Luke 18:35: As He was drawing near Jericho, a certain blind man sat along the way begging. 36 Hearing a crowd passing by, he asked what it meant. 37 They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. 38 He cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who went in front rebuked him, so that he would keep quiet. But he cried out much more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 Jesus stood and commanded him to be brought to Him. When he came near, He asked him, 41 “What do you want Me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, grant that I may receive my sight.” 42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight. Your faith has saved you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Him, glorifying God. When all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.
Our Gospel reading for today is yet another study in parallels – really, in opposites.
Jesus has just finished the portion of his ministry in Galilee – he is headed into Jerusalem, where he knew that he would suffer and die. He knew it, and he told his disciples about it – openly, and plainly. He told them where he was going (Jerusalem); he told them why it was happening (to fulfill what the prophets had written); he told them at whose hands he would suffer (the Gentiles); and he told them exactly what to expect (that he would be scourged and put to death, but rise on the third day). And yet Luke tells us that they did not understand any of this.
Meanwhile, Jesus and his disciples are headed south along the Jordan River. One of the larger towns on the way from Galilee to Jerusalem, just north of the northern tip of the Dead Sea is Jericho, just a little bit west of the Jordan River. Yes, it is the same Jericho from the Book of Joshua, the first city in the promised land taken by Joshua and the people of Israel after crossing the Jordan River, just after the death of Moses. Jericho was a decent-sized city in ancient times, certainly nowhere near the size of Jerusalem, but definitely a hub for that region. It is remarkably out of the way for Jesus in his ministry, in the sense that he did not spend much time around Jericho; he spent most of his earthly ministry in Galilee and Judea.
Alongside the road, which must have been fairly well-traveled, a blind man sat begging. The blind often had to beg to survive, as they would have had a hard time working. No doubt individual travelers and small groups passed by him frequently, but this was different – this time, a large crowd was passing by, and that must have been extremely unusual. Since he could not see for himself, he had to ask what it meant. And someone told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.
So it is remarkable that the blind man knows exactly who Jesus is. And by saying “exactly,” we definitely mean it in the precise theological sense. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he cries. He addresses Jesus not as just “that Jesus guy from Nazareth,” but using the name of promise; the name of hope. “Son of David” was his confession that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the promised Messiah whom God had promised to David, just as he had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and just as he had promised to Adam and Eve just after they sinned and were driven from the garden.
The people in the crowd were not pleased at the scene this man was making. They tried to hush him! They rebuked him for making so much of a racket!
This does not deter the blind man at all. He cries out even louder, continuing to call on Jesus as the Son of David. Jesus stops and commands that the man be brought to him, and asks him what he wants. As a blind man, he wants to see again, and this is what he asks Jesus for – to receive his sight. Jesus tells him he would receive his sight, that his faith had saved him – at which point he received his sight, and began following Jesus. Once the crowd saw this, they too rejoiced and praised God.
What incredible faith and hope this blind man had! He seemed not to have any idea that Jesus was going to pass by him, to come anywhere near his little corner of the world. But he definitely knew who Jesus was. And more than just knowing about Jesus of Nazareth, he knew Who Jesus Was – And Is – and what that meant. He knew that this Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of David, the promised one. We know that he understood what this really meant because when Jesus asked him what he wanted, the blind man asked him for something only the Son of God could give him – his sight back. And then once healed, this blind man did not simply sit down or go his own way, as many of those that Jesus healed did. Remember the ten lepers, nine of whom were never seen again? But this blind man followed Jesus, probably on to Jerusalem.
It is fascinating to me that Jesus speaking openly of his forthcoming suffering, death and resurrection is followed immediately by this incident near Jericho. Such an amazing contrast – those who spent their days and nights with Jesus, heard him teach, who even had seen him perform miracles – did not understand what he meant at the time when he spoke openly about what he must do, what had to happen to pay for the sins of the world. And this blind man, who literally could not have seen anything, who probably had only heard of Jesus and what he had said and done, but probably never in person before this day – he is the one who calls on Jesus as the “Son of David,” David’s Son and David’s Lord, who believes and trusts that this Jesus can restore his sight.
Which of these do we most resemble? This is a very familiar incident for us – I am sure we all know it well by now. We hear of Jesus’ miracles at least every week; many of our Gospel lessons focus on the miracles he did during his public ministry. Do we trust him to take care of us? Or do we spend our time worrying and fretting about what will happen tomorrow, or next week? Do we see Jesus’ words elsewhere in the Gospel of Luke, where he also speaks plainly: Luke 12:27 “Consider how the lilies grow. They neither spin nor weave. Yet I say to you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 If God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?
