Sermon delivered on the Feast of the Epiphany (transferred), Sunday, January 3, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.
Lectionary texts Isaiah 60.1-6; Psalm 72.1-15; Ephesians 3.1-12; St. Matthew 2.1-12.
I would like to look at the Epiphany story this morning The Readers’ Digest once asked this question: Have you ever imagined what would have happened if there had been three wise women instead of three wise men at the Epiphany? They suggested that if there had been three wise women:
? They would have asked for directions to the stable locally instead of going to King Herod.
? They would have arrived on time and helped deliver the baby
? They would have cleaned the stable and brought food for the family to eat
? And there would have been peace on earth!”
Why did God reveal Jesus to the Magi?
We know the story of the Magi coming to worship Jesus very well.
But have you ever stopped to wonder why God revealed Jesus to the Magi and not the “Good and the Great” personified by King Herod Who were the Magi? Very little is known about the Magi.
Matthew doesn’t even record how many of them there were.
All the Bible tells us is that they came from the East to Jerusalem.
It is generally accepted that “the Magi were a priestly caste from Persia once a mighty country where modern Iran and Iraq are now located. They were probably astrologers In the second century, a church father named Tertullian suggested that these men were kings because the Old Testament had predicted that kings would come to worship the Christ. Tertullian also concluded that there were three kings based on the number of gifts mentioned, gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In the sixth century, someone decided that their names were Melchior, Baltazar and Gaspar. The term Magi is the base from which our modern words “magician” and “magistrate” are derived.
The Magi, in the eyes of the Jewish people to whom Matthew wrote his Gospel , had two strikes against them. – The first strike was that they were Gentiles – Persians to be precise. After all weren’t the Jews alone God’s chosen people?
- But the second and more important strike was that they were astrologers. And astrology was expressly forbidden in the OT. (Dt 18:9-14) So why did God reveal himself to astrologers?
Here are three of the many reasons you can think of why God revealed Himself to the Magi Firstly God revealed Jesus to the Magi to show us that the Gospel, that Jesus’ birth heralded, is for all nations. It is not just to the select few righteous people in the world. We don’t have to wait until we are living a “morally good life” before God seeks us out. If moral perfection was God’s criteria, I doubt any of us would be sitting in church today.
God accepts us as we are as he did with these Magi.
The second reason – that I think God revealed Jesus to the Magi – was that the Magi were SEEKING God, as best as they knew how.
The Magi sought Christ out to worship him. God honors a spirit within a person that SEEKS God. We won’t get everything right – but if we have a right heart God will honor us.
And God reached out to the Magi – where they were – by a Star. But that wasn’t a chance Star
– God had ordained and it had been prophesied over a millennium earlier by Balaam the prophet when he said – referring to Jesus:
17 “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near. A Star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel. (Nu. 24:17).
My third reason why God revealed Jesus to the Magi was that they had a number of right attitudes.
Attitude1. They obeyed the leadings of God they were obedient to the guidance of God. They weren’t too big to follow the star. As St. Matthew records them saying, “We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him” (Mt. 2:2) They weren’t star gazers – they put their beliefs into action. And even though they didn’t know the destination they were prepared to step out in faith. Following the leading of the Lord can be quite risky and it can be time consuming. The Magi probably had to go from Persia to Jerusalem – a journey of a good over 1000 miles – on foot and travelling with camels.
It could well have taken several months. But they persevered over dangerous territory too – with maybe bandits along the way. I wonder if I would have been prepared to follow a star for so long?
Attitude 2 – They sought Jesus for the right reasons “to worship him” (Mt. 2:2).
It’s quite a challenge isn’t it? Do I come to church to worship Jesus – or for some other reason? Attitude 3 – They gave Jesus of the very best that they had.
They bought costly gifts to Jesus
Gold indicated Kingship. What is more fitting than gold for a King!
If Jesus is to be the King in my life, then I am challenged by the thought: What gold can I bring to Jesus today?
What do I hold onto as precious that I can give to the Lord?
Frankincense was an ingredient used by the priests in temple worship to blend with the smell of the sacrifices. Frankincense was brought to symbolise worship.
If we wish to worship God, Jesus wants us to offer up our lives as a sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom 12:1).
What is the frankincense that we can offer Jesus today?
In Jesus’ time, people used Myrrh to embalm their dead. A thoughtless gift, you might say for a baby shower?
Not for this baby. These wise men knew that Jesus was born to die.
Hebrews 10:10 says, “And … we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Myrrh reminds me that Jesus came to die on a Cross – to bring all of us into a new relationship with God. In return Christ expects us to die to our old selfish desires and take on the desires of God.
Paul put it well when he said in Galatians 2:21 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” Attitude 4 – The final attitude that the wise men was that they did what God called them to do. Mt 2:12 “Then being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way” What a challenge to us – simply to do what God wants us to do and not count the cost. If Herod had caught up with the wise men, he would have had their heads.
There are times in life when God calls us – and we must respond – regardless of the cost.
If we want to hear from God we need to come in worship to Jesus rather than in fear. We are challenged to make Jesus Lord of our lives – rather than fear losing control over our destiny. Perhaps all this is to say we allow God to handle our schedule today and everyday As I conclude, the wise men sought Christ taking all the risks included to bring the best to Him. When we think of them and the gifts these wise men brought, it is my prayer that we would seek Christ more and let The Gold remind us to bring to Jesus what we hold precious The Frankincense to remind us to bring Christ our true worship and The Myrrh to remind us to die to self and live for Christ day by day In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.