Beloved. The beauty of the Church’s season of Epiphany in which we now find ourselves is that it reveals to us who exactly it was who was born in Bethlehem of a virgin that first Christmas. Epiphany means “revelation” or “manifestation”. And in this season, the Gospel accounts reveal precisely that that Baby born in Bethlehem over 2000 years is no ordinary Baby. Yes, He is a true Baby boy who grew up into full manhood; but He is more than that! He is a true human being, yes, but He is also the true God, the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. And it is especially this fact that the season of Epiphany drives home to us.
Today’s Gospel is the one account we have from Jesus’ childhood. Perhaps the question is raised: why aren’t there more? The certain, short and simple answer is that the Holy Spirit did not see fit to record any more. And as we think about it, perhaps it may also have been that there really wasn’t much to tell, that is, the Boy Jesus was not going around preaching and doing miracles; He hadn’t begun His public ministry. Perhaps His childhood was just ordinary, like that of any other boy. Look at Jesus’ answer to Mary’s question: Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be taking care of my Father’s business? Was it perhaps so ordinary that all the miraculous events surrounding His conception and birth had been somewhat buried for a decade or so and Sts. Mary and Joseph had to be reminded again? But the thing is, whatever the case—Jesus did not forget who He was and why He had come. He knew that He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world: Did you not know that I must be taking care of my Father’s business? And all during these years growing up, Jesus was doing His saving work—He was living a holy and sinless life, for us and our salvation. Jesus’ perfect obedience of God’s holy Law for us even as a child and youth is a great comfort to us when we remember the sins of our youth. As a Child, Jesus was well aware of His saving work, that He had come to this world to save it. Did you not know that I must be taking care of my Father’s business? –that is, He was active in God’s word, will and work; He was on earth to carry out God’s counsel and will—the salvation of the world, your salvation and mine.
With this simple question Jesus asks His parents, there is Epiphany, there Jesus reveals who He really is: a true human being, yes, the Son of Mary, but also the true God and Savior of the world.
In today’s Gospel account Jesus is revealed for us— Did you not know that I must be taking care of my Father’s business?— so that we know Him as the true God and our Savior. But today’s Epistle, our text, also shows another kind of epiphany, also reveals Jesus, but in a different way. Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice—holy and pleasing to God—which is your appropriate worship. Also, do not continue to conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you test and approve what is the will of God—what is good, pleasing, and perfect. So how is this an epiphany of Jesus? As we live lives of faith and good works, striving to do the will of the Lord, there Jesus is revealed in us and by us. As Christians, Jesus is mightily at work in us, in our hearts and lives. The Holy Spirit is in us leading us and strengthening us into every good work, the evidence and outward proof of His dwelling in us and of faith.
As we ponder our text a few moments this morning, we will see that each one of our Lord’s dear Christians is a spiritual priest who is offering up our spiritual sacrifices and in a different way we, too, as our Lord’s dear Christians and holy priests say: I must be taking care of my Father’s business.
Don’t be shocked when you hear that you as a Christian are a spiritual priest. Scripture is abundantly clear here. St. Peter [1 Pt. 2.9, 5] calls the Christians a royal priesthood and says you also…are being built up…a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. And St. John praises Jesus saying [Rev. 1.5-6]: To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Dear Christian, we were made spiritual priests at our baptism. Among all the other gifts and blessings God gave you at your baptism—like the forgiveness of sin, being united with Jesus in His death and resurrection, clothed with Jesus’ righteousness, entrance into His holy family, etc.—also see at your baptism that there God anointed you, made you a spiritual priest.
So what is a priest? What does a priest do? A priest’s duty is to offer up sacrifices. That’s exactly what St. Paul calls on each of us Christians to do. Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice—holy and pleasing to God—which is your appropriate worship. The sacrifices we offer up are our prayers, praises, and our life of good works as we fight against temptation and sin and follow the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit in us. That we are called to be spiritual priests and to offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, is a great grace of God to us. Think of it, He called us to serve Him to be His priests; it’s not something we can choose on our own. A priest is appointed and anointed and that’s what God did to each of us at our baptism.
Not only is it our duty/ privilege as Christians to do this, but it is simply part and parcel of what being a Christian is all about. Why can we and should we offer up sacrifices as spiritual priests, offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice? –Answer: The mercies of God. He has great compassion on us sinners—so much so that He sent Jesus into this world to be our Savior, to live that holy sinless life for us every phase of it from conception, to childhood, to young adulthood and adulthood, to take all our sins upon Him to the cross to suffer for them and to offer that once for all sacrifice for sin. He did not leave us in sin and damnation but had mercy on us and not only saved us from our sin but also made us His spiritual priests in baptism. The mercies of God! Here is the strength to do the good and to fight against sin and evil in our lives! Here is the strength and motivation to do our priestly work and offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice.
