This post is adapted from Gospel Sermons: Volume 1 by C. F. W. Walther.
Today’s text [Matthew 2:1–12] related the first revelation of the newborn Savior to the heathen. In the past twelve days we have, so to speak, celebrated the Christmas of the Jews. Today we celebrate the Christmas of the heathen; this concerns us above all, we who descend from heathen ancestors. Therefore, we are in order to mention today that work by which ever more heathen should be brought to the knowledge of their Savior; I mean mission work.
The Wise Men Led to Christ
My friends, the first fruits of the heathen were led to Christ in a wonderful manner. In an eastern country far from Judea, probably Persia, a supernatural star appeared to several Wise Men. God had revealed to them that this star portended the birth of the King of grace, long expected by the Jewish people. Immediately the Wise Men set out for Jerusalem, the capital of the Jews. Upon arrival they asked, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” What happened? King Herod immediately summoned all the chief priests and the scribes, asking them where according to the Scriptures the Messiah would be born. After they showed him from the prophet Micah that He must be born in Bethlehem, the king directed the Wise Men to this little town. They followed his directions and, lo and behold, they found Him whom they sought, fell down before Him, worshiped Him, opened their treasures, and afterward, carrying the eternal treasure of saving knowledge in their hearts, they returned home.
The amazing thing in this story is that the Wise Men were led by a supernatural star to Judea. Yet what is still more amazing is that God did not choose the star to lead the Wise Men directly to Bethlehem but first detoured them. Herod with his chief priests and scribes must first show them from God’s Word that Bethlehem was the place where Christ could be found.
Mission Work and the Church
The all-wise God had most wise, most important reasons for proceeding thus. Without a doubt one was this: God wished to show for all time to come that it is not by miracles nor by stars nor by angels nor by extraordinary heavenly appearances, but through men, yes, through His established Church, that He wishes to lead the heathen to His dear Son; in short, mission work is the obligation of the Church, of Christians.
Unfortunately, only too many, even good Christians, treat mission work indifferently. They think that they can either do mission work or leave it undone; they can either interest themselves in it or not. And they argue that since today the needs within Christendom are greater than can be met, mission work is really a burden. Therefore, in these distressing times Christians should not be concerned about that. They feel that we should discontinue mission work in order not to hinder progress in other important areas.
But such Christians err. The Christian Church is a debtor to the whole world still living without Christ. She must kindle the heavenly star of the Word and lead the heathen to Bethlehem. This is pictured to us not only in our reading today. All Holy Writ clearly evidences this.
Making Disciples of All Nations
When Christ departed this world, He said to His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20). Of course, Christ with these words made all humanity their field of operation. But they were not the only ones to whom these words applied. They were the root of the tree planted by Christ, which should finally overshadow the whole world. They were the representatives of the whole Church. It was, therefore, really the Church of all ages whom Christ commissioned.
It is the Church upon whom He laid this great obligation. It is the Church to whom Christ entrusted His Word. That is why Christ also added the promise, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The apostles have long since died, and though they filled the whole world with the sound of the Gospel, millions still sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. The words exhorting loudly, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” still resounds in the ears of Christ’s Church. It will continue to resound until the fullness of the Gentiles has entered Christ’s kingdom, that is, until Judgment Day.
Who Is to Do Mission Work?
But who is the Church? The Church does not consist only of clericals, the priests and bishops, but of all Christians. Hence the word of the Lord, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” applies to you, yes, you who through a living faith have entered the communion of the Church. You have taken over your share in the universal obligation of the Church. You have promised to do mission work to the best of your ability.
This work, however, is not only an obligation of Christians because Christ has expressly said it is. Even if Christ had not spoken a word, Christians would recognize it as their responsibility.
Now tell me: Does not every Christian owe God a debt of love? But can a Christian say he loves God, if he can calmly see Satan, the enemy of God, holding millions of people captive? Can a Christian say he loves God if he can calmly see that the greatest miracle of God’s love is still in vain? That in vain He became a man for them, in vain suffered for them, in vain sweat blood for them, in vain died on the cross for them, in vain redeemed, atoned, and won salvation for them? Can a Christian say he loves God if he can calmly see that millions do not know God, serve Satan instead of God, blaspheme instead of praise God? Dishonor His name instead of sanctifying it?
No, as certainly as the love of God remains a Christian’s debt even in all eternity, so certainly is a Christian also obliged to share in the work of missions. Satan’s kingdom must be destroyed and his booty which he robbed from God taken away. On the other hand, God’s kingdom, the kingdom of light, grace, righteousness, and blessedness must be increased and thus the whole world become ever more full of His praise, His honor.
Post adapted from Gospel Sermons: Volume 1, copyright © 2013 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
To read more of Walther’s sermons, order Gospel Sermons: Volume 1 below.