This is exciting news.
But…maybe you don’t feel so excited.
Ever been to the farmer’s market? There’s one close by that bills itself as full of fresh, local produce. And to be fair – it is! As you walk around, there’s fresh asparagus, locally grown sweet potatoes, and dark green collards that will make delicious cooked greens.
But as you get somewhere near the midst of the market…
Amid Kinston, and even Raleigh proper…
There in the corner, you see it:
A big ol’ section of Florida Oranges.
They’ve even got the FLORIDA orange stickers on them as they sit right underneath the “Local, Fresh Market” sign.
Maybe you feel like that.
Maybe you feel like God’s kingdom is filled with religious looking people.
And, yes, Jesus came for sinners, but…Me? I’m a big, bad sinner.
Like a 3-week old Florida orange in a North Carolina Local Fresh market:
I don’t belong.
Today we are going to take the message of God’s love that brings a FRESH start and look at how it personally affects you. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Personally Given by God
The lesson for today comes from the book of Titus. Titus, the book, is a letter written to Titus, the person. Titus, the person, first appears in a few other New Testament books. He came to faith in Jesus from the preaching of a pastor named Paul. But Titus didn’t just become a peripheral believer. He became an active member of the early church. He worked with Paul. He became a missionary. He helped start churches.
Eventually all of this experience led Paul to appoint Titus as the Lead Pastor of the congregation in Crete.
Now I imagine this was an exciting new job for Titus:
He got to share the Gospel!
He got to lead a group of believers to share the good news with their community.
He got to high five kids in children’s lessons.
And he always got the leftovers from the fellowship after worship.
But being a pastor doesn’t come without its challenges.
And being a pastor in Crete didn’t come without challenges, too:
Hotheaded Elders. The elders in church were being quite hot-headed with each other. There were disagreements and arguments. Consider this: Titus was younger than them. It is not so easy to tell older men what to do, let alone rebuke them. (2:1-2)
A Sin-filled Ladies’ Aid. The ladies aid got together to drink wine and gossip. Again – Titus was a lot younger than them. It must have been difficult to go from the “cute, little pastor’s assistant” to their pastor who rebukes them. (2:4)
Peers Struggling with Impurity. The young men were struggling with purity. Titus’ job was to stick out like a sore thumb among his peers and tell them to live pure lives – to stop looking at porn and stop sleeping with people that they weren’t married to. Have you ever tried to tell your peers that what they are doing isn’t right? It’s not so easy. (2:6)
False Doctrine. Some in the church believed things that weren’t true about Jesus; and some of those who believed it were teaching it in their version of group Bible study. Titus’ job? To tell them they were wrong and show them why they were wrong…even if they have doctorates, even if they have master’s degrees, even if Titus was still fairly new to this whole pastor thing! (2:1)
With all these challenges, I imagine that Titus was having some doubts.
I know it, because I’ve experienced the same thing as a pastor.
How can I be their leader?
How can I tell them to stop sinning when I’ve done the same sins?
How can I be the one to give them wisdom when I struggle to make the wise decisions every day?
How could I ever be worthy of being in God’s kingdom? Let alone serving in it?
Paul thought Titus needed encouragement. That’s why he wrote the letter to his comrade. Look at some of the encouragement: 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. (3:3)
Wait a second.
Titus is struggling with his worthiness to be a leader in God’s church.
And Paul’s encouraging response is to remind him of his total unworthiness?
And yet that’s what Paul tells Titus:
You were foolish! You didn’t know anything about God’s word.
You were disobedient! You did the same lustful things that the young men are struggling with.
You were deceived – following all kinds of false teachings and wrong viewpoints.
You were enslaved – with sin, with temptation, with guilt and shame.
Why would these words of discouragement be the words Paul uses to encourage Titus?
Because Paul thinks it is vitally important for Titus to understand this:
A Spiritual FRESH Start is NOT of Oneself Personally.
Imagine for a moment if you were really sweaty. Like really, really sweaty.
