Provision for a King
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12
Rev. Steven B. Miller, Jan 8, 2017
Will you pray with me? Lord Jesus, we come again to your word for an understanding of who you are and how we are to be in this world. Draw us closer to you as we listen again to the Word of Life. Let the good Word come with power and grace along with the full assurance of faith. Give this preacher your words as he shares what you have laid upon his heart. Quiet the distractions of our lives and those inner negative voices that would seek to steal us away from what your Holy Spirit has for us in this moment. For we pray these things in Jesus' powerful name. Amen
Welcome to Epiphany Sunday in the Life of the Church Calendar. From a liturgical perspective Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after the arrival of the Christ child on December 25 and marks the arrival of the Magi. Even though we are a couple days late for the real Epiphany on Jan 6th (so you will need to doc my Pay). Even so, what is very interesting to me - is the word "Epiphany" itself. The word Epiphany has two dictionary definitions that also help us to see meaning of the arrival of the Magi from a different perspective. The word Epiphany is defined as:
1. "An appearance or a manifestation of God" or 2. "A sudden intuitive perception into the essential meaning of something usually initiated by some simple commonplace experience." So as we look at this passage more in depth I hope we address both parts of the meaning of this special day in the life of the church.
I wonder what it would have been like for the Magi from the East trying to see "meaning of something" happening based upon one star in the galaxy. When I go backpacking and get out of the flood of city lights, and above 10,000 feet, I can see thousands of stars on a clear night. Who knew that it would be Magi who would bless the Messiah with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh? So what do we know about these men from the East?
While we do not know exactly the city where these Magi came from, it is likely that they came from Babylonia. We know that the Magi were people who came from a Persian priestly cast who were widely known to be astrologers. At that time, astrologers were people who studied the movements of the stars to discern meaning for the future. It also is documented that there were a quite a few people in this Magi class in western Asia.
Now given the normal travel patterns of the Middle East, these Magi might have traveled northwest along the Euphrates to the city of Aleppo, Syria, and then south on the Old Kings Road, through Damascus, then to Jericho and up rift valley slope to Jerusalem. We know from the other stories in the Bible specifically, the book of Nehemiah, it would have taken 2-3 months to cover this distance. This was no trip to San Diego for the weekend. These Magi took on significant expense and risk to make a journey to possibly meet a king of the Jews. What is also interesting to me is that the star that guided these Magi to Jerusalem first to get a bit of information. The star did not take them to Bethlehem directly, which was the Old Testament scripture's location for the Messiah's arrival. Then with the details from the scriptures about the location of the Messiah, the Magi were guided by the star about 5 miles south to Bethlehem to the King of the Jews.
OK lets map this whole star guidance from the "Persian East" to Jerusalem - so we can begin to visualize this journey of the Magi with some landmarks in the Westlake area. This is called being fully orientated for the journey. East is the window with the Sun, West is the choir room door, North is the back exit single door, South is the Cross (it looks like a star in some ways). The pulpit is Jerusalem and the vortex of this story. So let's use our local streets to visualize this travel plan of the Magi.
So the magi start at the comer of Agoura Road and Lindero Canyon Road (by the Chevron gas station) that is the area of Babylon. Then they travel a long arc north and east to the baseball fields at Westlake High School on Thousand Oaks Blvd (rather than Just west on Agoura road) and then to Lakeview Canyon Road (this would be the Kings road in Israel) coming south on Lakeview Canyon to Westminster. Are you with me so far? From the stoplight going south (Agoura and Lakeview Canyon) you go to the east wall of the Sanctuary about where Jericho would be located. Then the Magi would travel up the steep Jericho road going west to Jerusalem based upon the normal travel patterns of the people of Israel during the first century. So now the Magi are getting close to Jerusalem as they are coming west while following the Star! Now you have arrived in Jerusalem as the Magi; you meet with King Herod ,and then you are pointed toward the South to Bethlehem by the chief priests and teachers. At this point the Magi see the star again that is now confirming a south direction to Bethlehem. Five miles later the Magi find Jesus in the arms of Mary in Bethlehem a journey roughly totaling 1000 miles because of the detour to the north adding 450 miles.