Do we see these words and not understand them, as the Twelve did not understand Jesus when he spoke of his coming death? Our lack of understanding and theirs come from the same basic source: our sinful natures, which will be at war with God until the day we are freed from our sinful bodies, either by death or by Jesus’ return.
This is the way our sinful natures work – they rebel against God, they do not want to hear what he has to tell us. Our sinful nature wants to go its own way, it wants to do its own thing. It does not want anyone to stop it from having a “good time,” as the world would put it. God tells us that we should love and honor Him above all things, and we know deep down that we should – but the sinful nature tells us it would be more fun not to, and we want to follow our sinful natures.
Paul explains this phenomenon in his letter to the Galatians: Gal 5:16 I say then, walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. These are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
And again, more elaborately, in his letter to the Romans: Rom 7:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing, for the will to do what is right is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good I desire to do, I do not do, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
And yet, we know that there is much more than the sinful nature. Since we have Christ and his Word, we also have the Holy Spirit in us, who works the faith and trust we need to take hold of Christ, and with his help, strive against the sinful nature and its rebellion against God: Gal 4:4 But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born from a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth into our hearts the Spirit of His Son, crying, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a servant, but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
In Scripture, God often speaks, and his words have power and effect. In our Old Testament lesson from last week, God compares his word to water, which gives life: Isa 55:10 For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there but water the earth and make it bring forth and bud that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please.
This begins literally at Creation, where God says, “Let there be light!” and there was. Here, too, Jesus says “Receive your sight,” and that Word is powerful and effective, and restores the man’s sight. In the same way, God’s Word is powerful and effective to convict us of our sins, but also and more emphatically, to declare his mercy to us and proclaim his love to us; to remind us that we need do nothing; the price for our sins has already been paid. When we believe this, God credits it to us as righteousness, as he did to Abraham when Abraham believed God’s promise that all nations on earth would be blessed through him.
Jesus told the blind man that his faith had saved him – the Greek word used here can mean either “healed” or “saved,” and is the technical term that is used for eternal salvation. In a sense, we can see both of these senses here – the man has confessed his saving faith in Jesus as the Son of David, and that led him to trust that Jesus could heal his blindness, which he did.
And so, let us thank our Lord and Savior for his work of salvation. And just as this blind man did, let our thanks lead us to follow Jesus in this world, even if the world would say that road is not the smartest path, or the most popular path, or the one that will lead to only earthly delights. For we know, as the blind man did, that a far better home awaits us. Let us join him in his hope, and his trust in the saving work of Jesus, the Son of David, David’s Son and David’s Lord, the very Son of God, who came to save us.
17 After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother and brought them up to a high mountain alone, 2 and was transfigured before them. His face shone as the sun, and His garments became white as the light. 3 Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.
4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If You wish, let us make three tabernacles here: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were filled with awe. 7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” 8 When they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
9 As they came down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
Today we have white paraments to celebrate the Feast of Transfiguration – one of the events during Jesus’ earthly ministry that most clearly testified to his divinity and importance. It also highlights Jesus’ relationship to the Old Testament, and to the Old Testament’s great heroes, Moses and Elijah.
There’s an old icebreaker, a good way to get a conversation going, if you happen to need that: What famous person from history would you most like to meet? Many people will pick US presidents, or other famous people, like Martin Luther, or possibly a legendary military figure like George Patton, or Napoleon. A lot of people might even say Jesus Christ himself!
But imagine that you instead are a Jewish man living under Roman rule. Who are the people from your history that you would most look up to and admire? There are surely some great figures from the Old Testament. The Jews often took pride in being the sons of Abraham, and worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
But two of the most remarkable miracle workers in the Old Testament were Moses and Elijah. Interestingly, Moses and Elijah are both important in the Jewish celebration of the Passover, at least today. It is quite impossible to tell the story of the Passover, the tenth plague, without talking about Moses; and Moses would later give the Law that would require the Jews to eat the Passover once a year, until the Messiah would come. But in the Passover as practiced today, a cup is also set aside for Elijah.
This seems to be a very old tradition. Elijah, possibly because he was carried alive into heaven, was a symbol of the coming redemption, which we understand to be Christ. John the Baptist himself was asked if he was Elijah, to which he said “no” – the Jews were expecting Elijah to return in some way to prepare the way for the Messiah – this was prophesied by the prophet Malachi (4:5ff: 5 See, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreaded day of the Lord. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.)
