The Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ, 6 January 2021
A Sermon on Ephesians 3:1-12 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
Ephesians 3:1-12 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
THE WORD OF GOD: ENRICHES
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
They brought expensive gifts, those magi: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In the giving of the gifts, these visitors from the East recognized that Jesus is the King of the Jews, the King from David’s family, the Messiah that God’s people had been expecting for 600 years.
From their study of the stars, these likely Persian magi came looking for a great king. By their familiarity with Jewish traditions, they knew that God’s people had been waiting for a new king since the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. Not knowing the Hebrew Scriptures, they did not know where the newborn king was to be found. In other words, their study of the stars got them on the road, but they didn’t know where they were going or what type of king they would find. The Scriptures would have to tell them their destination was Bethlehem. They didn’t know what kind of man they were dealing with when the sought King Herod the Great’s advice, so an angel would have to warn them against going back to Herod after they found the newborn king.
It is remarkable that they brought great gifts not only fit for a king as in Song of Solomon 3:6, but also gifts fit for a bride on her wedding night as in Song of Solomon 4:6. They brought more than they knew, these magi, for gold would be needed when Joseph took mother and child to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous plot, the slaughter of all the little boys two and under in Bethlehem (2:10). Frankincense, which was offered morning and evening, first in the Tent of Meeting and later in the Temple (Leviticus 2:1), pointed to Jesus’ coming once-for-all Sacrifice. Then myrrh would be one of the spices with which Jesus’ dead body would be anointed by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (John 19:39-40). These expensive gifts pointed to the King.
The Greatest Gift
There is so much we do not know about the magi and so much they did not know about Jesus. We do not know why Gentiles would seek the newborn King of the Jews. We simply know that they did seek him. We do not know what would cause visitors from the East to go where they went knowing as little as they did about what they would find. We do know that when they found Jesus they bowed before a little child and offered Him expensive gifts.
Even then, they did not know that their expensive gifts were nothing compared to God’s greatest gift, His only-begotten Son. They did not know that the sacrifice of their time, talent, and treasure was nothing compared to the Sacrifice that would be given on Calvary’s cross for their sins and those of the whole world. They did not know that their journey filled with so many questions and so few answers was nothing compared to the journey of God’s Son to His lonely cross for them and all people. As laudable as all their seeking, all their finding, and all their giving admittedly was, nevertheless, what was all of that compared to the Greatest Gift.
Christina Rosetti’s words from the third stanza of “In the Bleak Midwinter” put it in proper perspective: “What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man I would do my part; yet what I can I give him – give my heart” (ELW #294).
Presented with the Greatest Gift of all, the magi bowed down in humble adoration before the Lord of all hidden in the flesh of a poor Jewish child. They gave their expensive gifts, yes, but in the presence of the King they saw their hands were empty compared to this Greatest Gift. When we have traveled the great distance of our lives in this world, we will finally know that all we have to give to the One, who traveled much further and much more painfully is our poor heart.
The Gift That Keeps on Giving
Writing from prison and cognizant of the grace of God that called him from being a persecutor of Christ’s Church to being the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul speaks in Ephesians 3 of the unsearchable riches of Christ, the living Word of God who enriches Gentiles with access to His heavenly Father. For ages the mystery of Christ was hidden, the Israelites were God’s heirs and the Gentiles were not, but now both Jews and Gentiles have boldness and access with confidence through their faith in Christ. The Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Through His saving death and the assurance of His most glorious resurrection, Christ Jesus is the once-for-all Sacrifice for sinners, Jews and Gentiles, so that in Him alone there is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Greatest Gift, is the gift that keeps on giving, because each newly baptized child, youth, or adult has been crucified with Christ. Death has no more dominion over him or her. The mark of Christ’s cross on the forehead of the baptized and the gift of the Holy Spirit give the blessed assurance that Jesus is ours and we are His: heirs, sons, and beloved children, by grace alone through no effort or merit of our own.
Whatever expensive gifts you and I gave or received this Christmass, even those given to Christ’s Church, are nothing when compared to the Greatest Gift that keeps on giving you and me the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. So, then, what is left for us to do but to bow in humble adoration before our King and to give Him our hearts, not once, not from time to time, but now and forever.
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA