Epiphany: (1) The Appearance of God’s Grace
November 30, 2003 / No. 3178
Dear radio friends,
The Reformed Witness Hour plans to bring a series of messages on our Savior’s birth under the theme: Epiphany. The word “epiphany” means “appearing, to bring to light, to become fully known.” In the human traditions of the Christian church, epiphany refers to the appearance of the star to the wise men. We are going to look at that word “epiphany” as it is used in the holy Scriptures to describe the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Very commonly, the Holy Spirit has used the word “epiphany” or “appearing” to refer to our Lord Jesus Christ’s second coming at the end of the world: Titus 2:13, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ”; and II Timothy 4:8, where Paul speaks of the “crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” Epiphany, when Christ is brought to full light and appears on the earth: Colossians 3:4, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” Jesus Christ is going to appear on the earth at the end of the world. He will be fully known.
But the word “epiphany” is also used to refer to His first coming to the earth, when He was born of the virgin Mary in our flesh in the lowly stable in Bethlehem. And we are going to follow that word as it is used to describe the coming of Jesus Christ into the world.
The first passage we will look at today is found in Titus 2:11, 12: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared (there’s the word epiphany) to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.”
The apostle Paul, in this chapter, has been exhorting Titus to teach the people to live a godly life. According to verse 10, he has given them the exhortation that they must “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things,” that is, they must make attractive, they must embellish, they must show, in how they live, the beauty of the doctrine of God that they believe. If you read the entire chapter, you will see that Paul shows how that is to be done in every age group of the church — how aged men and aged women, how younger women and younger men, are to adorn the doctrine of God in all of their life so that the world, from the life of the Christian, sees that that doctrine is something that is wholesome and beautiful. Then Paul seeks to give motivation. Why should we, as children of God, seek so to live so that the doctrine of our God is seen in all of its beauty? Why should we do this? Here is the answer: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men. Because Jesus Christ has been born. And because in that birth we have seen the wonderful appearing of God’s grace to us. For that reason, we ought to adorn the doctrine of God in everything we do.
Beloved, the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared. God’s wonderful grace became visible. It shined out of the gloom. It burst out of the pitch black of sin and death. The wonderful saving grace of almighty God appeared. When? It appeared the night in which Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. Something happened in the world that had never happened before. A wonderful, glorious thing, breath-taking, blinding in its brilliance — God’s saving grace shone out clearly and brilliantly from the stable of Bethlehem.
What is God’s grace? The word “grace” is, literally, “beauty.” It means “beautiful.” That God is gracious means that God is beautiful. He is attractive. But, more specifically, God’s grace, as it comes to men, refers to His unmerited favor toward those whom He has chosen unto salvation. We read in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” Salvation comes by grace, by unmerited favor, not because you deserved it, but solely as a gift of God. Again, Deuteronomy 7 tells us that the Lord did not choose us because of anything in us to attract Him to us, but because the Lord is gracious. God’s grace is that He does not give to us what we deserve, but He gives to us that which we do not deserve and cannot earn.
A wonderful, glorious thing, breath-taking,
blinding in its brilliance — God’s saving grace
shone out clearly and brilliantly
from the stable of Bethlehem.
Therefore, God’s grace refers to His saving power. The apostle says, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared.” Get that down into your soul. It is just that simple! God’s grace brings salvation. Salvation is the deliverance from the greatest of all evil: sin. And it is deliverance unto the highest of all conceivable good: the fellowship of God. When God is being gracious, when God shows forth His grace, that grace brings salvation. You see, God’s grace is not merely His desire to bring salvation. He does not then back off and say, “But I certainly don’t want to violate your will. I might desire to save you, but I won’t do so unless you first want to be saved.” That is not God’s grace. That is not a biblical teaching. What says the Bible? “The grace of God that bringeth salvation.” God’s grace is His irresistible power, His glorious power, to save the object of His choosing. That grace has appeared in Bethlehem in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ as He is swaddled in rags and is in a manger.
