Sermon: Follow the Star

Text: Matthew 2:1-12
The Epiphany of Our Lord
Listen to the Sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We live in quite the technological age, don’t we? Google has successfully mapped out the entire world. Governments and corporations have put countless satellites into orbit. With the smartphones we carry in our pockets, we can pull up a wealth of information at a moment’s notice or send a picture of a cat halfway across the globe! Now, combine these three things, and you have GPS! That’s right! You can enter your desired destination on your smartphone, and it will get you there. It’ll even tell you what time you’ll arrive. It’s usually accurate too! But it may come as a surprise to you, but even Google can err. On the odd occasion, Google won’t bring you to your destination!

Well, tonight, we’re not following Google but a star. Our Gospel lesson discusses “wise men” from the east, likely Persia, perhaps Babylon. They were pagan astrologer-priests from Persia. They tried to figure out current and future events by the movement of the stars. We’ll see first that the wise men follow the star to the Scriptures. Then they follow the Scriptures to the Messiah.

I. Follow the Star to the Scriptures

The wise men already knew something about a king promised to the Jews. This information about a foretold king perhaps came from Daniel. He was put in charge of all the magi in Babylon. One night, they saw a star in the sky. Something about this star led them to the conclusion that the king of the Jews had been born. So, they set out on the long journey, following the star since they didn’t have Google to help guide them.

The star took them to Judea. They lost sight of the star at this point and thought the obvious thing to do was to go to Jerusalem and inquire with the royal family. If there were a birth of a newborn heir, surely King Herod would know about it! Well, it turns out that there weren’t any baby boys bouncing around the Herod household that year.

Why did the star disappear and then reappear? Why not just bring them directly to Bethlehem? The star had been hidden from them so that, on finding themselves without their guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Scriptures. In fact, this was all prophecied ahead of time. The Old Testament foretold that a star would be the sign of the Messiah’s arrival (Nu 24:17). It also foretold that the kings of the earth would pay homage to God at the time of this Messiah (Is 49:23). They would offer him their treasures, including gold and frankincense (Is 60:5-6). Most importantly, the Scriptures foretold precisely where the great king, the Messiah, was to be born.

You can imagine that wise men from the east looking for a newborn “King of Jews” would pique Herod’s interest. He calls in the teachers of the Torah and asks them where the Messiah was supposed to be born. And they open the scroll of Micah 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 govern my people Israel” (Mt 2:6; cf. Mic 5:2). The wise men have followed the star, and it brought them to the Holy Scriptures

The wise men’s pagan wisdom didn’t lead them to a new king but a paranoid tyrant. They came with their own preconceived expectations and were surprised to see that things were not what they expected. Human thinking can only get you so far. We think that science and technology will be able to solve all our problems. We are confident in our ability to find the answers to whatever problem. “I can fix it!” Not every problem can be solved by human ingenuity. Sometimes, human wisdom leads you down a path of destruction and pain.

God does not want us to search for him through signs and wonders nor trust in our own wisdom or ingenuity. The Bible is God’s Word and is inspired by his Spirit. The Scriptures do not result from human imagination or cleverly devised philosophical opinions. We cannot find the Saviour or the answers to some of life’s most difficult questions on our own, no matter how wise we think we may be. If we try to follow our own ideas, we’re bound to end up thoroughly lost. God wants us to follow his Word. In the pages of the Holy Bible, God has revealed the truth. The truth about Himself, his will for humanity, and his plan to save us. The Bible comes to us from beyond the scope of our own abilities. It comes from God Himself. That is where God has revealed himself to us.

The wise men followed the star to the prophetic Scriptures, which pointed them to Bethlehem. But they had to look it up. How did they respond? They went to where the newborn Messiah was so they could worship him. How did Herod and the religious leaders respond? It is startling that these men who knew of the Messiah’s birthplace did absolutely nothing about it. It is a dangerous thing to know the Word and fail to respond. But we Christians do not need to go to Herod or the wise men of this world. God has given his Church his inspired, inerrant Word. He has arranged things so that His Word would be preserved for you today. But you still are required to respond to it.

II. Follow the Scriptures to the Messiah

So off to Bethlehem, the wise men went. Like some divinely ordained GPS, the star reappeared to point out a little house. Inside the house they found a young virgin mother with her infant son. What they saw was not a mere child but their King and their God. Standing was out of the question. They fell to their knees before the little child. They treated him with the kind of respect and honour you’d give to divine beings. They had come many miles to do what is rightly done only for God himself. They “worshipped him.” They offered him their praise and adoration. They followed the Scriptures, leading them to worship God in the Flesh.

They had also brought gifts, likely the most expensive, portable gifts they could – gold, incense, myrrh. The gifts the wise men brought were appropriate presents to kings and gods. The gifts remind us of who this Child of Bethlehem is and what He will do. Each suggests something important about Jesus. The carol “We Three Kings” helps us out.

“Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain, gold I bring to crown him again, King forever, ceasing never, over us all to reign.” Gold is a gift for royalty. This is King David’s Son, the Ruler of the universe, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. But the gold was not as precious as the faith that presented it. Their faith in the Divine King was “more precious than gold.” 

“Frankincense to offer have I; incense owns a Deity nigh; prayer and praising, voices raising, worshiping God on high.” Incense is a gift for a god. This little Child is God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God. But, the incense was not as valuable as their prayer, which was carried to God’s throne like incense by their newborn mediator.

And then there’s the myrrh, the gift of suffering and death. “Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone-cold tomb.” Myrrh was used to embalm bodies. The wise men followed the Scriptures, which led them to God in the Flesh, born to die. Roman soldiers were the next Gentiles after the wise men to call Jesus’ king of the Jews’ (27:29), but the crown they gave him was made of thorns, and his throne was a cross. At that moment, instead of a bright star, there was an unearthly darkness (27:45). During that darkness, a single Gentile voice said: yes, he was God’s son. Then, the divine king that the wise men worshipped died cruelly. Myrrh would be used to embalm Jesus’ corpse.

All this is for you, to lead you to the bright, perpetual light of eternal life with God! The man born to be king was the man born to die. In those three gifts, we see who he is, what he came to do, and what it cost him. And, like the wise men, we bow in wonder before a God who could love us that much. The true gift given that day was given to wise men. The true gift is God in the Flesh for you. “Glorious now behold him arise; King and God and sacrifice. Alleluia, Alleluia, sounds through the earth and skies.”

The wise men didn’t have GPS. But they did have a star that brought them to Jerusalem and the prophetic Scriptures. Then Holy Scripture sent them to Bethlehem. This evening you are a lot like those wise men from the east. Just like the prophecies and the star led the wise men to the Messiah, the Holy Scriptures do the same for us. The Bible points us to the Christ, our Lord and Savior Jesus. God has guided you this evening to hear God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures point you to God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He is your King, your God, and your Sacrifice. He is here to receive you, forgive you, and send you out as lights into this dark world. And there’s no better gift than that.

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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