Sunday, January 1, 2012

How Did You Get Here?

 Texts:    Ephesians 3:1-19; Matthew 2:1-12

    YOU KNOW HOW IT goes.  You can't find something, you're looking all over the house for it, you find it at last, and it's in some out-of-the-way place you never could have imagined.  And you think, "How did that get here?" 
    Or maybe you're not looking for whatever it is at all.  But you come across it, where you never expected it to be.  Same reaction: "How did that come to be here?"  Well, it's a mystery.  You shake your head and move on.

    Sometimes it's people who turn up in expected places.  You think a friend is at the other end of the country, or tied up doing something else, but here they are at some event you're attending.  You're happy to see them, but still it's a bit of a shock.  How did they get there?  Again, it's a mystery. 

    But sometimes somebody shows up like that, all unexpectedly, and you feel they shouldn't be there at all.  By all rights, they're intruding.  They don't belong.  It's still a mystery how they dared to come, but the question "How did you get here?" takes on a whole different tone.  It becomes a challenge and even a threat. 

    That's how Herod and "all Jerusalem" felt about the Wise Men when they showed up at Herod's palace one fine day in the reign of Caesar Augustus.  Magi they were: philosophers, sages, advisors to kings, come all the way from Persia with their pack animals and all their entourage, inquiring "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?  We have seen His star at its rising and we have come to worship Him."  Imagine the shock of it!  Foreigners!  Uncircumcised Gentiles!  Come all that way, to ask such a question!  O Magi, how did you get here?  And with such an intention!?  No wonder, as Matthew puts it in chapter 2 of his gospel, "When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him."

    To Herod and the officials in Jerusalem, Jewish or Roman, the Magi weren't expected and they weren't wanted.  The political situation was unsettled enough  without strangers talking about rival kings being born in the province of Judea.  You've heard what sort of tyrant Herod the Great was.  Several of his sons and one or two of his wives he'd already put to death because he thought they were conspiring to take over his throne.  His youngest surviving son was about sixteen at the time and Herod wasn't in the way of producing any more rivals-- I mean, heirs.  Now he has to deal with these Magi and their shocking news.  "Looking for the one born King of the Jews, indeed!  You intruding foreigners, how did you get here!?"

    And what business did the Wise Men have with the long-awaited King of the Jews at all?  The priests and scribes in Jerusalem, Herod himself, knew the Magi weren't seeking any ordinary newborn heir to a human throne.  This was no routine diplomatic mission.  No, they understood totally that the Wise Men had come to pay homage to the great everlasting King who was to come, the Messiah, the Anointed One promised by God's prophets since days of old.  But how could it be that these foreign, alien, uncircumcised strangers should be the first ones to show up and announce His birth?  And why should they want to worship Him?  The Christ belonged to the Jews!  How then did these easterners get here?

    What a shock that would have been for all Jerusalem!  In many places in the Psalms and the writings of the prophets, it is written that the time would come when Gentiles would bow down and worship the God of Israel.  But the general Jewish interpretation was that they'd worship Him by force, out of compulsion, thrown down on their faces before Israel's promised King, the way a war captive would be.  But now these strangers-- uncircumcised Gentiles!-- have arrived willingly, eagerly, come hundreds of miles across the desert to worship and adore Israel's Messiah. It was an intolerable mystery.  No wonder the whole city was thrown into confusion!  Men of the East, how did you get here?

     But there they were.  And we know the rest of the story, how the Wise Men heard the word of the prophet Micah and learned that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea.  How with joy they saw the star rest over the house where Mary, Joseph, and the young Child Jesus-- no longer an infant, but a fine Boy one or two years of age-- were now living in that town.  How they entered and bowed before Him and offered Him kingly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

    Christian brothers and sisters, let's not take their presence with the Baby Jesus for granted.  Because it's still a valid question, how did they get there?  Because the Jewish authorities to a great extent were right.  The promised Christ was to be the King and Ruler of God's chosen people Israel.  As St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, to the Jews belong "the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.  Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!"  By traditional rights, Jesus belonged to the Jews! How could any Gentile foreigner have a share in Him and His blessings?  First and foremost, as Jesus said Himself, Christ was born for the Jews.  Yet here are the Gentile Wise Men, in at the front of the line.  "O Magi, how did you get here?"  But as we ask that question about the Wise Men, let's also ask it about ourselves.