Elijah was certainly a larger than life figure – larger in the sense that he himself did many miracles, including raising the dead (1 Kings 17:17ff). He called down fire from heaven in the competition with the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:16ff). He was taken into heaven on chariot of fire, one of the very few human beings so far to not experience death (2 Kings 2). I am not sure that Christians today fully appreciate how significant Elijah was as a figure the Jews thought of and admired.
And what of Moses? We know his story much better, I think. He turned a staff into a serpent and back before Pharaoh; the ten plagues that smote the Egyptians were all miracles of a sort. He parted the Red Sea, allowing Israel to cross on dry land, but drowned the mighty Egyptian army. In the forty years of wandering, Moses would go on to get manna and quail for the Israelites, to lift up the bronze serpent, and do many other things. And all of those years Israel was in the shadow of the pillar of cloud and fire.
But as great as Moses and Elijah were, Scripture also records for us their flaws, their doubts and their failings. Elijah despaired after the incident on Mt. Carmel, and expected to die there (1 Kings 19:10). Moses was initially unwilling to heed God’s call from the burning bush, despite clearly understanding that he was on holy ground. (Exodus 4:1-14). Even after that, Moses failed to circumcise his sons according to the Law, and God almost killed him because of it (Exodus 4:24ff). Moses let his temper flare at the Israelites when they needed water, and God told him that he would not enter the promised land because of that (Numbers 20:12). They certainly were not perfect in and of themselves, even if they were great men of faith, great prophets even.
It is very easy for us as people to get wrapped up in the pomp and circumstance of the moment. Peter thought it was great that Moses and Elijah were back, during the actual Transfiguration – he wanted to build tents for them so they could stay longer!
But the Transfiguration was not about Moses and Elijah, it was about Jesus.
Moses and Elijah pointed forward to the Christ. We see the failings and the weakness of them both; it is very important to both of their stories. Because while these men were great heroes, and did great things, they were no better, ultimately than we are. I doubt that any of us will ever stand in front of the ruler of the mightiest nation on Earth and tell him to “let my people go,” as Moses did. I do not think that any of us will call down fire from heaven to consume a sacrifice, water drenching the sacrifice, and even the stones of the altar itself as Elijah did. But they did not put their confidence in the things that they did to give them hope of life everlasting with their God and ours. Just as Abraham before them (who was also a very flawed man in certain respects), they believed God, and it was credited to them as righteousness.
Their confidence was not based on God simply letting their sins and their failings slide, or ignoring them. They heard, they proclaimed, and they believed in God’s promise to Abraham, and to us, to send a savior, who would pay the ransom for our sins, who could live a perfect life that we cannot live, who could die, sinless and innocent, and that death would pay the price for our sins and theirs.
But what about Peter, James, and John? They were certainly present on the mountain too, and while they may not have been heroes yet, they certainly would all go on to achieve “hero of faith” status. We get to see a lot more of Peter’s failings than the others. We know very little of James, and we do not see John’s failings in quite the same light as Peter’s – Jesus never told any of the other disciples to “Get behind me, Satan” and only Peter denied Jesus three times. But James and John were the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3). And we know that James and John would later doubt Jesus’ resurrection and hide in the room where Jesus would appear to them. Peter and John between them were responsible for writing quite a lot of the New Testament that Paul did not write – Peter, by tradition, was the key source for the Gospel of Mark, and he wrote two letters of his own. John wrote his Gospel, three letters, and Revelation. These men also, despite their faults, were heroes of the faith.
Peter and John would go on to write New Testament books, and would mention this event in their respective writings. John almost certainly was thinking of the Transfiguration when he wrote: John 1:14 The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. The Greek word there, which we translated as “dwelt” literally means “pitched his tent” – possibly a little jibe at his old friend Peter, who wanted to pitch tents for Moses and Elijah.
Peter himself would later write: 2 Peter 1:16ff. 16 For we have not followed cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received honor and glory from God the Father when a voice came to Him from the majestic glory, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”[a] 18 And we ourselves heard this voice, which came from heaven, when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
So this event clearly left an impression on them – and where do they place their focus? What do they remember most about this? Is it the fact that Moses came back from the dead, and Elijah came back to earth? Do they focus on the greatness of those two men, possibly the two greatest prophets of the Old Testament?
No, they focus on Jesus, and so should we. The voice comes from heaven while Peter is still speaking, and says the words they had heard once before at Jesus’ baptism – “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” Jesus touches them, and tells them not to be afraid, because they have fallen face-down – and when they look up, Jesus is back to “normal,” and Moses and Elijah have gone.
Jesus gives them a curious instruction – not to tell anyone about this vision until after he has risen from the dead. He does not explain this. But, certainly, after his resurrection, they told many people – and they wrote the words that the Holy Spirit helped them write and that we still read and learn today.
