The Epiphany of our Lord: The Magi as Examples of Faith

Visitation of the Magi
The magi bring Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:1-12). From a book explaining the Epistles and Gospels by Martin Luther (1540).

Lessons: Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
Hymns: LSB 396, 395, 397, 401, 399

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      The Magi saw the star indicating the birth of Jesus. So, they embarked on a long journey to worship the Christ Child and offer Him gifts. First, they stop in Jerusalem to ask where He is. Surely the king ruling over that country would know where the newborn King is living. But King Herod did not know, but he knew whom to ask. He assembled the chief priests and scribes and inquired of them where this Child was to be born. These men knew the words of the prophet Micah—that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Moreover, this matches the promise that Jesus would be born of the house of David, who was also from Bethlehem.

      So the Magi are directed to go to Bethlehem. Herod claims he also wants to worship Jesus and tells the Magi to let him know exactly where Jesus is staying in Bethlehem. The Magi arrive in the small town whose name means “House of Bread.” The star they had seen earlier now rested over the house where Jesus is now living. Seeing this star causes them to be filled with joy, for they knew they had found the baby Jesus.

      I have to wonder, though, about everyone else. Surely there were astronomers who noticed this star. Perhaps others did, too. What about them? What was the reason for so few noticing this star and coming to worship Jesus? I suppose the modern critics of the Bible would say, “See, this proves it. There was no star, since almost nobody noticed.” But that is no proof. It is the logical fallacy of arguing from silence.

      I think the better reason is that there was much darkness over the land, as described by the Scriptures. Matthew 4 describes the people dwelling in darkness, but through Christ, have seen a great light. At Christmas, we heard John’s Gospel, saying, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (John 1:9-10).

      Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there is no question that we live in distressing and troubling times. Many have grown dull, thoughtless, and cold. Many have rejected the truth of the Gospel outright. Others have rejected repentance, and so they remain in their various sins. Many sins are now celebrated and extolled as good. There is much evil all around us. There is much darkness.

      But this should not surprise us. Even though God raised up many prophets in the Old Testament to direct the hearts and minds of the people toward the Messiah, there was no prophet who did not suffer persecution. Even though they had the written Word and the Temple with all its sacrifices going on, many did not even notice the signs of our Lord’s birth. God chose the lowly shepherds, Simeon and Anna, and these Magi to worship Jesus. Most others did not know or care.

      In these times of great distress, it is tempting to join the world who continue to not know the Gospel or care about the saving Word of Christ. It is easy to figure that since so many live comfortable lives apart from the Gospel, they, too, could forgo the Gospel. I once talked to a lifelong, devout Lutheran who was troubled by a couple of things at her church due to things that were said of her. Her family counseled her with worldly wisdom, saying, “Well, if you didn’t go to church, then you wouldn’t have to put up with what they’re saying.” That is exactly the kind of darkness Satan wants for all people. He wants us to lose sight of the saving Gospel—the great light that has arisen among us—and return to darkness. Satan even tries to twist this darkness into light, saying, “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be enlightened if you just listen to other perspectives besides the Bible and the Church.” The Devil continues to lie with the lie he first told Eve, “Did God really say? Let me shed some light on this for you.” And then, like lemmings, mankind follows after Satan’s dark deception—all the while thinking they are now seeing the light.

      It is a sad reality to watch so many return to the lies and darkness of false belief. It is sad to see so many people sit in darkness. We know far more people who sit in this darkness than we want to admit. We want to think that, by virtue of knowing them, our neighbors, family, and friends have got to be Christians who are on the path toward everlasting salvation. But that isn’t what the Scriptures teach. Salvation awaits those who believe in Jesus, trusting in Him, and repent of their sins.

      The Magi clearly believed in Jesus. Their faith is seen by their works. They knew the prophesy of a star would announce the birth of Jesus, indicating that they had studied the Word of God. They looked for the coming of the Messiah, indicating they hoped in Him. They travelled countless miles to worship Him, indicating that they knew nothing is more important in this life than to be in the presence of Jesus. They fell down before Jesus even though He looked like an ordinary Baby, indicating they knew who to worship, how to worship, and even to worship when it all seems too ordinary. They offered Jesus gifts, indicating that they are good stewards and knew that God would be with them. They listened to God who warned them not to return to Herod, indicating that they will listen to God rather than men—that they will submit to the Lord over any authority on Earth. Such faith! Such examples for us!

      While darkness was covering the Earth, the light has come and the glory of the Lord has arisen (Isaiah 60:1-2). And now foreigners have come to offer Jesus gifts, as Isaiah had prophesied.

      This is why we call Epiphany the “Gentile Christmas.” This continues as part of the Christmas celebration, even though the twelve days of Christmas are now passed. Epiphany is, after all, an extension of Christmas. And now we can see that Jesus has also come for the Gentile—for those who cannot trace their ancestry back to Abraham. Thanks be to God! The Gospel is for all nations. Jesus died as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. Jesus lives and reigns where there are now saints from all tribes, peoples, and tongues sitting before the Lamb and His throne.

      Even though God establishes government, we cannot simply accept whatever governments say and do as if they have the Gospel truth. Remember, Herod directed his soldiers to kill all boys two and under living in the vicinity of Bethlehem in an attempt to eliminate the Christ Child. Also, Isaiah lived during very dark times, and most of the kings ruling the Promised Land in his day were wicked. Yet, the light of the Gospel was still being proclaimed through faithful prophets like Isaiah. And even though our government has enacted laws which contradict God’s word, we rejoice that the light of the Gospel is far from extinguished in our land. Laws allowing no-fault divorce and laws redefining marriage are opposed to God’s Word. Others in government mock the Biblical teaching that Jesus is the only way toward salvation.

      In Isaiah’s day, there was still hope. The Hope of all people was born in Herod’s day. And, as we live in these latter days filled with much spiritual darkness, we cling to the saving Word of the Gospel which brings us true joy and peace in believing. Our hope is in Christ Jesus. We support the proclamation of the Gospel generously. Even if most of our own countrymen are unwilling to gather in God’s house, we still come and worship Christ Jesus.

      By doing so, we are not putting on a stubborn show, reverting to Victorian-era ethics, or enslaving ourselves to antiquated and ancient writings. Instead, we are listening to the God who made the Heavens and the Earth—the God who sent His only begotten Son into this world—the God who redeemed us by laying down His life on the cross—the God who loves us—the God who saves us—the God who opens Heaven to us.

      It is nothing but sheer mercy for the almighty God to come into this world to take away our sins by bearing our sins in His Body and dying in our place on the cross. And, it is nothing but sheer mercy for God to continue to come to us today through the pure proclamation of the Word and the right administration of the sacraments. How can we not, but want to gather in His house to hear His Word and receive His gifts? Such joy and such blessings we have! And so we come and worship Christ, our Lord and Savior.

      Let me close by repeating these words of our Savior, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16). Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen