I think it's unfortunate that we don't celebrate the day of Epiphany anymore. In the “olden days” the twelve days of Christmas meant something. I used to think that the twelve days came before Christmas, but they are the twelve days of the time of Christmas that begins with Christmas and ends with Epiphany on January 6. So, what is Epiphany?
Epiphany is the day when the ancient church celebrated the visit of the Wisemen. The reason this particular text was chosen is because the word “epiphany” means “a revealing”. Through the Star of Bethlehem God revealed to the world that the Messiah had come. Why do I say the world? Because the Wisemen were not from Israel, but they took the good news of the Messiah back to their country.
So, Epiphany is often a time to talk about missions, for the mission Jesus gave to the Christian church is to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). That is why I chose this text, as opposed to the other two texts appointed for today. We will mention the other two texts, but I thought this one from Isaiah really hits home the central theme of Epiphany. My favorite verse is verse 6: “It is not enough for you to be my servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restore the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
So, who is this verse talking about? Well, it is talking about Jesus. God, the Father is speaking, and he is speaking about Jesus. It is evident that these verses are about Jesus from the context. They talk of a Savior; they talk of a Son; and they talk of a Servant. What kind of servant? Well, the LORD’s servant. Verse 3: “He said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
Now, a servant is someone who serves. The point being that he has a master and that his primary duty is to carry out his master’s will. That is why he is a servant.
People do not like talking about servants and servitude today. I understand their reasons, but the devil has used our aversion to authority to completely jettison it altogether. And since all authority comes from God, when we rebel against authority and when we try to do away with it altogether, we do away with God. Which is exactly what the devil wants. But that is by the way….
Notice how Jesus has no aversion to authority, even though he is the authority. He is God over all through whom and for whom all things were created (Colossians 2:16). Jesus is LORD of Lords and King of kings. And yet, he humbled himself to be a servant. God’s servant. He did this willingly. Can you imagine willingly submitting to someone who is your authority? Can you imagine joyfully submitting to someone who is your authority? You see how far we’ve moved as a society from the tone and tenor of the Bible.
But it is not just that Jesus humbled himself by willingly submitting to his Heavenly Father, he also humbled himself by becoming human. Humans are less than God. Really! And so, Jesus (God) became flesh and blood. That is the Incarnation. Not only did God come to the world, but he also became part of the world. You cannot save from a distance.
May we never forget that. May we never forget that the way to go about saving someone is not by remaining at a distance. It is not by shouting at them. But rather by getting close enough to them that we don’t have to shout, so that we can tell them all about Jesus. More about that in a moment.
For now, though we must not miss the point that the Servant’s primary duty is to save. You say, “Well, yeah. Obviously.” No, not obviously. If you ask most people, “Why did Jesus come to this world?” they will answer, “To make bad people good.” No. That is not true. Jesus did not come to make bad people good; he came to make dead people alive. That is what salvation is. The world is dead in its sin and alive only in Christ. Once you are alive you can be good, but not before.
So, Jesus is the LORD’s servant to save. Verse 5: “And now, says the LORD, who formed me from the womb to be his servant [notice that Jesus is talking here], to bring Jacob [the people of Israel] back to him so that Israel might be gathered to him; …” And verse 6: “I will also make you a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
Now, the connection between Isaiah 49 and Epiphany is twofold: 1) the season of Epiphany reveals (there’s that word again) Jesus as the Savior. In other words, each story we hear during the Sundays of Epiphany reveals more and more about him. Because at the time of Isaiah, you realize that Jesus was still unknown. Verse 2: “He made my words like a sharp sword; he hid me in the shadow of his hand. He made me like a sharpened arrow; he hid me in his quiver.”
So, Jesus has existed from eternity, but in the Old Testament he was unknown to the people. Like an arrow hidden in the archer’s quiver, or like a dagger hidden in one’s hand—you don’t know it’s there until one pulls it out. But once it’s out, it is highly effective.
This then bring us to Jesus’ baptism. Before Jesus’ baptism, no one, save a very select few, knew him to be the Messiah. At Jesus, baptism, however, God revealed him as the Messiah to Israel. The voice of the Father spoke from heaven and said, “This is my Son.” And the Holy Spirit came down upon Jesus in the form of a dove.
So, Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of his public ministry. Now the time had fully come. Somebody says, “No, the time had fully come when Jesus was born.” Well, yes. But the people didn’t yet know who he was. His own brothers and sisters didn’t fully understand who he was. He was still hidden in his Father’s quiver, as it were, until the time came for him to be publicly revealed. Galatians 4:4-5, “When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
Now we go to Mark 1:10, 11. “As soon as he came up out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased.” It sounds a lot like Isaiah 49:3, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” And verse 5: “For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God is my strength.”
The second major theme of Epiphany is that Jesus is not just the Savior of the Jews but the Savior of all. So, that gives us understanding as to why in verse 1 Jesus is speaking to the coasts and islands. “Coasts and islands, listen to me: distant peoples, pay attention.” Why is Jesus speaking to the farthest corners of the earth? Because he is their Savior too. And then my favorite, verse 6: “he says, ‘It is not enough for you to be my servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
That is the reason why Paul and Silas were in Philippi and not in Jerusalem. They were in Philippi—a non-Jewish city—because the people of Philippi needed to know Jesus as their Savior too. They were thrown into prison in Philippi. But even there, the jailer needed to know about Jesus. So, they told him! Chains and all! And what happened? Acts 16:29ff. “The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. He escorted them out and said, “Sirs what must I do to be saved? They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household … Right away he and all his family were baptized.”
Do you see why we exist as a church? “It is not enough for you to be my servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
Of course, the ends of the earth in 2021 have come very close to us. This is Waukegan, after all. Have you ever gone into Super Fresh and thought to yourself, “I think I’ve arrived at the ends of the earth!”? Well, you haven’t. You are still very close to home in Waukegan. It’s just that the ends of the earth have come to us. And who are we? We are the body of Christ. We are the physical manifestation of his body on earth. And if Jesus’ mission and ministry is to be Savior of all, then our mission and ministry must look no different.
So, in this application we find the mindset for our church. Right here in Isaiah 49 we find our vision. Here it is: “I will also make you a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth” (v. 6). “This Gospel light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.”
Or as Jesus once said, “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house” (Matthew 5:14, 15). Now, let me finish.
Our ministry is correctly called the ministry (service) of the Word. We are servants of the Word. They are not our words; they are the Messiah’s words. Verse 2: “He made my words like a sharp sword.” Only a sharp sword is effective when you go into battle. Jesus’ words penetrate not only the mind, but they make their way down to the very soul of one’s being. We are blessed to have that Word among us. It is the tool Jesus uses to produce repentance and conviction of sin, as well as trust in the LORD's unending forgiveness.
What are we to do with that Word? We are to bring it to people. The NIV translates, “I will also make you as a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Jesus did not wait for people to come to him. He went to them. All the way from heaven to earth! So, we will at least go to the ends of Waukegan. We will go to people and we will say to them, “Listen you coasts and islands. Heaven is for you too!”
And what we need to believe is that our words will be effective, for they are Jesus' words! So, we want to provide ample opportunities to hear the Word. And for those individuals under our spiritual care who haven't shown an interest in wanting to hear the word for a very long time, we will want to bring it to them until they tell us, "No, don't do that anymore."
Why go to all the “trouble”? Because the LORD God says to his servant, Jesus: ‘It is not enough for you to be my servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Only the whole world is big enough for Jesus! Alleluia! Amen.