January 5 & 6, 2019 – Epiphany
1 Kings 10: 1-9
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
To what extremes would you go to accomplish your goals in life? Would you give up sugar and wheat to get healthier? Would you sell your TV or give up your cell phone to get away from technology? Would you sell your car to help the environment? How far would you go?
Today we celebrate Epiphany. It’s sometimes called the Gentile’s Christmas. It’s a day set aside to thank God that he has revealed himself as the Savior of not just the Jews, but of the Gentiles or non-Jews too. It’s often spent focused on the Magi or Wise Men who came from the East. We often make a lot of assumptions about those Wise Men and ironically, have no idea how far they traveled. We don’t know where they started. It just says, “from the East.”
But we do have another account in the Bible of a woman who showed just how far she was willing to go to worship the true God. The queen of Sheba heard about Solomon and that his fame “was connected with the fame of the Lord.” And she wanted to know more. How far would she go? She would go to any lengths to know more of Solomon and his wealth, and of his God.
How far would you go? To what extremes would you go to learn more about God and his eternal love for you? To what extent would you put yourself out to worship him? Today we want to consider the question prompted by the queen of Sheba: How Far Would You Go to Honor Jesus?
Almost all modern scholars agree that Sheba was in southwest Arabia, modern day Yemen. That’s 1,367 miles from Jerusalem. To put that into perspective, that’s about how far it is from here to Seattle, Washington or Madison, Wisconsin. And the queen of Sheba couldn’t fly to Jerusalem. She couldn’t drive. And yet, here’s a woman willing to travel in a camel-drawn caravan, not just to see the glamour of the king’s life, but to learn more about the true God.
“The Queen of Sheba heard about Solomon’s fame, which was connected with the fame of the Lord, so she came to test him with hard questions. She came to Jerusalem with a very great entourage—with camels carrying spices and a large quantity of gold and precious stones. She came to Solomon and told him everything that was on her heart.” She wanted to have her questions about his God answered. And what really took her breath away? The relationship Solomon had with his God. “The queen of Sheba saw… the whole burnt offerings which he offered at the House of the Lord, it took her breath away.”
So in the end she praised God: “May the Lord your God be blessed, who was pleased to put you on the throne of Israel. Because the Lord loves Israel forever, he made you king to administer justice and righteousness.”
And if you’re still doubting that the queen of Sheba was a believer, listen to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 12:42: “The Queen of the South will be raised up in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon. But one even greater than Solomon is here.”
Incredible, isn’t it, that this woman who lived 1,367 miles away from Jerusalem should even know the true God? Perhaps one of Solomon’s merchant ships carried the news to Southern Arabia. Incredible, isn’t it that this woman who lived 1,367 miles away from Jerusalem should come to believe that this God of Israel was the true and only God? The Holy Spirit is amazing in his work. Incredible, isn’t it that this woman who lived 1,367 miles away from Jerusalem should travel so far to learn more about God and to worship him?
How far would you be willing to go to worship God? How far is your drive in to church? What if the only church was in Tucson? Would you still worship as often as you do? What if it was up in Winslow? Would you go then?
Well, the truth is your church isn’t that far away. So how far are you willing to go to grow in your faith? Are you willing to make the trip twice a week? Or is that too far to go so often? The truth is, you don’t even have to go that far to grow in your faith. You all have Bibles in your own homes. You can get a free app for your phone. You have the Meditations. You don’t have to leave your bed to learn more about your Savior. But are you willing to even go that far to pick up the phone or Bible and read a few chapters of God’s love letter to you?
Imagine you’re the owner of a small business. And as your business grows, you hire a few more staff. But one of your employees refuses to do any of the work he was told to do unless you stand right over his shoulder threatening to fire him unless he did it. He never takes any initiative to do anything on his own. He’s unwilling to be inconvenienced in the slightest for the sake of the company. What would you do? Of course you’d fire him.
Well, we deserve to be fired by God for our apathy toward him, his worship and his Word. We deserve the fires of hell for refusing to be inconvenienced in our selfish pursuits in order to serve him. We deserve to be sent more than 1,367 miles away from God, but to spend eternity banished from him and his heaven. That’s what we deserve. But we don’t get it because the queen of Sheba wasn’t the only one willing to travel so far, with such commitment, passion, and zeal. There was another who traveled even further to save you and me.
How far would Jesus go to save us? He left heaven to come to earth. That distance is infinitely greater than 1,367 miles. He left his glory to be born in a stable, to live in poverty, to take the abuse of other men. He traveled with determined resolution every step that took him to the cross, to separation from God the Father in a hell we can never imagine, to pay for our apathy, our selfishness, our every sin, to keep us not just in his company, but in his family.
And what’s more, he sent the Holy Spirit to travel to the ends of the earth to carry that Gospel message to you and me. Think of how far Jerusalem is from Arizona. Yet, he sent missionaries, pastors, and teachers all the way here to share with us that mystery now revealed: that God’s grace is for all. It’s for Arabic queens, for Eastern scholars, for Roman Gentiles, and for you and me. We don’t have to travel to Jerusalem to learn about Jesus. The Gospel has been brought to us all the way out here in Arizona. That’s what God has done for you with the Gospel. He’s delivered it right to your doorstep because nothing would stop him from rescuing you and bringing you into his family. And nothing will stop him from rescuing you and bringing you into his heaven. That’s how far he’s willing to go for you!
“May the Lord your God be blessed, who was pleased to put you …” not just on a throne, but into his family through your faith in Jesus who will give you not just a little wealth, but the riches of heaven. And right now, you have the Lord’s eternal love because of what Jesus has done for you. You are his child, dearly loved, fully redeemed and living under his caring eyes.
So, how far are you willing to go to thank him? Would you be willing to give back to him some of the gifts he’s given to you? Because of the Lord’s eternal love for you, he has blessed you with so much. You have many things that the queen of Sheba and King Solomon never dreamed of: Motorized vehicles, refrigerators with foods they’d never imagined, TV’s and microwaves, computers and smart phones, tools at our disposal to free up more time to serve God.
And in a sense, you even have more wisdom than Solomon. You have seen the prophecies fulfilled. You have the New Testament. You know exactly what Jesus did to pay for your sin, where he had only vague notions. In wisdom and wealth, you have far exceeded Solomon.
So let’s use our free time, let’s use our wisdom, let’s use our wealth to do all we can to serve our Savior in thanks for the way he served us. Let’s bring our very best to him just as the queen of Sheba gave her best gifts to King Solomon. Let’s offer such great sacrifices of thanks to him that when others see them they are just as overwhelmed as the queen of Sheba was at Solomon’s sacrifices.
And the question is not just, “How far would you go to honor Jesus.” In our Epiphany service today we saw the star of Bethlehem and the wisdom of Solomon lead people to the true God. But Solomon’s wisdom and Bethlehem’s star are not present today to lead people to visit the Savior. So for the Epiphany to really be much of an epiphany at all to people today, someone’s going to have to go to them, someone who’s not knows the Savior, but enjoys a close, ongoing relationship with him. Will it be you? Will you be instrumental in 2019 in helping someone else come to know Jesus? Jesus is the Savior of all people. Go to great lengths to worship him. Go to great lengths to bring others to him. Amen.