The Epiphany of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: Isaiah 60:1-6
In Christ Jesus, who was manifested to the wise men in Bethlehem, and who is manifested to us here through the means of grace, dear fellow redeemed:
On the Festival of Epiphany, we celebrate the coming of the wise men to worship Jesus. As far as we know, these Gentiles were the first non-Jews to see Him. This is why Epiphany is sometimes called the “Gentile Christmas.” Epiphany shows that the Christ came not only for the Jews but for the Gentiles too, because it was the LORD who showed the wise men the star of the Christ-Child. It was He who motivated them to set out on the long journey to Judea.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a sign like that, something to guide our way through life? As we considered a tough decision, God could make one option appear brighter than the others. He could give us a glimpse of our future, so we would know what to focus on and prepare for. He could keep us from heading off in the wrong direction.
Though some look for guidance like this in the stars, through mediums and fortune-tellers, or through their own superstitions and inner feelings, the LORD does not promise to enlighten us in these ways. Where He does promise enlightenment is through His holy Word. The star may have gotten the wise men going, but they did not find “the King of the Jews” until they heard the words of the Old Testament prophet Micah pointing them to Bethlehem (Mat. 2:6).
All the major events of Jesus’ life were predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures long before they took place. The visit of the wise men was no exception. We hear this prophecy about them in today’s text from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah prophesied that nations would come to the light of the LORD. When they came, they would bring abundance and wealth. Their camels would cover the hills. They would bring gold and frankincense and proclaim the praises of the LORD. The wise men were the first in a wave of Gentiles whom the LORD continues to draw to His light today.
He must draw people to His light because they are lost in the darkness of unbelief, sin, and death by nature. If you have been reading the first chapters of Genesis this past week, you reviewed how this darkness came into the world. Adam and Eve ignored the command of God and rebelled against Him. Then their oldest son Cain killed his brother Abel, and the human race descended into greater and greater wickedness. Things became so bleak that God decided to destroy the world in a flood. Everything on earth perished except for Noah, his sons, their wives, and all the animals God had sent into the Ark.
But even after the flood, the world was not without sin. Sin increased again, and we are no better today than any who have gone before us. What Isaiah wrote is true: “darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” The darkness of sin and death is a “thick darkness.” It covers us and surrounds us like a thick cloud, an impenetrable fog that we cannot see through.
This is not how the world sees its situation. Especially at this time of year, people express great optimism about the future. “It’s a new year, a year to right every wrong, a year to achieve unparalleled success!” But many thought that way about 2019 and all the years before that. What happened to the promise of those years? Why are we always so eager to leave the last year behind by the time the new one rolls around?
It is because of the darkness that Isaiah describes. The people of the world think they can see just fine. They think they have all the solutions to the problems that afflict us. But there is no way forward without the light. Without the light, 2020 will be just as dark as 2019 and all the years before that.
The light that we need, the light that Isaiah prophesies about, is the light of Jesus. Isaiah spoke as if this light was already shining forth in his day, “Arise, shine, for your light has come,” he says. The Christ had not yet been born, but the promise of His coming filled the people’s hearts with hope. If God’s arrival in the flesh was like the sun shining brightly, the Gospel promises found in the Old and New Testaments are like the rays stretching out from the sun (U. V. Koren’s Works, Vol. 1, p. 81).
These rays of light still shine forth in the darkness and have reached our own hearts. These rays come through God’s holy Word. God’s Word shows us the light of Jesus. It draws us out of darkness “into his marvelous light” (1Pe. 2:9). His Word calls us to “Arise!”—“Get up!”—“Look to the light!” We do this by acknowledging our sin and guilt. We repent of the wrong we have done and trust in the forgiveness Jesus won for us. We don’t want to stay in the darkness. We don’t want to lose the light. This, more than anything else, should top our list of New Year’s resolutions.
