If you have ever put up crown molding in your house and went to the extent of coping the corner pieces together, you know how difficult of a task that can be. First off, if you don’t know what coping is, it is a woodworking technique of shaping the end of molding or a baseboard to neatly fit the contours of the piece you are putting it up against. It’s more challenging than just cutting two boards at 45-degree angles and slapping them together in the corner.
I can personally vouch about this because in our house in Nebraska, we were putting up crown molding in our kitchen. My father-in-law and I were working on the project and we were stumped. We were trying to figure out how to cut a piece so that it would fit just right. The thing with crown molding is you have to think upside down and backwards. We would measure and cut, see where we messed up, measure and cut, see where we messed up. Jessica and her mom went shopping for a while and when they came back they asked how it was going. We just gave them this look like, it’s not. But … once we figured it out, it was like “Whoa! We figured it out!”We had had this grand revelation, this grand epiphany and we were able to get the job done relatively quickly.
This morning as we observe the Epiphany of our Lord, we are celebrating God’s revelation of Christ to us. Epiphany is the celebration of God revealing Christ to us because we could never intuitively or instinctively figure it out. God reveals Christ to us, and “us” has no limits when it comes to God’s work in revealing His Son to be our Savior. Any notion of “us” verses “them” are erased under the mercy of God. God’s revelation extends beyond the Jews of which Jesus was born to the outsiders like the Magi.
We often refer to the Magi as wise men, but we need to understand that when the original readers of Matthew’s Gospel got to Chapter 2, verse 1, they would not have thought of wise men. They would have thought of them more along the lines of pagan outsiders. They would have said something like, “Magi! What are they doing here? Them? They’re outsiders.”
One might even expect their foolishness to disqualify the Magi from meeting the Christ. First off, the Magi go to Jerusalem, they go to the wrong city. They clearly were not faithful readers of the Old Testament Scriptures, but in their defense, it was any easy mistake to make. They were looking for the “king of the Jews” and so they headed to the place where the king of the Jews would live. And Herod, as the king of the Jews, did live there in Jerusalem. But the Magi weren’t there for him, they were there for the new king. The thing is though, Herod doesn’t play well with others so when the Magi tell him who their looking for, Matthew says that “when King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (2:3).
When you think about it, it’s pretty reasonable to see why King Herod would be disturbed. This new king would be a rival, his competition, but what about that last part of the verse? Why was all of Jerusalem troubled with him? Well, it’s because Herod was a bit paranoid when it came to his place as king. Herod had killed people when he felt threatened before. In fact, Herod had his wife and two of his own sons killed in order to protect his throne. So, if there is this new king coming, you don’t really want to talk Herod about it because it could be your head on the chopping block. Again, these magi aren’t too wise. But again, in their defense, they could never intuitively figure it out on their own. God reveals Christ to them.
The magi get some help from the chief priests and scribes there in Jerusalem. They open up God’s Word and reveal to the Magi how the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem. And so the Magi are off, off to Bethlehem to find this Messiah. But before they head out, Herod calls them over and secretly, deceptively says, “Hey guys, go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, come back and report to me, so that I too may go and worship him” (Matthew 2:8).
So the Magi go. Fortunately for them the star reappears to help them find their way. They finally stumble across the Christ child. They offer him their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh as well their worship. But after they do this, they are still in a foolish mess. As they get ready to leave, they get ready to head back to Jerusalem and tell Herod exactly where this new king is. But in their dreams that night, God intervenes and once again straightens them out. They are warned to go back to their country by another route (2:12). Because they could never intuitively figure it out, God reveals Christ to them.
But it isn’t just the magi. Apart from God’s revealing work, everyone is just as foolish and lost. In Matthew 1, Joseph didn’t get what God was up to. Once he found out Mary was pregnant and knowing that it wasn’t his child, he was ready to divorce her quietly. But God intervened in a dream and revealed the truth.
The religious leaders of the day who knew the Scriptures totally missed and didn’t know that the Christ was born until the Magi stumbled into town and let them know.
Even Peter, later on in Jesus’ ministry, Peter, a great pillar of the Church declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Way to go Peter! Woohoo! You figured it out! But then Jesus says, “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” (16:17). Peter was not super smart and figured out who Jesus was all on his own. No, God gave him, God revealed the answer.
What we celebrate this morning with the observance of Epiphany is this … Because we could never intuitively figure it out, God reveals Christ to us. God reveals Christ even to the gentiles, the nations. Epiphany is sometimes called the Christmas of the Gentiles. It’s called this because even the pagan gentiles, the Magi, come to see the King of the Jews.
And Jesus is the King of the Jews. From the moment He was conceived, through His years as a toddler, teenager, a grown man, and even today. Jesus is the King of the Jews. That phrase, “The King of the Jews,” it’s an interesting phrase. If you read all four Gospels and look for that phrase, you would find it a total of eighteen times. The first time is here in our reading. The other seventeen times are at Jesus’ crucifixion. The Magi asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews … we have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). After that, every single time people look for the King of the Jews, they come to crucify Him. “Where is the one who claims to be the King of the Jews … we have come to kill Him.”
Jesus’ birth is tied to his death. He took on flesh, our flesh, in order to take on our sin. In Matthew 27 when they crucify Jesus, they finally finish what Herod tried to do in Matthew 2. They killed the King of the Jews. And when He died, standing just a few feet away from was another pagan gentile, some guy who had nothing to do with the faith. In fact, this guy helped kill the King of the Jews. But when Jesus died on that cross, this pagan, who could have never figured it out himself, when he saw the crucified Christ, he was filled with awe and said, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).
Because you and I could never intuitively figure it out, God reveals Christ to us. On the third day, women go to the tomb to bring spices for the body. After a great earthquake, an angel of the Lord says, “I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (Matthew 28:5-6). Because they could never intuitively figure it out, God reveals Christ to them. God then commissions them, send them on saying through the angel, “Go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead’” (28:7). Even the disciples needed to hear the message and have it revealed to them.
Because you and I could never intuitively figure it out, God reveals Christ to us. The gentile Magi need it revealed to them. The pagan Centurion at the cross needed it revealed to him. The women at the tomb needed it revealed to them. The disciples need it revealed to them. Thankfully, God continues to reveal Jesus today, even to us. Luther puts it this way, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel”.
God reveals Christ to us. God sends you and me to reveal Christ to the world. God sends you and me to reveal Christ to the world. Speak the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. You have heard it, now go tell it. God, who was faithful to create faith in you and me through the message of the Gospel is also able to create faith through you as you share the same message. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.