Sermon – The Epiphany of our Lord – January 6, 2019
Matthew 2:1-12 ‘Out of the Shadows’
CT: The shadows glimpsed in Scripture come together in the Christ Child and are now seen in His light cast through you.
Intro: Matthew’s account of the wise men is clouded with mystery. Do the 3 gifts mean 3 wise men or Magi? Tradition says they were named Balthasar, Gaspar, and Melchoir, but we can’t say for sure. And the star; was it an alignment of planets or a special sign from God? Were these wise men familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and Balaam’s prophecy: “A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel”? (Numbers 24:17) Much ink and time has been spent pondering things we don’t have the answers to.
The Shadows Take Shape: But what we do know is what Matthew records. He wraps up Jesus’ birth narrative in a short sentence: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod.” He doesn’t include the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, no room in the inn, the angel choir, the shepherds, or the manger scene; Luke gives us all those details. Rather, Matthew frames Jesus birth during the reign of one of Judea’s blackest kings, Herod the Great, known for being paranoid, ruthless, and cruel. To mention Herod at the beginning of the Christmas story was a foreboding sign of how things would turn out; to bring out of the shadows what was written in Scripture and make it clear. The new King was born to suffer and die in the midst of all that is evil in this world, and for all that is wrong in our world and in us; specifically He did this for you.
The wise men obviously didn’t have the whole picture. They simply showed up in Jerusalem asking, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew doesn’t say that they followed the star to Jerusalem only that upon seeing this star they went. Where else would Gentile scholars begin their search for someone born King of the Jews? Herod knew they were not talking about just any threat to his throne; he called in his theologians, the chief priests and scribes not to discern where some king would be born, but where the Christ was to be born. To everyone in Jerusalem, even these foreigners, that title, King of the Jews, bore great weight; it captured the hopes of God’s people for generations and the focus of Herod’s worst nightmares.
Out of the shadows of Scripture, the prophet Micah gave the answer; Bethlehem. What was written in Scripture and hidden for generations was now made clear in Jesus! Jesus Himself said that the Law and the Prophets point to Him. (ie. Luke 24:27)
Unmoved: Today, when there is news of something unusual happening in the night sky, many make the effort to see it, even travelling long distances to get a better view. Yet Matthew doesn’t record anyone in Jerusalem going out to see if they could pick out Christ’s star in the night sky. Nor were there any scribes curious enough to go to Bethlehem to see who cast this shadow in Scripture, or was it because the news came from gentiles. Yet Isaiah said that “nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” The scribes knew Scripture and gave the magi the answer to their question, but were unmoved by the promise to go.
Yet how many people today are unmoved by the news of Jesus’ birth? Many can tell the Christmas story of the manger in Bethlehem, even recognize the Epiphany star, and yet remain unmoved by what it means. So much over the past month proclaimed that Christmas was here, but not Christ. It’s as if people are content with the shadow, but not wanting to know the Shadow Maker.
God Revealed: As the magi guided by God’s Word left for Bethlehem, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them causing them to rejoice with great joy. It’s as if the star was doing something new! The star that announced the birth of the King of the Jews, now led them right to His doorstep, where they fell down and worshipped him and offered their gifts befitting this King. The magi didn’t find Jesus; God led them there through His Word and His star. Unless God reveals His Christ you won’t see or know Him either. The Apostle Paul makes that point when He wrote to the Ephesians saying that the mystery of the Gentiles—that you and I are included in the promise of the Christ—was revealed to him. With all of his knowledge of Scripture, this mystery was something he couldn’t even begin to grasp on his own. The One born King of the Jews is the Christ for all people and what’s more; is made manifest here in Christ’s Church—in you. God’s love is revealed to the world in the way that He has forgiven you!
King and Christ: The magi’s quest for ‘He who was born King of the Jews’ is also a shadow of what was to come. The King born in Bethlehem is the One the soldiers mocked as they scourged Him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And as they crucified Him the charge against Him was fixed over His head: “This is Jesus, King of the Jews.” Hanging on the cross, Jesus was mocked for being ‘the King of Israel’; the Christ of God. Jesus is the true form of every shadow of the Christ given in Scripture. As Jesus said to His disciples after His resurrection: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26) It was necessary that Jesus’ blood be shed for the forgiveness of your sins. The whole sacrificial system in the Old Testament is a shadow of what Jesus did for you.
In Disney’s movie, ‘Hook’, Captain Hook saw Peter Pan’s blurry shadow cast on the sail of his ship. It’s only when Peter cuts away the shape of his shadow out of the sail and appears before Hook that Hook says: “Peter is that really you?” Matthew’s Gospel lesson was not written to unlock the mystery of the Magi; it was written to reveal the mystery of God for you in Christ Jesus. The promised Christ was born for you, lived for you, suffered and died for you, and rose again for you that God might lift your eyes out of the shadows to the see the substance of His love for you; that you’re whole life might make plain Jesus as God’s Christ for others too.