O GOD, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Ephesians iii. 1.
FOR this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God, which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.
St. Matthew ii. 1.
WHEN Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
For those of us who follow the church calendar, the Christmas season begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th, the 12 days of Christmas of the famous song. January 6th is the Feast of the Epiphany, or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. It celebrates the arrival of the Gentile kings of the East to the child Jesus in Bethlehem, and their worship of him as the King of the Jews.
The Apostle Paul wrote above that this appearing of the Son of God to the Gentiles was a great mystery, “which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel…” A search in a concordance of the word “Gentile” will reveal instance after instance of this mystery being revealed in the prophets, but as with many things mysterious, it was not revealed to men until due time, and this due time was at the revelation of the Son of God.
The course of this revelation is quite interesting. God revealed this marvelous birth to the Magi who no doubt had access to the Hebrew scriptures, and studied the signs and seasons. Philip preached the Gospel to an Ethiopian convert to Judaism, and he was converted. Peter preached the Gospel to the household of the Roman, Cornelius, and he and his whole house were baptized. The other apostles objected to Peter entering the house of the uncircumcised, but when Peter recounted the experience to them, they rejoiced. “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:18) In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas turn to the Gentiles due to the hostility, opposition, and unbelief of the Jews in Antioch:
“Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should have first been spoken to you, but seeing you put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set the to be a light unto the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.” (13:46-47)
The Gentiles present rejoiced, many were saved that day, and Paul went to the Gentiles as their apostle. From there, the Gospel spread around the world to every nation, people, and tongue.
What does this Epiphany mean to us? To me personally, it gladdens me to know God’s plan all along was to include me and my Gentile ancestors in his great plan of salvation, that we would not be stuck in the grip of cruel paganism, nor live our lives in desperation and hopelessness. It means a life spent plumbing the depths of the unsearchable riches of Christ, a life spent glorifying and praising him.
Reflect on what this great mystery revealed means to you today, and glorify God for it.
Epiphany, or Christ Revealed to the Gentiles
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I will add that the mystery was not that God intended to save the Gentiles. That much is obvious and clear in the Old Testament. That God would place both believing Jew and Gentile into one body, removing any distinction between them, was a great mystery hidden until revealed unto the Apostle Paul.