Sermon Transcript - January 5, 2020
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Matthew 2:1-12 ~ Sunday, Jan 5, 2020
When was your last “epiphany”? “What’s an epiphany?” you may ask. Well, an epiphany, is one of those moments in life where the light bulb comes on in your head, where something profound is revealed to you and it actually clicks for you. For example, when Albert Einstein conceived the mathematical equation, E=mc2, that was, to him, an epiphany. Something new was revealed and understood.
We have epiphanies all of the time, don’t we? Flashes of insight. Fresh understanding. Seeing something or someone in a new light. Our epiphanies might not have as great an impact as, perhaps, Einstein’s theory of relativity, but they are epiphanies – all the same.
Today, we are celebrating the Epiphany. When you put “the” in front of Epiphany, you’re setting it apart, as a revelation, a light bulb moment that surpasses all others. And this one most certainly does, for this is God’s Epiphany. God’s epiphany isn’t something he discovers about himself or about the created world. This Epiphany is all about God revealing something truly amazing, something life changing to us.
January 6th is the official date of the Epiphany on our calendars. Though it doesn’t get much of any publicity in the secular world compared to Christmas, Epiphany deserves special attention from the people of God’s family. That’s especially true for those who are not born of Jewish descent. Sometimes this day is referred to as “Gentile Christmas” because it is to the best of our knowledge, the first time non-Jews come to see and to worship the newborn Savior. The Epiphany “makes known” the truth that Jesus was born to be the Savior of all people, Jews AND Gentiles alike!
These first Gentile worshipers were “magi from the east came to Jerusalem.” The word “magi” means wise men. It was a term used in ancient Babylon that described people who were astrologers, magicians, sorcerers, pagan priests, and involved with the Occult. These Magi were likely descendants of officials who had worked with the Israelite, Daniel. Remember Daniel had been quite an influential man in the Babylonian government while the Jews were in exile there six centuries earlier. One of the most influential things about Daniel is that he lived his faith – even when that meant he would be thrown into a den of hungry lions for continuing to practice his faith. It certainly seems that Daniel’s faith-filled influence was still being felt hundreds of years after his death by the fact that these Magi, these non-Jewish scholars, knew that this special star was an indication that the Savior, the “King of the Jews” was born.
When the wise men came, there is no indication that they came carrying Bibles, but whether through “word of mouth” or the Word of God remembered, they knew that the star indicated something important in God’s saving plan. And in doing so, the Lord fulfilled his own promises spoken by Isaiah: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:3).
Have you ever wished that, in a world that is so lost and out of touch with God, that we had such a star today to lead people to Christ? We may wish for such a star, but if we look around, are we overlooking the obvious… the visible signs all around us? Although not quite so spectacular as a star in the heavens, we do have beautiful churches, topped with large crosses, that dot the landscape of our nation in our cities, villages, towns, and countrysides. During the time of Christmas, we have many people decorating their homes and lawns with Nativity scenes that depict the good news of the season. People wear crosses and other religious symbols around their necks and as part of their jewelry. Add to that our personal efforts to live our saving faith each and every day with the hope that unbelievers will notice that we live differently than they and ask us why. Here’s the heart of it: Do we ever hope that our unchurched friends will see all these things and that these things all by themselves would lead them to faith in Christ, just as the star led the wise men to Jesus?
There’s one big problem with that way of thinking though. The star all by itself did not lead the Wise Men to believe on Jesus. Sure the star caught their attention and brought them into the vicinity of the Messiah, but when they arrived in Judea, their own spiritual ignorance is on full display. They went to the place which their earthly learning and worldly wisdom told them they should go – to Jerusalem – because that was the capital city, that’s where royal palace is found, and surely that is where they would find the newborn king! But they were in the wrong place. Why did they stop and ask directions? It was because their earthly ideas were hindering them from finding the Savior where he was to be found.
So why couldn’t the Wise Men follow such a spectacular sign like the star directly to Jesus? The explanation is rather simple. God's grace, while often in plain sight, is beyond understanding to unbelieving humanity. As today’s 2nd reading puts it, it is a "mystery." It is irrelevant if one is extremely intelligent and wise by the world's standards or foolish and uneducated. It doesn't make a difference if one is considered to be a virtuous person or one weighed down with many vices. The darkened will of the sinful nature blinds us to the grace of God and what it means. The Wise Men, as wise as they were, as much as they sought the "King of the Jews", could not find God's grace on their own. Likewise, you and I and the people around us in our families and community are not able to find God's grace on our own, no matter how intelligent or morally good we might be, no matter how hard we seek, and no matter what visible signs are trying to light the way.
