“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?”
The question is bold and direct. It may even seem a rather stupid question, especially considering who these wise men—these magi—were asking. Paranoid Herod, sitting on his throne, thought he was the king of the Jews. He had proven himself murderously zealous in asserting that claim. To ask “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” risks offense and retribution. No wonder all Jerusalem was troubled.
Yet still they ask. “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” If he's not here—if we've been deceived, if God lied to us—then nothing at all really matters. But if he really is here, here on this earth, here among us—nothing else matters. Again, if the king is not here, nothing really matters. But if he is here, nothing else matters.
Pay close attention to what the magi say and how they say it. That gives us a clue as to why the magi's question is so bold and why it is so vital, even life-shaping. “Where is he who has been born the king of the Jews?” Not “who will become the king,” but “who has been born the king.” Kings of this world are born princes at best, who may or may not ascend the throne. They are not born with a true king's power and authority.
But the one the magi seek has been born the king. He has been born the king, because even before His conception and birth, He has always been the King of all kings, the Lord of all Lords. The one who has been born, is and has always been God Himself. God, now born a man. Born to be the Christ. Born to save us from all evil. Born to raise the dead. Born to judge the world, and create it anew.
Where is he? We must know.
If you read any headlines today, tuned into any newscast, you wouldn't have heard anything about Epiphany. Nothing about the Christ-child who was born king of the Jews. The Christmas ads have run their course and the boxed nativity sets are off the shelves. No, instead, today you hear the world posture and pose about politics and power, spouting speeches about peace, or justice, or unity, or truth, or good, things that they really neither desire nor understand.
But if he who has been born king of the Jews is not here, none of that matters. If God Himself has not come down and become a man like us, if Jesus did not die our death, if He did not rise from the dead, if He did not ascend to the one and only true throne in heaven, if Jesus is not here to brings us through death and into eternal life, then who cares? Who cares about kings or rulers, presidents or politicians? Who cares about anything in the news cycle, or your favorite channel, or site, or podcast, or whatever? Who cares about what they say or think or do? Who cares about anything at all? There is no hope, only petty politics and inevitable death. Why care about others, why love when there is no love, just selfish desires set against each other?
If Jesus is not truly born the King, then that means God has failed us. He has not kept His promises to forgive and heal us. He has broken His Word, and we cannot trust anything He says. If Jesus is not the Christ, then God is a liar, just like the devil. And we are on our own. Enjoy what you can, while you can, until you kick the bucket, I guess. Maybe you should kowtow and grovel to the people in power—they might give you an extra crumb to ease your misery. Who cares?
But if Jesus the Christ, born the king of Jews, if He really is here, then nothing else matters. No one else can give us life. But Jesus does. No one else will endure the end of the world. But Jesus will. Every other man will fail us. But Jesus never will. Every other kingdom will fall. But Jesus' kingdom will stand forever. If Jesus is born king of the Jews, then nothing else matters—not politics, not hurt feelings, not fear of rejection and punishment, not pride, not racial heritage, not injustices nor infringed rights, not even violence or pain of death.
None of these are eternally consequential. Getting tied into knots over all these, letting any of these monopolize our minds and hearts and meditations—it only clogs up our consciences and distracts us from the essential question: “Where is he who is born king of the Jews? Where is Jesus, my savior—your savior—the savior of the world? We must know. We must know so that we may worship Him—abide with Him—receive His wisdom and cleansing and healing and comfort and life. Only Jesus can right what's wrong. Only Jesus can deliver justice. Only Jesus can unite a fractured humanity. Only Jesus can make us whole. Where is He? We must hear Him. Where is He? He is the only one worthy of our obedience and trust. Where is He? Jesus, and Jesus alone, is our true king.
The first sign that led the magi to Jesus was not the star, but the Word of God. A passage from the book of Numbers prompted them to look for a star, but the Scriptures themselves proclaimed who the One to be born really was, and what He was destined to do for us. God brought the magi to Herod and Jerusalem to turn them to that same Word of God, so that they too would come and worship the Christ, believe Him and receive Him as their true king. But for them the Word evoked not faith, but fear. They would rather things be like they were before anyone cared about Bethlehem, like they were at the end of the book of Judges, “And there was no king in Israel. And everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
The Word of God is the only Word we are given to speak to the world, whether they want to hear it or not. Whether or not they denounce us as evil or stupid. Whether or not they threaten us or hurt us. This is the mystery of grace Paul preaches, the mystery hidden for ages in God, the manifold wisdom of God that God makes known to the rulers and authorities—even in the heavenly places—through the Church. God uses our mouths, our faithfulness, to lead the world to its king. And if we want to lead the anyone in the world to where Christ is, we must first hear His Word and walk that way ourselves.
God's Word still answers the Magi's question for us today. “Where is he who is born king of the Jews?” He's right here. “Where two or three are gathered in my Name, there am I among them.” “This is my body...This is my blood.” “Lo, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” With us in the capital-”C” Church. In the Church, where you—Christ's body—are joined and built into the Spirit's Temple and our Father's House. In the Divine Service, where we gather to worship the Word made flesh who comes to us by the power of the Holy Spirit to bring us to our Heavenly Father.
That gathering to receive these gifts from Christ, that is the most consequential place and hour in your life. Because there is your real life. There is Jesus. There is your King and your God, come to be with you. Compared to that, nothing else matters. No obligations, opportunities, embarrassment, feuds, or fatigue. Here is your king. Come and worship Him.
When the magi went into the house, “they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Why did they bring those treasures? Not to get anything from Jesus. We don't read that they received a special boon or blessing or emotional boost, or were imparted some special spiritual mojo of some sort. We don't even hear of them making any requests of Him. It was enough for them to have their faith receive the truth of Jesus' incarnation and life. The treasures they brought to honor Him, as a sign of their faith. They did not know what God what use those treasures for, but they trusted that He would use them in the very best way. And God did. Though the magi could not of foreseen it, their treasures would fund the holy family's flight down to Egypt to escape an enraged Herod. In that way the magi's treasures became a blessing even to all of us, even though the magi would never know it.
So also with us. It's not a mistake that we bring our gifts to the Divine Service to offer them to God. We bring them not to get something from God, or because we feel we're getting some value from the preacher or the church, or even because we intend for the money to be used in a specific way. We bring our treasures because our faith obligates us to do so. We bring gifts to honor our God, entrust them to Him to use as He deems best. In this way our treasures become a blessing to many more, even generations after us, in ways that we may never see, just as you have benefited from the gifts of those who came before you. What worthier use could we have for our treasures? Leave them with Jesus, and trust that He will do good, in the very best way, at the very best time.
When the magi went home, they didn't leave their true treasures behind. Neither do you. “Where your treasure is, there your hearts will be also.” Their hearts, and yours, are filled by Jesus, with Jesus. Likewise, your mouths. You now carry the clear, true Word of God. You carry the Word, carry Jesus, to your homes, to your neighbors, and to your networks. And you now walk not the same way as you did before. You walk the way that God's Word directs you, that others may follow. Walk that way, bring that Word, that they too may come and worship him.
“Where is he who is born king of the Jews?” We know where He is. The Word reveals Himself to us. Christ has come. Our King is here. And that's all that matters. Come and worship Him.