“The Glory of the Christ Child Is Revealed”
(Matthew 2:1-12 – Epiphany – January 3, 2021)
Matthew 2:1-12 – 1Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” 3When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 6‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ” 7Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” 9When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Dear Redeemed in the name of the Christ Child, who came to us as the Savior for all nations:
When Jesus was born at Bethlehem, He was born as King of the Jews. As God had foretold, Israel’s Messiah would descend from the royal family line of King David. Yet as the Son of God in human flesh, He was born not only for the Jews but for all the children of Adam. As the angel announced to shepherds at Bethlehem: “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). So that holy night, as the Son of David lay in the manger, His glory was revealed from heaven as Christ the Lord, born as the Savior of all people – Jews and Gentiles.
As we heard last week, when Jesus was 40 days old, Simeon said the same thing. As he held the newborn Christ Child in his arms at the temple, Simeon blessed God and said: “My eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32).
Epiphany has been called the Christmas of the Gentiles. In today’s text, we see the first Gentiles following the light of God’s revelation and coming from afar to find the Christ Child. These wise men seek Him, not only as the newborn King of the Jews, but as their own Savior and King. As these Gentile believers are led by God-given wisdom, we see how “The Glory of the Christ Child Is Revealed”: 1) By the star, 2) By the Word, and 3) By the worshipers.
1) By the star
The wise men, also called Magi, came from the East. Such a description was used in ancient Babylon for a class of learned men who studied the stars, interpreted dreams, and served as advisors to the king. Several centuries before the birth of Christ, the Jews were held captive in Babylon, hundreds of miles east of Israel – where we think of modern day Iraq. At that time, God’s prophet Daniel was made chief administrator over the wise men of Babylon (Daniel 2:48; 5:11). That class of men, though wise and enlightened by worldly standards, lived in spiritual darkness when it came to knowledge of the true God. They lived in a pagan land and worshiped false gods. But while God’s people lived there, they had opportunities to witness the light of God’s truth to their captors. The prophet Daniel, who openly professed his faith, certainly had influence on wise men and kings. The witness of God’s people centered in His promise of the Messiah, the heavenly King God was going to send among the Jews, the Savior who would come for all nations.
Now hundreds of years later, these wise men come to Jerusalem, asking: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (vs. 1-2). So God had revealed to these Gentiles that the long-awaited Savior had come. He connected that revelation to the special star He provided to guide them. We may think of the prophecy in Numbers 24:17, which spoke of the coming Messiah-King: “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.”
These wise men were used to studying the stars, and they knew this was no ordinary star. First, it appeared in the sky to lead them hundreds of miles to the land of Israel, where they came first to capital city of Jerusalem. Later we are told in verse 9 that the star, which had vanished, reappeared and went before them, until it stood over the house where the Christ Child was.
So God revealed the glory of the Christ Child to the wise men, first, by a special star. Is this any wonder? As Creator of all things, all creation serves to His glory. This is true in general, as Psalm 19:1 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.” Yes, when you look at the vast array of stars and planets, you see something of the glorious power and wisdom of Him who created all. But here more specifically, by this special star the glory of the Christ Child Himself was revealed. As Colossians 1:16 says of Jesus: “All things were created through Him and for Him.” The wise men saw that this holy Child, whom they came to worship, is so great that even the stars must serve Him; for He is their almighty King.
While Jesus lived on earth, even in the days of His humility, His creation would continue to serve to His glory. For He would manifest His glory by miraculous signs of power over nature – turning water into wine, calming storms, healing the sick, raising the dead. And one day, even the sun would be darkened for hours when its Creator hung on a cross, dying for the sins of the world (Matthew 27:45). Now as our ascended Lord, He rules over all things in heaven and earth for our good. He who guided the wise men out of the darkness into His glorious light, now guides us in our journey through this world’s darkness, to bring us at last into His presence in heavenly glory.
So God revealed the glory of the Christ Child to the wise men by a special star. He led these Gentiles out of spiritual darkness by a light that pointed to the fulfillment of His promises in Christ. That created light served as a testimony to Christ, who is the Light of the world.
We might compare this to the role of John the Baptist, as it says in John 1:7-9: “This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe… That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.”
