Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
January 6, 2013- Epiphany Sunday
Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
From the Book of the prophet Isaiah:
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 proclaim the praise of the Lord.
From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:
When you read this you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that is, how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
“Arise and shine!” is God’s “wake-up call” to Jerusalem, because a new day is dawning for Israel. This light is not from the sun but from the glory of God shining on the city.
God’s glory had once dwelt in the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34-38), only to depart because of Israel’s sin (1 Sam. 4:21). God’s glory then came into the temple (1 Kings 8:11), but it departed when the nation turned to idols (Ezek. 9:3; 10:4, 18; 11:22-23). The glory came to Israel in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:14), but the nation nailed that glory to a cross. Today, God’s glory dwells in His church (Eph. 2:20-22) and in His people individually (1 Cor. 6:19-20); but one day His glory will be revealed to the earth when He answers His people’s prayer: “Thy kingdom come.”
If a man suddenly appears and claims to be a king, the public immediately asks for proof. What is his background? Who pays homage to him? What credentials can he present? What is his heritage? Does he come from a long line of royalty? Anticipating these important questions, St. Matthew opened his book with a careful account of the birth of Jesus Christ and the events that accompanied it.
We must consider the three names assigned to God’s Son. The name Jesus means “Saviour” and comes from the Hebrew name, Joshua, which means “Jehovah is salvation.” There were many Jewish boys with the name Joshua, but Mary’s Boy was called “Jesus the Christ.” The word Christ means “anointed”; it is the Greek equivalent of Messiah. He is “Jesus the Messiah.” Jesus is His human name; Christ is His official title; and Immanuel describes who He is – “God with us.” Jesus Christ is God!
The King, then, was a Jewish male who is also the divine Son of God. But, did anybody acknowledge His kingship? Yes, the magi from the East came and worshiped Him.
We must confess that we know little about these men. The word translated “wise men” refers to a group of scholars who studied the stars. Their title connects them with magic, but they were probably more like astrologers. However, their presence in the biblical record is not a divine endorsement of astrology.
God gave them a special sign, a miraculous star that announced the birth of the King. The star led them to Jerusalem where God’s prophets told them that the King would be born in Bethlehem. They went to Bethlehem, and there they worshiped the Christ Child.
We do not know how many magi there were. Since there were three gifts mentioned in scripture (i.e. gold, frankincense and myrrh), some people assumed there were three kings from the Orient, though this is not certain. But when their caravan arrived in Jerusalem, there were enough of them to trouble the whole city.
Keep in mind that these men were Gentiles. From the very beginning, Jesus came to be “the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42). These men were also wealthy, and they were scholars – scientists in their own right. No scholarly person who follows the light God gives him can miss worshiping at the feet of Jesus. In Jesus Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). In Him dwells “all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).
The magi were seeking the King, but Herod was afraid of the King and wanted to destroy Him. This was Herod the Great, called king by the Roman senate because of the influence of Mark Antony. Herod was a cruel and crafty man who permitted no one, not even his own family, to interfere with his rule or prevent the satisfying of his evil desires. A ruthless murderer, he had his own wife and her two brothers slain because he suspected them of treason. He was married at least nine times in order to fulfill his lusts and strengthen his political ties.
It is no surprise that Herod tried to kill Jesus, for Herod alone wanted to bear the title “King of the Jews.” But there was another reason. Herod was not a full-blooded Jew; he was actually an Idumaean, a descendant of Esau. This is a picture of the old struggle between Esau and Jacob that began even before the boys were born (Gen. 25:19-34). It is the spiritual versus the carnal, the godly versus the worldly.
The magi were seeking the King; Herod was opposing the King; and the Jewish priests were ignoring the King. These priests knew the Scriptures and pointed others to the Saviour, but they would not go to worship Him themselves! They quoted Micah 5:2, which says: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” But they chose not to obey it. They were only five miles from the very Son of God, yet they did not go to see Him! The Gentiles sought and found Him, but the Jews did not.
When the magi resumed their search for the King and headed toward Bethlehem, they saw the star again; and it led them to the house where Jesus was. By now, Joseph had moved Mary and the baby from the temporary dwelling where the Lord Jesus had been born (Luke 2:7). The traditional manger scenes that assemble together the shepherds and wise men are not true to Scripture, since the magi arrived much later.
Jesus chose St. Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 26:13-18), and he was not disobedient to that call. Wherever Paul ministered, he founded local churches composed of believing Jews and Gentiles, all “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
God made Paul a steward of “the mystery” of the church with the responsibility of sharing it with the Gentiles. It was not enough simply to win them to Christ and form them into local assemblies. He was also to teach them their wonderful position in Christ as members of the body, sharing God’s grace equally with the Old Testament Scriptures.
God hid this great plan for the church “from the beginning of the world,” but now He wants “the mystery” to be known by His church. And this is why He made Paul a “steward” of this great truth. Now all believers are to be faithful stewards of this great truth! This “sacred secret” that was so important to Paul, and to the Gentiles, is now in our hands!
Matthew cites in his book a second fulfilled prophecy to prove that Jesus Christ is the King. How He was born was a fulfillment of prophecy, and where He was born was a fulfillment of prophecy. Bethlehem means “house of bread,” and this was where the “Bread of Life” came to earth (John 6:48ff).
Jesus Christ, the Bread, his body, broken for you. As we come to your most sacred table Lord; we remember Thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ; we remember His birth, death and passion; we are partakers of His most blessed Body and Blood; that this Bread and Wine are signs of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; that we may evermore dwell in Him and He in us, until His coming again.
Let us pray:
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.