Who do you say I am?
Matthew 2:1-12 - The Epiphany
Today is Epiphany. The day we remember the wise men and their visit to Jesus.
An Epiphany is when you suddenly realise something, and particularly when you suddenly realise something important. An epiphany is a ‘ohhh’ moment - ‘That’s what’s going on; that’s who you are.’ An Epiphany is when you stand back and say - ‘now I understand’.
The bible is a book all about epiphanies. About realising profound and important things. And the epiphanies at the centre of the gospels are all about Jesus. About people being offered the chance to realise who it is that is in front of them. A moment when they get to say, ‘ohhh, now I see.’
And sometimes they get it straight away, and sometimes it takes a while, and sometimes they don’t get it at all.
In Luke’s gospel an old man called Simeon will see Jesus with his mother and he’ll understand straight away, and it’s a beautiful moment when he takes the baby Jesus in his arms and sings his thank-you to God. And when Jesus is grown up, and is out teaching and healing and preaching, there will be others like that - people who see Jesus and who just get it. Who understand who he is. Who have an epiphany. There’s a woman who will wash Jesus’ feet; there are four friends who will lower their sick buddy down through the roof so Jesus can heal him; there’s a high ranking Roman soldier who watches Jesus die and mysteriously understands - ‘truly this was the Son of God’. Sometimes an epiphany happens suddenly.
Others in the gospels take a bit more time to understand. Think of the disciples, who keep on mistaking Jesus for a revolutionary leader, or someone who will lead them to power and glory, but who get there in the end. Some epiphanies take time.
And some people in the gospel never get it at all; the religious and political leaders above all. Over and over again they are given the evidence, and over and over again they say ‘no’. Some of them can see that he’s a good man, with important things to say, but won’t allow more than that. Others think he is just a trouble maker, or a liar. Sometimes the epiphany never happens.
Everyone that Jesus encounters is offered the opportunity for an Epiphany, for a moment when they say - ‘ohh, I get it. Now I understand who this is.’
Later on in the gospel Jesus asks his good friend Peter a question. ‘Peter’ he says, ‘Who do you say I am?’ And Peter, despite all the ways he gets things wrong, makes it clear that he has understood, he has had his epiphany. And he replies, ’You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God’.
Christmas is over now. Traditionally today is the day when the tree goes away and the cards and decorations come down. And we’re left with the reason for it all. We’re left with Jesus. And the question offered to us is the same one Jesus put to Peter - the same one that everyone in the gospels has to answer - ‘who do you say I am?’
Is he just a nice guy, who did some really great stuff and said some really wise things? Or is he more - is he actually the King of the Universe, the ruler of our hearts; the Prince of Peace, God with us? Is he the one who has come to save us from all our mess and shame and brokenness? Is he pure love in human form?
Who do you say Jesus is?
As we enter a new year, perhaps that’s a key question to have on our hearts and minds. Who do you say Jesus really is?
Whether you’ve been a committed follower of Jesus Christ for many years and could do with checking in - ‘who do I really say he is and does my life model what I believe.’
Or if you’re new to faith and are still figuring out the full and thrilling consequences of Jesus being King, Lord and Saviour.
Or if you haven’t reached an epiphany moment yet and are still searching and seeking.
Wherever you’re at, Jesus places the question before us. ‘Who do you say I am?’
And because that’s a big question, and it might be hard to know what to do with it, the story of the Magi, who were seeking answers to the same question, contains 4 helpful tips for all of us seeking epiphany; seeking an answer to the question, ‘who do you say I am?’
The first is, don’t travel alone. The search for Jesus should be done in community. There is no story of the visit of ‘the wise man’ who travelled bravely on alone to Bethlehem. There is a story of Wise Men, who traveled together, who figured stuff out together and who came to Jesus together. The same is true for us - as you seek Jesus, as you look for answers, as you try to understand the claim that he has on your life, do it with others; do it in community. So join a small group, do Alpha, commit to coming to church regularly. Don’t travel alone.
Second, the answers lie in Scripture. When the wise men arrive in Jerusalem and visit Herod, it’s the book of Isaiah that tells them to head a bit further down the road to Bethlehem, and which tells them who this child is - a ruler, who is to be the Shepherd of the people of Israel. If you want to know who Jesus is, you will find all the answers in the bible. And the new year is a good time to commit or to re-commit to regular bible reading. And there are excellent books and apps that can help if you’re not sure where to start, and I am very happy to point you to them if you would like.
Third, don’t sit around waiting for the answer to come to you, get going. The wise men clearly didn’t know exactly where they were going - after all they went to Jerusalem first - but they still got up and got going. If you want to find out who Jesus is, if you want to learn more about his place in your life, get up and get going. Get stuck in and it may well be that the answer comes to you in the midst of life. Christianity has always been an activist faith, before being a faith for the philosophers; a faith that is best seen at work, rather than in theory So pray in a new way, or volunteer for something in church or do something for God that takes you out of your comfort zone, talk to people about God and find out what they think - whatever you do, do something, because Jesus is most likely to meet you when you’re out on the journey.
Finally, as you seek Jesus, expect the unexpected. One of the reasons that people in the bible don’t understand who Jesus is, is because they want him to fit their definition of what God is like. The wise men thought he would be born in a palace in Jerusalem, when he was actually in a backwater called Bethlehem. And when they do meet him, it is quickly clear that they need to return home ‘by a different way’ - things have changed, they have changed, and they have to follow a different road from now on. Your journey to meeting Jesus and knowing who he really is may well take you to unexpected places, and you may meet him in unexpected people - and when you come to stand before him and see him for who he really is, you will be changed. You will have to return home by a different route.
Don’t travel alone
The answers lie in Scripture
Expect the unexpected
4 tips from the wise men to you, as you search for your epiphany. - for the first time, or again - for the moment when you say ‘ohhh, Jesus, that’s who you are!’
Share a time when you've had an 'epiphany' moment about something in ordinary life
Share a time when you've had an epiphany moment about God or your faith.
Read Matthew 16:13-18. What strikes you about it? If Jesus asked you 'who do you say I am?', how would you answer?
How would you describe Jesus to someone who had never heard of him?
The sermon gives four tips that the Magi offer as we seek to know Jesus. Which of the tips is most helpful to you? Which do you need most of at the moment? Which do you find most difficult?