Epiphany 2021
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
January 2, 3, 2021
Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

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            “We three Kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar.”  This Christmas Carol was written by Episcopalian musician John Hopkins Jr. in 1857 in Pennsylvania.  For almost 100 years this was thought to be the only American contribution to English language Christmas Carols.  It has that unique, plodding rhythm that transports you to the top of a camel’s hump as it sways back and forth moving across the desert following the star to Bethlehem.

            Now we don’t really think that the Magi were kings, although this idea has been floating around since around the 3rd Century as a fulfillment of Psalm 72:11 (ESV) 11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him![1] Around the 8th Century names were attached to the three.  They have become known most commonly as BalthasarMelchior, and Gaspar (or Casper). According to Western church tradition, Balthasar is often represented as a king of Arabia or sometimes Ethiopia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India.[2]  In many nations January the 6th is celebrated as Three Kings Day.  Three kings is one of those traditions that assume a lot more detail than we actually have in the Bible. 

            The magi from the east are sort of a mystery.  Who are they?  Wizards, Astrologers?  Magicians? What do they really know about the one they are seeking?  How many are there?  We don’t really know.  There are three gifts, but we’re not sure how many magi.

            We don’t know much about the magi who often called the three kings.  What we do know for sure about this Biblical account of the magi is that there are two kings.  “We two kings of Israel are, enemies in spiritual war.”

            Two kings.  Both King of the Jews.  Herod the Great and Jesus of Nazareth.  One looks like a king, one does not.  One wears royal robes and a crown and lives in a palace that He had constructed in Jerusalem.  One is a helpless young child living with His parents at someone else’s house in Bethlehem due to a census ordered by Caesar.  

Two kings.  Both King of the Jews.  One is powerful and protected with soldiers and secret police and 2,000 bodyguards.  One is a small boy protected by His father who is guided by angels that appear to him in dreams.

Two kings.  Both King of the Jews.  One pretends to be a Jew for political purposes.  The other is the definitive Jew; all Israel reduced to one. He fulfills what the children of Israel were unable to fulfill.  He comes to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel and then grafts all nations into the root of Israel. 

Two kings.  Both King of the Jews.  One is a political appointee who is declared King of the Jews by the Roman Senate in 40 BC.  One is a descendant of King David who is declared heir to the throne by the archangel Gabriel, and called King of the Jews by mysterious magi from the east who followed a star to find the newborn king.  He is not again called King of the Jews until questioned by Pontius Pilate, one of Herod the Great’s successors.  Pilate’s soldiers mock Jesus by crowning Him with thorns and dressing Him in a robe and saying, “Hail, King of the Jews.”  Pilate has written on a sign above Jesus’ head on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

Two kings.  Both King of the Jews.  The magi bring to one king word of the birth of the new king.  Their message brings anxiety and fear to Herod and therefore to all Jerusalem.  To the other king the magi brings gifts fit for a king; gold, frankincense and myrrh. 

            Two kings.  Both King of the Jews.  One is paranoid, merciless and bloodthirsty, willing to kill anyone who threatens his rule. He kills one of his wives and her sons and anyone he thinks threatens him.  He will kill another of his sons before his own death.  The other King is full of grace and mercy and will heal the sick and raise the dead.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  He gives Himself into death in order to conquer death for all people.

            Two kings.  Both King of the Jews.  One is an agent of Satan and one is the Son of God.  One seeks to do the devil’s work of eliminating the newborn King of the Jews and orders all baby boys 2 years old and younger to be slaughtered in Bethlehem. The other is the Son of God who will do His Father’s will by being obedient to the law.  He is baptized into the sin of the world and pays the price for those sins with His own suffering and death on the cross.  He then rises from the dead to crush the head of the devil.

            Two kings.  Both King of the Jews.  One lives in a magnificent palace that he has built for himself.  The other comes to that palace thirty some years later to face Roman authority.  At that magnificent palace the other King is beaten and mocked and whipped and sentenced to death in order to please the unruly crowd assembled by the Jewish religious leaders.  They want to kill Him so He does not mess up their relationship with Rome. 

            Two kings.  Both King of the Jews.  The chief priests and the scribes tell Herod that the Christ is to be born in Bethlehem but they do not go with the magi to see the Christ child.  They choose to stay with Herod the Great rather than meet the other king.

            Two kings.  Both King of the Jews.  One, at great expense, rebuilds the temple in Jerusalem to be more glorious than ever so his name will be remembered in history.  One of the support walls of that temple still survives in place today and is known as the Western Wall or Wailing Wall in Jerusalem below the temple mount.  The other King later visits the Temple and clears it of those selling animals and changing money.  He teaches at the Temple and upon His death He tears the curtain in the temple in two from top to bottom.  The separation between God and man is undone in Jesus.

Two kings.  Both King of the Jews.  One is temporary, a blip on the radar of history.  The other is the eternal King of the Jews. 

            Two kings.  Both King of the Jews.  One lies dead in his grave buried at his Herodium fortress 7.5 miles south of Jerusalem. The other’s grave in Jerusalem is empty. 

Two kings.  Both King of the Jews.  Who is the true King of the Jews?  It is the unexpected one.  The baby in Bethlehem who has to flee to Egypt is the true King.

Two kings.  Both King of the Jews.  One is temporary, a blip on the radar of history.  The other is the eternal King of the Jews. 

Jesus is your King who at your baptism adopted you as child of God; an adopted son of Abraham.  You have been grafted into the tree of Israel and Jesus is your King. Jesus reigns, He rules not with force, not with 2,000 bodyguards, not by killing His opponents.  Jesus rules in grace and mercy.  Jesus rules in sacrificial service to His people.  Jesus rules by paying the price for the sins of the world on the cross and conquering death by rising from the dead.  Jesus rules by giving you forgiveness in His Word to you.  Jesus rules by giving you His own Body and Blood in Holy Communion.  We learn from the magi that things are not always as they appear. Water, words, bread, wine; what we see with our eyes does not show the whole truth. 

“We two kings of Israel are, enemies in spiritual war.”  Jesus wins the war.  Jesus is the eternal King of the Jews. 

Herod the Great turns out not to be so great.  He has been dead a long time and is remembered not so much for his buildings, but for shedding the innocent blood of Bethlehem boys.  Jesus of Nazareth, the true and eternal King of the Jews, lives victoriously and is worshipped for having shed His own blood to save you. Jesus is King.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Magi

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