by Dr. Lewis W. Spitz Sr.
Epiphany–a beautiful word! Beautiful because it designates the Lord’s appearing among men and the manifestation of His glory. Today we primarily commemorate the manifestation of God to the Magi, or Wise Men from the east, in the person of the Christ Child. Some Christians have celebrated the Savior’s birth on Epiphany, Jan. 6. Others have remembered His Baptism on that day.
On the Sundays after Epiphany the Gospels tell us of the marvelous works by which He manifested His divine glory. Epiphany reflecting the past shows us the Savior in His holy life and divine works and gladdens our hearts with the assurance of our redemption. Turning its light on the future, it reminds us that He will appear again, this time in manifest glory.
Epiphany at Christmas
Only a few days ago we sang:
Now are the days fulfilled,
God’s Son is manifested,
Now His great majesty
In human flesh is vested.
Behold the mighty God,
By whom all wrath is stilled,
The woman’s promised Seed–
Now are the days fulfilled.
We saw God’s Son wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. We hastened with the shepherds to Bethlehem to see this thing that had happened. What we saw filled our hearts with joy.
The long wait of God’s people for the coming of the Savior was over, for unto them and unto us was born in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Because the days were fulfilled, “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the Law, to redeem them that were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” The angels rejoiced with us and sang: “Glory to God in the highest.” For ages they, too, had been waiting to peer into this great mystery of God–“God in man made manifest.”
St. Paul, explaining what this manifestation means for us, declares that Jesus saved us, for He has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. No wonder therefore that the apostle jubilantly bursts into this paean of joy; “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”
Epiphany at Christ’s Baptism
We sing: “Manifest at Jordan’s stream, Prophet, Priest, and King Supreme.” Manifest indeed! Not only God’s Son was manifest there but also the Father and the Holy Spirit. We see Jesus, when He was baptized, coming up out of the water. We see the heavens opened unto Him and, behold, with Him, the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon Him. We hear a voice from heaven, saying: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Here we truly have an Epiphany–a manifestation of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. By this manifestation we are reminded of our own Baptism in the name of the Triune God. We are assured of the saving value of our Baptism by the Baptism of our Savior, for He did not have to be baptized to cleanse away any sin that He had done–He was holy, undefiled–but was baptized for us.
When John forbade Jesus, saying, “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?” Jesus answered: “Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” By virtue of our Baptism, then, we claim a place among God’s people, as we sing:
Baptized into Thy name most holy,
O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
I claim a place, though weak and lowly,
Among Thy seed, Thy chosen host.
Buried with Christ and dead to sin,
Thy Spirit now shall live within.
The Holy Spirit’s lighting upon Jesus reminds us that the Savior was anointed with the Spirit to be our Prophet, Priest, and King. In Old Testament times prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with oil. This anointing foreshadowed Christ’s anointing with the Holy Spirit. Moses prophesied that God would raise up for His people a Prophet like him, and unto that Prophet they should hearken. We needed a better High Priest than Aaron and his successors.
Such a better Priest the Holy Spirit anointed in Christ, who did not have to sacrifice, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once, when He offered up Himself. He was, however, not merely a Priest but a Royal Priest. He was and is our King. At the Baptism of Jesus, behold your Prophet, Priest, and King.
Epiphany for the Magi
What great joy for those of us who are not descendants of Abraham but are numbered among those whom the Bible calls Gentiles! Jesus was born to save not only the offspring of Abraham, the Children of Israel, but also all other members of the human race. Therefore we sing with joyful hearts:
Songs of thankfulness and praise,
Jesus, Lord, to Thee we raise,
Manifested by the star
To the sages from afar,
Branch of royal David’s stem,
In Thy birth at Bethlehem.
Anthems be to Thee addressed,
God in man made manifest.
Who were these sages, these Magi? The Bible does not tell us. It is enough for us to know that they found the Christ Child and worshiped Him with their hearts and with their gifts–gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Following the star, they came to Jerusalem. What consternation their question created: “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. How foolish!
The star proclaims the King is here;
But, Herod, why this senseless fear?
He takes no realms of earth away
Who gives the realms of heavenly day.
The wiser Magi see from far
And follow on His guiding star;
And led by light, to light they press
And by their gifts their God confess.
No, indeed, Herod had no need of fear, for the Christ Child’s kingdom was not of this world, even though the Babe in the manger held the entire universe in His tiny hands.
These Wise Men were truly wise. They were not offended by the poverty in which they found the newborn King of the Jews. Many are not so wise. St. Paul says: “Where is the wise? … For after that … the world … knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”
The Magi returned to their own country. Herod wanted to be sure that this King of the Jews would give him no trouble. He slew the infants at Bethlehem. But the newborn King of the Jews was safe in Egypt. Not He but Herod was to die at that time. The King of the Jews was to live in order to manifest His glory by His mighty deeds.
Epiphany in Word and Deed
On the Sundays after Epiphany we see Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem about His Father’s business. We see Him at the wedding of Cana, where He turned water into wine and manifested forth His glory. We see Him by a mere word healing the servant of the centurion. We see Him still the raging tempest on the sea. “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him!” Indeed, He is manifesting His divine glory.
On the last Sunday after Epiphany we see Him on the Mount of Transfiguration, where His face shone as the sun and His raiment was white as the light, and where again we hear the Father’s voice: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.” But soon thereafter we read the superscription on the cross: “This is the King of the Jews.”
Seven centuries before the Epiphany at Bethlehem the prophet Isaiah foretold this blessed Epiphany: “Arise, shine; for Thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon Thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon Thee, and His glory shall be seen upon Thee. And the Gentiles shall come to Thy light, and kings to the brightness of Thy rising.” Accordingly the Wise Men who followed the star have been called kings and have been regarded as the first representatives of the Gentile world to worship Christ.
Epiphany on the Mission Field
They were and should be only the first. “Go and make disciples of all nations,” the risen Lord bade His disciples. This they have done now for nineteen centuries. They have manifested the Savior in all the world. Gentiles have come to Him. God’s sons have come from far, and His daughters have been nursed at His side. Still this great Epiphany goes on. It must go on, indeed, faster than ever, because the final Epiphany is dawning. You can already see its rays by the signs of the time.
Jesus said: “This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come.” Then all the tribes of the earth shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Sun and moon shall darkened be,
Stars shall fall, the heavens shall flee;
Christ will then like lightning shine,
All will see His glorious sign;
All will then the trumpet hear,
All will see the Judge appear;
Thou by all wilt be confessed,
God in man made manifest.
The final Epiphany!
About the Author: Dr. Lewis W. Spitz Sr. (1896–1996) graduated in 1918 from the “old seminary” on South Jefferson Avenue in St. Louis and then served parishes in Lovell, Wyo., and Bertrand and Blue Hill, Neb. In 1926, he was called to St. Paul’s College, Concordia, Mo., and then, in 1946, to Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, where he taught systematic theology until his 1972 retirement. He contributed essays and chapters to various publications and authored a popular biography of C.F.W. Walther.
Reprinted from the Jan. 10, 1961, issue of The Lutheran Witness, copyright © 1961 The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. LCMS congregations may reprint for parish use. All other rights reserved.