Series A — 2nd Sunday After Epiphany

John the Baptist baptizing Christ
Image via Wikipedia

Gospel reading: John 1:29-42

What is the measure of success? In the world, that can be seen in terms of money, power, influence, and the list goes on. Sometimes we in the Church get caught up in the same kind of measuring process. Statistics become more important than people, sanctuary size is above loving them, budget crises outweigh ministering to them, and not offending people pushes out true teaching of them.

This Gospel reading offers us a glimpse of success from God’s perspective. John the Baptizer had everything — a from a worldly perspective. He could speak and even kings trembled. People marveled at his words and life. They considered him a prophet, no, even more than a prophet. He had it made.

But in this text, John shows that his success is tied to one greater than he, Jesus. Thus, when John sees Jesus he identifies him as the one whom he baptized (out of the multitudes!). But he was different, because John saw the Spirit descend on Jesus. The next day he is more direct; he points his own disciples toward Jesus (John 1:35). In other words, “he must increase and I must decrease!” (John 3:30).

Are we willing to be in that kind of partnership in the kingdom? Will we point people to Jesus, or is it a split decision? Will my own needs for survival allow me to decrease so that Christ might increase? Where is my ministry focus?

Series A — Baptism of Jesus

It doesn’t take much to be confused. Just when we think we get it, something throws us off track. Take a look at many of the items made today that we buy in the U.S. Most of them say “Made in China.” Imagine my surprise last week when I bought a prominent Chinese hot sauce — it was made in the USA!

I think John might have experienced something like that with Jesus. He knew something about Jesus, more than most. His preaching pointed ahead to Jesus, the Messiah. As John begins his ministry of baptizing and preaching repentance, the last person he expected to see is Jesus. If anybody did not need what he was offering, it was Jesus. Little wonder that John tried to “deter him” (NIV), “prevent him” (NAS/NAB), “stop him” (GW).

Yet here is Jesus, at the Jordan to be baptized by John. Jesus said: “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). The obvious intent is that Jesus fulfills all righteousness (perfect obedience: active, in living for God; passive, dying for all who fail). Yet, Jesus says that “it is proper for us to do this.” In other words, John’s role is essential in Jesus fulfilling all righteousness.

So there is a double surprise: Jesus to be baptized, and John’s role in God’s plan for Jesus fulfilling all righteousness.

Perhaps we need the reminder that with God there are no insignificant words, acts, or even thoughts.

Epiphany Season

Epiphany season is like Advent, often forgotten and overlooked, especially since it is sandwiched between Christmas and Lent.

This year it might be good to look at the Epiphany season, because it is the longest that it will ever be. The number of Sundays after Epiphany varies each year depending on the date of Easter. Some years there are only four or five Sundays, but in 2011, there are nine Sundays after Epiphany (Jan 9, 16, 23, 30, Feb 6, 13, 20, 27, Mar 6).

Epiphany (“showing forth”) season reveals who Jesus is, starting with the visit of the magi (Jan. 6) and culminating in the Transfirguation. That revelation of Jesus continues even today through the witness of the Church.

I think it significant that Isaiah, the primary Old Testament reading during Advent (Series A), is also the primary Old Testament reading during this season. Particularly on Jan. 16, the reading is Isaiah 49:1-7, of which 49:6 is critical in the book of Acts.

Isaiah 49:6
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
                to raise up the tribes of Jacob
                and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
         I will make you as a light for the nations,
                that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

The last two lines are used by Luke to see the fulfillment and extension of that prophecy in Luke and Acts: Luke 2:32, Acts 13:47. See David Pao (Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, Baker, 2002) for further details on this.

Just some thoughts at the beginning of this great season.