It is better to be wise than to be a fool, is that not true? Life goes so much better when you are wise than when you are a fool. So, if the Wisemen were wise, would it not be good to learn from them? As the book of Wisdom says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” (Prov. 13:20) Let’s walk with the Wisemen for a little bit and learn three nuggets of wisdom.
The first nugget of wisdom we learn from the Wisemen is that Jesus and his Word are for everyone—and here’s the key—not in theory but in practice.
Maybe we already know this, but just put yourself in the Wisemen’s sandals for a minute. They are not Jews. They are what are called “Gentiles”, which is what anyone who is not a Jew is called. What country the Wisemen were from exactly we don’t know; but we do know it wasn’t Israel. They come looking for “the king of the Jews” in the Jewish capital, Jerusalem. Now, while Jewish leaders knew that the Messiah was to be the Savior not just for the Jews but also the Gentiles, as we heard in our first lesson today. But they knew this more in theory than in practice.
But to know something in theory is not the same thing as knowing it in practice. Theory is seeing your football coach diagram a play on the white board with x’s and o’s. Practice is actually trying to run that play, on the football field, in a real game. In theory the Jews knew that the Messiah was for everyone; The Wisemen were the reality; but no one was very glad to see them. Herod got all worked up, and not in a good way, and everybody else with him. As it says in our text, “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him.” So, when some Gentiles show up to worship the king of the Jews, no one is very happy about it.
And how about today. Jesus and his Word and this worship service is for everyone. We know this, right. It’s even inherent in our mission statement, “reaching more people, more often, with God’s truth.” At least in theory. But how about in practice? In theory we might say, “Of course we want Muslims to come and hear about Jesus; and the LGBT community to come and hear about Jesus; and liberals, and atheists, and whoever is posting all those billboards on Minnesota Ave., and people who voted for Hillary, and people who protested the Dakota Access Pipeline, we want them all to come hear about Jesus; we even want people, given the Packers difficulties this season, who secretly hope that Brett Farve comes out of retirement again to come and hear about Jesus with us.” Of course we want that…in theory. But in reality, if such a person started coming here, would we, like Herod and Jerusalem, get all disturbed?
But the Wisemen were not disturbed. So the first thing we learn from the Wisemen is that when you are wise, you understand Jesus and his Word and this worship service is for everyone, not just in theory but in practice. Because the reality is, everyone is sinful—that’s one thing we all have in common. There’s so much that divides us, but at we have in common. And one other thing we have in common is that Jesus is the only solution to our sin and our only Savior. And we have that, in Christ and his Word, for ourselves, and to share. Because that is what our congregation is about, isn’t it–reaching more people, more often, with God’s Truth, not in reality, but in practice.
The second nugget of wisdom we learn from the Wisemen is how do you handle it when you make what you thought was a good decision but it turns out badly.
I’m thinking now of small business owners, or anyone in business, who has to make many decisions about your business…Is there something more you can say to yourself than simply, “Well, that’s business.”? I’m thinking also of doctors, or anyone in the medical field, and you make so many health care decisions…? What do you say to comfort yourself? Drivers have to make decisions…How do you handle it when you make what you thought was a good decision but it turns out badly?
Now I’m thinking about these Wisemen who were looking for the King of the Jews–“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” They did a very logical thing. They went to the capital city, Jerusalem. But this logical decision would set into motion one of the most cruel acts in history. Because of this one decision of the Wisemen, King Herod will end up committing post-birth abortions on dozens and dozens of little boys two years old and younger in and around Bethlehem. As it says immediately after our text, “When Herod realized he had been outwitted by the Wisemen, he was furious and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Wisemen.” How many sets of parents would have to carry such pain in their hearts the rest of their lives because of this? How many siblings would be traumatized, maybe scarred for the rest of their lives? All because the Wisemen made a very logical decision to stop in the capital city to look for the King of the Jews.
Maybe the Wisemen never found out what Herod did; maybe our Lord spared the Wisemen this knowledge. But what if they did. Where do wise men and women find comfort in situations like this? Wise men and women find it in Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love God.” And you hold on to that and repeat it to yourself over and over. Because it is true. Good must also come from such a thing. That is our Lord’s promise.
