• Let Us Pray: Heavenly Father,Jesus was revealed to us in an Epiphany.  Send Your Sprit to remind us we already have Your Spirit in us as an assurance of our receiving eternal life through and with Your Son.  And now that we have the gift of being planted in with Jesus, we need to bring this gift to others!  Empower us to strengthen the hands of those weak in the faith and to pursue bringing Your peace to all people.  We pray this through Your Son Jesus, who reigns with the You, Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.
  • Background: Today, we are celebrating the annual festival of Epiphany.  The actual date of Epiphany is January 6th, the 12th day of Christmas.  We chose in the church year to celebrate the Sunday after Epiphany.  To have an epiphany is to come to an understanding about something.  There is some sort of concept or truth that dawns on you.  When you apply the word “epiphany” to a sacred setting, you get the traditional understanding of what the sacred feast date of January 6th is all about. Throughout the NT era of the church, there have been three different events of the life of Jesus associated with Epiphany:
    • At Jesus’ baptism, Jesus’ was identified by God the Father as His beloved Son.  In fact, all three persons of the Trinity were present as we read in the Gospel of Mark a few moments ago.  (Mark 1:9-11) This event is what the eastern Christians consider the event of Epiphany.
    • The three kings or wise men of the orient, who are assumed to be Gentiles, came to see the king born in Bethlehem. (Mat 2:1-11) This event is what the western Christians consider the event of Epiphany.
    • There is evidence early church fathers considered Jesus’ first miracle performed at the wedding at Cana to be an epiphany or revealing of Jesus.  To the Apostle John, 11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and revealed His glory; and His disciples believed in Him[1].
    • Which is correct? All reveal Jesus as God in the flesh, so all are “epiphany”  All three of these events were part of an early church liturgical response which went like this: "Today the Church is joined to her celestial spouse, because in Jordan Christ doth wash her sins; the Magi hasten with gifts to the royal marriage-feast, and the guests exult in the water turned to wine.[2]"
  • Analysis: That mini history lesson I just went through helps us to understand the festival of Epiphany, but what does that mean for us? Our Epistle reading from Rom 6:1-11 provided insight on why it is important to know of Jesus and what He has done.  However, let’s set the table so to speak for Rom Ch#6, by looking back to selected verses in Rom 5:12-19.  Let me summarize the ending verses of Rom Ch#5 - One man (Adam) passed sin onto us all; one man (Jesus) brought justification to us all.  The work of Jesus was to lead a perfect, sinless life as a man.  Yes, it took the powers of God to do that, but He is God in man.  Someone from the human race had to lead that perfect life and then shed their blood, innocent of sin, as the one sacrifice to atone for all sins committed by mankind ever since Adam. Had no one from the human race ever stepped up, we would be stuck in the despair of our sins and no hope for a better eternal life.
    • The Apostle Paul revealed Jesus as the one person to provide the atonement for all of us.  Great news from Rom Ch#5!  So we turn the page and the first words of Rom Ch#6 are these – What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? Far from it! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 
    • The Greek word rendered as “united” into English by the NASB is σύμφυτος.  It means to be grown along with.  I have this noted in the sermon outline printed on the back of your bulletin.  σύμφυτος figuratively means to be closely united. However, I like the concept of those who are baptized into Christ through the water in conjunction with the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, are planted together with Jesus.  What happens when two things are planted together into the same hole? They grow together.  I’ve seen this happen when people purposely plant different colors of lantana in the same space.  The result is a gorgeous mixture of color that appears to be coming from one plant.
    • My lantana scenario however is not a perfect example of us being planted into Jesus.  Per the Greek of Rom 6:5, we are literally planted together with Jesus through baptism!  We don’t just look like one plant of many colors – we are a plant of perfection through Jesus.
    • A lot of people are deceived into thinking if they know Jesus, that is sufficient to get them into heaven.  Just to know Jesus is no epiphany.  Just remember, there are stories throughout the Gospels about demons knowing Jesus.  How did those demons react when they saw Him?  Were they happy to be driven out of demon-oppressed people on which Jesus had compassion?  Our sinful self was crucified with Jesus on the cross so that we are no longer slaves to sin; we are freed from the penalty of sin. (Rom 6:6-7)  Trusting in that freedom is the second half of Epiphany – knowing what Jesus has done for you.  Jesus was revealed by His own Father as the Son of God.  That isn’t mere identifying with just a name.  The Father was also pleased with Jesus.  Jesus came to win for us redemption from a certain fate with entry into hell if He had not paid the price for our freedom. A true epiphany is to know Jesus and what He has done for you.  This is why we keep talking about the Holy Spirit coming into our soul at baptism, because the Holy Spirit makes known to us who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Otherwise, we wouldn’t know Him, and certainly not trust in Him.
    • Another aspect of Epiphany is to understand we have the same immortality as our Lord who redeemed us. This is, because death has no power over Jesus, we are planted with Jesus, and death has no power over us. (Rev 20:6)  Believers who are baptized into Jesus will live with Jesus eternally.  This is no different than if you pull up a conjoined plant out of the ground, both plants will come out together.  They are linked.  What happens to one, happens to the other.
  • Application: What should our reaction be to this good news? Be planted firmly in Christ. Remember always you are a child of God. When you have doubts, and none of us are exempt from doubts, trust in your baptism into Jesus.  It’s hard to have faith and trust in something you cannot see.  God knows this.  That’s part of the reason why He makes such a big deal out of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.   These sacraments each have a physical means you can see, smell, taste, touch.  Trust in the promises associated with these sacraments.