We want to stay connected to the light of Jesus, because only in this light is there a clear way forward. Only in this light is there hope. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Joh. 8:12). His light brings life. Without His light there is no life. Think of a life here with no light at all. These overcast wintry days are bad enough, but the sun still gives light, and when darkness comes we can flip on a switch and fill our homes with light. But a life with no light at all—no natural or artificial light—would be absolutely terrifying. We would not know where we are or where we might go.
By faith in Jesus, we know exactly where we are headed. We are on our way to heaven, to His kingdom of everlasting light. We are going there because He came to rescue us from the darkness. His coming was like the sun rising above a world that had never seen light. Imagine how bright that would be to eyes used to the darkness. Some might shy away from the light and run further into the shadows. But others would want to find the source of that light. This is what Isaiah describes: “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.”
The coming of the Christ brought people from near and far, including those wise men from the east. His light continues to draw people to Him. And how do they see that light? Through the Word. And how do they hear that Word? Through God’s people. If Jesus is like the sun, His followers are like the moon reflecting the sun’s light.
We want others to see this light in what we do and say. We “shine” as believers when we share the Gospel message of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus. We “shine” when we carry out our tasks and responsibilities diligently and honestly with love for our neighbor. A life lived for worldly glory, for selfish purposes, is a wasted life. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world…. [L]et your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:14,16).
We don’t need to pursue worldly glory, because God gives us a glory that will never pass away. He gives us the glory of being spotless in His sight by faith in Jesus. He gives us the glory of being heirs of His eternal kingdom. He gives us the glory of being seated with Jesus our King in heaven (Eph. 2:6).
What God does for us is far greater than what we can do for Him or for the world. I’m sure the wise men agreed. They laid before Jesus their treasures of “gold and frankincense and myrrh,” but these were trifles compared with the gift of laying eyes on their Savior. This is why the wise men “fell down and worshiped him” (Mat. 2:11). We also present our gifts to God of a life of devotion, prayer, and thanksgiving. But what we receive from Him is far greater than what we give to Him.
Jesus blesses us every time we hear His Word of grace and partake of the Sacraments with faith in His promises. This is where His light comes to us today and how His glory rises upon us here. The wise men saw more than a baby; they saw the Lord of heaven and earth. We also see more than water, bread, wine, and words in the Divine Service. We see Jesus’ bright presence here among us.
We see Him by faith in these humble, visible elements of Word and Sacrament because He has promised to be here. He is here to shine His bright light of forgiveness into hearts and minds troubled by guilt and shame. He is here to uncover the anger and hatred we feel toward another and to relieve us of these burdens. He is here to lighten our spirits with His shining grace and to give us healing and hope in all our difficulties and trials.
“Arise, shine,” says Isaiah, “for your light has come!” You can “arise” and “shine” with confidence each day, knowing that your Savior is here. He came out of love for you. His presence with you means you will have His blessings in the new year just as He has given them to you in the past.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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The Epiphany of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 2:1-12
In Christ Jesus, our Priceless Treasure, who by His suffering and death has unlocked for sinners all the riches of heaven, dear fellow redeemed:
Most Christian children can name the gifts the wise men brought to Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Their gifts are memorable because they are unique. We know what gold is, but what are frankincense and myrrh? They are gummy substances that ooze from trees native to the Arabian Peninsula. They give off a sweet aroma when burnt, much like the incense we might burn in our homes. Myrrh was also used to sweeten wine (Mar. 15:23) and was utilized for burials, like it was when Joseph and Nicodemus laid Jesus to rest (Joh. 19:39-40).
We understand the gift of gold for the “King of the Jews,” but we are not sure why frankincense and myrrh were offered. Perhaps these were rare in the area where the wise men lived. They did in a way foreshadow the work Jesus came to do. Like a priest offering up prayers at the altar of incense, so Jesus would intercede for sinners and offer Himself as a sacrifice to God. And the customary use of myrrh for burial foreshadowed Jesus’ death to save mankind.
These were generous gifts, and they probably caught Mary by surprise as much as these strange visitors did. What a sight to see those foreigners bow down to her little Child and present their treasures! There in a humble home in Bethlehem, they worshiped Him and called Him their King. Their actions revealed the foremost concern of their hearts. Nothing was more important to them than finding this Jewish King.
