The Urgency of Epiphany
We normally don't connect urgency and Epiphany, do we? The love and kindness of our God and Savior appearing seems like a culmination, an end. But the appearance of other things often leads to urgency. A high fever leads to urgent care. A bomb appearing leads to a bomb squad arriving urgently. A move star appearing leads to the urgency of people running together. We don't link urgency to Epiphany because we think it's about someone else. We're not the one with the high fever, who needs the bomb squad, or has seen a star. Let's see if I can get you from Epiphany to urgency by putting you in the picture.
Look at the lengths God goes to get the Gospel to Nineveh, the Assyrian capital. To reach the people who would one day destroy Northern Israel we read, "The Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time." Read the Book of Jonah. Do you know all that is behind that phrase? There's the Lord hurling a storm at the ship Jonah is on; there's Jonah being thrown overboard; there's God appointing a great fish to swallow him, and God appointing that beast to spit Jonah back out.
Do you know what is behind Jesus going into Galilee proclaiming that the time of the Gospel, the Kingdom, and for repenting and believing had come? Your insert has "after John was put in prison" but it's really the Greek word betrayed. John was betrayed just like Jesus would be. And that happens to John by the ruler of Galilee, yet where does Jesus go preaching the Good News? To Galilee. And while John proclaimed the Word that the kingdom was here; Jesus is the Word made flesh. So badly does God want to reach Galilee with the Gospel that He comes personally, but there's more. Jesus recruits four times as many to go fishing for believers in the unfaithful pond of Galilee.
But you're not Ninevites, you're not Galileans, and you don't see this as about you except as you have been told from Sunday School on, you're Simon, Andrew, James, and John, and you are to be fishers of men. But what if, what if since not one of you has been called to leave family, home, and business to preach the Gospel, what if you are Ninevites and Galileans? What if Epiphany is about the goodness and love of God the Savior appearing to save little old you? What if God spared no expense, left nothing to chance, did what no man ever dared to do, to reach you in your fears, touch you in your loneliness, rescue you from your holiness?
Hey, I'm just saying. You hear these texts differently if you see yourself as the One God is looking to reach, to save, to help, don't you? There's a certain amount of urgency in Epiphany if it's about God appearing to save me. Look at the lengths God goes to send out the Good News of the Gospel to reach you, and what depths of mercy, grace, and love must be behind such great lengths?!
To the Assyrians, who started the path towards crucifying people with their barbaric way of impaling their enemies without killing them; to the Assyrians who were the terrorists of their day; to the Assyrians who were persecuting the Church of God, Jonah is sent with the message it's not too late; you're not too far gone to repent; you're not so lost as not to be found by the Gospel.
To the Galileans, who the Bible describes as a people sitting in great darkness and the land of the shadow of death; to the apostatized church comes God in person proclaiming, "My kingdom is here; you can repent and believe the Good News." Each time the text translates "Good News" it's translating the Greek Word "Gospel." But the Gospel is more than generic good news. It's specifically the good news of a victory. God's light has come into their dark world in Jesus and scattered the darkness. God's life in Jesus has come to their land of death and swallowed it.
You can probably see the depths of God's mercy, grace, and love toward Ninevites and Galileans but can you see these towards you? If not there will be no urgency to Epiphany. The Ninevites and Galileans have long passed away into history and there's no urgency with history. In fact there is certain dryness, staleness, dustiness hanging over history.
What if Epiphany is about you? About you today, about your worries, your fears, your hopes, your dreams and your ever present sinfulness that the best you can do is to tame into a pet. But you know that sinfulness remains a wild animal that can turn from pet into beast in a horrible, unexpected instant. And you know that by treating it as a pet you have really made matters worse. What if Epiphany is about that today?
Though I haven't been swallowed and spit out by a great fish, what if God has sent me here today to tell you "It's not too late?" No matter what you have done or failed to do it's not too late to turn from that sin before the beast devours you. What if Jesus has so much mercy, so much grace, so much love for just you that He sent me to cast His Gospel net here today just to catch you? What if Jesus knows exactly what bait will lure you to swallow repentance of your sins and faith in His forgiveness and has sent me with that bait to cast it before you?
