O LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people which call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord.. Amen.
Epistle Romans 12:1-5
Gospel S. Luke 2:41-52
The Collect. A godly Christian minister told us once that he had prayed every day for many years that God would cause him to do the right thing. “Not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt 26:39). The tone of these Collects is so helpful if we pray them in sincerity. They help us to humbly beseech God even for the mercy to hear our prayers. The whole prayer has the will of God as its aim and yet the sinner still prays for more, reminiscent of the one who cried, “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). It is right to pray and yet so hard to follow our godly desires and this prayer acknowledges that. If we are Christians we will want to pray like this as we will not want to be like the one who said he would follow the Lord but didn’t!
The theme of the Epistle, like the Collect, is the need to do “our reasonable service”. This does not mean, as some might suggest, or, “as we be slanderously reported” (Romans 3:8) wanting to do the minimum that seems reasonable enough. The Greek word translated ‘reasonable’ is the one from which we get the word ‘logic’ and is derived from the Greek word ‘Logos’ which is translated “Word” in John 1 referring to Jesus Christ himself as being God. To serve God is not to follow our vain imaginations but to follow his will and commandments with understanding.
As is Paul’s manner of writing, this latter part of the epistle is a practical section that follows the doctrinal bulk of the letter. Paul does not contradict James as he agrees that, “faith without works is dead”. That does not mean that our works save us and we must always be very clear about that or we will lose our joy and become introverted or at least overly introspective. Our best works can never save us but so far as they stem from a true faith in the person and finished work of Christ, they are pleasing to God. That is (was?) the doctrine of the Church of England and it is the doctrine of the Church of England (Continuing) who have firmly placed the 39 Articles of Religion into their Constitution.
Today we live in days of dry orthodoxy that has come about as a reaction to pseudo-charismatic and worldly Christianity. Therefore, it is important to emphasise that the practical Christian life is not just a set of rules that the justified believer adopts. The life the believer lives now is itself “by faith of the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20). The believer lives “in Christ” and so his motivation to obedience is not merely to appease his conscience but primarily it is the new life that he has in Christ. To put it in plain language the believer has been taken from darkness into light, or even more plainly, he has a totally different understanding of life. For one brought up in a Christian home who feels that he has always been repentant and faithful this may be hard to discern but for one saved from many years of not being a Christian, the new life may be more clearly discerned. He has most certainly changed camps and his whole life has changed. Such was the case with the Christians addressed in Rome and such will be the case today as the church seeks to evangelise an ever less Christian England.
Christianity involves the love of brethren, neighbours and even enemies, but this must never be the core of the faith. We must remain focused on God in Christ. We do not think of ourselves too highly but rather, as Paul says elsewhere, honour the less honourable members of the church. The Bible, describing the church as a body, makes this clear. When done well, this provides a great challenge to a world that takes pride in individuality and superiority. The biblical way does not despise success, rather it commends hard work and rebukes laziness. However, the rich are also warned not to despise the poor. Thus any “Make Poverty History” campaign, as far as it is feasible, must stem not from socialism or politically correct campaigning, but from the doctrines of depravity and grace found in the Bible and depicted in lively Reformed Christianity.
This Gospel passage tells the only story we have of the child Jesus after his nativity. Jesus as a twelve year old boy was in the temple not only listening but giving answers that astonished those present. His parents could not find him.
On this point some foolish proud theologians (so-called) have accused Jesus of sin. Of course Bible believing Christians stand firm on the fact that Jesus, and Jesus alone, was absolutely “without sin”. If there was sin here it was in Mary who asked, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us?” Indeed, our passage confirms that Jesus was “subject to them” as a good son. The fact that they did not know that he must be “about his Father’s business” and did not understand when he told them, confirms that they were the ignorant ones.
Our passage ends saying that “Jesus increased in wisdom, and stature, and in favour with God and man.” Some might misconstrue this to think that it shows Jesus was a mere man. However, the doctrine of the two natures of Christ in the one person is so helpful at this point. It is a great bulwark when defending the Gospel against the cults as well as Muslims. The human nature of Christ makes him a suitable substitute and his divine nature makes him a sufficient saviour. The two natures are not mixed together but they work together in the one glorious person of Christ.
Matthew Henry draws just about every spiritual lesson possible from this passage and is well worth reading!
Conclusion. The prayers offered in the Collect are thus encouraged by the Epistle reading that sees obedience rooted in the Gospel. This is also the case in the Gospel reading which sees the example of Christ in putting spiritual matters to do with the knowledge of God above and before social and practical matters to do with our neighbours. Our neighbours are not to be neglected and we are to love our enemies but first of all and at all times we are to be sure that we are ourselves saved. We must be sure that we have true saving faith because without faith, however marvellous our works, it is impossible to please God. To those that neglect so great salvation, the Lord will say in the end, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” It is our hope that this meditation will stir you up and provoke you to good works to the glory of God.
Epiphany remembers the Lord Jesus appearing to the Gentiles. We need to pray for the manifestation of Christ and the power of the Holy Ghost toward us.