The Joy Filled People
December 28, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
A Joy That Fills
1. In the gospel that I read to you today it is written, "The scholars were filled with joy to see that star," (verse ten). [They were joyous] because under that star there was the house where baby Jesus was. They still saw only the house. They hadn't met him. Yet they were already so filled with joy. If that's the case, then how great was their joy when they opened the door! How great was their joy when they actually saw the baby with his mother Mary! How great was their joy when they did in fact worship the baby Jesus and gave their gifts to him! The fatigue of their long journey and all that must [have seemed] a breeze by their joy. Even though they must continue their long trip again to get back to their country, their worries for their destination must have been blown away. That's how true joy is.
2. It was Jesus the baby who was there. It was Jesus there just fast asleep. The fact is he did not do anything for them. If he didn't heal any of them with a miracle, then neither did he multiply any food miraculously and give it to them. It was just a sleeping Jesus. However, they were filled with the most joyous of joys in having meet Jesus and having worshipped and given him [gifts]. Because Jesus was just there, they were filled with such joy, so that it is possible to say they didn't need anything else but [him].
3. That's how meeting Jesus really must be. The joy of the scholars whom we see here in this text has also been the joy that the church generation after generation has experienced. Even if it had persecution, even if it was in the midst of hardships, even if it was in the midst of unrest where it could not see its future destination, even if it had piles of unresolvable problems, they could assemble around the Lord's table on the first day of the week. They all got together looking for Jesus. While they partook of holy communion with the Lord, they met with Jesus, and they bowed before the presence of Jesus, and gave their gifts from their hearts. That's how they put themselves in a position of hope for salvation. Of course, their persecution didn't just go away by doing that. Their hardships didn't go away. No, indeed, more than likely instead, the more they assembled, the fiercer the persecutions became. Yet, they had joy in it. Because they had an overflowing joy, both their fatigue from many days of travel and their pain which they had received amidst hardships all blew away into thin air. Carrying along this joy of theirs, they could still step out into a journey amid hardships. They could walk encouraged. That has been what the church for generation upon generation has experienced.
4. This joy in worshipping like this, which the church over the generations has imparted, is also being given to us. Our walk each week, like the scholars guided by the star, is a walk to meet with the holy son. And as we repeat that weekly journey, we are literally heading towards meeting the son on the end of days. Our very lives and also even world history itself are nothing more than a journey to meet the son. Worship each week is nothing more than the experience of our being allowed to get a foretaste of that immeasurable joy of when we ultimately meet Jesus. Today is the last Lord's day of this year, but in the coming new year we want to have the Lord give us this experience, more and more abundantly, of this joy in worship. Let's experience for ourselves that joy of those scholars, that the Lord lets us have.
The Invitation Of God Is Widely Extended
5. By the way, [it was] scholars of astrology who had felt that joy. When we ponder this imagery of them, we can see important details from it. First, the scripture says they were scholars of astrology who had come "from the east." These men were originally from far away. Well, they weren't just geographically from a great distance. They were, the text says, "scholars of astrology." This can also be translated by the word for "magicians, sorcerers." They are diviners from the pagan world, a type of person in the magical arts. As you know, the law of Moses strictly forbids any type of divination, incantation, charm, or sorcery. Therefore, when seen from the perspective of the Jews, these astrologers from the east were, as they would say, the most unclean or defiled of men and persons considered to be the farthest from salvation.
6. Thus, the scripture says that these men, who were believed not only to be geographically distant, but also the most distant from salvation, were guided to the messiah and were filled with great joy. It is often stated that they "were guided by the star," but realistically speaking, "the star" did not do the guiding. If we assume that [a guide] did guide them, it was God. To get to the point, what is written here in this text is the message that God deliberately chose persons who seemed to be the farthest from salvation, but he guided them, had them meet the messiah, and filled them with joy. This is obviously a demonstration [of what could be also true for anybody]. No matter how far a person is from salvation, no matter how defiled by sin a person is, no matter how much a person has lived in disobedience to God, [God] wants to fill [anyone] with joy by guiding [such an one] to the messiah and granting salvation. [This] is nothing but a demonstration to reveal and give a look inside God's bosom.
7. As a matter of fact, didn't the will and the heart which God had revealed at that time come to pass later? When Jesus began his work of public proclamation at around thirty years of age, the ones who gathered there [with him] were the tax collectors and the sinners who were scorned and considered far from salvation. Later when the church was preaching Christ, the ones who gathered together in a place of worship and who were filled with joy were not the Jews, but rather the Gentiles who were looked upon as far from salvation. Also, if we look at ourselves, if we look around Shoei Church, I would say, in fact, God's will looks to me to be coming to pass. We were truly far from God's salvation, and sinful [though] we [be], yet aren't we here now in this place?