    For here we are, on this first Sunday after Christmas, gathered together to celebrate,  worship, and adore Jesus who is born King of the Jews.  Here we are, Gentiles, likely without a drop of Jewish blood in our veins, bowing the knee before Him who is the Messiah and God of Israel.  In wonder and joy, let us inquire, "How did we get here?"

    It's a mystery, but it's a mystery that's been revealed.  For hear what St. Paul says in Ephesians chapter 3 about the mystery of Christ that God had revealed to him.  He writes:

    This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

How did we get here?  We got here through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that the Man Jesus was God in human flesh.  That He died for our sins and was raised on the third day for our justification.  That through faith in Him we can have eternal life with God.  As Paul writes in Ephesians 2, it is Christ who has made peace between Jew and Gentile; it is His shed blood that has broken down the dividing wall between us and made it possible for us, too, to belong to God's chosen people and share in all the blessings of His covenant with them.

    Paul writes in Ephesians 3:5 that this mystery of grace had not been made known to men in previous generations.  Up to the time of Jesus' earthly life, death, and resurrection, no one could even have imagined that Gentiles could have any part in the Messiah who was to come.  The mystery was kept hidden in God, as Paul says in verse 9.  Only in God's good time would it be revealed. 

    And God began to reveal it by bringing the Wise Men to worship the Child Jesus Christ.  They didn't arrive in Bethlehem out of their own human initiative or ingenuity; it was God's work from first to last.  The credit and the glory all goes to God the Father, who gave the Magi the knowledge of the expected King, who gave them the yearning to find Him, who raised up the star to lead them out of their faraway homes, who brought them at last to bow the knee in the humble home of their Saviour and Lord, the young King of the Jews.

    And it is solely God and His power that brings us to the feet of Jesus to worship Him as our Saviour and receive the blessings of His love.  For in all justice we don't belong there in His presence, any more than the Magi did.  It's not just that we're Gentiles, it's that all of us, ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles, are unworthy sinners.  We had no share in the blessings of heaven!  How did you get here, how did I, when we were rebels against the God and King of the universe and deserved only His wrath?

    Brothers and sisters, it is grace alone that has brought us here, and that grace comes to us by the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen.  We read in Matthew how the authorities of Jerusalem were astonished at the arrival of the Wise Men.  Here in Ephesians we see that our inclusion in God's people is a sign and a testimony to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.  By the grace of God you and I are included in the Church of Jesus Christ, and the very fact that we are here, worshipping Him and enjoying His life and His gifts, that very fact makes known to angels and archangels the wonderful and manifold wisdom of God.  Did you know that your salvation causes the angels to rejoice and give praise to God?  Who could have thought it?  How could it have been possible?  We who were foreigners and outcasts from the people of God, now share in the unsearchable riches of Christ!

    From all eternity, God made it His purpose and goal to bring a people to Himself, not identified by any human bloodline, but by the blood of His only-begotten Son.  He accomplished that purpose through the holy life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection of Jesus the Christ.  Now, as Paul says in verse 12, in Christ and through faith in Him we--even we!-- can approach God with freedom and confidence.  How did we get here, how did you, how did I?  We got here through God's grace shown to us in Christ Jesus our Lord!  We belong here, we are His, and no sufferings and discouragements we experience on this earth can change that fact.

    Never, ever, let us take our position in Christ, our membership in His Church, for granted!  Paul yearns that our brothers and sisters at Ephesus might understand the wonder of what God the Holy Spirit had done in them and for them.  By the same Holy Spirit, his yearning and prayer is for us as well.  Now, at the beginning of this new year, may you be strengthened with power through the Spirit in your inner being, that Christ may dwell in your heart by faith.  May we, in our deepest thoughts, wills, motivations, and desires know fully that Christ is ours and we are His.  He is our beloved King and Lord, not because we decided to love Him, but because He first loved us and brought us to His side.  We are rooted and established in His love, as it is written in verse 17, and there can be nothing more wonderful than for us to have the power, with all the saints,

    [T]o grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

    How did you get here to the feet of Christ, to worship Him and call Him King and Lord?  It's no longer a mystery!  You got here by the grace of God, through His eternal purpose, by His love shown to you in the salvation won for you in Jesus' death and resurrection.  He has bought you, He has brought you, and you are His.  With the apostles and prophets, with the Wise Men, with ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles and all He has called to belong to him by faith, let us worship Him with our lives, our lips, and our love, ascribing to Him all honor and glory:

        Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.

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