January 7, 2018
The wise men followed the star until they got to Jerusalem. God caused this celestial phenomenon to lead these Gentiles to the promised King of the Jews. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they thought, certainly this is the place. Jerusalem is the great city of the king, the capital city of Israel, where the Jewish temple, one of the great marvels of the world stands. Jerusalem is God's city, where he dwells. So, certainly the star was leading them to Jerusalem. Yet, when they got to Jerusalem it wasn't clear where in Jerusalem this king would be born, so they had to ask for directions.
Of course, the King of the Jews was not born in Jerusalem, he was born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is a short distance away from Jerusalem, about 6 miles. So, you could see how the wise men got confused following a shining star. It appeared to be leading them to Jerusalem. And that would be the logical place for the King of the Jews to be born, as important of a city as it was. Bethlehem was but a one-horse town of no consequence. But when their logic failed them, the wise men had to ask for directions. Herod asks his chief priests and scribes and they look to Scripture, Micah 5:2, "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient of days." The wise men's logic had to be corrected by Scripture. God promised in his Word that his Christ would be born in the little town of Bethlehem.
The wise men expected that the promised Christ would be born in a palace or a fine house near the temple, clothed in fine linens in a soft bed framed with solid gold and adorned with jewels. But they submitted their thinking to the revelation of Scripture. And when they saw the star before them affirming what the Scripture said, that the Christ was in Bethlehem, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. How strange it must have been for those Gentiles to go off to Bethlehem alone to worship the long-foretold Christ and King of the Jews, while the Jewish priests and scribes stayed behind in Jerusalem. This certainly is stranger than a king being born in poverty to a pair of vagabonds with a manger as his first bed.
But there is a difference between hearing God's Word and believing it. Herod, the chief priests and scribes heard the promise from God's Word that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. But only the wise men believed it. And not only believed it to be true, but believed it to be for their benefit. And so, they left the palace to go and worship the King living in a shed.
Here God humbles the proud and exalts the lowly. He who is from of old, from ancient of days, the great I AM, is born in poverty. You won't find him in a palace or surrounded by important people. No, you must listen to God's Word to find him. And you will find him in the lowliest of places. And God does this, to show that Christ has come to have mercy on us. He humbles himself, so that he can join us in our meekness. It is as we have sung this past Christmas:
Come from on high to me; I cannot rise to Thee.
Cheer my wearied spirit, O pure and holy Child;
Through Thy grace and merit, Blest Jesus, Lord most mild,
Draw me unto Thee! Draw me unto Thee! (Now Sing We, Now Rejoice, LSB 386:2)
So, since we cannot elevate ourselves up to heaven to meet our Lord and King, he comes down to us, all the way down, so that even shepherds and foreigners can come and see him.
Now, we don't have a star to follow to find our King to worship him. So, what shall we follow to find him? We follow the star of Scripture, as St. Peter writes in 2 Peter chapter 1, "And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention to as a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." (vs 19) Scripture, the Bible is God's Word. It is the lamp to our feet and the light to our path. It will light the way to our King, if we will follow it.
About three decades later, Jesus goes to the Jordan to be baptized by John. Here again, Jesus is found in an unexpected and humble way. Our Lord approaches John the Baptist in order to be baptized by him. At first, John refuses. It makes sense that John would refuse. John's Baptism is a Baptism of repentance. People were coming to John to be baptized by him and confessing their sins. Jesus has no sin from which to repent. He cannot confess to any transgression. Jesus is holy and without any sin of his own. John only baptizes sinners sorry for their sins. How could he baptize Jesus? John's refusal makes perfect sense.
Yet, Jesus bids John to submit his infallible reason to the will of God. "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." These are God's Words. God's Words trump John's logic. So, John, like the faithful wise men, lets go of his reasoning and acquiesces to God's Word.
