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  • Epiphany 1 - Baptism of our Savior Jesus Christ

    Pastor Christian Preus

     

    Epiphany, 2019

     

    Matthew 2:1-12

     

    It’s very easy for Christians to become anti-intellectual, because we see the modern intelligentsia, we see academia and college campuses promoting anti-Christian propaganda, championing sexual perversion and abortion and feminism, attacking marriage and family, mocking God’s creation by promoting evolution, associating the history of the Bible with pagan myths, drawing Christians away from the faith, and the list goes on. And so it happens all too often that Christians, in their justified distrust of the progressive propagandists who dominate the universities, and the media for that matter, Christians will become suspicious of higher learning itself, because they see that getting smart or educated in our time usually equates with losing the faith and abandoning the Bible. But this is to react in exactly the wrong way. Being smart, learning the truth, thinking about difficult issues, has never led anyone from the faith. Ever. Being arrogant has. Refusing to humble yourself, your mind and your desires, under the Word of God has. Thinking that you’re smarter than God will definitely make it difficult for you to remain a Christian. But learning never will. In fact, learning is the constant and lifelong duty of the Christian.

     

    Look at the wisemen. They were wise men. Scholars. Very smart, very educated. And they are part of a long history of Christian scholars who studied the world, studied civilization, studied law, studied science, studied history and politics, studied the Bible, and did it all for the glory of God, in order to worship their Lord Jesus. That’s what all the learning of the wise men amounts to. Notice that. They didn’t travel a thousand miles as a matter of course. It’s not as if they did this for every comet that appeared in the sky. Their lifelong goal is summed up in this little sentence, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and we have come to worship him.” To worship Him. That’s the purpose of learning.

     

    I can’t remember where I saw it, I think it was when I was teaching a class at some tiny liberal arts college in Iowa, but on the metopes of the college library, in huge Latin script, were written the words, “Learning for the sake of learning.” I see the same phrase frequently; in fact, I just read an article by that name from the American Counsel on Education. The thought is that you learn not just to get a career, but because learning is an end in itself. Now that sounds really classical and liberal artsy and enlightened, but it’s total nonsense. No one in the history of the world has ever learned for the sake of learning. We learn for a purpose. Sometimes those purposes are bad, sometimes they’re good. Sometimes it’s a little of both. You can learn for the joy of it, because it stimulates you, satisfies curiosity or satisfies pride. You can learn as school children often do, so you get praise or don’t get punished. You can learn, as Herod did in our Gospel lesson, in order to secure your own position at the expense of others. You can learn to get a job and make money. You can learn to help others, as nurses and teachers and mothers often do. But learning is never neutral. We always do it for some reason. And what the wisemen teach us is to learn with clear and unmistakable purpose that the reason for all our learning, finally, is to worship Jesus.

     

    Let me get specific here. The Christian mother who learns to cook, learns to keep a house, learns to tend to crying children, she does these things not for the sake of learning, but to love her neighbor, her children and her husband, and since this is exactly what pleases God in heaven, it’s a form of Christian worship. The Christian electrician who learns how not to get electrocuted when wiring a house should learn it to provide for his family, to help others, to support his church, and so all for the glory of God. This applies to everything you learn, no matter your formal education.

     

    But we will never have this mindset unless we actually spend time, like the wise men, learning God’s Word. And when it comes to learning this, what has happened in the last generation among Christians, including us conservative Lutherans, has been startling. By and large we’re forgetting the Bible. Christians don’t know what it says for the simple reason that they don’t read it. I will never forget teaching a course on classical mythology at a university where I mentioned Joseph and Potiphar’s wife and not a single student out of fifty knew the story. But I can see the same thing happening now, and it’s why I stress so often to read your Bibles, have family devotions at home, eat meals together, put learning God’s Word above sports, above TV, above homework, above everything else we learn. To show ourselves and our children that we humble ourselves under God’s Word and reverence it as the highest treasure in the world.

     

    It makes no sense to decry how bad things have gotten in the world, in the workplace, in the universities, in the media, and then not face the challenge and temptations they pose with the only weapon we have. A mighty fortress is our God, we sing. Rise to arms, with prayer employ you, we sing. We call ourselves the church militant. And St. Paul reminds us that ours is a battle not against flesh and blood but against the powers of darkness posing as the wisdom of this world. And he gives our weapon as the sword of the Spirit, that’s God’s Word. And we have every reason to be confident when we learn and love God’s word at home and at church. There is no philosophy out there, no -ism, whether that be feminism, or socialism, or secular humanism, there is no attack on Christianity, that can stand up against knowledge, humble, faithful, repentant knowledge of God’s Word, love for its beauty and its glory, no wisdom that can compare to the truth revealed to the wise men that the God who created this world has come into human flesh to save it from sin and death and all evil.

     

    So this is our motto. Learning for the sake of worshiping Jesus. This is what the wisemen teach us.

