I bet you are a really good story-creator. You heard me right, “story-creator,” not “story-teller.” Your mind can create the most imaginative of tales.
For example, you notice that everyone’s been acting a little strange lately. Your husband is obviously holding something back. Your children are a little distant. Even your friends giggle and whisper every time you walk past them. Why? You do not know the specific reasons. So, your mind starts creating a story. Your husband must love someone else. Your children must no longer be able to relate to you. Your friends must hate you. Your mind creates this elaborate story based on this one little suspicion.
Then, one day, when you arrive home after running errands, you swing open the front door and hear: “Surprise!” Balloons hug the ceiling. Confetti flitters through the air. A cake loaded with candles appears in front of you. Somewhere a chorus sings: Happy birthday to you… Your husband, kids, and friends were not conspiring against you, like you thought; they were planning your surprise birthday party!
Your mind took little pieces of known information and filled in gaps to create an elaborate tale. But that’s just it: a tale. A story. Something that may or may not be true.
When it comes to what it is you know about your Savior, your mind can still create the most fantastic of stories. It can take little pieces of what you have heard in Sunday School or catechism class or in your Bible reading, add some extra details, and create the believable of stories. But that’s just it: a story. A tale. Something that may or may not be true.
That’s why We Need an Epiphany! We need to find the real Christ so that we are motivated for thankful living.
How does God choose to reveal Jesus? Well, look at our reading from Matthew, chapter 2. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem… “Magi,” or, maybe as you better know them: “wise men.” “Magi” is a job title like pastor, bank teller, contractor, or electrician. These “wise men” are not old sages filled with timeless advice. No, they are scholars and university professors and astrologers (people who study the stars, planets, and heavenly bodies).
They are studying the skies like always had, but then something special happens: they see a star— a star unlike any other star they had ever seen. No one really knows what makes this one unique star stand out. Scripture simply just does not tell you. [Many Bible teachers and Christian scientists have tried to re-chart planetary movements to identify this star— if it is a planet or a unique star— but, most theories fall short.] But, do you need to know? The point in our reading is not to identify this special star, but rather to identify who was associated with this special star. The wise men do not approach Herod and say: “Hey! We noticed this star acting out of the ordinary and want to know more about it.” Instead, they ask: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
God gives the wise men an epiphany. He uses a star to “reveal” an important someone. Yet, that star did not reveal the real Christ; it simply led the way to him. God gives something greater for you and me to learn about Christ: His Word [the Bible].
No one knows for sure how these wise men ever heard about Jesus in the first place. Remember, these are men from the east, from Babylon. God sent prophets to the Jews, not to the Babylonians. God gave temple blueprints to the Jewish nation, not to other nations. God appointed priests and leaders for the Jews— not for the non-Jews [Gentiles]. Still, these wise men look forward to meeting the Savior.
Most likely the good news of Jesus was passed down from their fathers, who heard it from their father, who heard it from Daniel. Yes, the man thrown into the lions’ den. The man who was dragged away to Babylon about 500 years before Jesus’ birth. Daniel is placed in charge of Babylon’s wise men (Daniel 2:48)— and not only that, but you watch him openly share his faith. Undoubtedly Daniel treasured a prophecy God had made: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17).
Without that star, without Scripture, those wise men would never find the real Christ. At best, they could only create story of who God might be and how they might enter eternal bliss—but that’s all they would be left with, a story. A tale. Something that may or may not be true.
We Need an Epiphany to find the real Christ. We need God to hand us his Word so that our minds do not create a new Savior. When you stop gaining your beliefs of Christ from the Bible, you will create new beliefs.
Years ago, I ran into someone who was confirmed in my congregation. He had not been in worship for quite some time, but was interested in becoming more active in his worship life. So, I asked: “How do you know you are right with God?” He answered: “Follow the Ten Commandments and do good; show God that you’re trying— trying to be the best you can be.”
Scripture does not teach that. The Bible explicitly says: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). The purpose of Jesus’ is to do everything needed to hand you eternal life. Because this gentlemen did not read the Bible to get his beliefs, he took bits of information he learned over the years, filled in the gaps, and created a story. A tale. Something that is not true. He did not let the Word of God tell him: “You are saved by grace—this is a gift.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). He did not let the Word of God tell him: “God credits the Life of Jesus to you.” (Romans 4:22-25) He did not let the Word of God warn: “All who rely on obeying the Law for eternal life are under a curse because they cannot obey good enough to earn eternal life” (Galatians 3:10).
