The Kingdom, Power, and Glory Are Yours.
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!
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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