Epiphany, 2015 Advent Message #7
Today is Epiphany Sunday - the Sunday each year we celebrate the visit of the Wise Men
to Jesus, who by the time of the visit was no longer a baby, but a child of about 2 years of
age. By the way, I looked up the word “epiphany” to make sure I knew the meaning of the
word. Epiphany has two meanings relevant to today. An epiphany is a moment of
sudden revelation or insight. It is a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being.
That caused me to look up the word manifestation. It refers to a clear display. Epiphany
then, related to this day, celebrates the display that Jesus is the Christ - the Savior - not
only to Jewish people, but for Gentiles as well, Gentiles represented in the Wise Men
who visited Him. All that leading to the celebration that Jesus was and is everything said
about Him before and right after His birth. That He was and is the Son of the Most
High. That He did come to be Savior, Christ, and Lord. That He came to bring peace -
God’s peace - to all who will accept Him. Again, not only to Jews like the shepherds who
were the first to hear about Him and visit Him, but also non-Jews - Gentiles - like the
There are a few things I hope to accomplish in this Epiphany Sunday message.
So you will know, one of those things is to remember some of what happened after the
Wise Men’s visit, which will be the third topic for today. A reminder that since not
everyone then or now accepts Jesus for who He is, those who follow Him may still have
problems in this life. Such a reminder seems very important as we begin a new year
which will no doubt feature more problems.
Another topic for today is a comment on what the Wise Men did when they left Jesus,
which is way different from what the shepherds did when they left. That will be the
second topic. It will include the challenge that we react to Jesus properly so we can
survive whatever problems come our way in 2016.
How the Wise Men left after meeting Jesus, and what happened after that, but first,
some information about what the Wise Men saw that attracted their attention so much
they left their homes, families, and work in the Persian Empire, making the sacrifices
needed to travel to Palestine, where they did meet Jesus, worship Him, and give Him
This first part of today’s message is based on an article in a recent issue of Christianity
Today. To set the stage for a review of the article, according to Matthew 2, on the night of Jesus’
birth, the Wise Men, who were in the Persian Empire almost a thousand miles away,
saw a star in the sky. A star they had never seen before. A star seeming to hang over
Palestine, which was the homeland of the Jews, who were, at that time, expecting a king
to come and save them.
Bible scholar Colin Nicholl was interviewed for the article. He was interviewed about the
star because he has combined his Bible knowledge with the finding of some expert
astronomers to come up with an interesting explanation of the star, which, he believes
was actually a comet. Here is some of what Nicholl reports.
First of all, what we know as the Star of Bethlehem was a real object. It was not fiction.
It is not legend. What the Wise Men saw was real. Something really was in the sky.
Second, the Wise Men would have noticed the real object, including that it was
something new, because Wise Men had a history of studying the sky. In fact, Wise Men
had made and recorded observations of stars, planets, comets, and other phenomena
dating back eight centuries before what is recorded in Matthew 2. Third, Nicholl states that interpreting the star to be a comet is not calling Matthew’s account a lie because back then, and even today, astronomical entities were sometimes referred to as stars. For instance, we still call meteors shooting stars. Fourth, in addition to astronomy, the Wise Men studied world religions, which of course
included the Jewish faith. They knew from their studies about various Old Testament
prophecies. Such as one in Numbers about a star and a scepter rising out of Israel.
Ancient Jewish rabbis referred to comets as scepter stars. Another in Isaiah about a
great light shining in the darkness to signal the coming of the Messiah.
According to Nicholl, the night of Jesus birth, something rose into the sky. Something
that was bright enough to especially attract the attention of the Wise Men. Something
that followed the pattern of comets. Something that was naturally able to move to where
Jesus was, which happened when the Wise Men arrived to meet Jesus. !
But listen to this. Whether it was a star as we know it or a star that can be interpreted as
a comet, it was exceptionally bright, which, as Nicholl shares, was a wonderful
announcement of the glorious light of Jesus as a person and as a minister.
Plus, it showed, even at His birth, Jesus’ mastery over nature. Whatever it was, the
object was brighter than anything that had been recorded for at least 800 years, and it
did have properties of rising and moving exactly where it needed to rise and move. That
did not just happen. God saw to it that it happened, which was the first of many
examples of Jesus’ mastery of nature.