So I am curious to ask what was the "inner encouragement" of these Magi to make this crazy long Journey - some people might call this the voice of the Holy Spirit. We do have some Middle Eastern records that have notated curtain stars appearing as celestial announcements for the birth of kings. So it is not out of the realm of possibility that these Magi might be inspired to go and visit a new king. I can imagine a small group of men gathered in Babylon looking at stars in the night about the time that Jesus was born and noticing a special star in the Western sky. But what was the inner motivation for these Magi, to get off their stargazing spot, to load up an expedition for a long journey (road trip) to the West for an unknown length of time (maybe 4-6 months)? Only God could choose these "gentile" Magi who had the resources and time to make the journey to provide expensive gifts and financial provision to the family of a Jewish king. Only God could and would do such a thing.
This kind of provision is quite extravagant when we think about it. The Lord mobilizes a few wise men from a foreign nation to travel 1000 miles to see a child and give some cash and some amazing gifts. Who does that kind of stuff? Only the Lord does things like that. But does this provision still happen?
A few months ago we began to video tape a few of the key leaders in our Baraka Project in Kenya - the Yonker's and the Ridenour's. We sat on the patio under the Oak tree and shared the complete story of how this million-dollar mission project came to pass. As Margo and Don Yonker shared the events that led to the Baraka Project it dawned on me that it is just like The Lord to provide for the personal needs and education costs of 21 orphaned girls, who live in Makobe, Kenya, and have lost their parents to AIDS, by raising up a support group of people in Presbyterian churches on the far side of the world in the Conejo Valley, California, 9900 miles away. Only God provides resources like that. This is extravagant logistics for the work and provision of the Kingdom of God. Normal people do not even ponder these kinds of provision without divine encouragement because it is outside of how we do things. This is how the operations of the Kingdom of God functions in real time.
These Magi were gentles looking for a Jewish baby who was the Messiah king. Why would God encourage these Magi to travel all that way to bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh? Because these are the gifts given to a king! It is also ironic that the home of the Magi is near Babylon, the place where the Jews were put into captivity and the country who stole their treasure, are now the people who are used to celebrate the new king to lead the Jews with their treasures. Amazing!
Now as the story continues, there is a political problem with the paranoid King Herod related to new kings in the area. Herod had a way of killing off anyone, including family, who might try to take his throne. So it is no coincidence that the Lord provides Mary, Joseph, and Jesus with some traveling money to get out of town when the time comes to bug out. The Lord provides for his son in a way that only the Lord could do. Upon arrival in Bethlehem the Magi worshiped the Lord and presented their treasures because they understood this "is just what you do" when you meet a king. The long journey had been rewarded with the experience of meeting the King of Kings, what a gift, provided by the Lord himself. We even see the Lord warn the Magi in a dream to leave the area by another way to protect them as well. Amazing!
This is indeed a unique narrative that allows us to see God's ability to bring people to certain places and certain times by unique ways to connect with Jesus. Sometimes the journeys are short, sometimes they will take you around the globe. These are sacred moments given as gifts from God.
So today we are reminded of the day when God's people celebrated its first Epiphany. As we tell this story we are aware of the extravagance of God's amazing provision for those He cares deeply about, both then and now. You may never know when the Lord may bless you with one of those extravagant moments of provision that supplies one of God's Kingdom purposes in your life, but sometimes we get a glimpse. But we do know the reality of the Gospel message and the amazing provision for our sin and ultimately our forgiveness when we meet at the table of grace once again for communion - where we notice that this is the place where we find Jesus as we journey in faith.
Let us pray....
O God, our thanks for what you have done for us in your provision for our lives. It seems to be so inadequate for the gravity of the blessing you have given to us. Let our lives be a good testimony of how you encourage us in the midst of the journey that shapes our lives. When vision is in short supply, remind us of what it is to live by faith and the encouragement of your Spirit doing your will and showing your love most of all. For we pray these things in the name of Jesus our Savior and Lord, Amen.
Westminster Presbyterian Church