Blog / Book of the Month / Who is the True King? / Matthew 2:1-12 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Friday January 6th 2023 / Epiphany / Prince of Peace Lutheran Church - WASCANA Circuit of Central Region of Lutheran Church Canada

Who is the True King? / Matthew 2:1-12 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Friday January 6th 2023 / Epiphany / Prince of Peace Lutheran Church - WASCANA Circuit of Central Region of Lutheran Church Canada

Who is the True King? / Matthew 2:1-12 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Friday January 6th 2023 / Epiphany / Prince of Peace Lutheran Church - WASCANA Circuit of Central Region of Lutheran Church Canada

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / WASCANA Circuit of Central Region of Lutheran Church Canada Epiphany Service Friday January 6th 2023 / Matthew 2:1-12 "Who is the True King?"

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

         “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

                 are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

         for from you shall come a ruler

                 who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

          Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Tonight we heard from Saint Paul’s letter to the Christians of Ephesus, but as we consider our Gospel Reading from Saint Matthew let’s take a short detour to another one of Paul’s Epistles, his letter to the Christians of Rome, a city well acquainted with power and authority and political intrigue, when at the beginning of the 13th chapter of that letter Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”[1] So our Gospel Reading begins saying that the events of the visit of the Wise Men, the Magi, from the East to find this new born King of kings happened, “after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king,” ultimately Herod is king in Judea because God allowed it, but Herod’s claim to the throne was tenuous and not of the same calibre or quality of Jesus’ rightful claim. The devil is in the details here, keep that in mind.  

The crux of our Gospel reading is a contention swirling around who the rightful king of Israel truly was: this is what motivated the journey of the Magi; it is what motivated them to bring their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh;  it’s what motivated Herod’s deceitful trickery toward the Magi; and in the passage immediately following our reading it is what prompted Herod’s slaughter of the male children of Bethlehem, all those under the age of two years of age; and it triggered the Virgin Mary and Josephs’ flight to Egypt with the Christ Child to protect Him from King Herod’s wrath. If Jesus had no claim to the throne Herod occupied Jesus would not have been in danger from Herod. Clearly Herod was not prepared to relinquish his claim on the throne, he was not prepared to acknowledge this Christ Child as the rightful King, Herod was not prepared to bring Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh what Herod wanted was to remain king at all costs. The idea that this Child could be a King above all kings, above him, above Caesar Augustus in Rome seems not to have entered Herod’s mind, Jesus was just one more obstacle in his way to retain his devilish grip on kingship, such as it was.   

For your part, how do you deal with authority? Why do you follow it? The temptation that many in our day and modern age face is one where we are called to by the siren voice of individuality, a lure that calls out, ‘you do you,’ ‘you’ve got this,’ ‘my truth,’ ‘have it your way,’ a temptation that makes you king or queen, not just for the day but, over all things. In our world it’s not popular to be men and women under authority, to be subjects, to bend the knee, to serve, yet Saint Paul in Romans 13 writes, “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience ... Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed.”[2] Remember, of course, Paul writes this to Christians who are not living under a government that is friendly to them, and yet this is the Word of the Lord provided to them and to us. So it must be said, being suspicious of a government, or leader, who acts in bad faith doesn’t mean you are free to do them dishonour, disrespect them or to withhold taxes from them. That’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes but it is important to remember and to take to heart. Likewise keep this in mind, “when [the Magi] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy Him.” And [Joseph] rose and took the Child and His mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.”[3] Egypt was not another country as we think of it today, Egypt was another province of the Roman Empire, they left one jurisdiction, the Roman Province of Palestine, to go to another jurisdiction, the Roman province of Egypt; and in both places the Holy Family lived under the Roman Caesar and paid their taxes, which you’ll remember was the very reason that had brought them to Bethlehem in the first place.[4]

The Roman Caesar was Pagan, King Herod was hardly Jewish at all, the Children of Israel were oppressed by a non-Jewish gentile occupation, and a cadre of Jewish collaborators, and yet the LORD used Caesar Augustus to fulfil Old Testament prophecy[5] to get the Holy Family to Bethlehem and the Gospel of Saint Matthew likewise tells us that the LORD was using King Herod to fulfil Old Testament prophecy from Hosea concerning the Christ saying, “This [flight to Egypt, to evade Herod,] was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”[6] The authority we find ourselves under may not always be to our personal liking, we might even think it is from the devil, but that doesn’t mean God is not at work in it or through it. In fact our Epistle from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written after he wrote Romans 13 and both the letters of Ephesians and Romans were written while Paul was in prison in Rome for his faithfulness towards Christ and for the crime of being, as the Jewish High Priest testified, “a plague [to the Jewish people], one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.”[7]

The Christ Child of our Gospel today who received gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh worthy of a king, would in adulthood prove to be the kind of King that King Herod could never be; the King of kings and Lord of lords[8] who at the cross of His crucifixion was crowned with thorns and subjected to public humiliation and suffering and yet conquered death itself in His death, when on that first Easter morning He was risen from the dead three days after that death. And so it is that Saint Paul writes of this Jesus in his letter to the Philippians, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”[9] And in His Ascension, forty days after His resurrection this same Jesus would say of Himself, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”[10]

This Sunday we’ll celebrate the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River around the age of thirty; His family had already returned to Nazareth at that point and had been living back in the Roman Province of Palestine in the region of Galilee for some time after King Herod’s death, and do you remember what happened immediately following Jesus’ Baptism? We are told that He was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, a mini-exodus if you will, where Jesus was tempted by the devil[11] and when He was exhausted and starving the second of Jesus’ temptations was the one where “the devil took [Jesus] up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to Him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered [the devil], “It is written,

