What is an epiphany? Is it a big vision with smoke and thunder and loads of drama, or is it something quiet and off in a corner. The epiphany of Jesus was not a great and dramatic thing like the crossing of the Red Sea, but it was a revelation of God nonetheless.
God has invaded earth to bring world peace. The world scoffed. The power brokers tried to destroy it, but God came down anyway as a harmless child. The people of God ignored it, but pagans did not. Let’s take a look at that invasion today and see what it means for us. Let’s see if we can catch the epiphany.
The goal is to make us aware of which side we are on, God’s or worldly politics.
We will take a look at Matthew 2, the Magi, the Herods, the gifts, the worship and the politics. Why is it that non-Christians sometimes seem to have more faith than we do?
Ever since we were children we have heard of the visit of the Magi after Jesus was born (Matthew 2:1-12). Who were they? The Greek term is magoi. Friberg defines this as wise men of the Magian religion, magicians or sorcerers. Louw and Nida prefer “men of wisdom who studied the stars.” An ancient historian, Herodotus of Halicarnassus called them interpreters of omens and dreams who perhaps still sacrificed to Persian gods. They were possibly baptized into the church many years later by the apostle Thomas while on his way to plant churches in India. Why did pagans show more belief than followers of God? Herod had access through the Jews who had even easier access, but most of them chose not to be interested. What is our reaction to the birth of Jesus?
In Matthew 2:1-12 we are introduced to Herod. The name applied to a dynasty of foreign Edomite (i. e. Idumean) kings. As clients of Rome their rule included Galilee and Judea during the time of Christ. They were known for military expertise, cruelty and being lovers of luxury. As subcontractors to the Roman Emperor, they enforced Roman rule, took taxes in the form of money, food and merchandise, and kept order. While taking taxes for Rome, they were also free to take for themselves. The excessive tax burdens led to unbearable poverty which, along with the imposition of emperor worship, led to frequent revolts by zealots. It was a precarious position with threats all around. So, the kingdom of God, while not of this world, was understood as a political force by the disciples, Jewish leaders and the Romans.
The gifts given to Jesus in Matthew 2:1-12 were gold, frankincense and myrrh. The number of the wise men is taken from the three gifts, but they could have been as many as twelve people according to eastern tradition. Gold was a gift for royalty. Frankincense and myrrh are aromatic herbs with healing properties . Frankincense comes from the sap of Boswellia trees and used for incense, perfume and anointing oil (Exodus 30:32-34). As a gift it possibly symbolized Jesus' high priestly office. Myrrh comes from the sap of Commiphora trees, is bitter and another ingredient of anointing oil. As a preservative is was used to anoint the dead and thus foretold Jesus’ death on the cross. The gifts may have been seen as prophetic and symbolic of Christ as king, high priest and suffering savior.
When the Magi inquired about Jesus in Matthew 2:1-12 they said that they had come to worship him. This upset Herod who plotted to kill Jesus. These wise men of the east did not come merely to honor Jesus, but to worship him. When Jesus was tempted by Satan he was told to bow down and worship the devil. But Jesus replied that worship is something reserved only for God (Matthew 4:10), and he told the devil to leave. In Greek, the same wording is used for when a leper, a synagogue leader, the disciples, a gentile woman and Zebedee’s wife also worshiped Jesus (Matthew 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9, 17). Although it is popular for people to think of Jesus as merely a good man, he was God with us.
When the wise men from Babylon or Persia inquired about Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12) they had no idea of the politics involved. They only wanted to worship the Messiah and seem to have naively believed that others would too. However, there were a lot of power plays threatened by this news. Israel was ruled by a brutal foreign king, Herod, who was a client of the Roman Emperor. Herod was vulnerable. He had encountered trouble with Rome and Jewish zealots before and had brutally murdered many other potential rivals. Jewish leaders had made an uneasy peace with the devil by cooperating with Rome and its puppet king Herod. They had profited by this compromise and zealots rising up to free Judea were a threat to their arrangement. The kingdom of heaven and its Messiah were a political threat all around.
God is everywhere. We don’t need to look far. When we get our eyes on our things, we miss seeing God. Let’s take time to look.
God has invaded earth to bring world peace. The world scoffed. The power brokers tried to destroy it, but God came down anyway as a harmless child. The people of God ignored it, but pagans did not. What about us? Have we seen the epiphany?