Preached at [St. John's Lutheran Church](http://www.sjtworivers.org) on Sunday, January 13, 2013 for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany — the Baptism of our Lord. Text: Titus 3:4-7
A man knocks on your door. He hands you a stack of papers full of legal jargon. As you stand there confused, he tells you it’s the will of your great uncle Leopold. Leopold recently died, leaving you his entire estate, worth about 10 million dollars.
Wouldn’t that be amazing? Wouldn’t you be shocked to have this inheritance fall into your lap? You’d want to celebrate it! Sure, you might try to find a lawyer to find out if the whole thing is legitimate, you might want to talk to some other family members to see if they’ve ever heard of this Leopold guy. But for the most part, you’d want to celebrate! You’d want to buy things, or think about moving to your dream house or going on a faraway vacation. Basically, you’d start dreaming of all the ways you could celebrate your inheritance.
Well, friends, this exact situation will probably never happen to any of you. But at the same time, each of you has already been guaranteed an inheritance even bigger than 10 million dollars, and it’s not from a dead relative; it’s from the God who was dead but is alive again. Your inheritance isn’t guaranteed by a legal document; those can fail. Your inheritance is guaranteed in God’s Word, by God’s promise; your inheritance is sealed in your Savior’s blood.
Do you know when you got this inheritance? Most of you probably don’t remember it. For some of you, it happened in this very building. It was your baptism. In just a little bit of water and a few words from the Bible, your life, for now and forever, were changed. You were cleansed from your sins. You became a child of God; you became an heir of heaven itself.
So do you find yourself celebrating that inheritance every day? Or, more likely, do you forget about it most of the time? How easy for us to shrug off our baptism like it was just some photo op for our parents, or just another day. How easy to get so wrapped up in the highs and lows of each day and completely forget the eternity that’s already been guaranteed!
How easy, even, to think you deserve all those good things God gives. At least a little bit. You’re much better than a few people you could name, you go to church unlike a few other people you can think of. In fact, God is pretty fortunate to have you as his child. God ought to be pretty nice to you, after all that you do, everything you go through.
Friends, the baptismal font here this morning does not provide empty symbols or fun family memories. It gives live and salvation by connecting us to Jesus’ death. Your baptism gave you an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. So celebrate it! Celebrate your inheritance! You didn’t earn it, but you get to live it.
Our text doesn’t waste words. It doesn’t launch into complicated legalese and go on for page after page like a modern will would. In 4 short verses, the Apostle Paul lays out our inheritance, the reason for it, and its earthly and heavenly results in our lives. So listen closely!
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us. (Titus 3:4-5) He saved us. God our Savior did what saviors do. He saved us; he rescued us out of his kindness and love. You can tell from reading this verse that it’s taken from the middle of a paragraph. You hear it and think, “Ok, he saved us from what?” But Paul had explained that with the verse before our text.
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. (Titus 3:3) Now, we see what we needed to be saved from: sin. And, maybe it’s just me, but this description of the sinful lifestyle doesn’t sound like some far-fetched description in an almost two thousand year old book. It sounds like it’s describing today.
Foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. That’s our world! That’s all around us, isn’t it? That’s our society, that’s what we see on the news. If we’re honest, that’s what we see in our friends, our families. And most often, we see it from the face that stares at us in the mirror.
Yes, we were sinful, we were born that way. And I’d like to say that that sin disappeared from our thoughts, words, and actions on the day of our baptism, but I know you wouldn’t believe it because you know the truth. We are sinfl. Sin is all around us and it makes everything horrible. Sin ruins everything.
But then God appeared. God our Savior’s kindness, his generosity and giving nature, his love, his care for all human beings, it appeared. Almost like it was out of nowhere – poof! – it appeared! We’re in the season of Epiphany now in the church year. Well, the word used for “appeared” in this part of our text is the same word we get Epiphany from. The kindness and love of God our Savior epiphanied, it showed itself and revealed everything we need to know about it.
But why would God want to save us? There must be some reason. Maybe you’ve seen the television show Extreme Home Makeover. This is where they take someone’s house and pretty much knock it down, only to build it up again. And they made these houses huge and they filled them with beautiful and expensive things. The finished products were amazing, and it really made you wish that they would choose your home.
But do you know who actually would get chosen? People who deserved it. The people in the homes usually had suffered something terrible at some point in the past, or they had a family member struggling with a disease, or someone in the house had helped so many people that people just wanted to help them, too.
We expect the same kind of decision-making process from God. His kindness and love appeared and he saved us, because he knew what great followers of him we would end up being. You here today, well God knew you’d go to church and do your best. And even though you’re not perfect, you sure always try. And you really love God, so wouldn’t he want to help you and save you and do everything he could for you?
