Third Sunday in Epiphany

The Bible reading for this week is the account of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana in Galilee.  Like all of John’s Gospel this story contains layers of meaning.  On the surface we come across Jesus as a man who was both keen to enable people to enjoy themselves, and also to do what his mother asked, so that she, and everyone else, would not be let down.  However, there are also deeper meanings contained in this passage.  John, writing almost 70 years after the event, probably as an eye-witness, was able to reflect on its spiritual significance.  Notice there were six stone water-pots.  To the Jew, seven was the perfect number and six represented imperfection and incompleteness.  It was Jesus who took this imperfection and through grace transformed it into perfection – wine for the body, heart and soul.  But there is more!  Have you ever thought of the amount of wine Jesus created?  Six stone water-pots each containing up to thirty gallons; this represents a total of 180 gallons of wine.  No wedding feast is ever going to need that much wine.  What Jesus brings is an abundance of grace more than we can ever need.  Yes, this passage shows the importance of family, of home and of a young couple from humble circumstances but it also shows more.  This passage shows us a God who makes things perfect and complete with a glorious super-abundance of provision and grace.

Second Sunday in Epiphany

Do we speak the truth when there are great dangers involved?  Th Bible reading this week is the account of the arrest of John the Baptist for criticising the marriage of Herod Antipas to Herodias, his brother’s wife.  Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great.  Herod the Great had many wives and many children (some of whom he ordered to be killed!).  The royal dynasty was therefore large and highly inter-related.  Not only was Herodias, Herod Antipas’s sister in law, but she was also his niece.  The whole set-up was abhorrent to the Jews.  Nonetheless, to speak out against a tyrant like Herod Antipas was almost certain to risk imprisonment, or worse.  Yet John the Baptist spoke out against Herod Antipas, and he was imprisoned for it and ultimately beheaded.  Do we speak the truth when dangers are involved?  Throughout history many brave men and women have been punished, exiled or even killed for speaking the truth.  Jesus, Himself, was crucified for it.  Yet the reality is that you cannot banish, kill or crucify the truth.  Plato once said that the wise man would always choose to suffer wrong than to do wrong.  What about us?  Would we rather be remembered as someone like John the Baptist, or someone like Herod Antipas?

The Epiphany

The Bible passage assigned to this week is the story of the visit of the Magi to the new-born baby, as recorded in Matthew chapter 2.  What is the main point of this story?  Is it about a star?  Astronomers have thought deeply about what the ‘star’ might have been.  We know that Halley’s comet appeared in 12-11 BC or, it could have been some kind of supernova.  More likely is the fact that the planets Jupiter and Saturn were in conjunction with each other in 7BC.  However, perhaps none of this is the main point of Matthew re-telling this story.  What are the other possibilities?  Is it that Jesus, the true King of Israel, is juxtaposed with Herod, the autocratic and cruel king put in place by a pagan empire? Is it that the Magi, who were Gentiles, were the first to respond by giving gifts and realising Jesus’ kingship?  The answer is possibly all three but something else as well.  Perhaps the greatest purpose of Matthew re-telling this story is to encourage each of us simply to come to Jesus as the real king – no matter what our background, no matter where we have come from.  To come to Jesus, at this time, with the best gifts we can possibly bring.

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

The Bible passage this week, the week beginning 4th February, is the account of Jesus healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law as well as many who were possessed with evil spirits.  After driving out many demons, Jesus prevented the demons from speaking because they knew who he was.  Why did Jesus do this?  Why did Jesus not want his actions to be known?  There are two inter-related reasons.  Firstly, Jesus did not want to become a celebrity faith healer or celebrity exorcist.  That was not his main aim but there was another, related reason.  To understand this, we need to understand Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to this world.  Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God.  This was his over-riding concern and he talked more about the Kingdom than anything else.  For this, he needed to spend time with his disciples.  He needed time to teach them and train them because, when he was gone, they would have to take over the work of building the Kingdom.  Now, if Jesus was known as someone more powerful than even Caesar, he risked immediate imprisonment by the Romans.  If that happened, he would be unable to teach his disciples and his ability to establish the Kingdom of God would be hampered.  We too should have an over-riding concern for the Kingdom of God.  For this, we should also be wise as to the best way to promote it.

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

The Bible passage this week, the week beginning 28th January, is the account of Jesus driving out an evil spirit. Many Christians today do not seem to believe in Satan or, at least, do not believe he has any influence through his evil spirits.  This is strange because Jesus certainly believed in the power of Satan.  In addition, Satan seems to be more active in our lives when we start to promote the kingdom of God and this is why, in the Bible passage, Jesus had come to his attention.  What about us?  Have we ever come under attack for what we have done to promote God’s kingdom?  There is a challenge for us all here.  If we have lived our entire Christian life and never had our finances, career or family ‘attacked’, perhaps we need to ask ourselves, is Satan interested in us?  This is precisely what the apostles meant when they urged us to rejoice in our sufferings.  Rejoice because Satan has taken notice of you and therefore you must be doing something right!  At the same time, we must be fearless towards Satan.  Jesus, by His death and resurrection has defeated Satan.  As a result, in Christ, we have nothing to fear.  Yes, there may be skirmishes still going on, but the war is won and, with the authority of Jesus, we will prevail.  In one of the earliest books in the New Testament, the author tells us to resist Satan in the sure knowledge that he will ‘run away’ from us and leave us alone.  Once this happens we can continue to promote the kingdom of God and to annoy Satan in just the same way that Jesus did by casting out his evil spirits.

Third Sunday after Epiphany

The Bible passage this week, the week beginning 21st January is the story of the call of James and John to become disciples of Jesus. The Bible records the fact that these two men ‘left their father and their boat and followed him’. On the surface, this seems a straightforward event until we reflect on the circumstances. James and John were fishermen. That was their life, what they knew and what they did well. It was also their source of economic stability, status and reputation. Moreover, in the ancient world, the father in the family was revered. Often, boys would aspire to be like their father and eventually take over the family business before handing it on, in turn, to their children. Further, because their father’s name is explicitly mentioned, it is likely that he was both well-known and a highly successful businessperson. Therefore, in giving up all of this to follow Jesus there would have been an enormous sacrifice for the two brothers James and John. They were choosing to give up all that they had, were, owned, did and aspired to become. However, that is what they did! God is less interested in our own status, profession and income than He is in our faith. God wants to build, not our wealth and fame but our character and faith. This is what is of eternal consequence. What about us? Will we give up everything to follow Jesus? Although salvation costs us nothing, discipleship costs us everything. We know, for example, James was one of the first to be martyred. Will we, like James and John sacrifice everything to follow Jesus? If we are prepared to do this, let’s start today.

Discipleship Training Course

The next session takes place in Room 8 at Emmanuel church on Tuesday, 30th January at 7.45pm. All welcome. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” Matthew 28:19.