No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. (John 1:18, NLT)
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Kathrin Burleson’s painting, which accompanies today’s post, portrays three revelatory events traditionally associated with the Feast of Epiphany, which the church marks tomorrow. The water pot in the foreground recalls the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, where Jesus turned water into wine. The star in the distance was followed by magi from the east, who ascertained by it that Israel’s Messiah had been born. And the glorious light outshining the star speaks of the Babe to whom that star pointed.
Epiphany and the season that follows celebrates God making himself known to us through Jesus. It is the season of revelation.
In the movement of the Church Year, Epiphany brings the Christmas cycle to its climax. In Advent, we long for God’s appearing and remember his promises. In Christmastide we celebrate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. In Epiphany, we mark various ways that Jesus manifested God’s glory to all people. Though Eastern and Western churches mark the time and days somewhat differently, in both cases we are celebrating the dawning and brilliance of the Light of the World.
Scriptures and emphases in the time after Epiphany include:
- The baptism of Christ
- The calling of the disciples
- The teaching and training of the disciples
- The ministry and miracles of Jesus
- The transfiguration of Christ
This covers the first major part of the Gospel story. Epiphany is a season in which we reflect on something evangelicals have often placed less emphasis upon — the life and ministry of Jesus — in order to focus on what they perceive as the more propositional, doctrinal teaching of Paul and the other apostles. In contrast, ministers in the historic churches usually preach the Gospel text from the lectionary on most Sundays. I have come to prefer that and find that it helps keep Christ at the center of our worship. I wrote a post arguing that Christians, like Jews, have a “canon within a canon,” and that the Gospels are the most fundamental texts of our faith. What the Torah is to the Hebrew Bible, the Gospel (as recorded in the Gospels/Acts) is to the New Testament.
Here is Matthew’s description of Jesus’ ministry:
Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. News about him spread as far as Syria, and people soon began bringing to him all who were sick. And whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon possessed or epileptic or paralyzed — he healed them all. Large crowds followed him wherever he went — people from Galilee, the Ten Towns, Jerusalem, from all over Judea, and from east of the Jordan River. (Matthew 4:23-25)
Epiphany and the days to come will lead us on a journey with Jesus through this ministry and take us to the beginning of Lent. Epiphany ends with a remarkable revelation of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17). And that marks a turning point in his ministry: “From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead” (Matt 16:21).
The second major movement of Jesus’ ministry that starts at that point focuses less on the crowds and more on the disciples, teaching them what it means to follow Jesus to the cross. This is the journey we will take in the Lenten season — an ascent to Jerusalem with Jesus, a descent to Golgotha.
But for now, in these days following Epiphany, it is time for one remarkable Jesus-prompted surprise and delight after another! Our minds boggle and heads shake at the insightful words Jesus speaks. Our jaws drop in amazed wonder to see him exercise power over nature, bring wholeness to broken lives, and restore vitality where death once reigned. Fear and dread knot our stomachs as cosmic conflict erupts. But Christ speaks with authority, and all is peace.
These days also remind us that Jesus came to spread the light of love of God to everybody. The visit of the magi begins to answer the prayer of Psalm 72:
May the king’s rule be refreshing like spring rain on freshly cut grass,
like the showers that water the earth.
May all the godly flourish during his reign.
May there be abundant prosperity until the moon is no more.
May he reign from sea to sea,
and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.
Desert nomads will bow before him;
his enemies will fall before him in the dust.
The western kings of Tarshish and other distant lands
will bring him tribute.
The eastern kings of Sheba and Seba
will bring him gifts.
All kings will bow before him, and all nations will serve him.
He will rescue the poor when they cry to him;
he will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them.
He feels pity for the weak and the needy,
and he will rescue them.
He will redeem them from oppression and violence,
for their lives are precious to him.
Long live the king!
May the gold of Sheba be given to him.
May the people always pray for him
and bless him all day long.
May there be abundant grain throughout the land,
flourishing even on the hilltops.
May the fruit trees flourish like the trees of Lebanon,
and may the people thrive like grass in a field.
May the king’s name endure forever;
may it continue as long as the sun shines.
May all nations be blessed through him
and bring him praise.
Therefore, Epiphany is a wonderful time for the church to focus in a special way on the Missio Dei: God’s mission in the world. Hearing and seeing our Savior at work, we long that he would call us to join him in bringing salvation and shalom to others. We jump at the chance when we hear him say, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).
Leaving the “holy huddle,” we go out into the neighborhoods, towns, and cities where we live to relate, listen, befriend, help, comfort, support, and share Good News with those around us in Jesus’ name, in the authority of his Kingdom, and in the power of his Spirit.
An Encouragement for Epiphany
Gold from Ophir is too slight,
away, away with vain gifts
that you break from the earth!
Jesus wants to have your heart.
Give this, o Christian flock,
to Jesus for the new year!
Text by Paul Gerhardt, from Bach Cantata BWV 65