Please. Can we be honest here? We didn’t earn it. God didn’t choose us because we would do good things. And unfortunately, we prove it, every day. Maybe it’s visible to many people. Maybe only those close to you really see it. Maybe you even try to pretend it doesn’t exist. But that sin still lives in you. That sin that gives you desires and makes you say and do things that you wouldn’t want to admit to in public; it’s still there in your heart. And God owes you nothing. Nothing but punishment and hell.
I’ve really just paraphrased what our text went on to say. He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:5) Mercy means not punishing someone even when they deserve it. It means that God saw all the unrighteous things we’ve done, that we do, and that we will do in the future, and he says, “No, I’m not going to punish you for those. I’m going to punish my only Son for those on the cross. He’s going to suffer hell, and then I’m going to raise him to life. And I’m going to wrap up everything that Jesus deserved with his perfect life, all good things that he earned, I’m going to wrap it up and give it to you as your inheritance.”
Yes, our God did just that. He did it so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:7) He declared you not guilty of those sins. He brought you into his family, and he made you his eternal heir, free of charge. We didn’t earn it. We couldn’t come close! But he gave it to us anyway. All we can do is celebrate it. Celebrate your inheritance! Because, even though we didn’t earn it, we get to live it.
You see, normally inheritances only take effect when the person leaving that inheritance dies. So if you knew great uncle Leopold was leaving you a ton of loot, it wouldn’t do you much good as long as he was alive. He’d have to die before you’d collect a dime.
We tend to think of our inheritance from God in a similar way. Only instead of waiting for someone else to die, we wait for ourselves to die. Right? We’re heirs of eternal life, so until we die or Jesus comes back, we don’t get a dime. Or at least that’s how we can think.
Our baptism is something that we can treat that way, too, like it’s not too important right now. We know it’s important for heaven. We might even remember that Bible verse, Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. (Mk. 16:16) We know it’s a good thing. But we probably don’t exactly celebrate it.
After all, it was so long ago for many of us. Most of us don’t remember it. And if all we have is a few pictures or maybe a certificate from the day, well, how much does that help you? I mean, when everything is going wrong and the world seems to be crumbling around you, does your baptism help? When people hurt you and it feels like God has abandoned you, does your baptism help? When you feel guilty for how you messed something up, when you wonder how God could really love you, does your baptism help?
The short answer is yes. Your baptism does help, in all those circumstances and more. Your baptism isn’t something that was just good on the day it happened or that just takes effect when we die and go to heaven. Your baptism is powerful and at work for you today and every day. We get to live our inheritance!
Our text explains it. [God our Savior] 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. (Titus 3:5-6) The word baptism isn’t even mentioned here, but it doesn’t have to be. No other washing is like it.
It’s not a washing of “wait till you get to heaven.” It’s not a washing of “you’re stuck suffering and alone for now.” No, it’s a washing of rebirth and renewal. It’s about a new start. A new life. Jesus called it being born again. It’s a new birth that came from the Holy Spirit.
It’s interesting how much attention we give to our birthdays. We celebrate them every year. We use our birthday to figure our age and define ourselves by that age. My guess, though, is that we do very little with the date of our baptism, if we even know it. But think about it. On our birthdate, we were born dead! Dead in sins. Dead in our ability to please God. But on our baptism we were reborn. There we really got our true, spiritual life from God himself. That’s worth celebrating!
And this new life connects us right to Jesus. Remember it was poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. Another passage tells us that we were baptized into Jesus’ death. It’s a connection between us and the cross. A connection that God put there so we could live for him now!
We hear it in Romans. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Rom. 6:4) The Holy Spirit gave us a new life, and we get to live it! We get to celebrate our inheritance by living for our Lord.
Now, we might want to chime in with “but we’ll never be perfect in this world,” and “we’ll still fall into all kinds of sins.” And yes, that’s true. But think, without faith, we couldn’t do anything good in God’s sight. Nothing at all. Now we’re free to serve him. Now we’re free to celebrate his inheritance by thanking him in serving God by helping others. By living our faith in church, at home, at work, on our best days and our worst.
And our baptism made that possible. Just like it makes a whole world of comfort possible for us every day. When everything’s going wrong, and you feel like even God is against you, remember your baptism! It guarantees that God’s not against you; it shows you you’re his own child. When others hurt you and knock you down, remember your baptism! It proves that no matter what people do, they can’t take away what’s most important. When you’re feeling guilty over sins and don’t know how God could love you, remember your baptism! It has already given you God’s love in Christ, and all the forgiveness you need. Plus, the Holy Spirit is still at work to work in you to live out your faith.
Yes, we get to live it! We have that inheritance in our baptism. We have every reason to celebrate it, and we get to live it out in repentance, faith, and good works every day of our lives.
You see, you’ll probably never have a great uncle Leopold. You’ll probably never get 10 million dumped in your lap. But you’ve already gotten eternal life poured on your head. You’ve already been baptized, and because of that, your inheritance is sure.