The Epiphany of our Lord
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 2:1-12
January 6, 2015
People are born in the darkness and live in the darkness. They can’t see the true light. They don’t want to; they refuse to see it.
“And this is the judgment,” says our Lord, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)
Because people are in the darkness and refuse to see the light, they don’t come to it. It is a miracle whenever someone arrives at the light that gives light to every man; it is a miracle when someone comes to Jesus Christ. It is a miracle whenever someone firmly believes the articles of the Christian faith. It is not something that people will to do or can do. It is the work of God.
Yet it is a miracle and work that God wants to do. He wants to bring people from the deepest darkness of unbelief and sin to the light of Christ.
We have a picture of this in the Gospel for Epiphany. The wise men were physically far away from Jesus. They were probably from Arabia. A month’s journey across the desert stood between them and Jesus. But there was a greater distance that stood between them and the Messiah of Israel—a spiritual distance.
Some historians say that the kings of Yemen had converted to Judaism, so it might not have been that the wise men were in total idolatrous ignorance. They may have heard something about the Messiah of Israel. How much, we don’t know. But they surely were not taught for generations from the Holy Scriptures like the Jews were.
Yet these wise men came from a distant, dark land and bent the knee to worship Jesus.
On the other hand, the scribes and priests of the people of Israel were close to Jesus. They were only a few miles from Bethlehem where He was born. And spiritually they seemed to be close, too. Trained from their infancy in the Scriptures, they could quote chapter and verse from the prophet Micah where the Christ would be born. They were the leaders of the people of God, holding positions of respect and high honor among them. If anyone should have been close to God’s kingdom, it was they.
Yet it was the wise men from far away who came and worshipped the baby Jesus, opening to Him their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The priests and scribes didn’t come to the king of the Jews.
This shows us two things. First, we can seem to be near to Christ and yet be far away. Second, God wants to bring those who are far away to His Son.
Christ’s kingdom is not like any other. It’s not geographical. Jesus doesn’t own a parcel of land and sit on the throne at its capital. His reign extends over the whole earth, and He is present in every part of His kingdom. So it’s not a question of being physically near to Jesus. He is not far from any of us physically.
And a person is not near to Jesus by being born among or living among people who are His own. There is no favoritism in His kingdom. We are either His own or we are far away from Him in darkness.
Just as a miraculous star had to lead the wise men to Jesus, and their wisdom and learning and reason were useless, so miraculous, heavenly wisdom is necessary to bring us to Jesus. If we are led by our own reason or intellect we will never find Him and salvation.
Our spiritual pedigree, our good lives, holiness, our position in the church do not bring us to Jesus either. The priests and scribes had these things, but they did not come and worship the king of the Jews.
By nature we are in the darkness as much as those outside the church. By nature we depend on our reason, like the pagan world we live in which considers itself too reasonable to be led by the Bible. By nature we also depend on our birth and status among God’s people, just like the priests and scribes. We figure that being leaders in the church or coming from a godly family will win us some kind of favor with God. The world outside of the church depends on reason or their own goodness and as a result stays far away from Christ and does not come to Him. We, just like the priests, scribes, and the people of Jerusalem, do the same thing by nature and refuse to come to the light of the Son of God. We depend on ourselves. Wherever human nature has its way, people remain in the darkness and are not led to Christ.
But the good news of Epiphany is that God wills to guide those who are in deep darkness to the light of His Son. His Son, the ruler born in Bethlehem, is the shepherd of Israel. He gently guides and leads His flock to safety and to pasture, where they may feed on rich food and live forever. God wills to draw those who are in deep darkness unfailingly to His Son’s light. This includes the modern-day descendants of the wise men in Arabia who are lost in the teachings of the false prophet Mohammed. He wills to draw modern American pagans, who have been captured by the wisdom of this age and no longer bow the knee to Christ. They may seem too far away to us, but God wills to draw them to the light of His son. He even wills to draw those people who profess faith in Christ but who are still far away from Him. These are those who like the scribes and priests may know all about God’s word, and may even hold office in the church, but they do not come near to Christ in the only way He can be approached, which is by faith alone.
How does He guide us to His Son? He first convinces us that we are in darkness. The wise men could never have found the king of the Jews if they were guided by their own thinking. They would have arrived at Jerusalem and said, “If even the leaders of the Jews don’t know about their king, we must have made a mistake.” Or they would have arrived at Behtlehem, seen the child and His mother, and said, “How can we be sure this is the one? There is no crowd and no big pile of gifts. How can we be sure we’ve found the true king of the Jews?” They did not do this, did not doubt, because they depended not on their own reason but on God’s direction.
So God convinces us through His law that our own wisdom and reason, our own spiritual intuition, our holiness, and everything in us is darkness. He convinces us of this through the preaching of the law which not only shows us that we have committed sins, but that sin lives in us and has utterly corrupted all our powers so that we cannot find God unless God Himself reveals Himself to us.
Then by the bright shining light of the Gospel He leads those who are in darkness unerringly, surely, to His Son. He proclaims to us who have no power to find God ourselves that God and His glory have come to us in this little child born of Mary. He teaches us in His Gospel that through this child alone we have God and are included in His kingdom of salvation. And this star, this light of the Gospel, will not lead anyone astray. It leads us directly to Christ, who is God’s Son given for our salvation from the darkness that surrounds us and is in us. His light overcomes the darkness. It destroys the darkness of sin and the devil’s power forever. It shines like a beacon from the cross where we see Jesus hanging dead for our sins. There they are swallowed up and put away forever.
Jesus is the glory of Israel and the glory of the church. God draws people from every nation out of the deep darkness to His Son’s light. The wise men were not drawn to the priests and scribes and all their pomp and knowledge except to find out where the king of the Jews was born. Those in deep darkness today are not drawn to the church as an organization composed of holy or wise people. They are drawn to the glory of the church, her great treasure, Jesus.
He is our treasure and our glory. He is among us in His Word and blessed Sacraments—in the water of baptism, in the absolution, forgiving our sins, in the bread and wine giving us His Body and Blood. He is among us as the true God, the Immortal Creator, now clothed in our poor flesh and bone. He is with us and is one with us for our salvation.
He is with us as Savior, the one who takes away the sins of the world. Churches may invent a million ways to try to get people to enter their doors—but the only true God and Savior of the world is the treasure God gives out in the Church. Those who are weary and burdened by sin, who are lost in the darkness, will not be helped by anyone or anything else.
The wise men opened their treasures to Jesus, and they were rich treasures—caskets of gold. Myrrh, a gum from an Arabian tree used to perfume, to heal injuries, to kill pain. Frankincense, a resin that when burned clouds temples with sweet smoke. But these rare treasures are nothing compared to the rarity of the treasure God gives us in Christ. In Him He gives us His only Son whose suffering and death saves us from our sins. He is the gold of our eternal heavenly riches, the healing ointment for the wounds of sin that makes them disappear. He is the incense that makes us a sweet savor in God’s nostrils, as He offers us up together with Him in praise to God.
We have no treasures worthy of such a king. But He guides us to Himself and bends the knee of our hearts so that we open them to Him and receive His treasures. He fills our dark hearts with His heavenly light, teaching us to trust in Him to guide us unfailingly to the eternal light of His face in heaven.
Soli Deo Gloria