The Invasion Begins
January 05, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 60:1-6 Matthew 2:1-12 Ephesians 3:1-12
This week, I was reading a description of what would happen if China decided to reclaim Taiwan by force, remove its democracy, and return it to the control of their communist central authority. While no one thinks that such a thing is imminent, tensions across the Taiwan straight are considered to be one of the key world flashpoints that are most likely to ignite another world war. If such a thing were to happen, China would need to move over a million troops across the Taiwan straight in order to counter the two million reservists in Taiwan’s army. Due to our treaties with Taiwan, such a conflict would immediately draw in the United States and result in the almost immediate activation of more than 800,000 Reserve and National Guard troops. Losses to the United States in such a conflict are expected to exceed those of the entire Vietnam War in just the first few weeks and could ultimately rival our losses in World War Two. The losses to both Taiwan and China would be many times worse.
But, if there is one thing that we learned as we watched the invasions of Normandy, Anzio, North Africa, Korea, and other places, it is that whenever one nation invades another, great strength is required, and much blood is likely to be shed. And, at least in our imagination, and in the 1996 movie, Independence Day, with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, an invasion of another world would be similarly chaotic and lethal.
But maybe not.
In the story of God’s kingdom contained in scripture, there is a moment when God invades our world. Much like the other invasions that we mentioned, God’s intention was to fundamentally transform an alien world, but unlike those other invasions, God’s methods were substantially different. We begin this morning by returning, once again to the writings of the prophet Isaiah found in Isaiah 60:1-6 in which God proclaims the eventual results of his invasion and the installation of his messiah as king.
60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you:
All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar,
and your daughters are carried on the hip.
5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
6 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense
and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.
God declares that entire nations will be drawn to follow the messiah, the wealth of the world’s oceans and that of the world’s nations would be brought to him, and even nations that had been historically hostile to Israel would come to him praising God and bearing gifts of camels, gold, and incense.
Some of those things happen in the Christmas story but the story of the Magi is only the beginning. The story that we read in Matthew 2:1-12 represents not the end, but the very beginning of God’s invasion of the earth.
2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Jesus is not yet out of diapers and has, perhaps, just learned to walk, when Magi from the east, perhaps from a nation descended from the Babylonian empire that once conquered and ruled over Israel, come to worship him. It is likely that the magi had read the writings of the prophet Daniel, which incidentally is the only book of the Bible originally written, at least in part, in Aramaic, the language of Babylon. Daniel wrote of the messiah that God would send to Israel and even gave an accurate time when that messiah would arrive. Israel’s scholars forgot, but it seems that the magi did not. They remembered Daniel’s writings, they saw the star over Bethlehem, and they journeyed months, or even years, to see the messiah, to worship him, and to bring him gifts.
Why is that important to us? In Ephesians 3:1-12, Paul explains it this way:
3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Paul was called, by Jesus Christ, on the road to Damascus, to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. These were the people who were not traditionally Jewish, or from the family of Abraham. Paul says that the mystery of Jesus Christ is that through the gospel of Jesus Christ, “the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together, of one body, and sharers together in the promise of Jesus Christ. But the beginning of that message, the beachhead of the invasion of this imperfect world by a holy and perfect God, is found in the Christmas story and the arrival of the magi.
Far from being an invasion that depended upon strength, military might, and great bloodshed, God orchestrated his invasion of our world by sending a tiny baby to a little country town, and to parents that were common, poor, and uneducated (by our standards). But from that humble beachhead, the gospel message of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness of all people has circumnavigated the globe.
That baby in a manger was the beachhead of God’s invasion and the arrival of the magi symbolized the “breaking out” of that invasion into the world at large. Today that invasion continues. God has always intended to reclaim all his children, but his message of forgiveness, redemption, and restoration has not yet reached everyone. Just as the magi returned to their own country carrying with them the good news of the messiah’s arrival, and just as Paul was called to carry that same goof news to the Gentiles, that work continues in us today. We are the Gentiles that were welcomed by Jesus and, as his adopted, and beloved children, we have inherited the work of his invasion of the world. His mission has become our mission. Never forget these last words of Jesus’ to his disciples as he left the earth:
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
God’s invasion of the world began in a manger, broke out into the world through the magi, called Paul as it’s evangelist, and continues in us today. We carry with us God’s invasion of transformation. We carry with us the good news of forgiveness, redemption, restoration, hope, and love.
Therefore go… and make disciples.
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