Epiphany is the celebration of God revealing Christ to us because we could never intuitively figure it out. God reveals Christ to us, and “us” has no limits when it comes to God’s work in revealing His Son to be our Savior. Any notions of “us” and “them” are erased under the mercy of God. God’s revelation extends to outsiders like the Magi.
When the original readers of Matthew’s Gospel got to Chapter 2, verse 1, they would not have thought of wise men. They would have thought of pagan outsiders. They would have said: “Magi! What are they doing here? Them? They’re outsiders.” One might even expect their foolishness to disqualify the Magi from meeting the Christ. First, the magi go to Jerusalem, the wrong city. They clearly were not faithful readers of the Old Testament Scriptures, but it is an easy mistake to make. They are looking for the one born “king of the Jews,” so they head to where the king of the Jews lives. The king of the Jews, Herod, is in Jerusalem. The thing about Herod is, well, Herod does not play well with others. The Magi went to Jerusalem to ask about the new king, and: “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”
It is easy to see why Herod would be troubled. This new king was a rival, competition, but why was all Jerusalem troubled? Because Herod killed people when he felt threatened. Herod had his wife and two of his own sons killed, because he was protecting his throne. So, if there is a new king coming, you do not talk to Herod about it. Foolish magi. But because they could never intuitively figure it out, God reveals Christ to them.
The magi get a little help from the chief priests and scribes. They open God’s Word and reveal to the Magi how the Christ will be born in Bethlehem. Then they are off to find the Messiah. But before they head out, Herod says, “Hey guys, when you find this new king, tell me where I can find him, so I can go worship him, too.”
So, the Magi go. Fortunately, the star reappears to help them find their way. They finally stumble across the Christ child. The Magi offer their gifts and their worship to the child, but they are still a foolish mess, even after meeting the Christ. They get ready to actually go tell Herod where the child is, but God intervenes once again to set them straight. They are warned in a dream to go back a different way. Because they could never intuitively figure it out, God reveals Christ to them.
It is not just the magi. Apart from God’s revealing work, we are all just as foolish and lost. In Matthew 1, Joseph did not get what God was up to, and he wanted to divorce Mary, but God revealed the truth. The religious leaders of the day who knew the Scriptures did not know the Christ was born until the Magi stumbled into town and let them know.
Apart from God’s revealing work, we are all just as foolish and lost.
Even Peter, the great pillar of the Church, declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Way to go Peter! You figured it out! Well done! But Jesus says, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven.” Peter was not super smart; God gave him the answer.
What we celebrate at Epiphany is this: Because we could never intuitively figure it out, God reveals Christ to us. God reveals Christ even to the gentiles, the nations. Epiphany is sometimes called the Gentile’s Christmas, because even the pagan gentiles come to see the King of the Jews.
Jesus is the King of the Jews. From the moment He was conceived, through His years as a toddler, a teenager, a grown man, and even today, Jesus is the King of the Jews. The phrase, “the King of the Jews,” is an interesting phrase. If you read all four Gospels and looked for this phrase, “the King of the Jews,” you would find it occurs eighteen times. The first time they call Jesus the King of the Jews is here in Matthew 2, when the Magi come to worship the King of the Jews. The other seventeen times Jesus is called “the King of the Jews” (17 out of 18 times), are at His crucifixion. The Magi asked, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews... we have come to worship.” After that, every single time people look for the King of the Jews, they come to crucify Him. “Where is the one who claims to be the King of the Jews... we have come to kill Him.”
His birth is tied to his death. He took on flesh in order to take on our sin. In Matthew 27, they finally finish what Herod tried to do in Matthew 2: They killed the King of the Jews. And when the King of the Jews died, standing just a few feet away, there was another pagan gentile, some guy who had nothing to do with the faith. In fact, he helped kill the King of the Jews. But when Jesus died on the cross, that pagan who could have never figured it out himself, when he saw the crucified Christ, he was filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
Because we could never intuitively figure it out, God reveals Christ to us. On the third day, women go to the tomb to bring spices for the corpse. In this instance, it took a great earthquake and an angel of the Lord to get the message across: “I know you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.” Because they could never intuitively figure it out, God reveals Christ to them, and God commissioned those women to pass it on. “Go quickly and tell His disciples He has risen from the dead.” Even the disciples needed to hear the message and have it revealed to them.
Because we could never intuitively figure it out, God reveals Christ to us. The gentile Magi need it revealed to them. The pagan Centurion at the cross need it revealed to him. The women at the tomb need it revealed to them. The disciples need it revealed to them. Thankfully, God continues to reveal Jesus today, even to us. Luther says it like this: “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.”
God reveals Christ to us, and He sends us to reveal Christ to the world. He sends you to reveal Christ to your world. Speak the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. You have heard it, now go tell it. God, who was faithful to create faith in you through the message is also able to create faith through you as the same message is shared.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Matthew 2:1-12
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 2:1-12.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 2:1-12
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. David Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 2:1-12.