Dear children in a common faith,
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour,
They say timing is everything. It is important in the good telling of a joke, in delivering the most serious news, and everything in between. Is it a good time to talk about your financial situation, how much you have saved for retirement or how much you give to the church? Is it a good time to talk about marriage, at this current stage in your relationship? Is it a good time to talk about having another baby? Is it a good time to talk about having a will and powers of attorney so that things are in order in case you suddenly pass away? Is it a good time to talk about preparing for death; its inevitability; the possibility of suffering; the evils of doctor assisted suicide and euthanasia; whether it’s ethical or faithful to stay on life support; whether you can say goodbye to this world and all that is in it in peace and look expectantly to the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Saviour? Is now a good time for you? When would be a good time?
God made a promise of eternal life before time began. All of creation was geared toward Adam and Eve and all of their descendants living forever. They could eat freely from the tree of life. It was God’s promise to them which He had in mind before He spoke that first creative word, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). When mankind sinned and brought death into the world and seemed to bring God’s promise to naught, our loving heavenly Father kept restating His promise, promising that He would undo the damage of sin and conquer death so that we might live forever.
Throughout the history of the Old Testament God hinted that He would keep the promise that He had made before time began. He would crush the head of the deceiving serpent by the offspring of the woman (Genesis 3:15). When Abraham died, it was not said that he ceased to exist but that he was gathered to his people, indicating that his faithful ancestors who had died were yet alive with God (Genesis 25:8). Job faithfully declared, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26). Ezekiel was set in a valley of dry bones that came back to life with sinews and muscles and skin. The LORD said, “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O My people” (Ezekiel 37:12). At various points throughout the history of His people, God restated His promise to them, at the right time: e.g. when the great patriarch Abraham died; when Job was suffering intolerable grief and pain; when the people of Israel were almost completely wiped out and taken into exile.
The Letter to the Hebrews begins, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus came to speak clearly for all, what God had spoken by the prophets at many times and in many ways. He spoke to the Old Testament scholar Nicodemas and said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus spoke that promise of eternal life even as the crowds were turning away from Him. He preached to them: “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54). And when He asked the Twelve if they also wanted to turn away, Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (6:68). Later Jesus said to Martha in the time of her great grief over the death of her brother, “I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
This was the message, the promise of eternal life, with which Jesus sent out others, as we heard in the Gospel reading “to every town and place where He Himself was about to go” (Luke 10:1). After His ascension, Jesus sent out His apostles to preach this good news of eternal life to all nations. Paul preached boldly: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
In today’s Epistle reading we heard: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ” wrote to Titus “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in His word through the preaching” with which Paul had been entrusted (Titus 1:1-3). At the proper time God gives an epiphany of His promise of eternal life in His Word, through preaching.
As we celebrate the Festival of St. Titus, we rejoice not only in a faithful pastor and confessor for the church, but in the hope of eternal life that God manifested in his preaching. Indeed, it was manifested in St. Paul’s preaching to Titus. It was manifested in Titus’ own preaching at Ephesus and Corinth and Crete and wherever he was sent. But it was also manifested in the preaching of the elders and bishops that Titus was to appoint in every town. Paul had left Titus in Crete to set in order what remained to be done (Titus 1:5). What remained was to make sure that there were preachers to manifest the hope of eternal life through preaching. So it wouldn’t just be a hope spoken of when Paul or Titus or some other notable person passed through on a mission journey, but so that at all times the people would hear the hope of eternal life in Christ Jesus through regular faithful preaching.
Even today, we recognize that the purpose of having a church is to have a place where the hope of eternal life can be preached to people. When a congregation does not have a pastor, we recognize the need to fill that vacant hole, and in the meantime to find a pastor who is willing to take on extra preaching so that the people will always have the hope of eternal life preached to them. This is why, as we train our pastors at the seminary, we put forth a special emphasis on preaching. And that the content of that preaching is not primarily to give lessons for a successful life in this world, but to give the hope of eternal life in every circumstance of the people’s life in this world. This is the preaching that needs to be sounding forth in every town and at all times.
This is the season of Epiphany. Is now a good time for you? Christmas was last month. Lent is on the next page of the calendar. Some people might think this is the time to take a break from church and preaching. The season of Epiphany manifests who this Christ is whose birth in Bethlehem we have just celebrated and whose passion, death, and resurrection we will shortly take up as our contemplation. The season of Epiphany reminds us of what St. Paul wrote to Titus: “at the proper time [God] manifested His word through the preaching.” At the proper time, God gave an epiphany through the preaching of Jesus, the disciples He sent out ahead of Him, the apostles He appointed to lead His Church after His ascension, the pastors and confessors like Timothy and Titus, the elders and bishops that they ordained in every town, and the pastors who faithfully preached to us throughout our lives this “hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.”
Is now a good time? It certainly is. This is the time when God’s promise is manifested to you. He made the promise before time began and gave remembrances of it at various points throughout history. He sent His own Son not only to fulfill the promise, but also to preach it clearly and forthrightly, that there could be no mistaking. His Son sent out disciples and apostles into the world with that promise, and they made sure that pastors were appointed to preach that promise in every town. The promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus is preached here for you today.
I hope it’s a good time for you. It is a good time, not just in the season of Epiphany, but in every season of your life. The promise extends back to before time began and it’s a good time to hear it preached even before your birth. God knew you before that time, and He made this promise for you before that time. John the Baptist leaped for joy in His mother’s womb, when Mary greeted Elizabeth with the glad news that God was fulfilling His promise (Luke 1:44).
It’s a good time when you are newly born to hear the preaching of eternal life. It’s a good time when the children are young, for Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them, for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). It’s a good time when you are young, like the one who came to Jesus asking, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:17).
It’s a good time when you are teenager. It is a good time when you are moving out of your parent’s house, when you’re getting married, when you’re having children of your own, when your career takes off, and when it’s time for you to retire. It’s a good time when you are home, or on vacation; when you are happy or sad; when you are sick or in the full vigor of health. It is a good time when you are close to death, like Simeon who said, “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace according to Your word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:29-30); It’s a good time when someone you love has died, like it was for Mary and Martha.
“in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in His word through the preaching” Now is a good time for this preaching to come to you. If you don’t think it is a good time, perhaps there is no better time. Jesus, has come fulfilling God’s promise to restore mankind to eternal life. He suffered and died for your sins which took eternal life away from you. He rose again from the dead and will never die again, so that whoever dies believing in Him will have eternal life. And He will raise him up on the last day.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.