Their visit also revealed the priorities of King Herod and the people of Jerusalem. Herod is known to history as “Herod the Great.” He was appointed king in Judea by the Roman senate and remained on the throne until his death about 35 years later. He was adept at pacifying his superiors in Rome while also suppressing any threat to his rule in Judea. He is known as “great” because of his ambitious building projects, most notably rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem.
But there were many other things that made him not so great. He married multiple times, discarding one wife for another if he thought he could gain politically. He also had various family members killed—including three of his own sons—when he suspected them of plotting against him. This explains Herod’s reaction when the wise men came looking for the “King of the Jews.” Matthew writes that Herod “was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod would tolerate no potential challenge to his throne. He was the king of the Jews, not some little baby!
Jerusalem was troubled because the full force of Herod’s fury was directed toward solving this problem. He quickly brought together all the chief priests and scribes and wanted to know “where the Christ was to be born.” Notice that Herod referred to the Child by His title of “Christ” or “Messiah.” He was aware of the Old Testament prophesies about this Baby.
So were the religious leaders. They correctly stated that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. But their interest in the matter went no further. After delivering the information to Herod, they went back to their business. None of them could be bothered to investigate further, despite the sudden appearance of these strange men from the east.
And Herod could think of nothing more than protecting his earthy power. He put on a show of humility, telling the wise men that he wanted to worship the Christ-Child too. In reality he wanted to learn where the Baby was, so he could kill Him. We see here how the leaders of the church and state were occupied with the wrong things, just as so many are today. The church leaders knew what the Scriptures said, but they did not believe it. Or they feared what might happen to them if they followed it. And King Herod heard the truth, but all he cared about was himself.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke about how temporary all these worldly pursuits are: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mat. 6:19-21).
In this passage, Jesus does not give the advice the world does. He does not tell you to follow your heart or trust your feelings to lead you to good things. He says the opposite. He says that if you want to know where your heart is, look at what you treasure the most. We know what we should treasure the most. We know we should treasure Jesus and His Word the most. But if that were the case, God’s Law and Gospel would occupy a large part of our thoughts. We would constantly desire to study it and live according to it.
Instead we let other things take the rightful place of God’s Word. Our primary concern may be money and securing a comfortable future. It may be respect and prestige in our work and doing whatever it takes to advance. It may be our appearance and getting others to notice us. It may be our children’s future success by giving them the best opportunities now. There is nothing wrong with money and respect and caring for our bodies and giving opportunities to our children. But these things must not be what we treasure the most.
The devil and our own flesh want us to ignore and despise our greatest treasure. They want our Bibles and devotion books to collect dust on the table or shelf. They want us to believe that there is no room in our busy schedules for regular church attendance. And when we are in church, they want us to be distracted by thinking about our plans for the rest of the day. In other words, the devil and our sinful flesh want us to starve while a feast is on the table in front of us. They want us to throw away the treasure box and the key that opens it.
But we could not hope for greater treasure than what we have in the divine service. We have God’s Word and Sacraments, through which we receive His heavenly riches. The world and our sinful flesh cannot understand this, just as they have no appreciation for the events of Epiphany. If any unbeliever looked at a picture of the wise men visiting the Child Jesus, they would say that the greatest treasure in the room was the gold. And they would think it strange to see grown men bow down before a Baby. What is so special about a Baby?
In the same way, if an unbeliever visited our church, they might think that the greatest treasure is the building with its ornate altar and other decorative features. Or they might see potential in the offerings given by the members. But they would likely be unimpressed by our liturgy, hymns, and sermon, and the strange practice of going to the Communion rail and eating bread from the pastor’s hand.
But our greatest treasure is located in those humble means. The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Co. 1:18). The Word of the Gospel is a powerful Word. It is a Word that gives what it declares. To the weak it gives strength. To the grieving it gives comfort. To the dying it gives life. The Word gives all these things because Jesus comes through the Word, and Jesus is our strength, comfort, and life.
