Epiphany – Jesus is revealed Savior of all nations
Sunday, January 10, 2021
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We See Him Near
Let me see that. When I was a kid, that’s what we would say when we wanted to see something up close and hold it in our hands. Let me see that. There are are some objects that we see from afar and we’re ok with. Clouds, stars, and sunsets fit into that category. But there are other objects we want to see up close and even hold. When people go shopping for wedding rings, it’s not enough to see them through the glass case. They need to hold them in their hands and look at them up close. This morning we meet a prophet who sees Jesus from afar. But we get to see him near, up close and personal. In Numbers 24, we read: “15 Then he proclaimed his poem: The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eyes are opened; 16 the oracle of one who hears the sayings of God and has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls into a trance with his eyes uncovered: 17 I see him, but not now; I perceive him, but not near.” (Num. 24:15–17 CSB17)
There are strange parts of the bible. And this section in Numbers is one of the strangest. Who is this man, Balaam? In order to understand Balaam, we need to back up a little in history. The descendents of Abraham got stuck in Egypt for 400 years as slaves. The descendants of Lot settled just outside of the promised land in an area called, Moab. They were blood-relatives. So, when the Hebrews came up north and wanted to go through their territory to get to the promised land, they thought they would be allowed. They were blood relatives, after all, right? Not so. Hundreds of years before this the people of Moab had stopped following the God of Abraham. They followed false gods. So, when the Hebrews came through, we meet a king named, “Balak.” Balak wanted to end the Hebrews. But he knew he couldn’t do so on the battle field. So he hires and tries to bribe a mercenary prophet, called, “Balaam” to get the job done. Balaam did not believe in the Lord. But the Lord did allow Balaam to have visions of the future. So, on more than one occasion, the king Balak hires Balaam to curse the Hebrews. But, Balaam, not by his own choice, but by God’s instead blesses them. And what he sees in this vision is a king from afar.
So we have spoken a little about who Balaam is. But who are the wisemen? In the Old Testament a wiseman is basically someone who knows more than you do. Sometimes it’s people who know more about math and science than you do. Sometimes they know more because they follow and worship demons. And very rarely, they will be like Daniel or Joseph and be wise because they follow the Lord and receive knowledge from him. These wise men were in this last category. Somehow they had studied God’s word and were looking forward to the king and Messiah to be revealed. But in a miraculous way God also provided a star for them to guide their way to find the Messiah. So the Messiah would no longer be far away as Balaam talks about here. Instead, he would be near—so near you could reach out and touch him.
That is who Balaam was. That is who the wise men were. But what is it that Balaam saw in his vision? We read: “A star will come from Jacob,” (Num. 24:17 CSB17) We see this fulfilled in two ways: First, there was this miraculous star the wisemen had and followed that led them to the little king, Jesus. Second, we also recognize that this star also was Jesus. A star shines in the darkness. And that is what these wisemen went so far to see up close. They could not stop themselves from sinful thoughts and desires day by day. They could not save themselves from those sins. But this little king could. He could shine in their lives, pay for and forgive all their sins. That’s why they traveled so far to see him.
We too have that same privilege this morning. We do not see Jesus in a fuzzy, foggy cloud from afar. No, we see him up close. We have so much of God’s word that we see him up close and personal. We see both that he has forgiven us and how. And like the wisemen, we stand in awe of this.
So this morning we see Jesus near. He is a star to shine. But he is more. We read: “and a scepter will arise from Israel. He will smash the forehead of Moab and strike down all the Shethites.” (Num. 24:17 CSB17)
This kind that Balaam sees from afar is a star to shine. But he will also be a scepter that shatters. There is this irony. The Moabite king, Balak bribes Balaam to curse the Hebrews. Instead, Balaam ends up cursing the Moabites—not because Balaam wants this. Instead it’s because the Lord forces the issue. This king is a scepter. And with his scepter he will shatter the Moabites.
With that in mind, we have one more who question to ask? Who is Herod? The wisemen travel to Jerusalem to get information from Herod. But what sort of person do they meet. There is much to say about Herod the Great. But what we need to know is that Herod has one universal solution to every problem. He kills it to death. Herod had one of his sons conspire against him and try to take the throne from him. So he killed him. Herod had one of his wives conspire against him—or at least he thought so. So he killed her. Do you see a pattern here? So imagine a scenario where these learned strangers come out of nowhere and ask this question: “So, where’s the king?” If ever there were someone you do not ask that question to, it’s Herod the Great. As wise as these men were in God’s word, they were clueless when it came to Herod.
Now, my friends in Christ, we may laugh to ourselves at Herod because we all know that the solution to every problem is not a sword. But in his shrewdness Herod takes to heart what is so easy for us to forget. Herod knows that either he is king or this toddler is king. And there is no room in the middle. In our own lives, we forget this so very often. We see it in the temptations we face in our lives. Is Jesus the one who rules our hearts and souls with no rivals there, or not? There are these times when we might be filled with anger, fear, or panic at the fact that there is some unjust wrong done to us or someone whom we love. And some of that might be valid. But when it takes over, forgetting that Jesus is king. And he rules over and is in control of even this. When this happens, we forget what Herod knew, that Jesus actually is king. Or there are the times when, in our hearts, we let Jesus rule over parts of our hearts, but not all of it. We invite Jesus into the home of our heart. And we let him see our kitchen or living room. He can see and be in charge of those rooms. But he dare not come into our bedroom or our closet. For there is where we hide the desires we know are wrong. And he has no say over those.
But my dear friends in Christ, Jesus is not just a star that shines. He is also a scepter that shatters. He will shatter every idol in our hearts. And he will shatter us if we hold onto these idols instead of holding onto him.
So, my dear friends in Christ, where do we go with this scary fact? What do we do with the fact that Herod knows what we so often forget, that either Jesus is King over us, or our idols are? First of all, let’s talk about what we do not do. We do not self-treat. Would any of us do open heart surgery on ourselves? We cannot solve our own sin. No, instead, like these wisemen, we bow before Jesus. We confess our sins at his feet. We praise him for paying for our sins. And finally, we rejoice that he strengthens our faith day by day through his word so that instead of holding onto these idols in the rooms in our heart, we along with him, ‘clean house.’ We along with him, see all the ways we trust in ourselves instead of him and repent of them and finally cling to him.
So my dear friends, some gifts are ok to see from afar. But this one is not. Look at Jesus up close by examining his word. And marvel at what you see. You see a star that shines. You see a scepter that smashes. Amen.