1-7-24 Epiphany

Bible Text: Matthew 2:1-12 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus

“The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork.” That’s Psalm 19. God spoke in the beginning. That’s how He created all things. With His word. And now the creation He spoke into existence speaks in its own way, because it bears the mark, the design of the Word that created it. So the psalm continues and says, “Day unto day utters speech.” The world tells us about its Creator. This is why St. Paul begins his letter to the Romans by saying that no one has an excuse for not knowing and worshipping God. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” The design you see in creation requires a designer, the order and laws you see built into nature require a Lawgiver. This is why the Psalmist says more than once, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no god.’” It is a disregard of commonsense, of what you see every single day, to think or act as if God does not exist. It’s like denying that I exist, even though I’m right here, I’m talking to you, you hear me, you see me; this is what creation does, the mountain, the starry night, gravity, the intricate design of your body and every cell in it, these are the constant witness and speech of God to all people, shouting that He is Creator, the Almighty, the Eternal, He has made us and not we ourselves.

This is why atheists have accomplished nothing in science except to build on what Christians and God-believers have already done. They are parasites on Christian accomplishments. Christians invented modern science. Christians ushered in the scientific revolution. And for a very simple reason. Christians expected to find order in the universe, order in the world, order in the human body; they expected to find a careful design and things operating according to stable and unchanging rules; they expected it because they knew God made it, and so nothing is random, because He’s ordered it all. And Christians found the order they were looking for. So Copernicus, whose work “on the revolution of the heavenly spheres” showed that the planets revolved around the sun, was a Christian. A Lutheran named Andreas Osiander wrote the preface to his book. Johannes Kepler, who corrected Copernicus’ work and showed that the revolutions of the planets were elliptical and not circular, and set the groundwork for the discovery of gravity, Kepler was a Lutheran and he explicitly and constantly said that the reason he knew he could expect regularity and order in the universe is because he knew God created it. The pursuit of science, whether in physics or astronomy or biology or geology, is properly speaking the discovery of God’s design and God’s order. This is so much so that even the atheists constantly speak of “design” and “laws of nature,” ignoring the glaring fact that there can be no design without a designer and no law without a lawgiver. In the end everyone believes in God. They just don’t always admit it.

An ancient map of the night sky was recently found in Italy, dating to somewhere around 400 years before Christ. It’s a flat rock with points engraved into it to show the stars, and it’s outrageously accurate. It shows the same constellations we see today, with the addition of one star that used to be in the night sky then and isn’t there now. That star seems to have blown up or something, it doesn’t exist now. I’m not suggesting that this is the star the magi saw. The dates are wrong for that (if they got the dating right). I am saying that the ancients studied the stars and could map them down to the last one. The magi in the East did that. They knew where each star was. And they knew that God existed because they saw His design every night. Creation spoke to them as it speaks to all and convinced them of that.

But there was a different kind of speaking when a new star popped up in the west. This wasn’t normal. The star of Jesus’ birth. It wasn’t ordered. Stars don’t just appear. The night sky remains the same whether it’s 400BC or 2024 AD. When you study God’s nature you expect regularity, order, predictability. And the appearance of that star broke the order. It was super natural, beyond nature. And this is because it was proclaiming the birth of the One who went far beyond the rules of nature in order to save His sinful creatures. That star showed a break of the natural order in the heavens, because a break in the natural order of the universe, of God and man, had happened. The Creator had assumed His creation. The Almighty God had become a weak and powerless child. The Eternal God had confined Himself to the little body of a child. A new age had dawned, where the Creator lived with His creation as one of us.

That’s why that star appeared, but we don’t know how the magi knew it. The star didn’t tell them, “A King is born in Judea.” It was silent in the night sky like every other star. But they saw it and they knew. They came to Jerusalem and asked explicitly, “Where is He who is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship Him.” Later on we see God send them a vision at night and warn them to take a different route back home, so it’s possible God sent them a vision in the first place and told them that the star appeared to announce the birth of the King of the Jews. That’s what Luther thought. It’s also possible that they had read the Bible or heard about the Bible – Daniel and Shadrack and Meshack and Abednego were all wise men who lived in the East and they had spoken God’s word there and probably preserved the Books of Moses there, and there were still Jews living there in the East, and they would have known the prophecy of Baalam in Numbers, “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.”