8. This is something like an invitation from God. We mustn't think of ourselves or others as if beyond being subjects for God's salvation. Even the Gentile astrologers are filled with joy. God invited them. God did not exclude them from joy. It is not God who excludes from joy. It is us. It is none other than us who exclude ourselves from joy and keep ourselves at a distance from it.
9. After this another thing is important, which we can see from the imagery of these scholars of astrology. It is that they had actually set out on a journey. This seemed necessary for them so that they would not exclude themselves from joy; because had they actually stayed in the east, they probably never would have met the messiah and they never would have been filled with joy.
10. God had certainly guided them. He did it by using the star. He guided them by using the knowledge of astrology that they had. In the first place, since the astrologers from the east had an interest in the messiah who was to be born king of the Jews, it probably did not come from only a knowledge of astrology. They must have had upon them the religious influence of the Diaspora Jews who had been scattered to the east. Thus, this thing of God's guidance is not simple. It has various elements to it, it has divine preparation in various forms, it has [him] working in [many areas]. It is not a mere "guidance from a star."
11. Though now, God does guide them that way, yet it is the persons themselves who actually set out on the journey. It is the persons themselves who actually walk and make the trip. Without that, they would never have met Christ or been filled with joy. In fact, it is the same way for us, too. Some people are raised in Christian homes. Some people received a big influence from having a Christian teacher at school. Some were talked into it by a friend. When you think about it, I'm sure there have already been numerous times when [God has been] at work with [someone or something] for you, besides what that looked like big occasions. All of it was guiding by God. But, if you didn't actually think, "I'm gonna go to church," well actually if you did not just think that but also actually didn't put on your shoes, go outside, and get on down to church, then I'm not too sure you'd be here right now. If you had never begun to look for the truth and desired to be baptized, then I'm not too sure you'd be living the Christian life.
12. They said, "Since we have seen the star for him in the east, we have come to worship," (verse two). To investigate the star they had seen they could have also done it on a scholarly level because it seems the ancient astrological world had a scholarly enough system in itself. Or else they could have also investigated into the messiah via the dispersed Jews. But to actually meet and worship [him], they had to get up, come away from their own places, and go out on a journey. That is fundamentally different from investigating into Christ from an outside [remote position], from a high [tower], safely put. We must make up our minds and go outside. We must go out on an adventure. Unless we take such a first step, we will never ever be able to actually meet and worship [the messiah]. We must initiate action.
13. As a matter of fact, in this passage persons can be found who have done the exact opposite. They are King Herod, both the chief priests and the scribes of the law as well, and possibly the people of Jerusalem. It is an ironic story. When they were asked, "Where is the messiah supposed to be born?," they were immediately able to give the answer, "It is Bethlehem of Judah." They already had the knowledge. What's more, Bethlehem was at most only ten kilometers or so away. If they wanted to go, they could have gone right away. They knew the scholars of astrology were about to go there. If they wanted to accompany them, they could have.
14. But they did not take one single step. When it says they did not take one step, it is not merely referring to the local, or geographically close nature of it. They refused to take just one step from their own worlds in which they had been living till now, their worlds in which they had been so comfortably familiar. Instead, no matter what it took, they wanted to keep the world in which they had been living, so that they didn't even need to take one step. No matter what it took, Herod wanted to keep and maintain the world in which he was the king. The other people were all the same, too. As they didn't change, they remained in the world that was the way they had wanted it to be so far. They were not willing to take one step out of it. Even though the savior was already right in front of their eyes!
15. The ones filled with joy were the scholars from the east who had actually set out on the trip. It was the ones who initiated the action by actually stepping out with courage. Let us also initiate action in the coming year two thousand and nine. Let's step out from those places where we have not changed for a long long time. Let's take a step towards Christ. Let's take a step of faith. Let's take a new step in order to truly meet Christ and be filled with joy. It will first of all be a weekly worship. Just like they [sought the Christ], let's take a new step each week by seeking Christ earnestly, by seeking to come before the presence of Christ, by seeking to offer to the Lord a worship from the heart. Shall we not then receive what God would have us have a share in, the kind of great joy which we have not yet known, the kind of great joy in which suffering, hardships and sorrow blow away into the breeze?