Epiphany – 2024 LSB #’s 400:1-2, 5; 650, 523
Text – Ephesians 3:10
…that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers & authorities in the heavenly places.
THROUGH THE CHURCH
People talk about having an Epiphany when suddenly they connect the dots on something they had never before understood. Inventors have been known to describe it as an Epiphany when the major aspects of their new invention came together in their mind for the very first time.
Maybe you’ve read a particular passage of Scripture many times before & never understood what it says. Then, unexpectedly, your mind lights up with the answer. The church’s celebration of Epiphany recognizes that Jesus Christ came in the flesh in order to connect the dots for all mankind concerning things we had never before understood.
One manner in which Jesus connected those dots was through the star. Evolutionists would say it just coincidentally appeared. Yet, anyone who believes that God would send His only Son to die for our sins knows full well that star was not some random event of the universe that just happened to coincide with the birth of a baby in Bethlehem.
No. That star was not an accident. It was put there by the almighty Creator of the universe. And He put it there when He did so the Magi could journey to Bethlehem specifically to make this statement of faith, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose & have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2 ESV)
Jesus put that star there to announce His birth, to reveal to the world that He was born into human flesh for the salvation of the world. Jesus put that star in the sky in order to connect the dots for you & me & for all mankind. That many people reject that sign does not mean it was just a random coincidence. King Herod did not believe in Jesus as Messiah, yet he certainly did not reject the star as a sign. What does the Word of God tell us? “Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly & ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.” (Matthew 2:7 ESV) And why did Herod want to know that answer? Matthew tells us a few verses later:
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, & he sent & killed all the male children in Bethlehem & in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:17 ESV) Herod did not believe in Jesus as Messiah, but he also knew that star was no random event.
That star was sent by Jesus to connect the dots for all who would believe in Him. For everyone who laughed at that star as a heavenly sign, come Judgment Day, it will be a witness to their unbelief. The Magi & king Herod all believed that the star was a true sign. The Magi traveled hundreds of miles, at least, probably by camel, in order to worship Jesus.
The majority of people in our nation today, won’t travel five miles, by car, in order to worship Jesus. Come Judgment Day, what will the star witness have to say about your response to that sign placed in the heavens by Jesus? Although that particular star is no longer pointing out Bethlehem from our sky, it was recorded in history & thus it still speaks today.
At this moment in time the challenge is no longer about traveling hundreds or thousands of miles. The challenge is no longer about riding a camel or avoiding an evil king hell bent on destroying the new & holy King. Our challenge today is in looking at the church & asking ourselves, “Why bother?” Most people today cannot connect the dots on church attendance.
Looking at the church in the here & now, what do you see? Some people see mistakes in the bulletin, or in the slides. Some people see & hear a pastor stumbling to read the Scripture lessons or preach his sermon. Some people hear church music that is boring & difficult to sing. Some people see lazy church members who won’t lift a finger to help their neighbor. Some people see ornery members who are constantly complaining or looking out only for themselves. We see pastors who sexually abuse their parishioners. We see churches defying the very Word of God, calling evil good, & calling good evil.
In the worldly way of looking at it, the church is nothing but one hot mess, filled with people who are nothing if they are not full-blooded sinners. You may be saying to yourself, “Pastor, you know we’re not supposed to look at the Church that way.”
But we do look at it that way, every single time we complain about low attendance & low offerings. We do look at it that way, every time we complain, “Why am I always the one who has to do this, or that?” If you measure the church in terms of efficiency or growth, or even in terms of honesty, the church you & I see is a flat out disaster.
Come to think of it, even the very Son of God, hanging naked & bloody & dying upon a Roman instrument of execution, appeared to be a flat out disaster. No human business model or leadership manual can even begin to explain why the Church is still in existence today.
The very fact that the Church does exist, with all her flaws & faults, proves to Satan & to His cohorts that they cannot win the victory. The Church stands upon one foundation & upon one Rock alone. That Rock is Jesus Christ & He has already conquered sin, death & the devil. Whenever you look at the church & see one hot mess, consider these words:
“Though with a scornful wonder the world sees her oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed, yet saints their watch are keeping: their cry goes up, ‘How long?’ And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.” (LSB 644:3) With the Church – the body of Christ – there is no other shoe to drop. This is as bad as it gets & it is one hot mess.
