Epiphany 4 January 28, 2024
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
129, 294, 297, 361
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) (TLH) unless otherwise noted
Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, You know we live in the midst of so many dangers that in our frailty we cannot stand upright. Grant us strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations. We pray this through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes—to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed by faith, for faith, just as it is written, “The righteous will live by faith.” Indeed, God’s wrath is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who try to suppress the truth by unrighteousness. This happens because what can be known about God is evident among them, because God made it evident among them. In fact, his invisible characteristics—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, because they are understood from the things he made. As a result, people are without excuse. (EHV)
Early in my ministry I had the privilege of attending and being a speaker at several of the CLC Youth Conferences at Camp Como high in the mountains of Colorado. During my first conference some of the campers and I went on a guided hike through the camp with one of the camp caretakers. Near the end of the hike we were taken to the top of one of the hills that overlooked a huge valley. In the distance you could see this impressive mountain range miles away. It was quite a breathtaking view (and not just because we had hiked for about an hour at a 10,000 ft. altitude!). Our trail guide had us all look at this magnificent view and then he asked the young people in our group a question, “When you look at this view what does it tell you about God?” The students thought about the question for a minute and then began to give some pretty observant answers: He is powerful; He is wise; He is creative and artistic.
Taking in that view and considering that question can give you a real sense of your “smallness” and “insignificance” amid God’s immense and impressive creation. And yet, as our guide reminded us, “God didn’t make the mountains the crown jewel of His creation; He didn’t choose to reveal Himself to the mountains either; and He didn’t send His Son to die for the mountains—He sent Jesus to die for you!” I can’t speak for the rest of the hikers, but that comforting thought and powerful truth took away those feelings of “smallness” and “insignificance” and filled me with a real sense of appreciation and awe not just at the power and majesty of God, but also at the power of His grace, His undeserved love.
Our text for today reminded me of moments like that afternoon on that Colorado hilltop because it speaks of the ways God has revealed Himself to mankind. We are currently in the Epiphany season of the church year. “Epiphany,” as we’ve been reminded during this season, means to reveal or to show. And so, during the Epiphany season we have been taking a look at the ways God has revealed Himself through Jesus, and the ways Jesus revealed Himself as God. That afternoon on the Colorado hilltop was a good illustration of the ways God has revealed Himself to mankind because even though our trail guide asked the question, “What does this view tell you about God?” he could just as easily asked the question, “What does this view NOT tell you about God?”
You see, God has Revealed Himself to mankind in two important ways: 1. In the World—we call this the “natural knowledge of God;” what we can know about God from what He has created, and 2. In the Word—we call this the “revealed knowledge of God;” what we can know about God from what He has told us about Himself in the Bible.
So many people in our day—and throughout history as well—have questioned the very existence of God, or simply just plain don’t believe that there is a God altogether. The Bible very bluntly says this about these kinds of people in Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Why does the Bible say that, when many of these people who say “There is no God” are actually very intelligent? Because As Paul says in the last words of our text, “people are without excuse” (v. 20). God has Revealed Himself!
The Bible doesn’t try and make any scientific arguments to prove the existence of God. The Bible simply begins by saying, “In the beginning God” (Genesis 1:1). God’s own Word plainly declares that He’s always been there and that the “proof,” so to speak, of His existence is in His creation itself. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” The writer of Hebrews reminds us of what all people should know by simple common sense, “For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God.” (Hebrews 3:4) We don’t take walks through our neighborhoods thinking that the houses just got there by chance. We know they had a builder! Why then would we walk through this ultra-complex, extremely ordered and orderly world and assume that it just happened to come about on its own?! Paul once explained to some very intelligent men in Athens that one of the reasons God revealed Himself to mankind through His creation was so that they would seek Him and find Him. Paul said in his sermon, “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27)
In our text, Paul reminds us that God has Revealed Himself to each person in creation in two very clear and distinct ways. In verse 19 he says, “what can be known about God is evident among them, because God made it evident among them.” In that verse we again see two more synonyms of “Epiphany” both derived from the same Greek word: “what can be known about God is evident among them“ [literally: visible; clearly seen] and “God made it evident” [literally: “Revealed; made known”]. Where did God make this “Epiphany” of Himself? A more literal translation of this verse would be this, “God has made it plain in them” [or “within them”]—that is inside each person; inside each one of us. We call this our “conscience.” You know, the “voice” that each person has inside that tells us whether we’ve done right or wrong? In the very next chapter of Romans Paul speaks of this “proof” for God’s existence that is embedded in each one of us. He says that even the unbelieving heathen “show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” (Romans 2:15)
The second way God has Revealed Himself to each person in creation is through the created world itself. Paul says in verse 20, “In fact, his invisible characteristics—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, because they are understood from the things he made. As a result, people are without excuse.” What can we understand about God through the visible things that have “been made”? Paul says, 1) “His eternal power” and His 2) “Divine Nature” (NKJV—“Godhead”)—in other words, the fact that He is God and that He exists! God has Revealed Himself inside each person through their “conscience,” and has made Himself “clearly seen” to each person through “the things that are made,” and so Paul says “people are without excuse” (v. 20). He goes on to say in the next verses that follow our sermon text, “because, even though they knew God, they did not honor him or give him thanks as God. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless heart was darkened. Although they claim to be wise, they have become fools” (Romans 1:21-22 EHV). No one has a good “excuse” for not knowing that the almighty, eternal God exists.
