Monday, January 8, 2018

Sermon -- Epiphany, transferred (January 7, 2018)


MATTHEW 2:1-12

SALVATION IS FOR ALL, 
BUT BY FAITH ALONE.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The word “Epiphany” has to do with a revelation or an appearing.  If I say, “I had an epiphany,” I means that something has occurred to me.  Either I did not know it, or I finally connected all the dots.  In the season of Epiphany, the Lord gives us a revelation about Jesus of Nazareth.  The Lord gives us an epiphany, revealing what we could not know unless God himself enlightened us to it.   The focus of the entire Epiphany season is that Jesus reveals himself to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
     Even before Jesus could speak, he was revealed as the Savior of the world.  The angel had appeared to Jewish shepherds to reveal that the Christ was born.  That Jews would celebrate the birth of the Son of David is not too remarkable.  However, when a star arose which lead the Magi to Jesus in order to worship him, that was remarkable.  The King of the Jews had come for the benefit of Gentiles, too!  Also remarkable are the effort, the expense, and the energy that the Magi invested in coming to see Jesus.  The coming of the Magi reveals this to us: Salvation is for all.
     We do not know where the wise men came from.  Some think they were Persians.  Others, based on our reading from Isaiah, believe they were Arabians.  St. Matthew does not identify their homeland, and it does not really matter.  Whether they were Persians or Arabians, these Magi would have had a king in their homeland who was their sovereign.  They did not stay to pay homage to him; they came to see the one who had been born King of the Jews.  So, they went where you would expect to find a king—to the palace at Jerusalem.
     When the Magi got to Jerusalem, they asked a good question: “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.” (Matthew 2:2)  But they asked a bad man.  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. (Matthew 2:3)  Herod was troubled because he had no interest in having a rival to his throne.  Herod had already killed his own family members when he suspected that they were a threat to him.  When foreigners came to Herod and asked about the one who had been born King of the Jews—well, that may as well have been a coup.  Herod had no interest in sharing his glory with anyone.  There was one throne in Jerusalem, and he would not give it up for anyone.
     Herod is not alone in his zeal.  Every one of us has a throne in our heart.  Like Herod, we want ourselves ruling there.  We make ourselves the authority over everything.  That is why we assume other people are idiots.  We don't know what burdens others are carrying, and we usually don't care—as long as we are not inconvenienced by it.  We assume the worst of others, and we are angry when they do not assume the best about us.  We even make ourselves the authority over God.  If we do not like what God has to say, we refuse to apply it.  “So I get drunk.  So I use obscene speech.  So I fornicate.  So I lie at work.  So I slander coworkers and family members.”—as if refusing to apply God's word means God's judgment does not apply either.  If, like Herod, you occupy the throne in your heart, you will eventually despise anyone who disagrees with you and you will reject God's word which is the only thing which can save you.  Repent.
     Herod's problem is not that he was unfamiliar with God's word.  When the Magi asked where the King of the Jews was to be born, Herod consulted with the priests and scribes.  They preached God's word to Herod, letting him know that from Bethlehem would come a ruler to shepherd God's people.  Herod did not listen to God's word about this shepherd.  Herod wanted his throne and rejected God's word.  Your problem also is not that you are unfamiliar with God's word.  God is very clear about what is good and evil, and God is very direct in calling us to repent of the sins we have committed.  And while it is good and right to stop doing what is evil and to align yourself with God's word, no one can ever achieve the perfect obedience God demands.  We still want the right to excuse ourselves for behavior that we condemn in others and that God condemns in us.
     King Herod had no use for a Savior.  The Magi, however, had left their king back in their homeland, and they sought a greater king than Herod the Great.  They came not merely to show respect, but to worship.  That is because the King of the Universe had come into the world for them.  It did not matter of the Magi were Jews or Gentiles.  It did not matter if we know their names or not.  God had revealed that their Savior had come—a Savior for all.
     And here is the good news for you, too: Salvation is for all.  The Savior comes into the world for sinners.  It does not matter what your blood line is, if you've been to church every Sunday or if you've just shown up for the first time today.  It does not matter if your reputation is squeaky clean or if you are treated like dirt.  Jesus Christ has come for you, because salvation is for all.  But salvation is not just given by God.  If Herod would refuse God's gifts, God would not foist his salvation upon him.  Salvation is for all, but it is received by faith in God's promises attached to this Savior.
     Once again, we need an epiphany to know what those promises are.  The Magi came to Bethlehem to worship their King.  God had revealed that to them.  However, what also must be revealed is what kind of King Jesus is.  Herod was a king, and Herod acted like most kings.  He kept control of his power and glory by having other people die for him.  Herod had put his sons to death.  Later, Herod would order the infants of Bethlehem to die in order to preserve throne.  Jesus, however, is a very different King.  Jesus does not come to have us die to advance his kingdom and to preserve his glory.  Rather, Jesus comes to die for us and to gain glory for us.
     Salvation is for all, and it was purchased by Jesus who took upon himself our guilt.  Jesus submitted himself to divine judgment for sins he did not commit.  This righteous and obedient one died for people who have been defiant and disobedient.  Jesus did not despise us because of our sins.  Rather, in his compassion, he died for us to take away our sins.  The King was crucified for rebels.  This is the promise that God has made to all mankind: Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)  And again, God promises, “Whoever believes and his baptized will be saved.  Whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)  Salvation is for all, but by faith alone.
     Jesus came into the world for Herod just as much as he came for the Magi.  The Magi believed God's promises and rejoiced over them.  Herod did not.  God did not love Herod less.  That's impossible, because Jesus came for Herod and suffered and died for him just as much as he did for you.  But Herod would not accept another on the throne of his heart just as he would not allow another on the throne in his palace.  Herod, therefore, rejected the salvation God had provided for him.
     Salvation is for all, but by faith alone.  God revealed his promises to you so that you can know your sins have been taken away.  They do not condemn you anymore.  You are forgiven.  Jesus suffered and died for you, but also rose from the grave to show you that you, too, will have eternal life in him.  Death cannot have you; it must give you back.  The resurrection to everlasting life is yours.  And by your baptism, the Lord has put to death the heart that loves itself more than anything else.  He has given you a new heart in which Christ dwells and rules.  Therefore, you no longer view other people as your rivals.  Even if others are rude, the Lord works in you a compassion that understands it may be coming from a burden you know nothing about.  Such people do not need your snark, but your sympathy.  Your King reigns in your heart and teaches you to live and act toward others with the same love that Jesus has for you.
     At Epiphany, God reveals his salvation to the world through Jesus.  The Magi were made wise for salvation by God's epiphany to them.  The Lord enlightenss you to know his promises so that you will be saved by them, too.  Salvation is for all, but by faith alone.  Therefore, devote yourselves to what God has revealed so that you will always have God's salvation.

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