The Season of Epiphany
Epiphany – “God in man made manifest”
Epiphany: from the Greek – epi: upon, and phaino: to shine
a moment of sudden revelation or insight
a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being
(capitalized) the Christian festival of the epiphany of Christ to the Magi, as representatives of the Gentiles
While the early Christian church used January 6 to commemorate Jesus’ baptism and the Eastern church uses that date to commemorate his birth, the Western church has long used it to commemorate the arrival of the Magi at the house where a young Jesus was living with his earthly parents. The festival of Epiphany is often called “the Gentile Christmas” for it was the first direct contact between Jesus and people who were not from among the Jews. While the event did not take place on Christmas, but somewhere between 40 days and two years later, it is still appropriate to include it in the general observance of Christmas, even as the whole Epiphany season is included in the “Christmas cycle” of the traditional Christian church year.
The overall theme of the Epiphany season is that the light of Jesus, the Savior of the world, is to shine upon all the world so that all may see, know, and believe that Jesus truly is the Savior from sin, death, and hell for all people. Key to that understanding of Jesus is the clear Bible teaching that Jesus is no less than the Son of God, and as such is God himself. The message of the season of Epiphany is essentially the same as the message of the Gospel of St. John: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He and the Father are one. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. Jesus is the eternal Word (Logos in Greek) who was God and with God from the beginning and by whom all things were created.
This truth is made clear by the Gospel texts that form the basis of most Epiphany sermons. Jesus’ miracles of changing water into wine, healing the sick, calming the storms, walking on the water, and raising the dead all make it clear to any reasonable observer that Jesus is more than a man. He has powers and abilities available to God alone, for he called upon no other authority and power than his own to do these things. The season of Epiphany climaxes at the awesome Transfiguration of Jesus when a glimpse of his divinity was made visible to Peter, James, and John before his sacrificial suffering and death.
The Christian church almost lost this important teaching. While seeds of the false doctrine that Jesus is not really and fully God were planted already at the time of St. John, they grew and matured around the year of our Lord 300 under the leadership of the false prophet Arius. But for the sound arguments of Athanasius at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, Arianism would have dominated the visible Christian church on earth. Thankfully, God’s truth won the day and the Nicene Creed clearly confesses that Jesus Christ is true God.
Sadly, Arianism did not die out completely. It has resurfaced repeatedly throughout Christian history. Today it is found primarily in the teachings of the so-called “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, in the Unitarian churches, and to a great extent in the teachings of Mormonism. This false teaching is a real heresy; that is, a doctrine which, if believed, excludes people from the Christian church, rejects Jesus as he truly is, prevents true Christian faith, and leaves those people in their sins and destined for judgment in hell.
Why is the truth that Jesus is God so important? Because if he were not, then he could not possibly be the Savior of the world. If he were merely a man, even if he had been holy and could have made a vicarious offering for sin, he could have paid for only one human being. If he were only a man, he could not have been holy, but would have been a sinner just like the rest of us. If he were only a man, the best he could have been would have been an example for us to follow. And that is exactly what Arian organizations teach. For them salvation is obtained by obedience to the law. They are religions of law. The result is one of two alternatives. Either one becomes like the Pharisees who proudly think they are so good that God owes them salvation, or one totally despairs, ever wondering and never being sure that one has been good enough or concluding that salvation is forever beyond reach because God’s law demands perfection.
Jesus truly was fully human. He was truly in our place, under the law. By him God’s law for humanity was fully and perfectly kept by a human. In his suffering and death God’s just penalty against humanity for breaking his law was fully satisfied by a human. Jesus had to be true man to be our Savior, and he was and is.
But Jesus was and is also truly God. Because he was truly God his holy life and his precious and innocent death were valuable enough to be credited not just to one, but to all humans, no matter how many there have been, are, and ever will be. Because he was and is God, his offering was good once and for all. Because his offering was God’s offering, it can be relied upon completely, without doubt.
To be sure, we cannot fully understand and comprehend this mystery – how Jesus could be both fully God and fully man. It is similar to another mystery, the mystery of the Trinity – how each of the three persons of God (Father, Son, and Spirit) can be distinct and yet equally and indivisibly one God. We who are God’s creation simply don’t have an understanding or a mind equal to his. It’s not unreasonable, but it is super-reasonable, just as God isn’t unnatural but supernatural.
But even though we cannot fully understand how Jesus can be both true God and true man (what we refer to as the personal union of Christ), we can know this truth from the Bible and we can trust this truth. Jesus is God, and what he did for us was God’s work. God is our Savior; therefore we have been saved. No doubt about it. When we realize this, we will see the light, we will have God’s intended epiphany.