Is there ever a Sunday when the pastor, be it me, Casmer, or Kolander, is there ever a Sunday when one of us steps up here after the Hymn of the Day and, in your head, you’re thinking “Boy, you know I’m kind of hoping for a short sermon today – any of you ever think that? Certainly not, right? Surely, you’ve never thought that “It would be nice if Pastor Free would keep it under 10 minutes for once. I mean how much can he say on four verses from the book of Titus?” Just so you know, lots. I can say lots on these four verses. But, at the same time, I admit that there is something to be said about brevity. Keep the message short. Keep it sweet. Keep it to the point. People love that.
Now, you’re not going to get that from me. You might from Paul though. Today, Paul gives us a three-word sermon. He writes this, and he actually writes it twice, he writes, “He. Saved. Us.” It’s simple, right? It’s such a beautiful, complete, to the point message, but before we stand up, say “Amen,” and speak the Creed, it’s worth letting Paul develop this sermon. You see, while that short and sweet message of “He Saved Us” is really all we need to hear, Paul’s a good preacher, and he knows that there might be some questions. For instance, Why did God save us? And how did he save us? And, finally, what does it all mean – what’s next?
Start with that first question, “Why did God save us?” Well, let me ask you this. If someone were to come up to you and ask you, right here, right now, “How did you become a Christian?” What would your answer be? Maybe you’d be vague and say, “Well, sometime in my youth while I was attending church with my parents, that is when I came to faith.” Maybe you’d be a bit more specific in your answer, “Yeah, there was this moment in a Bible class when I just got it…I believed.” Some of you would likely mention the day you were baptized as that day when you were brought to faith. Perhaps, you’ve never really thought about it; you’ve just believed.
Do you remember when Paul came to faith? It was pretty dramatic. He was blinded by light, knocked to the ground, then there was this voice from heaven, “Saul, Saul!” And one might think that Paul would mention this story from time to time, but to my knowledge he never really brings it up. Instead, when he talks about how he was saved, and how all of us are saved, he puts it like this, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared…he saved us…” Do you see what Paul does here?
He boils it all down for us. Again, he makes it simple and keeps it sweet. When we think of believing in Jesus and coming to faith, we almost always overcomplicate it. Let Paul set us straight, “Why did God save us?…How did you become a Christian, a believer?” – two words; an even shorter sermon – “His mercy.” That’s why God saved you because he is merciful. Nothing good in us or done by us contributed to our salvation. We all got saved by the loving kindness and mercy of God and nothing else.
But, here’s the problem. We might be able to wrap our heads around this simple truth but, inevitably we are tempted to believe the lie that is just as destructive as the first lie Adam and Eve believed in the Garden of Eden. The lie that maybe there is more. God being kind isn’t enough to warrant my salvation. There must be more. Needs to be more. So, what happens? Well, I need to find whatever that “more” might be.
You see, the Devil has two primary lies. The first is the lie: “Your good works, your actions are what get you in good standing with God.” And, if he can’t get you with that one, he moves to: “Your actions keep you in good standing with God.” We might think that the last thing the Devil wants us to be concerned with is our goodness and godliness. But the reality is, that’s the only place he wants our attention. After all, the original lie in the Garden was, “This fruit will make you more like God and don’t you want to be more like God?” In this life then, we often fall into that devilish pursuit of a Christian life to be more like God – to be righteous – but that pursuit is in reality an attempt to take God out of our life. Or, to say it differently, we focus on our own goodness and kindness and love to save us, rather than the kindness and mercy that moved God to save us.
Paul says this in just a mind-blowing way in verse 5, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” Think about this. God doesn’t save you because of the righteous things you have done, but because of the unrighteous things you have done. Isn’t that backwards? No, that’s mercy. It’s why God saved you, God saw you at your conception, and he knew you were a mess. You were lost. You needed to be saved, and because he is kind, because he is merciful, he acted. And here is what happened.
Verse four, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared.” That’s Christmas. Jesus appeared! God stepped into the world. He took on that human flesh, and in our gospel lesson we saw him, Jesus, be anointed to be that Savior, our Savior. Jesus is the center-point of God’s mercy. Jesus is the one who went to the cross to pay for all our unrighteousness. Jesus then is how God saved us. But look at the last half of verse five, because there we are given another way that God saves us. Let me read it. “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
Paul here is talking about baptism. And baptism, as many of you know, is simply a washing. It’s the Holy Spirit working through water and the Word to wash away all your sins and to anoint you in a sense, to create a saving faith in you. It’s really a miracle. Peter in 1 Peter 3:21 says that “…this baptism now saves you also.” But how does that work, because doesn’t Luke write in the book of Acts that “Salvation is found in no one else for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved,” and there, Luke, he is referring to Jesus? So, how does God save us? Through Jesus or through baptism? Yes.
I heard another pastor use this illustration once. If you have a cell phone, how does it have power? What keeps that phone alive and working? Does the power to keep it alive come through the outlet that you plug into or from the cord? It’s both, right? You can’t directly like insert your phone into an outlet to charge it, and, likewise, if you just have a cord dangling from your phone and no source of power to plug into, your phone’s going to stay dead. And, I think this helps to explain, Jesus, baptism, and us.
Jesus is the only way to be saved. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Faith in Jesus is how God saves us. But how do you come to know Jesus? One way is through the Word, another through the Lord’s Supper, and the third is by your baptism. Baptism you might say is the cord that connects us to the power source, and in this way, it saves you.
And, I think we need to be clear, baptism is not then just the first of many steps we must choose to take to be called children of God. It’s not some commitment we declare to God. In baptism, God promises to be our God always. In baptism, God says, “I am your Father, and you are my beloved child.” In baptism, we live in the strength that forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation give us.
And, remember, it’s “He saved us…through this washing of rebirth and renewal.” Not I saved myself. Your confirmation vows don’t confirm that you’re a child of God. Your daily repentance doesn’t prove you’re worthy of God’s baptismal promise. Your faith doesn’t prove anything about God’s faithfulness to you in baptism. You are baptized. You are given faith to trust God’s words and promise. That’s what baptism does for you, and this is how God chose to save you.
So, what’s next? Here is the beauty of what’s next: you already know it. It’s there in verse 7, “…having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” That’s what’s next. Life eternal, but, we’re not there yet, and the road to that new life isn’t always an easy one. Look, there are going to be moments when you look nothing like a child of God, and there are going to be times when you feel less than saved. There are going to be experiences in this life that make you doubt and forget God’s promises. So, what will you do in those moments?
Here is what I hope. I hope in those moments you remember water dripping, trickling, pouring out over you as God’s triune name was spoken. And, whether that happened when you were a baby or sometime later, I hope you know what that very visible sign means: God saved you, and he’s never left you, and he won’t. And that water is the proof. This act of washing is God’s visible promise to you that his mercy is for you, that his Son, Jesus is for you, and that you are his heir. Heaven is yours.
You see, your baptism, it’s not something that happened just once. We live in that baptism again and again and again, and we return to it every day to repent of our sins and to marvel that this is how God saved me. Amen.