Which is why Jesus came to be born in human flesh, that He might rebuild the Church?
& become its one foundation. St. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles & prophets by the Spirit.” (3:4-5 ESV) A few verses later, Paul continues:
“To me… this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, & to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers & authorities in the heavenly places.” (3:8-10 ESV)
Why does the wisdom of God need to be made known to the rulers & authorities in the heavenly places? It’s because those rulers & authorities are not the heavenly beauty you might think them to be. The heavenly places are the realm of spiritual activity, the unseen universe that lies behind the world we can touch or see or hear.
It is a multi-layered spiritual realm occupied by good & evil forces doing battle. That’s in parallel to the war underway on earth. Powerful forces are at work, opposing & wrestling against us. Those evil forces, including our own sinful natures, make the Church appear as an ugly old hag, even as the Holy Spirit is working through the Church to accomplish God’s plan.
Paul wrote, “…that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers & authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:10 ESV) Paul also wrote, concerning that wisdom of God, in 1 Corinthians 1:
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, & the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low & despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1:25-29 ESV) What could God choose that appears more weak & foolish, more low & despised than the Church?
It is God’s will that His Church exists in this world, hidden under the guise of poor sinners, flawed leaders, tensions, divisions, even false teaching. Through all that, God is able to make known His wisdom to the rulers & authorities in the heavenly places. For if those who reject the kingdom of God cannot defeat such a broken Church what can they brag about?
“…the foolishness of God is wiser than men, & the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:25 ESV) The powerful king Herod could not even kill a helpless baby child born to peasants so poor that Jesus spent His 1st night in a manger, in a stable.
When the circumstances of life cause you to ask, about making it to church, “Why bother?” it is good to remember that behind the world we can touch or see or hear there is an unseen universe. Through the Church, of which you are a living, breathing part, Christ is reclaiming territory that is rightfully His. The Gates of Hell cannot prevail against His Church.
The next time Satan tempts you to focus upon the warts or the sins of the Church, remember that Yahweh chose our foolishness & our weakness purposely that He might shame the strong & the wise. He does that through having mercy upon us, & through forgiving our sins making us clean & holy in His sight.
Even in our sins, we need not fear when the other shoe will drop, for Christ came to take our place hanging naked, bloody & dying upon a Roman instrument of execution. Any mistakes in our bulletins have been paid for. Our ornery attitudes have been washed away. Christ has come to connect the dots for you that you might know the joy of being in the Lord’s house.
Finally, on the Last Day, we will see fully that now unseen realm beyond our senses.
We will never again ask, “Why am I always the one who has to do this?” On the Last Day, as the OT reading declared, “you shall see & be radiant; your heart shall thrill & exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.” (Isaiah 60:5 ESV) No more will any of our thoughts, words or deeds be found wanting.
On the Last Day, all the people throughout the history of the world, will have an Epiphany like never before. To those who trust in Jesus that Epiphany will be one of ultimate & eternal joy. To those who rejected trusting in Jesus, that Epiphany will one of dread & horror.
The Church is the body of Christ, not as a denomination, not as a congregation, not as any particular building or group of people or form of worship. The Church is an outpost of God’s kingdom here in this corrupted & brutal world. The Holy Spirit works through the Church to take up & to extend the ministry of Christ.
Like Jesus hanging on the cross, the church on earth can be an ugly sight. Yet, through thousands of years of history, Satan has not been able to destroy God’s Church. He never will. Amen.
Holy Spirit, ever living as the Church’s very life; Holy Spirit, ever striving through us in a ceaseless strife; Holy Spirit, ever forming in the Church the mind of Christ: You we praise with endless worship for Your gifts & fruits unpriced. Holy Spirit, ever working through the Church’s ministry; quickening, strengthening, & absolving, setting captive sinners free; Holy Spirit, ever binding age to age & soul to soul in communion never ending, You we worship & extol. Amen. LSB 650:2-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet