130106 Matthew 2:1-12

Last Updated on Monday, 07 January 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Matthew 2:1-12
Theme: The Importance of Epiphany

Today is January 6th, the twelfth day after Christmas, the day also known as the Festival of the Epiphany of our Lord. That title sounds pretty impressive, doesn't it? Since Epiphany is a special festival day it must be one of the more important dates on the Christian calendar, or is it?

Like Christmas (which always falls on December 25th) Epiphany falls on the same day every year. But unlike Christmas most churches don't have special services on Epiphany unless January 6th falls on a Sunday, like it does this year. Because of this practice we might conclude that Epiphany (which is sometimes called the Christmas of the Gentiles) is not all that important, or at least not as important as Christmas.

But on those years when Epiphany doesn't fall on a Sunday, many churches (ours included) celebrate it anyway. Instead of holding special services on January 6th, we traditionally observe this festival on the closest Sunday either before or after Epiphany. And because so many other churches do the same we might conclude that Epiphany is important.

So which is it? Is Epiphany a big deal or isn't it? Is the Festival of the Epiphany of our Lord important or not?

I believe it is, and I believe that Matthew would agree. Matthew is the only gospel writer who includes the account of the Magi. He tells us about their search. He tells us about the star. He tells us what the Wise Men did when they finally found the Savior.

This morning it is our privilege to follow that star, to go back to Bethlehem and worship with the Wise Men. And as we do Matthew's marvelous account will impress upon us...

THE IMPORTANCE OF EPIPHANY

I. It reveals the awesome power of God
II. It reveals the amazing grace of God

What do a thundering slam dunk, an unexpected Christmas present and the latest blockbuster movie have in common? They are all things that can be and probably have been described as awesome. "Awesome" is one of those words that is overused and underappreciated, but I can't think of a better word to describe what the Wise Men saw when they looked up into the sky. Maybe they even looked at each other and said: "That is awesome."

The special star God placed in the sky was proof of his power, the same power God demonstrated on the fourth day of creation when he said: "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night...and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth" (Genesis 1:14,15). With only his Word God created planets and solar systems and galaxies of stars, and thousands of years later he brought forth another star, a single purpose star, a star that signaled the birth of a King.

The Wise Men recognized the significance of that star, and they immediately set out on a quest to find that king. When they reached the royal city of Jerusalem, they found the reigning ruler (King Herod) and asked him: "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him" (2).

Bible critics have tried to come up with scientific explanations for the star. It was a comet or a meteor or a convergence of planets, they say. Sometimes other heavenly bodies can look a lot like stars, but not this star. This star was different. This star was on the move. This star was on a divine mission. This star eventually led the Wise Men to the exact place where Jesus was.

If you accept what the Bible says, there is no scientific explanation for this. There is only one explanation for this. It was a miracle. The appearance of the star, the leading of the star, the guiding of the star, these are all evidence of God's almighty power. And as awesome as God's power is, it even goes beyond this. Not only can God do anything (omnipotence). He also knows everything (omniscience).

Before the Wise Men found the place where Jesus was born, before the Jewish wise men (the chief priest and teachers of the law) discovered where Jesus would be born, before the prophet Micah prophesied where Jesus would be born, God knew. Before the beginning of time God the Father knew that his Son would be born in Judea, in Bethlehem, in a stable. After all, it was his plan. Jesus' humble birth in Bethlehem was one piece of God's plan to save the world. And it was the same omniscience that kept the forces of evil from upsetting his plans.

Herod the Great wasn't Judah's greatest king, but he might have been the most cunning. He had to be to keep his crown for so many years. And he was willing to do anything (like kill his friends and his wife and even his own children) to maintain his power. When Herod learned that a new king had been born, he was disturbed. He felt threatened. And so he worked out a secret deal with the Wise Men.

Herod met with them privately and made a seemingly innocent request: "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him" (8). The Wise Men didn't know that Herod wanted to kill Jesus, but God did. The all-knowing God could see into Herod's heart. He knew what Herod was thinking. He knew the evil Herod was planning. And to keep Herod from ruining his plans the Lord warned the Wise Men in a dream to go home a different way.

Why is Epiphany important? Epiphany is important because on this day God reveals his awesome power. He reminds us that he can do anything. He reminds us that he can see everything. And sometimes God's people need the reminder. Because from our limited perspective it doesn't always look like God is in control. Because there are days when we wonder if God really knows what he is doing. We think we know better. We think we could do better.

You know what? God knows that too. He knows what we are thinking. He knows what we are thinking before we think it. He knows what we do before we do it. He knows how sinful we are, how selfish we are, how crafty and cunning we can be. And if he wanted to the all-knowing and all-seeing King of heaven and earth could vaporize us with a snap of his fingers.

He could, but he hasn't. Why not? Why doesn't God give us what we deserve? Why doesn't he punish us? Why is he so patient with us? Matthew knows why, and in the Epiphany account he tells us. This day is so important for you and me because on this day God's reveals his amazing grace.

We are told that the Wise Man came from the east, but exactly how far east we don't know. We aren't sure who they were either, but we do know who they weren't and that is significant. These men were not Jewish. They were not among God's chosen people. They weren't descendants of Abraham, and yet they were included in the promise God gave to Abraham: "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Genesis 12:3).

God loved the Jewish people. He gave them hope. He gave them a home. When they strayed, he warned them. When they repented, he forgave them. But God's love is too big for just one race. God loves all people. He loves Jews and Gentiles. He loves you and me. And if you need proof of God's grace look no farther than the Epiphany gospel.

Somehow, some way, God's promise of a Savior reached hundreds of miles beyond the borders of Israel. And when God fulfilled his promise he gave the rest of the world a sign. He gave us a star. And through that star God gave the Wise Men the opportunity to meet their Savior face-to-face.

The Wise Men were the first Gentiles to behold the Christ child, but by God's grace they were not the only ones. These men symbolize God's desire to carry the gospel from one little corner of the world to every corner of the globe. The Magi stand as an enduring testimony of God's desire to share the good news of salvation with people of every nation, tribe, language and race (Revelation 14:7).

When Jesus told Nicodemus that "God so loved the world" (John 3:16), he meant it. When Jesus told the Jews, "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also" (John 10:16), he meant it. When Jesus declared from the cross, "It is finished" (John 18:30), he meant that he had completed his soul-saving work. Not just for his friends. Not just for the Jews. By his suffering and death Jesus paid for the sins of all people.

For Gentile Christians like us the difference between Christmas and Epiphany is sort of like the difference between being a guest at a party and being the guest of honor. For the most part the Christmas story is a Jewish story. Mary was Jewish. Joseph was Jewish. The shepherds were Jewish. The rest of us stand on the sidelines. We are allowed to observe everything that happens. We can appreciate everything that happens, but we don't really have an active role.

Epiphany is different. This account wasn't just written for us. It was written about us. When the Wise Men bowed down and worshiped the baby Jesus God was sending you and me and the rest of the world a message. Epiphany is our Lord's way of saying: "I came into this world for all people. I came into this world for you. Believe in me! Worship me! Follow me!"

When people have a life-changing experience, when something happens that makes them see themselves and their lives in an entirely new way, they will sometimes say that they have had an "epiphany." Epiphanies are rare. Epiphanies are special. Epiphanies are important.

But there is no epiphany that can compare with the Epiphany. The Epiphany of our Lord didn't affect just one person's outlook on life. On this day God introduced his Son to the world. On this day God reveals himself to us. He gives us a glimpse of his awesome power, and he gives us a taste of his amazing grace. Amen.

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