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In the Beginning

Jan 07, 2018

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Epiphany


(Genesis 1, Mark 1, Romans 6)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen. You may have noticed three texts referenced for this proclamation. This is highly unusual. All you need is one good Scripture verse, like Genesis 1:1, to have plenty to preach on (while staying in context of course), but here I’ve referenced many, many verses for just one message. The reason for this today is because of a common theme that is just perfect as we celebrate Epiphany and begin a new year (today is the first Sunday of 2018) and a common theme that comes out in all the readings today – in different ways – is “in the beginning.” Our new season is about the beginning.

Recall that the church season of Epiphany is already the third season of the Church year. We’ve already been through Advent and Christmas, and now here we are in Epiphany. It is a season that is becoming increasingly lost on our culture. What does it mean? It means “appearing” or “manifestation.” This is the season that demonstrates who Jesus really is. It recounts the miraculous ways in which Jesus our Lord was revealed to be God in flesh. Be it through the great star that led the Magi to worship Him, or the Lord’s miraculous baptism at the Jordon where the Father spoke, and the Holy Spirit descended and lighted upon the Lord in the form of a dove, or while the Lord worked miracles directly from His own hand and voice as when He turned water into wine at the wedding of Cana. Epiphany shows that Jesus is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lord’s; the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End; the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the Resurrection and the Life; the Son of God who is of the same substance as the Father; and the Son of Man who has authority to judge all men. This season provides the basis as to why St. Luke would go so far as to say in the book of Acts: “And there is salvation in one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (verse 42).” Jesus is all over Scripture, the Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil. He is the One who saves to the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. And in being this One He is the One responsible for all beginnings. Without Him, there is no beginning. John wrote simply, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

Genesis 1:1 uses a word in the Hebrew – Bara – that in- itself attests to God’s miraculous power to create. Historically in the Church, Genesis 1:1 refers to an absolute beginning and this has led to the teaching of “creation out of nothing.” Even while great exegetes may debate things on origins in Genesis, including how the word Bara for “create” is used, what we know basically is that -- before God -- nothing else existed. This means life as we know it here in space and time, was not until at some point – namely the beginning – God brought what exists into existence for the first time. Before the Lord created, there was absolutely nothing.

We struggle to picture what “nothing” looks like. We really can’t imagine it. Even if we close our eyes and see “nothing,” or “blankness,” or “darkness.” These things are still something, but absolute nothing has no dimension, no color, no width, no depth, no atoms, no molecules, no quarks, no nothing. And to think that without God graciously creating, we would literally not exist. There would be no life. So why did the Lord create? God’s purpose for His creation is to give it good things. The most important thing for the creation to “do” is to receive good things from God! (as discussed in Creation, The Lutheran Difference). Soak in what the Psalmist wrote at Psalm 104:27-28: “These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.” What does God love to do? He loves to GIVE; He loves to open His hand; and He loves to fill us with good things. This is the reason He created. Creation is an extension of love. God is love…He gives, so He creates.

And in our great sin we take this for granted. We act as if our lives are our rights. How easy it is to say, “this is MY life…” but “MY life” is a gift from God, it is from God, I am from God. That means that MY life is REALLY GOD’S LIFE! How can we speak of His creation in a selfish way? So, to reflect on the beginning of Genesis is to be led to repent of our sin. Our sin expresses itself in forgetting that we are from God, that our lives really belong to Him, and that we have a very exact purpose: we are to receive from God and He would have us know it, acknowledge it, thank Him for it…and then live for Him.

It might sound overly simplistic, but not to know and confess these things invites a crisis of conscience and self-identity. It is easy for people, it is easy for us to have a crisis of identity…why I am here? What’s the point? What’s it all about anyway? Here, the Lord gives us answers: “You are from the Lord; you are here as an extension of His love; you are here to know Him as the Giver of Good Things; and you are here to confess that He is your Life. You are here to serve Him and to glorify His name. When we know these things, then life becomes clear and we are no longer in darkness. We no longer live for ourselves.

