Sermon on Titus 3:3-7
1st Sunday After the Epiphany
God’s Eternal Laundry Service
1. The dirt
2. The detergent
3. The delivery
Text: Titus 3:3-7
Think back. Think way back. Think back to a time when you still had Velcro shoes and you often were a part of show-and-tell and you were regularly sporting Kool-Aid stain mustaches. Think back to when you were Noah or Blair’s age and you were in Preschool or Kindergarten. Way back then, when your adolescent and teen and adult years were still long ahead of you, would you have ever imagined that you would have to confess to God the kinds of things you have already had to confess to God in your life?
Kids are sweet and cute, but they sure aren’t innocent. Noah might put on an adorable smile at church, and he might even make you chuckle as he runs around with Sunday morning cupcake frosting all over his face. But let me tell you, don’t let the big blue eyes and sly smirk fool you. That boy can scream. He can yell. Sometimes he hits and he even acts blatantly defiant. You’ve been there before. You’ve seen the same before. Clearly it is evidence of sin. Yet even though we all once acted like that, can it even compare to the sorts of things we have done after our terrible twos?
Oh the things we have done! As we grew older and matured in our lives, the sinful nature we were born with only manifested itself into something downright ugly. Sins morphed from the simple defiance and pouting of two-year-olds into the more and more complicated. Becoming adults with reasoning minds sometimes we even plot our sins in advance. How much can I do and really get away with? What can I say that will really make that person hurt? What can I do that will get me the kind of payback that really stings my enemy? At times we even run complex strings together—we do something wrong which causes someone hurt which we lie about and deny which causes more slander and gossip . . . but we secretly enjoy it because we got away with it and we got our revenge.
I’m also quite sure that you could quickly do a mental survey to remember the handful of actions that you try with all your might never to ever remember. Everyone has them—that one thing you said that was so horrible you can’t believe it came out of your mouth; that one thing you thought that even our country’s pathetic FCC wouldn’t allow on TV; that one thing you did that makes you blush even to think about. These are the kinds of actions that when you think about them it makes you queasier and sweatier than a teenage boy on his first date.
The apostle Paul writes about the kinds of sins we’ve done in our lives in his letter to Titus, a young pastor on the island of Crete. Look at what he mentions in 3:3. “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.” Oh the times we’ve been foolish—following our own ways, thinking we know best, doubting God’s plans for our lives. Oh the times we’ve been disobedient—defying our parents, disregarding employers or employees, cheating the government with taxes (or even just with respect). Oh the passions and the pleasures we’ve indulged in—too numerous to count and too gross to reveal. Oh the malice and envy and hatred we’ve harbored—gossiping and slandering, spreading rumors and lies, being jealous of those who have more, and spouting spite toward those we consider enemies.
It was Isaiah the prophet who so accurately and vividly diagnosed the predicament: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” Even our best acts, our “righteous ones,” even they are like filthy rags. The word for filthy rags in Hebrew is the word for the kinds of rags that a woman would use during menstruation each month. That’s vivid and gory, yet accurate. Our sins are so shamefully disgusting and so despicable to the Lord that they look like menstrual rags.
Dare we even ponder bearing these stains when we all will stand before Jesus the Judge on that last day? When Jesus opens the doors to the great wedding banquet of eternity, we shudder to think of the dirt and grime that our wedding clothes are tarnished and tainted by. Oh the dirt! Oh the dirt and sin that I bear!
I want to turn your attention to a very important word in the lesson today. It’s a word that you should commit to memory. Write it on the back of your hand. Save it as the background on your desktop or your cell phone. Get it as a tattoo. Whatever it takes, memorize this word. Are you ready for it? Here it is: “But.” It’s at the beginning of verse 4. Listen to that important word in context: “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. But when the kindness and love of God appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”
The word save means to rescue from helpless and hopeless situation. Imagine falling off one of those crab-fishing boats, the kind you see on the Discovery Channel. Imagine falling off and being stranded at sea in the ice cold and rough waters of the Bering Sea. There is absolutely no way you can live and make it. There is absolutely nothing you can do to save yourself. Your only chance is if someone throws you a life preserver.
Our situation was helpless and hopeless. We were lost in a sea of sin, doomed to drown in an eternity of punishment. There was absolutely no way we could make it and live. There was absolutely no way we could save ourselves. No matter how hard we could try, we still end up sinning. No matter what we do, we are still imperfect and fall short of God’s demands for holiness. But God saved us. He rescued us from our hopeless situation. Not because of righteous things we had done, but he saved us because of his great mercy.
This kindness and love of God has actually appeared to us. This kindness and love of God was revealed in this world and made known to all. His name was Jesus Christ. He came to be the one to save us all. The angels proclaimed it, the shepherd came to see him, the Wise Men worshiped him for it. Now today we see in the Gospel how Jesus was clearly identified as the promised Messiah.
