"Epiphany" was celebrated in many churches yesterday while pastors referenced the story of the Magi and told how they came to recognize and worship the King---Jesus.
The Magi were seekers of truth among other things, most likely coming from what we know as Iraq and Iran. Because the Jewish people had been dispersed throughout the Middle East, first by the Assyrians and later by the Babylonians, they had created enclaves throughout the area, resulting in many becoming familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures and the promise of a coming Messiah.
The Magi referenced Micah 5:2 when they began asking about, "He who has been born King of the Jews" recorded in Matthew 2:1 thru 12.
It was the title "King" that bothered Herod the king and caused him to contact the Magi, soliciting their help in finding this newborn "King," explaining that he, too, wanted to worship Him.
This, of course, was coming from a man who was known to be a serial killer, having murdered Antipater, his oldest son and heir to the throne, his wife Mariam, two other sons, then hunting down and killing relatives of the previous royal family---the Hasmoneans, descendants of the Maccabees.
As you know, the wise men did not report back to Herod after their encounter with the" King".
Herod, having been shunned by the Magi, became enraged with anger and ordered all male children in Bethlehem, 2 years and younger, to be killed.
A massacre of the innocents. A bloodbath in Bethlehem. An attempt to kill the Truth.
Two very different responses. The king wanted to kill Him. The Magi worshipped Him.
From His conception to His birth, to His death and His resurrection, Jesus and His teachings have polarized people.
He is not a moderate.
His birth struck fear in the hearts of the shepherds.
His birth ignited anger in Herod.
He experienced acceptance and worship from the Magi---the truth seekers.
Throughout His life and ministry, He divided people. In fact we read in John 7:43, "So there was division among the people because of Him."
Jesus Himself said He would create division, even within families (Luke 12:49-53 and Matthew 16).
"Do you think," He said, "I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division" (v.51).
Fear. Anger. Reaction. Misunderstanding. Attacks. Attempts to kill and silence Him.
Or, acceptance and worship. Obedience to His teaching.
He is Truth. The Scriptures are inspired truth, without error. The Truth can divide us or unite us, but will always set us free when accepted.
I believe this divisiveness is critical in our times, both in our culture and even in the Christian church.
A couple of examples:
A keyword in today's society is "inclusiveness". We are told that we should accept "alternative lifestyles," accept behavior that has been previously deemed unacceptable by Scripture. Those who are considered unwilling to do so may be required to receive "sensitivity training." The watchword is "tolerance.".Some Christian churches have made a god of tolerance and so-called diversity in their attempt to be seeker friendly, contextual and "emerging." Yet we find these same people can be quite intolerant of any viewpoint that does not tolerate every kind of behavior. Any deviation from this standard of tolerance is considered intolerable, and there are efforts in our country to make it illegal to dissent on these issues. We are on the threshold of certain biblical teachings (i.e., Romans chapter 1, etc.) becoming considered hate speech.
A social and cultural bloodbath of sorts for those who do not conform.
Jesus was never tolerant of evil. He defined evil and sin. He reached out to the sinner in love, but he hated sin. When a woman was found in adultery, Jesus did not say, "Your lifestyle is fine." He said, "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:11).
Scripture teaches that those who practice certain lifestyles and behaviors will not inherit the kingdom of God and will incur God's wrath (Ephesians 5:5-7; Colossians 3:5-6; Galatians 5:19; see Romans 1:18-32; Revelation 21:8).
Tolerance and acceptance of every conceivable kind of behavior is not only taught but demanded in today's culture. However, Jesus drew a sharp line of division. He said that some behavior is sinful and should not be tolerated. He said that some things are good and some things are evil, and the evil cannot be tolerated or accepted.
B. Moral Relativity
Closely related to this teaching of tolerance is the concept of moral relativity. We are told there are no moral absolutes.
The Bible is very clear. There is good and there is evil, and the two must never be confused. "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter." (Isaiah 5:20) Jesus drew very sharp lines between what was good and what was evil, what was moral and what was immoral. He spoke of those who, "loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." (John 3:19)
C. Universal Religion
There are those, today, who advocate for a universal religion that all can accept. They assert that "all religions are essentially the same" and that ending religious disagreements will promote world peace.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is a strong advocate for this so-called dialog.
Oprah, President Obama, and others have said publicly they are Christians but do not believe Jesus is the "only" way to God, yet Jesus Himself says He is. (John 14:6)
They try to combine features of Eastern religions (such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism), of New Age thinking, and much else, with some of Jesus' ethical teachings, into an amalgam that they hope will be acceptable to all. Seeker friendly.
Scripture does not support this effort.
Jesus declared that the one whom he called Father is "the only true God," (John 17:3) and that no man comes to God except through Jesus (John 14:6; see also Acts 4:12). God repeatedly told his people that he is the only true God. "I am the first and I am the last. Apart from me there is no God." (Isaiah 44:6) "I am God and there is no other." (Isaiah 46:9; see also Isaiah 45:18, 21) Paul wrote, "There is only one God." (Romans 3:30) "There is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live, and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." (1 Corinthians 8:6; see also James 4:12)
New Age teaching asserts that all paths lead, ultimately, to the same mountaintop. Jesus said that there are two paths, or roads. One is broad and leads to eternal destruction. Many travel by it. The other is narrow and leads to eternal life. Few find it (Matthew 7:13-14). We need to choose which road we will follow. We need to "make every effort" to follow the narrow road (Luke 13:24).
The one true God is not Allah, or Buddha, or any of the Hindu gods, or the "gods" of the New Age movement, or "the goddess" of the feminist movement, or some impersonal force or consciousness. It is the God of Scripture whom we must acknowledge, worship and serve if we are to claim the promises of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He requires our exclusive worship.
The Magi knew it. So must we.
Paul expressed the same concern. Speaking of the whole range of "gods" whom the non-Christians worshiped in his day - Greek and Roman gods, Egyptian and Persian gods, and the gods of various "mystery" religions - he wrote, "The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons." (1 Corinthians 10:20-21)
God's position on the matter is clearly articulated by the prophet Jeremiah:
"'Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols. Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror,' declares the Lord. 'My people have committed two sins. They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.'" (Jeremiah 2:11-13).
Our nation was founded on biblical principles. Our Founders believed that, without personal morality based on a strong Christian religion and an embrace of biblical teachings, democracy could not survive.
America is attempting to "change her gods."
This new year of 2011 must be a year of Vigilance and Discernment and Prayer for those who have "found Him." A year of "epiphany" for those who have not.
And a year of action for all who believe in eternal Judeo-Christian principles and values and the One who gave them--- who believe America is a nation of God ordained destiny---an exceptional nation, a city on a hill.
Thank you for supporting us in this advocacy and action.
Faith and Freedom
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