Sunday, January 31, 2010

Luke.4.31-44; The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany; January 31, 2010

And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region. And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them. Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (Luke 4:31-44, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Today will be a good day to review the 2nd article of the Apostles’ creed. P. 301 in the front of your hymnal. Let’s read it together.

I believe in Jesus Christ, His-only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

What does this mean?

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, 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, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

Now the part I want you to pay close attention to today is the part that says: [Jesus] 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…

This Gospel reading today from St. Luke reflects what Luther is talking about right here. When we talk about the work of Jesus, which is what he did for us through his life, death and resurrection, we are talking about those three things: rescue from sin death and the power of the devil. And that’s what we see in this reading today. It starts with the power of Satan.

Jesus casts out a demon from a man in the synagogue. First we must remember that Satan has real power. These demons that possessed people were and are real. In those days they were well recognized. We don’t know what kind of trouble this one caused but we are reminded by St. Peter to be on the watch for Satan.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8, ESV)

And it true and we’ve all seen Satan’s handiwork. We don’t have to go far either. All we have to do is look around us, we can see it right here. You’ve seen the destructive power of Satan at work in our church. He divides. He distracts. He sets friends against friends. He urges us to concentrate on things that are unimportant making us think they are most important. He whispers lies in our ears that we gladly believe because it’s the easy way. His goal is for you and me to go to hell. He works especially hard among Christians to get them to take their eyes of the Cross of Christ. And we listen to him all too often. In fact, if it weren’t for God’s Word and the Sacraments, if it weren’t for Jesus we’d be slaves to Satan and all his works and all his ways.

It’s no different in the Gospel. This possessed man was in the Synagogue. Trinity is no different than any other church where God’s Word is proclaimed. But Jesus shows he is more powerful than any demon, and even Satan. When he commands the demon out, the evil spirit throws a tantrum by throwing the man on the ground, but he can’t hurt the man anymore. Jesus has commanded him to come out and he must do so immediately. This evil angel, this unclean spirit asks Jesus, “Have you come to destroy us?” Jesus answer is an emphatic “Yes!”

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39, ESV)

Jesus performs this miracle for us. That’s what Luke wants us to see. Jesus rescues us from the power of the Devil.

Next we see Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. She has a very high fever. She is dangerously sick. This is Jesus rescuing us from death. After all illness is just death lying in wait for us. Every time you and I get sick we are pushed closer to the grave. When I had the flu I said what a lot of you have said. “I just wanted to die and get it over with.” Illness and disease take away our abilities. We can’t take care of ourselves. We can’t take care of other people. When we are sick we are slaves to it. And no matter how hygienic we are we just can’t always avoid it either. We don’t have to look very far to see that this is true either. Right here, just look at our prayer list of late. It’s been long. It seems to grow every day. While it’s good that we pray for all these folks, each name on the list is illness taking its toll; complications to child birth, cancer, influenza, pneumonia, blood clots, heart attacks and death and more. Each illness is a sign that we will all die. And there isn’t anything we can do about it. Death has us in its grasp. We are slaves to illness and death. Well at least that is without Jesus.

Jesus show us his rescue again. I think it is very interesting that St. Luke uses the very same word about what Jesus does. He rebuked the demon. He rebuked the fever and it comes right out of her. Now we should see right away that this isn’t healing in the way that we’ve seen it. When someone is released from the hospital we pray for their recovery. Peter’s Mother-in-Law had no recovery. She got up and goes right to work without any effects. Jesus healing shows more than just the removal of the illness. It shows a return to life the way that God has designed it. She was free to do what she was called to do, serve the guests that had come to her house.

Jesus performs this miracle for us. That’s what Luke wants us to see. Jesus rescues us from the power of the death.

But Luke also wants us to know that Jesus does even more yet. The news spreads and people bring all kinds of sick and demon possessed to Jesus. He laid his hands on every one of them and healed them, the text says. He heals them all, every one of them. St. Luke wants us to see Jesus rescuing us, too.

