Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Epiphany of Our Lord, 2013. Matthew 2:1-12.
The Star of Bethlehem




The Epiphany of Our Lord

Pastor Gregory L. Jackson


Bethany Lutheran Church, 10 AM Central Time


The Hymn # 134     Songs of Thankfulness            4.9
The Confession of Sins
The Absolution
The Introit p. 16
The Gloria Patri
The Kyrie p. 17
The Gloria in Excelsis
The Salutation and Collect p. 19
The Epistle and Gradual       
The Gospel              
Glory be to Thee, O Lord!
Praise be to Thee, O Christ!
The Nicene Creed p. 22
The Sermon Hymn # 131             The Star Proclaims            4:89

The Star of Bethlehem

The Hymn #138   Light of Gentile Nations                       4.49
The Preface p. 24
The Sanctus p. 26
The Lord's Prayer p. 27
The Words of Institution
The Agnus Dei p. 28
The Nunc Dimittis p. 29
The Benediction p. 31
The Hymn #657            Beautiful Savior                    4:24




KJV Isaiah 60:1 Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. 2 For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. 3 And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. 4 Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. 5 Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee. 6 The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD.

KJV Matthew 2:1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. 9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

EPIPHANY – Viet Dietrich Collect
Lord God, heavenly Father, who hast given us the light of Thy holy word, the guiding star, which leadeth us to the Christ-child: Send, we beseech Thee, Thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, that we may receive this light and make use of it unto our salvation, and that we, like the wise men, when they were seeking the star, may not be afraid because of any hardship or peril, but put all our trust in Thine only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, as our only Savior; devote our earthly possessions to the advancement of Thy kingdom, and in all things serve Him, Thine only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one true God, world without end. Amen.


The Star of Bethlehem


KJV Matthew 2:1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.



Lenski:
Here, as in 1:25, the birth of Jesus is mentioned only in a minor clause, intimating that it is not Matthew’s intention to furnish only history. He selects the historical events for a pragmatic purpose, so that each in its place and all combined may convey what lies back of the events themselves. Matthew thus reminds us of John, although each proceeds in his own way. The place and the time of the birth are not afterthoughts but pertain directly to the account now in hand. The readers will understand what follows when they are told that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, close to Jerusalem, and “of Judea” is added, not to distinguish this Bethlehem from another in Galilee, but to draw attention to the fact that Jesus, a descendant of Judah, was born in this country that was at one time allotted to the tribe of Judah; and also to bring this country into contrast with Egypt and then with Galilee, to which Joseph finally retired, again living in Nazareth. Herod the Great still ruled the land, bearing the royal title of king, which had been granted him by the Romans. His introduction into the account is not intended to date the birth of Jesus but to prepare for the action, which follows. Luke records the date of the birth more exactly.
The surprising event now to be recorded is introduced by the interjection “lo.” The surprise is so great that the critics find the account concerning the magi incredible and reduce it to legend and myth. They indicate this when they translate Magi “magicians,” which to modern readers suggests charlatans.
Lenski, R. C. H.: The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel. Minneapolis, MN. : Augsburg Publishing House, 1961, S. 57.


The Star of Bethlehem was dismissed as mythology for a long time, and that attitude prevailed, often affecting Christian leaders who felt uncomfortable with the miraculous. The impact of rationalism is so profound that someone can talk all about Christian topics without allowing for God’s intervention and action, apart from what people call “nature.”

Notice that opinions vary widely about the Star.

Lenski:
Nothing definite has been determined beyond what Matthew reports the magi themselves as saying. We must note what is said in v. 9, 10. It ought to be plain that this was not a star such as others that our astronomers observe and study. It appeared and then vanished; finally it reappeared, moved on before the magi, and then stood above where the child was in Bethlehem. No star such as we note in the distant skies could behave in this manner. What these magi saw was a startling phenomenon, shining brightly like a star but so low in the heavens that it could stand above a house and indicate it in distinction from other houses. How high it stood when first seen, and how low it sank when it guided the magi to Joseph’s home is not stated. No wonder astronomers have been puzzled. This star is a miraculous phenomenon, vouchsafed to these magi by God in order to lead them to Jesus. First its mission is to start them on their journey; next its mission is to guide them to the very house where Jesus was to be found.
These men read the purpose of the star aright. How they connected it with the Messiah we shall never know.
Lenski, R. C. H.: The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel. Minneapolis, MN. : Augsburg Publishing House, 1961, S. 60


The astronomer Kepler, long ago, showed that the Star of Bethlehem really existed. Although he was a pioneering scientist, that was dismissed as coming from a “mystic.” The term mystic is used for someone who believes what the Bible reveals.

