What is an epiphany?
Let’s examine the glorious and surprising manifestation of God’s power to the Magi, who took a different path to Christ.
We will look at Matthew 2:1-12, the epiphany that the Magi saw and its relevance for us today.
Matthew 2:1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” 3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?” 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: 6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” 9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
1. Who were the Magi?
Who were the wise men that visited Jesus? The Greek term is magoi. Friberg  defines this as wise men. Louw-Nida  adds that they studied the stars. Herodotus  called them Persian priests who were interpreters of omens and dreams. Eastern traditions  recount that the Magi were eventually baptized by the apostle Thomas. The carol “We Three Kings” erroneously calls them kings based on Psalm 72:11, a prophecy that may be completely fulfilled when Christ returns. They were pagan advisors to kings who were led to Christ via their own religion. Could God use other religions to lead people to Christ today? Most Jews chose not to be interested in the birth of their Messiah. What about us?
 Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Baker's Greek New Testament Library. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000. BibleWorks, v.3  Louw-Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. United Bible Societies. 1989.  Herodotus 7.19, 7.37, 1.107, 1.108, 1.120, 1.128  Brent Landau. Who were the Magi? 11/29/2011. biblicalarchaeology.org
2. What were the Magi’s Gifts?
The gifts given to Jesus were gold, frankincense and myrrh — three gifts. There could have been twelve or more Magi according to eastern traditions. 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 possibly foresaw Jesus’ death on the cross. The gifts may have been prophetic and symbolic of Christ as king, high priest and suffering savior.
3. Why did the Magi Worship a Child?
When the Magi inquired about Jesus they said that they had come to worship him. This made Herod feel threatened, so he plotted to kill Jesus. 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.”
4. Why is Western Christianity so Weak?
The Magi innocently inquired about Jesus but had no idea of the politics involved. Worldly power is threatened by the Messiah. The more corrupt that power is, the more it is threatened by a Savior who teaches that we must love our neighbor instead of oppress them, feed the poor instead of criticize them, and courageously welcome strangers instead of fearfully building walls. Historically, power brokers have either tried to destroy the Gospel or water it down, making it ineffective. Roman and Jewish leaders had profited greatly from a corrupt system. Zealots potentially revolting to free Judea were a threat to the system. True Christianity is a threat to modern greed. Is that why western Christianity is weak and insipid?
God is everywhere. We don’t need to look far. His presence is obvious to people no matter their religion. As he did with the Magi, God can use other religions to bring people to Jesus. Let’s take time to look at God’s omnipresent epiphany.