But why would Jesus get Baptized? Why must Jesus enter the sinner's bath? As many of you know, I come from a family of many children. And as you might expect, when we were little my mother would fit quite of few of us in the bathtub at a time to wash us. Yet, it always raised a protest from us five- and six-year-olds when our mother put a non-potty-trained brother into the bath with us. You know what toddlers do in bathtubs. And so, we would promptly get out, lest we get dirtied.
Yet, Jesus willingly enters the filthy waters made putrid by us sinners. Jesus, who has no sins of his own, dirties himself with our sin. Jesus enters the baptismal waters not to wash away his own sins, but to take possession of ours.
Jesus has two births. The first is from eternity when he was begotten from the Father. By this right, he is the eternal Son of God. Jesus' second birth is from the flesh of the Virgin Mary, whereby he becomes our brother in the flesh. We Christians too must have two births. Our first birth is in the flesh, born of our mothers in sin. Yet, our second birth is of the Spirit. This is how we are joined to Christ and receive adoption as sons. Jesus joins himself to the waters of Baptism, so that Baptism might be a spiritual rebirth, where all that we have becomes Christ's and all that is Christ's becomes ours. So, Christ becomes a sinner and we become children of God.
Now many have said and still do, "How can water do this? It's just water!" Well, it would be just water if God had not spoken a word. Yet God spoke. And so, although the rivers of Damascus are much better than the rivers of Israel, by the power of God's Word the Jordan river washed away Naaman's leprosy. And so, since Jesus entered the Baptismal waters, he turned baptism into a washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit descended on him. This was prophesied in Isaiah 42, "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations." Yet, this same Holy Spirit, who descended on Jesus as was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah, also descends on us through the same waters of Baptism, as Isaiah also prophesied in chapter 44, "For I will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams. This one will say, 'I am the LORD's,' and another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, 'The LORD's,' and name himself by the name of Israel." (vss 3-5) And so Jesus calls this baptizing with water being born again of water and the Spirit (John 3:3, 5) And St. Paul writes in Galatians 3, "For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Through Baptism Christ puts his name on us. We become his own. God no longer looks at us according to our first birth according to sinful flesh, but according to our second birth through the Spirit.
In Jesus' Baptism, the Holy Trinity was made manifest. In the water with sinners is the Son of God, as he is pronounced by the voice of the Father in heaven. And the Holy Spirit descends gently in the form of a dove. This assures us that Jesus' Baptism isn't just a show. God is working in these waters. And Jesus assures us that the same Holy Trinity is working in our Baptism, when he declares, "Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit..." (Matthew 28:19). To be baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity means that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are working in your Baptism. To be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is to be baptized in Jesus' name, because Jesus commands us to be baptized in this way. This is why St. Peter says, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38)
Yet, even with Jesus' Baptism and the declaration of God the Father and the Holy Spirit, and with the consistent declaration in Scripture that Baptism washes away sins and gives the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, people still can't get over how plain water can do such great things. It must only be a sign and nothing more! But here, we must join the wise men and John the Baptist in forfeiting our wisdom in exchange for faith, for God delights in using simple means to do great things, as St. Paul writes, "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are," (1 Corinthians 1:27-28)
And so, God chooses the little town of Bethlehem to shame the great kings of Jerusalem. He picks poor shepherds and foreign outcasts to shame the priests and scribes. He chooses the cross where Jesus is nailed, bleeds, and dies, so that he might put to nothing our human pride and sin. And so, we should not be hesitant to accept that God uses simple water to do such a great thing as to give us his Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, and Christ's very name. This water has God's Word and promise. Who are we to argue?
So where will you find the King of the Jews, Jesus Christ today? Not with lofty wisdom in high and mighty places. You will find him in his Word and in his Sacraments. In the humiliating preaching of Christ's crucifixion and death for sinners, you will find your King. And in true repentance you will receive your Savior not through human wisdom, but through humble faith in God's promise. It is through this humble faith that God will exalt you, even as he has exalted the once lowly Jesus, who now lives and reigns at the right hand of God the Father.