January 6, 2013
Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?”
There were these wise men who came to Jerusalem seeking the King of the Jews. The things of it was, they were Gentiles. Why were they looking for a Jewish king? Why were they wanting to worship Him? They were Gentiles. When Pilate affixed the sign above Jesus’ cross he wrote, “The King of the Jews.” Pilate was a Gentile. Why did he write that? In fact, the Jews wanted to know that very thing. “Don’t write,” they said, “‘The King of the Jews’ but that this man said ‘I am the King of the Jews.’”
At the beginning of His life Jesus is shown for who He is, the King of the Jews. The funny thing of it all is that He is shown this by Gentiles. The Jews didn’t want Him as their king. Granted, Pilate didn’t either, but he wrote accurately when he wrote on the cross of Christ, “The King of the Jews.” Certainly unknowingly, the statement He posted above Jesus’ head as He hung there on the cross brought to fulfillment Jesus’ own words in
John 4: “Salvation is from the
Jews.” Jesus had spoken those words to a woman who was a Samaritan. The Jews
were very particular about their Jewishness. Samaritans, though sharing a
common ancestry with them, were treated by them in the same way they treated
Gentiles—as not one of them.
In a basic sense, Gentiles were nothing more than the “nations.” In the Old Testament there were the Israelites and then there was everybody else—the nations, the Gentiles. While the Israelites were most certainly the chosen people of God He never intended for only them to be saved. His salvation was always proclaimed and offered to the ends of the earth. To His own precious people, the Israelites, as well as to the nations, the Gentiles.
But we know how to take a good thing and turn it into a selfish thing, don’t we? If we are chosen we begin to think we’re better than others, don’t we? If we have been blessed we start seeing everyone else as not blessed for a reason; they are somehow inferior or not worthy. This was the problem with the Jews. Their heritage was the chosen people of God, the Israelites. They saw themselves as somehow special. They constructed a religion in which they were chosen because they deserved it. They were blessed because they did what was right and good and pleasing in the sight of God. They lost sight of grace and mercy. They forgot that their blessings came solely from the immeasurable love of God.
And so while God was their king, they rejected Him as their king. They weren’t able to see the grace in their God, in their king, in coming to them to bless them and care for them. They wanted to be self-sufficient and worthy in the eyes of the world.
But along comes God as a baby. An infant who lay in a manger rather than sitting on a throne. And this was no king for them. But Pilate called it correctly, didn’t he? This is the King of the Jews. The one hanging here, bloody, beaten to a pulp, losing blood, struggling for oxygen. And Pilate didn’t even know the half of it. As much pain as he could inflict on that man he referred to as the King of the Jews, he was unaware of how God saw His only-begotten Son as the King of the Jews. For God the Father inflicted nothing on Him, but laid on Him the sin of Pilate and every Jew and every Gentile.
See, this wasn’t just a Gentile ruler convicting some guy who claimed to be a king of some people known as Jews. This was God bringing salvation, from the Jews to the Jews and Gentiles. In other words, to everyone. Jesus was Himself a Jew. Jesus shared the same heritage the Jews did, from the chosen people of God in the Old Testament, the Israelites. The fact that He was born of a woman means that He had a genealogical ancestry, as we all do. But it wasn’t just that He was a “Jew.” He was of the lineage of the Promise. It went all the way back to Abraham, who was a Gentile, by the way.
That’s the important part of all of this. Salvation is not in who you are or where you’re from or what you’ve done or in your heritage. It’s in the one who hung up there on a cross with a sign hanging over His head that read “The King of the Jews.” The promise was given to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. There’s that word again, nations, Gentiles. His son, Isaac, was the father of Jacob who was renamed by God “Israel.” Thus the Israelites were born and the Jews ended up holding on to this genealogical ancestry rather than the promise given to Abraham.
The promise was fulfilled in Jesus, the King of the Jews. In other words, it was fulfilled in the cross. It was fulfilled in sins taken away, salvation accomplished, mercy showered on all. That’s what Epiphany shows. It shows that Jesus came not as a king in the way Herod was. Herod attempted to hold on to his power. He didn’t see that the king the wise men were seeking came to be his king. Not to unseat him from his throne; to call him to repentance as He does everyone. God Himself is the one who calls people to serve as kings and rulers. There’s no problem with Herod sitting on his throne. There was a huge problem with him being troubled that God sent His Son as King; King of the Jews, the one who came to bring salvation.
The wise men came to worship the true King. The one who was in a manger, not one who came to rule from a throne. The one who would care for His people from a cross, not a palace. Kings have power, and rightfully so. They need that power if they are to serve in a God-pleasing way as kings. The key, though, is serving. One is not carrying out his calling from God as king or ruler if he abuses his power or seeks to hold on to his power. The power is to be used for the good of those in the nation. He is to protect them. The wise men humbled themselves before a King who could do this like no other.
Jesus’ reign as King is from heaven, but unfortunately that doesn’t do us any good since we have rejected Him as our king. But He is the ultimate King. He came to us so that we could be restored to Him. As a king is most fully a king in his calling when he is carrying out his office as one who serves his people, Jesus shows us that He is the true King in that He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. And if you are ever in doubt about how your Lord rules over you as your King you need look no further than those words of the Wise Men: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” You need not look past the words written by Pilate: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Put simply, look no further than the cross.
Whose King is He? He is your King. He is the King of the Jews. He is the King of the Gentiles. He rules His people in grace and mercy. Not because they are of particular lineage or ancestry. Not because they’re really good people. Not because they’ve maintained their power as a chosen people. Because of the cross. Because of grace and mercy. Because this is the kind of King we have in Jesus.
In a strange sort of way, we who are Gentiles, in other words, we’re not Jews, are actually not the Gentiles. We are the true Israel the New Testament speaks of. In other words, we are the people of God. We are the Christian Church. We are His chosen nation. Chosen, not on the basis of anything of ourselves, but of His mercy in Jesus, the one who was crucified.
And with that, because God in His mercy has chosen us, we who are sinful, there is the danger of us falling into the trap of turning in on ourselves instead of always looking to the cross and the Christ, the King, who hung there. There is the danger of thinking of ourselves as better. Of thinking of others as not as good. God has chosen us after all!
We need to be humble. We need to serve our King, the King who served us. We need to recognize that we are chosen simply because it is His pure grace, mercy, and love that drew Him to us. To be born, to suffer, to die, to rise. To come to us in Baptism and to give Himself to us in bread and wine. It is the King, Jesus the humble Servant, who is our sole glory. Not ourselves. Not our works. Not who we are or what we do. Not our lineage, not our church affiliation. Nothing. Only Christ. Only the true King, the one who came as the King of the Jews and brought salvation to all. Amen.