     

    They came from the East specifically to worship the one born King of the Jews. We shouldn’t let this escape our attention. They’re from the East, probably from Persia. If you learn about ancient civilization, you’ll quickly realize that all ancient peoples were what the universities today would call racists. The Persians didn’t care for the Jews, the Jews called all other nations hagoyim, the Gentiles, the Greeks called all non-Greek speakers barbarians and ridiculed them for their practices, the Romans banned Greek philosophers from Rome repeatedly. You get the point. They were ethnocentric, proud of their own cultures and in large part dismissive of other cultures and nations. And so it is a remarkable thing that these wisemen would come to worship not some Persian King, not some King of the East, but the King of the Jews.

     

    But they came because they learned, they studied and they learned from the Old Testament, that the Jews were a special people, not because of their race, but because of their God, the Creator of heaven and earth, who had raised up the Kingdom of Judah and saw it through all its sin and destruction, in order to bring forth a King who would rule over all, the King Isaiah speaks of in our Old Testament lesson, and note, Isaiah is speaking to Judah, to Jews here, in this beautiful prophecy: “Arise shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” This is why the wisemen came to Jerusalem to inquire of the King of the Jews, because as we just sang, he is not only the King of the Jews, but the highborn King of ages, true Son of God and Mary’s Son, who draws his entire creation to Himself. The entire history of the Old Testament, every word of it, points to the reason for Judah’s existence, to bring forth the Savior of the world, the King who comes from the Jews to bring all peoples to himself by his cross, as our Lord Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to myself.”

     

    And notice the manner of the wisemen’s learning. They are smart, very smart. But they come asking questions, they come humbly. They got the place wrong. They thought they’d find the King of the Jews in Jerusalem, in a palace. Jerusalem, after all, was the city of David, the capital of Judah. But there was another city of David, the city in which David was born, and the wisemen humble themselves and learn again from the word of God, from the prophet Micah, that it will be from Bethlehem that this King will come to shepherd God’s people Israel, to rule over His Church.

     

    And this learning was never just head knowledge for these wise men. Herod had the same head knowledge. He learned too that this King had been born in Bethlehem. But he uses the knowledge for horrible evil. And this we can do too. We can become proud and we can use knowledge, even knowledge about God’s holy Word, to raise ourselves up, to show off our smarts, to look down on others. But the wisemen learned humility from God’s Word, they learned their own sin, their own unworthiness, and they came to kiss the Son, as Psalm 2 says, because they see that only in this Son is God’s anger taken away and sin covered, only in this Son is God’s love revealed. And so the wisemen teach us, not only that learning is good, not only that learning God’s Word is our lifelong objective, but that learning always goes along with worshiping Jesus, with a life that humbles itself under God, and submits all knowledge, whatever it is, to the Word of Jesus, learns to bear his yoke, as he has borne our sins.

     

    The wisemen bear gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And here again we see what the purpose of learning is. We learn of this God who saves us, who becomes a helpless baby to live and die for us, to shed his precious blood, the blood of God Himself to reconcile us to Himself, and make us heirs of eternal life with Him, we learn to love Him. And loving Him means, of course, not simply bearing gifts, but first faith, the highest possible form of worship, first trusting that God is for us, that He is with us, that no matter who we are, no matter our nationality, our family, no matter what sins we have committed and the darkness that has stained our heart, our God’s glory shines on us in Jesus Christ, to forgive us, make us His children, wash us clean and feed us with his own body and blood. And then comes an active love for this God. For Him we can walk a thousand miles, for this God, we can give up our riches, submit our time and our life to him, as did the wisemen, this is a God about whom we want to learn more and more, to meditate on His Word and gives our lives to Him as He has given His for us.

     

    I asked the kids in catechism class the other week whether we can look up into heaven like the wisemen and so find Jesus. The answer of course is no. And the wisemen again teach us this very thing. They found Jesus by listening to His Word. That’s how they knew to follow the star to Jerusalem, how they ended up finding Him in Bethlehem. And this is how we find our Lord Jesus, how He finds us. To be wise, to learn, to be divinely educated, this is to receive the Epiphany of our Lord, which is what we celebrate today. Epiphany, God’s revelation to us, His word to the nations, His enlightening us of His love in Christ Jesus, telling us who we are and what our purpose is, that this Child, true Son of God and Mary’s son, has redeemed us from all sin with his holy precious blood and his innocent sufferings and death, that we may be His own, belong to Him, learn from Him, love Him, live our lives for Him and receive our strength from Him, as a branch is to the tree, His life supplying our life, so that our souls never rest until they rest in Him forever.

     

    Lord grant this to us all. Let us pray:

     

    Thou, mighty Father in Thy Son didst love me ere Thou hadst begun This ancient world’s foundation. Thy Son hath made a friend of me, And when in spirit Him I see, I joy in tribulation. What bliss is this! He that liveth to me giveth life forever; Nothing me from him can sever. Amen.

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We are a confessional Lutheran congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). Committed to teaching the truth of God’s Word, with Christ crucified for sinners at the center, our worship follows the historic liturgy of the Church. We sing the great hymns of past and present that reflect the reverence, dignity, and joy of the Christian confession.