Well, Christmas is almost over for another year. For most of us the holidays are over and our lives get back to normal this week. Children will be going back to school, people will be going back to work, family and friends will be going home (if they haven’t gone home already), and we will be settling back into our normal routines.
There is one more part of Christmas to come, and that’s why I said that Christmas is almost over. There is one more gift for all of us, and today-the Feast of the Epiphany-we receive that gift. That gift is the fact that Jesus came for all of us-both Jews and Gentiles. This concept is represented in the visit of the Magi, which we heard in Matthew 2:1-12, but it is also represented in the legendary story of the fourth wise man-a man named Artaban.
As he journeyed with his friends, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, he became separated from them. He never made it to Bethlehem. For many years he sought the Christ Child and in the process had many adventures and assisted many people, including dying beggars and frightened mothers, to whom he gave two of the three great jewels he had originally planned to give to Jesus. He even traveled to Egypt, hearing that Jesus and his parents had gone there, but was again frustrated in his quest. Now, after 33 years of searching he arrived in Jerusalem, hoping at last that he might find the child.
At Passover time, Artaban, now an old man, noted an unusual commotion and inquired about its cause. People answered him, “We are going to the place called Golgotha, just outside the walls of the city, to see two robbers and a man named Jesus of Nazareth, who are being crucified on crosses. The man Jesus calls himself the Son of God, and Pontius Pilate has sent him to be crucified because he claims to be the king of the Jews.”
Artaban knew instinctively that this is the king he had been searching for his whole life. Thus, he rushed to the scene. On the way he encountered a young girl being sold into slavery. She saw his royal robes and fell at his feet pleading with him to rescue her. His heart was moved and he gave away the last jewel for her ransom. Just then, darkness fell over the land and the earth shook, and great stones fell into the streets. One of them fell upon Artaban, crushing his head.
As he lay dying in the arms of the girl he had just ransomed, he cried out in a weak voice, “Three and thirty years I looked for thee, Lord, but I have never seen thy face nor ministered to thee!” Then a voice came from heaven, strong and kind, which said, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of my brothers or sisters, you did it to me.” Artaban’s face grew calm and peaceful. His long journey was ended. He had found his king!
This popular story powerfully presents the Epiphany message. The three magi of whom Saint Matthew speaks in his gospel brought their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, recognizing Jesus as priest, prophet, and king. Additionally, their presence in Bethlehem demonstrated how Christ was manifest to the nations. In a similar way, Artaban’s adventure showed that Christ calls us to manifest his glory to all nations. Artaban’s goodness and openness to all, even those he did not know, brought the face of Christ, namely the one he sought, to him. Additionally, those to whom he came, the poor and destitute, became Christ to him. Without realizing it, all his life he had been achieving his goal, to see the Christ Child. We, in turn, are challenged to be Christ to others; we must be ambassadors of the Lord.
God came to us in the form of Jesus so that we could come back to him. When we come to Christ, we are adopted into his family. We are also freed from the bondage of sin. That freedom has a purpose, which is being part of God’s plan for our lives. Our lives and the paths we take in life matter to God. We are to remember this when our lives seem aimless and without direction.
The church was unknown in the Old Testament and the Gospels. It wasn’t fully revealed until the events in Acts 2 occurred, especially the events that happened on the Day of Pentecost. It was not fully explained until Paul began his mission. The heart and soul of the mystery of the church is that Jews and Gentiles are joined into one body. The Gentiles are fellow heirs with the Jews, fellow members of God’s household, and fellow partakers of the promise of salvation for everyone. This process started with the visit of the Magi, but it was not fully realized until Peter preached to and baptized the Roman centurion Cornelius and his family.
