Epiphany: (3) The Appearance of Grace Bringing Immortality

December 14, 2003 / No. 3180

Dear radio friends,

Epiphany.  I trust that you know the meaning of that word by now, if you have been listening to our programs in the last two weeks.  It means “appearing,” it means to “shine out of the gloom and death of sin,” the shining out of God’s grace, love, and kindness.

We looked at Titus 2:11 where we have the word “epiphany,” appearance, “for the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.”  There the apostle says that when Jesus Christ was born, the wonderful grace of God shone out.

We looked at it last week in Titus 3:4, “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared to us.”  Again, when Christ was born, the kindness and the love of God toward His church appeared, shone forth in all of its brilliance.

Today I want to look at the third time where the word “epiphany” or “appearing” is used to refer to the birth of Jesus Christ.  That passage is II Timothy 1:9, 10.   There we read, “Who [that is, God] hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing [there is the word epiphany] of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”  Today, then, I speak to you on the appearance of God’s grace in the birth of Jesus, which brings immortality.

That is, after all, the heart of our rejoicing, is it not, in the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ?  Is not the heart of our rejoicing this, that the child of Bethlehem came to bring to us immortality?  It is exactly because He was born and suffered and died sacrificially and rose again the third day that we will not die.  That is why we rejoice.

The chapter (II Timothy 1) is a chapter that gives holy encouragement to us to preserve or persevere in our calling in Christ Jesus.  Paul is telling Timothy that he must be brave and true in the testimony of the Lord Jesus.  Timothy, Paul says, was a man who experienced many fears.  And Paul says to him in that chapter that the servants of the Lord must be emboldened by the power of the gospel as that power lives in their own heart.  By the power of the gospel, Paul says to Timothy, you have been saved and you have been called.  And Timothy had need for great endurance, for his task was, indeed, a difficult one.

Paul, then, seeks to unpackage the salvation of Jesus Christ.  Paul seeks to trace the source of that salvation to the eternal grace of God in Christ.  And He does all of this in order that Timothy — understanding the gospel and understanding that through Jesus Christ he has been given immortality, a life that cannot die, a life that must live forever with God — might not be afraid, might not shrink back, might not be overwhelmed with his trials and weariness.  But that he might endure.

So also is the Word of God to you and to me today.  We are being told, then, that the birth of our Savior in Bethlehem’s manger was the epiphany, the appearance, of God’s eternal grace, a grace that, we read, was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.  I am referring now to the ninth verse of II Timothy 1.   Let us follow that verse for a few moments.  Let us follow the wording very carefully because that verse is a treasure chest, and the contents will cause our hearts to bow down in wonder.  And, remember, it is spoken for the purpose of our comfort and encouragement.

We read, “God hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”  There the apostle says that it was God who, by His power, pulled us out of the pit of sin and hell and brought us to the gates of heaven.  He delivered us from the cesspool of our sin and brought us to the mansions of glory.  And God did this by His power — He called us unto a holy calling.  God summoned, God spoke His powerful and living Word.  God said, “Come to Me.”  God called and saved us.

Why did He do that?  The apostle says, He did this “not according to our works.”  That simply means that our salvation is not based upon anything we are, did, or can do.  It was not according to those things.  Not according to anything we are, that is, any intrinsic virtue, goodness, worth, or value, for we had absolutely none.  It was not according to anything we did, any good deed, decision, will, or acceptance of Christ.  These we did not have and could not do.  And it was not according to anything we can do.  It was not according to our works as Christians — our prayers, our repentance, our offerings in the collection plate, our raising of our children.


Our salvation is not based upon anything
we are, did, or can do.


The Word of God is saying that if you search yourself down to the very bottom, everything you are, did, or can do, and if you leave nothing unturned, your works, all you did, all you are, there is not one thing of yourself to which you can point as the cause or the reason of your salvation.  Rather, when you look within yourself as a child of God, what do you find?  If the Holy Spirit, through the Word, is searching you out, you find this:  that you, with all mankind, are accursed of God and are a corrupt and guilty sinner.

