“No man hath seen God at any time. The only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father,
He hath declared Him.” —John 1:18
The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “appearing;” and although we date the holy Epiphany season as beginning with the Savior’s manifestation to the Wise Men, which we celebrate each year on January 6th, that glorious manifestation of our Immanuel, “God with us,” was not an isolated event, a “Christmas special” that is now only a memory for us. Rather, it is a continuous manifestation of our Savior, just beginning with His manifestation to the shepherds of Bethlehem, to the aged Simeon and Anna in the Temple, to the Wise Men from the east, and to the learned scribes and elders at the age of twelve years. For He manifested Himself to “His own,” to the Jews in His public ministry here on earth, to “all the world” in the preaching of the Gospel ever since, and to us very particularly when we were enlightened by His Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace and brought to “the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4).
In our Catechism (Q/A 132A), we confess that Christ, in His office as our Divine Prophet “revealed Himself by word and deed…as the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world.” The expression, “by word and deed,” refers to His preaching and to His miracles, as BOTH abound in His public ministry, in His personal and visible Epiphany to men.
Moses said to Israel in the wilderness: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him ye shall hearken” (Deuteronomy 18:15). This “prophet”or preacher would be sent by God Himself, says Moses; and that statement takes on special meaning when we know that Moses was speaking specifically about Jesus. For the Savior said to the scribes and Pharisees in John 5:46, “Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me; for he wrote of Me.” And in Hebrews 12, this very prophecy of Moses, including its whole context, is discussed with specific reference to Jesus. So this preacher or “prophet” of whom Moses wrote was not only “raised up” and sent by God, but He Himself was (and is) “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity” (Luther).
But this divine prophet was also to be “true man, born of the Virgin Mary…” (Luther). Moses said that He would be raised up “from the midst of thee, of thy brethren,” of the house of Israel, a “brother” according to the flesh, a physical descendant of Abraham, Judah and David — a Jew “of the house and lineage of David,” both genetically through Mary, His biological mother, and legally through Joseph, His father-of-record in the eyes of the Jews (Luke 3:23; 4:24). Surely that perfect combination of being God-sent and God Himself, and, at the same time, a son-of-Israel, should make this Prophet credible among the people!
Moreover, Moses said that this divine prophet would be a mediator “like unto me,” a mediator between God and His people. But there was a significant difference between them in their mediation. “The Law was given by Moses…” (John 1:17). Moses was a mediator of the Old covenant, having been the go-between God’s people and God Himself when He gave His written Law on Mt. Sinai. The Bible tells us that the Lord knew Moses “face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10), for Moses communicated directly with God in the mountain and brought back to the people what God had said, commanded, and threatened; “…but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The writer to the Hebrews points out that Christ was to be “the Mediator of the New Testament” (9:15), the messenger of a different covenant— a covenant of mercy, forgiveness, life and salvation, the “Messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in” (Malachi 3:1), making us right with God, not symbolically by the blood of animal sacrifices (as Moses did under the Old Covenant), but “by His own blood He entered in once into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (v. 12).
Yet, when this Divine Prophet “came unto His own,” arrived on the scene in the fullness of time to proclaim Himself, first to the Jews, as their long-promised Messiah and the Redeemer of the world, “His own received Him not” (John 1:11). “The children of the kingdom” (Matthew 8:12) rejected Him, “would not” permit Him to gather their children together into His Kingdom of Grace (Matthew 23:37), preferred that their children’s Living Bread (John 6:51) be cast unto the Gentile dogs (Matthew 15:26), and killed their own Messiah, “the Prince of life” (Acts 3:15)! Like their fathers, the Children of Israel in the wilderness, they loathed the Manna of His precious Word and eventually lost their appetite for its saving nourishment. May God mercifully preserve US from such indifference to the preaching of our Divine Prophet in His continuing Epiphany to our hearts, lest we too lose the priceless blessings of His grace mediated to us in His precious Word!
But Jesus, our Divine Prophet also manifested Himself to men in His miracles. Isaiah described that function of His prophetic office, saying, over seven-hundred years in advance of His coming: “Behold, your God will come…He will come and save you. …Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing” (Isaiah 35:4-6). Jesus Himself referred to this prophecy when He spoke with the disciples of John the Baptist, as we read in Matthew 11. John knew, of course, who Jesus was and had identified Him as “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). But some of John’s disciples were skeptical of Jesus, and so John sent them to Jesus directly to find out who He was, to permit Him to manifest Himself to them. Their question: “Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered: “Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me” (Matthew 11:3-6).
Why did Jesus do all these things? Did Jesus have to “prove” anything by giving people “a sign” to impress them? Not at all! He did not do all these things for His own sake (as we sinful human beings do when our authority and pride are attacked and we are challenged to “put up or shut up”). He did it all for us. John tells us in his twentieth chapter, “These are written” [these few examples out of all the miracles that Jesus did] “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His Name” (v. 31). The abiding comfort to which Jesus testifies as our Divine Prophet by means of His miracles is not merely that Jesus is our Helper in every need here in this life, not merely that He is able to heal us of all our physical and mental diseases, not merely that He is our Provider in want and our Defender in every trouble here in this present world; “for if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,” writes Paul to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 15:19). That is the “miserable” comfort that those “false prophets” proclaim who preach a “social gospel.”
Jesus as our Divine Prophet performed countless miracles, including those recorded in the Scriptures, “that [we] might believe,” John says. This statement of the evangelist, given by inspiration of God, does not establish miracles as “means of grace” which, as a kind of alternative to the Gospel, the Holy Ghost uses to bring men to saving faith in Christ as their Redeemer. Jesus Himself condemned the attitude so prevalent among the Jews that they were entitled to demand of Him “a sign from heaven” (Matthew 12:38; 16:1; Mark 8:11; Luke 11:16; John 6:30). He said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign!” (Matthew 12:39). On the contrary, in His narrative about the rich man and Lazarus Jesus cited “Father Abraham” as saying to the rich man concerning his unbelieving brothers: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets,” if they won’t hear and heed the written Scriptures — even the Scriptures of the Old Testament, “neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31) — the greatest of all miracles which Jesus Himself performed on Easter morning. That miracle has been called everything from a fraud to a blatant lie, from a superstition to a legend or myth, but not the one miracle which causes all who hear of it to “believe.” The Gospel and the Sacraments are the means of grace. Christ’s miracles, like those wrought by the apostles in His Name after His resurrection, merely “confirmed the Word,” giving supplementary testimony to the truth which they peached and taught. The miracles to which John refers were “written,” were made a part of “the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make [men] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15), so that we “through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4), so that, having been brought by His personal testimony, by the preaching of His apostles and evangelists, and by those messengers that followed them down though the centuries — by the testimony of the written Scriptures, to “the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4), that we might confide in His merits alone for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation which He purchased for all mankind and which God proffered to the world as His free gift “in Christ” (II Corinthians 5:19). Through His preaching, punctuated as it were by His miracles, Jesus, our Divine Prophet, revealed Himself, manifested Himself, as the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world, “that [we] might have life through His Name” (John 20:31). “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (I John 4:9).
God grant that graciously to all of us for Jesus’ sake!
—D. T. M.