As great as it must have been for them to see Moses and Elijah, their focus was clearly on Jesus. John mentions Moses, but only to make it clear that Jesus is greater. Peter does not mention Moses or Elijah by name at all – and he even goes on to say that the written word of Scripture is more sure than those visions. Clearly God the Father speaking from the cloud elevates Jesus above Moses and Elijah – for we are told to listen to Jesus, not to listen to them. And then they disappear, but Jesus remains.
But does “listening to Jesus” mean completely ignoring Moses and Elijah? It does not. The Holy Spirit has caused the Old Testament to be preserved as well as the New Testament. And the “surer prophetic word” that Peter refers to in his epistle is clearly the Old Testament. No, the answer to that question I think we get from John – “The Law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Christ” – we still need the Law, because while it is easy in general to admit that we are not perfect, it can be very hard to get more specific than that. And we need the Law to remind us, specifically, of what we have done wrong and what we can do to improve. If we see the presence of Moses and Elijah as referring to the entire Old Testament as a kind of metaphor, then in some ways the New Testament does indeed fulfill the promises of the Old, and the Jewish civil and ceremonial laws have indeed been set aside. But think how much poorer our lives of faith would be without Moses, Elijah, and the Old Testament. We would know far less of God’s will and how he actually works and worked in real people’s lives, and throughout history. We would not see that golden thread of His promise, made right after the fall in the garden of Eden, to send the savior who would crush the serpent’s head; the savior he would again promise to Abraham, and to David, and through all the prophets.
And so we honor Moses and Elijah, great prophets and men of faith; we honor Peter, James, and John, apostles, and two of them authors of books of the New Testament, all great heroes of faith. But we worship and adore the God-Man, Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah that Moses and Elijah hoped for, that Peter, James and John walked with and served. As God the Father said, we will listen to Him, and from him we expect to receive grace upon grace, as he has promised and as only he can fulfill.
Hymn: “Now sing we, now rejoice” In dulci iubilo c. 1300 Author unknown Tr. Arthur T. Russell
1 Now sing we, now rejoice,
Now raise to heav’n our voice;
He from whom joy streameth
Poor in a manger lies;
Not so brightly beameth
The sun in yonder skies.
Thou my Savior art!
Thou my Savior art!
2 Come from on high to me;
I cannot rise to thee.
Cheer my wearied spirit,
O pure and holy Child;
Thro’ Thy grace and merit,
Blest Jesus, Lord most mild,
Draw me unto Thee!
Draw me unto Thee!
3 Now thro’ His Son doth shine
The Father’s grace divine.
Death o’er us had reigned
Thro’ sin and vanity;
He for us obtained
Eternal joy on high.
May we praise Him there!
May we praise Him there!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart, and confess our sins unto God our Father, beseeching Him, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to grant us forgiveness.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Almighty God, our Maker and Redeemer, we poor sinners confess unto You, that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against You by thought, word and deed. Therefore, we flee for refuge to Your infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Your grace, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Then the Minister shall say: Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, has had mercy upon us, and has given His only-begotten Son to die for us, and for His sake forgives us all our sins. To those who believe in His Name, He gives power to become the sons of God, and has promised them His Holy Spirit. He that believes, and is baptized, shall be saved. Grant this, Lord, unto us all. Amen.
Psalm: Psalm 50 A Psalm of Asaph.
1 The Mighty One, God, is the Lord; He has spoken and summoned the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. 2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shined. 3 Our God will come, and will not keep silent; a fire consumes before Him, and a strong tempest is around Him. 4 He calls to the heavens above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people: 5 “Gather My faithful ones together to Me, those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.” 6 The heavens will declare His righteousness, for God Himself is judge. Selah 7 “Hear, O My people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you; I am God, even your God. 8 I will not reprove you for your sacrifices or for your burnt offerings that are continually before Me. I will take no young bull out of your house, nor male goats out of your folds. 10 For every wild animal of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know every bird of the mountains, and the creatures that move in the field are Mine. 12 If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all its fullness. 13 Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? 14 Sacrifice a thank offering to God, and pay your vows to the Most High, 15 and call on Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify Me.” 16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to declare My statutes, or take My covenant in your mouth? 17 You hate instruction, and cast My words behind you. 18 When you see a thief, you are pleased, and have a share in those who commit adultery. 19 You let loose your mouth to evil, and your tongue is bound to deceit. 20 You sit and speak against your brother; you accuse your own mother’s son. 21 These things have you done, and I kept silent; you thought that I was indeed like you; but I will reprove you and make a case before your eyes. 22 “Now consider this, you who forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver: 23 Whoever sacrifices a thank offering glorifies Me and makes a way; I will show him the salvation of God.”