The building of planetariums meant that scientists could project stars onto a screen and show people what the sky should look like on any given date. That led to many shows about the Star of Bethlehem. There are several candidates for the Star, including a planetary conjunction and a comet. The ancient Chinese recorded “guest stars” – unusual events – in the night sky. They did not distinguish. The record shows that one of these events was the Star of Bethlehem.

When I did some extra research on this, some years ago, I found a site where an astronomer was angry over his fellow scientists grabbing positive attention with their Star of Bethlehem shows at planetariums. He did not deny the event but hated how it was being used. Obviously there was plenty of interest in the topic, because it always drew large crowds whenever it was offered.

Because of light pollution, people no longer think much about the night sky. The stars and the Milky Way are washed out by street and house lights. When people have a chance to see the summer sky, out in the woods, away from the city, they are astonished at what can be seen, how brilliant the stars and planets are.

But that is not even close to what can be seen in a desert sky, with no illumination at night. At the time of Jesus’ birth people depended on the night sky for knowing the right direction to take. They noticed anything different in the sky and they wondered what it meant. They were far more likely to see the divine in everything, especially in the sky above.



behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
Most Nativity scenes contain three wise men, because there were three gifts. The German name for this day is Three Holy Kings. When a cousin failed to respond to the name Epiphany, my wife and I said Drei Heilige Koenigen, the German words used for this day.

Luther argued, based on the value of the gifts, that this was probably an entourage from the East. In fact, one cannot expect nobles to travel without their servants and assistants.

As we can see from the Reformation and later, learned men knew religion and science, often teaching in the areas of theology, math, and astronomy at the same time. Specialization has eliminated that, but it was still happening until about 150 years ago, to some extent.

A learned man in ancient times had to know about the world around him, since majoring in art history or women’s studies was out of the question. The question often focuses on  - what did these men know and how did they find out and arrive to see Jesus?

This is really about God revealing the Savior to the non-Jews, which began at His birth. The foundation of the Gospel was fulfilling all the Old Testament prophecies, but that included Him being a Light to the Gentiles.

This makes it easier to see why the Gospel spread across civilization in one or two generations. God prepared people in many different ways, from the Temple to shepherds, from Jewish rulers to the Gentile rulers.

2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

King of the Jews was a title that had great leverage in that era. Herod was already king, but the throne had passed from the House of David, fulfilling the Genesis Shiloh prophecy. The non-Davidic king had to be on the throne and in control, to fulfill the prediction.  Both parts were true when Jesus was born.

Why would strangers say such a strange thing? According to one lecture, the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn meant to them that Judah was getting a new king. That alone was a brilliant sight in the sky. Venus also joined this conjunction, making it even brighter, impossible to ignore.

No matter how this is dated, having notables from the East, with valuable gifts, arriving like the Duggars, a small army, talking about worshiping a king – that was nothing but trouble for King Herod.

If one prefers a comet for the guest-star, that was another strange and ominous sign in the night sky. Halley’s Comet is still famous. So is Hale-Bopp. Another bright one will soon appear. Comets are especially unusually in a black night sky. We traveled one night and could not ignore it in the sky as we drove – the Hale-Bopp. It grabbed our attention. It was in the newspaper all the time.

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

King Herod, like all rulers, made sure he had the latest intelligence. When he saw people worried and talking among themselves, nodding their heads and glancing at him (as if he were gone), he got the latest scoop on this guest-star and Bethlehem.

Everyone knew the prophecies. At least, those who studied the Word knew, and they were at the top of the pecking order. They were the most literate, but the others went to worship services and knew what the Old Testament said, too. This was a religious kingdom with an upstart king, so this news was unsettling for everyone.

Naturally, most people thought in materials terms about this new king. He would be a great military ruler. Such hopes fueled several rebellions after the resurrection of Christ and led to Jews being banned from Jerusalem altogether – and there was not much left after two wars that they lost.


7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. 9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

At the Chicago Adler Planetarium, my wife and I heard the lecturer say that the planetary conjunction was the best explanation for this behavior of leading the wise men to Bethlehem.

Alternatively, Lenski sees this Star as entirely miraculous and not as a recorded event.

The Kepler/Chinese guest-star explanation does not take away the miraculous element, since the wise men were driven to risk their lives in a long journey, to find this Savior.

Even though King Herod used the Word of God and these wise men to protect his throne, he was unable to eliminate his supposed rival.  As we can see, his interest was not religious, although he pretended to be interested in worshiping the infant king as well. This is a battle of good and evil, showing again that God’s timing will prevail. 

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

Matthew is clearly teaching us that the wise men saw a new manifestation (epiphany is the Greek word) of the Star. Rather than explain exactly how this was so, we should accept that God (a very good manager, after all, as Luther said) carried this off well and left no doubts. The wise men knew exactly where to go.

