nations. Look beyond.
It is hard to find fault with William Shakespeare, but the one shot from my college class I remember to this day is that all of his characters are Englishmen. It doesn’t matter if the play is set in Denmark, Rome, or Egypt, he populates them all with Englishmen. We can show the same, dare I say it, lack of imagination? We embrace Jesus as the Savior for all nations. But let’s say we think of that as Jesus being the Savior of everyone all around the world who is like us.
The world is not all like us. There are people living in grinding poverty. There are people living in constant fear. There are people so oppressed by the state that nothing matters except what dear leader dictates. The world does not look like us. The world does not think like us. For crying out loud, there are parts of our city that are not at all like us.
If Jesus is just for people like us, he cannot be the Savior for all nations. If the Church, the gathering of all believers around the Gospel, looks like us, it cannot be the one, holy Christian Church. Think beyond. Think of ways beyond to reach people. Think of phrases beyond to express what Jesus has done for us. Think beyond what is comfortable for you and me. Think beyond.
Our faith is global and local. What we do here on the local level has a global impact. A healthy congregation supports organized mission work throughout the world, in our case, through our Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. A congregation reaches out with technology to its members, but touches lives on other continents. Members that talk the talk and walk the walk inspire us, and people who do not even know where our church is.
I say this because I know this. We have reached people around the world. We have touched people from the very highest circles of society, millionaires and children of Cabinet members. We have ministered to people with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. We have members who have come to us from around the world. We have people who share but one thing with us—our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But that is the only thing worth having in common. And it went beyond our plans, beyond our expectations.
A Savior for All Nations
1. Think big (1-6).
2. Think beyond (7-12).
What just happened?
Something bigger than COVID happened in 2020. Jesus Christ happened. Faith happened. Triumph over temptation happened. Victory over death happened. The Gospel of Jesus spreads more than any virus and Satan, the world and the sinful human nature have never found a vaccine against it. Carry that over to the New Year and yesterday’s headlines will be the stuff of tomorrow’s trivia games.