15 - He Settled in Capernaum, Jan 10, 2016 (with audio)

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Ephesians 4:7-13

Matthew 4:12-17

St Paul says in our epistle this morning: “What is it that He ascended but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth?” says St Paul. How is the LORD’s Ascension connected to Theophany or to the LORD settling in Capernaum in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy?

Let’s review: St Mark says, “It came to pass that John the Baptist was in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins.” (Mk 1:4) It sounds like John’s was a baptism of repentance, i.e., a turning away – I would say from idolatry, whose root is disobedience to God and which takes many forms – that was meant to prepare those being baptized by John for a forgiveness of sins that was yet to come. That forgiveness would be a thorough cleansing of the conscience (cf. Heb 9:14) in the purging fire of the Holy Spirit with which the One mightier than John, who was yet to come, would baptize them (Mk 1:8).

The Gospels make it a point to tell us that JnBapt wore garments of camel’s hair, he had a leather belt girded around his waist, and that he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mk 1:6) This is a description of the prophet Elijah (II Kgs 1:8); it seems that the Evangelists are telling us by this that JnBapt is Elijah whose “second coming” would presage the LORD suddenly coming into His Temple (Mal 3:1); i.e., His birth of the Virgin as Son of Man (Isa 7:14).

But, the full significance of JnBapt’s connection to Elijah may come from the fact that he is preaching his baptism of repentance in the wilderness at the River Jordan; for, it says that when Elijah was about to be taken up to heaven, he was sent to the Jordan by the LORD (II Kgs 2:4). The second Elijah, JnBapt, preaching a baptism of repentance in the wilderness at the Jordan means that he is preparing the people for the coming of the “One Mightier than he” and the forgiveness of their sins at that spot where the prophet Elijah was taken up into heaven. (II Kgs 2:8)

It says that Elijah struck the Jordan with his mantle until the waters parted and he and his disciple, Elisha, could go over into the wilderness on the other side as on dry land. (II Kgs 2:8) Now, every word and act of the prophet has prophetic meaning. Crossing the Jordan in this manner looks like a prophetic enactment of the Exodus when the Israelites passed through the parted waters of the Red Sea as on dry land and came out to the wilderness on the other side. But, whereas the Israelites made their way through the wilderness to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land, Elijah and his disciple, Elisha, crossed it to leave Canaan and to come into the wilderness. And, that’s where Elijah was taken up into heaven as though Heaven beyond the Jordan is the real Land of Promise the LORD is leading His people to (cf. Heb 11:8ff. & Eze 37:12-14, read at Matins for Great and Holy Saturday).

Elijah was taken up by a whirlwind in a fiery chariot pulled by horses of fire (II Kgs 2:11). Might this be the same chariot seen by Ezekiel (Eze 1). Ezekiel’s chariot is identified, e.g., by St Macarius the Egyptian (Hom 1), as the soul and body of deified man, or more specifically, the Body of Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate.

That would mean that this Jesus coming to John at the Jordan is the Driver of that Fiery Chariot that took Elijah up into heaven. Coming to John for baptism, the LORD has returned to the Jordan, this time in the Fiery Chariot that has become the Temple of His Body (Jn 2:19-21) that He took from the Most Blessed Panagia.

As did Elijah of old, so JnBapt, at the LORD’s command, strikes the Jordan, but with the “mantle” of the LORD’s Body; and, not just the Jordan but the heavens are parted, and the LORD Himself passes over as on dry land into the wilderness, which we now see as the “reality” prefigured in Elijah’s ascent of old. For, as Elijah was caught up into heaven by the whirlwind, so the LORD is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit in the Fiery Chariot of His humanity, JnBapt looking on as did Elisha when Elijah was taken up into heaven. And this “shows forth” the inner meaning of the LORD’s Baptism and of His being led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be the beginning of His Ascent to His Father in the Kingdom of Heaven.

For, as St Paul says to us in our epistle this morning: “Who is He who ascends far above all the heavens if not the same One who also descended into the lower parts of the earth?” (Eph 4:9-10) In the light shed on the Feast of Epiphany by the “back story” of Elijah at the Jordan, the Ascent of the risen LORD into heaven is shown forth hiding beneath the veil of His descent into the wilderness and into hell.

It says in our Gospel this morning: “Leaving Nazareth, He came and (literally) settled down in a house in Capernaum (compare with Jn 1:14: “The Word became flesh and pitched His tent among us”), in the hill country of Zebulon and Naphtali, that the word spoken by Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘On those who were sitting in the region and darkness of death, a great Light has risen upon them!’” (Mt 4:16). Could we say that this Light is the immaterial Light of the Holy Spirit emanating from the Fiery Chariot of the LORD’s Body that is the “House” that He has settled down in among us, that He might share with us in our flesh and blood (cf. Heb 2:14)? The verse I just quoted from Hebrews goes on: “That through death, He might destroy him who had the power of death, the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Heb 2:14b-15)

Jesus settling in Capernaum, in the hill country of Zebulon and Naphtali, I think might mean theologically that the Fiery Chariot that took Elijah up to heaven has descended from Heaven to “settle in the House of our flesh and blood” so that through death, the LORD might descend to the lower parts of the earth and “take captivity captive,” i.e., lead us into the Fiery Chariot of His Body, so that He might “give gifts to men,” (Eph 4:8) viz., the gift of His Holy Spirit and “raise us from our graves and bring us home into the land of Israel,” (Eze 27:12); or rather, take us up with Him into Heaven in the Fiery Chariot of His Body by the whirlwind of His Holy Spirit.

When He therefore begins to preach: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” He is calling us to the Jordan of Holy Baptism to be taken up with Elijah into the Fiery Chariot of His Most Pure Body and Most Precious Blood and to begin our ascent into the heavens that were parted at the LORD’s Holy Baptism.

But, the whole point of this morning’s Scripture lessons is that we ascend with Christ to heaven by descending with Him into the wilderness of our soul (cf. Ps 63:1) and into the lower parts of the earth; i.e., down into the depths of our heart that is deep beyond all things, to cry out to the LORD from the depths (Ps 130:1) in the prayer of a broken and contrite heart (Ps 51:17): “LORD, purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean, wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God; put a new and right Spirit within me!” (Ps 51:10). But, it is precisely in our descent into the wilderness of our soul and the tomb of our heart that we begin our ascent with Christ to heaven.

When, therefore, we deny ourselves and take up our cross and work to put to death what is earthly in us, viz., the idolatry of our disobedience, do you see? We are beginning to live. We are beginning to ascend; because to obey God is to live and to find healing. So, if our death, our descent into the tomb of our heart, has been made, like His, to be the final act of our obedience to God, then it has become our ascent to the Kingdom of Heaven and the beginning of our eternal life in the Fiery Chariot of the LORD’s Body. Amen.