+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 1:51
Theme: Heaven Open
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The ministry of the Lord Jesus is like a diamond. A diamond is made of one substance; carbon, but it has many aspects. As you appreciate a diamond in the light its brilliance shines from many different perspectives. So too, the ministry of Jesus shimmers in the glow of miracles, healings, wonders and phenomena that reveal Him to be the Son of God. The Season of Epiphany is our opportunity to focus on and rejoice in these realities. And like the singular substance of a diamond, He has one goal: To open heaven for us.
The public ministry of Jesus moves from His baptism, to the temptation in the wilderness, to the gathering of disciples and revelation of His identity to Jew and Gentile alike. Today He is identified by a certain Nathanael whom Jesus saw under a fig tree. Nathanael confesses Him to be the Son of God, and Jesus responds, saying, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”1 The opening of heaven and the movement of angels on Christ is another way of expressing what Jesus says later in John, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”2
There is one truth and one path, everything else is a dead end. You cannot outwit the Holy Spirit. You can outwit yourself. The Bible says, “Let God be true, and every man a liar.”3 You can deceive others. You can lie to yourself so repeatedly and so consistently that you lose track of the truth. You can hide the truth from those closest to you- your spouse, your, parents, your children- so cleverly that you are forced to live a secret life. But why do we go to such lengths? Why is it so achingly difficult to say we are sorry, offer forgiveness or receive it? Because we want to have our way to the detriment of others and in defiance of God. Therefore, the objectives are always the same: justifying our transgressions and avoiding shame or humiliation. How can we avoid shame? How can we unwind the tangled ball of sin woven into the fabric of our lives? How can we even begin the conversation in those situations so overly charged with emotions and characterized by lack of trust?
The conversation should always begin with God and it doesn’t require any special skills in diplomacy. Don’t flatter yourself. When it comes to sin, you’re not that special. You’re not an exception. God won’t overlook your particular immorality because He owes you a favour. Neither will He be surprised by some indiscretion you believe is beyond the pale of normal transgression. He has seen it all and nothing escapes Him. Confess your sins candidly to God. God can see you “under your fig tree”. And to His eyes we are covered with less than fig leaves. The Scripture says, “No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”4
When we are gathered in His presence we have special opportunity to be tended to by the Physician of souls. You see, dear friends, it’s not necessary to keep pace with every movement and transition of the Divine Service. We’re not talking here about an excuse for being inattentive in church. We’re speaking of authentic acknowledgment of specific need. When the question is asked “Do you confess that you have sinned, and do you repent of your sins?”5 It will be a very worthwhile use of time to present to God just one issue that particularly troubles your conscience.
Yes, the Bible frequently addresses sin categorically, calling for comprehensive repentance. But it also targets our temptations and transgressions beyond mere knowledge of what qualifies as sin. This is essential for our wellbeing and the reason why the Ten Commandments are specific. For example, we live in an over-sexualized society and the world condones everything from adultery to homosexuality to promiscuity. What do the Scriptures say? “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”6
You are a temple of the Holy Spirit. God purges your house of sin so that He can take up residence. You, “like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…”7 Construction of our spiritual frames will continue for as long as we draw breath. But the promise of the resurrection awaits us. Today Jesus said to Philip, “Follow Me.”8 It is the call He issues to all of us. But how do we do it? What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means to heed His word. “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.”9 Following is simply an activity of faith. Faith is not a sedentary reality. It is always in motion. Following involves the daily struggle with sin, of bearing the cross, of baptismal living. It’s a Spirit-led journey. It’s not trouble-free, but it’s not a lonesome journey either. It’s while we are engaged in the activity of following that our faith is strengthened. Usually our faith just need be sufficient for the daily grind. Sometimes it needs to carry us through exceptional circumstances.
Martin Luther had this strength of faith most of the time. But it wasn’t a gift he took for granted. Vibrant faith can only be maintained through continual contact with the word. The word of God was continually on his lips, in his mind, and on his heart. The word of God is to be heard, sung, read, prayed, studied, and meditated upon. The word is the power in baptism and in Holy Communion. Without the word we have no saving knowledge of God, no access to Him, no comfort from His promises. Recall the situation with Samuel today, “The boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.”10 We note the significant detail that the word of the Lord was rare. Prophetic communication was very infrequent at that time. But remember, they still had the Scriptures. They had God’s promises in the books of Moses. Yet, very few were listening. Faith diminishes in direct correlation to lack of contact with the word.
How strong can faith become? Think of Abraham who was prepared to sacrifice his own son! Why? The Bible says, “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”11 Dear friends, don’t fret if you feel your faith is weak. It doesn’t depend on you, but on Christ. What the Saviour says to Nathanael He says to you, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”12 He opens heaven for you. Heaven itself! He didn’t do it with cleverness or thrift. He didn’t bulldoze His way in. He did it with sacrifice. He did it with humility. He died the death we deserved so that we can live the life we could never earn. He was crucified. He was buried. He was raised to life to open heaven. Heaven is open for you when His word of forgiveness settles into your heart. Heaven is open for you when you take His body and blood upon your lips. Heaven is opened for you in the remembrance of your baptism. You are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s name protects you. It strengthens you. It gives you identity.
The One who Samuel longed for is the One who Nathanael saw. In the season of Epiphany, the Spirit fits us with the eyes of faith. Like a diamond in the rough, the presence of Christ is light, joy, hope, and strength among us in a perilous world. His one task- to open heaven- has been accomplished. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Second Sunday After Epiphany
14 January 2018
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 1:51 2 John 14:6
3 Romans 3:4 4 Hebrews 4:13
5 Lutheran Hymnal, p.6 6 1 Corinthians 6:18-20
7 1 Peter 2:5 8 John 1:43
9 John 10:27 10 1 Samuel 3:1
11 Hebrews 11:19 12 John 1:51