After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:1-12, NIV)
All mighty God, we thank you for your Word and the way that you in it revealed to us who you are and what you’ve done for us in Christ. Now, as we open that Word, we pray that your Spirit may be present, that all thoughts of worry or distraction may be removed and that the Spirit will allow us to hear your voice. And so, oh God, fill us with your Spirit through the reading and proclamation of your Word this day. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen
“Epiphany of Grace”
Epiphany (/ɪˈpɪfəni/ i-PIF-ə-nee). The Word Epiphany is from Koine Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epipháneia, meaning manifestation or appearance. It is derived from the verb φαίνειν, phainein, meaning “to appear or reveal.” In classical Greek, it was used of the appearance of dawn, of an enemy in war, but especially of a manifestation of a deity to a worshiper (a theophany). In the Septuagint, the word is used of a manifestation of the God of Israel (2 Maccabees 15:27). In the New Testament, the Word is used in 2 Timothy 1:10 to refer either to the birth of Christ or to his appearance after his resurrection, and five times to refer to his Second Coming.
“What’s an epiphany?” you might ask. An epiphany is one of those moments in life when something profound is revealed to you. For example, when Albert Einstein conceived the mathematical equation E=mc², that was, to him, an epiphany. Something new was revealed. The epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ was when Christ was revealed to man.
The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Christian holiday celebrating this revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. It is one of the oldest Christian holidays.
In our text today, we read about the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s the story of how God revealed himself to the world. In our sermon today, we read how God reveals his grace In His Word and In Our Lives.
II. GOD’S GRACE REVEALED IN HIS WORD
This is a very familiar Bible story. In fact, it’s one that has been embellished quite a bit. For example, we all know there were three wise men, right? Wrong. The Bible says nothing about the number of magi, just the kinds of gifts they brought. We also know that they were kings from the Orient, right? Wrong, again. All we know is that these men came from somewhere in the east, probably from Babylon or Persia (modern-day Iraq & Iran). We need to be careful not to say more than the Bible does. After all, this is God’s epiphany, his revelation. Let’s allow him to speak. What God does tell us in his Word is that “magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” The word “magi” is an interesting word. The Word literally means “wise man.” The term is also used to describe people who were astrologers, magicians, sorcerers, pagan priests, and involved with the occult.
These don’t sound like very “wise” men when you think about it. They were involved in things that were not pleasing to God. So, the question is this: how did these foreigners know to look for the Savior? The answer: they had God’s Word. Remember, the term “magi” was a word used in ancient Babylon. We know that the Jews had long before been taken to Babylon in exile because of their idolatry against the Lord. Among those Jews was Daniel. We hear about Daniel in the Old Testament. What we know is that Daniel worked with other magi, or wise men, in Babylon and often helped them out. He was their friend. A faithful believer like Daniel would have definitely told his new friends in Babylon about the coming Savior. And so, years passed, but Daniel’s message remained. These particular magi had heard the good news concerning the King of the Jews.
Now, it’s obvious the Magi didn’t have all the facts. Their faith and understanding were weak and limited, to say the least. In fact, where do we find them looking for answers? They turn to the stars. Some would say they were turning to their pagan beliefs concerning astrology. That may be true to a point. Yet, they looked to the sky because they were convinced a sign was there. The Magi believed the truth was in the stars.
Notice how God used a star to pull the Magi to reveal his glory. The Lord was patient and gracious with these gentiles. He gave them a sign they could follow for the moment. In his own way, God used a special star to let these wise men know that a special king had been born. After all, this is the Lord of the universe in control of this situation. All the stars, planets, and galaxies serve his purpose. God decreed that a star be set in the sky for these Magi at creation. And in doing so, the Lord fulfilled his own promises spoken by Isaiah: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
God led the Magi on to see his great epiphany. He led them straight to Jerusalem, the capital city. They went from street to street inquiring about the birth of the new king. What must have puzzled the Magi is that everyone in Jerusalem seemed to be in the dark concerning Jesus’ birth. King Herod eventually catches the news, and then some answers are found. Finally, the chief priests and scribes are summoned. They give a quick answer to the Magi’s question: “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is was the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”
So, how did the Magi find Christ? The star didn’t provide all the answers. God’s Word did. These Magi left their homes seeking truth in a star. They were basing their travels on a bit of information that had been passed down to them. Theirs was a simple faith, established and solidified by God’s Word. God was patient with these men. He blessed them. His Word provided them with all the answers they needed.
The Lord graciously led the Magi to see the truth. He led them to his holy Word. And then he led them to see that Word fulfilled. God longs to lead us to his Word every day so that we can grow in our faith and understanding. The Word of God is an epiphany in itself. It reveals God’s grace to us. For the prophets still speak today. They reveal God’s grace, telling us that all our sins were laid on Jesus; our punishment fell on him; because of Christ, we are forgiven children of God. In fact, these are the very words that Jesus praises, saying: “These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.” (John 5:39)
God has revealed his grace to us so that we might know him. What an epiphany this biblical account affords to our lives! Just stop and consider the blessing God’s revealed Word is in our lives! Without God’s Word, there is no guidance or comfort. And that’s a revelation we all can perceive. Have we ever tried to be Christians without regular reading of and reflection on the Bible? Have we ever tried to discern what difficult decisions we should make without praying for God’s help and guidance first? Do we ever try to carry our burdens around, handle things ourselves, attempting to solve our own problems and those of the world rather than giving them to God? Sure we do. The result is a miserable epiphany. We see that life is miserable and frustrating. Without the Bible, we soon see that our trust is misplaced, our hope misguided, and all knowledge is misunderstood. God has given us his Word, however. He has revealed himself to us. We have a Savior! In him, we find answers to questions, guidance through life, and hope for eternity.