We are excited when we get to a new destination, especially when it is a long journey. When we moved to Bella Vista, we had already rented the house that we had never seen. There were bad photos of it, and we had hints of how spacious it was. I still recall the sight of the majestic brick front and pillars as we drove into the tiny circle, after three days driving with three dogs. The truck was just behind us.

But this was far more glorious for the wise men. Their journey probably took months, involved many real dangers, and ended up with all their expectations fulfilled when they were led to Bethlehem.

This was not like the stable where Jesus was born. Instead, as Lenski noted, Joseph would have rented a house. The wise men fell down and worshiped the Savior – in a rented house. (Does Paul McCain know this?) They presented rich gifts to Him as a true Monarch.

Lenski:
The great fact must ever be noted that the magi fell down and worshipped this child, born in this little village and not in Jerusalem; living in a [GJ – rented] house and in surroundings of the poorest kind; lying in the arms of a mother who was ranked among the lowliest of the land. And these were men who were often in the presence of the king of Babylon, themselves high, mighty, and wealthy. From the capital and King Herod they had come to this poor house. They treat it as the grandest of palaces and this little child as the most glorious king. How could they do this? Their hearts must have beheld what their eyes did not see.
Lenski, R. C. H.: The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel. Minneapolis, MN. : Augsburg Publishing House, 1961, S. 70.

and worshipped him
They did not worship the Holy Family. They did not worship Mary and the Child. They worshiped Him alone as the Savior and King. There are so many ways people are turned away from true worship and the Gospel, to tickle their imagination and satisfy their need for a new mythology.
, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

They brought no gifts to Mary and Joseph. They presented their gifts to the King. Often the Scriptures solve enormous controversies with one precise Word. We should never overlook those places, because the Holy Spirit is quite sparing with language. It is precise and concise at the same time.

Eternal Life

"For the papalists understand the word 'justify' according to the manner of the Latin composition as meaning 'to make righteous' through a donated or infused quality of inherent righteousness, from which works of righteousness proceed. The Lutherans, however, accept the word 'justify' in the Hebrew manner of speaking; therefore they define justification as the absolution from sins, or the remission of sins, through imputation of the righteousness of Christ, through adoption and inheritance of eternal life, and that only for the sake of Christ, who is apprehended by faith."
            Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent,   St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971, I, p. 467.    

"And, in short, the meritum condigni is the Helen for which the Tridentine chapter concerning the growth of justification contends. For they imagine that the quality, or habit, of love is infused not that we may possess salvation to life eternal through this first grace but that, assisted by that grace, we may be able to merit eternal life for ourselves by our own good works. For concerning the meritum condigni Gabriel speaks thus: 'The soul shaped by grace worthily (de condigno) merits eternal life.'" [Kramer note - Scholastics taught that the good works of the unregenerate had only meritum congrui; the good works of the regenerate rewarded as meritum condigni, merit worthy with being rewarded with eternal life.]
            Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent,   1971, I, p. 541.  

"How is a person justified before God? This occurs solely by faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ; that is, freely, not because of any works or merits of one's own but only because of the one Mediator, Jesus Christ, who became the sacrificial victim and propitiation on our behalf. By this sacrifice, man obtained forgiveness of sins and became righteous; that is, God-pleasing and acceptable. His righteousness was imputed to man for Christ's sake, and man becomes an heir of eternal life when he believes with certainty that God gives him these blessings for the sake of His Son."
            David Chytraeus, A Summary of the Christian Faith, (1568), trans., Richard Dinda, Decatur: Repristination Press, 1994. p. 105.     

"Christian righteousness is the forgiveness of sin, the imputation of the righteousness of Christ and acceptance to eternal life. It is free, not the result of any virtues or works but is given solely because of Christ, the Mediator, and apprehended by faith alone."
David Chytraeus, A Summary of the Christian Faith, (1568),  1994. p. 106.         

"Scripture therefore uses these words, 'We are justified by faith,' to teach both: 1) What the reason (or merit) for justification is, or what the blessings of Christ are; to wit, that through and for the sake of Christ alone we are granted forgiveness of sins, righteousness and eternal life; and 2. How these should be applied or transferred to us; namely, by embracing the promise and relying on Christ by faith alone."
            David Chytraeus, A Summary of the Christian Faith, (1568),  1994. p. 107.               

"The second argument is that 'God desires all men to be saved' (1 Timothy 2:4), and He gave His Son for us men and created man for eternal life. Likewise: All things exist for man, and he himself exists for God that he may enjoy Him, etc. These points and others like them can be refuted as easily as the first one. For these verses must always be understood as pertaining to the elect only, as the apostle says in 2 Timothy 2:10 'everything for the sake of the elect.' For in an absolute sense Christ did not die for all, because He says: 'This is My blood which is poured out for you' and 'for many'--He does not say: for all--'for the forgiveness of sins.' (Mark 14:24; Matthew 26:28) Martin Luther, Luther's Works, 25 p. 375. 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Timothy 2:4; Mark 14:24; Matthew 26:28       "His gifts and works in His Church must effect inexpressible results, taking souls from the jaws of the devil and translating them into eternal life and glory."
             Sermons of Martin Luther, ed. John Nicolas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VIII, p. 220. 