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.
Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us. Amen.
Gloria in Excelsis
Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. We praise You, we bless You, we worship You, we glorify You, we give thanks to You, for Your great glory. O Lord God, heav’nly King, God the Father Almighty. O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us. You who take away the sin of the world, receive our prayer. You who sit at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us. For You only are holy; You only are the Lord. You only, O Christ, with the Holy Spirit, are most high in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
O God, by the leading of a star You made known Your only-begotten Son to the Gentiles. Lead us, who know You by faith, to enjoy in heaven the fullness of Your divine presence; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
157. Whose own have you become by the redemption? Christ has redeemed me, purchased, and won me, so that I am now His own, and He is my Lord.
296) Rev. 5:9. You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood.
297) Isa. 53:11. He shall see of the anguish of his soul and be satisfied. By his knowledge My righteous servant shall justify the many, for he shall bear their iniquities.
Old Testament: Isaiah 60:1-6
1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 For the darkness shall cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord shall rise upon you, and His glory shall be seen upon you. 3 The nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising. 4 Lift up your eyes all around, and see: They all gather themselves together; they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried at your side. 5 Then you shall see and be radiant, and your heart shall thrill and rejoice because the abundance of the sea shall be converted to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6 The multitude of camels shall cover your land, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and incense and shall bear good news of the praises of the Lord.
Epistle: Ephesians 3:1-12
1 For this reason I, Paul, am the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles. 2 You may have heard of the administration of the grace of God which was given me for you, 3 how by revelation He made known to me the mystery, as I have written briefly already, 4 by which, when you read it, you may understand my knowledge of the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, 6 how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, and fellow members, and partakers of the promise in Christ by the gospel. 7 Of this I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the incomprehensible riches of Christ, 9 and to reveal for all people what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God, who created all things through Jesus Christ, 10 so that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He completed in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.
Gospel: Matthew 2:1-23
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, wise men came from the east to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who was born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king 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 inquired of them where Christ should be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are no longer least among the princes of Judah; for out of you shall come a Governor, who will shepherd My people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod, when he had privately called the wise men, carefully inquired of them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word again, so that I may come and worship Him also.” 9 When they heard the king, they departed. And the star which they saw in the east went before them until it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with great excitement. 11 And when they came 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 gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 But being warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route. 13 Now when they departed, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and escape to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word. For Herod will seek the young Child to kill Him.” 14 When he rose, he took the young Child and His mother by night, and departed into Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod, to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called My Son.” 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was utterly furious and sent forth and killed all the male children who were in Bethlehem and the surrounding region, from two years old and under, based on the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet: 18 “In Ramah a voice was heard, grieving and weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be comforted, because they are no more.” 19 But when Herod was dead, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus reigned in Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Nevertheless, being warned by God in a dream, he withdrew to the region of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
I Believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary; Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell; The third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into Heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; The holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints; The Forgiveness of sins; The Resurrection of the body; And the Life everlasting. Amen.
Hymn: “The star proclaims the King is here” Author: Caelius Sedulius
The star proclaims the King is here;
But, Herod, why this senseless fear?
He takes no realms of earth away
Who gives the realms of heav’nly day.
The wiser Magi see from far
And follow on His guiding star;
And led by light, to light they press
And by their gifts their God confess.
Within the Jordan’s crystal flood
In meekness stands the Lamb of God
And, sinless, sanctifies the wave,
Mankind from sin to cleanse and save.
At Cana first His power is shown;
His might the blushing waters own
And, changing as He speaks the word,
Flow wine, obedient to their Lord.
All glory, Jesus, be to Thee
For this Thy glad epiphany;
Whom with the Father we adore
And Holy Ghost forevermore.
Sermon Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, wise men came from the east to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who was born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him. …” Matthew 2:1-2 (read verses 1-23)
Once again, through the recounting of the Scriptures, we have heard of the birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem of Judea. God the Son was made true man, born of a virgin, and laid in a manger. An angel told the shepherds in the field nearby that this Child was none other than the Savior of the world, the Messiah and Jehovah God Himself!
Wise men (and the Bible doesn’t tell us their names or how many) from a land or lands east of Judea learned of the Messiah’s birth through the appearance of a star and traveled a great distance to come and worship this newborn King and bring Him costly gifts.
In Numbers 24:17, it was prophesied through Balaam the prophet: “I will see him, but not now; I will behold him, but not near; a star will come out of Jacob, and a scepter will rise out of Israel, and will crush the borderlands of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.”