Paul expressed in another place his prayer for the Christians in Colossae and Laodicea, “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2-3). Paul says that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”—all of these are found in Christ. In Him, we have forgiveness for all our sins and eternal life.
The way you lay up these treasures for yourself is to gladly hear and learn the Gospel and to hunger and thirst for the saving body and blood of Jesus in His Supper. It may be difficult for you to grasp why God is so good to you and so willing to give you His gifts. How could He be that eager to come to one who is often distracted by the things of the world? How could He make you such a priority, when He and His Word are not always at the top of your list?
God’s love for you and me is impossible to comprehend. His love is the reason that God became Man and was born in Bethlehem. His love is the reason the Christ Child was revealed to the wise men through a special star in the sky. His love is the reason Jesus offered His life for yours to save you from your sin and death. In one of his hymns, Paul Gerhardt wrote about the great riches we have through the shedding of Jesus’ blood:
Enlarge, O thou, my heart, thy shrine,
To hold this treasure given;
Far greater treasure here is thine
Than earth and sea and heaven.
Away, gold of Arabia,
Away, myrrh, aloes, cassia!
I’ve found a better portion,
My greater treasure, Jesus Christ,
Is this which from Thy wounds most blest
Flowed forth for my salvation. (ELH #331, v. 7)
Jesus—with His perfect righteousness and cleansing blood—Is Our Greatest Treasure. The wise men believed this too. They knew their gifts were not equal to their King. No amount of treasure in the world could be a sufficient offering for the One who made all things. But Jesus does not yearn for these things. What He desires most from us is a humble heart of repentance and trust in His everlasting promises. As Gerhardt wrote in another hymn:
The world may hold
Her wealth and gold;
But thou, my heart, keep Christ as thy true Treasure.
To Him hold fast
Until at last
A crown be thine and honor in full measure. (ELH #161, v. 6)
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(late 1800s mural, “Adoration of the Magi,” is displayed in the basilica in Conception, Missouri)
The First Sunday after Epiphany – Pr. Faugstad homily
Texts: St. Luke 2:21, 22-38, St. Matthew 2:1-12, 13-23, St. Luke 2:41-52
In Christ Jesus, who was focused at every moment of His earthly life on winning your salvation, dear fellow redeemed:
The texts you have heard today are all we know about the life of Jesus from when He was eight days old until He traveled with Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem when He was twelve years old. There are three major things we notice about Jesus’ life during this time period:
- Jesus was not exempt from the Law.
- He did not use His divine powers as a Child.
- Though He looked like anyone else His age, He was recognized and worshipped as the Messiah.
1. At eight days old, Jesus was circumcised according to God’s command to Abraham, a command which applied to all of Abraham’s descendants (Gen. 17). Not only was this the first time Jesus shed blood, but His circumcision also bound Him to keep the Law of God delivered to the people through Moses. This meant that God was now required to keep His own Law. Jesus would later explain to the people, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Mt. 5:17-18).
Then at forty days old, Jesus was taken by His parents to the temple in Jerusalem to be presented to the LORD. This was required by God of all firstborn sons dating back to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. At that time, God passed over and spared the firstborn sons of the Israelites but killed the firstborn sons of the Egyptians. From that point on, every Israelite firstborn was “consecrated” or “called holy” to the LORD (Ex. 13:2).
Jesus did not act above the Law. He subjected Himself to it, and He fulfilled it completely.
2. Besides committing Himself to the Law, Jesus also committed Himself to a State of Humiliation in which He did not make full use of His divine powers. Notice that when His life was threatened by the jealous Herod, Jesus did not create a force field around the house to keep the soldiers from entering. Nor did He whisk His family away to Egypt by miraculous means. An angel told Joseph to get Mary and Jesus to safety. The Son of God relied on a humble craftsman to save Him from the king’s rage.