         “‘You shall worship the Lord your God,

                 and Him only shall you serve.’”[12]

Remember I said the devil is in the details, and that you should keep that in mind? Here I want you to contemplate who prior to the incarnation and birth of Christ Jesus, prior to His Baptism, prior to His Public Ministry, prior to His crucifixion and death upon the cross, had authority over the kingdoms of the world and their glory? For a time this was given into the hands of the devil. As Jesus’ crucifixion was about to unfold Jesus said to His disciples and some of the Greek Gentiles who desired to see Him these prophetic and telling words, Jesus said, “Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then [the Gospel of Saint John tells us] a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not Mine. Now is the judgment of this World; now will the ruler of this World be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”[13] Now will the ruler of this World be cast out, now will the devil be cast out. Again from the Gospel of Saint John Jesus spoke of the devil saying “he was a murderer from the beginning,”[14] you could say from Adam and Eve’s temptation in the Garden of Eden the devil was a murderer, and you could say from the beginning of Christ Jesus’ life the devil likewise was a murderer, when at such a young and tender age the devil tempted King Herod to lie and plot and attempt to murder our Lord when news of Jesus’ birth was made known.[15]

The Historian Flavius Josephus tells us that King Herod came to power by violence; he was given the keys to kingdom of Judea in the Roman Province of Palestine by a vote in the Roman Senate after a persuasive speech by his friend Marc Anthony, the lover of Cleopatra. Herod himself was a descendant of Esau not a descendant of Jacob, who was renamed Israel, from whom the Children of Israel were begotten, from whom King David was eventually born who’s house and linage Jesus shares. Apparently Herod’s family was forced into circumcision to keep their land by the Jewish High Priest and Herod himself had to marry into Judaism by taking the granddaughter of that same Jewish High Priests as his wife. Violence, murder, lies, intrigues, political manoeuvrings and marriages were all part and parcel of Herod’s life[16] and you can see the devil’s fingerprints all over every aspect of the authority Herod wields. The devil certainly would have seen Herod as the perfect weapon to murder the Christ Child and yet step further back and look at the big picture and you can see who has the ultimate authority: It is "God [who] uses the devil and the evil angels. They, of course, desire to ruin everything; but God blocks them, unless a well-earned scourging is in order ... So the devil must serve us with the very thing with which he plans to injure us; for God is such a great Master that He is able to turn even the wickedness of the devil into good."[17]         

Dear ones when you are tempted to ‘murder’ the Christ Child, to bring a knife against Him and not to, on bended knee, bring rather gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; when your desire to be king or queen in your heart over and above Christ brings forth every manner of sin,[18] repent.[19] Turn away from the desire to have authority over all things, turn away from despising and angering the rightful authorities, turn away from making yourself into God in your heart and rather learn to “fear and love God above all things,” strive to keep the fourth and first commandments.

And remember, it is curious to note, that even though there was a miraculous star guiding their way, the only way the Magi, and King Herod for that matter, could find the Christ Child in Bethlehem was by reading the Scriptures: This by the way is how you have come to know Jesus too. In Scripture we see that this Christ Child, this anointed One of God, did not take power for Himself when He was tempted to by the devil, He didn’t take authority for Himself even though it was His from before the foundations of the World;[20] Rather He lived a perfect humble life of service. This Jesus is the one who would say, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”[21] This is the One who Saint Paul says, “Though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”[22] When all was said and done, and your redemption was secured, this same Jesus said of Himself “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” Given, not taken. As His little brothers and sisters you know live in His Kingdome be careful of the devil who even now still desires to drag you out of it with the lures of the desires of your heart, and with a spirit of rebellion against the LORD. Rest under the authority of Christ, you are in His almighty hands. In His incarnation, birth, life, death and ascension Jesus is the true King, He is the King of kings and Lord of lord. Amen.    

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] Romans 13:1
[2] Romans 13:5, 7
[3] Matthew 2:13–15
[4] 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
[5] Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6
[6] Matthew 2:15; Hosea 11:1
[7] Acts 24:5
[8] Revelation 19:16
[9] Philippians 2:9–11
[10] Matthew 28:18
[11] Matthew 4:1; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1-2
[12] Luke 4:5–8
[13] John 12:27–32
[14] John 8:44
[15] Revelation 12:13
[16] Antiquity of The Jews: Works of Josephus, Volume III, Book XIV, Chapter XIV, Baker Book House 1988, pg 316-333.
[17] Devil, What Luther Says, Volume I, Absolution to Giving, Concordia Publishing House 1959, Pg 401-2. Romans 8:28; Job 1:6-12; Job 2:1-7; 1 King 22:19-25
[18] James 1:12-15
[19] Matthew 4:17
[20] 1 Peter 1:20; John 1:1-3; Ephesians 1:3-4
[21] Mark 10:43–45
[22] Philippians 2:6–8

Photo Credits: main photo photomontage, left side detail of Magi traveling from rawpixel, midle detail of Virgin Mary and Christ Child from rawpixel and the right side detail of Magi warned by angel not to return to King Herod from rawpixel; detail of stained galss window of Magi with Christ Child from pixabay; detail of crowning yourself king statue from pexels; detail of Holy Family flight to Egypt from rawpixel; detail of crucifix of Christ on the cross from rawpixel; detail of stained glass window of Jesus baptised from pexels; detail of Félix Joseph Barrias' 'The Temptation of Christ' painting from wikimedia commons; green tinted illustration of skull with crown from pixabay; detail of open Bible from pexels   

Here's a video of the whole Divine Service at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Regina Saskatchewan including the Sermon.