Summary: Epiphany 4: Through Jesus’ ministry on earth, we get glimpses of his true identity. We find comfort and peace knowing that Jesus is God among us.
Let me ask you the two most important questions that you will ever consider: “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?” and “What does his identity mean to you?” I want us to consider these two questions from the ’Epiphany perspective.’ As Jesus continues to reveal and manifest his identity during this Epiphany season, let us use what we learn to wrestle with these two questions. Let’s begin by reading the Gospel Lesson together. [Read St. Mark 1:21-28]
Who is Jesus of Nazareth? Let me take you back to a time about 4000 years ago. Moses and the Israelites had just left Egypt and they were at the foot of Mount Horeb. They were fresh from a trip through the desert with God as tour guide. They had seen amazing wonders – pillars of fire and smoke to guide and protect them; the Red Sea parted before them so that they could walk through it; manna from heaven; water from a rock. And now they were at the foot of the holy mountain. God Himself was so near that his presence shook the earth. His awesome presence was so intimidating that they trembled with fear. Let me read you an excerpt from the event:
"All the people heard the thunder and saw the lightning. They heard the blast of the ram’s horn and saw the mountain covered with smoke. So they shook with fear and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we’ll listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we’ll die!” Moses answered the people, “Don’t be afraid! God has come only to test you, so that you will be in awe of him and won’t sin.” The people kept their distance while Moses went closer to the dark cloud where God was." (Exodus 20:18-21)
When God drew near to the people – they were terrified. God in his full majesty and power and glory was so fearful that mortal men could not and cannot face Him. And so the people – not wanting face God, but knowing that they couldn’t live without Him, asked for God to keep a representative – a prophet among them. And God complied with their wishes.
In our Old Testament Lesson, we heard: “The Lord your God will send you a prophet, an Israelite like me. This is what you asked the Lord your God to give you on the day of the assembly at Mount Horeb. You said, “We never want to hear the voice of the LORD our God or see this raging fire again. If we do, we’ll die!” (Deuteronomy 18:15-16)
And so God has continued to direct His people through prophets - like Moses. From that point on, prophet after prophet would come bringing God’s Word. But here’s the key: Moses and all his successors – the prophets that followed – were not to be the ultimate fulfillment of the prophetic ministry. These prophets were types – or imitations of the coming Prophet – the final representative Whom God would send - Jesus Christ.
And so, "Who is Jesus of Nazareth?" We see from this perspective that He is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to provide a Prophet. Jesus Christ is the incarnate divine revelation from God. He is the fulfillment of the prophetic role.
Now all of this is very important. But don’t miss the critical point: In his prophetic role, Jesus Christ is the face of God among us. Jesus is the incredible Way that God devised to be able to be among humanity while not blinding us with his holiness and awesome wonder and power. Through Jesus, we have communion with God without fear.
Who is Jesus of Nazareth? St. Mark teaches that Jesus is also a teacher sent from God – but no ordinary teacher. There is something unique and amazing about the way He teaches. He gives us a glimpse into heaven. You see, Jesus is a teacher through Whom the Word comes alive. Mark says that when Jesus taught – “The people were amazed at his teachings. Unlike their scribes, he taught them with authority.” (Mark 1:22) Jesus made God real through his teaching. He brought heaven to the place where He taught. He opened up the mysteries of God and made them accessible to us. The Lord was a teacher with authority.
In our Gospel Lesson, we see that Jesus’ authority extends to the kingdom of darkness. Jesus met “…a man in the synagogue who was controlled by an evil spirit. [The man] shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus from Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God!’ Jesus ordered the spirit, ‘Keep quiet, and come out of him!’ The evil spirit threw the man into convulsions and came out of him with a loud shriek.” (Mark 1:23-26)