What a great text to preach for the feast of the Epiphany of our Lord. Sometimes called Christmas for the Gentiles, it is always a great season of the Church year. In Isaiah chapter 60, the promise God made in chapter 40:5 is now fulfilled. Isaiah’s promise that all flesh will see God’s glory, is now revealed in “this incarnational glory (John 1:14) which rises upon Zion, who is addressed as a woman throughout chapter 60. Jerusalem was depicted with maternal images earlier in Isaiah in 49:17, 20-22; 51:18, 20; 54:1, so its repetition and reinforcement here in chapter 60 is not surprising.
The presentation of salvation in Isaiah 60 match how earlier texts describe Jerusalem’s restoration. The Lord’s Gospel will attract all the nations to His holy mountain (2:2-4), and people from the ends of the earth will sojourn to the city (42:6, 10; 43:5–6; 49:6, 12, 18, 22) to bear witness to God’s great work of salvation. This is especially important for Israel who was forced to bow down to the kings of the world (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome, among others). Now the nations and kings of the world would come and bow down before Yahweh their great King. In chapter 60, the “converted nations journey to Zion” (60:1–3) for these four purposes:
(1) To bask in Yahweh’s gracious glory (60:2–3, 19–20) as equally “righteous” citizens (60:21) in the new community.
(2) To escort Zion’s children home (60:4, 9).
(3) To bring their wealth as an offering (60:5–9, 11, 13, 17; refer to 60:16).
(4) To serve and work in the city (60:10, 14; refer to 60:12).
Each of these complements the other. As a whole, the picture is one of Yahweh’s great reversal. Nations who formerly despised Zion (for example, see chapters 36–37; also refer to 60:12, 14) will now be saved through her and find joy in Yahweh’s service. Just as in Solomon’s time (1 Kings 9-10), Gentiles come to the holy city, bringing their goods to build Yahweh’s house, and offering praise to His name (Isaiah 60:9).”
The Gospel lesson assigned for the day in the lectionary (Matthew 2:1-12) demonstrates a direct connection to the prophecy in Isaiah and its fulfillment. Typically, I enjoy giving a story or illustration since it helps with the homiletical task of connecting our hearers through narrative to the text. However, the lectionary provides us with the perfect narrative to drive home the point of Isaiah’s message. It describes the “light that has come” and “risen upon you” (verse 1) which can be seen in the “darkness that covers the earth” (verse 2). This risen light is very readily seen in the star of Bethlehem. Literally, you have a point for point correlation. These Magi come from far away (60:1-21), being led by the light (verse 1), in search of the King foretold, who they would do well to pay homage to with gifts of “gold and frankincense” (verse 6). This clear connection necessitates for us to establish some facts about Magi which can also reveal a theological teaching we may wish to hold forward for this sermon.
The lectionary provides us with the perfect narrative to drive home the point of Isaiah’s message.
Magi were commonly known for taking much meaning from astrological phenomenon. This is due to the fact that they were Zoroastrian’s who were known for this behavior and highly sought in the ancient world as interpreters of astral phenomenon, portents, and omens of important political births (Dio Cassius 63.7; Suetonius, Nero 13; Suetonius, Vespasian, Book 4; Tacitus, Histories, 5.13; these citations are taken from the Loeb Classical Library Series). Specifically, Suetonius and Tacitus tell us at the turn of the era there was an expectation of a world-ruler who would come from Judea. This view of the Magi was known in the ancient world and people sought Magi to confirm these major events (you can see the roman Caesar’s desire for confirmation of their reign by astrological phenomenon as interpreted by Magi in Dio Cassius, Suetonius, and the Cambridge Ancient History Volume IX: 588; 594 and X: 472). I imagine the Magi from Babylon would have access to a prophecy about an astrological phenomenon rising out of Leo-the-Lion, the symbol of Judah, and a Virgo/Virgin who would wear the crown/corona because they had access to Numbers 24:17-19 due to the exiles from Babylon. It is well attested in history that a part of the Babylonian cultural agenda was to take the scholars, physicians, priests, and all other important people into Babylonian culture so they could have all the greatest knowledge of the world in one place and always at their fingertips. For lack of a better term, they were the first Google.
