The Lord tells His people, “I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery” (Micah 6:4). By the sacrifice of His beloved Son, He has redeemed us from our slavery of sin and death; He has forgiven our transgressions by the shedding of His blood. His great mercy and salvation lead us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly” with our God (Micah 6:8). We boast only in the incarnate and crucified Lord Jesus. He is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). He is our life and salvation, our “wisdom” and “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). Now He opens His mouth and teaches us His wisdom. By His cross and Passion, the kingdom of heaven is ours. We receive mercy and are satisfied; we see God and are called sons of God in Christ. “Blessed are you,” therefore, “when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely” on account of Christ (Matt. 5:11).
By His coming in the flesh and by His preaching and miracles, the Lord Jesus shines the light of His Gospel upon “the people who walked in darkness” and “who dwelt in a land of deep darkness” (Is. 9:2). He also has “multiplied the nation” and “increased its joy” (Is. 9:3) by calling disciples to Himself from the ends of the earth. For this purpose, He calls Peter and Andrew, with James and John, to follow Him and be “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). As Jesus did, they also go forth “proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (Matt. 4:23). They preach the foolishness of the cross of Christ as the very power and wisdom of God. This word and preaching of the cross divides “those who are perishing” from “us who are being saved” (1 Cor. 1:18), but it unites the Church, the one Body of Christ, “in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10).
The Feast of the Epiphany centers in the visit of the Magi from the East. In that respect, it is a “Thirteenth Day” of Christmas, and yet it also marks the beginning of a new liturgical season. Where Christmas has focused on the incarnation of our Lord, that is, on God becoming flesh, the Season of Epiphany emphasizes the manifestation or self-revelation of God in that same flesh of Christ. For the Lord Himself has entered our darkness and rises upon us with the brightness of His true light (Is. 60:1–2). He does so chiefly by His Word of the Gospel, which He causes to be preached within His Church on earth, not only to the Jews but also to Gentiles (Eph. 3:8–10). As the Magi were guided by the promises of Holy Scripture to find and worship the Christ Child with His mother in the house (Matt. 2:5–11), so does He call disciples from all nations by the preaching of His Word to find and worship Him within His Church (Is. 60:3–6).
Sometimes life requires the astonishing patience of Job. Like him, we are to rejoice in the midst of affliction, be grounded in repentance under the cross of Christ, and hope relentlessly in His resurrection, that we might see “the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). In the promise of the Gospel, therefore, “be patient” and “establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7, 8). Like St. John the Baptist, whatever your own kind of prison or suffering may be, call upon Jesus and receive the strength of His Word from those He sends to you. For as “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up,” so is the Good News of Jesus preached to you also (Matt. 11:5). He comes and restores the fortunes of Zion, His Holy Church, so that “sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Is. 35:10)
“John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent’” (Matt. 3:1–2). His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins prepared people for the coming of Christ into the world. St. John’s work was historically complete with the incarnate advent of Jesus, but his vital ministry continues in preaching Law and Gospel. The Son of God has come in the flesh, “a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots” (Is. 11:1) and continues to bear the fruits of righteousness. His good tree of the cross is “a signal for the peoples” (Is. 11:10), by which He calls the nations to repentance. “With the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips” (Is. 11:4), He slays the wicked and brings the dead to life, making sons of Abraham out of lifeless stones. So also the “root of Jesse” comes to us, “even he who arises to rule the Gentiles” (Rom. 15:12), that “we might have hope” and be filled “with all joy and peace in believing” (Rom. 15:4, 13).
There are signs of the Lord’s coming all around: the cross that marks His Church, the violence and death of the sinful world, and the shaking of the natural order. “There will be great distress upon the earth” (Luke 21:23), but the faithful know that “the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:31). Therefore, “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). Be awake and alert, and heed the words of Christ, which “will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). For you, “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (Mal. 4:2). He sends His preachers of repentance in the spirit and power of Elijah “before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” (Mal. 4:5), in order to “direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thess. 3:5). Although you are often faithless, “the Lord is faithful,” and by the preaching of His Word “he will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thess. 3:3). Therefore, “do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thess. 3:13). In the midst of calamity, believe upon the Lord, Jesus Christ.
“Wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Matt. 11:19), and the true Wisdom of God, Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, justifies us by His deeds. He prepares His way by the preaching of repentance, but He has suffered the violence of the Law and voluntarily handed Himself over
to violent men, that we might eat and drink with Him in His kingdom and “remain in the house forever” (John 8:35). For He is “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt. 11:19), and He has rescued us by His grace from the slavery of sin and death. By the proclamation of His eternal
Gospel “to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people” (Rev. 14:6), “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” (Rom. 3:21), “that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). And by
hearing the Gospel of Christ Jesus, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:25), “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Jesus tells a parable “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (Luke 18:9). In this parable, the Pharisee unjustly boasted before God on the basis of his own merits, whereas the tax collector intently prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). That poor, miserable sinner trusted Christ, and he went “down to his house justified, rather than the other” (Luke 18:14). So do little children, “even infants,” come to Jesus with their need, and they “receive the kingdom of God” through faith (Luke 18:15–17). For “the one who humbles himself will be exalted,” but “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled” (Luke 18:14). That is why “the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Gen. 4:4–5). St. Paul’s life, “poured out as a drink offering,” was another sacrifice like Abel’s (2 Tim. 4:6). The Lord stood by Paul and strengthened him, that “the message might be fully proclaimed” (2 Tim. 4:17). It is by that Gospel message of Christ that we “have loved his appearing” and as repentant sinners pray to “the Lord, the righteous judge” by faith (2 Tim. 6:8).
