Summary: Does the message of Jesus sound like a tired old re-run? It shouldn't! The Apostle Paul explains why not.
The hit show Breaking Bad ended its run late last year with a grand finale viewed by 10.3 million people. That’s nowhere near Super Bowl viewing numbers. Last year 108 million people watched the Ravens top the 49’s, but for a show that started with just a million viewers, ending with over 10 million fans is not bad at all. Perhaps you were among the 10 million who made sure not to miss the Breaking Bad finale. What is it about such TV shows and football and hockey games that grab our attention? Isn’t it the excitement of finding out what’s going to happen? I mean you wouldn’t get 108 million viewers for the Super Bowl this year if it was just a rebroadcast of last year’s game. Re-runs are never a big draw.
And yet isn’t that what we seem to do here every Sunday? The sermon re-broadcasts the episode about Jesus dying on the cross to save the world from sin. That true story was exciting the first few times we heard and believed it, but have we started to tire of this message? If so, I pray that the Apostle Paul’s Epiphany message to us this morning revives our excitement for salvation.
First of all what do I mean by this word “Epiphany”? It’s a Greek word that means “revealing.” The Sundays after the Christmas season are called the season of Epiphany because the readings focus on how Jesus was revealed as the Savior of the world. That’s most clear from today’s Gospel lesson where wise men came from a foreign land to worship Jesus as their Messiah and King. Were Mary and Joseph surprised to receive these out of town guests? In one sense they shouldn’t have been surprised because God had always made it clear in the Old Testament that non-Jews too would eagerly look forward to the Savior’s coming. But this truth really only became fully revealed and appreciated in New Testament times. Paul put it like this in our text: “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:4-6).
Early believers knew that Jesus had died to save all people, but what they didn’t realize was that non-Jewish Christians would have an equal share in the glories of heaven with Jewish believers. Perhaps we can appreciate why they would think that way if we consider this. Let’s say that your boss gave you a Christmas bonus of $1,000. With the money he wrote a nice note thanking you for your faithful years of service. Wouldn’t you be surprised to learn then that the new guy who started work just days before Christmas got the same bonus and a similar note as you? Wouldn’t it be even more surprising if this same guy had at one time tried to ruin the company by hacking its website? He shouldn’t get a bonus. He should just be happy that he had a job with the company! That’s what some Jewish believers seemed to think about the non-Jewish Christians in their midst. Sure, it was great that they now believed in Jesus, but were they really equal partners in God’s family? “Yes!” exclaimed God through the Apostle Paul.
Whether we have Jewish blood coursing through our veins or not, it should astound each one of us that God considers us worthy of heaven. Put yourself in God’s shoes. If you are picking people to spend eternity with, would you pick chronic grumblers like us? “What’s up with this weather, Lord? We haven’t seen the sun for weeks. And when it does come out it’s bitterly cold!” “Oatmeal again?” “Why am I the one who always gets sick?” Outbursts like that are normal, but consider what that means. It means that our default setting is one of selfishness. We don’t care about God or about others; we just really care about ourselves and our happiness. Tell me again why God should want to spend eternity with us?
The truth is God can’t spend eternity with sinners any more than a snake can hang out with a rat in a terrarium without eventually killing and eating it. But that’s not what God had created Adam and Eve to be – rats to be toyed with and then destroyed. He created them and their descendants to be perfect companions with him. When the fall into sin ruined God’s plan he did not abandon his creation the way we would abandon a pair of ruined snow boots that duct tape can no longer hold together. Instead of distancing himself from sinners, God drew closer to them in the person of his Son, Jesus. This Jesus wrapped us sinners in his cleansing blood and has presented us to God as perfect for heaven. This message of salvation should never get boring. It certainly wasn’t boring for the Apostle Paul. He said in our text: “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:8, 12).