Matthew 2:1-12; (John 1:11-13)
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of the blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:11-13
These Magi who come from the east are perfect examples of God’s children, who are born not of the blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. They are not born of the blood. They are not descendants of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. They are foreigners. They have no stake in Israel; no claim to call Abraham their father. They do not descend from God’s People Israel. Yet, as we have learned, not even those born of God’s people Israel are God’s people, unless they have faith! Neither are the offspring of Abraham, Abraham’s children, unless they have faith in the promise.
These Wise Men did not become children of God by the will of the flesh. The sinful flesh is so corrupt that even the high priests and scribes, who are born of the seed of Abraham and have the temple and the scriptures, are not able to make themselves God’s children, but rather reject God. These Magi did not become children of God by the will of a man. Herod did not invite them, nor any other human dignitary. Rather, they were led by a star, which God himself placed in the sky. I don’t know how they knew that this star meant that a king was born in Judah; whether it was from studying the Prophet Isaiah or if God revealed it in a dream. But come they did; to find the King of the Jews and worship him.
They came to Jerusalem, which makes a lot of sense. Jerusalem is the city of the kings of the Jews. David ruled in Jerusalem, as did Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah. Jerusalem is the city of the temple of God, where God himself dwells in the Holy of Holies receiving sacrifices and worship day after day. And Jerusalem is just a couple of miles away from Bethlehem, so if a star is in the sky near Bethlehem and Jerusalem, you’re going to choose Jerusalem to be the birthplace of a king.
Yet, the king is not born in Jerusalem, against all human-reasoning. Yet, when the scribes read from the holy Scriptures, from the book of Micah, that the Christ will be born in the humble village of Bethlehem, the Magi don’t doubt it. They desire to go in search of this king.
This is because the Magi are children of God born of the will of God. You are born of God when you have faith in God’s word. Children of God trust the word of God above their own reason, because the Word of God tells you the very will of God. It was God’s will that his Son be born, not in a splendid palace in a bed of silk surrounded by gold and jewels, but rather in a stall on rough straw, where beasts but lately fed. This is nonsense. A joke! An absurdity and insult to human intelligence. Yet these Magi don’t question it. They hear the words from Scripture and accept them immediately as truth. They have been born of God. They have faith in God. They believe that his Word expresses his perfect will, and they will follow that will, even if it leads them to search for a king in a manger.
This is an important lesson for us to learn today. Are you children of God? Are you born of God? You aren’t born of God through the blood. It doesn’t matter who your father or mother is. You can’t pass faith through the blood stream. And you cannot become a child of God through the will of the flesh. How often do we hear neglectful parents say such foolishness as, “Well, we’re going to just let our little Timmy decide for himself what he wants to believe.” Well, little Timmy is born of the flesh. That which is born of flesh is flesh. He needs to be born of the Spirit! He needs to be baptized and hear the word of God! He needs to hear the Gospel of his Savior Jesus Christ! It is only through hearing the Gospel that one can become God’s child! The flesh cannot do it!
Neither can you become a child of God by the will of a man. It doesn’t matter if you’ve built the church building with your bare hands and have your name engraved in the Communion ware and etched into the stain glass windows. No. You can only become a child of God and remain a child of God through the will of God. And God’s will is revealed to us in his Holy Word. Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. The holy Scriptures are Christ’s words. In them, we have a brighter light than even the Magi saw on that first Epiphany, as St. Peter says, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19) Here St. Peter speaks of the Scriptures, the Bible, which the Holy Spirit himself caused to be written by the hands of men.
So, we should follow the example of our older brothers in the Lord, the Magi, the wisemen and follow the light of Scripture, even if it tells us to find our God in the unlikeliest of places. Scripture told these Magi to leave the king’s palace and search for the king in a humble village, even to go around houses into a backyard, and search for the King of Kings in a stable! Yes, and there they worshipped the eternal Son of the Father between ox and donkey.
And so, we follow the words of Scripture and bow our knees before ordinary bread and wine, and we believe the words of our Lord, “This is my body given for you. This is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” We should know better, shouldn’t we? Bread isn’t a body! Wine isn’t blood! You can’t consume the body and blood of a man without killing him and tearing him asunder! Yet, God invites us to believe that here we eat the living and risen body and drink the flowing blood of Christ, which was nailed to the cross and poured from the veins of Jesus! What utter nonsense! Yet, children born of the will of God believe what God’s word says. We believe this apparent nonsense, if we are to determine that which the human mind cannot comprehend as nonsense. We believe God’s holy will.
