Evangelism is one of those words that strikes a little fear (or maybe a lot) in the heart of Christians. Maybe the fear arises out of rejection from past attempts. Maybe the fear comes from possibly not knowing all the answers that could be asked. Maybe the fear and possibly the biggest reason of all is that we aren’t sure who Jesus is in the first place. Sure, we know the titles: Lord, Savior, Lamb of God, etc. However, do we know what the titles mean for life and their consequences? If we use a politically charged word like “Lord,” how then do we relate to those wanting to push political agendas? Is Jesus the giver of power and wealth to those managing to get life straightened out? Is Jesus the One coming with a purifying fire and judgment or with welcome to the sinner and compassion for the outcast? The church season is Epiphany which is about revealing Jesus and making him known. The best gift we can give to ourselves in Epiphany might be to take the effort and move beyond simply knowing the titles to understand the impact of the ones we use. Then, conform to who we say Jesus is in life.
In the reading out of John, John the Baptist sees Jesus passing by and points him out saying, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This happened again the next day. The result was that a few disciples wanted to know where Jesus was staying. In other words, they were wanting to learn more from Jesus himself. Jesus’ response was simple, “Come and see.”
When John the Baptist pointed Jesus out from the crowd, he was giving to Jesus more than a title, “Lamb of God.” He was doing more than showing God’s sacrifice so we don’t have to continue sacrificing lambs. John the Baptist was pointing out Jesus as the One taking away our rebellion from God and the consequences. Knowing a title is nice. Not having to sacrifice lambs is a relief. Knowing Jesus as the One where our rebellion against God comes to an end is life changing which is why it takes a lifetime to know Jesus by heeding his invitation to “Come and see.”
Epiphany is about making Jesus known to the world. This is more than having a title to stick on him. If we are to make Jesus known, we must know him too. How do we do this? We take him up on his invitation, “Come and see.”
Every so often we all get those “AHA” moments. All of a sudden we get it. What seemed beyond comprehension, we now understand. What we couldn’t recognize has now become obvious. These times when the light bulb goes on we call an epiphany. In the church, this is the season called ‘Epiphany.’ The readings assigned are to help us have one of those “AHA” moments about Jesus. The reading for this Sunday is the baptism of Jesus.
The first couple chapters of Matthew have given us some background with a genealogy, Joseph’s struggling with the news of Mary’s pregnancy, the Magi, Herod’s desire to kill the baby Jesus and the family fleeing to Egypt for refuge. Now with the adult Jesus being baptized by John at the Jordan river we read Jesus’ first words, “…it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.”
Righteousness is a relationship word. The word carries with it the understanding of fidelity and promise keeping. If we call a relationship “right”, it is because falsehood has not found a place. So when Jesus was baptized by John (a baptism in preparation for welcoming the coming of God’s reign), righteousness was being fulfilled. God was keeping the promise of establishing his reign over a rebellious world. God was bringing salvation from darkness. As Jesus came out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove with a heavenly voice saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” These words were for the bystanders and for us to have that “AHA” moment.
The search continues to find the savior bringing us salvation. We look to business leaders, celebrities and politics but they don’t bring God’s righteousness. So often we are left with those serving only their own interests or who leave us in the darkness of our greed, animosity, division and struggle for power. This is not salvation. Righteousness is not experienced.
The companion verses from Isaiah 42:1-9 has God declaring his servant…in whom God delights…on whom the Spirit will rest. This chosen servant of God will not be a braggart or crush the life of someone barely holding on to life. He will bring justice (another relationship word). He will be a light: for the nations to recognize the darkness…for us in our blindness…to bring freedom to those in the prison of darkness. Upon this one alone will God’s glory reside. Upon this chosen one, God’s righteousness toward us is fulfilled.
Jesus was baptized by John and as he came out of the water the Holy Spirit like a dove descended on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Buying a good bottle of wine these days is no easy task. The options available seem endless which is obvious walking into a liquor store or even a grocery store. Do you want a red? How about a white? Do you like dry? How about a sweet wine? Of course there are the different blends seeking a middle ground. Is a $60 bottle of wine really six times better than a $10 bottle? If you are going off to visit a friend and bring a bottle of wine as a gift, the choice isn’t always such an easy one to make. After all, what is a good wine?
Jesus, his disciples and family (mother) are attending a wedding feast in Cana. Wedding parties were known to last a looooong time. The wine was running low which was more than an inconvenience. The concept of hospitality was crucial in those days. Yes, guests would bring gifts of food and wine but for the wine to run out on such a festive time was a shameful moment for the host.
Jesus’ mother responded by going to him with the problem. Jesus’ didn’t seem all that concerned but had six large jars filled with water and taken to master of the banquet. This was the best wine of all. John records this as the first of Jesus’ miraculous signs pointing to his identity and glory.
Wine and feasting has great meaning in the Scriptures telling of the hospitality, abundance and victory of God. For example, Isaiah 25 tells of the Lord preparing a feast including the finest of wines for all people. The reason for the party is the Lord swallowing up death forever. Isaiah 55 gives the great invitation for all the thirsty and hungry to come and feast their souls on the richest fare which the Lord has provided (all without cost by the way).
The wedding at Cana was more than Jesus turning water into wine and getting the host out of a sticky situation. Here Jesus is presented to be the presence of God bringing a victorious feast for all people… the wine of this celebration is better than any wine ever tasted.
Mary has received a lot of news about this child of hers. She burst into a song of praise to the Lord when Elizabeth called her blessed for having believed the message of the angels regarding her giving birth to the Christ child. She pondered and treasured in her heart the news which the shepherds passed on from the angels. On the eighth day she and Joseph presented the baby Jesus in the Temple where Simeon and Anna spoke of blessing but also that a sword will pierce her own soul as well. Twelve years later Jesus turns up missing on their annual trek to observe the Passover. He was found debating theology with the teachers of the Temple. Mary again treasured this in her heart even though Jesus announced that the Temple was his Father’s house.
Mary has received a lot of news about this child of hers but how much do you think she understood? Yes, she sang the praises and treasured the hoped for blessings that are coming in Jesus’ birth. However was she really understanding what the sword in her soul would be? A mother’s pain of seeing her child killed on a cross.
This time of year we have heard much about the Christ child born in a manger. We are invited to embrace him and take him into our world. We do it with praise on our lips because here is the Son of God come down to us. Here is love that has and continues to be poured over us. As we embrace him, are we also prepared for a sword in our soul as well? Jesus’ birth was not to bless what we have made for ourselves but to bless us with the reign of God. The two are not one in the same.
So we join with Mary as we respond to the blessing that is born to us in Jesus. We can treasure this news in our hearts. We can sing the news with praise on our lips. How will this blessing unfold and take place? John the Baptist will now set the stage.