Why We Need A Sign From God

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

We assume that there were three wise men since three gifts were presented to Jesus – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  However, our Gospel reading from Matthew does not say how many wise men there were for sure.  And so, we know that there were at least two, if not three or four wise men.  But the number of wise men is really beside the point.  The point, though, is that these wise men from Arabia came to Jerusalem and then Bethlehem. 

But why did they come to Jerusalem and then Bethlehem? 

By some profound way, these wise men looked to the night sky and learned from a very special star in the east that a very special king had been born.  Indeed, through events in the sky, these wise men knew that something special had happened – there was a birth of a king.  And so, the wise men went from Arabia to the capital city of Jerusalem in Israel. 

Once they got to Jerusalem, though, I imagine that they were quite confused, for they did not find the new king.  No parties.  No celebration in the streets.  No used up birthday confetti.  And no leftover birthday cake.  Nothing! Business as usual!  Everyone was acting as if nothing had happened. 

We can visualize their confusion and possible frustration when they came to Jerusalem not finding the new king, for they were very learned and wise men.  You see, these wise men were teachers, astrologist, and possibly physicians.  These wise men were like college-educated white-collar intellectuals.  They had observed an astronomical phenomenon in the sky and linked the appearance of the star with a Jewish king, which means that they did not go to Jerusalem to come up empty-handed.  They were expecting to see the king.  However, the star in the east only got them so far.  They got to Jerusalem but did not get entirely to Jesus. 

So, long story short, the wise men consulted with King Herod in Jerusalem.  And Herod consulted with the priests and scribes.  And the priests and scribes?  Well…they consulted with the Word, the Bible.  More specifically, they consulted with the Old Testament that stated that a king would be born in Bethlehem.  As a result, the wise men traveled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and as they traveled, the star that they saw in their homeland guided them to the very house where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were living. 

Now, with all of this stated, ask yourself a question.  What was it that led the wise men to Jesus in Bethlehem?  Was it their superior intellect? After all, they were certainly wise!  Was it their astrology skills? Maybe they had some pretty good telescopes!  Did their university degrees give them insider information?  Did they have Google Maps or GPS?

The answer, it had nothing to do with the wise men and their wisdom, but it had everything to do with the Lord. 

You see, the Lord gave them a sign – a star.  He also gave them an Old Testament message.  And so, they were led by the sign of the star and the Word from the Old Testament to Jesus. 

And without the sign of the star and the Word? 

Well, the wise men would never have gotten to Jesus, as smart as they were.  Without the sign and the Word, they would’ve stayed in Arabia apart from Jesus or worse, gotten lost in Persia. 

Pause here a moment, dear friends.  Do you realize that this is not some nostalgic or pious sounding religious story but how the Lord works things with the Christian faith?  This is exactly how the Lord works for you.

Permit me an opportunity to explain. 

Nobody becomes a Christian by their superior intellect.  No one!  Nobody becomes a Christian because they have personally discovered Jesus on their own private spiritual journey.  No one!  Frankly stated, when we seek, we find nothing, for we are blinded by sin.  We cannot ‘decide’ to follow a Savior that we do not know.  We cannot choose this day a God that has not been revealed to us.  We cannot use willpower to get a King when our will is bound in sin.  This is why Jesus needed to be revealed to the wise men by the star, and this is why Jesus needs to be revealed to us by the Gospel.  Without the star and without the Gospel, both the wise men and you would never find Jesus. 

Stated in another way; you and I cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus or come to Him.  It is impossible!  However, the Holy Spirit has to call you and me not through a star but the Gospel.[1]  Yes, the Holy Spirit gathers us from not Arabia but from darkness unto light. And through the preached and proclaimed Gospel, the Holy Spirit enlightens our blind eyes.  He brings us to Jesus and Jesus to us. 

We can even flesh this out a bit more.  Consider the church right now.  The Holy Spirit works to draw pagans not to Jerusalem or Bethlehem but to the church – churches like this church, St. Paul’s.  And once in the church’s lap, unbelievers are placed right before a pastor who preaches the Gospel.  And the Holy Spirit through the star of the Gospel brings them before Jesus and Jesus before them - giving them faith.  Yes, the Holy Spirit preaches the Gospel to dead ears in dead wooden pews, through an insignificant pastor.  And so, just like the wise men were brought to Bethlehem to see Jesus, the Holy Spirit does the same by bringing people to the church to hear and receive Jesus. 

Incredible to think about; is it not? 

But things get really messed up, my friends, for there are so many fraudulent people and organizations wishing to be a sign and star.  In other words, there are a lot of stars and signs and messages in the world promising to bring people to Jesus, when they are nothing more in reality than empty sacrileges scandals trying to get money or entertaining circuses meant to gather crowds. 

Dear Baptized Saints, do you wish to know where Christ and the truth are?  Learn from history!  Do not look to the glittery late-night television evangelists that omit Jesus and seek to take your money in exchange for immediate material blessings.  They are not a star leading to Jesus.  Do not be led astray by bright religious so-called churches that are guided by the Billboard Music Awards and decorations of downtown nightclubs rather than Christ’s Word.  They are not a star leading to Jesus.  Do not be enticed by so-called pastors in the pulpit that sound more like a politician preaching policies intended to create – not faith in Jesus – but votes for a particular political party.  They are not a star leading to Jesus. Do not be deceived by any church, religious leader, or religious organization that wishes to be the sign and star that leads you to something other than Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of your sins.  As the star shined above the house of Jesus, the Gospel shines only Christ-crucified for the forgiveness of sins.    

Instead, dear Baptized Saints, learn to know that there is only one sure sign and star that you can recognize – where Christ can be found.  And as already mentioned that sure sign and star is the Holy Gospel and the Sacraments!  Everything else is false.  Everything else is silly myths, childish games, and foolish tinsel. 

You, who have ears, hear this: where the Gospel is preached, there the star shines brightly on Christ.  Where the Gospel is found, you have Christ.  And where you have Christ, you have the true church.

Dear Baptized Saints, the star of the Gospel that leads you to and delivers you Jesus is what you need – it is what you have this day in the Divine Service.  And, it is what you should wish to have every single week from this time forth – everything else is like chaff.  If it is not the Gospel, it blows away in the winds of life.  It will not last.   

And so, if any religious leader, person, or church tells you to look to some bright shining star or light, it better be the Gospel!  Because if it is not the Gospel of Jesus, it is worthless. 

And if anybody discredits the Gospel – as if you need to make it brighter and shinier with unoriginal schemes and corny shallow cultural fads, well… run away.  They want to lead you away from Jesus.    

The star shined above the house of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, revealing Jesus to the wise men.  Therefore, be assured that where the star of the Gospel does not shine, there is no church.  However, be assured that where the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments are rightly administered, there you find Jesus – Jesus who is for you with forgiveness, life, and salvation. 

Without the Gospel you will never arrive at the right place; however, with the Gospel you have Jesus.

And today, the Gospel leads this house – St. Paul’s Lutheran Church – and remains over this house. 

“A king was born unto you!  Your sins are forgiven.” 

Indeed, the Gospel shines freely and clearly for you this day, so that you might be brought to Jesus and Jesus to you – just like the wise men from long ago.    

In the name of Jesus: Amen. 

[1] Paraphrase of Luther’s Small Catechism: Third Article. 

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