Sermon Notes, 2nd Sunday in Epiphany, 17 January 2016 Anno Domini (In the Year of Our Lord)
I love the BEGINNINGS of the Holy Bible. Concerning the true Gospel of Christ, there never was a real ‘beginning’ except from our own mortal perspective. He is “I AM” from everlasting eternity past, present, and future. He became our Savior from the declaration of the Council of Heaven – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – before the first shadow of man was cast upon the terra firma of earth. But for mortal man who lives, moves, and communicates in world scaled by time, we understand all things by their beginning and end.
“1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Gen 1:1 (KJV)
“. . . . and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.” Ruth 1:22 (KJV)
“ 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God.” John 1:1-2 (KJV)
“ 6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.” Mark 10:6 (KJV)
(NOTE: Mark 10:6 is repeated by our Lord more than once. It is a dire warning to the perversions of our own day.)
Epiphany Season observes the revelation of Jesus Christ to both Jew and Gentile. But Christ existed long before the space-time continuum was ever created. He has no beginning or end. We admire the works of great artists such as DaVinci, Bach, and Shakespeare. We may come to know their works so well as to have an intimate understanding of their persons hundreds of years after their passing; and the same is true of the works of God. Nature itself bears undeniable testimony of His omnipotence, beauty, and love in all things made.
The decision for Jesus to come forth as our Redeemer was made in eternity past and before such a need was felt by man – since man did not yet exist in a physical universe which God would create for him. God is surprised by nothing, for all things consist and exist according to His express purpose and will.
It is amazing to me that Christ knew your name, and my name, before He ever created the stars and the far-flung galaxies of space. Your person and character were decided in that master plan encoded in your DNA before you came to be. So our own epiphany occurred at our conception, but we existed in the Mind of God long before our birth. To me, this truth is mind-boggling!
Our sermon text is taken from Isaiah 45:1-15, but let us examine, briefly, first the baptism of Jesus in Mark 1 – It was in conformity to the law of the covenant that he be baptized as all others because God leads wherever He goes. Christ fulfilled the Law of the covenant when eight days old through circumcision.
He fulfilled the Law of the Gospel through water baptism at the beginning of His earthly ministry.
There are three profound examples of baptism we read from Holy Scripture:
1) The baptism of an entire family – 20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 1 Peter 3:20
2) The baptism of an entire nation – 1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat; 4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. 1 Cor 10:1-4
3) The individual baptism of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ as recorded in the Gospel text today.
Jesus, by His humble example, shows that each of us must come alike to God through the medium of faith and baptism. And the greatest of prophets, John the Baptist, was called and anointed long before his parents were ever born. He was the issue of the predestined will of God as are all who know the Lord.
3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3 (730 years B.C.)
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; 2 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Mark 1:1-3
One clear truth I pray that each of us will understand from these passages is this: God calls and anoints us each to a special service and mission. It is incumbent on each of us to diligently strive to know that calling and anointing.
When a young boy, I used to read of the exploits of the first great, benevolent king to rule the known world – his name was Cyrus (or Kouroush in the Persian language). I would sit on the front porch swing during the long summer months and read the story of Cyrus with great amazement while the bees and cicadas made happy music that I shall never forget.
I was drawn to Cyrus because my elementary fourth grade teacher had us read about him in our Appleton Reader. You see, in those days, it was not unconstitutional to read biblical accounts in school.
When I travelled to Iran (modern day Persia), I could not believe that I would actually be allowed to visit the grave of King Cyrus the Great and to view the tombs of his sons and grandsons carved into the solid rock of the Mountain of Mercy overlooking the ancient city of Persepolis.
Standing before the tomb of Cyrus, a few yards from his homeplace, I felt a spiritual awe that I cannot explain. I knew that the great prophet Daniel had stood precisely on the same ground as my feet trod. And then to stand before the tomb of his son, Darius the Great, Cyrus’ son, was a similarly overpowering experience. Just a few steps away was the tomb of Artaxerxes, the King whom Queen Esther married.
And looking down the slopes of the Mountain of Mercy was the panoramic view of the ruins of the splendid City of Persepolis. And I knew that God had called and anointed each of these great kings, but Cyrus had he anointed especially for an important work. Let’s read about Cyrus from Isaiah 45, beginning at the 1st verse –
1 Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; 2 I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: 3 And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. 4 For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.
5 I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: 6 That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. 7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. 8 Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it. 9 Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands? 10 Woe unto him that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth?
11 Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me. 12 I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded. 13 I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward, saith the LORD of hosts. Isaiah 45:1-13
– Please note that this book of Isaiah was written between 760 and 707 B.C. –
The Great King, Cyrus, came to Babylon in 535 B.C. and took the city through miraculously prophesied measures….. 1 Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; 2 I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: 3 And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.
On the day that Cyrus conquered Babylon, there was a great feast hosted by Belshazzar. It seemed to be a drunken orgy. At last, in the heat of a drunken stupor, King Belsahazzar ordered the Golden vessels that had been captured from the Temple at Jerusalem to be brought forth and used as vessels of drunkenness.
This was a step too far for the Lord to condone.
Daniel 5: 3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. 4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone. 5 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. 6 Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another
None of the astrologers or fortune tellers of Babylon could decipher the writing. Finally, Belshazzar sent for Daniel who told the king the meaning of the writing:
22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; 23 But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified: 24 Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written. 25 And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. 26 This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. 27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. 28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians. 29 Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
30 In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. 31 And Darius (under command of King Cyrus) the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.
When King Cyrus and his entourage entered Babylon, Daniel showed the King the ancient (200 year old) prophecy of himself: how God had called and anointed him 200 years before his birth to capture Babylon and restore the Temple at Jerusalem. The King was overwhelmed. He made the following prayer and commandment::
1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, 2 Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. 4 And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. Ezra 1:1-4
Notice this decree was issued the very first year of Cyrus’ reign. He wasted no time in obedience to God.
Long before you were ever born, God gave you a name and an anointing. Have you obeyed the voice of God as Cyrus has done, or do you ignore the most important Voice you can ever know?