The same thing that happened to this gentlemen is the same thing that can happen to you (and me) when your attention drifts from what God reveals. You will create new beliefs. When guilt wracks your mind, your heart urges one of two things: (1) do something good to be sure of going to heaven and/or (2) feel in your heart that you have faith (and are saved). Your heart automatically stresses: you must do something.
If you do not live a moral life, if your behavior is corrupt, if you have horrible thoughts, then you must do something to remove those thoughts. If you ask yourself: “Will I go to heaven?” and you do not feel so sure, then you must gain that certainty. Scrub away indecent thoughts. Come to church every week. Give generous amounts of money. Be nice to your kids. Buy things for your spouse. Do something to convince yourself that God must love you.
Those personal beliefs just feel right— just like it feels your friends and family hate you—and could not possibly be planning your birthday party.
If you stop grounding your faith in the revealed Word of God, you will eventually start (1) believing and (2) following something your mind made up. And, as God’s Proverb warns: There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death (16:25).
We Need an Epiphany. We need God to reveal the real Christ to us—not a Christ our minds make up. Rather the Christ who accomplishes what God has set him apart to do.
Look at verse 6. See what God reveals about Christ. But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.
In the small, insignificant town of Bethlehem someone significant is born—and wise people go out to worship him. That baby born in Bethlehem does not sit on a throne, but rather on a cross. He does not hold a scepter in his hand, but rather nails. He does not bark out new orders, but rather shouts: It is finished! (John 19:30).
In the Bible, God reveals the real Christ. When you look to the Bible, you will find the real Christ. When you feel crushed by sin, do not consider how you might make up your wrong, look at the One who is born for the sole purpose of removing your wrong. When you worry that you will not go to heaven because you do not feel it in your heart, look in the Bible and hear your Risen Lord say: Peace be with you! Because I live, you also will live (John 14:19; 20:19).
We Need an Epiphany! We need God to reveal the real Christ so that our hearts may find peace and comfort. We need God to reveal our Good Shepherd who leads us through the uncertainties of life with his Word. We Need an Epiphany so that we may spend the rest of our days motivated for thankful living.
The wise men knew Jesus had come for their benefit. Because of Jesus, there is no more fear of death or worry in an uncertain world. So, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. Not just overjoyed, but literally: rejoiced an extremely very great joy (personal Greek translation). Do you know that kind of feeling you get in your stomach on the way to friend’s house or your grandparent’s house? As you get closer, your feet start dancing, your heart pounds a little more. You mind races through everything you are about to do: hug grandma, game all night with your best friend, go wild at Cedar Point. That excitement builds up inside of you… and then you arrive!
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. They worship Jesus. Yes eighteen-month(?) twelve-month(?) eight-month(?)-old Jesus. Grown adults, educated scholars, well-to-do men who spent weeks traveling over 700miles bow down to a baby! With the eyes of faith, those wise men kneel in front of God.
No wonder they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. How could they not? God did not keep Jesus a secret. He included them in this birth announcement, just like God included you.
My dear friends, the season of Epiphany is meant for you. God has chosen to reveal the good news of a Savior to you. He hands you the Bible so that you may live certain that Jesus (and only Jesus) has removed you from the slavish, hellish bondage of sin. He hands you the Bible so that you may read it, grow in your knowledge, and grow in your appreciation of the fact that Jesus has done everything necessary to set you free for life.
As you focus more on the work Jesus has done, you will be motivated in thankful living. Maybe not giving gifts of gold, but giving honest and heart-felt offerings to your God. Presenting him your finest because he has given you his finest. Maybe you do not offer up incense, but you offer up your prayers—prayers that thank him for his many blessings. Maybe you do not open up a box of fine-smelling myrrh, but you offer your hands, head, and heart to serving others just has God served you.
We Need an Epiphany! We need God to reveal Jesus to us—and not just for one time, but constantly. Because your mind can create fantastic stories, tales— things that are not true.
God does not leave you fumbling around in spiritual uncertainty. He does not leave you guessing about the work Jesus comes to do. He reveals the real Christ so that you may live in peace and joy under the care of a Good Shepherd. What motivation for thankful living! What joy you share with those wise men in returning to Bethlehem to worship your King.