    • Along with personally being planted in Christ, we need to help others also be planted in Christ.  Sometimes, that is tough to do, particularly when we are meeting up with our own challenges.  Let me read for you a portion of Heb 12:11-13 - 11 For the moment, all discipline seems not to be pleasant, but painful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. 12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is impaired may not be dislocated, but rather be healed[3].  God is saying to us through the writer to the Hebrews that we will endure disciplining while we are in this Age.  God does this to strengthen our faith.  Think of it as our portion of the conjoined plant with Jesus being made stronger to His glory.  As we are made stronger, we are more equipped to strengthen others.  We need to be there with those whom the Lord has sent us to witness of His grace, mercy, and peace.  Sharing scripture with someone who needs to hear the Gospel is an excellent way to strengthen hands which are weak.
    • Here’s a simple way of bringing the Gospel to someone: ask them what you can pray on their behalf.  Immediately after this sermon, we have our time in prayer as a congregation focused on laying before God our thoughts, doubts, fears, and anguish for others in need.  Catch me before a service or better yet, email to me the names of people whom you want lifted up to the Lord by the saints worshipping Him here at Christus Rex. Provide as much or little detail as the person wishes to disclose.  I will make sure to give to you the printed prayers spoken at this altar for you to give to that person to show them they were lifted up before the Lord.  The Christ-centered love you show for that person is the best Gospel message you could possibly give them.  Your faith is also in action when in prayer.  You are showing true love for that person by having more than just two or three gathered before the Lord, where He promised to be in their midst and hear those prayers.  The God who created the heavens and the earth is listening to the prayers of the saints devoted to that person!  I’m not sure what could go wrong in this scenario…
    • In the latter half of Heb 12:15, the writer uses a similar Greek word for plant that we have in our text for today - let no root of bitterness plant and crowd in which will defile those around you. What I read from this is we need to keep control of our own emotions and sinful passions.  In true repentance from the sins we have committed, we need to put away evil actions that would cause our ministry of strengthening other plants in the Lord to suffer.  We do not want to be the reason a person never comes to church or doesn’t want to hear from a hypocritical Christian ever again.  Whatever we do ultimately reflects back on He in whom we are planted.
    • If I may belabor the plant analogy once more, Luke used similar wording in the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:6.  Recall in the Parable of the Sower, some seed landed in rocky soil.  The seed planted, but eventually withered away because it had no moisture.  Two verses later, we read of seed which fell into good soil.  The seed in good soil planted and yielded a crop a hundred times as much.  Jesus later interpreted His parable and said the seed in the rocky soil was like Christians who received the Word, but because the Word did not get a firm root into the soul, the rocky soil people believe for a while, but in times of temptation, rocky soil people fall away. God is saying in Hebrews, not only do we need to be the firm plant in good soil, we need to be helping out these rocky soil people who are struggling with the temptation of doubting God’s word. For instance, they are struggling with Covid and don’t see a way out.  They look at the number of cases rising, the lack of ICU beds throughout southern AZ, and they panic.   They’re not firmly planted.  Don’t let them panic themselves out of eternity with Christ when you have the true Gospel in your soul to bring nourishment to the rocky soil people.
  • Conclusion: With you planted with Christ and growing along with him, your soul is safe.  We said it last week, and this is a good time to remind: God gave His Holy Spirit as a deposit into your soul guaranteeing what is to come. (Eph 1:13-14)
    • The benefit of being planted with Christ is eternal life with Him.  We unfortunately can screw this up.  However, so long as we are daily examining ourselves for the sinfulness that really does dwell in us, and we seek the Lord’s forgiveness from that sinfulness and our sins confessed to Him, God is gracious and just.  He will forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. He then asks you to go and sin no more. Ask Him for help with any sin that is too tough to turn away from.  He will hear your prayers, because you are a part of Him and He is a part of you.  All in Christ are planted in Him.
    • Another benefit is the blessing of God’s people to others.  (Heb 12:12-14) God created us to be with others.  He created us with specific talents and passions to use those talents. We can worship Him daily by using those talents and passions to His glory.  In the context of Epiphany, we can reveal to others our faith in word and in actions.  We can display confidence in the Lord to keep His promises to His people.  We can trust in God’s word when He said nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!  Nothing!
    • It’s worth a reminder you came to the true faith because of the work of someone else.  You didn’t come to faith all on your own.  Someone brought you to Christ.  It’s now time to give that same gift to someone else.  In the process of sharing the God-given gift you have in being planted with Christ, your own portion of the conjoined plant will get stronger. It doesn’t need to be strong for salvation.  Jesus’s side of the plant took care of that for you.  Your side of the plant needs to be stronger to strengthen others.  I can assure you it will be a treat to someday meet all the people you worked to strengthen in this Age.  They will be there because of Christ.  They will be there because you faithfully acted to strengthen them in Christ.  The plant will have done its job.  It is in heaven where you want to store up treasures such as fellow humans redeemed and planted in Christ!


 


[1] John 2:11 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+2&version=NASB

[2] Antiphon to the Benedictus, Knight, Kevin, New Advent, 2009, CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Epiphany 

[3] Heb 12:11-13 from NASB at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=heb+12&version=NASB