Local News: Today, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., a new series led by Jamie Pitts will begin at Fondren Presbyterian Church in downtown Jackson. The new Spiritual Companions series is titled “Take Me Back to Mayberry," described on the Fondren web site as "a thematic Christian education featuring episodes of The Andy Griffith Show." The group will meet in the library and food will be provided. For more information, go to http://www.fondrenpcusa.org.
Today, January 6, is the day which the Church Calendar designates as “Epiphany”. The day commemorates, among other things, the visit of the wise men to in the infant Jesus.
What stands out to many people is the remarkable faith of the wise men which would prompt them to make such a long journey to find the Christ Child. These were not Jewish men, had only limited knowledge of Scripture, yet were willing to travel long and far to see the King of the Jews and give him gifts. As far as we know, the residents of Judea who knew the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem didn’t make a similar journey, although it would’ve been far easier for them. Matthew 2 tells us that when they find him, they worship him. Unbelievably, these men already had some faint knowledge of Jesus’ deity which even his disciples didn’t at first have.
How is such faith cultivated? In the devotional book, By Faith Alone, published in 1998 by World Bible Publishers, Martin Luther’s comments on numerous Scripture passages are extracted for each day of the year. In the January 6 reading, the topic is cultivating one’s faith. Let’s explore what Luther said:
“If you have difficulty believing, you should ask God for faith. For the ability to believe is in God’s hands alone… But you can spur yourself on to believe… Look at Christ’s caring heart. See how full of love it is towards you, so that it drives him to lift the heavy load of your sin. Then your heart will be filled with love towards him, and your faith will be strengthened. After this, move beyond Christ’s heart to God’s heart. You will see that Christ wouldn’t have shown you love unless God in his eternal love had wanted him to. Christ is being obedient to God when he loves you. You will discover the good heart of the Father and, as Christ says, you will be drawn to the Father through Christ. Then you will better understand what Christ says in John 3:16, ‘God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son.’ We recognize the nature of God best, not by thinking about his power or wisdom, which are terrifying, but by thinking about his goodness and love. Then we are truly born anew in God, and we can grow in faith.”
Speaking personally, Luther’s words here were very influential in helping this writer better understand the heart of God. Before, it had always seemed far easier to relate to Jesus, since he took on our humanity, than to God the Father who seemed separated from us through his transcendence and incomprehensible majesty. Luther explains, though, that Christ is not the only member of the Trinity that loves us; Christ’s love is prompted by the Father-heart of God. Christ’s passion and resurrection took place because God the Father, in his love, wanted to redeem us.
For this writer, this made all of the passages in which God is called our “Father” take on a new meaning. It’s a mistake to think of Jesus as being “friendly” to us, while picturing God the Father a remote monarch incessantly angry with us. God does respond to anger with sin, but God doesn’t want to be cut off from his people; that’s why he sent Christ as a sacrifice for our sins. Let us constantly keep before us the caring heart of God the Father.
This is the best way to cultivate faith, the kind of faith that prompted the wise men to travel far to see the Christ Child. They must have known, though the Holy Spirit is the only explanation for how they came to know it, that God cared about them and that the birth of the King of the Jews was for them. Though they weren’t Jews, they clearly understood that this baby was entitled, not only to the praise of the people of Israel, but to their praise as well. May God enable us to have the faith of the wise men. Happy Epiphany!