Sermon on Titus 3:4–7 for the Baptism of Our Lord, C, January 10 & 13, 2019
In Catechism class, we teach the kids about the attributes of God. Maybe you remember some of them. They were the omni- words. God is omniscient, which means all-knowing. And he is omnipotent, which means all-powerful. And the easiest one, omnipresent, which means all-present or present everywhere. God’s omniscience is something he tells us about in the Bible, and he also demonstrates it with prophecies about what was and is to come. Jesus showed omniscience when he gave his disciples directions to find a donkey for Palm Sunday or making preparations for the last Passover. He knew what they would find and what would happen. Peter said, “Lord, you know all things!” (John 21:17). God’s omnipotence is also something God tells us about. During Advent we heard “Nothing is impossible for God” (Luke 1:37). And God demonstrated that with the virgin birth. He demonstrates that with creation—the act of creation and the sustaining of creation. God’s omnipresence is something that he also tells us about. He tells us “Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? … Do I not fill heaven and earth?” We have the promise of Jesus, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). God’s attributes, his characteristics, are things he tells us about and things he shows us.
I. He Saved Us,
Along with the omni- words, God has other attributes. They’re the first things St. Paul talks about in Titus 3. “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior … appeared.” Paul is talking about Christmas—the birth of Christ. How do you know God loves you? How do you know he is kind? “To you is born a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” That’s how you know. The “kindness and love of God our Savior toward mankind appeared” with the baby in the manger. And Paul says more. “He saved us—not by righteous works that we did ourselves, but because of his mercy.” Do you remember the Reformation cry of “Grace Alone!”? God saves us because of everything in him, and nothing in us. We receive his gifts through faith, but all the doing, all the acting, all the work of saving is on God’s part. There is no karma—balancing out the bad things we do with the good. Even if you could balance things out—the fact remains that we have broken God’s commandments, and because we’ve broken his commandments, we deserve nothing but his anger. We can’t repay. We can’t work out good karma to balance out the bad. We’re stuck. So, “God saved us—not by righteous works that we did ourselves, but because of his mercy.” He came to our rescue, wrapped in swaddling clothes, growing in wisdom and stature, minding his Father’s business, living a holy life to fulfill all righteousness–to succeed where we have failed. And then to be that Lamb of God, to take the punishment we deserved. All this Jesus did that we should be his own. What do we have to do? Trust in him alone (see John 6:29). Hold on to him alone. He is the Savior, we are the saved. Our worship is chiefly sacramental—that is, focused on what God has given to us, instead of sacrificial, focused on what we give to God. The sacrifice was all on the part of Jesus—of God giving his only-begotten Son. Anything we give is in response to his kindness and love. Not to repay, but to express our thanks for forgiveness and peace.
II. He Washed and Renewed Us,
God connects himself and his saving work to us. “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and the renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” The gospel in the Word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are called the means of grace because this is how God connects his kindness and love to us. He writes it down so we can read it, hear it, and have it spoken to us. He connects it to water and to bread and wine so that we can see it and taste it and touch it. He tells us we are forgiven. He also pours water on our heads and tells us our sins are washed away. Just as Jesus visibly appeared as Savior, he also left us with something to see in baptism. It connects and touches us with what God promises, not just with Words in our ears, but with his own touch. That phrase, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” can be understood two ways. One is that the name of God is put on us—just like a student putting his or her name on a worksheet. It shows who we belong to. The other is that the person baptizing does it in the name of God, that is, in God’s place or on God’s behalf—much like a power of attorney. You do something in someone else’s name. Legally, it’s just as binding as if that person did it himself. The pastor pours the water and says the words, but God himself “saves us through the washing of rebirth and the renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”
St. Paul tells us that baptism means rebirth and renewal. Forgiveness, but also a new start. Now we all want to make a new start with things. Maybe you made some New Year’s resolution to do some things differently this year. To diet. To quit smoking. To exercise more. But what often happens with our New Year’s resolutions? By February they’re usually tossed aside and you’re back to doing things the way you were. Now for a New Year’s resolution, that’s counterproductive. When that kind of thing is in the Christian life, as a matter of repentance and new life, it’s a much more serious thing. How can we turn around? How can we have “rebirth and renewal” like Paul says? A new, clean start? Well it starts with God’s forgiveness. All by itself, forgiveness worked by Christ’s holy life and innocent death changes our status from “poor miserable sinner” to “child of God.” In that alone—in that declaration alone, there is power. God has changed who and what you are. By putting his name on you, God has established his ownership—who do you belong to? You belong to him. In that too, there is power. The devil and the world may come into your life and lead you this way and that and hurt and scar and try to destroy everything good you have, and everything good God has done for you. But who are you? Who do you belong to? Our problem is in forgetting who we are, who we belong to, and what has been done for us. Our rebirth and renewal have the power of the omnipotent God behind them. Our lives of repentance have the power of the Holy Spirit. Our problem is in forgetting the power is there—always there—like an outlet we forget to plug in to.
III. He Justified Us,
Paul also tells us that we are “justified by his grace.” What does that mean? God’s grace is his love. It’s what Paul wrote about earlier, “the kindness and love of God our Savior, [which is ours] not by righteous works that we did ourselves but because of his mercy.” It is God’s love to us, completely undeserved and unearned. It is God’s love for us despite all that we have done. That is God’s grace. And he says that we are justified by that grace. “Justify” means a judgment. It means a not guilty verdict, not because we are not guilty, but because someone else, Jesus, took our guilt for us. “Justify” means a switched verdict. Jesus went to the cross, suffered pain and anguish, was forsaken by God, getting everything we deserved, and in exchange, he gives us everything that he alone deserved—that title of child of God, that place in God’s family. That’s It’s much like a presidential pardon. The crime will not be held against you. Your sins won’t be held against you. Justification is the power behind sanctification. You’ve been pardoned and forgiven. What do you do now? Think of the most shameful thing you’ve ever done—maybe other people know about it, maybe you alone know. You have God’s own forgiveness and pardon for it. What do you do now? Do it again? Of course not. You’ve just been freed form that burden. You’ve been given “rebirth and renewal.” Justification, your new status before God as his child gives you power to live forgiven, to resist temptation, to live for Christ, to live for your neighbor. To live, not just with love for yourself—but powered by the kindness and love of God, flowing through you.
IV. He Made Us His Heirs
“Having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs in keeping with the hope of eternal life.” Baptism means more than bringing a baby to church for the first time. It means more than Christian initiation. It’s our connection to God for the present and for the future. It tells us we have something coming. That’s what the word “heir” means. Someone who inherits something. Usually, you inherit something when some friend or relative dies, and they leave behind something for you, your inheritance. Before that person dies, you are still the heir because they have designated you as the one who will receive the inheritance. When they die, you receive it. We are heirs with the hope of eternal life. God never dies. One day you and I will. Even now, we are heirs through the birthright of baptism. Then, when to earthly eyes it looks like we lose all things, is when we gain all things. Even now we are “heirs with the hope of eternal life.”
Titus 3:4–7 (EHV)
4But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward mankind appeared, 5he saved us—not by righteous works that we did ourselves, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and the renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs in keeping with the hope of eternal life.