So God has called us to salvation not according to our own works, but, says the apostle, according (I am reading again II Timothy 1:9) to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.  God is saying that the reason for our being called to salvation is to be found in God alone.  It is to be found in His own purpose — that is, His eternal choice or decree, His eternal decision.  One’s purpose is what one intends to do.  God had a purpose, a purpose that He had within Himself from all eternity — a purpose to save His people in Christ.  We read in Ephesians 1:10 of this purpose — a purpose that He purposed in Himself, that He would gather together in one all things in Christ — “being predestinated,” says the apostle, “according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the council of his own grace.”  God, for His own reason, found in Himself, freely, without any merit on our part, purposed to call and to save us by His grace alone.


The reason for our being called to salvation
is to be found in God alone.


And the apostle says that this grace, which is the cause of our salvation, was an eternal grace.  We read that this grace “was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”  Now, did you hear that?  Read the words.  Did we read this:  “God has called us and saved us according to His purpose and grace, and that grace was given to us in Christ Jesus when we accepted Jesus”?  No, that is not what you read!  That would be a perversion of the Word of God.  Do we read this:  “That grace was given to us in Christ Jesus after God saw what kind of a person we would be and that we would be willing to believe in Him”?  No!  That is not what the Word of God teaches at all.  That, also, would be a perversion.  It says this:  The grace, which is the cause, remember, of our salvation, “was given to us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”  That is, before time, before creation, before any act of man, but freely, when only God was existing eternally as the glorious and sufficient and wonderful God, then God, in His own thoughts, down in the infinite depths and splendor of His own heart, decreed that He would give to us grace in Christ.  He said, “I will show My glory.  I will do it in My Son.  I will freely choose a people to save.  And I will call them to salvation in Christ.  And I will do this solely out of grace.”

What is the Word of God, then, saying to us?  It is saying this.  Before the elect of God were born, they were enrolled in God’s registry of salvation.  Do you want to know the source of salvation?  It is God’s eternal grace.  Our salvation does not hang in any respect upon our deserts or acts; it does not hang upon anything other than God.  God did not look outside of Himself for the reason to save us.  On what does our salvation hang?  It hangs on the eternal choice and the grace of God, on the unconditional election and grace of God.  Salvation is caused by God’s everlasting grace.  God chose, according to grace, to save and call His church to Christ out of desperately wicked sinners who are guilty of themselves in Adam.


Before the elect of God were born,
they were enrolled in God’s registry of salvation.


Now we need to pause a moment and remember why the apostle is bringing this all out.  Some would say, Oh, this will frighten men with that horrible decree of election.  No, that is not true.  Paul is bringing this out because he would give Timothy courage and strength as He faced difficulties and distresses that were overwhelming to him.

Remember that at this time, when this epistle of Paul was written to Timothy, the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman world was really all centered in Paul.  And Paul was now stricken down.  Paul was in the Roman prison.  Now, the responsibility for the spread of the gospel was extending to others in the church — to Timothy.  And Timothy was in need of unusual strength and courage.  How shall he be encouraged?  Paul says, “Timothy, you must remember that you are in the everlasting arms of God.  You must look to God for your strength, to God’s power.  And you must remember that it was God who called you by His almighty call — a call which He purposed in Himself out of a grace that He had within Himself.  You must stand fast in that truth, Timothy.  You must understand that the work of salvation is the work of the eternal God and therefore shall never fail.”

But then he goes on to say that this wonderful grace of God that was given to us is “made manifest,” it is shown in the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  When Jesus Christ was born, God’s eternal grace was seen, it appeared on the earth.  And His Son, Jesus Christ, has “abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”  God’s grace, therefore, did not stay locked up in His own heart.  There was an epiphany, there was a great breaking out of the light of God’s eternal grace when He gave His Son in Bethlehem’s manger.  And His Son, who appeared as our Savior Jesus Christ, appeared for this purpose:  that He might abolish our death and bring life and immortality to light through the gospel.  God sent forth His Son to bring immortality to us.  That word “immortality” means, not subject to death.  In other words, Jesus Christ was born in order that God’s people might not die.  Jesus Christ was made to live in the human flesh in order that we might live forever with our God.  He did that by abolishing death, death in all of its forms — our physical death, our eternal death, our spiritual death.  He took upon Himself our sin and our death.  And taking that sin and death, that sin and death of all the elect, upon Himself and enduring that death and sin upon the cross, He has abolished it.  It is gone!  And now He has brought to light life and immortality — life with God and immortality, everlasting life.  He did that by rising from the dead on the third day as the Lord of the church.

