The Epiphany of our Lord
January 12, 2020
“Things Are Not Always As They Seem”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us on our celebration of Epiphany is the Gospel lesson from Matthew 2.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Things are not always as they seem. A person can live each day every day following their same old routine just going about life’s business completely unaware – absolutely oblivious – that a tumour, an infection, a blockage grows and grows and grows inside of them. A relationship that was validated with the permanent words “until death parts us” becomes “I don’t want to anymore;” forever can very quickly become never because things are not always as they seem. The person sitting in front of you or behind you or maybe even next to you might look calm, cool, and collected, but they may be worried sick about their finances or their family or their future even though they look perfectly fine on the outside. Oh, most assuredly, things are not always as they seem.
Case in point…today’s Gospel lesson and the coming of the wise men or the magi from the east. I can imagine that you have a mental image or an expectation about the wise men. I would be willing to guess that your mental image includes three men of mixed race and age coming to the manger late at night on Christmas Eve. You see it in every Sunday School Christmas program and on every Christmas card. But again, things are not always as they seem.
The Bible does not say how many wise men there were. It simply says “magi” in the plural form. We know there were at least 2 wise men, but it is only tradition that says there were three, based on the three gifts given to the infant Jesus. The number of wise men really isn’t important…what is important, what we remember during our Epiphany celebration, is what the wise men were there to do. They had come to worship Jesus.
We also may think that these wise men whether it was 2 or 12 or 22 came on Christmas Eve and knelt down to worship newly-born Jesus as he lay in the manger. Again, things are not always as they seem. That’s our mental image, but it is not correct. It took the magi many weeks to travel over 1000 miles after they had seen the star. Even if the caravan could move at 2 MPH, with stops to sleep, it would have taken a minimum of 40 days to walk that far. Matthew points out that by the time the magi got there, Mary, Jesus, and Joseph were living in a house (verse 11) and were no longer in the manger.
But again, when they arrived is not as critical as why they arrived…and that was to worship the baby Jesus, the new-born King. And that is why we have come here today…to worship Jesus, our King. He is the Holy One of Israel, the One who died on the cross and rose again to deliver us from the punishment for sin that we deserved. We deserve that punishment and death, but things are not always as they seem. Christ endured that punishment for us so that you don’t have to.
Based on that fact alone, you would think that everyone would want to worship this King, but again things are not always as they seem. Case in point, King Herod said he wanted to worship the King of the Jews (v. 8), but things are not always as they seem. Herod didn’t want to worship that King; Herod wanted to kill Him instead! Herod was not above having people killed in an effort to protect himself, his crown, his throne. Herod was furious when the magi politely informed him that they had come in order to worship the new-born King (verse 2). Wait a second! Wasn’t Herod the king? Obviously Herod was very upset, and when Herod was upset, all of Jerusalem was upset as well (verse 3); no one knew what Herod might do in his anger and fear.
Herod didn’t want to worship Jesus. He hated the thought of another king, and wanted Him gone. So also, in our own age, many want Jesus “gone,” that is, to go away and not be the only Saviour of the world. That claim is too exclusive; we have “no right” to say that anyone is a sinner in need of grace. The best way to achieve their goal is a painfully easy method…one of the oldest tricks in the book. Tragically easy to make Jesus “out of sight, out of mind;” to keep Him out of our schools, out of public places, out of our pledge of allegiance and off our currency, to ridicule those who bear His name, and even to keep Christ out of Christmas if need be, which is ludicrous (“Happy Holidays…NOT!”). All this talk of “sin” and “Saviour” doesn’t play well in our “woke” world.
To worship Jesus means to acknowledge Him as God and yourself as a sinner. Herod, and many today, cannot and will not do that. Can you? I know you’re sitting in church and all, but hey…things are not always as they seem. Can you admit that you are a sinner, deserving death and hell on judgement day were it not for Christ?
You probably thought that today you were going to give Christ the Lord something in your offering envelope and giving your prayers and praise. That is true, but again, things are not always as they seem. Whether you realize it or not, God is giving you a gift today. He gives to you today and every day the gift of forgiveness. He gives you the free gift of salvation by grace. He gives to you the gift of the promise and the hope of eternal life through faith in Christ. He gives to you the gift of the Holy Spirit who brings faith and life. He gives you Himself in His body and blood; bread and wine? No…things are not always as they seem. In response, what gifts do you bring to the King today? Are you willing to offer Him your love, your devotion, your service, your humility, your commitment, your burdens, your pain, your worry, your prayer…your life?
All these gifts He gives for free, for they are gifts that have already been paid for by Jesus’ sinless death on the cross and His glorious resurrection. These may not count for much in the eyes of the world, but again things are not always as they seem, because in the eyes of God, one who was willing to sacrifice His only Son for you, they are as precious as gold, frankincense, and myrrh – the gifts given on the event we celebrate today and know as the Epiphany of our Lord.