The prepared text of the sermon at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York, for Epiphany of the Lord Sunday is below. You can listen to the sermon audio from this morning at this link. I would also recommend an article about the wise men that is available here from Christianity Today online. These things might lead you to look at my commentary on the Book of Daniel, which begins with the post at this link. The article I mentioned may also lead you to study the story of Joseph in Genesis and Solomon in Kings–both of which I also have commentaries on this site. Next Sunday, for Baptism of the Lord Sunday, we will be looking at a story that happens between this one and the baptism of Jesus. It is found in Luke 2:41-52.
I have taken the liberty of rewriting each verse of today’s passage to reflect the wisdom of the world. So hear now the word of the world: Now after little Susie had written to Santa Claus of the North Pole in the days of Toys ‘R’ Us Canada, Wal Mart, and Amazon.com, behold, her dad went to the mailbox and intercepted the note, 2 saying, “Where am I going to get all these gifts for little Susie? For she has been a good girl this year, and is my pride and joy.” 3 When he saw that she wanted the most popular toy this Christmas, he was troubled, like all other parents with him; 4 and looking through the shopping ads, hitting every mall, and searching every website he inquired as to where this special toy could be found. 5 He was told by many shop clerks, “Keep looking, maybe you will get lucky. 7 Then the father summoned the store managers secretly and ascertained from them when the next shipment would appear. 8 And the managers sent him to a far away Costco, saying, “Go and search diligently for the toy, and when you have found it, bring us word, that we too may buy in bulk and sell at a profit.” 9 After listening to the managers, he went on his way. And behold, the toy that he had seen on little Susie’s list appeared before him on a high shelf until it came to rest in his shopping cart. 10 When he saw the treasure, he rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house he saw little Susie with Mary her mother next to the Christmas tree and he fell down in adoration. The next morning, opening her treasures, little Susie grabbed up her many toys, especially the most popular one. 12 And she looked up at her father and said, “Glory to you, Daddy, for getting me this toy. It is just what I wanted and I love it.” Notice then how different the word of the world is from the word of God:
I. The wise men were quite well versed in the wisdom of the world, but they showed greater wisdom than even Israel’s religious experts because they sought out Jesus.
A. One might even say that the magi were experts in the wisdom of the world. These wise men were the best astrologers and dream interpreters the world had to offer. The Kings of Babylon and Persia long relied on the wisdom of magi in order to make important decisions. And being experts in worldly wisdom, the magi naturally thought that the King of the Jews would be born in a palace in the great city of Jerusalem. So they went and inquired of King Herod. As it turns out that was not such a wise move, but it is what we would expect from those who are well versed in the wisdom of the world and not the Scriptures.
B. Nevertheless, by seeking for Jesus the wise men showed a far greater wisdom than that the world has to offer and greater wisdom than the religious experts of Israel who were well versed in the Scriptures. The religious experts of Israel knew the right answer. When Herod asked, they answered by quoting the Scripture about Bethlehem. The magi may have known to expect the coming of the Christ child because they are the same class of people that the prophet Daniel had led several hundred years before. But they were not experts in
the Scriptures and thus did not know where to find the infant Jesus. Yet it was not the religious experts of Israel – experts in the Scriptures – who sought out the Christ child, it was these foreign wise men following a star to the place where Jesus lay and being warned in a dream to take a different road home. God used their worldly wisdom to point them to Jesus and to guide them home to tell their neighbors about Jesus. And so today whether you are already experts in the wisdom of the world or experts in the Scriptures, let me note that
those who are truly wise men and women still seek Jesus.
II. Now the wise men were not only wise because they sought Jesus but also because when they found Jesus they worshiped Him.
A. Matthew shows us that truly wise men will seek Jesus to worship Him and that even fools like Herod who seek Jesus to destroy Him know that worshiping Jesus is the right response.
i. As Matthew 2 continues to unfold we read that Herod did seek Jesus in order to destroy Him, but Herod already has shown us that he knows that worshiping Jesus is the proper response to finding Jesus when he dishonestly told the magi: “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him” (v.8). Herod, of course, had no interest in bowing down to the King of Kings, but his words make it clear that he knew what was right. Instead, Herod worshiped his own power and wealth and the rest. And Herod wanted others to worship Herod. This is the wisdom of the world. Herod was a fool, knowing what was the right response but continuing in his idolatry anyway.
ii. However, the magi, who had practiced a false religion using such methods as astrology and dream interpretation to discern the will of their gods, now that they found Jesus bowed down to worship Him. Somehow they knew that this child was a greater king
than Herod or even the Emperor of Rome. Somehow they knew that He was the King of a different kind of kingdom. And they worshiped Him.
