|Messiah Lutheran Church||6201
W Patterson Av
Chicago IL 60634
Hebrews 10:25 tells us "Let us not stay away from our worship services, as some are regularly doing, but let us encourage one another, all the more because you see the day coming nearer."
And while there certainly are valid reasons to miss worship, such as an illness, confinement, an emergency, etc., too often our sinful flesh causes us to make invalid excuses for us not to be in worship.
But just think of the challenges the wise men had to overcome to worship the baby Jesus. For approximately two years they had followed a star, traveling from the east, 600 to 800 miles across the dessert all because of a rather obscure prophecy spoken by the prophet Balaam that a special star would appear in the sky when the Messiah was to be born, saying 'There shall come a Star out of Jacob'" (Numbers 24:17).
And if the Wise Men could overcome these formidable challenges to worship Jesus, how much more should we be able to overcome our own challenges to be in regular worship, especially when our Lord tells us in His Word that He dwells with His people whenever they are gathered together (Matthew 18:20) and promises to come to us in His Word and Sacraments?
A number of years ago when I was the pastor at Christ English in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, one of my classmates, Nelson Unwene, who was the former Bishop of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria, was our guest preacher. We had about 30 to 40 people in attendance that day. And I remember in his sermon, Bishop Unwene saying how surprised he was that attendance was so small for such a very special guest was speaking to us that day. Why, he jested, our church would have been packed if the neighbors only knew who was there that morning! And then he went on to explain that he wasn't talking about himself. Instead, He was referring to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords who was there among us to serve us in Word and Sacrament, assure us of His love, forgiveness, and promises, and bring health and healing where it was needed. And the same illustration can apply to our worship services at Messiah. If only our neighbors knew! If only we members knew, who is among us every Sunday morning to meet our needs, to speak to us, to bring health and healing where it is needed, comfort us with his promises, hope of eternal life, forgiveness and blessings.
While the wise men looked for the sign of a star, God in His Word has given us the visible signs of water, bread and wine attached to the promises of His Word to assure us of our forgiveness in Christ, salvation and eternal life. And that in spite of how things may seem, He is with us and for us. Therefore, who can be against us? For we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us! (cf. Romans 8:31)
When the wise men finally made it to Judea, they thought they would find Jesus in the, capital of
Jerusalem, reasoning that the King of the Jews certainly must live there! Instead, the chief priests and teachers of the law told them that according to Micah 5:2 the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. The word Bethlehem means "House of Bread", and David, fittingly enough, had also been overlooked when he was a young shepherd boy, as the youngest of the 8 sons of Jesse to be anointed the King of Israel.
Similarly, the Bread of Life, Jesus, can be found in a humble church like Messiah, even though there might be bigger and more popular churches to worship at throughout the metro Chicago area. For it is at Messiah that the Word of God is taught in all its truth and purity and the Sacraments are rightly administered.
It's not that those who attend other denominational or non-denominational churches aren't necessarily Christians, but we are also to be careful not to consistently expose ourselves to the false teachings of man, for a little leaven leavens the whole lump (Galatians 5:9) and can result in the shipwrecking of our faith.
At Messiah you can be assured that the living bread from Heaven, namely Jesus, can be found in the purist form possible, as He serves in His Word and Sacraments. For in our preaching and teachings, God's Word is properly divided between Law and Gospel, as through the Law we are afflicted of our sins, in order that we might repent of those sins and be comforted by the precious Good News of the Gospel that we can be forgiven of all our sins because of Christ's sacrificial death on a cross.
At our altar, you can receive the very body and blood of Jesus with, in and under the elements of bread and wine for the forgiveness of your sins and strength of your faith.
And at our baptismal font, people of all ages can be born again through the water and the spirit and not be prevented from doing so until they reach a mythical age of accountability. For as Jesus once said with indignity: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matthew 19:14).
In response to God's indescribable gift of their Savior, the wise men brought some rather unusual gifts for a child: Gold, symbolic of Jesus' being the King of Kings, whose reign is forever; Frankincense, symbolic of Jesus' role as our great high priest, where He is constantly interceding for us on our behalf; and Myrrh, a burial spice, symbolic of his eventual sacrificial death on a cross for our sins and burial in a tomb.
And so we follow the wise men by offering up our own precious gifts to our Savior, praying, "We give thee but thine own, whatever thy gift may be, for all that we have is thine alone a trust Oh Lord from Thee." For ultimately, our offerings of our time, talents, and treasures are outward signs of our willingness to trust in the Lord to provide all that we need in abundance! As Romans 8:32 asks, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?"
The Bible doesn't tell us what happened to the wise men after traveling back to their own country, but we can infer that they were believers in the promised Messiah. Hence, Epiphany is commonly referred to as the "Gentile Christmas". And after beholding him face to face, no doubt they were strengthened even further in their faith in the promised Messiah, so much so that, according to tradition, they willingly became martyrs for their Lord.
Similarly, as we behold by faith the promised Messiah as He comes to us in God's Word and Sacraments, our faith is strengthened even further in Jesus as our loving Savior, and the: Holy Spirit works in us both the desire and the power to make our lives living sacrifices to our Lord as He pleases (cf. Philippians 2:13).
In Hebrews 10:25, cited at the beginning of this article, we are warned not to get out of the habit of regular worship. And often it is the case with our detached members that missing worship has simply become for them a habit. They began by missing worship once, then, twice, then thrice and soon waking up and going to church on Sunday mornings no longer became part of their life's regular routine.
No longer are they convicted in their conscience by the Holy Spirit that they are breaking the third commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day by Keeping it holy", along with breaking their confirmation vow that they spoke before the Lord and others that by the grace of God, they intended "to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord's Supper faithfully."
But the Good News is that in Jesus we can be given a new beginning to give up our bad habits and replace them with good and godly ones. As 1 Corinthians 5: 17 expresses, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."
Dear Friends of Messiah, let us resolve with the help of the Holy Spirit to be in the habit of regular worship, and overcome each and every invalid excuse in order to be here on Sunday mornings. After all, if meeting on the first day of the week for worship was the practice of the early church ( cf. Acts 20:7), what makes us so spiritual that it's not the practice for us here at Messiah, especially living in these latter days?
The wise men sought Jesus by following the prophecy of a Star. May we in tum seek Jesus by following the entire revelation of God's inspired Word, joining Samuel by saying, "Speak, Lord for your servant is listening" (1 Corinthians 3:10), while simultaneously adopting the attitude of the Psalmist when he says to the Lord, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." (119: 105).
For wise men and wise women still seek Him!
I'm looking forward to seeing you in Worship this Sunday!
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