The Epiphany, 2019

The Epistle – Ephesians 3:1-12

The Gospel – St. Matthew 2:1-12

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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We have something very similar today as we did at Christmas and that is, the story and then the implications and even the very application of what happened.

 

We have today in the Gospel lesson, the story of the Wise Men…the Magi…being guided by a star to the place where Jesus was living as a very young child.

 

 

 

Then we have St. Paul writing to the Church in Ephesus, explaining how the Christ was come not only to the Jewish people but to all people.

 

He had come also to the Gentiles…the non-Jews who also can find salvation and redemption in the Messiah.

 

Salvation was for all mankind….since the fall in the Garden of Eden affected all mankind.

 

We are all sinners in need of a savior, not because we are not Jewish or because we don't follow the Old Jewish dietary laws and ceremonial laws.

 

We are sinners in need of a savior because we are children of Adam.

 

The people of Israel, have a special place in the plan of God for the redemption of mankind, but they too are being redeemed by Christ and not by their obedience to the Old Testament Laws …also because they are children of Adam.

 

So we have the story on the surface and the unfolding meaning of it in the writings of Paul.

 

In fact, the Bible shows us that the people of Israel were informed that the Gentiles, the non-Jews would be sought out by God and brought into His family of people.

 

To become full members of this covenant family, all of the male non-Jews had to be circumcised. Both men and women had to be immersed in the water’s of ritual purity.

 

There were the steps to becoming “saved” if you will…to becoming part of God’s people.  

 

But it was this pivotal event in history that changed all of this to a new way. With the birth of Christ Jesus, one had to believe in Him as Lord and Savior and be baptized and become a member or a follower of Jesus...and only then would one be granted salvation…would be “saved.”

 

So the emphasis today on the Magi arriving is of great significance to us especially. This is the Epiphany or the manifestation of Christ to the Gentile.

 

It is very difficult for all of us to understand and appreciate this lesson today and this message of inclusion.

 

The forming of the Jewish nation, beginning with Abraham formed the model for God to save a people.

 

Even when Adam and Eve sinned, there was a division. Recall at some point no too long after, Cain kills Abel.

 

In fact before that, God tells Adam and Eve that there will be two lines. The seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.

One who would ultimately bring the savior and one that would bring destruction.

 

These two would be opposed to one another.

 

But again, Cain and Abel.

Later on, Jacob and Esau.  Jacob, God loved, Esau, God hated.

 

This sort of duality sets the stage for how God would build His Church and save a people. If one were to find favor with God he was to be a member of the Church…the people of God.

 

In Old Testament Israel, you were to undergo the rituals and rites mentioned a minute ago.

 

Circumcision. Even a baptism of sorts. Things that changed your identity. Circumcision was a permanent mark that you were God’s own.

 

Washing symbolized and in a very real way washed away the old stain of paganism and brought you into a right relationship with God.

 

You were now in the right line, if you persevered in that line, and you would find salvation.

 

As the Old Testament progresses, we see such a vivid model of the two paths or the two streams.

The people of God and everyone else. It was the ordinary and usual way you were part of God’s people.

 

Yet we do see small hints at times that those outside would be accepted on some level.

 

The Jewish people were really to be a light to the other nations of people. Israel was at the center of all things and all nations.  Israel was to be that stream that would bring salvation to people.

 

For example, one hint we find is from the Prophet Isaiah 19:18–25. He is speaking about a coming day when things will be restored for Judah.

 

The exiled people of God will be brought back. And here is what it will look like.

 

“In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the LORD of hosts. One of these will be called the City of Destruction. (so one will not be included)

 

[19] In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border.

 

 

 

And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them.

 

So Egypt now doing what Israel exclusively does.

 

[23] In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.

 

[24] In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, [25] whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” (ESV)

So we get passages like this that tell us that God, all along, had a plan to save many people from all nations of the world.

 

Gentiles who were not part of Israel, not part of the Abrahamic Covenant would be brought into covenant with God by His strength.

 

So full inclusion of Gentile nations …coming in and being considered equal citizens in God’s kingdom is certainly not explicit and obvious in the Old Testament….but it is there nevertheless.

 

And these small hints at God’s inclusion had come to their fulfillment beginning with the Gentiles we call the Magi…the Wise Men.

 

These men, when contrasted with the Jewish people, were quite different.

 They were non-Jews. Pagans.

It is thought that they were astrologers.

They practiced the sciences but in ways that they would be considered magicians of a sort.

 

Whatever the practices were, they were in stark contrast to what the Law of Moses taught.