B. Likewise, today those people who are truly wise will seek Jesus to worship Him but others may continue to practice another religion.
i. One popular religion that many Americans will continue to practice rather than to worship Jesus is the religion of Christmas materialism. And there is no shortage of expensive idols. However, this year there was not one toy that everyone wanted. Earlier in the year, the American chain of Toys ‘R’ Us went bankrupt and closed all of their stores but Toys ‘R’ Us Canada survived. If you listen to Canadian radio stations there is an ad running that seeks to let everyone know that Toys ‘R’ Us Canada didn’t go bankrupt. However, I read an article that was talking about how there wasn’t a hot toy this season. The president of Toys ‘R’ Us Canada said that last year it was Fingerlings. She said that people would come knocking on the door asking if the store had received a new shipment of them. But, she said, there isn’t a toy that people are doing that for this year. Nevertheless, I don’t think that there has been a slow-down in the growth of the modern religion of Christmas materialism. It is a religion practiced by many who know they should bow down to Jesus but choose not to do so. A few years ago, ABC News said that 100 years ago kids asked more for food and shoes, but now the list is full of gadgets and toys that they don’t need. Herod would have loved the religion of Christmas materialism because it encourages people to continue bowing down to
success, wealth, and toys. Parents who practice it seek out the popular toys so that others, especially their children, will celebrate them. Children who embrace this religion will seek for their delight in material things rather than seeking Jesus and finding their enjoyment and satisfaction in God.
ii. But those who are truly wise will seek Jesus to worship Him. When Christian parents give their children good gifts, and maybe even expensive gifts, they can teach their children that the proper response is to worship not their parents but God from whom all good things flow. And we must help our children to see that toys aren’t substitutes for Jesus despite the religious-sounding promises of advertisers. Parents who learn to do this are wise.
III. But the most memorable way that the wise men lived up to their reputation for wisdom was the fact that they took gifts to Jesus.
A. Everyone remembers that the wise men were wise because they brought Jesus expensive gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We know they looked upon Him as a king, and these were gifts well suited for a king – especially gold. We know that they had been pagan
religious leaders and frankincense is an appropriate gift for a priest as Israel’s priests also used it on the altar. Myrrh was used in burial preparation. Traditionally Christians have stressed that gold shows His kingship, frankincense shows His deity, and myrrh points to His death. The Wise Men may have even brought other gifts, but Matthew mentions these three probably for this reason and because Isaiah 60 described foreigners bringing gold and frankincense to the Christ and praising the Lord. The wise men taking such gifts were just
the beginning of the tributes of the nations going to the Christ.
B. Our tithes and offerings and all of our gifts continue the flow of the wealth of the nations to Jesus. The wisdom of the world says that we should honor our loved ones and friends and ourselves this season, but wise men offer gifts to Jesus. We even are giving gifts to Jesus
whenever we give to others. I’m not telling you what to do. I’m simply describing what wise men and women still do today. You have sought out Christ to worship Him and set your gifts before His feet. When you give to others, you are still setting your gifts before Jesus’ feet. You didn’t even have to go to great lengths to seek out the popular toy like that nearly sold-out toy that Susie wanted. You didn’t have to Google the best way to buy gold, frankincense, or myrrh. You have many talents and treasures to share. Indeed, you have sought out Christ and you have found Him and since there is an abundant supply of grace available you don’t hesitate to tell everyone how they can find Christ too. There are still many religious people and worldly people who need Jesus as much as we do. In fact, they
may be more receptive to the gospel now than any other time of the year. Think about it: they are exhausted from everything they had to do during the Christmas season, so they may now be ready to rest in Christ. They are finished seeking out Christmas presents, they’ve
been listening to Christmas music, they’ve traveled to visit family, but now they are just getting back into their normal habits and patterns—all reasons that they might be more receptive to the gospel now than they were during the busy Christmas season. Who knows?
Maybe next year they’ll be worshiping Christ and setting their gifts at His feet at Christmastime. May God alone get the glory. Amen.