Other examples came when He was able to heal people of diseases and as He was able to
one time calm a storm so severe it threatened to capsize the boat He and His disciples
were on. Jesus simply spoke to the storm and the sea, saying “Peace, be still,” and the
storm was over, the sea calm. Two times Jesus was able to take a little bit of food and
multiply it to enough to feed huge crowds of hungry people, both times keeping the
people organized so the disciples could distribute the food in an orderly fashion. That
was an impressive display of power over human nature.
The night of Jesus’s birth, Wise Men from the east saw the Star of Bethlehem. Maybe the
Comet of Bethlehem. They saw something that was the brightest object ever seen by any
Wise Man. That star or comet interested them enough - it convinced them, because of
their study of the Jewish faith, that the Savior of the Jews had arrived - that at least
some of them traveled from the east to Palestine, eventually arriving in Bethlehem,
where Jesus had been born and where He was still living.
When the Wise Men found Jesus, they worshiped Him. They then gave Him gifts that
showed they recognized Him as king, priest, and sacrifice. Their gifts were gold,
frankincense, and myrrh. They then returned home, which brings us to today’s second topic, which, every year when I think of it, always brings to my mind an interesting comparison of how their
return was different from how the shepherds returned to their work after they met
Remember the shepherds? After they went to meet Jesus, they shared with Mary and
Joseph all they had been told about Jesus - that Jesus was good news of a great joy, that
Jesus had been born to be Savior, Christ, and Lord, that God was to be praised because
of Jesus, that peace with God would be available to all who would accept Him. After they
shared all that, the shepherds returned to the field they had left.
But remember? They returned, glorifying and praising God. At least in my mind, I see
them glorifying and praising God loudly, enthusiastically sharing their joy with anyone
and everyone they came across. Maybe whether anyone or everyone wanted to hear
what the shepherds shared.
The shepherds returned joyfully. The Wise Men? All that is recorded is that they
departed to their own country. It needs to be added that the Wise Men returned by another way, which means they did not go back to Jerusalem, which is where their search for Jesus had started. Remember
King Herod, who the Wise Men had met in Jerusalem, had instructed them to report
back to him after they found Jesus so he, too, would know where Jesus was so he, too,
could worship Him, but the Wise Men each had a dream, in which they each received
God’s warning to not return to Herod.
The Wise Men were obedient to God’s warning, and yes, they had made the sacrifices of
time, effort, expense, and leaving family and work so they could go meet Jesus. But I am
always struck by the words, “They departed to their own country by another way.” That
that is all that is recorded, which I do find interesting because there is no emotion
mentioned. Was it that they just returned? Was it that they did not share what they knew with
others? I of course do not know. I just find it interesting that the reaction to Jesus by the
shepherds and by the Wise Men seems to have been different, at least in the willingness
to share the news about Jesus.
Which of course suggests a challenge, which is for us to be more like the shepherds than
the Wise Men. The challenge that we tell others about Jesus. That we do so with joyful
excitement. That we do that in ways that will glorify and praise God for all we know
I hope I do that this year. I hope we will all do that this year. Which seems especially
important since our day and age, just like when Jesus was born, has a few problems. !
Concerning back then, let’s consider what is recorded in Matthew 2:16, which begins the
third part of today’s message.
Remember the Wise Men were supposed to return to Jerusalem and report to Herod
where Jesus was. Remember the Wise Men were warned in a dream not to go back to
Herod. Remember they obeyed the warning and returned to their country by another
Sometime after that, Herod realized the Wise Men had not obeyed him. That put him in
a furious rage. It was a jealous rage because the one the Wise Men sought was identified
as the new king of the Jews. Herod was the king, and he had no intention of not being
king. Herod wanted to find out where Jesus was. Not to worship Him, as Herod had
pretended he wanted to do, but to kill that rival to his power.
