Sermon Date: January 6, 0908
Sermon By: Pastor Dale Raether
Scripture: Ephesians 3:2-12
God's Epiphany to Me
For centuries Christians celebrated Epiphany with as much joy as we celebrate Christmas. Perhaps one reason for that is Advent used as to be a time for soul searching and preparations; and then they’d have their parties during the 12 days of Christmas. We on the other hand start the Christmas music and parties right after Thanksgiving so by December 31, we’re done. However, I think there may be an even deeper reason for the change in attitude about Epiphany. Would say most people are amazed that God loves them, or do they just assume God loves them, if they think about it at all? Also, where are we on this? Do we too take His love take His love for granted? Keeping in mind that epiphany means “revealing”, may God’s Word this morning give each of us: An Amazing Epiphany. 1.That God could love sinful me. 2. That God wants to reveal Himself to unbelieving me. 3. That God wants incompetent me to serve Him.
We read, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rulers and authorities refer to ranks of angels just like in the army we have captains, generals, and so forth. The angels were perhaps created on the Fourth Day, when God also created the stars. And so they would have watched as God formed man out of the dust of the ground and gave him a soul. A little while later, Lucifer, who was an archangel, led a third of the angels in a rebellion against God. They lost, of course, and were thrown out into hell. But they are at the same time on here earth, just as good angels are in heaven and at the same time here with us.
Anyway, the good angels watched in horror as Adam and Eve followed Satan and fell into sin. Knowing God’s holiness and how He had just thrown Satan out of heaven, they didn’t see anyway that God would be able to spare His rebellious creatures. What the good angels didn’t know was that God already had a plan. We read, “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.” You know how the angels have joy over one sinner who repents, and maybe you’ve experienced some of that joy too, when someone you care about finally wakes up spiritually. Well, that’s the joy the angels also had as God revealed through His prophets each new detail of His plan for saving man. Then when the promised Savior was finally born, the angel’s joy was so great they just had to sing about it, which is what they did on that first Christmas.
However, someone who was perhaps even more amazed that God could save sinners was Paul. That’s because he started out life hating Jesus and even murdering those who put their trust in Him. Then one day while on his way to Damascus to murder even more Christians, Jesus revealed Himself to Paul. However, Jesus not only forgave Paul, He showed him heaven, and then for the next three years, Jesus taught Paul all that He had done and was doing to bring sinners into heaven.
This stark contrast between what Paul knew he deserved and what God was giving him just blew him away. May we too marvel that the Creator would become a man with us and live a holy life for us, and then suffer our punishment for us! However, this become all the more amazing to us, when we think about how often we still fail to fear, love and trust in Him above all things or to love others as much as He loves them. Nevertheless, because He looks at us through the merits of His Son, regardless of what sins we have committed, it’s right to say it and it’s right to believe it, God loves sinful me. Please join me now in saying this – God loves sinful me. What an amazing epiphany!
However, what if all our life we’ve always been among the “good” people? At one time that’s what Paul had thought about himself. He had been raised a Pharisee. That meant he was always very careful to keep the Old Testament laws. In one sense, that was a good thing, because those laws taught people that there is only one true God and that man must be holy, and the only way a sinner could be reconciled to God and was through the priesthood and the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
Unfortunately, Paul like many Pharisees in his day missed the whole point of the Old Testament laws. He trusted that he had worked so hard keeping them, that he was better than everyone else. He especially trusted he was better than Gentiles, who weren’t even trying to keep the laws. However, since the Old Testament laws pointed to the coming Savior, and since they taught how believers are to feel toward one another for the sake of that Savior, what do you call someone who denies he needs a savior even while looking down on others? Such a person is on unbeliever. In fact, Paul may have been the biggest unbeliever of all, because Gentiles knew very little about God. Paul on the other hand had everything he needed for faith and godliness right there at his finger tips in the Old Testament, yet he did not believe.
Sometimes we can be just like Paul. We have received the full revelation of God’s mystery, for we have seen our Savior’s life, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. We also have His promise to be with us always and to come again in glory to take us to our heavenly home. Yet instead of trusting in Him firmly, what do we do? We doubt, we fear, we pursue the things of this life, instead of reflecting His love. Nevertheless, just as God had revealed Himself to Paul, so He has revealed Himself to us. He did this for more many of us, when we were very small, when we were baptized. And now today God is still revealing Himself to us, even though inexcusable doubts and fears and self-centeredness cling to our sinful nature. Yet God has not given up on us, in fact that’s why He’s brought us here this morning. May we never forget this fact that God wants to reveal Himself to unbelieving me! And now let’s say it together. What an amazing epiphany!
We read on in our text, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” When Paul was growing up and planning what he wanted to do with his life, bringing Gentiles to Christ was dead last on his list. As I said before, he didn’t feel he needed a Savior and so he didn’t care how many Gentiles went to hell. In fact he probably wished they’d all end up there.
What about you, what do you hope to accomplish with your life? In Bible Class this morning, and we’ll be repeating it on Wednesday at 2:00, we talked about how to deal with a friend, who’s caught up in a sinful lifestyle. Is bringing that person to Christ high up on your list? But perhaps you reaction is, “It isn’t me to talk to him/her about spiritual things. I’m not competent for that. St. Paul was very aware that he wasn’t either. Yet God chose him to save Gentiles. Here’s why. As Paul realized how God had saved him as sinful and unbelieving as he was, he just had to tell others, just like the angels had to sing God praises on Christmas night. So, Paul was motivated. Also, when Gentiles then came to faith through the Gospel, Paul’s joy was like the joy of the angels. And so, it’s not like Paul ever felt competent to be a missionary. Rather he often said, “My competency is in Christ.” Yet his motivation and seeing the need and his joy overpowered his fears and his many disappointments.
However there was also another reason why Paul could keep going in this labor of love. We read, “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Everyday Paul would begin his work by praying for the Holy Spirit and His gifts of wisdom, knowledge and understanding. And now let’s get back to what we can do to help those who are caught up in a sinful attitude or lifestyle? Are we competent to deal with them? God help us if we think we are, and God help that person too! Yet let’s remember how God saved us sinners and unbelievers, and then let’s look at their great need, and then let’s pray boldly and confidently that God make us competent! God will hear our prayers, because God wants incompetent me to serve Him. And that’s something we can all say. So, let’s say it – God wants incompetent me to serve Him. What an amazing epiphany!
We read again in our text, “Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me…” Like Paul I do not deserve the privilege of serving in the Gospel ministry. Like Paul I do not deserve that joy whenever I see the fruits of His Word in your life. Yet God graciously gives me these blessings, so that I may grow in His Word even more. However, there is a bitter/sweet side to all this. The more I grow in His Word, the more I see how sin and unbelief still cling to me. On the other hand, seeing this just makes God’s amazing epiphany that much more amazing. And now I want to invite you to join me in celebrating Epiphany. Come often with the Magi to the cradle and see for yourself that the riches of this world are nothing compared to the riches of Christ. Then in the wonder of His love that He would give us salvation and faith, let’s give it our all so that He may be revealed to many more!
Every so often someone will ask me, have they gotten you any help yet? Who are they? You are they! Be ministers of the Gospel with me! For example be a minister of the Gospel in your home or with a group of friends. Read the Scriptures together or read a people’s Bible together. Then guided and strengthened by the Word, say those things that need to be said to those who need to hear it. Yes, at times we’ll stumble and we won’t do very well. But Jesus is with us everyday to restore us and to help and to bless. And so Jesus will continue to be with us everyday, until we see the greatest, most amazing Epiphany of all – we see Him face to face!