of our Religion” 1 Timothy 3:14-16
Epiphany is the Twelfth Day of
Christmas. While it falls
on January 6, it is no longer customary among us Lutherans to gather
today on Epiphany in celebration. We
usually observe Epiphany on the Sunday closest to January 6.
We take Epiphany for granted.
Maybe that’s why we largely ignore it, and act as if Christmas
is over on December 25. In
fact, without Epiphany, Christmas would have no meaning for us.
Jesus was born King of the Jews.
The shepherds who visited the manger in Bethlehem were Jews.
They lived in the region of Bethlehem.
They were brought up in the teaching of Moses and the prophets,
participating in the worship prescribed by God for the children of
Israel, and anticipating the coming of the Messiah.
The wise men, or Magi, who visited the Lord Jesus and gave Him
gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, were not Jews.
They were Gentiles. They
were outsiders. They had
learned of the promised King of the Jews, but while they were welcome at
the crib of the Christ Child, they would not have been welcome in the
home of or at the table of the ordinary Jew.
What Epiphany means for us is
that the King of the Jews is also the Savior of the whole world.
He came not only for the Jews, but also for the Norwegians, the
Chinese, the Nigerians, the Germans, and the Americans.
He came into this world to save sinners, regardless of their
race, nationality, language, or creed.
He came to fulfill the promises
given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
He came to save the Jewish legalists from their legalism, showing
them clearly the gospel truth promised to their ancestors for thousands
of years. He came as well
to save the Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Animists, Atheists, Agnostics,
and all other sinners darkened by the delusions offered by false
religions. He came to
reveal the truth of God, and in so doing to open the doors of eternal
life to people stumbling in the darkness of false teaching.
Had Christmas not led to
Epiphany, we would all be spiritually blind.
Christmas did lead to Epiphany.
The Gentiles came to the light, guided by the star.
This light was not hid from the world.
It has shined in the hearts of people all over the world for
nearly two thousand years.
While the truth of the gospel is
a clear truth, St. Paul calls it a mystery. It is a mystery, not because it cannot be known, but because
it can be known only in Christ. It
cannot be known apart from Christ.
“Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifested in the
flesh.” He appeared not
only to men, but as a true man. The
word “godliness” in our text can also be translated religion.
“Great is the mystery of our religion: God appeared in the
This is the truth.
We confess in the Small Catechism, after the explanation of each
of the three articles of the Creed, “this is most certainly true.”
In our text, St. Paul tells Timothy that the church is the
“pillar and ground of the truth.”
We do not find the truth by searching for the true church and
submitting to that church’s authority.
It’s the other way around.
We find the true church by submitting to the truth.
Wherever the gospel is preached purely, that is, according to the
Holy Scriptures, and wherever the sacraments of Christ are administered
rightly, there is the true church.
The church is the pillar and ground of the truth.
This means that only the church of the incarnate Lord Jesus has
the truth. There is no
other saving truth by which anyone born into this world can find God
except that truth revealed to His church by Christ.
Where did the Magi go to
worship? They went to where
Christ was. Where do we go
to worship? We go to where
Christ is. The mystery of
the true Christian religion is great because God was manifested in the
flesh. God became a man. This
is no myth. This is the
literal truth. In Him, that
is, in Christ, all the fullness of the deity lives.
In Christ, God did not just visit us or come to be among us.
He became one of us. The
divine nature and the human nature were united in one person without
either the divine nature or the human nature undergoing any change.
The man Jesus was, from His conception in His mother’s womb,
is, and will always be the eternal God become flesh.
The Father did not become a man.
The Holy Spirit did not become a man.
The Son became a man, and so all of the attributes that God has
that divine Man has as well. The
man Jesus stilled the storm, fed the five thousand, healed the sick, and
raised the dead. There is
nothing that God the Son does that Jesus the Man does not do because
there is only Lord Jesus Christ, who is true God and true man, undivided
The mystery of our Christian
religion is great because God was manifested in the flesh.