However, let’s go back to that hilltop in Colorado and let’s ask that “other” question as we look out over God’s magnificent creation: Sure we can see His “eternal power” and His “Godhead” in the “purple mountain’s majesty” and other glorious scenes of creation, but “What does this view of creation NOT tell you about God?”
You could stare at and contemplate the most beautiful nature scene in all creation and never come to know the most important and essential things about God! We need more than just our “conscience” and “creation” to really know our Creator. We need more than just nature to know our Savior. Creation and our conscience will never reveal to us that God loves us and we can never know from nature who Jesus, God’s Son is. That must be revealed (Epiphany) to us 2. In the Word! That is why when people make excuses for not coming to hear God’s Word like, “I can find God through spending time in nature,” or “I find God on Sunday morning on the golf course,” they are actually missing out on the most important things God has to say to them!
Even we Christians sometimes wander about looking for God, don’t we? We complain that we just don’t know what God wants us to do with our lives, and so we might ask Him for direction in our prayers. And yet, what do we turn to for answers? We often turn to other people, we search our feelings and our own thoughts, we examine our own life situation, and we “look for God” in them. All the while neglecting the very words God has spoken to us! Yes, God can and many times does lead and direct our lives through other people and the circumstances He works out in our lives, but the fact is God’s Word is where He clearly and directly speaks to us. People can be wrong, our thoughts and feelings can change (and because we are fallen, sinful human beings, they often simply can’t be trusted), and life circumstances can be misinterpreted.
The only place we can truly and personally get to know God, know His will, and know what He has done for us through Jesus is 2. In His Word! Yes, we see God’s “eternal power” in His creation, but Paul reminds us that God’s “power”—His greatest power—is shown in the Gospel: the “Good News” of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. Paul writes in verse 16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” That word for “power” in the Greek is the word “dynamis” from which we get our English word dynamite. God’s Word was the “power,” the dynamite, of creation, and His Word is the “power,” the dynamite, of our salvation! Paul goes on to say, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed by faith, for faith, just as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (v. 17)
The other thing we cannot learn about God from looking at the World and His creation is His anger over sin. This is certainly not “good news,” but it is the truth. Paul tells us in verse 18, “Indeed, God’s wrath is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who try to suppress the truth by unrighteousness.” Who’s sounding this message today? Who is warning the people of our society and our generation that “God’s wrath is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of people”? Who is sounding the alarm that because of our sins we are born into this world lost and headed to eternal destruction—hell itself? Where are the modern day John the Baptists telling people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2)? Are you revealing this warning from God’s Word to your family, friends and neighbors? The world around us certainly isn’t! The mantra of our society is filled with the wishful thinking that if we just “be good and do good” then everything will come out “good.” That’s a nice thought, but it’s not the truth. Unfortunately, even many churches in our modern era have chosen to abandon or completely ignore these warnings of God’s wrath from His Word and have made the word “sin” a forbidden word in their preaching and teaching.
The problem is, if we don’t fully know the wrath of God against sin we can never fully know the grace of God toward us! If we don’t know what we’re saved from, why would we even care what we’re saved for? We are full of that soul-condemning sin and “godlessness and wickedness” (v. 18) that God’s wrath burns against, and yet, because of His grace in Christ Jesus, we are not going to “burn!” Because of Jesus we are not going to face God’s wrath or His condemnation.
I didn’t tell you about the most interesting thing about that hill we were standing on that summer afternoon at the Youth Conference in Colorado. The camp owners called that hill “Little Calvary” because on the top of that hill they had constructed three crosses to symbolize the crosses on Mt. Calvary, just outside the city walls of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. That hill, “Little Calvary,” was a reminder that the mountain Jesus was crucified on was greater and more majestic—even though it was much lower and probably much less picturesque than those huge mountains in the distance in Colorado (in fact, the place where Jesus was crucified overlooked the Jerusalem city dump!). On that mountain, Mt. Calvary, we learn more about our God than we do looking at that majestic mountain range. Yes, God’s creation shows His “eternal power and divine nature” (v. 20), but on that mountain, Mt. Calvary, we are shown God’s wrath over sin: He punished His only Son Jesus with death in hell on that cross. On that mountain, Mt. Calvary, we are also shown the power of God’s love for all people: That punishment rightly belonged to us; instead we are given forgiveness and because of Jesus’ death we are given life—life in heaven! Yes, God has Revealed Himself 1. In the World—in His creation—and 2. In the Word—in Jesus, the “Word made flesh,” the “Word” who “dwelt among us” in the world, “and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Seek and find God there! Amen.
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Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage Version® (EHV ®) © 2019 The Wartburg Project. All rights reserved. Used by permission.