The Unfolding Epiphany

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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This is the way the Epiphany of Jesus unfolds. It unfolds like a sheet, or a tent, or an air mattress, or a map—once you unfold it, it’s not going back the way it was. This is the way the Epiphany of Jesus unfolds: from His baptism by John, who says that He was sent to baptize Jesus in order that He would be revealed to Israel as the Son of God, the Messiah, the one whom the Father the had sent. This is the way that revelation unfolds, from the baptism to John pointing at Jesus: Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the way it unfolds, as John says, He must increase, I must decrease. This is the way it unfolds: John’s baptism ends when Jesus’ baptism comes. This is the way it unfolds: out toward Andrew and Peter, and Philip and Nathanael.

It unfolds as John points to Jesus as the Lamb of God. There were many lambs in the unfolding of God’s story of salvation. Many lambs sacrificed at the Passover, whose blood marked the doors of Israel, so God would pass over and not put their firstborn sons to death. Many lambs sacrificed for the sins of Israel, pointing to the eternal removal of sin. And John says that he is bearing witness that this is the Son of God. There were many sons, firstborn sons, beloved sons, saved by blood. There were many firstborn sons redeemed by the deaths of animals. There was Abraham’s son, his firstborn son, whom he loved, named Isaac. And Isaac was promised by God to be the son through whom He gave Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. But then God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and put him to death.

But Isaac was not that son of promise. He was the one through whom the promise would come, but he was not the son who would be put to death to take away the sin of the world. So a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns, was laid on the altar in place of Isaac. Many lambs, and many sons. But, John says, here is the Lamb from God. Here is the Son, the only Son from heaven, the beloved of the Father, sent to be both lamb and son, to remove the sin of the entire world. Look! The Lamb of God! And so the Epiphany of Jesus unfolds, as John’s disciples follow Jesus, and they see where He remains, and they remain with Him. They remain with Him on whom the Spirit descended and remained.

This is how it unfolds from the beginning of the creation. God breathed into Adam His Spirit, and Adam became a living creature. But Adam drove away the Spirit with his sin. But now the new creation appears. He is revealed to take away sin, because there is no sin in Him. And so the Spirit remains with Him. And He on whom the Spirit remains is the one who baptizes with that Holy Spirit. He comes to take away sin, and He does it in His glorification, His triumph, His victory in His crucifixion. There, on the cross, He hands over the Spirit and baptizes with Him.

And the revelation unfolds, gathering in the sinners whose sin He has removed. He is lifted up and He draws all people to Himself, calls them to come and see. And it unfolds to you, as He baptizes you with the Holy Spirit. He gives you the new birth from above, by water and the Spirit, and once it unfolds to gather you in, you cannot be the same anymore. You are like Andrew and Peter and the others, caught up in the unfolding Epiphany. You follow Jesus, and where He is, you remain. Where Jesus is is the place to be. As they remained where He remained, they heard Him and listened to Him.

Remain where He is, like branches remain in the vine. And He remains with you, so that you will always be where He is, in death in this world, but life in the next. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and who has mercy on you. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and who has mercy on you. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and gives you peace. You feel the burden, as you live in this world, the burden of your sin and the sin of everyone around you. It can get to be too much, that burden, weighing you down, driving you down to the ground, to your grave.

But Jesus comes along and lifts up that burden, lifts you up. He takes away your sin, takes it for His own, takes it to the cross, and there you see His victory. He drives sin into the ground, into its grave. And in place of your sin, He gives you the Holy Spirit. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. It can still sometimes seem heavy. You still feel the weight and pull of sin and death. Your old flesh still burdens you. And it will seem to have won the victory. But it is not a real victory. There was a king named Pyrrhus, who defeated the Roman armies in 279 BC. But it was a costly victory. He said afterward, “Another such victory and we are lost.” Such a victory came to be called a pyrrhic victory, when you win, but it is so costly that it might as well be a defeat.

So it is with death. It seems to win the victory, but it loses in the winning. There was another victory, over Jesus on the cross. But it was the victory in which death was lost, because Jesus rose from the dead. And death is no longer lord over Jesus. He is the one on whom the Spirit remains and who then baptizes with the Spirit, so that you will not be lost, even in apparent defeat; so that you are not lacking in any Spiritual thing, any gift of the Spirit, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called in to the communion of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:7-9). He called you in Christ, and said “Come, and you will see.” And we say back to Him: “My own eyes have seen Your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all the people. Let us depart this life in peace, according to your Word.”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/17/20

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