In our texts for today, Jesus would have been doing what normal babies do. He cooed and giggled. He cried when He was hungry or needed His diaper changed. And as He grew, He stumbled about on toddler legs. He played with other children. He studied and learned from parents and teachers. We might think that because Jesus is God, He never would have lost a race, using super speed to leave everyone behind. Or maybe the other kids resented Him because He answered every question before the teacher could even finish asking it. But those things did not happen. He did not use His divine powers to show off. He “manifested His glory” with miracles and signs only when the time had come to reveal Himself as the Christ at the start of His public ministry (Jn. 2:11).
Until then, Jesus lived an ordinary, humble life, but with the unique distinction of never sinning. All the way through His youth, His teenaged years, His twenties, and into His thirties, Jesus did not sin in His actions, words, or thoughts. The devil certainly tempted Him to sin all along the way, but He remained holy. The author to the Hebrews writes, “in every respect [He] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). The evangelist Luke sums up the righteous childhood of Jesus by declaring, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Lk. 2:52).
3. Even though Jesus did not look different than other children His age, He was recognized as the Messiah, the Savior of the nations. This started even when Jesus was in Mary’s womb. Elizabeth said to Mary, “[W]hy is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk. 1:43). Then the shepherds worshipped Jesus the night of His birth, while He rested in the poor bed of a manger.
Later on, Simeon recognized the One carried into the temple by Joseph and Mary as the coming Messiah. He worshipped this Baby as the salvation of the Jews and the Gentiles. Then aged Anna came over and worshipped the Child also. After this, Joseph and Mary returned to Bethlehem for some time, having found a house to live in. There, Jesus was visited by the wise men from the East who also fell down to worship Him and gave Him gifts.
At face value, this all seems very odd. How could these people worship a baby Boy who showed no obvious signs of being the Son of God? The Apostle Paul explains, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1Cor. 2:14). Those who worshipped Jesus were not convinced by what they saw; they were led to believe in and confess Jesus as Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convinced them that what was prophesied in the Scriptures about the coming Messiah had now been fulfilled.
But why did this all happen? Why did Jesus put Himself under the Law? Why did He refrain from full use of His powers? Why did He come in such humility?
Jesus did not gain anything for Himself by keeping the Law. He could not become more righteous than He already was. He kept the Law for you and me and all sinners. He needed to do this because no human being has lived a spotless life. Every one of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). In love, “God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). God now regards you as His sons, holy and righteous, because you do not trust in your own efforts and goodness, but totally in the perfect work of Jesus.
Jesus did not make full use of His divine powers, because He came to suffer for you. He came to be chased away from His homeland by a wicked king, to be accused of crimes He never committed, to be beaten by Jews and Gentiles alike, and to be executed by crucifixion. The Son of God “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7-8).
His perfect life and atoning death were offered up to God as the sacrifice for you. Jesus came in such a lowly way to save you. He came to redeem you from the sins of your youth, from the terrors and fears you have endured at the hands of others, from all the terrible trials and difficulties you experience in this imperfect world. As Simeon confessed, He came to be your peace, your salvation, your light, and your glory. Every aspect of His holy life from His conception onward was dedicated to purifying your sinful life, so that you would finally be freed from sword and sorrow and would join Him, not in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Egypt, or Nazareth, but in heaven above.
And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child, so dear and gentle,
Is our Lord in heav’n above;
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.
(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #139, v. 4)
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from the 1631 Rembrandt painting, Simeon in the Temple)
The Transfiguration of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 17:1-9
In Christ Jesus, who shines with brilliant glory that we now know by faith and will behold with our own eyes in heaven, dear fellow redeemed:
We are part of a culture that lives very much in the moment. The big news story that seems so significant today is hardly remembered a couple days later. Last month is considered ancient news, let alone last year. And while we are busy with all the details of the present, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture.
This was true of the Apostle Peter, though we can hardly blame him for it. He recognized how special it was to have a transfigured Jesus before them talking with two of the Old Testament giants, Moses and Elijah. Who can blame him for wanting to capture this moment, to stretch it out a bit longer? He could quickly put up tents, he said, and then this powerful meeting of the minds could continue.