"In this epistle lesson Paul gives Christians instruction concerning the Christian life on earth, and connects with it the hope of the future and eternal life, in view of which they have been baptized and become Christians. He makes of our earthly life a death--a grave--with the understanding, however, that henceforth the risen man and the newness of life should be found in us."
             Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VIII, p. 141. 

"Therefore, whoever would have a joyful conscience that does not fear sin, death, hell, nor the wrath of God, dare not reject this Mediator, Christ. For He is the fountain that overflows with grace, that gives temporal and eternal life."
             Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols  V, p. 331. 

"Therefore, do not speak to me of love or friendship when anything is to be detracted from the Word or the faith; for we are told that not love but the Word brings eternal life, God's grace, and all heavenly treasures."
            Martin Luther, What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed., Ewald Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959, III, p. 1411f.          

"In all simplicity and without any disputing, children believe that God is gracious and that there is an eternal life. Oh, what a blessing comes to the children who die at this time! Such a death would, of course, cause me extreme sorrow, because a part of my body and the mother's body would die. These natural affections do not cease in the pious, as those who are without feeling and are hardened imagine, for such affections are the work of divine creation. Children live with all sincerity in faith, without the interference of reason, as Ambrose says: There is lack of reason but not of faith."
             What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed., Ewald Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959, I, p. 142.    

"To be converted to God means to believe in Christ, to believe that He is our Mediator and that we have eternal life through Him."
              What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed., Ewald Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959, I, p. 343. Acts 26:20.         

"The Church has no word of its own. Whatever is not taken from Scripture is not the 'Word of the Church,' but what Luther bluntly calls 'prattle.' Also other books can exert a divine power and efficacy, but always only inasmuch as they have absorbed God's Word. Of Scripture Luther says: 'No book teaches anything concerning eternal life except this one alone' (St. Louis edition XIV:434)."
            Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 3 vols., trans. Walter W. F. Albrecht, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950, I, p. 315.      

"But Christ was given for this purpose, namely, that for His sake there might be bestowed on us the remission of sins, and the Holy Ghost to bring forth in us new and eternal life, and eternal righteousness [to manifest Christ in our hearts, as it is written John 16:15: 'He shall take of the things of Mine, and show them unto you.' Likewise, He works also other gifts, love, thanksgiving, charity, patience, etc.]. Wherefore the Law cannot be truly kept unless the Holy Ghost is given."       Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV, Justification, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 159. Romans 3:31; John 16:15.      

"But Christ was given for this purpose, namely, that for His sake there might be bestowed on us the remission of sins, and the Holy Ghost to bring forth in us new and eternal life, and eternal righteousness [to manifest Christ in our hearts, as it is written John 16:15: He shall take of the things of Mine, and show them unto you. Likewise, He works also other gifts, love, thanksgiving, charity, patience, etc.]. Wherefore the Law cannot be truly kept unless the Holy Ghost is received through faith...Then we learn to know how flesh, in security and indifference, does not fear God, and is not fully certain that we are regarded by God, but imagines that men are born and die by chance. Then we experience that we do not believe that God forgives and hears us. But when, on hearing the Gospel and the remission of sins, we are consoled by faith, we receive the Holy Ghost, so that now we are able to think aright."
Augsburg Confession, Article III, #11, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 159.  

"This power {the Keys} is exercised only by teaching or preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, according to their calling, either to many or to individuals. For thereby are granted, not bodily, but eternal things, as eternal righteousness, the Holy Ghost, eternal life. These things cannot come but by the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, as Paul says, Romans 1:16: The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. Therefore, since the power of the Church grants eternal things, and is exercised only by the ministry of the Word, it does not interfere with civil government; no more than the art of singing interferes with civil government."
Augsburg Confession, Article XXVIII, #8, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 85. Romans 1:16    

"This righteousness is offered us by the Holy Ghost through the Gospel and in the Sacraments, and is applied, appropriated, and received through faith, whence believers have reconciliation with God, forgiveness of sins, the grace of God, sonship, and heirship of eternal life." Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration, III 16 Righteousness Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 921. "Also they teach that at the Consummation of the World Christ will appear for judgment, and will raise up all the dead; He will give to the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, but ungodly men and the devils He will condemn to be tormented without end."
Augsburg Confession, Article XVII, Of Christ's Return to Judgment, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 51.


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