Jesus was baptized for two reasons. First, he fulfilled all righteousness as he says in Matthew’s account of the baptism. He was baptized so that he would do everything that he commands us to do. Secondly, at his baptism Jesus was anointed as the chosen one. It became quite clear and obvious to all that Jesus was special when the Holy Spirit descended as a dove and God the Father spoke from heaven that this was his beloved Son. Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of his ministry.
Three years later that ministry and service came to an end when he was arrested. He was falsely accused and wrongfully tried. He was beaten and battered. He was mocked and tortured. He was nailed to a cross. How his blood must have gushed forth from the crown of thorns on his head and from the nails in his hands and feet. But the pain and suffering he endured was nothing compared to the weight and the burden of sin. For the greatest torment Jesus endured was the burden of my sin which he carried on his shoulders. The greatest torture he felt were the flames of hell that my soul should endure. His was a once-for-all death. He became our punishment and payment for sin.
What a miracle of God! The greatest detergent of all, the most potent cleanser, and the most powerful soap is not ERA or ALL or TIDE. It’s blood. It is the blood of Jesus that washes over me and covers over my sin. It is the blood of Jesus that removes the dirt and stains of my sinfulness.
That same prophet Isaiah who described our actions as filthy rags also said this, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” By the love and kindness of God’s mercy, Jesus came to be our substitute. He came to take our place. He came to be our detergent. Jesus’ blood washes us clean and gives us forgiveness.
Living in Florida, we know the power of water. We know what it’s like to be crushed by a wave or swept away by a current. We know that hurricanes or tsunamis are nothing to mess around with. As Christians we also know about the power of God’s Word. When God gave the command, there was light. When God spoke the words, water separated from land and held its place. When God decided it was time, the waters that were above and the waters that were below burst forth with destructive force to destroy nearly everything, save Noah and his family in an ark. When God determined the time was right, on May 18, 1980, Mt. St. Helens blew its top and hurtled waters with such force that several mini-Grand Canyons were formed in less than two weeks. When God’s Word combines with water, miracles occur.
It is through such means that God has chosen to deliver his forgiveness and salvation to us—through water and his Word. Listen to the apostle Paul in verse 5: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” In the same way as God used the waters of the flood to lift up Noah and his family in the ark and thus save them, so in the same way God uses the waters of baptism to save us. This washing of water works rebirth in our lives. It gives us new life as the children of God. Through baptism we are born again into God’s family. At the very same time as we are baptized, the Holy Spirit is poured out to work renewal. He generates faith in our hearts and applies Christ’s saving work to our lives. Look at the conclusion of the sentence in verse 6: “. . . the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
Contrary to popular belief, baptism has nothing to do with commitment. Baptism is not about showing God you’re serious about faith. Baptism is not the entry rite for becoming a church member. Baptism is not about us doing something for God. Baptism is about God doing something for us. For once again, a miracle takes place in baptism.
The pastor doesn’t work this miracle. The water doesn’t work the miracle. It’s God’s Word that combines with the water to work the miracle. It’s God’s Word that combines with the water to give us forgiveness. It’s God’s Word that applies Christ’s work to us in baptism. That’s why all nations are to be baptized—male and female, Black, White, Asian, or otherwise, both old and young. God can and does work the miracle of salvation in any heart with the power of his Word. For in baptism, forgiveness and salvation are delivered. No longer are we stained with the dirt of our sin. Now we are washed. We are cleansed. We are donning new wedding clothes for God’s eternal banquet, clean clothes of Jesus’ righteousness.
On May 18, 1980, Mt. St. Helens erupted. 108 days later, on a Thursday, a child was born. He was not anything special or unusual. He was just another baby boy born as expected. Two days later, this new baby was taken home and sat on his father’s lap and they both watched the Michigan Wolverines play college football. The next day, September 6, 1980, this new baby’s aunt held him at St. Paul’s Lutheran church in Saginaw, MI. Then Pastor James Tiefel made the sign of the cross upon his head and heart to mark him as a child of Christ. Pastor Tiefel gently applied water and then spoke this baby’s name followed by 18 miraculous words: “Philip James Huebner, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” At that moment, whatever sinfulness I had inherited from my parents and whatever horrible things I would go on to do in life were washed away. They were erased. They were forgiven. I was adopted into God’s family.
In about another 102 days, another baby will be born. This one will be a girl. Shortly after, another miracle will take place. Maybe it will be here. Maybe it will be in the new building. But the location doesn’t matter. What matters is that God’s Word will flex it’s powerful muscles once more as I apply water to my new daughter’s head and she too will be washed clean and brought into the family of Christ.
Friends, rejoice in God’s grace and mercy. Though your sins are as scarlet, they are now as white as snow. For God has forgiven you and washed you clean through baptism.
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