Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
January 5, 2022
The word Epiphany comes from the Greek for appearing or manifesting. It is commonly used to refer to the manifestation of God. So, in the Epiphany season, we celebrate God’s manifestation to mankind, that is, that God shows himself to us. What is truly remarkable about this Epiphany of God, is that he manifests himself to the gentiles.
Gentile simply means nation. In the Bible the gentiles are all the non-Jewish nations. If you read through the Old Testament, you get the sense that the children of Israel are the good guys and the gentiles are the bad guys. God commands the children of Israel to destroy the gentiles that are in Canaan, so that they may possess it as their own nation. God forbids the children of Israel from marrying the daughters of the gentiles, lest they draw them to worship false gods and turn them away from Him. And of course, that is exactly what the children of Israel do. They marry foreign women and worship their false gods, even sacrificing their children to these demon idols. God punishes Israel for their unfaithfulness by sending the gentiles to make war against them. Again, the gentiles are seen as the enemies of God’s people. The children of Israel are constantly praying to the Lord for deliverance from the gentiles. And finally, Assyria takes the northern kingdom of Israel captive, scattering the children of Israel across her empire, and then Babylon takes Judah captive, scattering the children of Israel throughout her empire. Babylon is the epitome of evil. God’s people pray against Babylon. God’s prophets prophesy the destruction of Babylon. The gentiles are the enemy of God’s people. God’s people, the children of Israel, look forward to a redeemer, the Christ, who will finally rescue them from their enemies.
And so, it seems so strange that these gentiles from a far distant land to the east have come to Jerusalem and ask where is he who is born King of the Jews, because they have seen his star and have come to worship him! These gentiles seek him who is born King of the Jews. And to locate him, King Herod asks the chief priests and scribes where the Christ would be born, the Christ, who was promised by God to redeem the people of Israel. This seems strange, but this Christ, born King of the Jews, is born for these gentile pilgrims as well. He is born for all people to save them from their sins.
And how do we know this? The same way we know that he was born in Bethlehem: through Holy Scripture. The wisemen followed a star in search of the Christ. But when they got to Jerusalem, the star appears to have set. So, they go to the palace, a natural place to look for a king. But it is not until after they consult Holy Scripture and read from the Prophet Micah, that they discover that the Christ-child is born in Bethlehem. The star was not enough. They needed God’s holy Word.
And if you read through the Old Testament, you will find that God is not the God of the Jews only, but the God of the gentiles also. Rahab, Ruth, and Naaman are notable gentiles, who abandoned their false gods to worship the God of Israel. And the prophets frequently made prophecies of the gentiles gathering to worship the Lord. The patriarch Jacob prophesied of his son, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Genesis 49:10). So, even before the twelve sons of Israel became twelve tribes, Israel prophesied that the gentiles should come and pay tribute to the Christ. We heard the Prophet Isaiah declare, “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (60:2-3) This also shows that the gentiles would be enlightened by the Gospel and come to worship Christ.
Psalm 67 declares, “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon the earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” And Psalm 117 states, “Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples.” These passages show that all nations will worship the God of Israel. And again, Isaiah prophesies of the Christ, the root of Jesse, when he says, “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire” (Is. 11:10) And there are many other passages from Scripture that show that the Christ, who is born King of the Jews, comes to save not only the people of Israel, but also the gentiles. He comes to save everyone.
Yet, how did these gentile wisemen know this? And how did they know that they should follow the star and that the star would lead them to the Christ, the King of the Jews? Some say that they received a revelation from the Lord, which makes sense, since an angel of the Lord did speak to them in a dream warning them not to return to Herod, but to go home another way. Yet, I think it is more convincing that these gentile wisemen read about the Christ and his star in holy Scripture.
When God punished Israel and Judah by sending them into captivity and scattering them among the nations, he did not do this only for the sake of punishing them. God never does that. God’s primary desire is to show mercy. God scattered the people of Israel across the nations, not only to bring them to repentance and salvation, but in order to save the gentiles as well. Because, when God scattered the people of Israel, he also scattered some of the faithful. And these faithful brought the holy Scriptures with them. This is how so many gentiles became proselytes, that is, converts to the true faith. These gentile wisemen likely read about the Christ in holy Scripture and heard how he comes to save them from their darkness of sin and unbelief as well.
What’s more, I think it is very probable that these gentile wisemen, who studied many things, including the stars and constellations of the sky, saw a star they had never seen before rise out of Israel, so they consulted holy Scripture to discover its meaning. And they found this prophecy from the Prophet Balaam, a strange gentile prophet, who prophesied for the LORD God of Israel, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24:17) And these gentile wisemen concluded that that star rising out of Israel would lead them to him who is born King of the Jews, the very Christ.
I become more convinced of this by the faith the wisemen continue to have in God’s holy Word. They leave the fabulous palace of King Herod to seek the King of the Jews in a humble village, because Scripture tells them to. The chief priests and scribes don’t follow them. King Herod has no intention of worshiping this child. Just as there are today, there were many wisemen studying many great things, but few would travel to Bethlehem to worship a child. Few would listen to the promise of Scripture. And as the Chief Priests and scribes, who had access to the promises of God, but didn’t bother to believe it, and travel just a few miles and worship their God in the flesh, so professors of the Bible at the most exalted seminaries and colleges in the world reject the Bible as the Word of God. The most powerful and influential bishops and pastors of the world preach nothing of Christ and completely ignore his Gospel. But, like the wisemen, you must follow the holy Scriptures and find Christ where he promises to be.
The star represents the light of the Gospel. Only the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins won by Christ can bring you to know your Lord and Savior. The wisemen found Jesus in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is Hebrew for House of Bread. Jesus is the Bread of Life from heaven. And so, like the wisemen, we must find Jesus in Bethlehem, that is, where his holy Word is preached and where his Sacraments are administered. This church is our Bethlehem. Here we feed on the Bread of Life in faith by hearing and believing his Word and eating his body and blood in the Sacrament. Your home should also be your Bethlehem. God’s Word should be read there and confessed, so that the Bread of Life fills your home as well.
The wisemen brought gifts to Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. So, we too should bring our gifts to the Christ, who was born to save us. Gold: We should acknowledge Christ as our King and pay tribute to him with our tithes and offerings. These offerings should be given freely with a willing heart. This means that first of all, we must have faith in Christ. He has redeemed us with his blood. He gives us eternal life. So, our offerings are given freely and joyfully.
Frankincense was burned as an offering to the Lord in prayer. The sweet aroma rising to heaven represented the prayers of God’s people rising to his throne. And so, we should pray to Christ Jesus and acknowledge him as our God. Our prayers and hymns of praise should rise as incense to Christ Jesus at all times, and especially when we gather to worship as the church.
Myrrh is a spice that was used to anoint dead bodies, so that they would smell good when they were buried in the tomb. This myrrh symbolized that Jesus would die for the sins of the world and rise again. And so, we should offer our myrrh by mortifying our sinful flesh and rising as new Christians each day, that is, we should repent of our sins, put to death the old Adam, and rise to do good works through faith in Christ.
So, we rejoice this Epiphany that the wisemen found their Savior in Bethlehem. God made himself known to them. And God makes himself known to us. He is our Savior. Christ was born to save us too. May we always worship him.Amen.