What I imagine this means is they had access to the Torah or at least Torah before the exile. It makes sense they would have a vested interest in astrological phenomenon and prophecy so the words of Balaam would be of keen interest to them. If this is too much of a stretch for you, then it is simply sufficient to say that as Zoroastrian’s, they would follow star signs for important political births and the astrological phenomenon of Christ’s birth was certainly phenomenal.
The connection in this prophecy from Balaam provides a way of getting at a theological teaching which is reinforced in our text from Isaiah. Namely, Numbers 24:17-19 prophecies of a mighty king who will exercise much power and authority who they would be wise to go and pay obeisance to. From a Babylonian perspective, they once made the kings of Israel bow to their king in the east, so with the fulfillment of this prophecy it would be wise if the kings of the east would come and bow to the king of Israel, lest they experience his great wrath. When you read Numbers 24 through the history of Israel you see a way of understanding what the star revealed to them, which leads directly to the theological teaching we can highlight for this sermon. Namely, the distinction between Natural and Revealed Theology.
Natural theology is knowledge of God in the “information that is revealed through God’s “fingerprints” in creation,” but natural theology can only take you so far. It reveals there is obviously a God, but it says nothing about how God feels about humans. Also, since “human beings are constantly looking in the wrong places and listening to the wrong voices, God must speak clearly if sinners are to hear Him, know Him, and believe. The good news is God does speak clearly. Revealed theology is knowledge of God’s direct communication of Himself in history and ultimately in the Scriptures.” The light which Isaiah speaks of which the nations are led by is seen clearly in the natural phenomenon of the star of Bethlehem. But again, the natural phenomenon could only take the Magi so far. By itself, this natural theology was insufficient. It took them to Jerusalem where they would suppose a king would be born. But an Idumean/Edomite ruler was there, and Numbers 24 says this promised king would dispossess Edom, hence Herod’s paranoid curiosity and infanticide! When the prophecy of Micah 5:2 is “revealed to them,” they head to Bethlehem where the Shepherd’s report (Luke 2:16-18; 20) reveals the identity of this king as the heavenly host confirmed (Luke 2:8-21). Of course, the identity of the King is Jesus, who is born of Mary, from the city of Nazareth. When they follow the revealed word, they find Jesus in Nazareth (Luke 2:39-40) in the house where they lived (Matthew 2:11) as the child (παιδίον, diminutive of παῖς, “little child” term for toddler, not newborn) was already about 2 years old (Matthew 2:16). Natural theology drew them close enough to cower, but they needed revealed theology to show them the grace of the Savior. They followed the natural light to see the real light of the world in the person of Jesus Christ (John 8:12; Revelation 21:23).
But what about Isaiah’s contention that the light would lead the nations to Jerusalem. Does this detail not disprove the connection? Good point, but remember, all prophecy “telescopes.” The salvation they sought began in Bethlehem and leads to Nazareth, but it does not stop there. Jesus would have a whole ministry of salvation which would lead Him to Jerusalem where He would give His life as a substitutionary atonement for all. He would die for our death, and He would most certainly rise again on the third day, and the light of that Easter morning would mean Salvation has dawned on the new era for God’s people. You see, you have to keep on tracking what God is revealing until you see its fulfillment fully in the completed work of God in Jesus Christ. Which means the light of the manger casts a long foreshadowing to the crucifixion. It also means the light Isaiah draws us to takes us from the Magi to the risen Messiah on Easter morning.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Isaiah 60:1-6.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Isaiah 60:1-6.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Isaiah 60:1-6.
 Chapter 60 shares thematic and lexical links with Isaiah 40–55. For instance, 60:4a–b is parallel to 49:18a–b; 60:4d is parallel to 49:22e; 60:9e–g is parallel to 55:5c–d; 60:10c–d is like 54:8; a list of trees in 60:13b also appears in 41:19c–d; 60:14a–b is a slight variation of 49:23c–d; and Israel is called the work of Yahweh’s hands in 60:21d and 45:11d.
 Steven P. Mueller, ed., Called to Believe, Teach, and Confess: An Introduction to Doctrinal Theology, vol. 3, Called by the Gospel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005), 28.
 Steven P. Mueller, ed., Called to Believe, Teach, and Confess: An Introduction to Doctrinal Theology, vol. 3, Called by the Gospel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005), 32.
 Albrecht Oepke, “Παῖς, Παιδίον, Παιδάριον, Τέκνον, Τεκνίον, Βρέφος,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 638.