Happy Epiphany Day!
Today is the Day of Epiphany. It is about the first manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi from the East coming to worship the Christ child. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’” (Matthew 2:1–2). Who were these Magi? Most of what we know about them comes from church tradition, as little is written about them in the Bible. They were most likely “wise men” who were well-educated in the Hebrew texts of the Messianic prophecies and practiced astrology (looking for signs in the stars). Judging by the gifts they brought to Jesus, we know they were most likely from Persia, because it was customary for Persians to present a king with gold whenever visiting him.
The story of the Magi actually starts much earlier in the Bible, when Daniel and his friends Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednago) were taken as captives to Babylon, a great city in the Persian Empire. All four men showed incredible faith that left a mark in that foreign land. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago were thrown into a furnace for not bowing to the golden image of the king, but not a hair on their head was singed because the Lord protected them. King Nebuchadnezzar praised God for the miraculous sign. Daniel was later thrown into a lion’s den by King Darius to be put to death for praying to the Lord, but came out unscathed because the Lord had protected him all night. Previously, Daniel had interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, thus earning the king’s favor. “Then [King Nebuchadnezzar] placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men.” (Daniel 2:48). So, the Magi who came to worship Jesus Christ after they saw the Star of Bethlehem in the night sky had learned of the Messianic prophecies from other wise men who had passed down Daniel’s teachings over hundreds of years! Nothing that God lets happen is by accident!“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Fear of the Lord produces two distinct responses: joyfulness or great distress. “After [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:9–11).
While the wise men were joyful, King Herod was in great distress. Fearful and jealous of this “new king,” Herod took extreme measures to thwart God’s plan, including killing all boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem who were two years old or younger. “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: “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 shepherd my people Israel.”’ Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’ … And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. … When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matthew 2: 3–8, 12, 16–17).
Epiphany reminds us that we should have a heart for seeking out Jesus Christ, submitting to God’s Holy Word, and sacrificing for others as Christ did for us. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33).