The Epiphany of Our Lord
January 6, 2013
Text: Matt. 2:1-12
Christmas is all about the ponderous mystery that God is born a Man. Epiphany is all about the ponderous mystery that this Man is God. Both Christmas and Epiphany are about the ponderous mystery that God has come in the flesh to save His people, all people, from their sins, including you and me. Merry 13th Day of Christmas, the Epiphany of our Lord.
The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “revelation.” Epiphany is the revelation of the ponderous mystery. Today we hear and sing about God in Man made manifest. God is one of us, and in the flesh of Jesus Christ He reveals Himself as a God for us, the God who does something about our sin and death… He dies for it. Throughout the Epiphany Season we’ll get glimpses of who this Man is who is born for us, who dies on the cross for our sins, and who is now risen from the dead. He’s God, as we’ll see with unmistakable clarity next Sunday when we observe the Baptism of our Lord, the Spirit descending upon Him as a dove and the voice of the Father from heaven declaring to Jesus: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22; ESV). The next Sunday we’ll witness our Lord bless a marriage, making water into wine, something only God can do, a sure sign that He is the promised Messiah. We’ll hear Him in the weeks ahead preaching good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, life to those dead in their trespasses and sins. We’ll behold Him casting out demons, stamping out the devil’s kingdom. And finally, on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and Lent, we’ll behold Him on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, with Moses and Elijah, as His divinity shines brilliantly through His humanity in the Transfiguration of Our Lord, when once again the Father declares to us all: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35). Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Jesus Christ is God.
All of this has been revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures. We have the scriptural testimony in abundance, especially in the New Testament. But what is amazing is that some pagan astrologers, magi, students of the world’s wisdom, knew on the basis of Hebrew prophecy that when a certain star arose in the heavens (undoubtedly it was spectacular), then the King of the Jews, the Messiah had been born. Magi, wise men, who were they? We have no idea how many came, in spite of the tradition that there were three. There may have been many more. They came from the East, probably Persia, modern day Iran. The East was known for its magi, and among them were some faithful worshipers of God, including the Prophet Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. I suppose since this is the case, it’s not all that surprising that the magi had some knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. But what was the prophecy about the star? It’s an obscure passage from the book of Numbers, when Baalam was supposed to curse the Israelites, but ended up blessing them instead. There he said: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num. 24:17). Perhaps they also knew the prophecy of Isaiah in our Old Testament lesson: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” (Is. 60:1). The light of the star was the sure indication that the glory of the LORD, His Christ, had come. And Isaiah goes on in the same chapter to prophesy the coming of the magi: “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD” (v. 6).
So it is that the magi found the little Lord Jesus in a house in Bethlehem, with Mary, His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him (Matt. 2:11). Beholding the Savior, they were no longer pagans. Now they were Christians, and the good news was made manifest that this Savior is not for the Jews alone, but also for us Gentiles, for the whole world. It was an epiphany. The magi, beholding Jesus, now beheld true wisdom… foolishness in the eyes of the world, but the very wisdom of God who became a little baby, who became a man for us men and for our salvation. And they brought Him gifts: Gold, for He is, after all, a King, the King of the Jews, and the King of the universe; frankincense, the incense offered to God in the Temple, for He is, after all, God the Son; and then myrrh. Now that’s an interesting one. It’s a burial spice. This gift is a prophecy of our Lord’s death and burial. All three gifts are a testament of our Lord’s identity. Jesus is Lord, the King, our God in the flesh, come to die for our sins.
The Savior’s future is written in the stars, so to speak, or in the star, anyway. For at the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the prophetic Scriptures, the magi follow the star to Judea. They upset all Jerusalem with their talk about the One born King of the Jews. They upset murderous Herod who is paranoid of kingly competition. So from the very beginning, our Lord Jesus is a marked man. “Where is the Christ to be born?” Herod asks the chief priests and scribes of the people. In Bethlehem of Judea, as it is written in the Prophet Micah. Go, dear magi, “search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him” (v. 8). But Herod is duplicitous. It is not worship he plans, but a bloodbath. So what happens when the wise men are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, but to depart to their own country by another way? Herod orders the cold blooded murder of every boy in Bethlehem two years old and younger. “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more” (v. 18). But don’t be too surprised. We do the same thing here in America. It’s called abortion. The heartless idolatry of fallen man knows no bounds.
That’s why Jesus had to die. He escaped Herod’s sword that time. But only because it was not yet the time appointed. Jesus came to die. Jesus came to die for you. He came to die for your inability to believe the Scriptures as the pagan magi did, your refusal to place yourself under God’s Word, to take your mind captive to Holy Writ, to be molded and shaped by the Word made flesh as He reveals Himself to you in the Old and New Testaments. He came to die for your despising of preaching and God’s Word and His blessed Sacrament, your willingness to do just about anything other than kneel before the Child of Bethlehem, Mary’s Son, and worship Him by receiving His gifts to you. He came to die for your greed and miserliness, your reluctance to yield up your time, your talents, your treasures for your Lord, as the wise men did who gave Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh, along with their very selves and their sin. He came to die for you, and for abortionists, and for babies who are murdered, and mothers who didn’t know they had any other choice. He came to die for Herod, and if Herod had only known that and believed it, he would be in heaven today with the Holy Innocents. Beloved, Jesus Christ came to die for you and for the magi and for all people, for the forgiveness of all of your sins, whatever those sins might be. The Epiphany is that God loves you in spite of your sin, that He delivers you from your sin by sending His Son, God in the flesh, to die for you on the cross, that you might live.
The popular saying is that “wise men still seek Him.” But the saying gets it backwards. The surprise ending of the whole account is that, in spite of the fact that the magi travelled many miles to find the newborn King, it was, finally, Jesus who found them. He sought them by His Spirit in His Word back in their homeland. He brought them to Bethlehem. They brought Him gifts, but the greater gift was that which Jesus gave to them. His life for theirs. Eternal life in His death and resurrection. And, as it turns out, it is not that wise men seek Him. It is that He makes men wise unto salvation, with the foolishness of God, the ponderous mystery, that this Man is God, that God dies on a cross, that the Man who is God has been raised from the dead and gives you eternal resurrection life. Merry 13th Day of Christmas. A blessed Epiphany of Our Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.