Now there’s one of the three yet to go, and admittedly it’s not mentioned directly in the text. But it is here. Jesus rescues us from sin. You see, Satan has power among us because there is sin among us. Death has power among us because sin is among us. What we see Jesus doing here, is restoring things to the way they should be, because without sin there would be no illness and death. Without sin Satan would have no power over us. It is important to see that Jesus healing miracles are always accompanied by Jesus preaching. That’s who the text starts out. Jesus was teaching on the Sabbath. And that’s how the text ends Jesus says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…” What is the good news of the kingdom of God? Back to Luther’s words: I believe that Jesus Christ… has purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [God/Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15, ESV)

That’s it exactly. Through death Jesus rescues us from lifelong slavery to sin, death and the power of the devil. How does Luther say it: not with gold or sliver, but with his holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. You see those miracles we see here, commanding demons and fevers to leave, are just the little ones that point to the really big one, the really important one, the miracle of God-come-in-the-flesh, Jesus Christ. I like how Luke, whose always interested in Jesus direct connection to people, says that Jesus laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. That very hand that he stretched out to heal and cast out demons is the very same hand that he stretched out on the cross. It’s there that he paid the price for sin, not with gold or silver, but with his holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Being alive to God in Christ Jesus, means that we don’t have to tolerate Satan’s temptations, we don’t have to live in sin. Satan wants us to think that money is more important than people. Satan wants us to think that the budget is of a higher priority than the telling people of this community that Jesus lived and died and rose again for them. But that’s not being alive to God in Christ Jesus. We don’t have to live that way anymore. Instead we can get our priorities right. Our income is a gift from God, not to be used to purchase the latest and greatest toys for ourselves, but to use in service to our families, our church and our community.

Being alive to God in Christ Jesus, means that illness, death and Satan are nothing to fear. We may not be able to avoid them, but Jesus tells us that they are done in. Our death isn’t the end but only the beginning of life forever with him. So illness is an opportunity to serve; first, in prayer, then in presence. I would urge you to pay particular attention to those among us who are ill, or suffering, and make an extra effort to touch them, as Jesus did. Some of you have never thought of taking supper to the house of one of our members who is just out of the hospital. And what about all those on our prayer list? We care for them by praying, and that’s important, but is there more you can do. Especially, I would urge you to be the loving hand of Jesus to the members of the congregation you don’t even get along with or like. Nothing will break down those cliquish walls we’ve been so eager to build up at Satan’s prompting faster than the loving touch of Jesus Christ.

All of that is possible, not just possible but actually happens, through Jesus. Picture this one last thing. There’s a practice in our church that we don’t use much here, but you can see it in print if you turn to p. 291 in the front of your hymnal. There in red letters toward the bottom of the page you’ll see these words.

The pastor absolves the penitents individually at the altar, laying his hand on the head of each and pronouncing the following absolution…

In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit.

That’s the touch of Jesus, forgiving you all your sins. As your called and ordained servant of the Word, Jesus speaks his words through my lips and he touches you through my hands. Understand that it’s not my forgiveness that I give to you, it’s his. He purchased and won you from all sins, death and the power of the devil, not with gold or sliver but with his holy and precious blood and innocent suffering and death. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Luke 4:16-30; Third Sunday after the Epiphany; January 24, 2010

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away. ” (Luke 4:16–30, ESV)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Rev. Matt Harrison on Hati, Issues, Etc.

The Earthquake in Haiti

Pastor Matt Harrison of LCMS World Relief and Human Care

Posted using ShareThis

Monday, January 11, 2010

Luke.3.15-22; Epiphany 1, Baptism of our Lord, January 10, 2010

(from an outline by Mark Wangerin)

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:15-22, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I don’t know if you remember those old commercials for Coca-Cola. “It’s the real thing!” they said. They were saying that Coke was the real cola, and all the others were imposters. Organic beef packing plants claim to have the ‘real thing’. Beef without preservatives, chemicals, hormones, and steroids. ‘Organic’ food is very popular in grocery stores these days. Increasingly people want only natural, real products. Only the ‘real thing’, no substitutes will do. The gospel lesson for today is also about ‘the real thing.’ But this real thing is much more important than a pound of organic beef or a sugary drink. The real thing St. Luke is talking about here is Jesus Christ our Lord.