But there was something bigger happening on that mountaintop. The three disciples were not allowed to witness it so that Jesus could impress them with His famous friends. Rather these things happened to impress on the disciples that Jesus was who He claimed to be. This is what the season of Epiphany is about. “Epiphany” means a “manifestation,” a “revealing.” In the Sundays of this season, we have seen Jesus revealed as not merely a Man but as the eternal Son of God. He was worshipped as God by the wise men from the east, He turned water into wine, He healed a leprous man and a centurion’s servant, and He stopped a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee with a simple command.
And now today, we have the account of Jesus’ transfiguration. This time, the Lord’s glory was not revealed by someone being helped or healed. This time, His physical appearance was altered; “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light.” For a moment, Jesus’ divine nature was not concealed but was allowed to shine forth. It was only a glimpse, because His work of redemption was not complete. But it hinted at the glory to come, a glory foretold of the Messiah and of those who believe in Him.
The coming of the Messiah was clearly prophesied throughout the Old Testament. Jesus Himself said this when talking with the Jewish leaders: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (Jn. 5:39). When Jesus refers here to the Scriptures, He was talking only about the Old Testament Scriptures. The New Testament had obviously not been recorded yet.
Moses was one of the Old Testament figures who prophesied about the coming of Jesus. He told the people of Israel what the LORD told him, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (Deut. 18:15). This tells us that the Prophet would be an Israelite man. But He would be at the same time God. It is no coincidence that we should find Moses with Jesus at His transfiguration. His presence there is an obvious message that the One he referred to so long before had now come, the One he said they should listen to. The voice of God the Father made this connection even more obvious when He said, “This is My beloved Son… listen to Him.”
The presence of Elijah was also significant. Elijah is one of the major Old Testament prophets. He declared God’s Word at a time when many Israelites had rejected the truth, and their leaders actively promoted the worship of false gods. It was so bad that Elijah thought he was the only believer left (1Ki. 19:10). Elijah was so embittered by all of this that he begged God to take his life. But God had preserved a remnant of 7000 believers in Israel, and instead of ending Elijah’s life, He ultimately brought him directly to heaven in a chariot of fire.
Hundreds of years after Elijah’s departure, the prophet Malachi spoke these words of the LORD, “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” (Mal. 4:4-5). These are among the last words recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures. God’s people were reminded to listen to what Moses said and to look for the coming of Elijah. Jesus referred to John the Baptizer as Elijah (Mt. 11:14), not that they were the same person (Jn. 1:21), but that they carried out the same work of declaring the Messiah. And then Elijah himself did return to the mountain of Jesus’ transfiguration, speaking with Him about “his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Lk. 9:31).
So what we see here on the mountain is Moses who recorded the Old Testament Law, and Elijah who represents the Old Testament Prophets. But the focus is not on them, as important as they are to Israelite church history. They are focused on Jesus, talking about the significance of His work.
I mentioned before how easy it is for us to lose sight of the big picture. This can be as true of our study of the Bible as with anything else. If we look at the Bible primarily as a book of rules, and think that God will be happy with us when we try our best to keep them, then we have misread His Word. If we let people scare us away from the Scriptures when they ask why we don’t follow all the Old Testament regulations for worship and society, then we show we do not understand the meaning of Christ’s coming. And it certainly is not wrong to know the finer details of Old Testament accounts like Joseph becoming Pharaoh’s right hand man, the battle of David and Goliath, and Daniel in the lions’ den. But if we do not give any thought to what these accounts have to do with Jesus, then we have failed to see the forest for the trees.
Every book of the Bible, every chapter, every verse, points somehow to Jesus the Messiah. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mt. 5:17). Then after His resurrection, He told His disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Lk. 24:44). Jesus is the incarnate Word, the fulfillment of the Scriptures. The central teaching of the entire Bible is that Jesus is our righteousness and life. He fulfilled God’s Law for us, and redeemed us from everlasting death by His blood. This Gospel message shines from the pages of both the Old and New Testaments. God wants you to know that He is not angry with you for your sins. The righteous wrath of God was poured out on His only Son in your place.