And when our faith grasps the reality of what God is saying, we see what a wonderful gift we have on this earth! I’ve mentioned that my family and I went to Washington D. C. this past summer for our vacation. Did you know that we got to take a tour of the White House? We walked through the same rooms where dozens of presidents, including the current head of state, have eaten and lounged. We walked through the very house in which our president lives! Yet, you know, President Trump didn’t come out to see us! He didn’t invite us in for dinner or even offer us a cup of coffee! We didn’t even see him. Rather, ropes kept us out of forbidden rooms.
Yet, here in this ordinary town, in this simple building, we not only get to meet the God of heaven, we get to dine with him! We feast at his table and eat the food that angels cannot taste! To eyes born of blood, which judge things by the will of the flesh and of man, this is a very simple and plane thing. But with eyes born of God according to his will, which trust the words of God, here we recognize what we eat and drink: the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which gives forgiveness of sins and strengthens the faith of all who believe this.
And here we understand a bit better what the Prophet Micah is telling us by prophesying that the king of the Jews will be born in Bethlehem instead of Jerusalem. Jesus comes not to be an earthly king. Otherwise he would be born in the finest room in the palace with marble walls, and sleep in a crib made of silk. Jesus is born in poverty to show that he come to save the poor. He doesn’t come to make you rich. He doesn’t come to make you fat or fit. He comes to save your soul from death, to make atonement for your sins, to forgive you and make you right with God. He doesn’t want you to mistake him for any other earthly prince or ruler. Don’t think he comes to start a war or negotiate with tyrants. He comes to crush the head of Satan and open the gates of heaven for you.
Micah goes on to say that this ruler of Israel, who shall be brought forth in Bethlehem was also brought forth from of old, from ancient days. This king is brought forth twice. Once when he was born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, but even before that, before time began from ancient days. So, these Magi go to Bethlehem, not to find a king, who will give them earthly presents or promise them security as long as the king lives on this earth. No, they go to a king who has an eternal reign; who gives eternal presents; who will profit his subjects much more than any earthly ruler!
And we worship this same king. He rules from heaven! Yet, he still bears his human form. He is our brother and king; revealed to us through the holy Scripture. The little baby, whom those Magi from the east worshipped is the same Christ, who said, “This is my body; This is my blood.” on the night when he was betrayed. He is the same Jesus who was crucified for our sins and rose from the dead. He is the same Jesus who commanded that all nations be baptized and made into his disciples; the same Jesus who reigns in heaven and promises to always be with us in his word and Sacrament.
This Jesus is despised by those born of the flesh. His presence is denied by those of this world. But for us born of the will God, we follow the light of his Word, we find our Savior where he promises to be.
The Magi brought gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Children of God brought earthly gifts to their heavenly king. Sure, you could say God doesn’t need our earthly gifts. He could have caused fish and birds and frogs to cough up gold coins for Joseph to pay their bills. But this is how God chose to provide for Mary and Joseph and the Christ-child and fund their flight to Egypt when Herod sought to kill baby Jesus. Children of God bring their best earthly gifts to their heavenly King. And in this way God has provided for his Church on earth throughout her mission to spread the light of the Gospel in every dark place.
Jesus says that whoever receives the one he sends receives him and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of the least of his brethren will by no means lose his reward. So, those born of God have given their first fruits in an expression of faith in Christ. No, God in heaven doesn’t need your gold or dollars. But Mary and Joseph certainly needed some cash to travel from Bethlehem to Egypt. And congregations need to pay for heating and electric along with the salaries of their pastor, secretary, and organists. God uses us to fund missions in other lands. God uses unrighteous mammon, so valued by earthly kings and rulers, to spread his heavenly kingdom. We have the privilege to present our gifts before the King of the Jews today even as the Magi presented their gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
We don’t know much about the wisemen, except that they weren’t Jews and that they came from a different country in the east. Yet, we do know that they were children of God born of God’s will. That means they are good examples to follow. Let us follow the wisemen and follow the star God has set before us, the holy Scripture, and worship him who was born King of the Jews, whose coming forth is from ancient days.