Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Light to Find the Savior

Sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord, preached on Sunday, January 6, 2019, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
 
    Ever since our first parents sinned and were banished from the Garden, people have been trying to find their way back to God.  We go looking for Him, and because of our sin, we look for Him where we think He should be, where we want Him to be.  There are countless ways we’ve tried to find and reach God.  Over the centuries, countless religions have popped up claiming to have the right path to God, or to some sort of god they’ve made up.  But none of these are true.  None lead to our Savior.  Only the light of God’s Word can direct us to Him.  He’s only found where He promises to be. 
    Today is Epiphany and we remember the Wise Men, the Magi, who came seeking Jesus, the newborn King.  We don’t know a whole lot about these men.  We don’t know where they came from, only that they came from the east.  We don’t know how many there were.  We say there were three, but that’s only because they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  The only thing we know for certain is that they saw a star and they knew it meant the King of the Jews was born. 
    They knew this because somehow they knew OT prophecy.  Nu 24:17 says: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.  How they came to know and understand this Scripture, we don’t know.  Matthew only tells us that they came looking for the King, to bring Him gifts and to worship Him. 
    The magi went to where they expected a king to be, the palace in Jerusalem.  This where a king should be.  A king should be born in a palace.  He should be in the place where his throne is; a place of grandeur and wealth; a place of power.  This makes sense.  If you and I wanted to see the Queen of England, we’d go to Buckingham Palace, not some small apartment in London.  But the newborn King was to be found in the palace.   
    Like the Wise Men, we search for God, we search for Christ where we expect Him to be, where we want Him to be.  We want Him to be in a place of grandeur and power, and so that’s where we look.  We’ve searched for Him in our culture and material things.  We hope to find peace in these.  If we just follow in the footsteps of the world around us, keeping in-line with its ideologies, claiming all religions are equal and the same, letting everyone do and believe as they want without saying a word, then at least we’ll be okay.  We can go through life without any trouble, without suffering any sort of persecution for our faith.  If we just have the right technologies, the right career, the right home, the right amount of money, then everything will be fine.  We’ll be able to live a pleasant life without any need.  We’ll be happy…and ultimately, that’s where we want God to be. 
    We want God to be in our happiness.  We want Christ to make us feel good, to give us an easy life here on earth.  That’s where we want to find Him, because that’s all we really want. 
    We want a Savior who rescues us from the mundane.  We want a Savior who lifts us up from the low points, the valleys of life and brings us to the mountaintop, who makes us feel good all the time.  We want a Savior who lets us do what makes us happy, even if that happiness comes from sin.  But this isn’t the Savior we need.  This isn’t the Savior that Jesus is.  He isn’t a therapist whose goal is to make us feel good.  He doesn’t save us from unhappiness, He saves us from sin and death. 
    When the Wise Men came to the palace, Herod called in the chief priests and scribes and asked them where the Christ was to be born.  These men searched the Scripture.  The prophet Micah proclaimed the birth place of our Savior: But 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” (Mt 2:6; cf Mic 5:2).  Bethlehem, that small town just a few miles south of Jerusalem, was the place of the King’s birth.  This was an unexpected place to find a king, but it was the promised place. 
The Wise Men left Herod and followed the Scripture and star, and they found Jesus where God promised He would be.  They found Him in a house in Bethlehem with Mary and they worshipped Him, giving Him gifts fit for a king.  
    The Wise Men had to be directed to this unexpected place to find Jesus.  If they were left to their own devices, they’d never have found the Lord.  God had to reveal Him to them.  He had to direct them, by the light of the star, by the light of Scripture.  And this is the same for you and me.
    We’d be lost without the light of Scripture.  Without the Holy Spirit, we’d never find our Savior or believe in Him.  We’d continue to look for Him in all the wrong places.  We’d continue to search for Him in our culture and material things.  We’d continue to look for Him inside ourselves, in our feelings of happiness.  But all of this searching will fail.  It’s only by the light of God’s Word that we know where our Savior is, where He has promised to be.
     He is here, in this place, in His Church, where His Word is spoken by His pastors.  He is here, in this place, in His Church, where ordinary looking water washes away your sins.  He is here, in this place, in His Church, feeding you a foretaste of the feast to come in the bread and wine that are His body and blood.  He is here, in this place, in His Church, giving you the everlasting life He won on the cross.  Christ is exactly where He promises to be.  We don’t have to go searching for Him, for He has come to us, He has come to you, to save you. 
    Christ didn’t come with the grandeur of a king.  He came to you in a lowly manner, born in a humble stable so that He might do what needed to be done to save you, not from unhappiness, but from sin and death.  In an unexpected way, Jesus rescues you from sin and death with His death on the cross.  And the salvation He won for you there, He gives to you here.  It may not look spectacular or kingly as we think, but it is His promise.  Here in this place, your King comes to you. 
    The magi went looking for Jesus where they thought a king should be found, in a palace.  But the Word of God directed them to the right place.  We too look for God, we look for Christ where we think He should be, where we want Him to be.  We want Him to be in grandeur.  We want Him to be in earthly happiness, but we won’t find Him there, because that’s not where He promised to be.  Your King has promised to be where His Word is proclaim and His Sacraments given.  So come here to this place.  Come here and worship Him.  Come here and receive your King.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