Oh I know how it is. I've fished enough to know that when you have a fish on the line it fights, and struggles, and runs in terror trying everything in its power to get free because it knows it's being reeled in to die. And I'm not going to lie to you; that happens to those caught by Jesus. Their old Adam, their sinful natures, the only part of them that feels alive dies. But I am like a fisherman fishing for bass where a high tide has brought too much saltwater into the fresh. I'm catching bass here to get them out of the saltwater where they will surely die to release them into fresh where they will really live.
I am fishing today with the Good News that regardless of what Law you hear accusing you, feel convicting you, or fear sentencing you to a lifetime of guilt and an eternity in hell, Jesus has come and kept that Law in your place. He stood in your shoes and at that moment you failed to do the right thing or brazenly did the wrong, Jesus stood firm, stood holy, and kept that Law. If you want to spend the rest of your life under a Law that Jesus has removed from hanging over your head, go ahead, but God doesn't want that. If He did, He wouldn't have sent Jesus.
I m fishing today with the Gospel that God the Father has more love for you than He does for His own Son. Not only the Law's requirements had to be kept but all of its punishments, all of its pain, all of it guilt, fear, and shame. God chose you over Jesus. God sent Jesus to the cross not you. God abandoned Jesus to all the demons of hell not you.
You're like a royal son or daughter of a great king. Your personage is too noble to feel the lash even when you do wrong, so they get a whipping boy in your place. You lie, you steal, you lust, you don't believe, you curse, you don't hear the Word, and Jesus is whipped and beaten not you. Hey, quit hanging your heads. This isn't Law; this is Gospel. God the Father didn't whip His only Son so you could feel bad, but so you could believe you won't be. So you can believe you have all the love God's only begotten Son has claim to.
To see the urgency of Epiphany look at the lengths God goes to send you the Gospel; see what depths of mercy, grace, and love must be behind such lengths, and see what a short length of time there is in matters of repentance and faith.
Nineveh was given 40 days. I guarantee you 40 days from now someone, somewhere will die and face the judgment who will have heard the Jonah that God went to such great lengths to send them to warn them of the impending judgment. They didn't put on sackcloth and ashes or the clean garments of Jesus' holiness. No, they put on excuses for doing wrong and promises to do better. That's all they'll have between them and judgment.
Look at the Epistle. Paul declared about 1,960 years ago "the time is short." In limitless eternity any amount of time is short. As we sing, "Time, like an ever rolling stream, / Bears all its sons away; / They fly, forgotten, as a dream / Dies at the opening day." Time bears all things away, and does so all the time. The question is what is eternally ours.
Your sins, guilt, and shame don't have to be eternally yours. The God who stepped into time bore those away from you. His mercy, grace, and love towards you for Jesus' sake are eternal. The waters of this earth will burn up on the last day; the waters that baptized you will not. The Words of politicians, philosophers, and scientists that people hang onto for dear life will fade like wildflowers, but the Word of the Lord that absolves you never fades but echoes into eternity. Your body and blood are aging, decaying, and dying even as we speak, but the Body and Blood of Jesus are eternal. The time is short for your body but not for His or for those who eat and drink His Body and Blood in faith.
Jesus says to you today "The time has come." Today is the day to hear His voice and not harden your heart. Today not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, today is the day. The goodness and love of your God and Savior appears to you today. Hear Him say, "Finished are all those laws that accuse you because I have kept them." See the nail holes in His hands and feet and see the spear hole in His side that proves that your debt of sin has been nailed to the cross and paid for. Touch baptismal Water; feel your eardrums vibrate to the sound of your sins being declared forgiven; taste the Bread that is His Body and smell the sweet Wine that His is Blood, and know today is the day to repent; today is the day to believe.
There is urgency to Epiphany if Epiphany is about your salvation, and if you've seen that, then you've just had an epiphany of urgency. As 2 Cor. 6:2 says, "Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation." Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday after Epiphany (20150125); Mark 1: 14-20