“Epiphany, Baptism, and a Tale of Two Herods” (Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 3:15-22)

The Epiphany of Our Lord/ The Baptism of Our Lord
Sunday, January 9, 2022

“Epiphany, Baptism, and a Tale of Two Herods” (Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 3:15-22)

Every year, the Epiphany of Our Lord always falls on January 6, which was this past Thursday. The Gospel reading for Epiphany is the visit of the wise men, from Matthew 2. On the first Sunday after the Epiphany, which is today, we always observe the Baptism of Our Lord. And this year the Gospel reading is the account from Luke. This past Thursday, we had to cancel our Epiphany service. So now today, I decided to combine the readings for the two services, the Epiphany of Our Lord and the Baptism of Our Lord, into one message around a common theme: “Epiphany, Baptism, and a Tale of Two Herods.”

Two Herods? Yes, there is a Herod mentioned in both readings. In Matthew, it is Herod the Great. In Luke, it is his son, Herod Antipas. What they have in common is, they both are nasty dudes, powerful rulers who don’t like having their authority challenged. Both Herods will squash any opposition, even if it means killing them. Like father, like son.

First, Herod the Great, who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth. Soon, wise men from the east come to Jerusalem, and they have a question for Herod: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews.?” Well, probably not the wisest question to ask the current king. “Where is the guy who’s going to replace you?” This does not sit well with Herod. He wants to eradicate this threat to his power. So he comes up with a scheme that will lead him to this upstart usurper, so he can get him out of the picture. He will use the wise men to locate the child for him, on the pretense that he too wants to go worship him. Of course, what he really wants to do is to kill him. Look, the powers of this world do not like it when their authority is threatened. They will go to extreme lengths to snuff the threat out.

And so the wise men set out to find the one born king of the Jews. The prophecies say the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, and to Bethlehem they go. They are guided by the star God provided to lead them to the place where the child was. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Notice, it doesn’t just say, “they rejoiced.” It doesn’t just say, “they rejoiced exceedingly.” Not even, “they rejoiced exceedingly with joy.” No, it says, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Why such exceedingly great joy? Because the star is leading them to an exceedingly great Savior! The prophecies of the Messiah tell of one who will be king not only of the Jews but of Gentiles also. These wise men, visitors from pagan lands to the east, will be included in his kingdom of blessing. They find the infant king. They fall down and worship him. “Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Costly gifts. Gifts fit for a king.

This child, the Christ, is the world’s true king. The powers of this world think that they are in charge, and so they want to get him out of the picture. That’s what Herod tried. But God had other plans. The wise men were warned not to return to Herod. So then Herod tried plan B. He had all the baby boys in Bethlehem slaughtered, figuring he’d get the one born king of the Jews in the process. But that didn’t work either. God had other plans.

Well, that was the first Herod, Herod the Great. Now we fast-forward about thirty years, and we come to his son, Herod Antipas. This Herod was no better than his father. He took his own brother’s wife to be with him, and he did a whole lot of other nasty deeds besides. So what did John the Baptist do about this? As a true and fearless prophet of God, he called Herod on it. John spoke truth to power, and it cost him. Herod threw John in prison.

But before John was arrested, he had time in his ministry to point people to a greater king: “He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” John is talking about Jesus, of course. Jesus is the mightier one, who comes bringing both salvation and judgment with him–salvation for those who take refuge in him, but end-time judgment for those who refuse to repent, who think they don’t need a Savior. And that judgment will fall even on the most powerful rulers of this world.

The rulers of this world assert their power, and they persecute those who worship the Christ. They make their plans and their schemes, but in the end they will not prevail. As the psalmist says: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.”

Even so, even though they will not triumph in the end, the powers of this world will lash out at those who belong to Christ. We seem threatening to them, because we do not bow the knee to their supposed superiority. The god of this world right now, at least in Europe and North America, is secularism, which means, living without particular religious beliefs and practices. “Organized religion” is seen as the great enemy. That’s a put-down, by the way. “Oh, I don’t believe in organized religion.” See, it’s okay to be “spiritual,” whatever that means, but “religious”? That’s right out.

So Christians, because we make church a priority . . . because we believe in moral standards of right and wrong and call sin “sin” . . . because we do not worship the gods that the world worships, false gods like money and entertainment and pleasure . . . because we believe that Judgment Day is coming and there is only one Savior who can help us on that day, and that is Jesus Christ–for these reasons, the world hates us and wants to at least marginalize and mock us, if not outright kill us. By our very existence we are challenging their authority. Like the wise men, we worship and bow down only to one king, Jesus.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the king who is greater than all the kings of this world. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the only king we worship. “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” Friends, take refuge in the Son of God. He will protect you. The world will do its worst, but Christ Jesus will do his best for you.

Think of what Jesus has already done for you! The wise men called the one they were looking for the “king of the Jews.” When will he be called that again? The one born king of the Jews will die “king of the Jews” also. That’s the title Pilate placed over Jesus’ head when he was crucified. “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” On a cross. You can find this king hanging on a cross, wearing a crown of thorns. There you will see your Savior, shedding his holy blood to win your forgiveness and your salvation.

“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” You can look in a tomb, but you won’t find him there anymore. Our king is alive and reigning forevermore. And he will share with you, all you who believe in and are baptized into Christ–he will share with you his resurrection unto eternal life.

“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” Today you can find him right here, in this church and at this altar. Here he gives you his very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. And “where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”

That’s something to rejoice over, isn’t it? The wise men, when they saw the star, “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” Likewise, when we see all that God has done and will do for us in Christ, we too rejoice exceedingly with great joy.

The Herods of this world will do their worst, but Christ has done and will do his best. The world will label us with all sorts of nasty names: “religious kooks,” “weirdos.” But God will call us his own dear children, and I’m okay with that. The world will say we’re “out of step with the times.” Well, okay, I’ll take that too. I’m glad I’m out of step with the times! Christians will always be out of step with the world’s values. It comes with the territory. Get used to it.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, by acknowledging and worshiping the one true king, Jesus Christ, we present a challenge to all the false kings that the world worships. They feel threatened by it, but we feel greatly comforted. And, like the wise men, we rejoice exceedingly with great joy, for God’s grace is shining like a star, shining with the light of life, leading us to where our true king is.

Brothers and sisters, by calling sin “sin” and speaking truth to power, like John the Baptist we put ourselves at risk of ridicule or even worse. But let those Herods do their worst. Our king is Jesus Christ. By his epiphany, by his baptism, by his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, by his Word and Sacraments through which he strengthens us and gives us life, and by his coming again on the last day to save us and raise us up–our Lord Jesus has done, is doing, and will do his very best for you.

Published in: on January 7, 2022 at 10:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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