Saturday, December 27, 2014

Epiphany / Wise Men / Kings Sermon Mathew 2:1-12

Last year I seem to have said something like this. It shows some signs of some hasty cutting and pasting and I seem to recall that a good proportion of it was plagiarised from The Revd Dr Michael Jensen, The Blogging Parson.

How many kings in our passage?

The Bible doesn’t call the wise men kings and it doesn’t tell us there were 3 of them.
Assume 3 because of the number of gifts.
Perhaps many more.
They must have had an entourage to be able to travel safely with such treasures.
Servants, guards

So how many kings?

2 kings in our passage:
King Herod and King Jesus (vv1-3 etc.)

Let’s think first of all about the wise men, then about King Herod and finally about King Jesus.

The Wise Men

Magi / Wise men / kings?
‘Magi’ (v1), which is word we get ‘magic’ from.
These were the star-gazers : the astrologers

Stars often stand for rulers in the Bible

When Julius Caesar was back-stabbed by Brutus and the boys in 44BC, the ancient writer Suetonius said that “a comet shone for seven successive days... and was believed to be the soul of Caesar”.
It became known in Rome as “Caesar’s star”.

The recent work of Dr Michael Molnar, an astronomer of Rutgers University in New Jersey, provides some fascinating background.
Using astronomical calculations and historical accounts, Molnar shows that in the year 6BC the planet Jupiter – which appears like a star to the naked eye – appeared in the constellation of Aries.
Jupiter was the planet associated with kings, and Aries was linked to the Jews.
On 17th April in 6BC, Jupiter was eclipsed by the moon in Aries.
Later that year in August, it appeared to change direction and move, before becoming stationary on December 19th.
This pattern seems to match very well what we read in Matthew’s account: that the star rose, and then, after the Magi’s interview with King Herod, went ‘ahead of them’, “until it stopped over the place where the child was”.

We’re told that these wise men came “from the East” (v1)
The descendants of those converted in the time of Daniel (when he was Prime Minister of Babylon)

Perhaps the best guess is that they were from Babylonia, that is, present day Iraq.
If you go straight across the desert, it’s 540 miles from Babylon to Jerusalem.
Despite the spoof version of the carol, of course, they didn’t come “one in a taxi, one in a car, [and] one in a scooter sounder his hooter.”
They had to walk or ride.
The journey would have taken at least a month, probably much longer.
According to v11, by the time the wise men get to Jesus he’s not in the manger any more – he’s been able to upgrade to a house.
By now Jesus is called “a child” rather than “a baby” (vv9, 11).
Verse 16 suggests that the wise men may have been travelling and searching for Jesus for up to 2 years.
A journey like this would have been an expensive, difficult business.

They risk their lives for Jesus’ sake, by defying the murderous king Herod.
The wise men tell us it’s worth taking the time and effort to find out who Jesus really is, whatever it takes.
It’s worth crossing a continent to find out about Jesus!
Thankfully, we don’t have to journey across deserts on camels, but we do need to investigate Jesus’ claims for ourselves.

The magi as representatives of the nations
Jesus the king of the whole world

The wise men show us that Jesus is of far more than local significance.
Jesus matters for everyone.
Jesus’ coming is good news for all people and nations – these wise men from the East included.
He’s good news even for you and me, 2000 miles away and 2000 years later.
Indeed, the miraculous star tells us that Jesus is of cosmic importance.

The Magi’s model response
Joy (v10)
Bowing down and worshing (v11)
the Magi came to see a King, and pay him homage.
The word is perhaps even stronger than that :
they came to worship him – they ‘knelt down’ before him

Wise men sought Jesus – they still do. Will you?

We (and Herod) don’t have to make a long, expensive, dangerous journey.
The wise men models of courage and commitment: willing to risk the wrath of Herod for the sake of Christ.


Contrast Herod and the wise men
The wise men had to depend on the stars and make a great journey
Herod has the Scriptures and the chief priests right there in the palace and Bethlehem was just down the road

Much easier for us…

Christianity Explained

New Year’s Resolution: to make use of the Scriptures, to read them regularly, to know them

The slaughter of the innocents - The shadow of the cross
What humanity does to God
People don’t want Jesus as their king
The coming of Christ is disturbing (v3)


No doubt the wise men chose their gifts carefully
Matthew bothers to tell us what the gifts were, so presumably he wants us to think about their significance

the first ever Christmas presents:
G, F & M
Gifts fit for a king

G, F & M are mentioned together is the Song of Songs 3:6-11 – G, F & M are associated with the arrival of the bridegroom-king

Cf. the Queen of Sheba bringing Solomon gifts of gold and spices

Later in Matthew, Jesus is called one greater than Solomon.
Jesus the new and better Solomon
The wise king
Great king David’s greater Son
The Son of David whose kingdom will last for ever
The promised Messiah, rescuer king
The bridegroom – church the bride of Christ

Traditional explanation of the gifts
We Three Kings
Goes back to the 4th Century

G – king

F – incense – priest / God

Gold, frankincense and myrrh are also all associated with the altar of incense in Exodus 30
Jesus the New Temple

M – death

Cross – pain killer, embalming fluid
Damien Hurst, For The Love of God – jewelled skull - riches and death, a kingly death
memento mori

Jesus the New Moses – baby the wicked king attempted to murder but whom God saved
Mention of Egypt (v13) reminds us of Moses
Jesus will be a ruler and rescuer of his people like Moses

2 kings – Herod and Jesus
Which King will you obey?
King Herod or king Jesus?

What will your response to Jesus be?
Like the wise men, will you seek him, boldly, persistently, whatever the cost?
Will you bow down and worship him with joy?
Would you give him your treasures?

In The Bleak Mid Winter (Christina Rossetti)
"What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him:  give my heart"


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