Paul was the apostle, teacher and preacher to the Gentiles. The sufferings he experienced during his ministry were on their behalf, just like Jesus’ suffering and death were for everyone-both Jews and Gentiles. There are times when we as Christians will suffer for our faith like Paul, Christ and the disciples did. When we praise God, especially when we suffer, it forces us to keep our eyes on him and lifts us out of the pain of our suffering. It allows us to see clearly how God works in and through all believers to change something that is evil into something that is good. That does not mean that God causes pain and suffering. It means that God is with us and that he can use our suffering for his purposes.
Paul’s calling to preach to the Gentiles was the disposition of God’s grace. God not only appointed Paul a minister of the Gospel to the Gentiles through grace, but anointed him with power. This verified Paul’s apostleship-an amazing thing considering that Paul so violently persecuted the church previously.
Christ came to unite Jews and Gentiles into one body of believers through the Gospel. Christ revealed the mystery to Paul on the road to Damascus and at other times during his ministry. The purpose of his ministry was of interest to angels, especially since they rejoice when a sinner repents.
The mystery is made known to us through both God’s direct intervention in our lives and through Scripture. This revelation is a gift for everyone, whereas until Christ was born it was seen only as a gift to the people of Israel. We are to share the promise with everyone.
If we enlarge our horizons, our theology will not be restricted to a denominational understanding but will affirm the ecumenical affirmations of the Christian faith centered in Jesus Christ. To be sure, we ought to preserve the best in our own theological tradition, but admittedly we do not possess the whole truth. We can learn from one another, and as we dialogue we sharpen our basic convictions. I’m speaking from experience. I have learned from preaching and leading worship here at Bridgewater United and at other non-Anglican churches, and in return I have been able to share parts of the Anglican Church traditions.
In order to share the gift, we have to use the gifts God has given us. Some of us have the gift of preaching and teaching. Some of us have the gift of singing. Others have the gift of leadership, and still others have the gift of just being able to talk to other people and share what God has done for them in their lives. We know what our gifts are, but we also know our limitations. We don’t have to worry, because God will make up for our limitations.
God created the church to be a public testimony to his grace-a place where anyone (both Jews and Gentiles) can go to receive a constant flow of mercy, and a place to hear the message of the Gospel. Yet the church not only declares the truth to humanity; God also designed the church to display the truth to angels.
The church is called to be a house of prayer. God’s people don’t need a priest to be a mediator to approach him, as was required in the Old Testament. Jews and Gentiles both have full access to God through Jesus.
Within the church there are to be no divisions due to race, spiritual or social reasons. Faith gives us free and unlimited access to God. When we place our trust in God, it opens the way for us to communicate with and have fellowship with him at any time and in any place. Anyone and everyone can come to him. We can do so because of God’s grace.
God wants everyone to see and share his wisdom. It’s up to us to make certain that this happens. Sometimes we can’t see that Christ came for everyone and can use everyone. We need to share our gifts and burdens just like Christ shared himself with everyone-both Jews and Gentiles. We are to spread the Good News to a world that desperately needs to hear it. When we spread the Good News, we are to share it with everyone, because Christ came for everyone-and that is the greatest gift that everyone can give and receive.
* Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1642-1643)
- Preaching Magazine, November/December 2015 (Nashville, TN: Salem Publishing Inc.; p. 65)
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
- Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 31: Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians/Philemon (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pgs. 175-182)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Don Ruhl, “Our Job: Make People See the Manifold Wisdom of God.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Moments of Weakness.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Joni Eareckson Tada, “Let Me Not Shrink.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Dr. R.C. Sproul, “Answering the Ultimate Question.” Retrieved from Corsswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Pastor Bob Coy, “Access-able.” Retrieved from www.activeword.org
- Don Ruhl, “The Privilege of Sharing the Preaching of Christ.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Richard Hasler, “Enlarge Your Horizons.” Retrieved from http://sermons.com/sermon/enlarge-your-horizons/14228
- Richard Gribble, “Ambassadors of the Lord.” Retrieved from http://sermons.com/sermons/ambassadors-of-the-lord/1467337