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Hymn 129 Once Far Off But Now Invited


Sometimes it helps to see a sequence of letters in print to understand what is being said. Consider a-p-a-r-t. When those letters are placed next to each other it means, ironically, that items are separated. They are “apart.” When the first two letters are separated, however, it conveys that items are connected. They are “a part.”

Which of those options applies to our relationship with the people of God?

As a group, we Gentiles—those who cannot trace blood lines back to Abraham—were separate from the covenant people of Old Testament times. Gentiles were apart from God’s chosen people of Israel, apart from those to whom the prophets were sent and the promises given.

But then something happened. Then Someone came.

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). When Jesus shed the blood to which the old ceremonial laws pointed, He rendered those rituals obsolete and thereby removed the barriers which God had designed to keep Jews and Gentiles apart.

The Apostle Paul declared that Jesus is “our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace” (verses 14-15).

When Jesus fulfilled all prophecy and lived in complete compliance with the law, that which separated Jews and Gentiles was removed. The door was opened for Gentiles to have equal access to God, to become a part of His people. A part of the people of God, that is, as long as one is not apart from Christ.

Since He alone succeeded in doing all that was necessary to justify the world before God, He stands as the only Door through which the lost and condemned can come into the presence of the Almighty and be welcomed as heirs of glory. Being a Jew or Gentile no longer has anything to do with it. It is only a matter of being in Christ.

Regardless of race or ancestry, all who put their confidence in Jesus as the One Who reconciled us to the Father are a part of His people.

How gracious of God to extend His salvation also to Gentiles! And how clearly this theme of the Epiphany season is expressed in a number of hymns, such as “Hail, Thou Source of Ev’ry Blessing” (#129 in TLH and #409 in LSB). Its author, Basil Woodd (1760-1831), was a prolific writer who used his skills also to compose a handful of Christian hymns. His familiar contribution to the collection of Epiphany hymns highlights the access which has been given to all who join the Magi in recognizing Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world.

Hail, Thou Source of ev’ry blessing, Sov’reign Father of mankind! Gentiles now, Thy grace possessing, In Thy courts admission find. Grateful now we fall before Thee, In Thy Church obtain a place, Now by faith behold Thy glory, Praise Thy truth, adore Thy grace.

Mr. Woodd, an Oxford-educated minister who served many years in England, expressed grateful recognition of the grace which had reached also him, even though he was far removed geographically from the lands given to the children of Israel and even farther from the sands traversed by the Magi. Enlightened by the Spirit through the Gospel, he gave voice to the joy of being included in Christ’s Kingdom by faith.

Once far off, but now invited, We approach Thy sacred throne; In Thy covenant united,  Reconciled, redeemed, made one.

Through faith in Jesus, Gentiles, who were once apart are now a part of the people of God. That is the great assurance of Epiphany, derived from Ephesian print and reflected in Christian verse. A marvel to see, to believe and to treasure!

John Reim is a professor at Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.