Each sermon is published in large print for use in preaching, and for easy reading by several people gathered around the computer monitor.
JESUS CHRIST IS THE SAVING GRACE OF BOTH JEWS AND GENTILES
A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE HIGH HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS
6 JANUARY 1991
Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor
Leviticus 19:26, 31
Preparation Verse: (Isaiah 42:6)
"I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations."
Today is Epiphany.
Do you know the significance of this celebration?
It is the day we set apart on our calendars to mark the fact that Jesus Christ came to save all believers, whether Jew or Gentile. Specifically, this day celebrates the visit of the Magi, the first Gentiles to present themselves before the Christ Child.
Their coming was much more than just a visit, as we shall see.
Hear the words of William Dix expressing the magi's coming, as we sing his hymn.
Hymn: As with Gladness Men of Old
They followed the light of salvation so that they would always be in Jesus' presence.
They bent their knees in search of the mercy seat: the throne of God where our belief and repentance brings forth forgiveness and everlasting life.
They gave gifts in thanks of their forgiveness, not that Jesus wanted payment, but that they could help support the family of Christ, as we do with our morning offering.
There is also another very important aspect of the Magi's gifts; for even though both Jews and Gentiles traditionally made animal sacrifices for their forgiveness, they brought gifts of thanksgiving.
They seem to have instinctively known, or were inspired by the Holy Spirit to understand that with Jesus obedience is better than sacrifice, and that by faith they are forgiven.
For this, they were thankful and brought gifts of peace and not death.
And then with the assurance of everlasting life, they proclaim that they no longer need the starlight to guide them, nor will any cloud of sin hinder their view of God's glory.
If we believe, the same forgiveness and everlasting life is for us, too.
Let's join together in expressing our faith, in one of our more traditional ways.
Reading: TE DEUM
We praise thee, O God;
we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee;
the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud;
the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubin and Seraphin :
continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy;
Lord God of Sabaoth;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty;
of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles;
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets;
The noble army of Martyrs;
The holy Church throughout all the world :
doth acknowledge thee;
of an infinite Majesty;
Thine honourable, true;
and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost;
Thou art the King of Glory;
Thou art the everlasting Son;
of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man;
thou didst not abhor the Virgin's womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death;
thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God;
in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come;
to be our Judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants;
whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy Saints;
in glory everlasting.
O Lord, save thy people;
and bless thine heritage.
and lift them up for ever.
Day by day;
we magnify thee;
And we worship thy Name;
ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord;
to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us;
have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us;
as our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted;
let me never be confounded.
Response: 623 - Gloria Patri
It not our reading, or singing of these and other statements of faith that gives us forgiveness and salvation, it's:
Do you truly believe what we read?
Do you naturally acknowledge the Lord our God as we have just expressed?
I pray so!
For only the holy Church does truly acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ.
Those churches that cannot openly express their sins and come to repentance are not holy and do not acknowledge Him.
As we worship, pray that God keep us this day, and everyday, without sin; and that His mercy and forgiveness would be upon us forever, and that we would live such a merciful life for the benefit of the whole of His creation.
Confession and Assurance:
Sharing of Joys and Concerns:
Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:1-2
1. Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judah in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
2. "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him."
We don't know very much about these magi, other than what we are told here.
The journey from the former Babylon took several months, and since we do not know when they arrived, we don't know whether the star appeared to them even before Jesus was born, but it very likely could have.
And the fact that it appeared to these men, who were practicing things that were an abomination to God, is even more significant.
Note what we are told in Leviticus 19:26 –
26. 'You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor practice divination, or soothsaying.'
And also in verse 31 –
31. 'Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.'
What does God say about people who are like this, or who follow after these practices?
Note Leviticus 20:6 –
6. 'As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.'
Yet God is doing just the opposite. He has miraculously placed a star in the sky to lead these magi to the saving grace that comes through His Son.
Because God sees the intent of each and every heart.
They were seeking the truth, but were misled by their culture.
As God began to speak to them through these signs, they obviously recalled something from the word of God, expressed by the Jews who were captive in the land of Babylon 500 years before.
If we are willing just to listen, God will reach out to everyone.