Jesus comes in mercy and, by His Word, heals you in body and soul. “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” for you are cleansed (Luke 17:14), and you are granted access to the Lord’s temple. It is “at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks” (Luke 17:16), that you worship God, for Christ Jesus is your great High Priest; His body is the true temple. In Him, you “find rest, each of you in the house of her husband” (Ruth 1:9), for the Lord has “visited his people and given them food” (Ruth 1:6). The person of Jesus Christ lodges Himself in holy food — bread and wine for believers to eat and drink. You lodge where Jesus lodges; His Father is your God, His people are your people. Death cannot part you from Him because His death and resurrection are eternally yours through Holy Baptism. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead” (2 Tim. 2:8). As surely as death could not hold Him, so surely “the word of God is not bound” (2 Tim. 2:9). His Gospel is entrusted “to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2), so that you “may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:10). Such is the confession of faith for all the saints, who believe, teach and confess the one Lord and Savior — Jesus Christ.
We are surrounded by “destruction and violence” (Hab. 1:3) because the Law “is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth” (Hab. 1:4). In fact, the Law cannot rescue us from our enemies; it is our fiercest enemy of all. Therefore, not by sight, experience or feeling, nor by works, “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4). “Temptations to sin are sure to come” (Luke 17:1), but as often as we sin, the Lord rebukes us, turns us to repentance and forgives us. We pray that He would thus “increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). And indeed, He does! Though we are His “unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10), He prepares His Supper for us, dresses us properly and gives us His body and blood to eat and drink. He appoints pastors for us, “by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:1). For the Gospel brings “life and immortality to light” (2 Tim. 1:10). This we believe. Therefore, “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard,” by which He guards you “in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13).
“The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side,” and “the rich man also died and was buried” (Luke 16:22). The poor man Lazarus, who knew many bad things on earth, began to be comforted forever, whereas the rich man, after a lifetime of good things, began to be “in anguish” (Luke 16:25). Therefore, “woe to those who are at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1), for “the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away” (Amos 6:7). The wealthy are urged “not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches,” but “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:17–18). Covetous desire for what God has not given is idolatry and “a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10). Contentment belongs to faith, by which the Christian has “great gain” in godliness (1 Tim. 6:6).
Because God, our Savior, “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), He urges “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” (1 Tim. 2:1). Christians should so pray “without anger or quarreling,” but “adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control” (1 Tim. 2:8, 9). For the Lord does not forget “the poor of the land” (Amos 8:4). He remembers them according to the foolishness of the cross. “For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). Though we try to justify ourselves “before men,” God knows our sinful hearts and calls us to repentance (Luke 16:15). Though we are “not strong enough to dig,” and we are “ashamed to beg” (Luke 16:3), He justifies us by His grace and welcomes us into His “eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). More shrewd than even “the sons of this world” (Luke 16:8), He requires His stewards of the Gospel to bestow forgiveness freely.
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). As He had mercy on Paul, in order to “display his perfect patience” (1 Tim. 1:16), so also does He seek out His sheep “from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ezek. 34:12). To deliver His flock, He “will seek the lost, … bring back the strayed, … bind up the injured, and … strengthen the weak” (Ezek. 34:16), and “they shall no longer be a prey” (Ezek. 34:22). He sets over them one great Good Shepherd, the Son of David, who “shall feed them and be their shepherd” (Ezek. 34:23). For Christ Jesus is the one man who, “having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them,” would “leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it” (Luke 15:4). When He finds the lost one and brings it home rejoicing, “the angels of God” and all the company of heaven rejoice with Him, with great joy (Luke 15:7, 10).
A disciple of Jesus Christ will “bear his own cross” (Luke 14:27) and follow the Lord through death into life. Discipleship is costly because it crucifies the old man with “all that he has” (Luke 14:33), in order to raise up the new man in Christ. The disciple disavows “his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life” (Luke 14:26), in deference to Christ. That way of the cross is impossible, except that Christ Jesus has already paid the cost. His cross is set before you as “life and good, death and evil” (Deut. 30:15). Taking up His cross is to “choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him” (Deut. 30:19–20). To live that life in Christ is also to bear His cross in love, “that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord” (Philemon 14).
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,” Jesus proclaims, but “he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). For your hope is in the name of the Lord, who humbled Himself unto death on the cross and was exalted in His resurrection. So, are you humbled by His cross, and “at the resurrection of the just,” He will say to you, “Friend, move up higher” (Luke 14:10, 13–14)? By His grace, the King will honor you “in the presence of a noble,” where your eyes will gaze upon the Prince, His dearly beloved Son (Prov. 25:7). As He has dealt so graciously with you, “do not neglect to do good and to share what you have” (Heb. 13:16), and “do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers” (Heb. 13:2). Humble yourself and exalt your neighbor.