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.

The Gospel: Jesus Messiah Yahweh!

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.  –Romans 1:1-4

Jesus Messiah Yahweh

And so Paul begins his great letter to the Roman church. Paul identifies himself as a servant, a slave, of Jesus Christ who has been uniquely called to deliver a message from God—a message of Gospel, literally Good News. The Epiphany is the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ.

The Gospel was foretold

In these first four verses we learn several very important truths about the Gospel which illumine the true meaning of Epiphany and its implications for us. First, the Gospel is something which was foretold in ancient prophecy. Five hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The name “Immanuel” is Hebrew for “God with us”.

Through his prophetic spokesmen, God foretold that he would visit us as a man. Could you fathom hearing such a thing for the first time? The creator of the Universe is going to be born as a baby? Unbelievable really, and yet that is what the prophets promised beforehand in the Holy Scriptures.

Jesus is Israel’s long awaited Messiah King

Paul then goes on to say that Jesus was “a descendent of David” with regard to his “earthly life”. Being a descendant of David meant that Jesus was qualified to be the human king of the nation of Israel. David’s heirs would not only be the line of kings but everyone was expecting that the Messiah, THE KING, would be revealed as a descendant of David. In Luke 2 where we read the birth story of Jesus, Luke is careful to explain that the reason Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, had to return to Bethlehem for the Roman census was because they are descendants of David. The Angel of the Lord announced the “good news of great joy” that “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The message announcing Jesus’ birth was good news not only because the promise of a human heir to the royal line of David was born, but more! Paul says, “through the Spirit of holiness [he] was appointed the Son of God…” Before Mary was with child, she was told by the angels of God, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” —Luke 1:35

Any one who bears the title “Son of God” by declaration of God is to be acknowledged by Israel as the rightful heir to David’s throne and there for the Messiah King of Israel.

Jesus is Salvation for all who believe!

Jesus is not only fully human and an earthly King, he is Yahweh God the Lord. Yes, Jesus is an earthly human king, but he is also the divine King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the creator and sustainer of the entire heavens and the earth. When Paul inscribed the letter to the church in Rome, he had the advantage of connecting the prophets of old with the full life events of Jesus. Paul saw that not only would Jesus’ nature as Yahweh God be revealed in his miraculous birth, but that his divinity was climactically on display for all the world to see and believe in Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead!

And so, Paul summarizes the heart of the Gospel message in three words: Jesus Christ Lord. Or if we were to connect them with their Old Testament equivalents: Jesus Messiah Yahweh. Those three words contain the message of the Gospel in its simplest expression as they frame the announcement: Jesus is the long awaited earthly Messiah, Jesus is Yahweh God in the flesh!

The message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to what Paul calls the “obedience of faith”. Once the Gospel message is heard, one cannot remain neutral about Jesus; it is to be believed in faithful action. The revelation of Jesus Christ as Lord of the World, means salvation for all who believe in that message.

Paul would go on to write in Romans chapter 1:16:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

The Gospel announcement is powerful. Those who believe in Jesus as Lord and God will find a glorious eternal salvation in Him. Indeed, salvation is found in no other name!

What is your response?

“Do you believe that Jesus Messiah is God? Does he reign over every aspect of your life? Do you obey him as your King and God? The invitation of the Gospel is for everyone, and everyone who calls upon Jesus Christ the Lord will be saved. That is the good news promised from the messengers of God to you, both old and new! Listen to the wonderful promise given in the Gospel of God:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (NIV, Romans 10:9-13)

Today is the day, give your life to Him! Do not doubt, believe! Follow Jesus as your Lord and receive salvation in His Name!

“The Primary Purpose of People”
by The Rev. Charlie Holt

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The Primary Purpose of People

God has a plan in creating people. The original Creation Mandate given to all humanity calls us to:

  1. Reflect God’s image
  2. Reproduce God’s image around the earth
  3. Reign as God’s stewards of the Creation

The Great Commission is the redemption of the original Creation Mandate.

Creation Mandate

Genesis 1:27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

The Great Commission

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

How shall we praise God? Let me count the ways!

How Shall We Praise God

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (October 28, 1466 – July 12, 1536) was a Dutch Renaissance humanist and a Catholic priest and theologian. He once wrote:

“We have brought into our churches certain operatic and theatrical music; such a confused, disorderly chattering of some words as I hardly think was ever in any of the Grecian or Roman theatres. The church rings with the noise of trumpets, pipes, and dulcimers; and human voices strive to bear their part with them. Men run to church as to a theatre, to have their ears tickled. And for this end, organ makers are hired with great salaries, and a company of boys, who waste all their time learning these whining tones.” (Erasmus, Commentary on I Cor. 14:19)

Or this from St. Augustine 354 A.D., describing the worship style at Alexandria under St. Athanasius:

“The pipe, tambourine, and harp here associate so intimately with the sensual heathen cults, as well as with the wild revelries and shameless performances of the degenerate theater and circus, it is easy to understand the prejudices against their use in the worship.”

