A sermon based on Acts 13:46-49 for Epiphany Sunday, January 3/6, 2019.
In this current age of email, texts, Integra, and other digital forms of communication, a hand written note loses some of its appeal and joy. In a time before computers, and yes there used to be such a time, hand written notes were a common form of communication. A person would sit down and take time to craft a letter. The recipient would have to wait days, not moments, for the note to come. Every day they would check the mailbox waiting expectantly for the letter to arrive. When the letter arrived, they would read it, and the whole process would start all over again.
Some of that joy still exists today. Pen pals send letters back and forth. Christmas cards bring a smile to our face. A hand written thank you card makes a person feel special. I am not saying email does not have its place, it most certainly does. However, there is something special about a note addressed specifically for a single person.
We have a special note written just for us. God inspired men to write down words that were compiled into the Bible. As the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of people, these words take on new meaning for us. We find comfort and joy in all these words penned specifically for us. Those words have been passed down through the generations. They are words that will continue to live on for all people.
The Epiphany Message Lives On
- A message meant for all.
- A message bringing joy.
The young Christian church started to spread its wings. The apostles, who spent time with Jesus, concentrated their efforts in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. The newest apostle, Paul and his companion Barnabas, travelled out a little farther. Even though their main mission was to work among the Gentiles, Paul and Barnabas never forget about the Jews. In most of the cities they visited they started out in the Jewish synagogue. This way they would have a base to preach to. They would have people familiar with the Word of God, and then they would move outward into the city.
Their visit to Pisidian Antioch was no different. This city was located in modern day Turkey. Many retired Roman soldiers lived in this area. They were given pieces of land and made Roman citizens, after they fulfilled they obligation of serving in the army. A large Jewish population also lived in this area.
As was their custom Paul and Barnabas entered into the synagogue. The Jews invited them to give a special message. Paul spoke to them about the history of God’s plan of salvation. God chose the Jews to be his own people. Abraham received the promise of a Savior to be born from his line. When they were enslaved in Egypt, God came to their rescue. As Paul preached, the people stood in awe. The Jews and converts to Judaism desired to learn more. They invited Paul and Barnabas back the next week to speak some more.
When the next week came, almost the whole city assembled in the synagogue. Everyone wanted to hear Paul’s message. The Jews saw everyone crowding in the synagogue, and they became jealous. They started to speak abusively against Paul and Barnabas.
Paul would not stand for all of this. “It was necessary that God’s word be spoken to you first. But since you reject it and consider yourselves unworthy of eternal life, look: We are now turning to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46)! The jealousy stemmed from national pride. God gave the promise to the Jews. They were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They followed the laws of circumcision and honored all the holy days on the Jewish calendar. How dare these Gentiles infringe on what the Jews had.
The Jews turned their following God’s commands into earning a place in heaven. They worried so much about their obedience that they rejected the very truths that God’s Word contained. They thought they were better. They wanted more from God. They thought they deserved more from God. They thought God’s Word should not go out to all those other nations.
God minced no words here. The Jews considered themselves unworthy of eternal life. They could not blame God. All the fault lie squarely on their shoulders. The Jews did this all to themselves. They turned their back on God’s Word. They let their jealousy get the best of them. The devil blinded them to the grace of God, so that they threw away everything. Because the Jews rejected God and his Word, Paul and Barnabas would turn their attention to the Gentiles.
We sometimes find ourselves in the same boat as those Jews in Antioch. We want God’s favor to come upon a specific few. We look around trying to size up ourselves to others. We compare how much we volunteer to someone else. We measure our faith on the amount of offerings we give. We judge others who might not be “church material” in our own eyes.
This process walks the line of becoming work righteous. We think that God owes us heaven. We deserve it for all the things we have done. We fail to see the sins we commit. We no longer see our unworthiness. God’s love means nothing for our life. If we carry this all the way out, all of a sudden God’s Word does not need to go out to all people. We are content to just keep it all by ourselves. We gather with others content with that and forgot about the mission of the church.
Paul and Barnabas brought the message of sins forgiven, the very same message given to the Jews, to the Gentiles. They became a light for those people living in the darkness of sin. Salvation, the message of the gospel, needed to go out to the ends of the earth.
The same Epiphany message lives on today for all people. Just imagine for a moment if Jesus only did come for the Jews. We would still be in darkness. Salvation reaches our ears. Through faithful proclaimers of the gospel message, the good news of the gospel came to us. This news was too big just for the Jews to hear. God intended it for all people from the very beginning. He intended it to come for us, so that we might see the light of the gospel message.
It does not just stop in our houses. The joyous message of Epiphany goes on to the ends of the world. We want the good news of sins forgiven through faith in Jesus to reach all people. We want all nations to know about the light of the world, Jesus Christ. We spread this gospel message for it brings joy to the life of the believer.
The Gentiles reception of the Word of God differed greatly from the Jews. The Jews rejected God’s Word. They considered themselves unworthy of eternal life. The Gentiles heard the Word of the Lord with great zeal. They rejoiced at the news it contained. They honored God’s Word as holy. The Gentiles devoured all the words from Paul and Barnabas.
“All who had been appointed for eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). The Holy Spirit brought many to faith. Here is the key to all of this. God has appointed people from all over the world for salvation. We do not know who those people are. We simply tell people the good news. We spread the message of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit does the rest.
At this time of the year many kids still are on a high from Christmas and all the presents they received. Parents grow sick of hearing all about those gifts. Teachers hope the focus turns from gifts back to their studies soon. As much as some complain about it, it is nice to see the joy on a child’s face. We might even say that joy is infectious.
I love to see the twinkle in the eyes of a person as they hear and grow in their faith. It comes from a shut-in who no longer can make it to church. They talk about the times they sang in the choir, dropped off their kids at the school, sat in the pews making conversation with their friends. Those days are gone. For whatever reason they cannot make it. However, when the pastor comes, the joy is still there. They await the precious food of Jesus’ body and blood in communion. They want to spend time with the pastor talking about what is going on at church. The joy for God’s Word is still there.
The joy is seen on the faces of members in Bible Class. People love to dig deeper into God’s Word. They mine the treasures for something new. They marvel at the reminder of God’s love for sinners. Parent’s faces beam with joy as they bring a child to the font. The water poured over the head gives that child a second birth. The joy is still there.
Does this joy always show on our faces? Do we love to hear that precious Word in our own life? A child wonders why they have to come to catechism or hear about Jesus every day in school. It becomes old habit. The joy seen at Christmas worship turns to boredom at the repeating theme of sin and grace every week. Our joy turns from God’s Word to work, family, vacations, whatever it might be.
The Epiphany message brings joy to our heart. The joy of hearing of God’s grace to sinners never grows old. We love to hear the plan of salvation. We cannot get enough. We gobble it all up. It is a joyous message that we need to hear.
The news is too good for us just to keep. We also share that good news with others. Just as Paul and Barnabas travelled around sharing Jesus with others, so we do as well. We want that good news to go out for all people. We want others to share in the joy we have. The message of Epiphany will continue to go out. We want others to unwrap those words to experience the same joy we have.
People do not have to look very far for it. God’s personal words come to us. He displays them in Bible for us to hear so that we might see our Savior who has come for all people. It doesn’t matter whether we hear it for the first time or for a thousand times. The joy remains. The joy overflows all our days. It is that same Epiphany message that lives on today. Amen.