In Isaiah 47:13 the Lord speaks judgment on those who follow the lifestyle of the wise men:
13. "You are wearied with your many counsels;
Let now the astrologers,
Those who prophesy by the stars,
Those who predict by the new moons,
Stand up and save you from what will come upon you."
The magi knew that what they were doing couldn't even save themselves.
They needed a Savior, just as you and I.
If we trust in God, all things will work out.
Let's sing about this adventure of the magi in We Three Kings, and note the purpose expressed.
Hymn: We Three Kings
They go because they are in search of their Savior, and they follow the leading of God.
They present the gift of gold to acknowledge Jesus' kingship.
They present the frankincense as an offering of fragrance to their God.
And the bitterness of myrrh (used for wrapping the body of the dead) as a
prophetic offering of His pending death for all who would believe in Him.
And most importantly, they are traveling from darkness into everlasting and perfect light.
The magi came from a nation of Gentiles, of non-believers, to a nation of supposed believers.
So now let's go back to our Matthew text, and see what effect these magi had on King Herod and the people of Jerusalem.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:3-8 –
3. And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4. And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born.
5. And they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet,
6. 'And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
For out of you shall come forth a Ruler,
Who will shepherd My people Israel.' "
7. Then Herod secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared.
8. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, "Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, that I too may come and worship Him."
These wise men from a pagan nation had so much hope in their hearts that they traveled about 1,000 miles to see the King of the Jews, through whom salvation came.
But the leadership of Israel was troubled over the message that the magi brought; for if in fact Messiah had come, their worldly positions would diminish.
They were jealous of their Messiah, and only wanted to kill Him.
Aren't there people today who have the same intent on their heart?
Those living in Israel at that time, and in Christian nations today, should be so overjoyed that we have a Savior who will lead us out of sin and death, that we should not be able to contain ourselves.
We should seek Him with all our heart, soul, and might, and truly desire to be conformed to Him, as did these pagan magi.
And because the magi truly sought the Lord Jesus and His salvation, they also understood the intent of Herod and the others.
So what did they do?
Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:9
9. And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was.
We know from the account of Jesus' birth, in the Gospel of Luke, that Mary and Joseph and Jesus returned to Nazareth shortly after Jesus was born.
And since we don't know when the magi actually came, the magi may not have even gone to Bethlehem, for the star of the Lord could have led them directly to Nazareth.
If we trust in the Lord, the Lord will lead us in the proper direction, no matter who we are, where we came from, or what we may have done in the past.
But if we have hardness in our heart, the Lord will confound every move we make, unless there are so many unbelievers around that the Lord wishes to make a point, as He did when He led Israel into captivity.
All who have hardness of heart will perish together in hell.
But the magi were truly in search of heaven, and the truth, and the Lord was leading them there, as He does with everyone who seeks Him with an honest heart.
Note the results:
Scripture Reading: Matthew 2:10-12
10. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.
11. And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
12. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way.
Once we have completed our journey to the Lord Jesus, and accepted Him as our Lord and Savior with a repentant heart, we no longer have a need to remain in His physical presence. We no longer have to see Him, for He will abide in our heart, soul, and spirit through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Thus we can go off and do the will of our Father who is in heaven.
And as we begin to leave, the same voice that warned the magi of the dangers, and led them by a different way, will also warn us and lead us, but we must be willing to listen.
The Bible doesn't tell us what happened to the magi after this, or what they did; but I believe they also spread the good news to others, and abandoned their occult practices.
The apostle Paul was a Jew who truly sought the Lord, as did the magi, and even though he was heading in the wrong direction, the Lord changed his pathway so that he could serve properly.
Listen to Paul as he explains this change in Ephesians 3:1-7.
Scripture Reading: Ephesians 3:1-7
1. For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles –
2. if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you;
3. that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.
4. And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,
5. which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;
6. to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,
7. of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.
I, like Paul, am a Jew bringing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.
If you don't believe my words, believe Paul's; and if not Paul's, the magi's; and if not the magi's, then the apostles and prophets; and if not them, then believe the unction of the Holy Spirit who speaks to us in the innermost parts of our being.
And as you listen, do not be afraid to let your heart be broken, as happened with me, and with Paul, and with the magi, and with others who listened.
Hymn: Let Your Heart Be Broken
The Lord's Supper:
Hymn: The Lord's Prayer