That’s what God did with this evil act of Herod. He used it to do a very good thing. He used it to fulfill two of his prophecies. The first was from Jeremiah, we read, “Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled, ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” The second OT prophecy that was fulfilled was from Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son”, because Joseph quickly moved Mary and the Christ-child to Egypt to wait until Herod died before returning.
Where do wise men and women find comfort when you make what seem to be a good, reasonable decision but later it turns out badly? Wise men and women find it in Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love God.” And in each other. Notice there was more than just one wiseman (whether 3 or not we don’t know). That’s a gift from God, to have other likeminded people around you to go through such difficult times with. It is important for us to be physically with each other, especially fellow believers, when you go through such difficult times. That’s what wise men and women know.
The third nugget of wisdom we learn from the Wisemen is to trust the Word of God more than our eyes or feelings.
When the Wisemen finally get to the house where Jesus and Mary are (notice they are in a house in Bethlehem, they are no longer in the stable), what do they see? A baby. No halos, no angels, just a baby. Then they do the most unusual thing. They worship him. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary and they bowed down and worshiped him.” If other people had seen this, grown men worshipping a baby in diapers, they might have thought, “How odd.” OK, we might say, that’s how it appears to your eyes and feelings. But what if this baby actually is the Son of God, as the Word of God says; the one who created this universe and makes the sun to rise each morning? What if this baby actually is the Son of God who will grow up to die on the cross to pay for our sin and open the door of heaven? Then it makes perfect sense to bow down and worship him.
Just like today. People might watch us celebrate the Lord’s Supper, “These people are so odd—acting so reverent just to go and eat a little wafer and get a sip of wine. And they are so unwelcoming—telling visitors not to come up to eat the little wafer and get a sip of wine.” OK, we might say, that’s how it appears to your eyes and feelings. But what if you see in, with, and under the bread and wine the actual body and blood of Jesus that earned our redemption, as the Word of God says? The actual body and blood of our Savior—which, as the Bible says, can be a great blessing to the person who eats and drinks in repentance and faith or greatly harm you if you eat or drink wrongly? Then it makes perfect sense that we treat this with such respect and are careful about how we administer this miracle. How important it is to trust the Word more than our eyes/feelings.
Or people might watch us perform a baptism. Splashing some water on a baby’s head and saying, ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And act as if this is a big deal. And they might think, “What’s the big deal? Some water got splashed on a baby.” OK, we might say, that’s how it appears to your eyes and feelings. But what if you see in that water connected to the Word, God himself at work, washing away the sin of that baby’s entire life, adopting that baby into his family, promising that baby heaven, as the Word of God says? Then it makes perfect sense that we act like every baptism, including our own no matter how long ago it was, is a big deal. How important to trust the Word more than our eyes/feelings.
Or people might think, “How odd. These Good Shepherd people seem normal enough, but just look at how evil they are, teaching that Jesus is the only way to heaven, that God magically created the universe, that women are not to have authority over men. How terrible!” OK, we might say, that’s how it appears to your eyes and feelings. But what if you see every word of the Bible as God’s word, as having been written by the Holy Spirit, who never made a mistake? What if you see every word of the Bible as the truth? Then it makes perfect sense to take every word of the Bible seriously, even if that makes us look odd or even evil in the eyes of others.
Because that’s wisdom; the third nugget of wisdom. To trust the Word of God more than our eyes or our feelings. Because our eyes can get tricked and our feelings can lie to us. But, as our Lutheran Confessions of Faith say so often, God cannot lie and his Word cannot deceive.
It is better to be wise than to be a fool. So let us walk with the Wisemen all this week, all this new year, remembering their wisdom: that Jesus and his Word are for everyone, not in theory but in practice; to find comfort in the promise that God works all for good even when a reasonable decision you make turns out badly and to find comfort in each other; and to trust God’s Word more than what our eyes or feelings tell us. Because, as the Book of Wisdom says, “Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly.” (Prov. 3:17, NLT). Amen.