Through the ages, God’s people have served as witnesses to the light of His salvation in Christ. In the days of Daniel, as God’s people lived through dark times of captivity and adversity, who would have guessed how brightly the light of their witness shone in the land of darkness? Today, God has put you and me where we are, among many who walk in spiritual darkness, and dwell in the land of the shadow of death (Isaiah 9:2). The greater the darkness, the brighter the light shines. In these times of darkness, we can point all people to the glory of Christ, who was born to win their forgiveness and salvation, the Savior who came to give them eternal life and hope.
2) By the Word
More specifically, the light by which God guides us is His Word. By the light of that star alone, the wise men could not have found their newborn Savior and King. It was only by God’s Word that the true glory of the Christ Child was revealed to them. It was only by that Word that they were brought to saving faith, to know Him and worship Him as their own Savior and King.
When the star had guided the wise men as far as Israel, it disappeared. They naturally came to Jerusalem, the capital, and began to ask people: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” It says: “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (vs. 3). All the people knew how ruthless Herod was in his methods of rooting out competition. Herod knew enough Scripture to realize that the people expected a Messiah to come and rule in a new kingdom of glory. Moved only by a desire to find a kill the competition, Herod asked the teachers of God’s Word where the Christ was to be born. They found the answer in Micah 5:2: “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.'” And now the wise men, guided by the revealed Word of God, left for Bethlehem. And again, God provided the star to lead them right to the house where Jesus was.
Today, God does not promise special revelation outside of His revealed Word in Scripture. He does not direct us to the stars to find answers in life; we will not find truth in signs of the zodiac and horoscopes. God’s Word warns against consulting every false light of this world. We are not to listen to religious leaders who claim to have new revelations; for even Satan can pose as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Nor are we to follow the light of our own heart and feelings to discover what is right and true for us; for as God’s Word says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). As Satan knows, every false light he employs would lead us away from Christ as our only true Light and all sufficient Savior. The false religions of the world, and the deceptive nature of the sinful heart, would lead us instead to trust our own goodness and works to become worthy of God, and bring us to His heavenly light.
But as we open God’s revelation in Scripture, we say with Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” And as 2 Timothy 3:15 reminds us, even “from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Nowhere else but in Scripture can we come rightly to know our Savior. In His Word God reveals the truth that, as sinners by nature, we could not find Him nor bring ourselves to a right relationship with Him. But God has come to us in the person of His Son Jesus, who was born to take away our sin. Scripture alone reveals that, through perfect life and innocent death of Jesus in our place, God has reconciled us to Himself, not counting our sins against us. It is by the light of His Word alone that God’s Spirit works in our hearts to bring us to saving faith; and He continues to lead us safely in His path, until He bring us to His heavenly glory.
3) By the worshipers
So the glory of the Christ Child was revealed to the wise men by a special star; and even more, by the clear Word of God. Unlike Herod and those who had the Word of God at Jerusalem, these wise men took that Word to heart and applied it in their lives by faith. So finally, we see the glory of the Christ Child revealed in the worshipers. For it is to the glory of God that, by His grace, He leads sinners out of spiritual darkness to know and worship their Savior by faith.
As it says: “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (vs. 11). The gift of gold suggests royalty, a fitting offering for the King of heaven who was born in our flesh. The gift of frankincense reminds us of Christ’s deity; for incense was used in connection with worship at God’s temple, its smoke rising with prayers of believers to His throne. The gift of myrrh reminds us of Jesus’ humanity, and His suffering and death. On the cross, He would be offered wine mixed with myrrh (Mark 15:23). In His burial, aromatic myrrh would be used for embalming His body (John 19:39).
Now by the God-given wisdom of faith, we join the wise men and come to worship Christ, as our newborn Savior and King. In our worship, we come and bow before Him, confessing our sins. And as He lifts us up in His Word of forgiveness, we respond by praising Him who lived, died, and rose again to win our eternal salvation. With hearts moved by thankfulness, we offer our gifts and service, and our very lives, to His glory. We say: “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Today, the glory of the Christ Child is revealed among us by the light of His Word and faith. One day, we will behold Him by sight. He will lead us through this world’s darkness into His heavenly light. There in His glorious presence, we will join that great multitude of believers from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue, standing before the throne of God and the Lamb, Jesus. There, clothed in white robes of purity, washed by His blood, we will worship Him with hearts full of joy, to His eternal praise and glory (Revelation 7:9-14).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.