Epiphany: The Big Reveal

Things into which angels long to look

William Phelps taught English literature at Yale for forty-one years until his retirement in 1933.

William Lyon Phelps.
William Vandivert—Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Marking an examination paper shortly before Christmas one year, Phelps came across the note: “God only knows the answer to this question. Merry Christmas.” Phelps returned the paper with this note: “God gets an A. You get an F. Happy New Year.”

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus, he marvels in what he describes as the “mystery of God’s will”. A mystery is something that “God only knows”.

We all love a good mystery. Mysteries have tremendous power; the unknowns keep us engaged and drive us to seek a resolution to the mystery. As in any good mystery, with the big reveal, we learn who did it and how.

The story of salvation is in many ways an unfolding mystery. There are certain things that we know and have clues about from God’s revelations to Abraham, Moses, David and the Prophets of the Old Testament. God gave a lot of clues.

The Apostle Peter tells us that we now know things even the prophets and angels of God longed to see:

It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12).

The people of old knew that God had a plan to save the world. They knew that central to the plan was the nation of Israel, and specifically a Messianic king who would be in the line of King David.

But, as Paul writes, there were certain things about the story of salvation that remained hidden in the councils of God until the big moment of revelation. The big reveal is called the Epiphany!

First: who? Who will be the Messiah? We now know that Jesus Christ, the incarnate son of God, is the one who will save the world. No one would have expected that a carpenter’s son from Nazareth would amount to much. Yet everything now points to him and his birth, ministry, death and resurrection.

The big reveal is that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except by him ( John 14:6).

How will God save the world? We now know from the big reveal that through the proclamation of the Gospel message about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God will convert the hearts of the people of this world. He will liberate them from the powers of death and darkness, save their souls, and grant them eternal life.

As with any epiphany we can be surprised and shocked at the way things turn out. Who could fathom the sheer magnitude of the salvation of God as he converts the people of the world to Jesus? The Lord continues to surprise and amaze!

You and I have the tremendous privilege of knowing the big reveal to life’s most intriguing mystery. God has shown us how he will save this sinful and fallen world, and who has accomplished it. This is a revelation that is too important to keep hidden and secret. Our privilege, duty and calling is to make known the mystery of the will of God to a world that desperately needs to see the light of the Gospel.

Let your light shine!

Guarding the Faith

“O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge,’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.” – 1 Timothy 6:20-21

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_the_Galatians#/media/File:File%22-Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles%22_by_Valentin_de_Boulogne.jpg

Paul’s final charge to Timothy is to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (6:20). As a minister of the Gospel, Timothy is being sent into a battle on the front lines for the very Gospel itself. He needs strong encouragement to see the importance of the task and ministry with which he has been entrusted.

The need for Paul’s letter was occasioned for two main reasons: geography and time. First, Paul was simply not able to be in more than one place at a time. The delegation of leadership to others was an essential task for Paul if there was to be a geographically broad gospel movement. As Paul traveled on his missionary journeys moving from region to region, city to city, town to town, many new congregations were planted. New leadership had to be developed in each region, city, and town. Coordination and support of those various congregations also became mission-critical for the gospel.

The second issue was related to time. Paul was always keenly aware that his days of “fruitful ministry” were numbered. The issue of succession was critically important to Paul as he empowered Timothy to lead and then to identify and empower more leaders for the churches.

In this way, we see the first examples of succession and delegation at work in the church in the personal and pastoral relationship between Timothy and Paul. For Paul, the issue is not merely the passing of a torch humanly speaking, but for him it was critically important that the content and character of the gospel be guarded in order that it may be passed on faithfully to the next generation of leaders.

As each generation considers its own faith, it must also keep in mind the needs of the next generation of believers. We are given a sacred trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ, guarding the faith carefully so that it can be passed on.

In what ways are you delegating, passing on, and guarding the faith which has been entrusted to you?


This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge here.