And in Isaiah 60:1-6, we heard: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For the darkness shall cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord shall rise upon you, and His glory shall be seen upon you. The nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see: They all gather themselves together; they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried at your side. Then you shall see and be radiant, and your heart shall thrill and rejoice because the abundance of the sea shall be converted to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. The multitude of camels shall cover your land, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and incense and shall bear good news of the praises of the Lord.”
When they arrived in Jerusalem, King Herod was troubled at their quest and inquired of the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah was to be born. They rightly understood the Scriptures and quoted from Micah 5:2, pointing out that Bethlehem was to be the place of Messiah’s birth.
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, although you are small among the tribes of Judah, from you will come forth for Me one who will be ruler over Israel. His origins are from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).
But what happened after this? The wise men continued on their journey and were led by the star to Bethlehem and to the very house where Jesus was. There they worshiped Jesus and offered Him gifts.
Herod the king felt threatened by the birth of the Messiah and sought to kill Him and prevent Him from reigning upon the throne of David.
The chief priests and scribes knew the Scriptures and could tell Herod where the Messiah was to be born, but nowhere do we ever hear of their traveling to Bethlehem to worship their newborn Savior and King.
The question today is: “What about you?”
You have heard of His birth and know of His sufferings and death for your sins (and the sins of the world) and of His glorious resurrection. You have heard God’s offer of mercy and forgiveness to all who repent and look to Jesus in faith for pardon and life eternal. How do you respond?
• Do you reject Jesus and try to silence those who would speak to you of Him because Jesus is a threat to you and to your way of life?
• Do you know all the facts about Jesus and His redemptive work but still fail to come and bow before Him and give Him your praise and worship?
• Or, like the wise men of old, do you follow the star (hearing and believing what the Holy Scriptures say of the Christ Child) to find Messiah Jesus and worship your God and Savior, presenting Him with the costliest of gifts — even your very selves?
O dearest Jesus, You are the Almighty God and our Maker. We thank You for taking on flesh and blood and coming into this world to redeem us from sin and death. We praise You and give to you our treasures and our lives. Amen.
Votum (Philippians 4:7)
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will protect your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Offertory (Psalm 51:10-12)
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with Your willing spirit.
Almighty and most merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: We give You thanks for all Your goodness and tender mercies, especially for the gift of Your dear Son, and for the revelation of Your will and grace: and we beseech You so to implant Your Word in us, that in good and honest hearts we may keep it, and bring forth fruit by patient continuance in well-doing.
Most heartily we beseech You so to rule and govern Your Church universal, with all its pastors and ministers, that it may be preserved in the pure doctrine of Your saving Word, whereby faith toward You may be strengthened, and charity increased in us toward all mankind.
Grant also health and prosperity to all that are in authority, especially to the president and congress of the United States, the governor and legislature of this state, and to all our judges and magistrates; and endue them with grace to rule after Your good pleasure, to the maintenance of righteousness, and to the hindrance and punishment of wickedness, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty.
May it please You also to turn the hearts of our enemies and adversaries, that they may cease their enmity, and be inclined to walk with us in meekness and in peace.
All who are in trouble, want, sickness, anguish of labor, peril of death, or any other adversity, especially those who are in suffering for Your name and for Your truth’s sake, comfort, O God, with Your Holy Spirit, that they may receive and acknowledge their afflictions as the manifestation of Your fatherly will.
And although we have deserved Your righteous wrath and manifold punishments, yet, we entreat You, O most merciful Father, remember not the sins of our youth, nor our many transgressions; but out of Your unspeakable goodness, grace and mercy, defend us from all harm and danger of body and soul. Preserve us from false and pernicious doctrine, from war and bloodshed, from plague and pestilence, from all calamity by fire and water, from hail and tempest, from failure of harvest and from famine, from anguish of heart and despair of Your mercy, and from an evil death. And in every time of trouble, show Yourself a very present Help, the Savior of all men, and especially of them that believe.
Cause also the needful fruits of the earth to prosper, that we may enjoy them in due season. Give success to the Christian training of the young, to all lawful occupations on land and sea, and to all pure arts and useful knowledge; and crown them with Your blessing.
These, and whatsoever other things You would have us ask of You, O God, grant unto us for the sake of the bitter sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, Your only Son, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.
We join in the prayer that our Lord Jesus taught us to pray …
Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)
Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Benediction (Number 6:24-26)
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift His countenance upon you, and give you peace. Amen.
