Monday, January 7, 2019

Mark's thoughts: The season of Epiphany - Glory that points to death

During the season of Epiphany we celebrate the good news that after the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), he revealed his saving glory in the world.  The term Epiphany comes from the Greek work which means “to appear.”  Epiphany begins with the glory of a star that the magi see at is rising, and which then leads them from Jerusalem to the Christ child in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:2, 4).  The Savior of all people is revealed to Gentiles as they come and worship him.

Next in the season of Epiphany is the Baptism of Our Lord.  In the first appearance that begins his ministry, Jesus goes to receive the baptism of John the Baptist.  John administers a baptism of repentance, yet Jesus the sinless One goes to John. John tries to prevent this, but Jesus says it is necessary and fitting for them to do to fulfill all righteousness – to carry out God’s saving action to put all things right (Matthew 4:15).  Matthew tells us:  

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 4:16-17).

The Father’s words take up Isaiah 42:1, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him.”  The Father identifies Jesus as the Servant of the Lord. But the Servant in Isaiah is also the suffering Servant of Isaiah chapter 53: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).  Jesus has submitted to a baptism of repentance to take our place - to take our sins upon himself.

The last Sunday in the season of Epiphany is the Transfiguration of Our Lord.  Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him up on a high mountain.  There our Lord is transfigured before them.  His face shines like the sun, and his clothes become white as light. The glory of the Lord appears in an awesome way, as Moses and Elijah then appear along with Jesus and are talking to him (Matthew 17:1-3). A bright cloud overshadows them, and Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  Once again, words that take up Isaiah 42 are spoken by God about Jesus.

Jesus’ divine glory appears, yet at that very moment the words of the Father tell us that Jesus is the Servant.  He is the One who will carry out the Servant’s task of suffering and dying for us. And indeed, this is what Jesus has just told his disciples for the first time. Matthew tells us: “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).

The season of Epiphany reveals the glory of the incarnate Lord.  But it reveals the Lord whose glory will be seen in the cross. God’s saving glory will be seen in the Son of God hanging on the cross of Good Friday.  Epiphany leads us into Lent and on to Holy Week.  But the blazing glory of the transfigured Lord that ends the season of Epiphany points beyond the cross.  It points to the glory of our Lord’s resurrection on Easter.   

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