Yet, we should realize that darkness has come, and it came through sin. So, there was need for a new beginning and this is where today’s text from St. Mark’s Gospel comes in. There was great need to restore the creation after sin came into the world and this my brothers and sisters in Christ is why Jesus came and for that matter, it is why the Lord Jesus was baptized: to give you and me a new beginning.

Sin seeks to destroy the beauty of the first creation. It tries to ruin the creation recorded in Genesis. It takes from that creation and causes privation (a taking away from that which was once perfect). It messes things up. So, the Lord Jesus dear friends came to restore and heal the creation; or to put it even more powerfully: The Lord Jesus came to give a new creation and a new beginning. Right about the time we know that we should be thankful for the gift of creation, but then we see our sinful hearts that pull us from God to live for ourselves, that was when the Lord Jesus had mercy on us. It is again, why He came.

When Jesus was baptized, He was baptized into His Church and the Father rejoiced in His Son…that He was faithful and obedient to the Father to come and to give up His life for us. Jesus came as our Champion and Substitute. He came to fight sin and death for us. He came to take our place under the load of sin. He came so that in being baptized, He was joined to all of us: He became one with you and He became one with me. And this is creation expressed all over again: God was giving; God was opening His hand to bless; and God was filling us with good things through Jesus (this time covering the sin that came into the first creation).

The Father rejoiced so much that He proclaimed from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Of-course the Heavenly Father would be well pleased. His Son was about to restore His wonderful creation; the people whom He created would be redeemed and saved (even those who lived before Jesus came in the flesh and yet who trusted in His coming salvation, were also saved).

So right about the time we think we have just ruined everything in the first creation of the gift of life my friends -- when we’ve committed so many sins when we knew better -- the Lord sends this Gospel from Mark: Look! See! Hear! Jesus came in your flesh and joined you through His baptism into His Holy Church and He has baptized you to be joined to Him. And now His life does more than make up for your life; because His life is in-itself your new beginning. The Holy Spirit who descended on Jesus like a dove is the same who made you alive again and gave you a new beginning when you were baptized into Christ! We remember our baptism now every-day, because it is the guarantee of our new beginning!

Still, beware Christians because our sinful nature, our flesh still rears its ugly head. We are still in the holy battle: our spirit in Christ strives to put down, crucify, and drown what tries to wrest us away from our new beginning! So, as a result we have Romans 6: it is the splendid teaching of the multiple daily beginnings within the new beginning we have in Christ. Holy Baptism which as Romans 6 says means that we were “baptized into Christ,” also means that we go forth to live each day as a new beginning. It is the new beginning of each day considering ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (verse 11)!

In the Old West there were – as is commonly known – posters that said, “Wanted, Dead or Alive.” These were for criminals and fugitives that had to be brought to justice. If one was able to capture or even execute such an outlaw, then that bounty-hunter could collect on the reward. Well, the sign for you and I is similar, but slightly tweaked. God says, “Wanted, Dead AND Alive.” He wants us everyday to kill our sinful man that wants to rouse all kinds of trouble in us; that wants us to live for self; that wants us to think only of what we want and never on what God wants. We are to remember the truth of the DAILY new beginning of our lives in Christ. Romans 6:6: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” We live each day now as Christians with the conviction: “I live this new day with faith in Jesus so that I will not be enslaved to sin! Because I am a new creation; and God has given to me a new beginning!

Rejoice Christians:

Genesis proclaims the gifts of the first creation which we still enjoy!

St. Mark’s Gospel proclaims the new creation that Jesus has won for you since He joined you and you have joined Him…through the gift of Baptism!

And Romans teaches us how to live in this new beginning, not just every occasionally, but daily, as you start again each day dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus!

Yes, this is the season of BEGINNING. Let us live in Jesus and know this season applies to every single day of our lives! “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2nd Cor 5:17).”