Pastor Kyle Bitter

Text: Titus 3:4-7

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This past week, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (the governing body of high school sports) released an op-ed calling for parents in the stands to do a better job keeping their tempers in check – especially with the officials.  Everyone who has attended a sports game at any level has probably seen fans yelling at the referees, but apparently the problem has been getting worse in recent years and seems to be the primary cause of a shortage of willing referees in many parts of the state.  Many seasoned referees are retiring, and younger referees suffer from a nearly 80% dropout rate.  Both dropouts and retirees cite fan abuse as the primary reason for quitting.  Apparently it’s become bad enough that in some areas games have been postponed or even canceled outright.  It’s kind of a sad state of affairs that sports – intended for enjoyment – have denigrated to such a level, and perhaps it’s kind of a sad commentary on the state of society as a whole.    

After all, high school sports is far from the only place where respect for other people is sadly lacking.  You don’t have to spend much time at all on social media posts about current events to find all sorts of angry people from both sides of the issue saying things that one would hope they’d have the sense not to say in person lest a fight break out, but yet there it is all over the internet.  You don’t have to watch more than five minutes of the news to find the same thing in the current state of American politics, where it seems as though insults, lies, and distortions have become the order of the day for both sides, and probably the last word you’d use to describe any of it “respect.”   

It’s not hard to find selfishness and lovelessness when you look around society, and it’s not hard to bemoan the state of modern America, but the reality is this problem isn’t just “out there.”  What was your reaction toward those stories?  What words did you mentally use to describe the parent berating the referee or the person spewing senseless anger on social media?  What words do you normally use when describing politicians and elected officials to your family members and friends?  Are they words of respect for other people?  Words of respect for those in positions of authority?  Or do you find the same attitude as you see all around that just happens to be held more privately? 

This whole issue isn’t anything new.  It seems similar things were going on among the people living on the island of Crete in Bible times, served by a pastor named Titus.  Today’s second lesson is an excerpt from a letter of instruction and encouragement God led the Apostle Paul to send to Pastor Titus, and in the verses before today’s second lesson Paul instructs Titus to teach the people to be “subject to rulers and authorities…to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate…to show true humility.” (Titus 3:1-2 – NIV84).  Clearly not all that different from the problems we are faced by today, but seeing that nothing has changed one has to wonder if this is an impossible task for Titus!     

Saves You From Yourself (v. 4-6)

That’s the way it sometimes seems today, doesn’t it?  When it comes to showing respect to other people, we can certainly hope that the WIAA op-ed about the shortage of officials might scare fans into being a little quieter, and perhaps it will, but I don’t think any of us have the expectation that a newspaper article will change any attitudes.  In a similar way, shaming angry voices into silence on social media or winning the insult war in politics might make people stop talking, but it’s not very likely to change anyone’s attitude.  You and I know exactly why that is.  Words and actions like these are nothing more than the outward, visible symptoms of a problem that runs much deeper – a problem that can’t be addressed in a newspaper article, a problem that can’t be won in an argument. 

You might think of the problem in these terms: for as much as we enjoy our freedoms to do and say pretty much whatever we want much of the time in our country, the sad reality is that such freedom only goes skin deep.  On the inside we are bound as spiritual slaves, chained to the sinful nature that we were born with, the sinful side of us that has respect for one person only, and that’s ourselves.  With sin as our natural spiritual master, disrespect for others and disregard for their opinions and perspectives becomes a perfectly natural thing – in whatever form it might take.  And it’s not just about relationships with other people.  This same sin makes us God’s enemies in his ongoing fight to purge his world of wickedness.  It’s easy to think that we need God to save us from the problems in the world, but the serious spiritual reality is that we need God to save us from ourselves!  In the verse before today’s second lesson Paul wrote: “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 – NIV84)

But the good news is, God has an answer to this problem.  It was to a world enslaved to sin and for people chained to sin that God sent the Savior – Jesus.  We heard that in the words of today’s second lesson: “But, when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”  (Titus 3:4-5a – NIV84).  You might think about the change the Savior makes like this.  We sometimes talk about God in terms of him being on our side, but that’s actually kind of backwards if you think about it.  Our side, the side we were born into, is marked by sinfulness, disrespect, selfishness, and eventual punishment in hell.  God isn’t on our side.  He saved us from our side, and he brings us over to his side, where sin is not in charge and where righteousness and forgiveness rule.  A far better place to be!  For many of us, this happened when we were baptized, and Paul points out: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3:5b-6 – NIV84)Baptism Saves You because it connects you to your Savior.  Baptism Saves You From Yourself.  But that’s only the beginning of things. 