The issue of musical style and instrumentation has been debated by leaders and members of the Church since its inception. Should the Church embrace the use of modern instruments and styles of music in order to reach lost demographics of people? Can the Church go too far in accommodating to culture that it loses its identity as the Church? Many lament the absence of younger generations in church but are reticent to engage with new forms of music and liturgical style which might reach them. Others lament the loss of our traditional heritage of hymns, choirs and organ music to rock bands and video screens.

Certainly, the traditions of our Church, particularly the Anglican heritage of traditional choral-led worship offers a treasure trove of music and worship practices which transport the worshiper to the throne room of the Lord in the heavenly places. Yet, should we be concerned when our children and teens are not finding their souls nurtured because of their personal distaste for older hymns and the sound of an organ over electric guitars and drums?

Mr. Randy Krum, Organist and Choirmaster of St. Peter’s Church in Lake Mary, FL

St. Peter’s has made a serious commitment to offer both traditional and contemporary forms of worship. The reality is that we have different types of people whose souls are fed by different forms of worship. Right now our contemporary service is the higher attended of the three services, but we have about equal numbers of people between the two forms of worship when you combine the attendance at 5 and 9:00, which are both more traditional in style and format. Our praise band led by the gifted and inspired, Rev. Wes Sharp, has set a high standard for contemporary Christian music expression within the Anglican tradition. With Randy Krum as Organ/Choir Director, we have placed a renewed emphasis on providing resources to the traditional 5:00 and 9:00 service. Our choir has been strengthened with more members and the traditional forms of worship enhanced. Randy has brought a wealth of experience and skill in leading musical worship in the Episcopal/Anglican tradition. And, we have a beautiful Allen organ to lift the roof in our church with beautiful music.

Admittedly, it has been real challenge to do both traditional and contemporary forms with God glorifing excellence, but God is worthy of our best efforts to praise him in every way. The sacred music of our Church’s tradition is something that I personally would never want to jettison, and so long as I am rector of St. Peter’s, it will always have a prominent place within the life of our congregation.

That said, one thing we should always bear in mind is that all of the forms which we consider traditional were at one time contemporary novelties for the Church. The first and main use of the organ as an instrument was at Roman gladiator matches in the arena. It was a very prominent instrument in the Greco-Roman culture. The church use of the organ was not until the tenth century and had to overcome its suspicion of the organ’s popularity in contemporary culture and more specifically its association with the Roman arena. It was a popular instrument at the time and an attractive novelty for the church–it brought people to church!

Consider that it is a traditional Anglican “thing to do” to put the message of the Gospel and Worship into the language of the people in order to reach the lost. The translation of the hymns, the Scriptures and the Prayer book into English from Latin was a fiercely debated monumental change in liturgical and worship practice to reach the demographic of those who speak English as their primary language. Contemporary translations opened up the gospel and worship of the Lord to the general population in a way that started a massive revival in Europe called the Protestant Reformation.

St. Peter’s Adult and Youth Choirs

Many of the “traditional” hymns that we now sing were actually written during this time. Luther’s famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” was musically set to a popular German bar tune! Many more of our traditional hymns were written during the Great Awakening during the founding of the United States, by revivalists such as Charles Wesley. In their day they were new! The missionary methods of the Wesley brothers with their emphasis on large revival meetings and small groups were often criticized for being too accommodating to culture and not in keeping with the traditional way of forming Christians. Anglican priest, George Whitfield, often had to preach outside because the traditional church would not welcome his populist messages and styles.

One thousand years earlier, St. Patrick was an effective evangelist because he found aspects of the Irish culture that could be used by Christianity and translated the gospel into those forms. He was put on trial by the Roman Church leadership because his evangelism to the Irish “Barbarians” did not conform to the “Roman Way”. His monks didn’t wear the right robes, they didn’t cut their hair in the right way! We must never compromise with our culture in the area of morals and doctrine of the Church! We do not change our sexual ethics, or teaching on the nature of marriage to make it more expansive to our permissive culture. We do not water down our commitment to preach Jesus as the Lord of all and the only way to the Father, even if such a message is unpopular.

The challenge to be in the world and not of the world is always before us. If we completely reject the surrounding culture, we can create a monastic existence where we are neither in nor of the world—so heavenly minded, we are no earthly good. What does Paul mean when he says, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings..”? (1 Cor. 9:22) If we can use the contemporary Christian music that plays on the radio to reach the teens and non-Christians in this community more effectively than by not, is it not incumbent upon us to do so?

Certainly part of the formation of the young and new Christian would be to learn to appreciate and even fall in love with the larger tradition and worship expressions of the Church. Likewise, the formation of the older and traditional Christian would include learning to appreciate the new forms of expressing praise to God and perhaps grow to enjoy it! I hope that we will all recognize that the main goal in all of our efforts is to glorify and delight in the God who gave us voice and creativity to express our praises in various forms and expressions. In everything we do, our aim is to bring Glory to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Only God is the unchangeable One!

What do you think? Add your thoughts to the discussion here!