Monday, April 13, 2009

Sermon: Titus 2: 11-15

Today we’ve been celebrating Easter, the day of resurrection, when Jesus rose again from the dead. The vindication of his death on the cross, and his victory over death. And yet, it can all seem so long ago, that we don’t think about it much.

Similarly, we can think that Jesus’ return is so far away in the future, that we don’t think about it much. We know it could happen tomorrow or even tonight, but we don’t consider.

Yet for Paul, as he writes to his young colleague Titus, both Easter and the return of Jesus are vitally important matters. Both of them together affect how we live today as Christians. Do you see the ‘for’ as the first word? This helps us to see that what follows is related to what comes before.

You see, in the passage just before this one, Paul has spelt out specific behaviour for specific groups of believers - older men are to be sober-minded amongst other things (v2), older women are not to be slanderers, but to train the younger women, and younger men are to be self-controlled.

But why is it Paul urges these things? Why should we live in a particular way? As we look at the passage tonight, we’ll see that Paul presents his argument in terms of past, present and future. A summary might be that because Jesus has redeemed us, we are to renounce ungodliness, and live godly lives of hope as we wait for Jesus to return.

So let’s look at it in more detail. First, the past. There are two ways Paul speaks of the past. ‘the grace of God has appeared’ (11), and in verse 14, Jesus ‘who gave himself.’ When Paul writes these things, he is not thinking of two separate events - that the grace of God appeared like a vision or in a blinding flash, or as an article in a newspaper. No, the grace of God appeared, was made visible, in the person of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Remember what John writes of Jesus at the start of his Gospel? ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory... full of grace and truth.’ (John 1:14) And what was it Jesus appeared to do? (Maybe I should phrase that differently as our uses of the word appear might make that confusing - we can mean either appearing became visible, or appearing only seeming to do) What was it Jesus came to earth to do in his first appearing?

Well, verse 11 seems to provide a summary - ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.’ Verse 14 fills in the detail: ‘Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.’

What a great summary of the Easter event. Jesus gave himself to redeem us and to purify us. We’re probably more familiar with the first part, so let’s concentrate on the second. What was Jesus purifying? He was purifying a people for his own possession. Have you ever thought of it in this way - that you are part of the people of the Lord Jesus? That when we are redeemed, we are brought into the possession of the Lord Jesus?

Perhaps you have. But maybe you haven’t thought of the purpose. We are (forgive me) a people of his possession for a purpose. What is the purpose? If you hadn’t already looked at the reading, and I asked you what is the purpose of the people of God, you might have thought to live with God, or to praise God, or to tell others about Jesus, or the list could go on. yet here, Paul is saying that the purpose of the people is to be ‘zealous for good works.’

Yet we see this also in Ephesians, where Paul teaches that we are saved by grace through faith ... ‘for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’ (Ephesians 2:10)

Now all those other things I mentioned, like praising God etc are very important too, but what Paul mentions is being zealous for good works. You know the way some people talk about doing a good deed, so if they hold a door open for you they say ‘well, that’s my good deed done for the day!’ This is not what the passage is saying. We shouldn’t be miserly in our good works, but like the Lord Jesus, gracious (literally full of grace) - as we have received from him, so we seek to do good to others.

What are the good works that God has prepared for you to walk in? Maybe you have a neighbour who needs help, or a friend who would appreciate company or a coffee? A walking of the dog, or a trip to the seaside or a meal or a half hour weeding?

Yet even as your minds race with the possibilities for good works this week (hopefully!), Paul reminds us that these things don’t come naturally. As we think about the present, we’ll see that we need help in living this out. You see, if the Lord Jesus had to die to purify a people for his possession who are zealous for good works, then it mustn’t come naturally.

By nature, all of us live for ourselves, with good deeds maybe only done for what we can get back, what we can get from the other person. Yet the Christian can be different, can become a person zealous for good works. Look back to verse 11. As we respond to the grace of God, that same grace, in the person of the Lord Jesus, and through the work of the Spirit, trains us to do two things, negative and positive: renounce, and live.

Some of you might be too young, but the rest will remember, perhaps all too well, the political campaign in the 1980s ‘Ulster Says No’ in response to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I can remember coming through Hillsborough and there being a big banner up outside the council offices ‘Hillsborough Says No.’ It’s the same idea here - because we are saved, because Jesus has redeemed us from lawlessness, God in his grace helps us, teaches us, trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.

We say no to those things that characterised our old life before conversion - ungodliness, and passions or desires rooted in the world apart from God. Yet it’s not enough just to say no - we also have to say yes! The grace of God also trains us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives, because Jesus has purified us to be his people zealous for good works. The details of this were seen in verses 2-10, but notice again the importance of self-control. We saw that in the elders (1:8), older men (2:2), young women (2:5) and younger men (2:6). In contrast to our lives before Christ, which were filled with ungodliness, now, our lives are to be characterised by godliness. Living as he commands, following and imitating the pattern of the Lord Jesus.

So far we have thought about how the past (Jesus saving, redeeming and purifying us), impacts our life in the present, but now we move on to think how these impact the future. As we see in verse 13, it’s not just a godly life, it is a godly life of hope, waiting for our blessed hope.

That word waiting probably conjures up bad pictures in your head - sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for your appointment, or waiting at the bus stop for what seems like a long time. Waiting always seems to be an inactive kind of thing. Yet here, waiting is much more positive. The waiting involves living godly lives and being zealous for good works, which are spurred on because of our blessed hope.

And what is the blessed hope? What is it we’re waiting for? ‘The appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ Earlier we thought about the first appearing, but now we come to the second appearing - when Jesus returns. Notice that it’s not even just the appearing of our great God... but the appearing of the glory of our great God... That word appearing is epiphany - like a veil being lifted, or a light coming on. Just think of a veil being removed from the bride’s face, and her full radiance being seen. These are the pointers of what it will be like on that day. Already, the heavens declare the glory of God, but on that day, we shall see the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

The Christian life is not moral rules for the sake of it. What God commands for us is rooted in the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross, and helps us look forward and be ready for his return.

So what sort of lives should we be living? Godly lives of hope. And why? Because of the first appearing of the Lord, when he saved us, and also because of the approaching appearing, when we shall see him as he is, in all his glory.

This sermon was preached at the Sundays at 6.30 in St Elizabeth's Halls, Dundonald on Easter Sunday night, 12th April 2009.

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