Epiphany 1, 2016

 

The Epistle. Romans 12:1-5

The Gospel.  St. Luke 2:41-52

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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The Collect this morning asks God that He would give us grace so that through Him hearing our prayers, we may perceive and know what we ought to do…and may have the power, through that grace to in fact do it.

 

This like so many of our Collects, calls us to action, but not on our own strength or power.  God must be there to intervene, provide the momentum, the grace, and the ability in the first place.

 

This is good because if we acknowledge this, we are more prone or inclined to appreciate the fact that from start to finish it is not left up to our own frailty, but on God’s unmerited, undeserving grace.

 

A brief word on Grace.  Theologians usually define Grace as “unmerited favor.”  That is, God is favorable to us despite us not doing anything to deserve it.  That is what makes it grace and that is what makes it so wonderful. 

We don't earn it.  It is free. We can’t earn it and God knows it, so He moves toward us so-to-speak and offers it to us. 

Grace is not a stuff.  It is not a substance that can be held or seen or smelled or heard.  It is not a change in us either.  It can and may bring about change in us. 

But it is the condescension and benevolence shown by God toward mankind.

 

It is God stooping to us.  We see that in the incarnation at Christmas time when Jesus left His heavenly throne and condescended or stooped down to our level in order to save us.

 

That is grace.

 

Grace is given to all people but in different degrees and different ways. 

All people, even unbelievers receive and benefit from the grace of God in that He sustains them in their daily lives….and many people don't even know it or acknowledge it.

 

Grace is given to the Christian in a particular way as God works in us to conform us to the likeness of His Son Jesus Christ.  He prepares us for Heaven.  He causes our faith to increase and our love for Him to increase…and He gives us the will to live for Him.

 

So, with the grace of God in mind, we look again at what we are being taught today with the Collect, the prayer and the two lessons.

 

It is the first Sunday after the Epiphany.

The Epiphany is the day on the Church calendar that we celebrate the manifestation…the revealing (by the grace of God) of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles….the non-Jews.

 

The Gospel reading that day is the account of those Gentile Wise Men who visited the young Jesus and presented Him with gifts.  The King James says that they rejoiced with exceeding great joy at the sight of the newborn King.

 

This joy might also have included a joy at realizing that God’s grace had been manifested in that they, Gentiles, were now going to find salvation in the One True God and that this baby was the sign and person through whom this would all be made possible.

 

Today we continue with the first Sunday after the Epiphany with a lesson on just what we prayed for at the beginning of the service….

that we may have grace to know what we should do and have the grace to carry it out. 

In the Gospel lesson for today, we have the account of the young Jesus disappearing from Mary and Joseph’s sight for a time and being finally found in the Temple amongst the learned and leaders of the Temple…. listening to them and asking them questions.

 

This is an Epiphany in that Christ is now manifesting Himself, not to the Gentiles but to the Jews and the religious leaders at that.  This is the first glimpse of the Messaiah for many if not all in the Temple. 

 

God has come to them. He is amongst them, listening to them, and asking questions. 

 

And of course they don't know His true identity at this point.  20 years (almost) will go by before Jesus reveals Himself to them again, not humbly sitting and listening this time, but driving out moneychangers, flipping over tables and wielding a whip. 

 

He is by His actions in this lesson today, demonstrating a mysterious and unique connection or relationship to His Heavenly Father.

 

This is the only story of Jesus as a young boy that Scriptures record for us….other than his birth. 

 

Jesus was not a common boy in all respects.

 

His reply to His mother when being scolded for leaving the group is, “Why are you even looking for me?  Didn't you know that I must be in my Father’s House, about my Father’s business?”

 

His life even at an early age was dedicated to His Heavenly Father.  This is a big part of what we are to draw from this lesson today.  He loved God with all of His Heart and Soul and Mind.  He loved God with His entire being….body and soul.

 

This Epiphany is recorded for us so we might see the intensity of the relationship between the Father and the Son.  And it shows us a pattern for us to live by as well.

 

Jesus’ reply to His mother is gentle but direct.  This is my duty, mother.  This is the life I must live for and with my Father.  And it is a duty for all of us to live by as well…above all other earthly desires.

 

We are to obey our rulers and our parents and others in authority, but not above God.  We are to love family and friends, but not above God.

 

Mary and Joseph were at a disadvantage that we aren’t hampered by.  We have the full story.  Mary treasured all of these things up in her heart, but it says here this morning that they didn't understand the things He said to them.