That means that the grace of God appeared where we would never look for it. We would look for the grace of God to appear on polished marble floors, with a cozy fireplace, with a beautiful crib, with soft bunting and a music box playing lullabies, in the midst of a palace. But that is not where God’s grace appeared. God’s grace shone out of a manger with the sounds of a cow and the snort of a camel and the smell of manure and the dust and straw and spider webs and a feedbox and a little babe, newborn, wrapped up in discarded clothes. God’s eternal Son, now in the flesh, to bear all our sins.
The grace of God hath appeared. Oh, that grace appeared in the sense that God had promised that He was going to do this from the very dawn of history. He revealed it to Adam and Eve, when He sought them out and brought to them the promise of His Son. And throughout the thousands of years of Old Testament history God always promised that this glorious grace of His would appear in the person of His own Son in the flesh. But now it did appear in the wonder of the incarnation! That is when God’s eternal Son took flesh in the womb of the virgin and was born in Bethlehem. The grace of God appeared.
God’s grace is His irresistible power,
His glorious power, to save the object of His choosing.
I can say with confidence that you know this. I can say that in that great and awful day when Jesus Christ shall appear the second time, no one who now hears this program will ever be able to claim ignorance and ever be able to say, “But it was never told me, it was never shown to me that this glorious grace of God appeared on the earth.” You know it!
You know it the same way that Titus knew about it in the congregation of the Lord over which he was pastor on the island of Crete. He knew about it through the preaching of the Word of God. The apostle Paul said to Titus in chapter 1:1-3 that God hath, in due time, manifested His Word through preaching, “which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour.” The chosen way that God announces to you the appearance of His saving grace in the birth of Jesus Christ is His Word, especially as that Word is preached to you in the church. Now you see and now you know of this wonder. You do not need to take a pilgrimage to Israel and walk the hills of Bethlehem. You do not need to worship at the place where it is suspected the stable once stood in order for you to understand this glorious truth that God’s grace has appeared. You do not need to imagine some time machine to whisk you back to that night. You do not need to go to some display on a church stage and have a “Bethlehem walk.” You do not need a visit from an angel. And you do not need a sign put out in your back yard in December that Jesus was born. You have it right now. You have it in the authority of the living and abiding Word of God which is declared unto you: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” God has sent forth His messengers to preach the glad tidings of the appearance of God’s grace. That grace has appeared, says the apostle, to all men.
The idea of “all” here means all kinds, or all classes, of men. As Paul has explained to Titus that his ministry must not be bound to any class of men, but to all ages of men, both male and female, so also the gospel goes forth to all kinds: to children, to rich, to poor, to male, to female. The Word is sounded out to the end of the earth, no matter who you are or what your station of life. Business man in the work-a-day world where truth and honesty are thrown to the wind — the grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared unto you. College and high school student in the classroom led by a witty, insightful professor who either outrightly denies or cunningly questions the truth of the living God — God’s grace in Jesus Christ has appeared to you. Young people, as you live in a day of fornication and drunkenness and disrespect as part of the culture — God’s grace has appeared to you. Housewife, when influences come upon you and you are at your wit’s end and you are ready to walk out; aged men and aged women; no matter who you may be, I can say with absolute confidence, with absolute certainty, that you know this — the grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared when Jesus Christ was born in our flesh in Bethlehem as the only Savior, the one sent of the Father, to bear all the sins of His chosen.
Now, what effect does that produce upon your heart? Listen to the apostle: “Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” The appearing of God’s grace into the world in the birth of our Savior produces in us a profound effect. It begins to instruct our heart and it begins to teach our feet and it motivates our soul to a godly life. Does the birth of Jesus Christ have that effect upon you?
Is it simply some holiday cheer that you look forward to in this season, or does the gospel now produce, by its own power, this effect: that you desire to live a godly life? The truth of God is when the appearance of God’s grace in Christ is made known to our hearts — this will teach us to live a godly life. The word “teach” here means “lead a child step by step.” The teaching of grace leads us through the confusion of this present world step by step and teaches us how to live. How? The birth of Jesus Christ means that you and I should deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. Ungodliness is a life without regard for what God says, as if there is no God and there are no commandments from this God. It arises out of contempt for God. Ungodliness is when a man says, “I’ll go my way and do what suits me and give myself to what I please.” This ungodliness shows itself in a multitude of forms. You may read Romans 1:28-32, where you have a list. There is fornication, maliciousness, envy, murder, backbiting, cruelty, disobedience — all the sins of our own nature that are in the world.