Right away, as you read this lesson, you see people asking the ‘real thing’ question. They want to know if John the Baptist is the expected Messiah. “Are you the Christ?” They asked themselves ‘in their hearts’. It’s not really a strange question. John’s ministry was having an effect on people. There were large crowds, tax collectors, soldiers, religious leaders, coming to see who John was and what he was saying. It’s a very natural question for a group of people who are expecting something to happen to help them out from under the thumb of the Romans. At that time, they were not a free people. They lived in an occupied land. Foreign soldiers patrolled the streets, and harassed them. Corrupt government officials over taxed them. It would have been easy for them to look back, remember how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, and expect that God would do something great again. In their minds if they were looking for someone to take on the Romans, he was going to have to be a strong talking person. And the entire thing that John said only heightened their expectations. “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” he shouted to people. He let them know that things were going to change. And they were expecting a Messiah. All over in the Old Testament, their Bible, were prophecies that told them to be ready. John seemed to fit the bill. They wanted to know if he was the “real thing.”

But, John made it very clear. “No, I am not! No matter what you may think you are seeing, when the ‘real thing’ comes, he’s going to do greater things than I do. In fact, I’m so far beneath him, that I’m not even worthy to tie his shoes.” John was saying that compared to the real Messiah, he was only a slave. Slaves were the ones who had the job of tying and untying their master’s shoes. John says that the coming one, the real thing, would do much greater things than he was doing.

Even the thing that John was most known for was less than ‘the real thing.’ John says that the baptism he was doing was only with water, but the ‘real thing’ would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. John’s baptism was only in preparation of the ‘real thing’ to come. He shouted at the people reminding them that they were all sinful. “You brood of vipers! You need forgiveness that you can only receive from God.” The people responded to John’s message and were baptized in the water of the Jordan River. It was a baptism in response to God’s words of forgiveness. ‘The greater one’, ‘the Real Thing’ that John was preparing them to meet would have a different kind of baptism for the people, “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

John’s message gathered crowds of people, but the ‘real harvest’ was in the hands of the ‘real thing’ to come. Just look at the words he uses to describe what the Messiah would do! The winnowing fork was used to separate the chaff from the grain. You probably know all about this the old way of doing the harvest better than I do. The stalks of grain were brought to the ‘threshing floor’ from the field. It was beat with boards to separate the grain and then the winnowing fork was used to throw it up in to the air so that the wind would blow away the chaff. The grain falls back to the floor. Notice how John says that the Messiah will ‘clear’ the threshing floor. He will thoroughly clean it; every piece of grain will be taken care of. All of the chaff will be burnt in the fire. It’s a real harvest to be done by the real messiah.

And the real Messiah comes.

21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21-22 (ESV)

Jesus is baptized. After all of John’s preparation, Jesus is baptized. It is rather funny, that the way St. Luke writes it Jesus almost seems anonymous in the crowd. With all those people, Jesus was also baptized. And yet, Jesus baptism is a very important part of His ministry. It is the public proclamation of what He has come to do and that what He has come to do begins right now. And John the Baptizer isn’t even mentioned. Of course John is the one who baptized Jesus, but Jesus is the focus. John is the lesser. Jesus is the most important. John disappears and Jesus stands alone. The writer wants us to know that. And John would agree. In another place he says, “I must decrease so he can increase.”

Jesus is the ‘real thing.’ And just in case people weren’t sure, the Holy Spirit makes an appearance, ‘in bodily form.’ St. Luke gives us this important detail. The Spirit’s appearance here isn’t a secret thing only John and Jesus saw, but ‘bodily’ in the form of a dove (pigeon). And also God the Father makes His appearance too. He speaks from heaven. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. You are the real thing. You are my promise of forgiveness of sins fulfilled.” We heard something similar to those words in the reading from Isaiah. Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. Isaiah 42:1 (ESV) The work of the ‘real thing’ is the work of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

What is the work of the Real Thing? Well, it’s all spelled out for us in John’s simple statement that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Just as the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus, so also he will pour out the Spirit on all those who are baptized in His name. In a few days we’ll be doing it again here… we will gather a family and newborn infant around this font and pour water on her head. And according to Jesus promise, in the same way that he was baptized, in the same way that the Holy Spirit came to him, the Holy Spirit will come to that child here. Our newest sister in Christ will begin their life of faith with baptism… a life lived in the shadow of the life Jesus lived for her.