Saves You For Your Life (v. 7)

Today our worship focuses on baptism because we celebrate the minor church festival commemorating the day when Jesus was baptized.  You’ve heard about that event in our other scripture readings and hymns.  While Jesus didn’t need to be saved from anything – he was perfect – his baptism did have a powerful effect on his life.  Until his baptism, Jesus lived a relatively quiet life with his own family, likely learning the trade of carpentry from his earthly father Joseph and working in a similar fashion.  After his baptism, however, his focus changed as his public ministry of teaching and miracles began.  After his baptism, the final three years of Jesus’ life were focused on the promises of God and what he needed to do to keep those promises.  It was a massive transition in his life, and it wasn’t without its challenges.  Shortly after his baptism, Jesus would spend 40 days resisting the devil’s temptations to give into sinful selfishness in various ways.  Jesus would do miracles and preach sermons and teach people, but rarely would he receive the respect he so rightly deserved from the very people he had come to save.  He would even suffer betrayal at the hands of one of his closest friends!  But despite all these hardships, Jesus would remain focused on keeping the promises of God.  His life was filled with love and respect for the people around him and perfect obedience to the plans and commands of God.  His death on the cross was exactly the payment needed to uphold God’s promise to forgive sins.  This whole focus on the promises of God started at his baptism. 

A similar thing has been true for God’s people throughout the ages – baptism marks a change to a life centered around the promises of God.  In the early Christian church, perhaps even in Crete where Pastor Titus served, it was a time in church history when most people came to faith as adults through hearing the good news about Jesus, and for them, baptism often happened as part of the formal, public entry into Christianity.  In a culture less friendly to Christianity than what we enjoy today, this turning point in life brought the hardships and dangers of persecution and forced people to trust the promises God makes at baptism.  Even if life is filled with persecution directly attributed to their relationship with Jesus, that persecution even if it leads to death, can’t take away what God promises in baptism – Baptism Saves You for Life.  It provides the forgiveness of sins in life now and eternity with God in the life to come. 

You and I are blessedly unlikely to suffer that kind of persecution for our beliefs, but baptism marks a change in life for us too – a change to life based firmly in the promises of God.  Paul describes it like this: “He saved us…so that having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:7 – NIV84).  That promise God makes at baptism extends far beyond that one single day.  He promises forgiveness every day of life now, and an eternity in heaven in the life to come. 

And those promises change everything.  When you find yourself tempted to harbor a less than respectful attitude toward the people whom God has placed in positions of authority in society, when you find yourself struggling with your sinful nature in the way you treat other people in day to day life, when you are brought face to face with the sad reality of just how easily and naturally sin finds its way into your life, in those times of guilt and shame you and I can look at the promise God makes you at your baptism.  Your sin, whatever form it takes and however many people were hurt by it, has been washed away.  And that wasn’t true just once.  It’s true every day of your life.  The slate is wiped clean before God. 

And that same promise makes the future different too.  When you think about what God is promising you for eternity, you can see that the calls made (or not made) during a sporting event just aren’t that significant.  The inflammatory comments and opinions shared on social media, as much as they might hurt, just don’t change anything that matters in eternity.  Even major decisions made by politicians that you might not agree with or that might seem to have a huge impact on your life just don’t make much difference on the spectrum of eternity, because at your baptism God made you a member of his family.  He put his name on you.  You’re still on his side for eternity, looking forward to your inheritance in heaven, and nothing is going to take that away. 

Baptism Saves You not just on that day, but For Life – the promise of forgiveness for life now, and the anticipation of an eternity with God to come, and that makes all the difference.  As you leave today and continue the fight against your sinful nature and the struggle against a world corrupted with sin, to with your baptism.  Remember what God promises – Baptism Saves You.  It saves you from yourself.  It saves you for life – life in this world and life forever.  Amen.