The Mystery of Christ
The text for this sermon is Matthew 2:1-12. Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this message at Resurrection Lutheran on Epiphany Sunday, January 8, 2012.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last Sunday Pastor Carol told us about the aged Simeon who was there in the temple at Jerusalem waiting for the Lord’s Promised Messiah. And when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for the rite of purification, Simeon held the baby in his arms and proclaimed, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
It isn’t by accident that Luke tells us about Simeon. Simeon is proclaiming a truth that goes to the heart of what the story of Epiphany is all about. Epiphany is about the wonderful revelation that the love of God and God’s salvation is for all people; for the chosen people, yes, but also for all people throughout the world.
In our second lesson today, Paul calls this ever-expanding message of God’s love “the mystery of Christ.” Did you note his words today in the lesson from Ephesians: “In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Today, our gospel story is from Matthew. Let me give you this question: What takes place in the story of the visit of the magi to Bethlehem and the infant Jesus that reflects Matthew’s overall goal for his gospel account? First of all, everything that happens harkens back to a prophecy that was given hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. The wisemen or magi come from afar, from another country and another religious faith. They are fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah that we heard in today’s first lesson: “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Why Bethlehem? To fulfill the prophecy of Micah: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel…”
Matthew traces Jesus’s lineage though King David (who was from Bethlehem) and all the way back to Abraham. This was very comforting to the Jews, who believed that they were the chosen people, and too often forget God’s expectations for his chosen people.
Some of you today grew up Jewish and maybe have some Jewish relatives. I hope I am not offending anyone as I try to explain something. Jewish synagogues do not have evangelism committees. You are born a Jew, and you get that through your parents, usually your mother. The idea of going out and recruiting non-Jewish people to participate in temple worship and become a part of the community, is foreign. It is Christians who have evangelism committees and who are expected to take the message out to all people…
Here is something for our consideration. A careful reading of Matthew’s lineage of Jesus shows some outsiders or Gentiles made it into the list. The harlot Rahab, who helped the spies sent out by Joshua, is included. Also included is another foreigner, Ruth from Moab. A whole book of the Bible is named after her. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, outsiders play key roles in pointing to Jesus as the one who comes from God. A Roman centurion so believed in Jesus’ power to heal that Jesus said, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such faith.” The Canaanite woman begged Jesus to heal her sick and Jesus granted her request, saying, “Woman, you have great faith.” Matthew makes sure to tell us that when Jesus died and there was a violent earthquake, it was a Roman centurion who proclaimed, “Surely, he was the Son of God.”
How come? Why does Matthew keep inserting Gentiles and foreigners into his gospel account? Remember many in the early church demanded that you had to be a good Jew before becoming a good Christian. Matthew himself was raised as a good Jew, knew the scriptures backwards and forwards, had intimate knowledge of the various prophecies, and is a firm believer that Jesus is the Promised Messiah. What was in his mind and heart as he wrote his gospel account?
Here is what I believe we can deduce from reading his gospel: He understood that it was always God’s expectation that the Jews were to reach out to others. This idea didn’t start with Jesus, but he certainly continued this idea. Promoting this ever-expanding community of faith, called the Body of Christ, is what I believe is the intent of Matthew’s gospel and the expectation that Jesus set for us.
Matthew ends his gospel with the Great Commission. After the resurrection, the eleven disciples were on a mountain with Jesus. And just before he ascended to heaven, he told them and us: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
The Season of Epiphany is a good time for thinking about evangelism and outreach. I lay a challenge before us today at Resurrection: Let’s get serious about inviting our friends and family to worship the Lord with us. Here are 3 ways to do this:
1. Let each of us reflect the light of Christ and actually say the words: Please come to worship this Sunday with me.
2. Those who have been worshipping with us for a while, please be bold and take the next step of committing yourself to this community of faith as a member.
3. For all of us here: be at worship every Sunday, not only for our good, but also because it is so inspiring to others who come to worship.