Like a one-hour workout at the Crossfit gym – biking, running, sit-ups.
You want to freshen up, so…
You take a shower.
You wash with soap.
You even spray on some nice cologne.
Then, you put on the exact same sweaty gym clothes that you had before.
Think about it:
If Titus really was going to start his FRESH Position as a FRESH Titus, the same, non-fresh things would happen!
He’d mess up.
He’d wake up the next day.
And sin and fail and mess up.
He’d feel like he was putting on the same sweaty, stale unspiritual, sinful self every day.
And I’ll tell you the truth.
If you try to start the new year FRESH, by using the same old power, motivation and strength (namely – your own) as you have in the past – it won’t be long before you smell that same old stench of sin.
Instead, look elsewhere for spiritual freshness elsewhere
That’s where Paul directs Titus: 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. (v.4-5)
Did you catch that?
It wasn’t because of Titus that Titus was personally saved.
It wasn’t because of Titus’ own accomplishments.
It wasn’t because of his own works.
It wasn’t because of he, himself, or him!
It was because of God!
It was because of God’s love.
It was because of God’s mercy.
The same is true with you.
Your fresh start isn’t personally of you but personally of God!
God, who is holy…
God, who is divine…
God, who doesn’t have an ounce of sin in him…
God, who is merciful to save you from your miserable state…
That God is the God who had a hand in your own personal fresh start!
It’s similar to going to a Five Star Restaurant. It is disappointing to find out that your food isn’t prepared by the Five Star Chef and will only be prepared by his assistant. It’s just not as good. There’s a bit too much seasoning; the fish is uncooked; and the chicken Cordon Bleu is chicken Cordon “Meh.”
But when the Five Star Chef personally has a hand in your dish, it is magnifique!
God personally had a hand in your worthiness.
His hand was nailed to a cross.
His hand shed His blood.
His hand went limp as He died for you.
Three days later…
His hand moved again.
His hand had blood rushing back into it.
His hand was raised in victory as the conquering hero who saved you!
He tells you.
That you, yes you.
You, and I’m not kidding about this.
You, my believing friend, are forgiven.
Because of this, you, yes, YOU; have a FRESH start.
II. Baptism – a Personalized Gift
But that’s not all. Because God is such a God that he doesn’t stop at personally giving you a FRESH start.
Nope. He proclaims it to you in one of the most personal ways ever.
He 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.
Have you ever been to a church service – and the message is on point! And it’s filled with God’s grace and forgiveness and Jesus your Savior.
And you look around and you see everybody nodding their heads. They look enlightened. They are smiling. A few of them are even throwing in an “Amen.”
And you do too, fit in, but not to draw too much attention to yourself.
Yet…the reality is…
You feel like this message isn’t for you.
That nice-looking church lady over there. She’s even got one of those cross medallions fastened to her pocket. The message is definitely for her.
And that friendly church usher who is always so psyched for worship. It’s probably for him.
But not me.
I have sin.
I have a lot of sin.
The message is for them, not me.
In Baptism, God doesn’t leave you room for doubt. Because in Baptism…
…who else is having their sins washed away than the one whose body is being washed with water?
…who else is being welcomed by the triune God, then the one who is having the name of the Triune God spoken over him?
…who else is being covered in God’s love, then the one whose forehead is covered with water miraculous connected with God’s love?
…who else is being baptized into God’s kingdom, but the one who is being baptized into God’s kingdom!?!
In Baptism, God Gives a Fresh Start to you Personally.
And we know that it works! Because look at the power behind it: God saved us…by the Holy Spirit…through Jesus Christ. (v. 6)
Did you catch that? It is the Triune God himself! The real, divine, three persons in one God, God himself who is actively providing the power in Baptism.
That’s important because the power of this personalized fresh start isn’t dependent on the kind of water that is used. (Wait…has that water gone through three levels of purification?)