3 comments:

Unknown said...

Sermon, “Ever since our first parents sinned and were banished from the Garden, people have been trying to find their way back to God.“
You may have heard of Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism, which begins with the words, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him…”? Also, Romans 5:10, “For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” Can you cite a single place in Scripture, where someone, who was not a child of God, was searching for God, meaning the real God?
On the other, here is what God says, Psalm 14:2-3,
“2The LORD looks down from heaven
upon the sons of men
to see if any understand,
if any seek God.
3All have turned away,
they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.

Therefore, the first sentence of your sermon is not true.
Sermon, “We go looking for Him, and because of our sin, we look for Him where we think He should be, where we want Him to be.“
I kindly as you to exclude me from the “We” in the above sentence, together with anyone who believes and trusts in the Gospel. To complete the Luther quote, “…but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.”
Sermon, “The only thing we know for certain is that they saw a star and they knew it meant the King of the Jews was born.”
If we are not totally ignorant of Scripture, we should know something else that must have been true. The Magi must have received a revelation directly from God (most likely through and angel), that commanded them to undertake this journey. This is how God speaks through the prophet Isaiah, 48:3-8,
“3“I declared the former things long ago
And they went forth from My mouth, and I proclaimed them.
Suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.
4“Because I know that you are obstinate,
And your neck is an iron sinew
And your forehead bronze,
5Therefore I declared them to you long ago,
Before they took place I proclaimed them to you,
So that you would not say, ‘My idol has done them,
And my graven image and my molten image have commanded them.’
6“You have heard; look at all this.
And you, will you not declare it?
I proclaim to you new things from this time,
Even hidden things which you have not known.
7“They are created now and not long ago;
And before today you have not heard them,
So that you will not say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’”
Sermon, “Like the Wise Men, we search for God, we search for Christ where we expect Him to be, where we want Him to be.”
Like the wise men, we did not want to search for Christ. However, He found them by what only could have been a special revelation, and He found us in the waters of Baptism, out of which we rose to life everlasting.
“So come here to this place. Come here and worship Him. Come here and receive your King.”
You actually said this to the people of God sitting in front of you, who came as those in whom God, the Holy Spirit dwells, and who had received their King long ago, whom God had made His dear children and who came to hear the Gospel? You actually said that?
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

OMG Who are you George Marquart???

You said: the first sentence of your sermon is not true. Any reasonable individual understands this to be true and accurate. Without God, people will do just about anything to find at least a replacement for Him, a substitute, because the desire to know the creator remains even in sinful humanity. Augustine's famous quote says that his soul would not rest until it rested in God -- rested from what? From the pursuit of the unknown God and from the manmade religions that sought a god for the true God.

The preacher has it correct. “We go looking for Him, and because of our sin, we look for Him where we think He should be, where we want Him to be.“ Like the Israelites who made a god to better fit their idea of what God should be. That is the desire of the sinful heart which neither you nor anyone still in the flesh is completely free of.

