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Click here for the reading: Matthew 2:1-12.

The world of Matthew 2 is like the womb of Rebecca with two struggling against each other. The Christ Child has come according to God’s promise through the prophet Micah, and like the town of His birth, His reign will not be according to appearances. Throughout His life, ministry, and death, His reign will be known through attending to prophets and through receiving the little ones sent in His name. Like His father, David the king (Mt. 1:6), Jesus’s reign begins inauspiciously in an obscure town of Judah. David began to reign in Hebron and came at last to Jerusalem. Jesus begins His reign in Bethlehem and will come at last to Jerusalem.

His kingship is divine, far surpassing Herod’s. Jesus’s kingship depends on God’s Word, Herod’s on the good pleasure of the Romans. The Magi recognize the firm foundation of Jesus’s kingdom and come to worship Him, knowing His divine office as King but not knowing His divinely given name as Savior of His people from their sins. The conviction drawn likely at least in part from Holy Scripture pushed the Magi from an undescribed eastern location to follow the divine light to the vicinity of Jerusalem. From there the star takes them directly to the Child.

Their gifts are according to a tradition dating back to Irenaeus in the 2nd century AD symbolic of Jesus’s offices as a God, a man who must die, and a king. This is quaint but unsure. The gifts denote neither specifically the number of the Magi nor their intuitions or beliefs about who Jesus truly is. Rather, all three gifts and the bringing of gifts from a foreign land to the King of the Jews are evidence of things unseen in Israel since the glory of Solomon. Now again the nations will come to worship the King of Israel. Now again the glory of the nations will be brought to Jerusalem. Now again Israel has a divinely ordained Son of David reigning over the nation unsullied by idolatry or illegitimacy of any kind.

Herod’s convictions are discovered for him by scribes who consult the Bible he does not know. They discover what the Scriptures have always said about the birth of the Messiah. His convictions drive him to deception because though he knows the Scripture, he does not know its power. Like so many to follow in Matthew’s gospel, Herod’s religion is dependent upon the scribes, not upon the Scriptures and the Messiah Whom they proclaim.

Thus the two kings have two ways. The way of the true King of the Jews is known through Scripture and creates great boldness and conviction and sacrifice in His followers. The way of the false King of the Jews is known through political consultations and creates fear and deceit in him and in his hangers-on. Epiphany is a time of clear revelation and a time of clear division between belief and unbelief, between the true King and all false ones.

Click here for the reading: Ephesians 3:1-12.

Mysteries are not what they once were. When we hear about mysteries in Bible passages, we think of what was done in the library and deerstalker caps and fingerprints on the windowsill. Paul is not speaking about something dark but precisely about something revealed and now very open. A mystery in the Bible is a mystery because only God could have known it and shown it to men. The mystery of the Gentiles’ inclusion in God’s people is mysterious because no one of Paul’s heritage would ever have expected it.

This is strange to us because the inclusion of Gentiles is now a given, presumptive in practically every Christian congregation across the world. We are no longer surprised, and when we read the Old Testament, prophecies such as Isa. 60 or any other about the coming of the nations to the Messiah leap easily from the page. We see with ease what Paul found hard to see. Why?

Again the gap between expectation and reality is a fruitful vein for preaching. The heirship of the Gentiles, their full and confident standing before God for the sake of Christ, was prophesied, but only in Christ are these things now so clear (“now been revealed” in v. 5). It’s not that this was somehow not really there in the text of the Old Testament. The obscurity, the darkness, is in the hearts of men who read and do not understand what they read. People’s expectations are conditioned by any number of factors that may or may not prepare them for the reality of God’s revelation.

Paul’s calling is specifically to call the Gentiles whom God has saved and to bring to light what God’s wisdom has planned and set forth. If something in Scripture is obscure or the Messiah is unknown or someone does not worship He who is Truth Himself, then the apostolic calling is to make Scripture, Messiah, and Truth known. The theme of mission running throughout the Epiphany season is contained here in a nutshell. If God has revealed His Son, then His Son must be made known. There can be no Messiah whose Name is not preached everywhere. How will they hear without someone preaching?

God’s wisdom is made known to individuals a la Rom. 10 but also to the powers and authorities now extant. “Through the church” (v. 10) the world is put on notice concerning its limits and its true Ruler. The boldness Paul displays and the courage he has and encourages the Ephesians to have (v. 13, just outside the pericope) are great because his understanding of what has happened in Christ is cosmic. Anywhere he goes is somewhere Christ reigns over. Anyone to whom he preaches is someone for whom Christ died, whether the listener heeds the gospel or not. A universal gospel for Jew and Gentile demands universal welcome. This is not mysterious. It is now the plainest thing in the world: Christ is the true King of the Jews and of the Gentiles.

Click here for the reading: Isaiah 60:1-6.

Epiphany was once Christmas and Epiphany and all their joy wrapped together. As the celebration of Jesus’s birth became separated from the coming of the Magi to worship the King of the Jews, Epiphany lost some of its luster. The prophet Isaiah restores the gleam to Epiphany in this glorious proclamation.

The advent of the Messiah is a call to awaken to a new reality. The nations without the Messiah are pictured as dwelling in a kind of pre-creation darkness altogether without light. The listener must awake because the Lord’s glory has risen like the sun. Jesus’s coming changes the reality in which the world lives as does the sun’s rising. Nobody can miss it. Nobody can mistake it. Nobody can remain unchanged. The time to wake up is now.

The nations and their kings come to seek these things. Isa. 60:3 is where the traditional attribution of kingship to the Magi is grounded, so that Epiphany prefigures the Last Day when the kings of the earth shall cast their crowns at the feet of the Sun of Righteousness.

The desolation that was once Jerusalem’s is no more because she is the place of pilgrimage for all nations. Now they come to her walls in holy fear rather than as anointed destroyers of an idolatrous nation. Through the Messiah the swords of the nations are turned to plowshares.

The days of Solomon return in the coming of the produce of the sea and the wealth of faraway lands on camels’ backs to Jerusalem. What will they find when they arrive? The difference between expectation and vision, between waiting and arriving, between what is promised and what has come is fruitful ground for the preacher.

It is neither advisable nor possible to preach on this text without mentioning the events of the Gospel reading. The prophecy goes with its fulfillment and is empty without it. The distinctives of this prophecy, however, cast a different light on the events of Matthew 2 than the Gospel reading itself does. The wrath of Herod contravenes the prophetic intention for the kings of the earth. The resistance of earthly rulers and their kingdoms to the advent of the Messiah is not within Isaiah’s announcement. The rejoicing over Jerusalem and in Jerusalem on account on her new Solomon, her dawning Light, is unthinkable in Isaiah. The deep wickedness and perversity of Herod’s sin and the terror earthly Jerusalem felt at the announcement of a new “King of the Jews” are more deeply dark for being absurd now that the Morning Star rises in the sky.