The mystery of the true Christian religion is great because He
was justified in the Spirit. That the sinless Son of God should be
justified has puzzled some people.
Usually the Bible talks about Christians being justified.
But God justifies us when He reckons to us the righteousness of
Christ. Before we can
receive the righteousness of Christ, there must be a righteousness of
Christ to receive. We do
not receive a pretend kind of righteousness.
We receive a real righteousness.
Listen once more to how St. Paul describes it in today’s
We are justified through faith
in Jesus because Jesus is the One, the only one, who has redeemed us,
set us free, set aside the anger of God, and made peace between sinners
and the righteous God. Only
the Holy Spirit can bring us to this faith that receives the
righteousness of Jesus. Jesus
was justified in the Spirit. By
this same Spirit His justification becomes ours.
He becomes ours. All
that He did for us is reckoned to us.
The Holy Spirit Himself assures us of this truth.
He convinces our hurting consciences that we really are
righteous. No, we haven’t
produced any righteousness of our own – in fact we have sinned daily
and we deserve nothing but punishment from God.
But in the gospel the Holy Spirit shows us the justification of
Jesus and He binds our hearts and our minds to that great divine
reckoning that looked with approval on Jesus’ perfectly righteous life
and His holy suffering and death. The
Holy Spirit convinces our fearful hearts that Jesus is ours and so is
His justification. As
surely as Jesus was justified in the Spirit, we, by the same Spirit are
justified by Christ’s blood.
The mystery of our true
Christian religion is great because He was seen by angels.
Just look! There are
angels at the announcement of His birth, at His birth, after His birth,
after His temptation, after His resurrection, and after His ascension
into heaven. Why?
So that we will take to heart the message from these messengers
of God: “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”
The angels see God. They
live in the presence of God. They
see God and then they see God become a man.
They ascend and descend on Jacob’s ladder.
This is to drive home with divine emphasis the truth that the
final message from God is the message revealed in Christ and by Christ.
He was seen by angels who watch over us, guarding us, protecting
us, and keeping us safe.
The mystery of the true religion
is great because He was preached among the Gentiles.
He was preached. He did not enter in by force of arms. Yet all the powers of all human tyrants have been powerless
to stop Him from coming through His preaching.
Herod could not stop Him. Nero
could not stop Him. Muhammad
could not stop Him. Lenin
and Stalin could not stop Him. Nobody
will ever stop Him because Christ’s manifestation in the flesh will be
made known by preaching until the end of the world.
He was preached among the Gentiles and this is how we were led
out of the darkness of our pagan ancestry into the light of the truth.
The mystery of the true religion
is great because He was believed on in the world. There is no greater power than faith, but it is not the power
of man. It is the power
that comes only from the God who is manifested only in His incarnate Son
and who is revealed only by the Holy Spirit.
Faith doesn’t come from us, though it does rest in us.
But it isn’t a thing to be found or touched or discovered.
The Grand Forks Herald invites you to “find your faith” in
one of the various churches listed in the religious advertising page.
It is as if faith comes from us and we then choose which church
best conforms to the faith within our hearts.
But faith comes from God and it comes from His truth.
It is not our doing. It
is our receiving. And the
faith that does nothing but only receives flows into every fruit of the
Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
All this the Holy Spirit works within the one He leads to the
true faith in Christ.
The mystery of godliness is
great because He was received up in glory.
He fills all things. He
is at the right hand of the Father, governing the whole universe for the
benefit of His church. He
is yet here with us, wherever two or three are gathered in His name to
hear His gospel and receive His sacraments.
Neither space nor time can bind Him and no power can resist His
might. Yet He who is glorified in the glory belonging to God alone
because He is God, still chooses to live with us here below.
We cannot make it without Him.
We cannot make it for a single day.
We are poor beggars, and we will remain poor beggars until the
day we die. But in our
spiritual poverty and weakness and helplessness we rejoice in a glory
that is already ours. The
true God who became our true brother has deposited His truth with us and
the mystery it reveals is the greatest treasure we have in this life.
So we cherish the mystery in our hearts.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus