Jan 4, 2021
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Thanks for joining me today for “A Little Walk with God.” I’m your host Richard Agee.
We probably all celebrate the fact 2020 passed away a few days ago, and 2021 began. But 2021 will only improve if we allow God to improve us one by one. Only by letting his Spirit change us internally will this year be any better than last for you. Well, that’s tidbit number one, but not what we will talk about today.
This week we celebrate Epiphany. It’s an exciting day in the Christian calendar, observed in various ways across the Christian world. The word itself takes on a definition used outside religious connotations today, and when you look in the dictionary, you’ll find the following:
The Greek word is seldom used in the New Testament and generally used with Jesus’ second coming, rather than his birth. In New Testament times, the term more commonly found its way into secular writing, referring to visitations by one of the panthea of gods worshipped by the pagans.
Today, outside of the Christmas season, we most often hear the word used to describe a remarkable or sudden discovery. For instance, the COVID vaccine creators might have had an epiphany as they found the key to finally finding the answer to fighting the disease.
But on the Christian calendar, January 6th marks the Epiphany, the festival commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi. Why January 6th and not some other day? The Gregorian calendar and Julian calendars didn’t match and weren’t even around when Jesus was born. I expect Mary and Joseph didn’t even own a calendar. Most people didn’t in those days. Days of the week were kept to remember sabbaths, but otherwise, phases of the moon were enough to keep up with the months of the Jewish calendar. The priest let you know when sacrifices came due. No one needed to set an appointment for 9:15 on March 24th. Businesses and personal lives just didn’t work that way. So why January 6th?
The best explanation may come from examining the habits of early Christians in their worship. Arrangements of the earliest ancient manuscripts of the gospels follow a liturgical pattern. We assume the original manuscripts were probably written in letter form. Still, as early Christians gathered, read, and studies them, the new arrangement made it easier to incorporate this new faith into their lives. If a congregation started the year reading Mark, their first reading might have been the baptism of Jesus, since most scholars believe Mark wrote his gospel first. They would have found these words:
This is the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It began as the prophet Isaiah had written:
“God said, ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you
to open the way for you.’
Someone is shouting in the desert,
‘Get the road ready for the Lord;
make a straight path for him to travel!’”
So John appeared in the desert, baptizing and preaching. “Turn away from your sins and be baptized,” he told the people, “and God will forgive your sins.” Many people from the province of Judea and the city of Jerusalem went out to hear John. They confessed their sins, and he baptized them in the Jordan River.
John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. He announced to the people, “The man who will come after me is much greater than I am. I am not good enough even to bend down and untie his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Not long afterward Jesus came from Nazareth in the province of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. As soon as Jesus came up out of the water, he saw heaven opening and the Spirit coming down on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.” (Mark 1:1-11 GNT)
From reading historical records from the early church leaders, scholars also believe that the first Epiphany celebrations included the commemoration of not just the visit of the Magi, but also Jesus baptism, and possibly his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. Each of these three events marks the revelation of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. His actions at Cana proved his abilities as a prophet like Elijah, who performed incredible miracles through God's power. His baptism by John revealed him as the son of God to the Jews. His visit by the Magi presented the new King to the Gentile world. The Magi’s visit to King Herod made the arrival of the Messiah known to the political world through messaging that must have rippled through the Roman empire at the time.
Today, we separate traditionally separate the other events from the Magi's visit in celebrating Epiphany and use the passage in Matthew that describes their visit to remember the incredible story of God’s revelation of Jesus to the world. It goes like this:
Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the time when Herod was king. Soon afterward, some men who studied the stars came from the East to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star when it came up in the east, and we have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard about this, he was very upset, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the teachers of the Law and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?”
“In the town of Bethlehem in Judea,” they answered. “For this is what the prophet wrote:
‘Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
you are by no means the least of the leading cities of Judah;
for from you will come a leader
who will guide my people Israel.’”
So Herod called the visitors from the East to a secret meeting and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem with these instructions: “Go and make a careful search for the child; and when you find him, let me know, so that I too may go and worship him.”
And so they left, and on their way they saw the same star they had seen in the East. When they saw it, how happy they were, what joy was theirs! It went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. They went into the house, and when they saw the child with his mother Mary, they knelt down and worshiped him. They brought out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and presented them to him.
Then they returned to their country by another road, since God had warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod. (Matthew 2:1-12 GNT)
Why is it important we celebrate Epiphany? First, It reminds us of God’s intent to restore our relationship with him. He wants an intimate relationship with us as he had with Adam and Eve before the fall. Second, it reminds us of God’s intent to restore humanity’s original purpose to care for his creation. Jesus came to show us what true humanity looks and acts like, caring for and loving humankind and God’s creation. God wants to renew that in us. Third, Epiphany reminds us God will restore heaven and earth, recreating it to its former glory repopulating it with those he redeems, called by his name, those who believe in him for salvation.
Epiphany reminds us God had a plan ready in the event we failed. We did, and he put his plan into place. Adam and Eve invoked the punishment on all of humanity when they disobeyed God’s command in the Garden of Eden, but God will restore the garden one day. It would take the reversal of the curse of death for it to happen, though. Humans had to pay the penalty for sin, and humans had to conquer death. A human had to do that. The only way for it to happen was through God’s plan to become human and pay the penalty and conquer death himself. So he did – in Jesus.
For those who believe in Jesus as the son of God, who came to pay the penalty for my sin and yours, who died on a cruel cross, who rose from the dead, conquering death for all time, the curse is lifted. Restoration began with his resurrection. A new heaven and new earth are in the making as his Spirit comes to reside in us, empowering us with new life in him.
Epiphany celebrates that revelation. Take time this week to stop and remember, not just the Magi finding him in Bethlehem and bowing at his feet, but the opportunity we also have to bow at the feet of the one who conquered death, lifted the curse, and gives new life to all who believe in him. Epiphany is a sudden revelation or insight, a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being, the celebration of Jesus’ revelation to us. Make his coming a real epiphany in your life today and every day.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible-based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn’t, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.
Scriptures marked GNT are taken from the Good News Translation®: Scriptures taken from the Good News Translation® (Today’s English Version, Second Edition) Copyright © 1992 American Bible Society. All rights reserved.