We Will Not Neglect the House of Our God

Prophet_nehemiahIn the Old Testament, the testimony of the people was to keep covenant and maintain the Temple through faithful worship, offerings, and tithes. They had promised, “We will not neglect the House of our God” (Nehemiah 10:39). In chapter 13, Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and finds that they have indeed broken their commitment. They were neglecting the house of their God in their stewardship of four critical areas: space, resources, time, and relationships. We often do the same.

The first neglect was caused when Eliashab, the priest in charge of the temple chambers, allowed a foreigner to dwell in a room which had a specific purpose for offerings to the Lord. Nehemiah kicked him out and restored the chamber for its godly purpose (13:4-9). In our own lives, are there inappropriate things cluttering up key spaces that should be properly devoted to godly use?

A second neglect was caused by a failure to bring the appointed offerings to the Levites, thus forcing them to abandon the service of worship in order to provide for their families (13:10-14). Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). Our patterns of giving can reveal a neglect of our relationship with God. Practically, when the people of God withhold their tithes and offerings, the worship of our God and the ministry of His Church falls into neglect.

A third neglect was caused by buying and selling on the Sabbath (13:15-22). If our time is focused on doing personal work on the Sabbath, then we will not be focused on praising God and His work that day. The Lord calls us to devote one day out of the week to worship and work for Him.

Finally, the marriages of Israelites to foreigners were leading the hearts of the people into idolatry and away from God. Paul warned the church about being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14). The friendships, partnerships, and marriages we make can draw us away from the love of God, thus causing neglect of our primary relationship with God.

Nehemiah led the people to repentance in all four neglects of space, money, time, and relationships. Is there one or more of these areas in your stewardship that requires reform?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, show me any area in my life where I have neglected your house. I repent of my neglect of you with my stewardship of space, money, time, and personal relationships. Please forgive my neglect and restore me to your goodness. Amen.


This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge here.

Prayer In the Midst of the Insurmountable

By studying the prayers of Scripture, we can learn a lot about how to pray effective prayers. Constantly throughout the Bible, we see prayers like the one Hezekiah offers to the LORD. “So now, O LORD save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.” – 2 Kings 19:8

Things are looking bleak for Judea and Jerusalem. The hordes of the Assyrian army are mocking YHWH God and His people, threatening at the gates. Yet Hezekiah does not resort to bravado; no, he encourages his men NOT to answer the Assyrian mockers (2 Kings 18:36).

He does resort to prayer. THAT he prays in this situation is instructive in and of itself. The forces outside the gate of Jerusalem appeared to be insurmountable in sheer numbers. Why even hope? Why even pray? There is not a chance. But that is precisely the moment to pray!

The LORD loves to show His hand on behalf of His people in seemingly insurmountable situations. Hezekiah knows the LORD well enough to understand that if He so chooses, He can overcome such odds and forces. But notice the way Hezekiah makes his appeal to the LORD to act. His humble request for salvation comes with a purpose or motivation for the LORD– “…that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.”

When the LORD acts on behalf of His faithful people by overcoming insurmountable odds in spite of their weakness, His strength is revealed, His name is glorified.

The LORD desires to be worshiped and obeyed to the ends of the earth. Human beings are made to do that very thing. In your prayers, appeal to the LORD’s preeminence over all other powers and forces. God loves an opportunity to reveal His power and glory through the weakness of His faithful people. When we are at our weakest, God delights to show Himself strong. Pray to that end.

LORD, I am not able to save myself, but you alone have the strength and power to forgive, to heal, to restore. Please show your strength in my life that others may see that you alone are God and that Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.


This post originally appeared on The Bible Challenge here.

Do not doubt, but believe!

Life in Christ is Never Dull!

He is Risen

Life in Christ is Never Dull!

Jesus compared the generation of Pharisees and scribes to a then-popular children’s song:

‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ –Luke 7:32

The song invites the hearer into response, but no response is given. That generation was skeptical of the invitations of God offered through John the Baptist and Jesus. Hence, they did not dance, and they did not weep. The Gospel writer Luke says that they had “rejected the purpose of God for themselves” (7:30).

John the Baptist called them to a baptism of repentance, but they refused to be baptized by him. The prophet sang the dirge, but they did not weep.