But this Word of grace does not always seem powerful to us. If it is so great, why doesn’t it take away my nagging guilt? Why doesn’t it make me feel happier to know that Jesus saved me? And what good does this message do me when I’m not getting along with someone or can’t pay the bills or feel the pain getting worse? In a similar way, Peter, James, and John might have wondered why Jesus didn’t show His bright glory to everybody. It would answer a lot of questions that they had about Jesus. It would show clearly who He was. But Jesus hid His glory during His state of humiliation. And He hides His glory today in the Word and Sacraments. But a hidden glory is far different than no glory; a hidden power is far different than no power.
We do not visibly see Jesus’ glory in His Word. Our Bibles do not shine like the sun. We do not glow from inside when we eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood. But despite the humble appearance of God’s Word and Sacraments, it is through these means that the almighty Lord of heaven and earth reaches down and touches us. He touches your sinful heart and mind with His forgiveness. He takes away your fear of eternal punishment and death. He picks you up from your sorrows and worry and pain, and covers all your concerns in His grace.
As amazing as it would be to see Jesus in all His glory like the three disciples did, even they encourage us to find His glory in His Word. The Apostle Peter, who was on the mountain with Jesus, wrote in his second epistle that there is something more sure than being an eyewitness of Jesus’ glory. This “something more sure” is “the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2Pe. 1:19). The Lord’s Glory Shines throughout the Scriptures. His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). It is a glory seen by faith and not by sight.
But it is a glory that we will see with our own eyes in due time. In heaven, we will see Jesus in all His brilliant glory, and we will not shrink from the booming voice of God. We will no longer be afraid because we will no longer have sin. We, too, will be glorified and transfigured like Jesus when He returns visibly on the last day. Then we will fully see the big picture. We will know why we had to endure our troubles in this world. And we will see how we were wrapped up in God’s grace all along the way, while He prepared us to share in His glory.
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The Epiphany of Our Lord – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Matthew 2:1-12
In Christ Jesus, to whom we are led not by a star in the sky, but by the light of His holy Word, dear fellow redeemed:
The King Herod in today’s text is known to history as “Herod the Great.” He is called “great” because of his ambitious building projects in the land of Judah, including his rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. His so-called “greatness” had nothing to do with a noble character or benevolent demeanor. Herod was in fact quite jealous for his power and position and would stop at nothing to retain it. He entered into marriages for political gain and had one of his wives and two of his sons killed when he thought they might be a threat to his throne.
Imagine when word came to Herod that strange men from the East were asking where the newborn “King of the Jews” was. What newborn King of the Jews? Herod must have thought, “I am the king of the Jews. Who would dare challenge me!” It is no wonder that Herod should be described as “troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” The people knew what Herod was capable of, and that this news would not sit well with him. He immediately inquired where this “Christ,” this “Anointed One,” would be born. He told the wise men that they should return with directions to this Child, so that he too “may come and worship Him.”
Of course Herod had no intention of worshipping the Christ. He wanted to kill Him. After God warned the wise men not to go back to Jerusalem, Herod realized his intentions had become known to them. He “became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” (Mt. 2:16). He wanted the kingdom, power, and glory to be all his, and he was willing to murder innocent children to have it. But Herod was not the true King of the Jews. And whatever power and glory he had slipped from his fingers when he died not long after.
As unlikely as it seemed, the little Child in Bethlehem was the true King. He was the One the wise men from the East were searching for. They fell down before Him and worshipped Him. They produced treasures brought with them on the long journey, gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they would have been the first to say that they had received from the Lord far more than they gave Him. Who was it that put the star in the sky for them to follow? Who was it that gave them the wisdom to understand what they were seeing? Who was it that taught them the significance of this King, that He was One to be not just honored but worshipped? Did they come to this knowledge on their own? Did their reason figure it all out?
We do not know how they understood their role in this chain of events. They were intelligent, talented men. People with these abilities often struggle with pride. Even those of us who are not so gifted do. Each member of the human race shares this sinful quality. We think that the successes we have achieved, the good we have done, the things we can comprehend, are due to our own hard work and impressive abilities. Never mind that “God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them.” Never mind that He graciously gives me “all that I need to support this body and life” (Explanation to First Article). Our sinful nature holds that if I have anything good or will get anything good in the future, it is because of my work, my doing, my effort.
