Monday, January 6, 2014

Epiphany 2014: God's Answer

Epiphany Sermon 
January 5, 2014
Fr. Philip Eberhart


(click above for Audio)

Happy New Year!  Tomorrow, Jan 6th is the Feast of the Epiphany - the icon of which is the visit to the manger of the Magi - the three wise men.  It marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas and moves us into the season of Epiphany.  The Season of Light -- of revelation - the revelation of Christ, specifically to the Gentiles - the non-Jews.  Those who Paul, in the previous chapter of Ephesians, said were ..."without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world."   That is a pretty good description of all of us in our BC life.

So Epiphany is the celebration of OUR coming to Christ and of the fact that this message is meant for the entire world!

I want to consider that in the light of Paul's letter this morning:   God's Answer to the problem of sin and rebellion in mankind - and our subsequent part in that Answer - as The Church of Jesus Christ.  God started answering before the question was asked - and God continues to answer today - January 5, 2014.

Turn back to the Epistle reading this morning, as Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, remarks about his calling and gifting from God, the Holy Spirit, to be who and what he was - AFTER he got knocked off his horse, blinded and ... well ... after God got his attention!  Paul went through a direct revelation of Jesus, on the road to Damascus, in the ministry of Ananias in Damascus and in Arabia in the subsequent three years.  We know little about that time, but I am sure that it was a very intimate time with the presence of Jesus - what the disciples had with Jesus in person, Paul had with Jesus in Spirit!  Literally, in and by the Spirit of God.  The difference was that the disciples got 40 days of time with Jesus "after the scales fell from their eyes," after the resurrection of our Lord - Paul had three years with Jesus, by His Spirit, after the scales fell off in Damascus.  Ever wonder why Paul is the author of almost 2/3 of the NT.  Jesus had a graduate student!  A PhD student, if you will.  His name was Saul of Tarsus!  Now Paul.  

Paul was a Jew of the diaspora - the dispersion.  He was born and grew up as a Jew in the Gentile world, in Tarsus.  Tarsus was in Cilicia, one of its main cities, a place of great learning on par with even Athens and Alexandria.  In modern day Turkey, Tarsus was the birthplace of Paul, but he did his "graduate work" in Jerusalem, at the feet of the great Jewish teacher, Gamaliel.  In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul lays out his pedigree as a Jew.  He called it "reasons for confidence in the flesh..."

Circumcised on the eighth day...
Of the stock of Israel...
Of the tribe of Benjamin...
A Hebrew of the Hebrews...
A Religious lawyer or Pharisee...
Zealous for his religion, so much so that he actively persecuted the Church.
Blameless, according to the righteousness that is in the Law !!

A pretty good pedigree for a Jew of the Diaspora.  But God had other plans.

After Saul was knocked from his horse on the road to Damascus, God spoke to Ananias, a believer in Damascus:
"Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake."

With that in mind - and the following three years of personal tutoring that he had in Arabia (cf Gal 1:15-19) - Paul begins his missionary activity as Apostle to the Gentiles.  He is a fascinating study.

Jump to the end of his ministry - during his imprisonment in Rome and before his death.  He is writing to the churches he has founded and where he spend a great deal of time, in the city and region of Ephesus.  This letter is, among his pastoral letters, one of the most precise summations of his faith in the gospel and its power for salvation - of what he refers to as the MYSTERY.
A mystery that he names in these verses:  that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

God's plan through the ages was to include all mankind in the redemption that came through the Jewish people;  from the first covenant spoken to Abraham, the purpose was that the whole world would be blessed through him!  That all of us would have "access" to the presence of God, through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit.  And this is the message of Epiphany in the church!
As Paul described us in the second chapter, I mentioned before:  "without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world."  But Paul follows this statement with one of his great two-word U-turns!!  BUT NOW...  [like THEREFORE, whenever you see "BUT NOW" you had better pay attention!]

