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Epiphany

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(NIV)
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. The Magi made a long trip in order to worship Jesus. So, let’s start by thinking about long trips and why we take them.
Some trips are made to see a famous landmark whether it is natural or man made.
Some trips are made to watch a popular event.
Some trips are made to visit people we know.
What was the longest trip anyone ever made? Why did they make it? In the future, people may travel to Mars and beyond.
The Bible certainly tells us about trips that people made too. Some were one way. Most were round trips. The visit of the Magi is certainly an example of a trip made for a very specific purpose. As usual, there are many details left out because they are not necessary for the telling of the event. So our main focus will be on what we do know and why that is important.
Who. The Greek calls them Magoi (Magi). Traditionally they have been known as the wise men (not wise guys) or kings.
Identity in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew’s infancy narrative contains little information concerning the identity of the magi. Matthew states only that the wise men were “from the East” (2:1, 2), an ambiguous point of origin that left room for many subsequent hypotheses. Some church fathers proposed Arabia on the basis of where the gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh, 2:11) were likely to have originated. Others suggested Chaldea or Media/Persia, and, although certainty is impossible, Persia did certainly have a caste of priests (magi) which would fit the description in Matthew.
Interestingly, Matthew does not tell how many magi came to honor the infant Jesus. The Eastern church held that there were 12 travelers, although this may simply derive from the biblical penchant for that number (12 tribes of Israel, 12 disciples). The Western church settled on 3 wise men, based presumably on the 3 gifts brought in homage. The exact number is not known.
A similar silence exists in Matthew regarding the names of the wise men. The names Gaspar, Melchior (Melkon), and Balthasar are legendary and do not derive from Matthew. Similarly, the later tradition that Gaspar was a king of India, Melchoir a king of Persia, and Balthasar a king of Arabia has no basis in fact.
Importance for Matthew’s Gospel. The visit of the wise men plays a significant role in introducing Matthew’s Gospel. From the beginning it reveals the true identity of the infant as the long-expected and prophesied royal Messiah of Israel. This is brought out first in the appearance of the “star,” which, as can be noted from (“a star shall come forth out of Jacob, a scepter shall arise out of Israel”), carried clear messianic connotations (see also ). Second, the interchange between the magi, Herod, and the chief priests and scribes (2:2–6) reveals that Jesus is the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy of , the ruler of Israel coming from the small village of Bethlehem. Third, the offering of the gifts (2:11) may also echo the possible messianic promises of and 72:10.
Importance for Matthew’s Gospel. The visit of the wise men plays a significant role in introducing Matthew’s Gospel. From the beginning it reveals the true identity of the infant as the long-expected and prophesied royal Messiah of Israel. This is brought out first in the appearance of the “star,” which, as can be noted from (“a star shall come forth out of Jacob, a scepter shall arise out of Israel”), carried clear messianic connotations (see also ). Second, the interchange between the magi, Herod, and the chief priests and scribes (2:2–6) reveals that Jesus is the fulfillment of the messianic prophecy of , the ruler of Israel coming from the small village of Bethlehem. Third, the offering of the gifts (2:11) may also echo the possible messianic promises of and 72:10.
Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Wise Men. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 2154). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Wise Men. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 2154). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
When: We like to think of the Magi visiting Jesus at the manger perhaps right after the shepherds did. Certainly they are connected with his birth. But because of the distance they had to travel and in part the age of the children ordered slaughtered by Herod, and that Matthew says they came to the house, it was most likely several months later.
Where
When: A house in Bethlehem. The Magi had first come to Jerusalem because they believed that the special child would be king of the Jews so they expected him to be born in the household of the current King of the Jews. Who was King?

in the days of Herod the king—styled the Great; son of Antipater, an Edomite, made king by the Romans. Thus was “the sceptre departing from Judah” (Ge 49:10), a sign that Messiah was now at hand. As Herod is known to have died in the year of Rome 750, in the fourth year before the commencement of our Christian era, the birth of Christ must be dated four years before the date usually assigned to it, even if He was born within the year of Herod’s death, as it is next to certain that He was.

Herod was a very jealous, powerful, paranoid, and ruthless king. His order to slaughter the boys in Bethlehem would come as no surprise.
Why? As noted above, we will travel great distances at great expense for some very special purposes. The Magi state their reason for traveling to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem: (NIV)
1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Where do we go to worship our God?
There are certain places where we may feel closer to God or that our worship is richer. In biblical history before buildings were erected for worship, where did the faithful worship God?
Built altars.
Landmarks.
Homes.
The central place of worship for Israel was the tent of meeting and later the temple. At the time of the exile more local places were built called synagogues. We may not have a central place in the WELS but we do have our local churches.
Of course, you don’t have to go to church to worship God. (NIV)
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
But if you have a church building and you can make it there, why wouldn’t you want to travel there to worship God with your fellow Christians?
Maybe you are upset with someone? That happens. Then you need to listen to Jesus and get it straightened out or your worship of God wherever you are is futile. (NIV)
22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. 25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
The Magi had no such disagreements or excuses for not determinedly worshiping Jesus. At great expense and commitment they traveled to Jerusalem. They did not realize they had put themselves in danger.
Because Herod was a liar. He acted so reverently, didn’t he? (NIV)
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” We know he had no intention of doing anything of the sort.
Matthew 2:9–11 NIV
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The Magi were led to Bethlehem and to the house. They teach us some important lessons.
Jesus is meant for all people, not just the Jews.
They had joy in worshiping Jesus and seeing the fulfilment of God’s promises.
They humbled themselves before their God.
They worshiped Jesus—considered him worthy.
They gave offerings.
Giving offerings to support the work of the church is a timeworn practice that is commanded and results in blessings for the receiver as well as the giver. Unfortunately, it is also abused by those who give with false motives and by those who refuse to honor the Lord with their wealth. We do well to follow God’s commands and principles on this subject and to be encouraged by the willing gifts of those in the Bible who worshiped the Lord and combined their worship with being generous.
Side note on the gifts. (Kevin’s coins).
What a joyous trip this must have been for the Magi. The anticipation in whom they would see while on the way their, the guidance from the star. (They did not depend on Onstar but “On the Star”.) The opportunity to see and perhaps hold Jesus once they arrived.
Who?
But like many journeys, they also faced some difficulty. Matthew tells us that they were warned not to go back to Herod. (The reason is given in the following narrative.) So God guided them so they could return home safely.
Today you journeyed here to worship the Lord. Your journey did not take nearly as long as that of the Magi and I don’t think anyone is going to hunt you down afterwards. You had the opportunity to present your gifts used to honor the Lord and to support his work. Hopefully, they were generous and given with proper motives. You came here to worship the Lord and to be strengthened with God’s Word. Hopefully this was a joyful experience.
We don’t know if the Magi ever saw Jesus again. In the movie, Ben Hur, at least one of them sees Jesus just before the crucifixion. That is fiction. Undoubtedly, they continued to worship Jesus wherever they returned to even though by another route. May God grant us many opportunities to worship Jesus again and that we encourage each other not to give up meeting together as some are in habit of doing but to gather together with our Christian family to worship and honor our God.
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