This wrong thinking even works its way into spiritual matters. There are many Christians who speak as if it is a privilege for God to have them for His children. I recently heard one such Christian crassly describe a man’s conversion in this way, “he decided to let Jesus be his Savior.” Well isn’t Jesus lucky? A man dead in his sins and an enemy of God by nature, is going to give Jesus the honor of being his savior! If that is truly the way people see the situation, one wonders why they think they need a savior in the first place. If they are already capable of determining whether or not Jesus will be their Savior, doesn’t that essentially make them god?
There is a beautiful Christmas song you may have heard called “In the Bleak Midwinter.” The final stanza says, “What can I give Him, / Poor as I am? / If I were a shepherd, / I would bring a lamb; / If I were a wise man, / I would do my part; / Yet what I can I give Him— / Give my heart.” And those last three words are the most-emphasized, the climax of the song, as if the human heart is a great gift for Jesus. Now it is certainly true that God wants your whole heart. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). But we should be clear about the condition of our hearts by nature. The prophet Jeremiah writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (17:9). And Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Mt. 15:19).
The key for our salvation is recognizing that we cannot offer the Lord anything good on our own, and that He gives us everything. He did not fall away from us; we fell away from Him. And the fall was complete. We fell with our first parents headlong into sin and death. But God still loved sinners—all of them. Jesus says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). God the Father gave the greatest gift He could have. He sent His only-begotten Son to take the place of sinners under His perfect law, and to take their place as the object of His righteous wrath.
Without the work of Jesus, there is no reconciliation with God. Try as hard as we might, you and I cannot accomplish it. No effort is good enough. We did the law-breaking; Jesus does the saving. The Jewish religious leaders quoted from the prophet Micah in answer to King Herod’s question about the Christ. They said that “from [Bethlehem] shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.” Micah had more to say about this Shepherd King. He prophesied that His “coming forth is from of old, from ancient days,” and that “he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace” (Mic. 5:2,4-5).
Herod sought to secure his kingdom and power by violent force and a climate of fear. Jesus brought peace, peace with God obtained through His innocent suffering and death. Because of His humble sacrifice, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
In the Lord’s Prayer, we say in reference to God the Father, “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.” This kingdom, power, and glory of God have been given over to His Son (Mt. 28:18). The Son of God had this authority from eternity, but He now has it not only as God, but also as Man. Who can imagine it? Our own flesh and blood rules over all things, not just over a country, not just a continent, or even the world. He rules over everything in heaven and on earth.
What is more stunning is what Jesus chooses to do with His kingdom, power, and glory: He chooses to give it to you. But how can you know it is yours? You can know it by the means God uses to distribute His gifts. God gives you His grace, His forgiveness, salvation from sin, death, and the devil, eternal life in heaven, each time you hear the Gospel, the good news of Jesus. He gives you His gifts at the baptismal font where He washed away your sins; from the pulpit where He declares you righteous in God’s sight; and at the Communion rail where He gives His own body and blood for you to eat and drink. These are the times and places that He opens wide the storehouse of His treasures. The world despises these gifts of God, but they are priceless. Their value cannot be truly measured (ELH 331, v. 7).
What could you ever offer to God in thanks for His gifts? Well nothing that could ever equal them. The wise men recognized this too as they bowed in submission before Jesus. Still they did offer to Him what gifts they had, imperfect though they were, and small in comparison to the mercy and grace of God. It is right for you also to offer the Lord what gifts you can, such as a humble and repentant heart, a life dedicated to His will and work, and a spirit of gratitude and praise. You do not do these things for God so that He will do good things for you. What more could you get than He has already given you?
As Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32). Every good thing that God has, everything that Jesus obtained for you through His sinless life, His death, and His resurrection, are given to you. The Kingdom, Power, and Glory Are Yours by faith in Jesus. What a gracious God! What wonderful gifts!
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