But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:13)  

Friends, the "mystery" is that this was God's plan from the very beginning!  Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, was intended to be the savior of the whole world - he was "slain from before the foundation of the world."  Paul talks about this over and over and over in his letters.  He ends one section that is perhaps the longest consideration of this in Romans 11 with these words:

"For just as you [Gentiles] once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience,
so these [Jews]  also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy.
For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all."
"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! 
How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!"

Now, turn back with me to the reading from Ephesians for today:  
Ephesians 3:1-12


I want to pick up some of these phrases from Paul that recur and then turn to one final consideration.

This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles-- for surely you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

So what have we heard already:

Paul's work among the Gentiles was by Commission of Jesus Christ, personally -- The Commission of God's Grace

That, "the mystery was made known to me by revelation" - reference Acts and Galatians.

That this is the MYSTERY OF CHRIST:  that the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ through the Gospel.

Paul then goes back and restates these points again from a different perspective:

The gift of God's grace (Paul's commission) that was given me by the working of His power (in revelation by the Spirit)!   (reference Acts 9 and following)

Though I am least, this grace was... to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ  AND TO
make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;

Now some more PAY ATTENTION WORDS:   SO THAT...  (THEREFORE ....;   BUT NOW.... !)  PAY ATTENTION HERE!!!

So that... now what are the next three words?  This is a test!

THROUGH THE CHURCH

Did you hear that?   Say it aloud:   Through the church...    again:  Through the church ...       one more time:  Through the church!

Let me finish the sentence:
through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 
This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 
in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.
Here friends, is our part!  

We are to manifest ... to show the "wisdom of God in its rich variety"  - look around you this morning ...
you are looking at those who show "The wisdom of God in its rich variety"  

And to whom do we show it - this wisdom - "to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."

And how do we show it to them?   Does anyone have an actual bible open?  What is the next word beyond our reading?
Anyone?

THEREFORE!

What we have just heard is the setting - the preamble if you will - to the great Apostolic pastoral prayer of Paul for the church in the last half of this chapter

He prays for their (and by extension, our) life in Christ:

"for this reason I bow my knees...  
    [praying for] strength in your inner man, through the power of the Spirit ... so that ... 
      Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith ... 
          you may be rooted and grounded in love ...  
               comprehending the breadth and length, 
                             the height and depth of God's love ...
                    to know (by experience) Christ's love ...
                         to be filled up with all the fullness of God!"

This is how the whole world - including the principalities and powers of the air - will know of the "wisdom of God in its
rich variety!"   Through us, my friends.  Through the church.  look around you.  and say, "Amen!"

Let's pray -

Father, for this reason we bow our knees before you, echoing Paul's prayer for us:

Give us strength in our inner man, through the power of your Spirit so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.
Help us, Lord Jesus, to subsequently be rooted down and grounded in your love, so that we may come to comprehend its
breadth and length, its height and depth - to come to know your love in our experience, day to day, and finally, may we come
to be filled up with all the fullness of God!

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we can ask or even imagine.  By His mighty power that is at work within us... To Him be glory in the church.   

That's in you and me, friends.  And in our community and fellowship, our corporate witness and life together.  

Glory in the Church - from generation to generation, for all time.  Amen.

Welcome to 2014!

2 comments:

  1. This was wonderful! I never connected with the visit of the Magi as being the delivery of salvation to the Gentiles. It was right there before me, but I never put it together. Thank you! Is there any further connection with spreading the Gospel in those King's lands during the Apostle's time?

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  2. Rochelle and Daniel
    The visit of the Magi is the clearest symbol of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the promise of salvation brought by Jesus advent. We know that the church spread very quickly in all directions. Likely many of the 3,000 who were baptised and "added to the church on Pentecost were not from Jerusalem. As the went home they took the Gospel and the Church with them, "gossiping the gospel"as they went. The text of Acts mentions believers in Syria, in Ethiopia, and history tells us that Thomas went east and south, eventually to India. The spread of the Kingdom of God was sudden and pervasive; so much so that the authorities in Philippi exclaimed tht these (Paul and Silas) were some of the men who had "turned the world upside down! All in one or two generations after the Cross.

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