 

We have less of an excuse because we understand what He meant.  We have the full story of not only where this leads, but who Jesus is revealed to be later on.

 

But it is that desire for obedience that is what draws our attention today.  And Paul’s section from his Epistle also helps us to further understand our duty toward God….and the grace that is needed to live it out.

 

We like Mary and Joseph should also, with all lessons and examples we get from Scripture think about them, treasure them in our hearts and seek the grace of God to apply them and put them to work in our lives of sanctification as well.

Paul today, in no uncertain terms, lays out for us, through his correspondence with the Church in Rome, his instructions and guidance in the life of godliness.

 

Paul has written 11 chapters to the Romans with doctrinal precision and now in chapter 12 verse 1, he turns the application of this doctrine…to the application of it in life.

 

Obviously it’s important.  He says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers…” This is not just advice in passing.  This is strict instruction for us. This is an earnest desire on Paul’s part that we live a holy life reflecting the perfect obedience and life of Christ. 

He knows we cannot attain the level of perfection Christ did.  But he desires with all of his heart that we live a life in imitation of Christ as a responsibility… and as a witness.

 

He says “…by the mercies of God….

Sproul – “Paul makes his plea in light of God’s tender mercies, [GRACE] which he has just finished expounding in chapter 11, and those mercies are these: (1) we are justified by faith; (2) our sins are forgiven through the atonement of Christ; (3) God works all things together for our good; and (4) God calls people to himself. Everything Paul has expounded throughout the doctrinal section of the epistle, chapters 1–11, points back to God’s mercy.”[1]

 

Again we can easily exchange Mercies for Grace in this and make no real change.  The mercies of God are His grace.  God is merciful because He is gracious.  Grace is in fact mercy.  Grace is given again, to unworthy and undeserving recipients…in the form of mercy.

 

So here is what the grace-empowered life looks like according to Paul.

 

Here is the grace-filled instruction for us in light of God’s mercy to us.

 

“…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

 

Presenting our bodies as a sacrifice to God should call to mind first of all the Old Testament and the sacrifices given to God in the Tabernacle and Temple.

 

Bulls, goats, lambs, turtledoves, and even cereal offerings were brought into the sanctuary and sacrificed.

 

We think of sacrifice as giving something up or giving something away.  There is some of this in the sacrifices here in the Old Testament, but there is more to it. Sacrifice is not just us losing something, but expressing something as well.  When we sacrifice, we are saying something about what we value.

We are told here by Paul to sacrifice our bodies in holiness and obedience to God.  Not for no reason, but for the greatest of reasons.  It is for God.  God is of infinite value to us, and making a sacrifice of ourselves is a statement of our desire to please Him….because God is worthy of our praise and adoration and obedience.

 

Paul encourages us to give our entire selves to God as Christ did.  We cannot give ourselves in all the ways Christ did, because He gave Himself for us.  But we can give ourselves to God to thank Him and to serve Him.

 

If we are Christians, we are to sacrifice ourselves to God each and every day.  Not just coming to Church on a Sunday but in the place we work, or go to school, or in the home with our families.

 

This sacrifice that we are to give is called by Paul, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.

 

Oswald Chambers’ famous book is called, My Utmost for His Highest.  That is what we are called to.  Our utmost is our sacrifice. No hypocrisy.  No false pretenses. No half-heartedness, but holy and acceptable.

 

This manifests itself in confession of sin. 

A contrite heart.

True repentance.

Amendment of life.

 

We open our worship of God each time with these words.  Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; that we may perfectly love God and worthily magnify His Holy Name.

 

This we work to reflect in our lives.

 

Paul describes how we do this as well.  He says: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…”

Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think, but think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

 

This can only be done by the grace of God going before us, prompting us and inclining our hearts to this sort of life.

 

It is a whole life and whole body and soul command. 

 

Jesus set the standard for being a living sacrifice to God.  He sacrificed much more than we will ever have to because He sacrificed for us His life.

 

Even at a young age, His desire was to live for His Father in Heaven.  To live for God. 

 

 

 

Let us always pray in all situations that by God’s grace, we too may be encouraged by His example and thankful that because of His sacrifice unto death, we don't have to offer of ourselves that way.

 

We now are to offer a sacrifice out of gratitude.  And by the grace of God it will be pleasing to Him.

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Sproul, R. C. (2009). Romans (p. 406). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.