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“How Will You Be Guided to the Savior?”
Matthew 2:1-12


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
The Epiphany of Our Lord (Transferred from January 6)—January 4, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Time magazine recently had an article about unusual religious phenomena in our nation.  In one church a statue of Jesus supposedly closed its eyes during a service, and in another church a statue of the Virgin Mary supposedly shed tears.

Ebay regularly has for sale items supposedly bearing a resemblance to Jesus, including many food items such as donuts, potato chips, tortillas, and pretzels, some of which have sold for over $10,000.  A donut shop in Nashville was mobbed when a danish came out looking like Mother Theresa.  In perhaps the most bizarre example, a restaurant chain had to take down billboards advertising their spaghetti because motorists were having accidents while straining to see the face of Jesus reportedly visible in the spaghetti noodles.

Today we are celebrating, two days early, the festival of Epiphany, when the Wise Men came from afar to worship the infant Jesus.  The word “epiphany” means to “reveal” or “make known.”  In the Epiphany story we see an unusual religious phenomenon when the birth of Jesus is revealed and made know to the Wise Men by a miraculous star.

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Wise Men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him.’”

The Wise Men were really the scientists of their day; the most learned and educated men—and expert astronomers—probably from the area of modern day Iran or Iraq.  Through Daniel and the other Hebrew exiles who had been taken to captivity in Babylon 500 years earlier, the Wise Men of the east learned of the great Messiah that was to be born among the Hebrew people.  So, when they see this miraculous star in the heavens, the Wise Men realize that it is a sign that the Messiah has come.

“When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  So they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’  Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.’”

The Wise Men journey first to Jerusalem, naturally expecting to find the newborn King of the Jews in the capitol city. But, King Herod feels threatened by this potential rival to his throne.  When he learns from his advisors that Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, he sends the Wise Men on their way and plots to eliminate this newborn King.

“When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the east went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.  And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.”

There are many different theories put forth to explain the star of Bethlehem.  Some propose it was an unusual astronomical conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter, a rare occurrence which would make the two planets appear like one bright star.  Others suggest the star of Bethlehem was a comet.  But, the Bible seems to indicate that the star of Bethlehem was not some natural phenomenon, but a unique, miraculous sign.

The question is, “How Will You Be Guided to the Savior?”  The Wise Men were guided by a miraculous sign; should WE expect to be guided to the Savior by modern day miraculous sings, such as visions of Jesus in a donut or a plate of spaghetti?

The Gospels report, “The Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus.  To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.”  They didn’t believe his Word, his testimony about himself.  They want some tangible proof that he really is the Messiah he claims to be.  But Jesus replied, “A wicked and evil generation demands a sign.”  What an interesting insight: Jesus says we are obsessed with these supposed signs not because we believe, but because we do not believe.  It is a sign that we are wicked and evil.  For, like the Pharisees, we need something more that our Lord’s own testimony, his Word.  Some miraculous sign—and then maybe we’ll believe.

IF one of us claimed to see the face of Jesus, perhaps somewhere in the grain of our new sanctuary’s wood ceiling, what do you think would happen?  We’d first be on the local stations and then probably make the national news.  Our church would be flooded with visitors from all across the country, flocking here to see this phenomenon.  And wouldn’t you, too, want to take a peek?

But, what is going on in this sanctuary right now, what transpires here every Sunday, is far more miraculous than any vision or other unusual religious phenomenon.  The miracle of God speaking to us through his Word; the miracle of God washing away sins in Holy Baptism; the miracle of you receiving Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion. 

THAT is how you will be guided to the Savior.  The Word and Sacraments.  Compared to a sensational vision that makes the national news, the Word and Sacraments seem pretty ordinary and routine.  But, the Word and Sacraments are the TRUE miracles. 

The Bible is not just another book; it is the miraculous Word of God, his personal message for you.  As the John writes at the end of his Gospel, “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  The Word of God: THAT is the miraculous sign that will guide you to the Savior.

Holy Baptism is not just a ordinary washing; it is a miraculous sacrament.  As Paul says in Acts, “Baptized and wash away your sins.”  And in Titus, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”  Holy Baptism: THAT is the miraculous sign that will guide you to the Savior.

Holy Communion is not just a routine eating and drinking; it also is a sacrament, a miraculous meal.  “Take, eat,” Jesus says, “This is my body . . . Take, drink, this is my blood.”  As Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?  The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”   Holy Communion: THAT is the miraculous sign that will guide you to the Savior.

All of these signs point you to the same Good News: God’s Son came down from earth and was made man for us and our salvation.  By his birth, life, death and resurrection, your sins are all paid for and forgiven.  The message the angels proclaimed the night of Jesus birth is God’s Good News for YOU: “For unto you is born . . . a Savior . . .  glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” That is how God feels toward you: peace, goodwill.  For, God’s Son is your Savior, and on account of him you are at peace with God.  That is the Good News that God proclaims to you through the Word and Sacraments.  

But, what about the statues that supposedly cry, or visions of Jesus in a potato chip, or on a billboard in a forkful of spaghetti?  What should our attitude be toward unusual religious phenomena such as these? 

The most important thing to remember is that you don’t base your doctrine or your faith, or your assurance of salvation and God’s love for you, on dreams and visions and other unusual religious phenomena.  You base your doctrine and faith and assurance of salvation and God’s love ONLY on the Word of God, and any dreams or visions or other unusual religious phenomena must not disagree with or lead you away from what God says in his Word.

God may possibly use extraordinary means, as he did when he led the Wise Men by a star.  But, the ORDINARY means by which God guides you to the Savior is the Word and Sacraments.

Martin Luther once saw a vision of the crucified Christ on the wall of his bedroom.  His reaction was to turn his back and cry out, “Get thee behind me, Satan!”  That reaction may seem a little odd, until you remember theses words of Jesus: “If anyone says to you, ‘Look, there is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. . .  If anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.”

The Wise Men were guided to the Savior by a miraculous sign from heaven—the star of Bethlehem.  How will you be guided to the Savior?   God has sent you the miraculous testimony of his Word and the miraculous signs of his Sacraments to guide you to Jesus.

Amen.

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