Text: Matthew 2:1-12
Today we celebrate the feast of our Lord’s Epiphany. The twelve days of Christmas are coming to a close as the glory of the Lord’s birth is made known to Gentile wise men from the East. During the Christmas season, we celebrated the mystery of the Incarnation – that the eternal Creator of the universe should be found in form and fashion of man, the firstborn son of the Virgin Mary. In the Epiphany season, we celebrate and confess that the man Jesus Christ, is the true eternal God come to save His people. The word Epiphany means “appearance,” or “manifestation.” During this season we’ll hear of the star and visit of the wisemen, Jesus’ Baptism (where the Father and the Spirit proclaim the Gospel), Jesus’ first miracle at Cana, and other miracles of Jesus. The last Sunday of the Epiphany season is the Transfiguration, where we receive a glimpse of Jesus’ heavenly glory.
Today, however, I’d like to draw our attention to how the wise men from the East were led to Jesus. True, the miraculous appearance of a star was involved, but how is it that they were led to Bethlehem? It was through the Word, wasn’t it? First, they went to Jerusalem, expecting to find the king of Jews in their capital. When God’s Word was consulted, though, it was shown that the child was to be born in Bethlehem. The Word revealed the Christ child to the wise men, and it reveals Him to us, as well.
This is sometimes a point we miss, that it was the Word that pointed them to Bethlehem and Jesus, not the star – at least, initially. We hear of our Lord’s Epiphany every year, but let’s remind ourselves of how it goes. St. Matthew began in our text, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’” Sometime after Jesus was born (we usually say about two years – since Herod ended up killing all males in Bethlehem who were 2 and under) wisemen from the East came to Jerusalem when they saw a new star appear. The idea that these men were kings or that there were three specifically doesn’t come from Scripture. The Greek word μάγοι is also used in Daniel 2 for well-studied court officials who, nevertheless, were unable to interpret the king’s dreams.
These wise men came to the capital seeking the one born king of the Jews and the current king, Herod the Great, was troubled. St. Matthew writes, “[Herod] was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet.’” Informed and encouraged by the Scriptures, the wise men set out for Jerusalem. “And behold,” says St. Matthew, “the star that they had seen…went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.” The wise men rejoiced; and when they found Jesus with His mother, they presented Him gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And so, the glory of the Lord’s birth was made known to the Gentiles.
Most of us have probably heard this text a few times in our lives, but this is a detail that we sometimes miss: the wise men went to the wrong place. Actually, these wise guys were wrong on two accounts. First, they were wrong about the sort of king they were looking for. Second, they were wrong about how to find Him. To their credit, the wise men weren’t alone in being wrong about the sort of king Jesus would be; Herod was wrong, too. He expected Jesus to be an earthly king, and he couldn’t have that – which led him to the atrocity he committed shortly after today’s text. Page through the Gospels and you’ll see more of this. Remember how the people in Jesus’ own synagogue tried to kill Him? Or, how about at the feeding of the 5,000 – when they were about to make Jesus king because He fed them all? In the book of Acts, the Jewish leadership conspired to arrest and kill the Apostles because they proclaimed a Messiah who died and rose for the forgiveness of sins. The wise men were wrong on the first account because of the kind of king they sought.
Second, they were mistaken in how to find the true king of Israel. The Messiah wasn’t born in a throne room, silver spoon in hand. He was born in a stable and put in a feed trough for His first bed. The way they found Him was not by the star – not initially. But it was the Word that revealed His location to them. Herod consulted the chief priests and scribes, who in turn searched the Scriptures, where it was revealed, “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Martin Luther commented that this was to show that the wise men – who were measured wise by human standards – still needed the truth revealed to them through Scripture. We’ve all learned these words from the Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.”
The wise men were wrong for seeking, first, an earthly king. The gifts they brought were typical presents for any earthborn dignitary. We are guilty of the same misdeed when we expect our heavenly king to provide primarily for our earthly happiness. We know that our Lord’s will for us is good; but that good will does not always guarantee happiness now. That time will come. We have joy and peace now – for our sins are forgiven – but the Lord does not promise happiness on earth. The wise men were also mistaken by thinking they could approach the Lord with only their human wisdom. They didn’t understand that, since the Fall, human reason is corrupt. We are born incapable of knowing God, believing, loving, or trusting in Him apart from the work of the Spirit through the Word. When the reading and study of Scripture is absent from our lives, it’s as if we, too, are stuck in Jerusalem not knowing where the Messiah actually is.
Thankfully, though, the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel of Christ, enlightened us with His gifts, and is at work – through Scripture – to sanctify and keep us in this true faith. During the Epiphany season, we celebrate that God is made known to us in the man, Christ Jesus. And, the Scriptures are what reveal Jesus to us. The Scriptures reveal to us the plan of God, a mystery hidden since the foundation of the world, that in Jesus Christ we have redemption, the full and free forgiveness of our sins. He set aside His glory and throne to be born in our very same flesh and blood. He is our heavenly bridegroom and we are flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. He does not remember our sins against us but suffered to remove the burden and guilt of sin from us. And, for this, we are eternally grateful.
Today we celebrate the feast of our Lord’s Epiphany, where His glory was made manifest to Gentile wise men. The same glory of the Lord is made known to us through the Scriptures. In them it is revealed that Jesus Christ is true man and true God, come to bring us life and light. In the words of our opening hymn, “For this Thy glad epiphany all glory, Jesus, be to Thee, whom with the Father we adore, and Holy Spirit evermore.” Amen.