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Epiphany II, 2012
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Epiphany II - 12/1/15
Zech. 8:1-8, 20-23; Ps. 99; Rom. 12:6-16; Mk. 1:1-11
Mark starts off his Gospel,
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus
Christ, the Son of God; as it is written in the prophets, “Behold, I send my
messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of
one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths
Isaiah was describing the triumphal march of
the Lord and His people across the desert and mountains back to Jerusalem.
And then Mark tells us that John the Baptist
baptized in the wilderness for remission of sins. John was not a televangelist
who curried the favor of his audience. He spoke roughly and directly to them.
His honesty apparently drew crowds of Jews who understood that perhaps the
nearly 400 year dearth of any prophets or prophecy might now be at an end. “And
there went out to him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were
all baptized of him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins.”
The people themselves must have understood
the need for national repentance.
I know of no record of what actually
happened when John baptized, what prayers were said, or what the person being
baptized had to affirm – a creed or confession. It may have been no more than a
list of sins, and then a dunking for the symbolic spiritual cleansing. In any
event the Spirit of God was moving among the Jews, almost as though God Himself
were hovering over the land – as was described in the Transformation videos.
Zechariah describes the restoration of
Jerusalem and the Temple, how the streets will again be filled with old folks
enjoying themselves and children playing in the streets, and how He will bring
the exiles from far off back to home again. But even more, the Gentiles
themselves will seek the favor of the Lord of Hosts. Many peoples and strong
nations will seek the Lord of Hosts. “In
those days, ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe
of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”
Beginning with Abraham, the drum beat
continues that the Gentiles shall become a part of the blessings from God, that
indeed, the Jewish mission was in part specifically for the sake of the
There was a great deal of expectation among
the Jews of the first century AD for a renewal of prophecy, some kind of
visitation of the Lord among them. It seems strange that just after the return
of the exiles from Babylon and the rebuilding of the Temple, that this dearth of
prophetic voice would take place. But many new things were happening. Those
returning from Babylon would bring with them the synagogue system, with the
Torah scrolls marking the center of worship, so that in one sense, the
rebuilding of the Temple was already becoming a less central event for the Jews.
The local rabbi with the Torah scroll would become the standard place of
spiritual education and renewal, gradually replacing the Temple, which, unknown
to the people, would again be destroyed, and the Jews dispersed abroad all over
the Roman empire.
The synagogue system helped prepare the way
for the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Gospel by making Judaism portable all
over the empire so that an astonishing ten percent of the Roman population was
either Jewish, or at least God fearing, by the time of Jesus.
But something was amiss, as indicated by
Jesus’ stinging rebuke:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,
hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and
when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as
yourselves. Mt 23:15
Jesus must have noticed how the proselytes
became more Jewish than the Jews, more set on the law, to the exclusion of grace
and truth. There was a pride of race and culture, an attribution of the glory of
the law of God to themselves, as though they had something to do with that
glory. They had closed the circle around themselves, shutting out God, and
making themselves the center of things. They took what God had given them and
used it for their own glory.
Something new needed to happen to restore
the original spirit of Godly freedom with which God meant to invest human life.
The resistance of the God-fearers to becoming fully Jewish may have been a
healthy, even if unconscious, insight into just that problem. A word from God
Himself may have been holding them back.
The new thing that needed to happen was
contained in John’s message, that someone was coming whose shoes he was not
worthy to stoop down and unloose. “I
indeed have baptized you with water, but he shall baptize you with the Holy
It did not have so much to do with yet
another law, as with a deeper personal relationship. Jesus would invite them to
become children, not of hell, but of God, mothered and fathered by God Himself.
The Jewish leadership thought and taught
that one became holy by obedience to the law. Their being the administrators of
the law, of course, thus gave them enormous power over the lives of the people.
Jesus was coming to teach them that holiness came from personal relationship,
not law by itself, that God valued persons, not laws, so laws were made for
persons, not persons for the laws. Laws were to give structure and order to
society so that love and grace could prosper. Laws were necessary, given to
overcome chaos, but only love and grace can give
to the structure and order of law. Without grace and love, law is deadly,
killing the spirit.
Grace and love do not come by knowing
the Law-Giver, they come by
knowing the Law-Giver.
Personal relationship. Only in personal relationship does spiritual power flow.
The ability to be ourselves comes from living in the love of the Giver – our
Jesus came among us to give us the full and
true meaning of the law, that obedience to God would be our response to
original graciousness, not God’s way of intimidating us, or of threatening us,
and also, not by obedience,
way of getting God on our side.
