January 7, 2018: Epiphany 1

Let us pray: Dear Savior,  as once the wise men came to worship You, today you moved us to do likewise.  They offered You precious gifts, and we offer You our hearts.  Accept our offering and use it as You used theirs—to help fund the preaching and protecting of Your saving Gospel.  Amen


TEXT:  Matthew 2: 1-12

Dearly Beloved By Christ:  

Everyone loves a good mystery.  We especially love to figure out the seemingly unknowable.  Today we have before us a Biblical mystery, much of it knowable and some unknowable.  Yet, since “all things have been written for our learning” let’s delve into it and be edified.


“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 the king of Jews?  We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’”

Like all good mysteries, this one begins with setting the stage and providing us the cast of characters.  The chief character is: Jesus, recently born in Bethlehem.  The time is the reign of King Herod the Great, called so because his reign lasted about 40 years, not because he was a great man.  In fact, Herod was a horrible human being as the killing of the infants in Bethlehem later attests.  And the other persons involved in this drama were the Magi.  

Now comes the mystery.  Who were the Magi?  What were they?  Exactly where did they come from?  Magi comes from the Greek word: Magoi.  Unfortunately, the translators of the King James version of the Bible didn’t know what this meant, so they called them: Wise Men.  They were wise, but so is every believer in the Biblical prophecies and in Christ, the fulfillment of those prophecies.  Some call them: magicians, or men who practiced the magic arts—often affiliated with the dark side.  This, too, is inaccurate.  For as the Bible says: “What has light to do with the darkness?”  They probably date back over 500 years to the time of Daniel in Babylon and King Nebuccanezer.  They were men who were intelligent and wise and schooled in ancient history from around the known world.  They also were astronomers—not astrologers.  The residual wisdom of natural law was recognized and categorized by these men.  The Babylonian King consulted them for their wisdom.  Daniel was one of their leaders as OT wisdom helped explain natural knowledge of God more concisely.  In the ancient world such people were revered.  Being able to see a miraculous star and ferret out the meaning to it all had obviously been passed down to them from ancient times.  In short, these non-Jews knew the OT and knew of the promised Messiah and now they have come to worship Him.  Yes, when people have God’s Word they also possess the power of the Holy Spirit to bring them to faith.  So, they were a product of ancient mission work.


I find it fascinating that only Matthew’s Gospel mentions them.  Why is this?  After all they are very important.  So, let’s add more insight into their mysterious presence.  Matthew wrote his Gospel account to Jewish background people.  He used more OT prophecies than any of the other writers because the Jews knew those prophecies.  They knew Daniel had been called a “Magoi.”  They knew of his work in Babylon.  So, Jewish background people would understand this connection. They also knew that Ezekiel followed Daniel as one of these Magoi while he was in Babylon.  He, too, preached the Gospel, the Messiah, to all who would listen.  So, this timeless wisdom of God was passed down to future generations of Magoi.     

Later medieval Christian tradition even gives these wise men names: “Caspar, Melchoir, and Balthasar.”  They came up with the concept of 3 men because of the three gifts they brought: “gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”  Later on some Christians came up with identifying them as Kings who were from India, Persia, and the Babylon area.  But this is all smoke with no fire, no truth behind the mystery.  


“They saw his star.”  Was it a star, star?  Was it a comet?—As some have postulated.  Was it a conjunction of planets and celestial bodies, a sign used by God to announce the greatest event in human history?  We don’t know.  But they saw something and they read it correctly.  Personally I like the view of one sainted Lutheran professor who said: “God created a special “star” just for this purpose—to announce the birth of His Son.”  

In any case, they came to worship Christ.  Gentiles came to honor the Jewish Messiah because He wasn’t just a Jewish Savior but the Savior of all nations.  This is another reason only Matthew includes this account.  The Jewish readers of his Gospel were insular.  They scorned non-Jews.  By having such people honor the Christ-Child here, the whole concept of “Little Christmas”, of Christ is the Savior of all, is born and literally fleshed out.  And since we are non-Jews, it is a very important story for us to hear and take to heart.  Obviously these Magoi did so as they journeyed close to 1000 miles to come.  And when they arrived, they went to Jerusalem the capital, thinking that was the logical birthplace.  But, they were wrong!  They didn’t have complete knowledge of the OT.  They didn’t know about Micah’s passage concerning Christ being born in Bethlehem.  But, of course, they soon were set straight.


Like all good mysteries, this one now has palace intrigue, evil plotting, and the good guys coming out on top!  “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”  This evil, insecure man hated anything and anyone who vied for his power.  This little sentence tells us that heads literally rolled at this unexpected news.  But like all evil people, Herod was crafty.  He secretly called the wise men to him and quizzed them as to the particulars.  When they would come back to report to him, he would have the child killed!  But, of course, God intervened.  He always does.  So, the Magoi go to Bethlehem, find the Baby Jesus, worship Him, give Him very expensive gifts—Gold to later fund the escape to Egypt, frankincense used to offer up prayers to God in heaven, and myrrh used for burials—marking the future death of Christ to save the world.  Fitting, indeed!  And then a Divine dream was sent from God to redirect them back to Babylon by another route to protect both them and the holy family. So there you have this mystery of the Magoi made more understandable.  

Question: Are you a wise man?  Are you also one of these modern-day Magoi?  Think about it?  You have come to God’s Church today to worship Christ, just like they did.  You know the wisdom of the ages: “That God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their sins against them anymore.”   You offer Him your prayers because you know He’s the Son of God with omnipotent power to help you.  You offer Him your gifts because He deserves the best of the best.  Epiphany, the revealing of Christ as the Savior of all people from all nations, is a fabulous holy day.  And now, once more, you and I are a part of it!  Rejoice!  Amen