The appearing of God’s grace into the world
in the birth of our Savior
produces in us a profound effect.
When God’s grace appears, it teaches us that we must deny ungodliness and be godly, sensitive, obedient, respectful, reverent, trusting in God. It teaches us that we should deny worldly lusts. Worldly lusts are those sinful passions that are so characteristic of the world: all the things that the modern movies and the entertainment industry seek to glamorize and promote and instill. It refers to sexual lusts that burn in the soul and become the claws and teeth of a demon that sink themselves into you and do not let you go. There is drunkenness, the perverse desire to get a rush, to be taken over by the influence of alcohol. There is greed. There is pride. And on and on we could go. The grace of God teaches us that we must deny ungodliness and worldly lusts.
That word “deny” is a very strong word. It is the same word that is used for Peter’s denial of his Lord. Peter repudiated any knowledge of his Lord and Savior. Now, when the grace of God in the birth of Christ shines by His wondrous love into our hearts, we are resolved to deny, to repudiate, to set aside ungodliness and worldly lusts.
Not only so, but now we want to live, says the apostle, soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. That is, a change takes place. A change that can be seen in how we live. A Christian is not someone who is under cover in the present world, hoping no one will notice, and secretly ashamed of being identified with the Lord Jesus. A Christian is not a dead fish floating belly-up down the stream of filth with public opinion, doing what everybody else does: evil talking, swearing, drinking. But a Christian is alive. He swims upstream in sobriety, righteousness, and godliness.
We are to live soberly, says the apostle. That is a favorite word of the apostle Paul in this epistle to Titus. It means that spiritually we are alert to our calling. We are alert to our place in this world. We do not have a swirling confusion as to why we are on the earth. We know why we are here. We are here to live in Christ.
We are to live righteously. And that looks out toward other people. That means that we will be faithful to each other in our marriages and in all of our life.
And godly. We will desire to live in a way that is pleasing to God in all of our thoughts.
Now the Word of God says that the appearing of Christ in the manger of Bethlehem is the appearing of God’s saving grace. That grace powerfully begins to teach our hearts to deny ungodliness, deny worldly lusts, and more and more live a sober, righteous, and godly life in this present world, says the apostle. Right now, and right here. God’s grace in the birth of Jesus Christ, which brings our salvation, is not intended to be something neatly wrapped up and stored away in our minds and remembered at this moment as we sing Christmas carols. God’s grace, in the appearance of His Son, is not to be like the Christmas knickknacks you get out of the closet and put on the shelf, and then in a month or so you will store away again. Christ’s birth does not simply teach you of a promise of a life to come, that someday you will have a perfect life with your Savior in heaven. But the appearance of God’s grace in the birth of Christ has to do with this present world, with the effect upon you day by day.
The Christian, you see, is not just for God’s glory in heaven. He is for God’s glory on earth. The Christian speaks of Jesus not just at Christmas time, but always —because God has taught us something in the appearance of His grace. He has taught us that we are hell-deserving sinners who could not attain to salvation, but now we are rich, for we have received the grace of Christ. That grace stirs in our souls, so that more and more we live unto God —right now, in this present world, in our home, in our work, in our school, in our church, always learning ever more deeply what it means that God has had grace upon us in the giving of His own Son.
Then you will seek to adorn the doctrine of God your Savior. You will want to show the wonder, the power, the beauty of this glorious gospel that God’s eternal Son was made flesh as the only way whereby sin could be removed. It will be seen in your life.
Have you been to Bethlehem? Have you seen the light that shines there? Do you worship the God who has sent forth the brilliance of His free, saving, irresistible grace? The answer will be found in your life, in how you live. And the answer will be found in this, that you live especially as one who cannot wait for that Savior to appear yet once more.
Let us pray.
Father, thanks for Thy holy Word. And now bless it to our hearts. We pray through Jesus Christ, Amen.