That’s why this celebration isn’t called "The Finding of Our Lord." It’s called the “Epiphany because the word, "epiphany", means "to reveal.” We’re not here to worship the Wise Men for how hard they studied, how long they searched and how far they traveled to finally find the Messiah. We are here to praise God for revealing Christ to them. Perhaps we attribute that revelation exclusively to the star, but let's look at the account more closely. When the Wise Men came to the wrong place, were stumped, and asked the question, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him," where did they find the answer? Notice, Herod did not call the court astronomers to study the heavens, but, instead, called the "chief priests and teachers of the law" for the answer. And where did they go to get the answer? In the Word of God which said, "But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel."
After hearing the Word of the Lord, the Wise Men were able to see the star in a new light, so to speak. Now they followed the star to where the newborn Messiah was to be found, in lowly Bethlehem. Same star. Same Wise Men. So what was different now? God’s Word had revealed the Christ to them. And, through the revelation, these Wise Men were led to faith in Jesus, led to worship Him with believing hearts, and led to present their gifts to Him in grateful devotion.
God continues to work in the same way today, doesn’t he? Churches, nativity scenes, Christian artwork, and other visual Christian symbols are all good, but they cannot by themselves bring people to faith in Jesus Christ, no matter how spectacular they might be or how much we wish they would. Spectacular things might get our attention and amaze us, but they do not convert us.
You are here today as believers in Christ Jesus, not because you saw a spectacular star or were overwhelmed into believing because of the beauty of this building or this campus. You are here because the Word of God revealed Jesus Christ to you and you were converted by God. The fact that your conversion wasn’t the result of some supernatural sign further demonstrates that the power that changes human hearts is power embedded in the Word of God itself. That’s what the Epiphany teaches too! Think about it! The Wise Men were brought to faith even though an evil paranoid king asked priests and teachers who themselves had ignored the prophecies to speak the Word of God to them. Despite the corruptness of the king who ordered it and the unbelief of the clergy who spoke it, the Word of God still had the power to reveal the Messiah to the Wise Men.
Who you heard the Word of God from or the circumstances under which you heard it are not the essential power that makes the difference. It’s that you heard the Word of God! The Word may have first come to you connected with water in the rather plain sacrament of Baptism. Through it you were made a child of God and had your sins washed away, not because the font was so ornate or the water was so special but because the Word of God has power. If you were brought up in a Christian home, your parents shared the wonderful stories of bible history, but they probably didn’t do it with dazzling presentations or leading you on annual pilgrimage to the magnificent sites of the Holy Land. They probably just told you about Adam & Eve, and Noah, and Abraham, Isaiah, David, Daniel and these Magi and in the Word of God they shared with you, your relationship with the Lord was strengthened because the Word of God has power. You probably also heard the Word from simple unassuming people who volunteered to teach Sunday School. They probably felt inadequate for the task, as Sunday School teachers often do, but your faith grew stronger there too because the Word of God was stronger than their feelings of inadequacy. You continued to hear the Word of God from pastors whom the world probably won’t praise and celebrate, for the most part probably won’t even notice. Yet through these pastors speaking the Word of God - the holiness which Jesus lived perfectly to provide, the forgiveness which Jesus died to procure, and the everlasting life which Jesus rose from the grave to supply became your own personal possessions before God through faith, because the Word of God they proclaim has power.
The emphasis of the Epiphany season is God's intention to reveal his salvation to all humanity, not just to the Jews of Jesus’ time, not just to the world of Jesus' time, and not just to us Christians now, but to the entire world. God can draw people’s attention through a special, brilliantly shining star like he did with the Wise Men in Matthew chapter 2. God can get people to take notice through ornate churches, beautiful Christian artwork, and through the goodness that his people embody as they live out their faith. But what actually ignites faith is the Word of God being shared.
A person’s relationship to Christ is like the relationship of a candle to a lighter. A candle cannot light itself. It needs the lighter to pass its flame onto the candle. Only when the lighter burns and only when the lighter’s flame touches the candle’s wick—then and only then, can the candle burn with a borrowed flame. My friends, that’s what Christ did for the Magi. That’s what he does for you and me through his Word to this very day! That’s what Christ desires to do for others as we share the light-giving power of his Word with those he places into our lives!
So what epiphany are we to take away from the Epiphany? The light that God shares is precious because it reveals who Jesus is, igniting the flame of saving faith in human hearts. Yes this light is precious, but not like gold or jewelry that we guard and protect behind lock and key so we don’t lose them. No this light is precious because of the illuminating power it holds and the way it actually increases blessings to all the more we share it, the more it spreads! It’s that precious light we’re exploring this Epiphany season and the many blessings it brings, blessings that multiply as we share this light with others too. Amen.