Herod thought the Wise Men would tell him where Jesus could be found so the Lord
could be killed, but the Wise Men did not return, and Herod flew into a furious rage. In
that mood, Herod ordered his soldiers to Bethlehem, which is where the Wise Men had
been sent because that is where Jesus had been born, according to what Herod had
learned from Jewish leaders. The soldiers had orders to kill all the male children in and
around Bethlehem - all the male children two years old and under, that age determined
through a discussion Herod had had with the Wise Men before they went to Bethlehem.
The order was based on when the Wise Men had seen the Star or Comet of Bethlehem.
All the boys in and around Bethlehem were killed. But let’s consider how amazing it is
that in that murder spree, the target of the attack was not killed. That is because Joseph,
obedient to a message from God communicated to him by an angel who spoke to him in
a dream, had taken Jesus away from Bethlehem shortly before the soldiers arrived.
Verse 13 of Matthew 2. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take Jesus and His mother Mary and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you
something different.” The angel gave the reason for the message. It was that Herod was
about to search for Jesus to destroy Him.
What a fortunate thing it was that Joseph obeyed, right away doing what God told him
to do. It was because of Joseph’s obedience that Jesus survived. But what an important
point that even though Jesus did come 2000 years ago - even though He is still with us
all these centuries later - things are still not as peaceful and calm as we would hope they
would be. As good as we might think they should be for God’s people. That is because
some people today, like Herod back then, do not choose to respond positively to Jesus
and what He offers.
Suffering can be very discouraging, especially for those who are suffering. It can be
discouraging, just as it was for the mothers - and fathers and sisters and older brothers -
who lost little ones in Bethlehem. Just a few examples of current suffering, specifically of Christians who are suffering, is this report. Each month, worldwide, 322 Christians are killed for their faith and 214
churches and Christian properties are destroyed Each month, worldwide, there are 722
forms of violence committed against Christians. Included are beatings, abductions,
assaults, arrests, forced marriages. Those things happen all the way from Afghanistan to
Colombia, Egypt to Kenya, North Korea to Turkey. !
While less violent, there is some persecution in our country. I am thinking of those
criticized for making what are considered politically-incorrect statements. !
And that does not include the normal problems of life such as illnesses and deaths and
relationship issues and economic struggles, those happening despite Jesus having come.
Life can be sad. But despite the problems of life, there is hope.
Speaking internationally, listen to the number of Bibles distributed in 2014, along with
where many of them went - 34,000,000 full Bibles and 428,000,000 New Testaments
in places like Cuba, Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, Ukraine, Myanmar, the Philippines.
Speaking spiritually, Jesus never promised that life as a Christian would be easy. In fact,
He promised it would not be easy. That there would be problems and persecution, more
and more as time goes on. But He also promised His help through the Holy Spirit. His help to remember His teachings and His joy and His love. All those things needed so that no matter what
happens, we can be confident in His help. And that with His help, we can stay true to
Today and all through 2016, let’s give time to trusting in Jesus. Let’s be thankful that
even at His birth, Jesus showed His power over nature, that evident in the object in the
sky seen by the Wise Men. Let’s worship Jesus as the Wise Men did. Let’s be obedient as
the Wise Men were and as Mary and Joseph were to God’s message. Let’s be like the
shepherds and be willing to tell others about Jesus. Let’s commit our way to Him. Let’s
do all that, even in times of trouble. What a wonderful way to extend the Advent season
to all year.
Today’s closing song is the hymn More Love to Thee, O Christ, verses 1 and 3. As we
sing, may the song also be a prayer for more love for Jesus, which is necessary so we can
be confident of His presence and His help.
More love to Thee, O Christ,
More love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer I make
On bended knee;
This is my earnest plea:
More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee,
More love to Thee
Then shall my every breath
Sing out Your praise;
This be the only song
My heart shall raise;
This still my prayer shall be:
More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee,
More love to Thee
Lord, You did come for all people - Jews and Gentiles alike. Thank You for revealing
that. Help us to respond to You as did the shepherds - with joyful excitement, with a desire to
glorify and praise You, with a devotion to tell others about You. May all that inspire us to
be confident we can make it through whatever difficult days occur this year.
Lord, thank You for coming. Thank You for Your presence even now. Thank You for
Your promised blessings now and always. Amen.