The Epiphany of Our Lord
January 6, 2016 A+D
Matthew 2: 1-12
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The whole scene in Matthew is strange. The magi see a star that indicates to them that the King of the Jews has been born. There is no indication that the star is yet moving or that it hovers over a certain place. So they head off to Jerusalem. That is where the Jewish kings live and rule.
It would be reasonable to assume that the newborn king was Herod’s son. Herod was certainly hoping to establish that sort of legacy. If you didn’t think that Herod’s son would follow him, you surely wouldn’t ask him where the one who was to take his place was, but they do. That might be an indication that they were using the term “King of the Jews” in a messianic way and not in a political way. They might have come to Jerusalem then because that is where the Temple was, rather than the palace. In any case they tell Herod that they’ve come to worship the King and to their credit they don’t offer to worship Herod – even though kings were worshipped in the East. Perhaps they intended to go to the Temple and inquire and got side-tracked by the city guards and sent straight to the palace.
Whatever it is that they meant or thought they meant, Herod knew that they were seeking the Messiah and he doesn’t doubt that the Messiah has been born. He doesn’t ask the chief priests and scribes where the king of the Jews is to be born. He asks where the Christ is to be born.
It had to have been at least a year since Zechariah came out of the Holy place mute, but it was probably closer to two. Given the time it would take to travel from the East to Jerusalem, the scene with Simeon had probably been close to year gone by. Still those were big events. They had caused a stir. These things were happening secretly.
But Herod’s instinct is to lash out with violence. He isn’t trying to secure the throne for his son or even keep the throne for himself, he simply hates God and does not want the Messiah to come.
The priests and scribes don’t hesitate. They know where the Messiah is to be born: Bethlehem. They tell Herod and he calls the magi secretly to tell them. He doesn’t want all of Jerusalem running off to Bethlehem but I don’t think it was any risk. Anyway, Herod thinks that he can get the magi to expose the Messiah and then he can kill Him. But then it turns out they didn’t need Herod’s help anyway because the star starts moving and it comes to rest over the place where Jesus is. If that star had done that from the beginning the magi might have gone straight to Bethlehem and not tipped off Herod.
The magi go into the house, fall down and worship Jesus. Then they give His mother gifts.
Then they get warned in a dream and go home a different way. Joseph get a warning in a dream likewise. He flees with Mary and Joseph to Egypt. When Herod discovers that he has been tricked, he lashes out in rage, sending soldiers to Bethlehem to abort all the baby boys, 2 years old and younger.
In fact, it couldn’t have been avoided. Christianity is a religion of martyrdom. The Messiah is on a collision course with Satan and his henchmen. There is no room for Him in Bethlehem. He came unto His own and His own received Him not and just to make sure that He gets the point Herod sends in his soldiers. Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins. A sword is set to pierce Mary’s heart. Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains alone, but if it dies it produces much grain.
Already in His infancy the Lord is producing much grain. The student is not above his Teacher but the Teacher lowers Himself to place of a student. The magi are unlikely students. The ESV betrays the sense of the Greek with the nice sounding: “wise men.” They weren’t wise. They were astrologers, magicians, pagans. They were fools. Yet they knew enough to worship the Baby Jesus and to place their hope in Him and in that they are ready to defy Herod and die.
The Messiah comes for the life of the world, but whoever would save his life will lose it. It is only those who lose their lives for Jesus who live. The only way to live is to be ready to die. As long as the Lord delays, this world will never be free of Pharoahs and Herods and Hitlers. But out of Bethlehem has come a Ruler unlike them, unlike Kim Jon Ill or Vladimir Putin, a Shepherd who lays down His life to reconcile us to His Father and win for us a Kingdom by giving even to Gentiles His holy Body and His precious Blood.
In fact the magi weren’t the givers of gifts that day at all. They were the recipients as are we all.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.