Epiphany and God's Mission
Jan 5, 2018 · Courtney Jacob
Have you ever looked at the state of the church today and wondered, “How did we get here?” or “Is this really what God intended?”
Maybe you’re flummoxed over the behavior of individuals who call themselves Christians or you find yourself scratching your head about the the number of denominations that exist. Maybe you think the institutional church has made positive steps forward or that it has barely scratched the surface in addressing needed change. Whether you’re content or frustrated, it’s a valuable practice to revisit scripture to seek answers for the questions that plague us.
In our study “Epiphany and God’s Mission,” we refresh and renew our understanding of God’s purpose and intentions for his body, then re-examine our faith and practices to see how they align with God’s design. And what better time to do this than the season of Epiphany?
What is Epiphany?
According to the church calendar, directly following the seasons of Advent and Christmas comes the celebration of Epiphany. In the Western Church Epiphany is celebrated on January 6, twelve days after Christmas, and it commemorates the arrival of the magi or wisemen in Bethlehem.
Churches vary in their dedication to observing Epiphany. Highly traditional or liturgical churches are more likely to observe it, some with a service on the day of Epiphany, others by incorporating it into their regular weekend worship. Churches with less emphasis on liturgical tradition may observe it will less vigor or possibly, not at all. Observed or not, the meaning of Epiphany is a powerful one that should challenge (maybe even convict) the heart of every faithful believer.
The word epiphany means manifestation, and thus the observance of Epiphany by those who follow the Christian faith, celebrates the first revelation of Jesus Christ to the those outside the Jewish/Israelite community, specifically the three ‘gentile’ magi.
Discovering God’s Mission
The Old Testament tells the story of the Israelites, the people who became a nation that God set apart to be his people. But how did God’s revelation go from “for the Israelites only” to “from Jerusalem to Judea to the ends of the earth”? Did he change his mind or was this always his intention? Together we’ll follow the growth of the early church and study Bible passages from the Pentateuch, the Prophets, the Gospels, and the Apostolic letters to build an understanding of the big picture and themes God weaves throughout his whole story.
Doing so will help us gain a better understanding of God’s design for the Israelites, the Apostles and early Christians, and for us today. We’ll see how God ensures that his mission to bring salvation reaches the people he intends to reach.
More than a History Lesson
Studying the development of the church is more than just an interesting lesson in Church history. It allows us to see God at work, to see how he propels his mission forward...with or in spite of his people and, it provides us with case studies to guide us in what we do today.
It also forces us to take off our rose colored glasses about the state of the early church. Have you ever heard someone refer to the description of the believers fellowship in Acts 2:42-47 and longingly declare, “I wish we could be united like that today! We should be more like the early church.” It’s easy to do. But, when we look closer at the full context of that story, we recognize that tension and discord were just as as present in the early church as they are today. Observing how they discerned together what it meant to live as Christ followers can help us address the conflict we encounter in the Church today.
Reminding ourselves of God’s mission and learning from the experiences of the early church, give us opportunity to re-examine our motives and activities in order to align them with God’s. I invite you to immerse yourself in this exercise through our Groundwork series “Epiphany and God’s Mission.”
The Magi - Matthew 2:1-11
Beyond Jerusalem - Acts 8
Light for the Nations - Acts 13
Growth Through Controversy - Acts 15
Engaging Culture with the Gospel- Acts 17
Our Place in God’s Mission - Acts 28
...and together we’ll learn how we can better work together as Christians today as we participate in God's mission to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.