He is already on our side. We, not God, are
the trouble-makers for ourselves. We are our own worst enemies. God
us in heaven, that is, in close personal relationship of trust and obedience. We
are the ones who have our doubts about wanting to get close to God. It is there
that He can bless us with that peace that passes understanding, with our own
ability to be ourselves and to find a purpose for our lives.
Laws by themselves cannot
those gifts, laws are too impersonal and abstract. Only the Law-Giver
can give those gifts of personal stability and meaning. The law just sets the
stage upon which the drama of redemption and holy communion can happen. The law
sets the stage and the rules of engagement so that the actors can work out their
roles and relationships. Without love and grace in addition to law, none of that
can succeed. Law necessarily
the process of redemption to create order, but only love and grace can
John the Baptist is telling his world that
the time has come, the
Messiah is near.
We do not know how much John knew of Jesus personally, whether they played
together as children, knew each other, or ever talked with each other about
their respective vocations. It seems in the Gospel that John and Jesus were just
becoming acquainted, suggesting that Mary and Elizabeth, John’s mother, who
lived at some distance in the hill country of Judah, did not see each other
The only way that grace can be communicated
in a fallen world is by personal presence.
grace. It is not enough to talk about it. God Himself had to introduce Himself
to His people Jesus had to draw the disciples into close relationship, to force
their personal decision, to test them to see whether they would trust and obey
Him. Knowing the law does not bring atonement and salvation. Only knowing the
Law-Giver. The personal presence of the Law-Giver is what feeds and directs the
I have occasionally reflected on the long time
it took between God's first choosing of Abraham and the gift of the Holy Spirit
– nearly two millennia. It may be that it took that long to bring the
Hebrews to the point where they could benefit by the Incarnation of the Son of
How do we translate this into our situation?
What would it be like to have all that happen in Orange County? What difference
would it make to Orange County? Does Orange County have the same problems that
Judea had? What would have to happen to bring such an event about here? We saw
in the Transformation videos, and we know from history, that spiritual renewal
is not a thing of the past. Such things have happened probably in every century.
It was clear in the Transformation videos
that it was the presence of Godly persons and the growth of Godly communities
which transformed those cities and nations. Truth and grace must be incarnated,
seen in the flesh, in the culture for most people to believe it. We believe
through hearing the word of God, but the belief is much deeper and more powerful
when we see it not only spoken, but lived. Grace must be incarnated. That is the
meaning of holy communion and Christian community. Christian communities are
those in which the presence and love of God are made manifest through living,
Every Christian church, every Christian
family, every Christian person – is called to be Spirit-filled, standing on the
Hand of God and speaking the Word which God speaks to us. Baptized in the Holy
The Old Testament describes the nations
seeking the Lord in Jerusalem. The New Testament describes the Church bringing
the Lord to the nations.
The Epistle from Romans 12 illustrates how
to go about doing these things on a daily basis. How do we live as Christian
people? How do we live as baptized not only with water, but with the Holy
Spirit? How do we live as Pentecost people – incarnating the gifts of the Spirit
among the people in Orange County?
We can read it straight from the text:
...let us prophesy according to the
proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering.... he that
giveth, let him do it with simplicity
(that is openly with no hidden motives)....
he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.
Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that
which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in
honour preferring one another; not slothful in business; fervent in spirit;
serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation...
The list goes on. But it is a list worth
thinking about, each and every phrase. Each phrase is a challenge to our own
behavior among one another, and with those whom we meet daily. We may be the
only Jesus some people will have met. We must incarnate the life of Christ
daily, moment by moment.
That means we must repent of our complaining
spirits, our resentments, our self-pity, our fears and faithlessness. What is
there that can defeat us if Christ is our savior?
We face an implacable foe in the spirit of
the anti-Christ abroad today. Our government is anti-Christ. It does not want,
and militates against, the lordship of Jesus Christ. And many Christians have
made peace with that situation, falling for the unGodly (and illegal) separation
of God and civil government.
How would a John the Baptist be treated
today? Another beheading? How would the Christ be treated today? Another
crucifixion? It does not matter. We need to be the John the Baptist and the
Jesus Christ of today. That is the calling of the Body of Christ. To be the Body
of Christ means to be both the law and the grace of God incarnated in our time.
To be the Body of Christ means to be
extremely stern and firm about the breaking of the law, and it means to be
wonderfully graceful about repentant sinners, drawing them into the community of
Behold, I send My messenger before thy
God is still sending such messengers. We may
be called to be such a messenger, announcing the presence of God among us. Why
stand we here idle? Let us be willing to put ourselves at risk, challenging the
world, the flesh, and the devil himself with the righteousness and truth from
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Date Posted - 01/15/2012 - Date
Last Edited -