In this upcoming first Sunday of the new year the Narrative Lectionary points us to Matthew 2:1-23. We ended the previous calendar year by studying at Matthew 1, looking at an amazing birth narrative and a cast of characters providentially involved in God’s great plan of incarnation. Now it is Epiphany. Epiphany is a celebration of the revelation of Christ to the world. If He is revealed, then Where is He?
In verse 2 we read of wise men from the east asking an important question, “Where is He?” That could be a pivotal question in this chapter. The “wise men” (“astrologers”, AMPC) do not seem to know where He is. They have followed a star to try to locate him. Though they bring three gifts, we do not know that there were only three in the entourage searching for a King. But I promise not to disfellowship you if you sing the song about the three kings or have a nativity set with them present!
The Magi are mysterious, no doubt. The preacher will have to decide whether or not to spend an enormous amount of time exploring their story. That may sidetrack the overall narrative, but it is interesting. Al Maxey posted a rich article on these striking individuals HERE. Chad Ashby in Christianity Today also has a good article with background info HERE. But what is the function of the astrologers in this text? Aside from a historical report, I think Matthew wants us to think about the people who are searching for Jesus/Messiah. Since he writes with Jewish readers in mind, he reminds them to seek Christ and also he reminds them that the coming King has borders that far expand their world view. It’s trite, and bumper-sticker-theology, but Wise Men Still Seek Him. That might prompt an eye-roll from the congregation if you use it.
Where is He? The Magi ask in verse 2. More, they ask, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” We have just read in previous verses that Jesus is in Bethlehem, in a manger. There is not much question that some time has passed and the Magi do not find infant Jesus in the manger. Mary and Jesus are said to be in “the house” (not a manger). The insanely vicious Herod has all children under two murdered in a failed attempt to rid himself of this one who was born to be king.
Where is He? Herod asks. He wants the Magi to locate the child and report back to him “so that I too may go and worship him.” Readers are privy to the real reason for Herod’s inquiry. He is disturbed (vs 3) about the presence of this supposed king. In his paranoia due to a lack of answers and his fury at the uncooperative Magi, he strikes out against all the families in Bethlehem and vicinity. This was surely a night of terror and grief, “weeping and great mourning” (vs 18), because of the actions of a power hungry king who did not know the Lord.
Where is He? We should ask. We search for a risen King who reigns already and who has promised to return. In a world of wicked tyrants who act no better than Herod, where is Jesus? When we are confronted by our own failure, weakness and sin, where is Jesus? When we see pain and suffering, injustice and sorrow we wonder. Where is Jesus?
We can be encouraged as we follow the footsteps of the Magi in their search for the king of the Jews.
*They seek Him following light from above. We do not have a star to show us the way, but we do have God’s Word, a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).
*They seek Him with a desire to worship Him. They regarded him as a King who came from God. The more we know about the amazing King Jesus, the more we are moved to worship Him.
*They seek Him with a desire to bless Him. The gifts they bring are gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are practical and useful gifts of their time, but also very valuable. What are we bringing to King Jesus to demonstrate our devotion and love for Him? What gifts can we give to Him that reflect our love but also our desire to serve Him?
This text concludes with two more angel visions for Joseph. The first is to rescue the Messiah from the evil plans of King Herod. The second was a report that it was now safe to go back to Israel. Joseph decides to go to Nazareth. It may seem to Joseph that this was just a wise decision, but it was also a matter of prophecy.
So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, the he would be called a Nazarene. – Matthew 2:23b
So there is a lot going on in this week’s text and as always the preacher is challenged to select a thought and focus in. I think what I may do this week is run with the theme of Epiphany and just spend the next few weeks asking God to open our eyes to see Jesus. Help us to see Him as one to be worshiped with our minds (search), our hearts (joy), and our gifts (abilities, offerings). In the coming weeks we can ask God to open our eyes to see the righteousness of Jesus at his baptism, the spiritual strength of Jesus in his temptation, and the wisdom of Jesus in the sermon on the mount. We can ask God to open our eyes to see the provision of Jesus in the feeding of the 5,000. If Epiphany is a time of revelation, we should seek the revelation of Jesus in our own lives and hearts as well as through the stories in Scripture.
If you’d like to join in discussions about the Narrative Lectionary each week and gather resources about the text of the week you are invited to join my Facebook group Narrative Lectionarians located HERE.