And so, when Christ was born in Bethlehem and took upon Himself our flesh, it was all for this purpose:  that God might bring His church, might bring us, to immortality, to the victory, to eternal life in Jesus Christ.

That is the gospel.  That is why He was born.  Born in our flesh, to take upon Himself our death.  Born as the mighty Son of God in the flesh, eternal God of God, able to bear our sins, able to abolish our sins with His own sacrifice on the cross, and able to lift us out of the grave and sin and death into life eternal through His resurrection.

And all of this, by grace alone.  Now, do you possess this?  Right now, in the midst of all the trial and the gloom and heaviness of your present life, do you rejoice in this, that Christ was born, and in that birth the grace of God that bringeth immortality has shone upon you?  Do you see the Christ child as the One who brought you out of death into eternal life?

The child in Mary’s arms is God’s grace, God’s saving, sure grace to bring His church, to bring all His eternally chosen, to immortal life.

I know that through the gospel, the glorious gospel revealed in the Word of God, we know the truth of the birth of Jesus Christ.  Through the testimony of the gospel we learn the truth that the birth in Bethlehem was no ordinary birth.  It was a virgin birth because the child was conceived by God.  It was no ordinary child.  It was Immanuel — God with us.  It was for this purpose, that the God of grace might bundle up all the sin of His people and place it all upon His own Son in the flesh, that His Son might go to the cross to abolish it by suffering for that sin, and might arise again on the third day as the head of His church and people in order that He might give to us everlasting life.  We have the victory already now in our hearts in principle, and one day when we die we shall be taken to enjoy it at God’s right hand.  And then, when He returns at the end of the world (He is coming just one more time), He shall stand on the earth and He will call our dead bodies from the grave and He shall change all of His own.  And we shall live forever and ever to the praise of God.

Do you believe this?  Is that what you see in Bethlehem?  Do you embrace this by a true and living faith?  That is the power of God.  The power of God is when He shines into your heart with the gospel!  Then you have comfort, you have encouragement.  No matter the way that you take today, you have perfect comfort and perfect encouragement.


The power of God is when
He shines into your heart with the gospel!


Perhaps you are confronted by the awful reality of death.  You are old and are near death.  Or there is a sickness in your body that is incurable by men.  You begin to think of your own sins.  You begin to think of your loved ones that you will leave behind.  Many fears come upon you.  Look now to the appearing of God’s grace in the birth of Jesus Christ.  He appeared in order that the grace that brings life immortal might shine forth through the gospel.  And we have comfort.

Shall we, then, fear?  Perhaps you are facing great and heavy burdens today, so heavy and so great that you are despairing, perhaps the devil is even accomplishing some of his purposes through those trials and is making you bitter, angry, resentful, prickly towards others.  Listen to the gospel.  You say you have no hope?  You say you cannot bear this burden?  You say you will not?  Listen to the gospel.  The grace of God hath appeared in the giving of His Son in Bethlehem’s manger.  And this Son has borne our sins and our death and has earned for us immortal life, given to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, so that he that believeth in Jesus Christ shall never die.  Perfect victory, which is ours.  We belong to God.  We have been brought into fellowship with Him through His Son.

That is our comfort!  That is our encouragement.  Do you believe this?  As you stand before the truth of Jesus’ birth, do you see these things?  Oh, then we are comforted, encouraged, strengthened.  Then we fall down and worship the Christ child.

Let us pray.

Father, we again thank Thee for Thy Word.  We confess that our salvation is entirely of Thee.  We thank Thee for Thy grace and love and kindness, which shine forth in the appearance of Thy Son in Bethlehem’s manger.  May we be true worshipers of the Christ child in this season and throughout all the days of our life.  And may we live in the blessed comfort and strength of the immortal life in Him.  Amen.