And Jesus says that with the Spirit comes fire. John was really talking about God’s anger, His wrath over sin. That’s what the fire is. In the Old Testament, when it talks about God’s reaction to sin it talks about His anger burning. But Jesus was perfect without sin, he doesn’t deserve God’s anger and punishment, and yet it is placed on him. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We fully see God’s anger, his disapproval of sin, the punishment that sin deserves, when we see that Lamb sacrificed on the cross. God’s anger burns against Jesus. The full force of His disapproval over human sin is poured out on His only son instead of you and me. He actually turns away from Jesus and allows him to suffer the whole punishment of sin, the eternal punishment of sin, and sins wages death. That’s the baptism of fire, the Baptize was talking about. The Spirit who descends on Jesus brings not only God’s favor but also God’s judgment. For you and me, for the person we will next baptize here, that punishment is also brought to us in the Baptism that is given in Jesus name. When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan river, when Jesus hangs on the cross suffering and dying, He stands in our place to receive the fire, the wrath, the anger of God over our sin. We are baptized into his life, his death and his resurrection. That’s a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

Jesus is the Real Thing. After he suffered the fire of God’s anger, after he bled and died on the cross, after he was place in a cave for burial, he rose again from death. The punishment, the fire of God was taken to the grave, but Jesus Christ rose again to life. That’s something only the Real Thing can do. It proves he’s no imitation Savior. It proves that the punishment he bore was paid in full. It’s proof to you and me, who are connected to him by the Baptism of the Spirit and fire, that the work that he did was finished, and pleasing to God.

Now what about you? Well, you are the Baptized children of God. You have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire. Weather it happened here, or over in the parsonage, at home, or even and entirely different Christian church altogether. That baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit means that when you sin, when you fall short of God’s plans and desires for your life; when you hurt your neighbor; when you yell at your children for no good reason; when you act selfish when you know you should be helping someone else; you have a place to go. You don’t have to worry about God’s anger over your failure. When water was splashed over your head, your sin was washed away to Jesus. And God’s fire, his over your sin extinguished on the cross. That’s exactly why we confess our sins here. We are reliving our Baptism, seeing our sin, and seeing our Savior.

So, you can live differently. When you yell at your children, you can ask for forgiveness and move on to a better way of handling them. When you are selfish, you can set that aside and be helpful instead. You can serve by doing whatever God has called you to do in your everyday work. When you are hurtful you can do what is necessary to set things right again. That’s the Holy Spirit working in you through God’s Word. That’s Jesus the Real Thing motivating you to live a life more like his.

All in all, nothing else really matters, except Jesus Christ, the Real Thing. He, who was baptized in the Jordan, lived, suffered, died and rose again. John pointed to him as the most important. We recognize him as the most important thing in our lives. He is the beloved Son of the Father. Jesus Christ is the Real Thing. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Matt.2.1-12; Epiphany; January 3, 2010

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 saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Mt 2:1-12, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It’s like the final chapter of the Christmas story. We’ve come to “We Three Kings” and Christmas is over. At least that’s kind of the way we think about it. Traditionally, after Epiphany, Christmas trees can come down now. Decorations can be put away. The little stables go back in their storage boxes to be brought out again next December. This part of the story seems to put a big red bow on the whole thing. Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem to pay their taxes; Jesus is born in a stable because there is not room in the inn; the angels appear to the shepherds; the shepherds visit: they represent the poor and the Jews. The “Wise Men” visit led by a star: they represent the rich and the gentiles. (I expect we more often see ourselves as the Kings rather than the Shepherds, after all Kings don’t smell.) Still, everyone has acknowledged Jesus for who he is. Christmas is “officially” over, now it’s time for the “January blahs.”

But there is a part of the story that we see here in this text that we might sometimes just skip over. Maybe we do it on purpose; maybe we just don’t want to corrupt the sweetness of the stable with blood and death. But the truth of the matter is that the visit of these Magi from the East stirs things up. That’s the very thing the text tells us about King Herod. When Magi from the East entered Herod’s Palace and asked where the new king was, Herod was troubled (literally “stirred up”) and all Jerusalem with him. It’s not that the people of Jerusalem were worried about the new baby who would become king. They were troubled about their current king. You see, although Herod the Great was a good political leader in his early years, here at the end of his life he had grown very paranoid. Every time he felt threatened, every time he thought someone was set to sit in his throne, the body count went up. In order to stop what he saw as threats to his throne, Herod had already killed three of his sons, his favorite wife, his mother-in-law, and many others. One historian of the day tells us, in fact, that when Herod knew he was close to death, he ordered thousands of Jewish leaders killed at the moment of his death. Herod knew that as an very unpopular King, who was Roman installed puppet, his death would be a time for rejoicing. He wanted to give them a reason to mourn. Although in history he his know as Herod the Great, it wouldn’t be totally out of line to call him Herod the Terrible or even Herod the Horrible. I doubt the Magi knew what they were setting in motion. I doubt they knew the danger they were in with their visit, and even the danger they were bringing to the child they meant to worship. But the danger to Jesus was very real. Mary and Joseph and Jesus had to leave the country to be safe. When Herod the Terrible figured out that the Magi weren’t going to help him find the child, he struck out in anger (he was furious) and ordered all little babies boys of the Bethlehem area killed.