Jesus proclaimed the Good News of forgiveness and restoration for the sinner and the brokenhearted. He celebrated and ate with them, but they refused to come to the party table. The Lord played the flute, but they did not dance.

Today, we celebrate–the Lord’s day of resurrection.  Where is your heart on this day? Is it filled with joy? Or have the flaming arrows of the evil one pierced your heart and stolen your joy? Jesus would challenge the skeptical and critical spirits in us. Oh you of little faith! Beware of the negative spirit. It is possible to be so cynical of being taken in that you refuse to enter in to the abundant life that God has for you. Such attitudes rob joy from the people around you.

Do you know that an angry and critical spirit is a mask for unresponsiveness to God’s call?  Remember, that in refusing to be baptized, the Pharisees “rejected the purposes of God for themselves” (Luke 7:30). Are you humbly responsive to the purposes of God on your life? Are you open and responsive to enter into the joy and free gift of the resurrected life?

In the last book of C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia series, there is a group of hard-hearted dwarfs who are pictured in a building surrounded by a glorious banquet prepared for them by Aslan, the Jesus figure in the series. Only, the dwarfs cannot perceive that the food and the table that is set before them as a life-giving, joyous blessing. Their cynicism and skepticism clouds their view of life. Instead of a banquet hall, they perceive that they are in a stable eating hay and drinking out of a water trough.

Everyone around them can clearly see that they are self deceived. The children in the story are dismayed at their disbelief. With the heart of an evangelist one of the children asks, “Are you blind?”

Dwarfs from Narnia

“Their prison is only in their minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out” (CS Lewis, The Last Battle).

“No,” respond the dwarfs, “we’re here in the dark where no one can see.”

“But it isn’t dark, you poor dwarfs,” says Lucy, “look up, look round, can’t you see the sky and flowers – can’t you see me?” Then Lucy bends over, picks some wild violets, and says, “perhaps you can smell these.” But the dwarf jumps back into his darkness and yells, “How dare you shove that filthy stable litter in my face.” He cannot even smell the beauty which surrounds him.

Aslan teaches the children, that with some hard-hearted souls, there is no way of helping them: “Their prison is only in their minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” (CS Lewis, The Last Battle)

It is easy to stand on the sidelines and be a critic of faith and belief in the midst a sinful and fallen world. Faith requires us to open our eyes to reality of God’s kingdom and call. I have noticed that malcontents often find each other and flock together like angry birds. “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs,” they reassure themselves! Yet the group-think only serves to further limit their vision and sharpen their rejection of the life which God is offering them. We all know people like this–perhaps you see yourself in the dwarf tribe!

The Lord invites you out of self-imposed darkness into the light of life–the light of Christ, thanks be to God. He has prepared a table before you.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever. (Psalm 23:5-6)

Today celebrate and proclaim the breaking forth of the new life to which the Lord invites you. In his resurrection, he has prepared for you a glorious table of life with anointing oil and overflowing cups of abundance. God’s kingdom is one where goodness and mercy pursue you all of your days.

Do not doubt, but believe!

The first witnesses of the empty tomb were several women. They told the disciples and the rest the Good News of new life bursting from the tomb!

Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:10).

The women were filled with wonder, joy, faith and belief. But, it was met by the dwarfish skepticism of those who dismissed their words as an idle tale

I ask you, where are you seeing death among things that are alive, and seeking life among things that are dead? The Lord would have you enter into the divine drama as a fully engaged participant. Give your entire heart, life and faith to Him. Surrender to the Lord in prayer right now. Plead with him, “Lord I want to receive your life, where ever you lead me!” The responsive Christian life in Jesus is never dull!

The kingdom of God calls you to enter into all the ups and downs of faith, hope and love. At times, the Lord sings the dirge that you might plumb the depths of repentance and weep over your sin and brokenness–this is the season of the Cross. At other times, He plays the flute with a joyous invitation to dance with the rhythmic freedoms of His grace and redemption–the glory of the Resurrection! Today the joyous flute is loudly playing for you.  Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia! Will you dance with Jesus in faith?