Seeking, Finding, Worshipping
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Matthew 2:1-12
January 05, 2020

We celebrate Christ’s Epiphany this morning. Epiphany means the revelation of Jesus as God’s Son and Savior, not only for the children of Israel but for the nations, as well. Matthew’s Gospel reading for Epiphany shows this to us.

The Gospel reading from Matthew opens suddenly with Magi from the east arriving at Jerusalem. They ask about where to find the King of the Jews, who they say has been born. They have seen His star and have come to worship Him.

The Magi are intriguing. Let us identify some facts about them. They were from the East. Magi are mentioned in relation to Daniel in Babylon (Daniel 2). In fact, Matthew probably got this word “Magi” from Daniel 2. So, they were probably from that region of the world that was ancient Babylon, what we know today as Iraq.

They were looking for the King of Jews. This fact indicates that they sought the King of Jews for important reasons in relation to God. If that were not the case, there seems to be no good reason why they would be interested in a Jewish king.

What did the Magi do? They were probably practitioners of a mix of religion and philosophy by which they were seeking to know God by natural lights, as best they could. This is okay, in a certain way, until the truth fully comes. Once the truth comes, what they could know by natural lights is superseded and left behind. But they are genuine seekers of the way of salvation with God.

But there is more. The word for Magi is also found in Daniel chapter 2. Thus, as part of the “wisemen” of Babylon, the Magi had probably been taught by Daniel, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, or Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah by their Hebrew names.

We may remember the story of the fiery furnace. Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-Nego would not worship the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. So the king had them thrown into the super-hot furnace (Daniel 3:8-23).

Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-Nego were not injured in the furnace, and there was a fourth Man walking around with them in the furnace, who was like the Son of God (Daniel 3:25). Then Nebuchadnezzar praised God, the one true God.

The wisemen all witnessed this. Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were elevated to positions of power in Babylon. They would have taught the wisemen of Babylon from the Old Testament Scriptures about God and His promises. If this established a tradition of teaching among the wisemen of Babylon, then the Magi would have heard about the promised Savior from the Scriptures. They would have heard about the Exodus of Israel from Egypt.

Thus, they were seekers by the most that natural light could teach them. But they were also seekers of the Savior because of what the Old Testament Scriptures taught them. Why else would they be seeking the King of the Jews and talking about His star?

The star shows up in the Exodus from Egypt. After coming out of Egypt through the Sea, the children of Israel were passing through Moab, on the east side of the Jordan River. Balak, King of Moab, had undoubtedly heard about what happened to the Egyptians at the Red Sea. Now the people of Israel are passing through his land. He is afraid. He summons Balaam to curse the people of Israel.

Balaam was apparently some sort of sooth-sayer. He apparently used sorcery of some kind for telling fortunes and prognosticating the future and for imposing curses. He also seemed to practice some sort of religion in relation to the Baals. But he also knew about Yahweh, the Lord. You can read about this in Numbers 22-24. He strikes me as being much like these Magi.

While we are talking about Balaam, let’s also talk about Balaam’s talking donkey.

So Balak wants Balaam to curse the children of Israel. We find Balaam riding his donkey. He is on his way with the princes of Moab to curse Israel. But the Angel of the Lord stands in Balaam’s way with His sword drawn (Numbers 22:23). He is protecting Israel.

Balaam does not see the Angel of the Lord, but the donkey does. The donkey turns away twice. He is actually saving Balaam’s life. Balaam strikes the donkey twice. Stupid, stubborn donkey, he thinks.

Finally, there is a place where the donkey cannot turn to one side or the other to get away from the Angel of the Lord. So he just lays down under Balaam. Balaam strikes the donkey again with his staff (Numbers 22:26-30).

The Lord opens the mouth of the donkey and enables it to speak to Balaam. Then Balaam’s eyes are opened to see the Angel of the Lord standing in Balaam’s way with His sword drawn (Numbers 22:31). The Angel of the Lord tells Balaam to continue on his way. But the Angel of the Lord tells Balaam not to speak anything but what the Lord tells him to speak.

The Lord commands Balaam to bless Israel. Balaam then said two very important things in the blessings that must have intrigued the Magi. Balaam said that “there is no sorcery against Jacob” and no “divination against Israel” (Numbers 23:23 NKJV). No powers of manipulation of the divine and fate understood according to natural lights or the practice of divination could have any effect against God’s people.

There is no sorcery or divination against you, dear people of God in Christ.

If the Magi were practitioners like Balaam, this would have caught their attention. This would have instructed them to look for something more.

The other thing that Balaam said that must have stuck with them was this: “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17 NKJV). The “Him” must have been the Messiah.

So here we see the Magi. God gives them a star to follow. The star arises. Could it be? Is this the sign of the star that arises out of Israel that Balaam spoke about? Is this the Scepter that shall not depart from Judah?

The star moves. It leads them west. It leads them to Jerusalem. They inquire of where the King of the Jews had been born. This King was the Scepter that arises out of Israel.

God spoke a promise of the Messiah in terms of a star. The Magi look to the stars to try to understand what God is doing. God mercifully and graciously now gives them a star, because they would be looking for it.

God leads them by the star to Judah, to Jerusalem, to Bethlehem, to the place where the Light is with His mother, Mary. Mary’s Child is the Light, the Light the Magi believed was promised to them; the Light that is promised to all people.

The Light is God’s answer to the darkness that covers the earth, that all peoples have in common. This is the darkness of death, the darkness of sin, and God’s wrath against it. If these Magi were wise—and there is no reason to doubt this as far as it goes—they were fully aware of this darkness.

Now a star arises and leads them. It leads them to the true Star that is the fulfillment of Balaam’s prophecy.

And there He is, God’s gift, a little child, lying in the arms of His Mother. They bow down. They fall on their knees. They give thanks. They worship. They lay very valuable gifts at His feet. It is fitting that they should do so. They do so with joy, and thanksgiving. They give their gifts without coercion, out of a free and willing spirit, since they were led by God to find the Light they had been seeking.

And now this Light is their faith, their religion. There can be no going back, but only onward as this Light leads them.

So we too find Him. We find Him here as the good news of Him is told to us, as God’s promised Immanuel. We find Him here as He has promised to gather with us when we are gathered in His Name (Matthew 18:20). We find Him here, as He comes to us in His body and blood, the same body and blood by which He took away the darkness and gives us the promise of forgiveness and the hope of life overcoming death.

And as we find Him, we find Immanuel. As we find Immanuel, we find God, and all the company of heaven. And we find God walking with us always with His strength, His love, His joy, and His peace, in the midst of our pilgrimage; this pilgrimage that can seem quite dark and painful at times.

We find Jesus here, as Magi found Him at Bethlehem. And finding Jesus, we find the Light, and He is leading us home. Amen.

 



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