And how does “The only thing we know for certain is that they saw a star and they knew it meant the King of the Jews was born.” prelude If we are not totally ignorant of Scripture, we should know something else that must have been true. The Magi must have received a revelation directly from God (most likely through and angel), that commanded them to undertake this journey. This is how God speaks through the prophet Isaiah???? Or, as is more likely, they actually read the Prophets and knew, by the Spirit working through the Word, to look for the Christ whom God revealed by the light of the star.

Sermon, “Like the Wise Men, we search for God, we search for Christ where we expect Him to be, where we want Him to be.”
Like the wise men, we did not want to search for Christ. However, He found them by what only could have been a special revelation, and He found us in the waters of Baptism, out of which we rose to life everlasting. Like the Wise Men we read the Word, the Spirit works, and we look for Christ where He is and not where reason thinks he is apart from the Spirit working through the Word.

“So come here to this place. Come here and worship Him. Come here and receive your King.”
You actually said this to the people of God sitting in front of you, who came as those in whom God, the Holy Spirit dwells, and who had received their King long ago, whom God had made His dear children and who came to hear the Gospel? You actually said that?

Yes, he did. Come here (where the Word is preached and the Sacraments administered) and worship Him and receive Your King (and his gifts).

I read your comments dissecting and condemning the sermons of my pastors and I am sick and tired of the way you pick things out of the whole thing and then pick on those words as if they were said on their own. If you don't like there sermons, don't read them. If you think that they are so bad, email the pastors and engage them privately. You can get their email addresses from the LCMS.org web site. But you really get on my nerves and the nerves of others in my congregation when you pick a sentence and act like it is terrible.

What I think is that you think because you are baptized and believe you no longer are a sinner, no longer need to hear God's law preached, no longer need a call to repent, and everything is perfect in your world. And if I am even close, you are in worse shape than this sermon.


Unknown said...

Dear Anonymous: Because of my intimate familiarity with the Soviet Union, I normally do not respond to posts without a name. I am making an exception, because your post so clearly demonstrates the lack of understanding of the Gospel that is so prevalent in our church.
Your write, “Any reasonable individual understands this to be true and accurate. Without God, people will do just about anything to find at least a replacement for Him, a substitute, because the desire to know the creator remains even in sinful humanity.”
The Gospel has nothing to do with reason or reasonableness. Its revelation is contrary to reason. I have quoted clear and unequivocal Scripture for my position. Where is yours?
You write, “The preacher has it correct. “We go looking for Him …”
In the world today, as far as our faith is concerned, there are only two kinds of people: Those who are members of the Kingdom of God, and those who are not. I am a member of that Kingdom, because of the promise I and every member of the Kingdom has received in Baptism. I continue to be a sinner, and I know I sin much. However, if “we” includes all people, then there is no difference between those in the Kingdom and those who are not. That is to deny sanctification and the effect that the Holy Spirit has on those in whom He dwells.
You write, “Or, as is more likely, they actually read the Prophets and knew, by the Spirit working through the Word, to look for the Christ whom God revealed by the light of the star.” So why then did they not go directly to Bethlehem, but came to Jerusalem?
You write, “Like the Wise Men we read the Word, the Spirit works, and we look for Christ where He is and not where reason thinks he is apart from the Spirit working through the Word.” You and I agree, and I have not written anything to contradict that. However, I suspect the Wise Men were not as familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures as you think.
You wrote, “Yes, he did. Come here (where the Word is preached and the Sacraments administered) and worship Him and receive Your King (and his gifts).”
If it were not for this last paragraph, I might not have written my critique. Walther clearly demands that pastors differentiate in their sermons between those who are Christians, and those who are not. Not to do so is to confuse Law and Gospel. To invite those who have already come, faithful people of God, as if they are there to “receive their King,” Whom they received in Baptism, violates that fundamental doctrine of our faith.
I will not comment on the rest of your posting, because it is simply a personal accusation, having nothing to do with my argument.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart