The Second Sunday After the Epiphany
January 29-30, 2011
Text: John 1:29-42a
Dear Friends in Christ,
It has been the plot of many stories. There are many variations. A man is killed and then suddenly returns. In some cases the man is literally raised from the dead. In others, he was just thought to have been killed. In still others it is another man who just happens to look exactly like the dead man. The variations are endless. But there is inevitably a scene where a person knew the dead man and, upon seeing the living man, asks, are you real, are you flesh, or are you a ghost? Sometimes a movie leaves the question unanswered. You never do find out if the person is real or something else. I think for example of the Clint Eastwood movie “Pale Rider”.
Many throughout the years have questioned if Jesus was real was something else. Was He a man? And if He really was a man, why would God lower Himself to be one of us? Many false teachings about the humanity of Christ developed. There were those who wanted to say that Jesus wasn’t really a man. He just appeared as a man. Or that the God part wasn’t with Him His whole life. All of this comes from what the Germans call Schopsfergessenheit. You didn’t know you were going to get a German lesson, did you? Schopsfergessenheit - creation forgetting. In fact one of the ancient heresies, called Gnosticism, actually taught that the devil made the world and human beings. The flesh was just a trap for the soul. The flesh was evil and the spiritual, the soul, was inherently good. But God did create the physical universe. God did create man. He created man in His own image, and then saw that it was good. So on one level, it is incredible that God would become a man. But on another, He is simply entering into the world He Himself created. Christ Himself is the creator. He is entering into that creation which He declared to be good, in order that it might again be good.
King Solomon observed that there is nothing new under the sun. Sadly, many of the same heresies are coming right back today. The so called emergent church movement is almost entirely gnostic. Who are these guys? They are mega church guys that are speaking at the big evangelical conferences - Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and numerous others. Even more sad is the fact that The Ally, a mission in the Woodbury area, started by a former vice president of the Missouri Synod, was created specifically to copy these guys. And why is this a problem? Because, as St. John Chrysostom stated, “What God has not assumed, He has not redeemed.” If Christ was not a man, we are not redeemed. We are still in our sin. We are still condemned to hell.
The season of Epiphany is a great counter to this heresy, this deadly false teaching. It is a season dedicated to the proposition that a man was revealed to be God. This man was Jesus of Nazareth, or in the Aramaic that He would have heard daily - Yeshua Honosri. He was born near the beginning of the year 4 B.C. and died on April 3, 33 A.D.
John the Baptist pulled no punches. John saw Jesus after Jesus had returned from His temptation in the wilderness. He immediately pointed to Jesus and declared that He is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. Only God can remove sin. To call Jesus the Lamb of God is to call Him God. But John is not done. In verse 30 we read something curious. After me comes a Man... who was before me. The statement can be taken a number of ways. But the nub of it is that Jesus, who is six months or so younger than John, existed before John. John clearly calls Jesus a Man. So this ought not be in dispute. But what John here is again saying is that this Man is God. He has existed from all eternity. That’s how He had existed before John, even though He was younger than John. John then goes on to call Jesus the Son of God. Son of God is a very specific title. It again clearly shows that John considered Jesus to be God. So what John is saying is that this Man, Jesus of Nazareth, is God.
Let’s take a little side excursion here. What does it mean that Christ is the Son of God? We don’t have this concept in our culture. Sonship for us is little more than a biological reality. Our laws distinguish little between son and daughters. But that was not the case in the first century. To be a son had very special meaning. And in most cases, men has sons, but one, normally the oldest, was the son. Jacob had twelve sons, but Judah, son number four, was the son of Jacob. What does that mean. It means he was the heir of his father. He received from Jacob the promise of the Messiah. In much the same way, though David had many sons, Solomon was the son of David. Jesus is a royal Son. He is the crown prince, the heir to everything that belongs to His Father. In the ancient world, crown princes were expected to go out and fight on behalf of their fathers. They were expected to be generals and leaders. John by identifying Christ as the Son of God, is saying that the Crown Prince of Heaven has stepped onto the battle field. Christ has come to fight His Father’s battles.
John continues to point to Jesus as God. He even directs his disciples to follow after Jesus. In this case, one these two disciples was Andrew, who immediately went and found his brother Simon, whom Christ would call Peter. The other disciple was perhaps the Apostle John. That would explain how John knew about these events. But the text does not state this, so we cannot be certain.
We live at a time when many want to deny that God became flesh and dwelt among man, as one of us. Yet, as we see from our text, Christ is God and man. This is crucial for us, as Christ came to die for our sins. He had to be one of us to do that. He had to be a man. And indeed, Scripture clearly teaches that this is the case. Like always, the correct, the orthodox, doctrine always points to our salvation as a free gift from God. The false doctrine, the heresy, points us to ourselves and our own works. The false doctrine denies what Christ has done for us. Considering that it is our eternal salvation that is at stake, it is important to get this right. Jesus Christ became a man, and as one of us, died on the cross for our salvation. We rise to life just as Christ rose from the grave. That’s why we must get this right.