Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Psalm 40:1-12 (Psalm 40:1-11, NRSV)
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
I wonder if Jesus was ever disappointed. I wonder if He was saddened by all those who rejected Him. I wonder if He ever felt discouraged, wishing He could find the right thing to say to convince people that He was who He was so that they would be saved. I wonder if He ever wanted to give up the mission and just go home, seeing how little impact He was having on the world. Isaiah writes, ďBut I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nought and vanity; yet surely the justice due to me is with Jehovah, and my recompense with my God.Ē
Certainly the words found in Isaiah are words with which I can identify and I imagine Jesus too might have felt the same way at times. These words remind us, however, that when we are disappointed and discouraged, we need only look to the promises and remember that God is with us to help us do all that He has called us to do. While we do not see evidence of our work in this world, we can trust that God is doing something we canít see and He is faithful. ďThus saith Jehovah, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers: Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall worship; because of Jehovah that is faithful, even the Holy One of Israel, who hath chosen thee.Ē
Jesus did not see the kings rise up or the princes bow down to worship Him. He saw the rulers of His world reject Him and deny His words. Yet, He did not concern Himself with His failures; He went forth in faith knowing that He has been anointed to accomplish Godís will in this world. His ministry was never about Himself or His work, but it was to point to the One by whom He was sent. He was sent as a servant through whom God would draw His people, both Jew and Gentile unto Himself. ďAnd now saith Jehovah that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, and that Israel be gathered unto him (for I am honorable in the eyes of Jehovah, and my God is become my strength); yea, he saith, It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.Ē
That was the work of Christ, to bring salvation to the world. This is what John spoke about Jesus in todayís Gospel lesson. ďOn the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man who is become before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not; but that he should be made manifest to Israel, for this cause came I baptizing in water.Ē John bore witness to the fact that Jesus was the One promised by the prophets. He pointed toward Jesus who pointed to God with signs. John came to baptize people, to call for repentance and prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah. He was not the savior, he did not save anyone. He simply pointed toward the One who was Godís salvation.
We are witnesses, just like John the Baptist, called to point toward Jesus so that we might see God. We are in the season of Epiphany, which means the revelation of God. In Christ we see God in flesh, He is Godís Word incarnate. Through Him the grace and mercy of God is revealed and it is in the knowing of Christ and grace that we are saved.
The church at Corinth had numerous problems, among them immorality and misconceptions about what it means to be a Christian. The church was divided as the people began following specific ministers rather than worshipping as one body in Christ Jesus. The focus had turned and the people were wandering in whatever direction they wanted to go, believing the doctrine that tickled their ears rather than that which was given by the witnesses like Paul. The people were following Paul, Apollos, Cephas or their own idea of Christ rather than following the God who was revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ.
All too often, even in todayís world, we put our hope and our faith in the wrong things. We think we are able to bring salvation to people. There are those who count the number of souls they have saved by witnessing. There are pastors who plaster their pictures on billboards to call people into fellowship in his church. There are ministers who work at building their ministry. Unfortunately, in all these cases, Christ gets lost. We no longer see Jesus and we stop being witnesses to the One who deserves all our attention.
Paulís letter to the Corinthians is still relevant to us today, since we are beset by divisions, immorality and the other troubles that early church experienced. Even more so, we need to read the words of Paulís greeting to that congregation, for it sets our hearts and minds in the right direction. ďGrace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus; that in everything ye were enriched in him, in all utterance and all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye be unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.Ē Paul had some very real issues to deal with in his letter, but he began by pointing them back to their salvation, our Lord Jesus Christ.
How easy it would have been for Paul or John the Baptist to take credit for the salvation of millions. Paulís words have been read for nearly two thousand years and he has been a witness who has pointed a multitude of people to Christ. Yet, when Johnís disciples were drawn toward Jesus, he did not try to hold on to them. He told them that Jesus was the anointed one, the chosen Messiah. He pointed out Jesus and sent them on their way.
Even still, it was not John who gave them salvation. As Andrew and another disciple were following Jesus, He turned around and asked them what they wanted. He drew them into a relationship and when they wanted to know more about Him, He invited them to come and see. They spent the day with Jesus. When he left, Andrew went to his brother Simon Peter and said, ďWe have found the Messiah.Ē Now, with language such as this, we might think that Andrew was taking credit for finding the One they had been waiting for, however it is unlikely that Andrew would think that way. They found Jesus not because they were actively seeking to find Him, but rather because He was revealed to them.
Peter found Jesus because Andrew pointed to Him. Andrew found Jesus because John pointed to Him. John found Jesus because God Himself pointed to Jesus and revealed Him to be the One for whom they were waiting. We are called to do the same. We arenít called to be saviors, to bring salvation to the world. Rather, we are called to be witnesses to what we have seen, pointing to Jesus so that He might draw them into a relationship. It isnít about us, it never has been. As John, we are nothing more than voices crying out in the wilderness, pointing the way so that the world might see that which has been revealed in Christ Jesus.
We spend a great deal of time trying to explain the things of faith. We discuss doctrine, analyze scripture, and debate theology until we are blue in the face. We try to convince people why they are wrong about what they believe and teach the things we believe are right. We do so to better ourselves or our ministries. We want to fill our churches so we draw attention to our gifts and organization. We plan our work around what will draw people to us, but Christ gets lost in the mix. We define success in the same ways as the world and we get disappointed and discouraged when we think we are failing because we do not see the work God is accomplishing through us. Even worse, when we put ourselves at the forefront, we stand in the way of God doing His work.
It is not a bad thing to study, learn and grow. Theological discussion and debate has been part of the Christian church since the earliest days, and so many good things have come out of the conversations. I would not be Lutheran had Martin Luther not sought to better understand Godís grace and apply it to our lives of faith. However, we arenít going to make disciples by convincing people that we are right. God makes disciples when we invite people into His presence, invite them to come and see what has been revealed through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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