Maybe they heard that prophecy. But one thing is for certain, nature didn’t tell them. Nature, the mountain, the lake, the stars, they can’t tell you about Jesus. They can tell you God exists, that He is a God of order, that He wonderfully and beautifully designed all things, but they can’t tell you that He loves you, that He wants you as His child, that He wants to forgive you all your wicked and filthy sins, that He will give everything, even His own Son into human flesh and into death, to save you. They can’t tell you that. They’re natural and so they can tell you about the Creator who made nature. They’re not supernatural and so they can’t tell you a thing about the Creator that broke through nature and became a man. The heavens declare the glory of God, but they cannot declare the peace, the goodwill to men the angels sang on Christmas. That takes real words sent from God.

When St. Paul in Romans points to the things that have been created as the proof that God exists, why does he do it? It’s not to encourage scientific discovery, as wonderful as that is. It’s certainly not so that you can find a loving God in the mountains or in the stars. It’s to show God’s anger against the sinners who have denied their Creator. Listen to this, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…because what may be known of God is obvious among them, for God has shown it to them, for since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” That, in the end, is the great message spoken by the stars and all creation – yes God exists, yes He has wonderfully and fearfully made you and everything else, yes, you owe Him everything, but you have not acknowledged Him or loved Him or feared Him as you should. His order you see and it violently contrasts with the disorder in your own soul and life, and God’s wrath burns from heaven.

So you will not find your Savior by staring at the stars. You will find your Judge. This is why the atheists insist on denying the Creator and come up with the most ridiculous “theories” for the order and life they see all around them. God is staring them in the face, speaking to them through His creation, and they don’t want God looking at them, talking to them, judging them, they don’t want to be accountable to Him. So they pretend He isn’t there. The God revealed in nature is the God of the Law, of Order, and that Law and Order expose the lawlessness and disorder of the sinful human heart. This is also why it is so silly when people say their church is the lake or their church is the mountain. Some church! For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven, from the mountain, from the lake. But the words that God speaks in His Church, in the Bible, say better things, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

The wisemen are the perfect examples of how far natural knowledge of God can get you. They study the stars, so they know God exists. There has to be a Creator. But it can get them no further. Not even the miracle of a star suddenly showing up in heaven can tell them of God’s love. They don’t get to Bethlehem, don’t get to Jesus, they’re lost in Jerusalem, with a crazy king Herod, until they hear the Word of the Bible. So know this. There is no miracle but one that will be enough, that will assure you of God’s love, of sins forgiven and death destroyed and reconciliation with the God who loves you: and that is the miracle that the Word of God speaks to you now and spoke to those wisemen then, “But you Bethlehem , in the land of Judah, are not least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel, whose goings forth are from everlasting.” The wisemen heard that word and hurried to where it directed them, and only then did they find the God who was made flesh for them. And that is the miracle they needed.

It’s the same with you. Go ahead and study God’s creation. Go outside. Hunt or fish or hike if you can. Don’t stare at a screen all day. Don’t constantly look at manmade things. It’s bad for your soul. Look at God’s creation. Know what the Psalmist means when He says, “How manifold are your works, O Lord, in wisdom have you made them all.” But none of that will reveal to you a Savior. Not if you looked at the heavens all night long all your life through. The Word of God, the Word of the Bible, points you to the babe in Bethlehem, the Creator born a baby to redeem you. The Word of God calls Him your King. Look at all the power behind the stars, behind the universe, behind the creation of all these things, the power of God, and see that Almighty power in this King. Your King rules with that power on the cross where the wrath of God revealed from heaven lands on the Creator Himself, the Almighty, the Eternal, who swallows up all our punishment and all the anger of God, because He loves us. There is the power of God not simply to create stuff, but to create and give birth to sons of God through water and the Word. So that He is for you a kind and merciful King, a King who doesn’t tax you, but gives His riches to you, who feeds you not with wrath and justice, but with mercy and with the body and blood that has won you everlasting life with God.

To Him the wisemen gave gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. For Him the wisemen abandoned everything and walked hundreds of miles. To Him the wisemen bowed and Him they worshiped. And this is what all wise men and women do. The book of nature and the book of the Bible lie open to us, and all the combined wisdom of these divinely written books can teach us nothing greater than that the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men and that the love of God for sinners is found in that babe of Bethlehem, to whom we bow the knee and whom we call our Lord, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is one God, now and forever. Amen.

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