It isn’t dependent on the pastor’s morality! (“We’ll have to reschedule for tomorrow. Because I looked at my Facebook feed this morning and had all kinds of unchristian thoughts…”)
It isn’t even dependent on the sincerity of my personal confession. (“I’ll have to redo my baptism because I’m not so certain that I totally meant it.”)
It isn’t event dependent on my age. (“Was I old enough to try make MY baptism effective?”)
The power in Baptism is dependent on God.
The Holy Spirit.
Baptism is personally powered by the Triune God!
Your sins are no match for the volcano-erupting power of our Father!
Your guilt is no match for the holy, innocent blood of Jesus Christ.
Your doubts are no match for the faith producing power of the Holy Spirit.
And this isn’t a one-time power.
It isn’t as if God did this for you one time, but after that you were on your own.
Look again at what kind of a baptism it is: “A washing of rebirth and renewal.”
Rebirth implies a new life.
Rebirth implies a new identity.
Rebirth implies a new being entirely!
Think about it.
We were sinful, now we are forgiven.
We were enslaved, now we are free.
We were foolish, now we are called wise.
We were disobedient, now we are obedient.
We have been reborn!
For Titus, his baptism meant that he could approach his work in God’s kingdom with complete and utter confidence. He had a new identity in Jesus!
For you, your baptism means that you can approach your work in God’s kingdom with the same complete and utter confidence. You have a new identity in Jesus.
But it’s not just about rebirth; it’s also about renewal.
That’s a word that has a negative connotation for me. Because about 5 years ago we signed up for a 1-year magazine trial to Time Magazine and Real Simple Magazine. The deal was that we get an entire year of issues for $2. Every year come Christmas – because I’m not busy during Christmas – as I’m looking at our bank account to make sure that we will survive Christmas presents – I notice a charge from the magazine companies for about $200. And I call the number associated with it – and they are so thankful that I automatically renewed my subscription at full price for a full year!
Usually I select cancel and they tell me I can’t cancel, but GREAT NEWS! I have been selected for a 1 year’s subscription for $2.
Think of Baptism as the incredible, automatically renewing promise of God.
Because nowhere does God’s Word say: “You did wrong. You need another Baptism.” That would make Baptism into a temporal human work.
Instead, the Bible views it as God’s enduring, eternal promise. A promise that renews.
When you are done with an especially sin heavy day – But I am baptized! God made me his child.
When you are dealing with an especially strong temptation – but I am baptized! God put me in his kingdom.
When you are heavy laden with guilt – but I am baptized! – Jesus promised me forgiveness.
The promise of baptism offers personal renewal.
Every day renewal in God’s grace.
III. WHAT NOW?
1) If you aren’t Baptized, Be Baptized
If you haven’t been baptized, be baptized. Because in baptism, you receive the personalized gift of God for you personally in a very personal method.
If you haven’t been baptized, be baptized.
Or at least do this: Talk to me about it.
Write a note on your connection card.
Let’s have a conversation to answer your questions over coffee.
And you might say: “Well, I’m not sure if I’m ready. I’m not sure that I’m worthy of this blessing.”
You’re right. You aren’t.
But baptism isn’t something that you need to become worthy of receiving.
It’s something that by receiving you become worthy because of your connection to your Savior.
Do you believe in Jesus? Be baptized.
2) If you are Baptized, Remember it!
Sometimes during a birthday party, you open up a photo album or head to your iPhone and start to look at past birthdays.
There’s the one where you tried to put out the candle with your finger.
The one where crazy Uncle Joe tried to convince you that you were turning into a monkey.
The one where all your friends came over, ate up the cake, and ran around playing Ninja Turtles for 3 hours.
But don’t forget to reflect on your Rebirthday.
Because of your Rebirthday you have a new identity.
Because of your Rebirthday you have a new name – forgiven.
Because of your Rebirthday you have a fresh, new purpose!
This is the picture you need to remember no matter what you face in 2019.
You have a FRESH start.
It’s of God’s eternal promise and power.
It’s who you are today, tomorrow and always – thanks to God’s promise.