Epiphany 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
January 7, 2018
Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

Sermons online:
Full Service Audio:

What are they doing here?

You go to sports bar in Columbus on game day and everyone is wearing their scarlet and gray and the gathered patrons are all pulling together for the home team when in walks a group wearing blue and maize.  “What are they doing here?”

You go to an elementary school band concert and you see a group of teenagers dressed like they are going to a rock show come in and sit in the front row looking like they are ready to start a mosh pit.  “What are they doing here?”

Sometimes people just look out of place.

You come into church on Sunday morning and you get settled into your pew and some folks enter in and walk past you toward a front pew.  Who would evoke the response from you, “What are they doing here?”

Maybe a group of teenage boys and girls with tattoos and gauged ears and bare midriffs and sagging pants?  Maybe a group of steelworkers getting off the night shift all grimy and tired? Maybe a group of folks sporting rainbow t-shirts and wrist bands?  Maybe a group of foreign students? Maybe a group of Orthodox Jews with their yarmulkes and fringes on their shirts.   Maybe a group of strung out drug addicts who look like they have been sleeping on the street for a month?  Maybe… who else?  Who might elicit the question, “What are they doing here?”

This is the kind of question the wise men likely encounter as they roll into Jerusalem asking about the one born King of the Jews.  The ESV translates their title magos as “wise men”, but that may give them more credence then they deserve. Perhaps it is better to leave it at Magi.  In the book of Daniel this word in the Greek Old Testament is translated as magician; one of those who could not interpret the kings dreams.  In Acts 13 the word magos is also translated as magician.  But here in Matthew we get it as “wise men” which may cause us to miss an important question.  “What are they doing here?”

These eastern Magi; magicians, soothsayers, fortune tellers, astrologers; what are they doing here?  What are they doing in Jerusalem looking for a baby born King of the Jews?  They are not Jews.  They are not descendants of Abraham and Sarah.  They do not bear the mark of the covenant.  “What are they doing here?”

They don’t belong here.  And yet, the Magi are the ones who follow the star and come seeking the newborn king.  The Magi are the ones who go to Bethlehem.  The Magi are the ones looking for the Messiah.

The ones who belong; the scribes, the Pharisees, the priests, none of them go the Bethlehem.  The ones who belong do not go.  The Jewish religious leaders do not go.  The supposedly Jewish King does not go.  The Magi go.  And these unlikely ones bring kingly gifts and they worship the newborn king.  The ones who have no business being there are the ones with the greatest understanding.  They may not fully understand all that the baby Jesus is destined for in His life, but they understand He is King of the Jews and He is worthy of worship and given gifts fit for a king.

These eastern Magi; magicians, soothsayers, fortune tellers, astrologers; what are they doing here?  What are they doing in Jerusalem looking for a baby born King of the Jews?  They are not Jews.  They are not descendants of Abraham and Sarah.  They do not bear the mark of the covenant.  “What are they doing here?”

Who are the Magi?  We really don’t know much.  Magicians; soothsayers from the East.  Perhaps they are of the same group of Magi that interacted with Daniel in Babylon 500 some years earlier.  Perhaps Daniel familiarized the Magi’s predecessors with knowledge of the true God YHWH and the promise of a coming Messiah.  Daniel may have shared with them from Isaiah 60:1-3 (ESV) 1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.[1]  That is only a guess.  We really don’t know much about the Magi except that they are most unexpected.  What are they doing here?  And yet these unexpected ones worship Jesus when the expected ones ignore him, at best, and, at worst, try to kill him.

We can ask the same question of the shepherds who come seeking the baby the night of His birth.  “What are they doing here?”  These rough, callous, men working nights watching sheep.  These are not the ones you would expect to come seeking the baby Savior; Christ the Lord, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.  Thek shepherds and the Magi come and folks ask, “What are they doing here?”  But the ones you expect are nowhere to be seen.

We need to be on guard against becoming so comfortable about belonging that we no longer seek to worship the King.  We need to also beware of ever thinking about anyone else, “What are you doing here?”  How arrogant of us to think that we deserve to belong while others do not.  Your belonging in the Body of Christ is not about your goodness but about Christ’s good gifts.

We need to always keep fresh in our minds that we are the unexpected ones coming to worship Jesus.  It is quite unexpected that you are here; Gentiles from Europe, Asia and Africa.  The Gentiles were not God’s chosen people, but then, in Christ, everything changed.  Paul writes in Ephesians, (Eph. 3:6 ESV) “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

The mystery of Christ is revealed to people shouldn’t who shouldn’t even be here.  It is revealed to unlikely people.  We are unlikely people.  My ancestry traces back to Germany, Norway and England.  How unlikely are these people?  Germanic tribes, Vikings, Celtic Tribes, and yet all these countries became Christian nations.  You come from unlikely people and you are unlikely people.  We are unlikely people to be followers of Jesus.  We are as unlikely as the Magi and yet here we are to worship the king and offer gifts to the King.

The Magi come and bring gifts for the King and worship Him.  We are called to do the same; to come to Jesus as King in worship.  We worship Jesus as our merciful Lord and Master.  Jesus is King we are His subjects.  We pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

There is a danger that people come to Jesus and want to change Jesus, but that is not how it works.  The Magi do not try to change Jesus.  They worship Jesus as He is.  You do not get to change Jesus.  You do not get to mold Jesus to fit your understandings.  You do not get to adjust Jesus’ teachings to fit your desires.  You do not get to erase parts of the Bible that don’t fit your ideas.  If you mold and shape Jesus to fit your understandings and desires then you are taking authority over Jesus.  You are declaring yourself to be king and Jesus to be your subject.  Then you are praying, “My Kingdom come, my will be done.”

You do not change Jesus; rather you are transformed by Jesus.  You come to Jesus as a sinner and are cleansed in the waters of baptism and called out of your sin; you are called into humble obedience, you are called into love and service.  Like the Magi, you come to Jesus on His terms and in His ways, which are not the ways of the world.  Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world.

The Magi do not come to a palace to worship a king on a throne.  They come to a house to worship an infant on His mother’s lap.  We do not come to the throne room of heaven to worship Jesus.  We come to this house to receive Jesus in, with and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  We come to worship Jesus as He is; the Lord and Savior.  The Lord and Master.  The creator and redeemer.  God incarnate.  Jesus is the master; you are the servant.  And Jesus shows us how to serve as He is the Servant Savior.

You are molded and shaped and transformed by Jesus and you learn from Jesus to be servants to one another.  This is not a place for glory and pride as the world knows glory and pride.  This is a place of forgiveness, love and service.  Jesus is our king but Jesus is not a King of earthly glory and honor.  Jesus’ glory is in His suffering and death.  Jesus’ throne is the cross of Calvary.  The Magi come to Jerusalem asking, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?”  At Calvary Jesus is recognized as King.  The sign Pilate orders hung above His head on the cross announces Jesus’ title that the Magi first use, “King of the Jews”.  INRI, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

The Church is a collection of unlikely sinners gathered together to receive forgiveness in unlikely places; in water, in the Word of God, and in the bread and wine.  It is an unlikely gathering of unlikely people all gathered to worship and bring gifts to the King.

The Church welcomes all the other unlikely people for whom Jesus died.  When you look around on Sunday morning and see all the other folks look at yourself and say, “What am I doing here?”  I don’t deserve to be here, but I am here by the grace of God who led me to faith through the Holy Spirit.  What am I doing here?  I am here to worship the King.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001


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