Hymn: “Songs of thankfulness and praise” Author: Christopher Wordsworth
Songs of thankfulness and praise,
Jesus, Lord, to thee we raise,
manifested by the star
to the sages from afar;
branch of royal David’s stem
in thy birth at Bethlehem;
anthems be to thee addressed,
God in man made manifest.
Manifest at Jordan’s stream,
Prophet, Priest and King supreme;
and at Cana, wedding guest,
in thy Godhead manifest;
manifest in power divine,
changing water into wine;
anthems be to thee addressed,
God in man made manifest.
Manifest in making whole
palsied limbs and fainting soul;
manifest in valiant fight,
quelling all the devil’s might;
manifest in gracious will,
ever bringing good from ill;
anthems be to thee addressed,
God in man made manifest.
Sun and moon shall darkened be,
stars shall fall, the heavens shall flee;
Christ will then like lightning shine,
all will see his glorious sign;
all will then the trumpet hear,
all will see the Judge appear;
thou by all wilt be confessed,
God in man made manifest.
Grant us grace to see thee, Lord,
mirrored in thy holy Word;
may we imitate thee now,
and be pure, as pure art thou;
that we like to thee may be
at thy great Epiphany;
and may praise thee, ever blest,
God in man made manifest.
To listen to this message, click on the audio file below:
O come, O come, Emmanuel
1 O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear. Refrain
Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!
3 O come, O come, Thou Lord of might, Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height In ancient times didst give the Law In cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain
4 O come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree, Free them from Satan’s tyranny That trust Thy mighty pow’r to save, And give them vict’ry o’er the grave. Refrain
5 O come, Thou Key of David, come, And open wide our heav’nly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery. Refrain
6 O come, Thou Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight. Refrain
7 O come, Desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, And be Thyself our King of Peace. Refrain
1 O sing unto the Lord a new song; sing unto the Lord, all the earth! 2 Sing unto the Lord, bless His name; declare His salvation from day to day. 3 Proclaim His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. 4 For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. 5 For all the gods of the nations are worthless, but the Lord made the heavens. 6 Honor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. 7 Give unto the Lord, O families of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength. 8 Give unto the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts. 9 Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth. 10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns! Indeed, the world is established; it shall not be moved; He shall judge the peoples righteously.” 11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 12 let the field be joyful, and all that is in it; then all the trees of the forests shall rejoice 13 before the Lord, for He comes, for He comes to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with His faithfulness.
Away in a manger
1 Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head. The stars in the sky looked down where He lay, The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. 2 The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes. I love Thee, Lord Jesus! Look down from the sky, And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh. 3 Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay Close by me forever and love me, I pray. Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, And take us to heaven to live with Thee there.
Little Children’s Book, Philadelphia, 1885, sts. 1–2; Vineyard Songs, Louisville, 1892, st. 3, alt. Public domain
Christmas Gospel 1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the entire inhabited earth should be taxed. 2 This taxation was first made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone went to his own city to be taxed. 4 So Joseph also departed from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to the City of David which is called Bethlehem, in Judea, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be taxed with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So while they were there, the day came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in strips of cloth, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7
Far more than a quaint story, these verses from Luke, chapter two, describe a historical event that occurred in real-time and in a real place. It was a fulfillment of all those ancient prophecies which promised the Seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent and the one who would redeem His people from their sins (Gen. 3:15; Ps. 130:7-8).
“But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born from a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).
It happened in the days of the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. Quirinius was the governor of Syria.
Though Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth, the Prophet Micah (approximately 700 years before Christ) foretold the birthplace of Messiah to be in Bethlehem: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, although you are small among the tribes of Judah, from you will come forth for Me one who will be ruler over Israel. His origins are from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).
And God, in His divine providence, moved Caesar Augustus to take a census at just the right time, making it necessary for Joseph and his espoused wife who lived in Nazareth (some 90 miles to the north) to be in Bethlehem when the days were fulfilled for Mary to bring forth her firstborn son “because he was of the house and lineage of David.” The genealogies of Joseph in Matthew 1 and of Mary in Luke 3 show that both were of the “house and lineage of David.”
While we often have pictures in our head of Jesus being born on that first night after Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, that’s not what the Scriptures say. Verse six, of Luke 2 says: “So while they were there, the day came for her to give birth.” They could have been there a few days, a few weeks or even a month or more — the Bible doesn’t say. But, “while they were there, the day came for her to give birth.”
“And she gave birth to her firstborn Son…” While there in the crowded city of Bethlehem — there were many descendants of David who also had to register in Bethlehem (Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, according to 1 Kings 11:1ff.) — Jesus was born.