Our text: Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice—holy and pleasing to God—which is your appropriate worship. The sacrifice that we offer as spiritual priests is not the sacrifice of some animal that we kill or some crops. Instead, it is our very bodies as a living sacrifice. It sounds like a contradiction—living and sacrifice—but that’s precisely what we offer up: [our] bodies as a living sacrifice. But how can this be? By repentance! What is repentance but sorrow over sin and faith in Jesus as Savior from that sin. And how does repentance show itself? Elsewhere St. Paul describes the Christian’s life of repentance as “putting to death” [Col. 3.5]: Therefore put to death what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry; and as “crucifying”[Gal. 5.24]: And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. So, yes, as spiritual priests, we put to death—we don’t try to merely change or reform—our old sinful nature. This daily putting to death, crucifying, drowning in the waters of baptism our sin and evil desires by daily sorrow and repentance is our daily sacrifice/ killing.
But it doesn’t end there. What does St. Paul say in our text? Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice—holy and pleasing to God—which is your appropriate worship. Where we die to sin and die to self, where we put to death our old sinful nature and its desires, by daily contrition and repentance, there is life; there is resurrection! We have new life in the Spirit! We die in the sorrows of repentance but are raised by the absolution and faith that believes it. This faith receives the forgiveness of sin and the perfect holiness of Jesus. Here is our life! And here in this Spirit worked faith, we are alive and empowered and led by the Holy Spirit to live a life of thanksgiving to the God who forgives us our sin in Jesus, to live a life of faith and good works, striving to do His will. That’s why as spiritual priests we offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice—holy and pleasing to God—which is [our] appropriate worship. Our bodies—we have with us until our dying breath; so to offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice means to do it constantly because we always have our bodies; to offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice means that we consider our bodies not to be a way that we serve self and sin, but we consider and use them as instruments of God’s will. Our life of faith and thanksgiving for our forgiveness and salvation is our work as a spiritual priest: offering our bodies as a living sacrifice.
Even the good works we strive to do—the living sacrifices of our bodies—will be tainted with sin. But here we remember that are through faith in Jesus, every spot and tinge of sin is forgiven us; we are made holy by His blood, through faith we are acceptable and pleasing to Him.
This life of faith and good works, of Jesus being revealed in us is our appropriate worship. The idea here behind the word worship is liturgy! True worship is the first expression of our new life. Here, by faith, God is known and grasped by the mind so that there is fear and trust in Him, prayer and thanksgiving. We live out our lives, our spiritual priesthood, we conduct this “liturgy” in the world as we anticipate and look forward to the eternal, heavenly liturgy; the world here is our temple to carry out our spiritual priesthood/ liturgy. As we look forward to the life to come, we even now, in this world/ life, declare by our actions the reality of that world to come. Also, do not continue to conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you test and approve what is the will of God—what is good, pleasing, and perfect. As spiritual priests of God in this world, offering our bodies as living sacrifices by living that life of faith and good works, we are not molded to this age. We do not follow the world’s ways or what it values and its pleasures; instead we are continually being transformed. Our transformation began at our baptism and continues throughout life as we give more room and space to the Holy Spirit to renew our heart and mind to the divine image. Don’t get discouraged when you feel sin and all sorts of evil thoughts in your heart and mind. Know that the Holy Spirit is still working on you. Recognize and repent of that sin and pray the Holy Spirit work all the more on you and follow diligently all His guiding and leading. Let us take God’s holy word of law in our hands and led and empowered by the Holy Spirit examine how to live in a way that is acceptable to God— what is good, pleasing, and perfect. With His holy word, let us see what His revealed will is asking for now of us. By His holy word and sacrament, He will strengthen us more and more to recognize and do it.
As we live our lives as spiritual priests, [offering our] bodies as a living sacrifice—holy and pleasing to God—which is [our] appropriate worship, we will notice something. Our attention is turned toward God and neighbor—as St. Paul here writes: So by the
grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think in a way that results in sound judgment, as God distributed a measure of faith to each of you. For we have many members in one body, and not all the members have the same function. In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in Christ, and
individually members of one another. In other words, life is not all “about me”; I am not the center of the world. Instead, as a spiritual priest, I offer God myself as a living sacrifice and I carry out my priesthood in the temple of the world as I serve others. My sinful self that wants the whole world to focus on me is crushed. The focus is not “on me” and this is freeing. I am the Lord’s now, and as I love Him and strive to serve Him, He is working on me/ transforming me until He brings me safely home. With Jesus we say, I must be taking care of my Father’s business. INJ Amen