You see, the story of the Wise Men isn’t the sweet gentle story we usually think it is. It’s just another part of the story of Jesus that points toward the real reason He came. Jesus says it himself, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Mt 10:34, ESV) From the very beginning we see that Jesus came into a hostile world. From the very beginning we see that his coming isn’t a quaint children’s story but a real flesh and blood story about a real and dangerous world. This is our world, a world where children die by their parent’s hand even before they are born. This is our world where children are neglected and exploited and endangered by violence. This is our world, a world where thousands die because of uncontrollable nature, but thousands more die at by our own sinful hands.

Epiphany means “the showing,” or “making an appearance.” It’s not really about the Wise Men at all, although they play a central part of it. Epiphany, just like everything we talk about here, is about Jesus. It’s about God coming among us in our real and dangerous world. It’s about Him showing Himself to us and making it clear why He came. Even though Jesus’ visit in human flesh was immediately life-threatening to Him, it is life-saving for us.

The season of Epiphany brings it all into proper focus. Jesus birth was not an unusual birth into an unusual world. It was a remarkable birth into the usual, hostile world. That’s the revealing of God, that we see in Jesus. He knew the dangers. He knew the hostility that His coming would stir-up. And yet, He came all the same. He knew where the journey that began in the stable would take Him. That’s His great love for you, that the Baby in the manger had His eyes on the cross, and on you.

The problem is that when it comes to sin, we are no better than Herod the Horrible. He jealously guarded his throne. He wouldn’t tolerate even the Messiah to displace him. That’s the essence of sin: hostility toward God; desire to be apart from God; desire to be in control of our own lives. Don’t you and I show that in our lives? Don’t we struggle to do what we know is right? We keep God in a box, where we can keep a handle on Him, where we can hedge our bets, just in case we need a “higher power” when things get out of hand. Right here where He doesn’t interfere with the way we really want to live, the things we really want to do. Herod didn’t want Jesus to sit on his throne. There are times in our lives when we are guilty of the very same thing. Jesus, I can handle this, just let me take care of it myself. God, my sin isn’t so bad, there are others who are much worse, let me live the way I want to live. As sinful human beings we fit in this sinful world very well. It wants nothing to do with God. It wants nothing to do with God coming and taking charge. St. Paul tells us in Romans that “the sinful mind is hostile to God” (Rom 8:7 NIV). But the baby that was visited by the Wise Men changed all that. Instead of enemies we have been made friends. St. Paul says again, While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (Rom 5:10).

I don’t know if the Magi knew what they were looking at when they found the newborn King. They did say they had come to worship Him. Weather they knew it or not they had found God in human flesh. They had found the way that God provided to remove sin and hostility toward God from all people. Jesus not only took on our human flesh, but he carried human sin to the cross. You’ll notice on the cover of the bulletin that there’s a picture of Jesus being baptized. Well, that’s the regular text for today (Epiphany 1: Matthew 3:13-17). You can picture Jesus going down into dirty water and sucking up all the filth into himself. How did the water get dirty? From you and me. Our baptism washes away our sin for Jesus to take up. From there he takes He takes that sin to a bloody death, a death that hostility toward God deserves, my death, your death, for my sin, and for your sin.

That’s what Epiphany shows us. It shows us God revealed in human flesh to be the sin bearer. It shows us God’s love for us that compelled Him to remove our sin, no matter what the cost.

There’s that hymn “We Three Kings.” It is a very complete hymn. It tells all about who Jesus is. It shows us the infant child is not only a King but “King and God and Sacrifice.” That’s the whole story. That’s the King they were seeking. That’s the King they found. That’s the King they worshipped. And so do we.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.