III. GOD’S GRACE REVEALED IN OUR LIVES
It isn’t some vague notion or sign that reveals this truth to us. God’s Word reveals his grace to us. One of two things happens when God reveals his grace in our lives. We either act like Herod, or we respond like the Magi. Herod was preoccupied with his own little world. He was minding his own business, doing his own thing. He wasn’t seeking the Messiah as the wise men were. It doesn’t appear that he’s given any thought to the Messiah until the Magi appear in the city.
Once it’s brought to his attention, Herod becomes enraged. This Messiah would be born the king of the Jews. The long-awaited Messiah, who was supposed to make the country strong again, who was supposed to rid their land of these oppressive foreigners, the one everyone in Judea had been waiting for—promised by God—was born to take Herod’s place. He didn’t like that too much. In fact, he was quite troubled about it. Suddenly, he didn’t like God’s plan. How wise is Herod? The Messiah was going to be imposing on his life. The Messiah was going to take away his kingdom. This revelation had an impact on Herod. He refused to listen. Instead, he tried to suppress the message. He went on a mad killing spree ordering the death of all baby boys two years old and younger.
Just like King Herod, God’s grace impacts our lives. His grace forces us to deal with our own selfishness. His grace insists we address our own greedy ambitions. God’s grace does battle with our sinful hearts. He forces us to see that our “little kingdoms”. Deep down, we all want to be kings of our own lives. We all want the praise and adulation. We want royalty. And so we long to surround ourselves with the stuff we declare “royal necessities.” From the clothes we wear to the food we eat, we crave royalty. Everything has to be in the right place in our lives. We need the right labels and the right name brands in order to feel accepted in our kingdoms. After all, this is our kingdom. And no one dared take it from us! Well, what happens when Christ comes and dares to be king in our lives? How do we react when he wants to be royalty? Our first reaction is to be like King Herod. We’re thrown into turmoil. We go on a rampage. “Another king? How can this be?” we ask. And so our bottom lips stick out as we pout, kick, and scream, “I’m King, and no one can take my throne away!”
Still, God keeps coming to us. Again and again, he reveals his grace. He shows us how he can dare be king in our lives. For he replaces everything he takes away. He takes a loved one; he replaces that person. He takes wealth; he replaces it. He takes health; he replaces it. He replaces all he takes with himself and all that his kingdom has to offer – hope, life, and salvation. After all, the Lord doesn’t want your DVD player, your computer, or your clothes. He wants your heart. He wants to shine first in your life. And once he has your heart, everything else pales in comparison.
That was the Magi’s epiphany. True, they weren’t biblical scholars, but they believed in the King of kings. God had revealed his grace to them. God led them to realize that they had wealth beyond their wildest dreams. It wasn’t the gold, frankincense, or the myrrh. No. Their greatest treasure was Jesus Christ, the light of the world. That treasure moved them to share their other treasures in worship to the Lord.
God’s grace leads us to be more like the Magi. Unlike Herod, the Magi truly wanted to worship the Messiah King. God has revealed his grace in our lives so that we have that same desire. That means we can worship God with sincerity. The gifts we bring to our Lord come from our hearts. After all, Jesus is the king. We give of ourselves because we know God first gave himself for us. Whether it’s helping provide refreshments on Sunday morning or simply sweeping the sidewalk, whether it’s getting involved with a committee and helping organize an area of ministry or praying for someone else—it’s worship to our King.
And so we open up the treasures of our lives and offer them in humble service to our Savior. What can you give to your Savior? Do you have time? Then spend time on your Savior. Offer an hour to the Lord as you visit someone in the hospital or an elderly shut-in. Have you been blessed with monetary wealth? Give glory to your King; present him with a gift to improve his house of worship. Have you been blessed with a voice that loves to sing? Present that gift to the Lord and use it in the choir. Have you been given two hands? Fold them in prayer for someone in need. Do you have two good feet? Use them to carry you to the neighbor’s house and invite them to church. Do you have one heart? Offer it to your Savior as a throne. It’s been said, “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” God has proven that to us. He gave himself to us because he loves us. God’s love is revealed in his Word. And his love is reflected in our lives as we worship him with our lives. Now, that’s an epiphany.
Let us pray: God of all heaven and earth, from the breath of your love, came the creation of the world. We are amazed at the vast beauty of the night sky and at the intimate nature of the love you have for us, your children. Be our daily star, guiding our lives to search for kingdom love. May we always follow your light of truth in all that we do, forever trusting, hoping, and believing in your Word. Lift our eyes tonight to see your eternal life shining brightly, leading us home. Amen.
The Bible texts of the Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel lessons are from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
God’s grace is revealed in his Word. His Word leads us to worship him with our lives.