Mary “gave birth to her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in strips of cloth, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
The eternal Son of God, the creator of heaven and earth and all things (cf. John 1:1-5,14), humbled Himself and was born a man of lowly birth. Instead of being born in a king’s palace and clothed in royal garments, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger (a feeding trough).
But God sent His Son into this world not to be exalted here but to live humbly as a man — not to make full use of His divine power and glory but to live humbly like us — that He might take our place under the Law of God and fulfill it for us and that He might bear upon the cross the just punishment for the sins of the entire world.
“Let this mind be in you all, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. But He emptied Himself, taking upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in the form of a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).
“So then, as the children share in flesh and blood, He likewise took part in these, so that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver those who through fear of death were throughout their lives subject to bondage. For surely He does not help the angels, but He helps the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things it was necessary for Him to be made like His brothers, so that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in the things pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:14-17).
And much like the night of Jesus’ birth, Jesus is still relegated to the stalls and the mangers of this world. The inn is full and there is no room for the Messiah and Savior of the World. Jesus is crowded out — even crowded out of the celebration of His birth!
“He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him” (John 1:10-11).
Therefore, if we wish to find Jesus, we are not likely to find Him in the biggest and best churches and cathedrals of this world. The place to look for and find Him is where God’s humble Means of Grace are in use, where the Word of God is preached in its simple truth and purity and people are confronted with their sins and the judgment of God upon them but also comforted with the Gospel of forgiveness through faith in Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross, where people are joined to Christ and become His covenant people through the waters of Baptism and where believers are comforted in Holy Communion through partaking of the body and blood of the Lamb of God who gave Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Indeed, the day could come when we may need to worship in barns and stables to hear of and learn of the true Christ who came into this world to redeem us because there is no room for God’s people or God’s Christ in the inn. It’s happened before. In the days of the Prussian Union (during the early 1800s), those who held to the Lutheran faith gathered in barns to worship and be served with the Means of Grace.
What’s the point in this message for you and for me?
Though the world was not awaiting the coming of Christ Jesus with open arms, and though God’s own people (the visible church in this world) were too busy to welcome Him, God kept His ancient promises to send the Savior. God’s only-begotten Son took on human flesh and blood and was born a true man of the Virgin Mary that he might pay the price for our sins and redeem us. He came humbly, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, that He might fulfill God’s plan and go to the cross as our sacrifice for sin.
And where do we find Him?
Where the Word of God is preached in its truth and purity and where the Sacraments are administered in accord with Christ’s institution. There we will find and learn of the Christ who died for our sins and redeemed us. There we will be comforted with the forgiveness of sins and eternal life He won for us. Amen.
Prayer of the Church for Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2020
Lord God Almighty, we come before You on this most holy night in awe and thanksgiving at the incarnation of Your Son to be our Savior. Let the proclamation of His birth sound forth throughout the world. Give to Your Church faithful pastors to proclaim the good tidings of His birth, and give to Your people willing ears to hear and believe.
In the birth of Your Son, You have visited and redeemed Your people. Grant to us and people everywhere penitent hearts and faith in the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of the Son that, through faith in His name, we might obtain forgiveness for all our sins and a place in His everlasting kingdom.
Continue to visit those who are lonely, sick, recovering or near death. Let Your redemption in Christ Jesus give them hope and His presence be a comfort to them, and give to them perseverance in the true faith until that time You grant healing, relief, deliverance and peace.
In the birth of Your Son, and by His death and resurrection, You have provided salvation for all mankind. Give us opportunity and move us to tell others the good news of His coming so that others, too, may join in the praise of Your holy name. Bless the pastors of our diocese, and give wisdom and strength to our bishop, that we may with one voice proclaim the truth of Your Word and the glorious salvation You have provided in the Son, Christ Jesus.
In the birth of Your Son, You have signaled the beginning of a new creation; while we still live in a world wracked by the ravages of sin, we know that the final victory is Yours. Watch over and keep safe emergency workers and all whose vocations keep them from their homes and families this night for the well-being of our families.
In the birth of Your Son, You have called people of all times and places into the Body of Christ Jesus through faith in His name. We give You thanks for all the believers who have gone before us, especially those who have been with us during Christmases past and are now with You. Give us a sure confidence in Your promise of resurrection and eternal life, and bring us at last together with them into Your presence at the full coming of Your kingdom.
Into Your hands, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” Amen.
1 Silent night, holy night! All is calm, all is bright Round yon virgin mother and child. Holy Infant, so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.
2 Silent night, holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight; Glories stream from heaven afar, Heav’nly hosts sing, Alleluia! Christ, the Savior, is born! Christ, the Savior, is born!
3 Silent night, holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light Radiant beams from Thy holy face With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.