Posted by: Johnold Strey | January 13, 2010

Sermon on Titus 3:4-7

GOD REVEALS HIS KINDNESS AND LOVE

  1. By the appearance of his Son
  2. In the sacrament of Baptism
  3. With the hope of eternal life

Text: Titus 3:4-7

Introduction

Last week I heard a radio commercial from a northern California casino that was trying to lure listeners into wasting – um, I mean spending – money at their casino.  The commercial advertised a new drawing for a new car that one lucky customer would win.  And here was their radio sales pitch: “Nothing says, ‘I love you’ more than a new car.”  Really?  Now, if some generous person or benevolent business wants to hand me the keys to a new car, who am I to complain?  But what have we come to as a society if we think that the best way to say “I love you” is with an expensive new vehicle?  I can think of plenty more meaningful and less expensive ways to express love!

So can God.  We rightly recognize that God is the giver of every good earthly gift we enjoy.  But in today’s Second Lesson, the apostle Paul gives us three very real ways that God reveals his kindness and love to us, and these ways are far greater and meaningful than any earthly, physical gift anyone else could give us.  This morning, Saint Paul will help us understand that God reveals his kindness and love by the appearance of his Son, in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and with the hope of eternal life.

I.

We have just begun the season of the church year called “Epiphany.”  The word Epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaino, which means to reveal something.  For example, when we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism this morning, we saw how God the Father’s words and the Holy Spirit’s descent revealed Jesus as the Savior.

Paul uses that special Greek word epiphaino in this section from his letter to Titus.  It is translated appear in verse four: “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”  Jesus’ appearance in this world, whether we think of his birth that we just celebrated or his ministry that began at his baptism, was an act of God’s kindness.  Jesus’ work as our Savior from sin was God’s benevolent action to do what we most needed someone to do – to save us from hell.  Jesus’ appearance was also an act of God’s love – it reveals his affection for humankind, the crown of God’s creation. 

Paul said what he did about God’s kindness and love in order to contrast the statement he made in verse three, the verse before our reading.  Paul said, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.”  Pretty strong language!  That’s how the Bible describes our natural human condition.  That’s how the Bible describes us!  No wonder we feel a guilty conscience when we come face to face with God’s holy law and high standards—because we have fallen so far short of keeping that law and meeting those standards!  But it is an even greater wonder to see what God did about our condition.  “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”  God is just, but he is also merciful.  He saw how helpless we were.  He saw that we were on a crash course for hell with no way to turn ourselves around.  So he took pity on us.  He had mercy on us.  Jesus’ entrance into this world was an act of God’s mercy, because that entrance was not a casual visit, but a costly rescue. 

What good would it have been if you received a Christmas present, but the giver told you that you couldn’t open the gift?  That would hardly be a present!  Jesus is our Christmas gift, and this Epiphany season is like unwrapping and unpacking the gift.  This morning in the Gospel we heard the Father declare Jesus to be his one and only Son, and so we know that he is the perfect substitute sent for us by God’s mercy.  As we later move from Epiphany into Lent, we will see Jesus’ anguish on the cross, and at the same time we will see the debt of our sins paid and our full forgiveness won.  As we then anticipate the Easter season and celebration, we will stand by faith at the empty tomb of our Lord where we see the clearest, most certain assurance of his power over death and his genuine kindness, love, and mercy for you and me.

II.

The first two hymns we have sung in today’s service both told the story of Jesus’ baptism.  Our opening hymn, “To Jordan’s River Came Our Lord” (CW #89) is a modern text by one of our synod’s seminary professors, and our Hymn of the Day, “To Jordan Came the Christ, Our Lord” (CW #88), is a historic Martin Luther text.  I don’t think Luther’s hymn is sung all that frequently.  The melody is challenging, but the text of the hymn is outstanding (as you would expect of a Luther hymn).  Luther tells the story of Jesus’ baptism in the opening stanzas, but then transitions into stanzas that sing about the blessings of our own baptism.

That is essentially what Paul does in our reading.  He talks about God’s kindness and love, shown when Jesus appeared in this world—and certainly Jesus’ appearance at his baptism is a part of that.  Then Paul transitions into a statement about the blessings we have through our own baptisms.  He said in verses five and six, “[God] saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.”  Paul refers to baptism as a key event in our lives where God richly poured out his blessings upon us.  He uses two interesting parallel phrases to describe baptism.  The first is “the washing of rebirth.”  The waters of baptism are connected to the Word of God which brings us new spiritual life and connects us to the kindness and love shown to us by Jesus’ life and death.  Paul goes on further to describe baptism as the “renewal by the Holy Spirit.”  The Holy Spirit was at work during Jesus’ baptism, and he is also at work in our baptism, but in a different way.  At our baptism, the Holy Spirit worked inside of us, placing faith into our hearts and giving us daily strength to live for the one who gave his life for us.

Sometimes people think that they are doing something for God when they are baptized.  Some claim that their baptism was an act of obedience or a promise they made to commit themselves to God.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  Listen to Paul’s language.  Your baptism was a special, unique act of God in your life that has significance each day of your life.  Think of it this way.  A husband or wife wears a wedding ring.  That ring was a special gift from that person’s spouse, a one-time gift that signifies our spouse’s ongoing promise to love and care for us.  Baptism is like that ring.  Our baptism is a special one-time gift of God that communicates and delivers the promise that Christ has washed away our sins in his blood, that we adopted into his family, and that he will stand by us every day of our lives.

III.

Whenever we have a baptism in a church service, the candle behind the font, called the paschal candle, is lit.  We usually light the paschal candle during Easter as a symbol of the risen Jesus, but we also light it for baptisms and even give a candle to the baptismal party that is lit from the paschal candle.  The symbolic action is meant to convey the truth of what is actually taking place.  Just as Jesus (represented by the paschal candle) rose from the dead, we who are connected to Jesus in baptism will also rise from the dead.

Those aren’t empty thoughts attached to an old church custom; those are real, comforting Scriptural truths about baptism.  Paul said in the last verse of our reading, “Having been justified by [God’s] grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”  At our baptism, God not only declared us innocent in his eyes but he also gave us the keys to heaven.  The end of our earthly lives is not the end of our story, but the start of it.  You and I are looking forward to the inheritance that we receive not when someone else dies, but when we die; that’s the moment we receive our heavenly, eternal inheritance.

We often use the word “hope” in an uncertain way in our normal conversations.  “I hope the weather will be nice tomorrow.”  “I hope the traffic isn’t bad during rush hour.”  “I hope my flight isn’t delayed.”  When Christians talk about their faith, they use the word “hope” in a very different way.  Christian hope is not a fingers-crossed, guessing sort of hope.  Our Christian faith and hope does not involve guessing, worries, or uncertainty.  What greater certainty, what greater kindness and love could we have than the atoning work our Savior did for us!  What greater certainty, what greater kindness and love could we have than the washing from sin that God gave each one of us in Holy Baptism!  What greater certainty, what greater kindness and love could we have than the rock-solid promises of God which point us forward to heaven!

Conclusion

When I was going through a particularly busy and stressful time last year, my wife wrote me a little encouraging note and left it on my computer.  That sheet of paper might be worthless to anyone else, but to me it means something special.  The words of God and waters of baptism might not seem like much to the world, but I hope that each of us knows just how much kindness and love God shows us in baptism.  After all, God’s love is not a superficial or fickle love, but a love that forgives – and love that forgives is love that inspires us to love him and trust his promise that one day he will allow us to experience his love for all eternity.  Amen.

Advertisements

Categories

%d bloggers like this: