EPIPHANY 3, A – January 26, 2014

SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 9:1-4; 1 Cor. 1:10-18; Matt. 4:12-25; Ps. 22

 

My phone rang at 2 in the morning Friday night/Saturday morning. That’s usually not good news! This was. It was Tina, calling from Heathrow Airport in London, letting us know that she had arrived there safely after an overnight flight from NYC. Later that morning we talked with her on Skype. Her trip to Aberdeen had gone well, and she was settling in at Robert Gordon University. So begins the next stage of her life!

 

In our Scripture readings today we travel to another land and a different situation. Jesus begins His ministry in Galilee in northern Israel. I was there years ago, touring Israel with a group of fellow seminarians. If you ever have the chance to go there, do so. It’s quite fascinating and inspiring to see and be in the places you read about in the Bible! How amazing it must have been 2,000 years ago when Jesus began His ministry. Imagine seeing “all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics” brought to Him and healed. The kingdom of heaven was truly present! God was ruling and overcoming every evil! He was even overcoming the evil of prejudice and division. “His fame spread throughout all Syria,” we’re told. “Great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” People of various races and backgrounds, Jews and Gentiles from throughout the region, came to Him; and He received and helped them all.

 

It didn’t last, of course. During the three year ministry of Jesus, as well as during the years after His ascension when His Church grew and spread throughout the Roman Empire, there were highs and lows. Sometimes many people were coming to Jesus and they seemed united; at other times there were few and there was dissension among them. To this day it is this way in Christ’s Church. Why?

 

The problem does not rest with God. We see right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry that nothing – no disease or sickness; no demonic power or oppression; no racial division – can prevent Him from doing His work of salvation. Our Lord is mighty to rescue from every affliction and bring sinners to Himself! Take comfort in this. As His salvation is received by faith, nothing can keep you from receiving the blessing He desires to give if you seek it. At least, nothing that is without can prevent Him. When Christ’s Gospel is not changing lives, the problem does not lie with God. It lies with us. We see an example of this in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians. The apostle Paul writes: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” ” The people were focusing upon themselves and their desires and what appealed to them, and not upon Christ. “What is there for me?” each was asking, and this was dividing them.

  • Some of them preferred Paul because he had started their congregation and was, in a sense, their first pastor. Jesus had also appeared to him personally and specially chosen him!

  • Others preferred Peter (Cephas), who, after all, was one of Jesus’ original apostles. Jesus had even called him the rock on which He would build His Church. There was no one better than Peter to follow!

  • Some preferred Apollos, a man of great intellect who had come to them after Paul left and inspired them with his great preaching and teaching.

    These men were different, certainly; but Paul points out that they were not divided in their message. Each proclaimed Christ crucified. Salvation – forgiveness of sins and eternal life – is found in Him alone, in the One who was crucified for our sins and raised again on the third day. It is Jesus and the message about Him that matters, not the person who proclaims that message. Personal preferences and “What’s in it for me?” should not be the focus, as they had become in Corinth.

     

    In our day, the message of Christ crucified has spread throughout the world. Thanks be to God! There are Christian churches almost everywhere. But, sadly, the message is not the same. In Christian churches today you can hear preaching that declares:

  • Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and made her an apostle.

  • Jesus was homosexual.

  • Jesus is not God, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

    Christ has been divided. I could go on and on about the differences in teaching of the many and various Christian denominations and the difference this makes, but I don’t think you’d be happy with an hour long sermon. Suffice it to say that you should hold onto Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, crucified and risen for you as the central message of Christianity; to the Bible as God’s true and holy and complete message in its entirety; to the true body and blood of Christ given and received in Holy Communion as of vital importance for your salvation; to your Baptism into Christ as the assurance of the forgiveness of your sins and your being a child of God. Seek this preaching and teaching and hold onto it, and avoid those who proclaim a different Christ. The apostle Paul told his followers, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Rom. 16:17) Jesus Himself warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Mt. 7:15)

     

     If you have Christ and the true teaching about Him, then take your focus off of your own personal preferences and desires, for they draw attention away from Christ. We can’t always have what we want and think is best, in pastors or in people. Thank God for this! The Lord teaches us far more from those who are unlike us than those who are like us. So, when you go to church, instead of saying, “What is there for me?” say “Jesus is there for me!” That is what matters. This focus unites us with one another, no matter what may threaten to divide us. More importantly, it keeps us focused upon Jesus and the blessings we have in abundance in Him.

     

    Great and eternal is the blessing we have in Jesus! Thanks be to God for His Gospel, and for all those who rightly proclaim it. May God keep far from us all division and keep us, pastor and people, united in Jesus Christ our Lord. His name will then be honored, and we will be blessed, now and into eternity! Amen.