 

Deuteronomy 18:9–12

 

[9] “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. [10] There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer

[11] or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, [12] for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. (ESV)

 

These were the horrible practices of the pagan gentile nations and God was driving them out of their lands by the sword of Israel.

 

Isaiah 2:6

 

He is lamenting and recalling how God had later driven His own people out for a season in order to chastise them. They did exactly what He told them not to do.

 

They got involved in pagan practices.  Isaiah laments like this….

[6] For you have rejected your people,

                        the house of Jacob,

            because they are full of things from the east

                        and of fortune-tellers like the Philistines,

                        and they strike hands with the children of foreigners. (ESV)

 

God also promised through Isaiah (47:11–15)

That there would be severe repercussions for their evil disobedience.

 

            [11] But evil shall come upon you,

                        which you will not know how to charm away;

            disaster shall fall upon you,

                        for which you will not be able to atone;

            and ruin shall come upon you suddenly,

                        of which you know nothing.

           

            [12] Stand fast in your enchantments

                        and your many sorceries,

                        with which you have labored from your youth;

            perhaps you may be able to succeed;

                        perhaps you may inspire terror.

            [13] You are wearied with your many counsels;

                        let them stand forth and save you,

            those who divide the heavens,

                        who gaze at the stars,

            who at the new moons make known

                        what shall come upon you.”

 

God is saying…I'm going to come down on you for your disobedience and just try and stop me. Try divination and witchcraft. Try looking at the stars and planets and see if you get some strange sign.

Then here is what WILL happen. Here is what God says….           

           

            [14] “Behold, they are like stubble;

                        the fire consumes them;

            they cannot deliver themselves

                        from the power of the flame.”

           

            [15] “Such to you are those with whom you have labored,

                        who have done business with you from your youth;

            they wander about, each in his own direction;

                        there is no one to save you.” (ESV)

 

So paganism is part of that second stream…that other side. Those outside of what God had decreed….living outside of God’s Covenant….

practicing all forms of evil against the Lord God’s Laws….these correspond to the unsaved of today.

 

These are those outside of God’s people because they are not in Christ.

 

So the arrival of the Magi, who travelled long distances, came to worship the baby Christ child.

 

This is the Epiphany. This is Jesus manifesting Himself to the Gentiles.

 

This lesson today from the Gospel of Matthew is the new beginning. It is the sign that God has not forgotten at all His saving plan.

 

He is still unfolding it as He said He would. He is bringing salvation to all people….Jew and Gentile.

 

And why it's here for us and so important, if you haven’t guessed yet, we are gentiles!! We are outsiders.

 

God, saving a people from sin is modeled in all of these stories and passages we have heard this morning.

 

To put it simply….but sort of incompletely, Israel is the good. Outside Israel was the evil.

 

In Israel is in a covenant relationship with God.

Outside of Israel…being Gentile meant you were not in a covenant relationship with God.

Moving forward, being outside of Christ means you are still in your sins….you are still in the wrong stream and you remain a gentile.

 

Being in Christ means we are in the right stream, we are saved from our sins and our alienation from God and we are no longer Gentiles even in a figurative sense.

 

Notice this goes beyond ethnicity. This is not an ethnic thing anymore.  We are included in God’s salvation and we are therefore considered part of Israel.

 

Grafted in…


We are Israel along with all of those from the beginning of the world who have been saved by God.

 

So when we hear Paul say what he says today it should not only be clearer now, but should bring joy to our hearts.

 

He is writing to a mixed group of people. Jew and Gentile. …but pretty much all gentile….if not exclusively.

 

Again he said, “Ephesians 3:1–13

 

“For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—[2] assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace…This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

 

“…though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given [to me],

to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, [9] and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, [10] so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. [11] This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord…”

 

Even Jewish converts to Christianity missed this sometimes as we see in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

 

One did not need to first become Jewish in order to become a Christian. One did not have to undergo any forms or Jewish rituals to become part of God’s covenant people that way.

 

Faith, trust in Christ was what put one in covenant with God again.

 

Paul has a good summary of all of this when he says, “Galatians 3:25–29

 

[25] But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, [26] for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. [27] For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. [28] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [29] And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (ESV)

 

We are heirs according to promise.

 

We are part of the family according to promises made long ago, hidden as mysteries in the Old Testament…revealed in the New Testament and brought to fruition in Christ Jesus.

 

This is why we can, as Paul tells us today, approach God and call on our membership in God’s covenant.

 

We are God’s because we belong to Christ….in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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