… To Purify a People
The Reason for Christmas ... To Purify a People
Imagine we headed out to Gawler Street this morning, or down to Mount Barker Central, and people were sipping their lattes, and doing their Christmas shopping, imagine we asked them this question, “Why Christmas?”
Why is there such a thing as Christmas?
What kind of responses do you think we’d get?
No doubt someone would tell us it’s because the pagans celebrated winter solstice or something around the end of December and it all flows from that.
But eventually, if we asked enough people, I’m sure someone would say something about, “we have Christmas, because that’s when we celebrate Jesus’ birth.”
Now we know that Jesus probably wasn’t actually born on the 25th of December, but it’s a convenient day for the celebration. It’s a bit like the Queen’s birthday isn’t it? She’s born in April, but the public holiday’s in June.
And so by about 336 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine had said “this is the day we’re going to celebrate.”
So we have Christmas to celebrate Jesus’ birth,
But even that still begs the question, why was Jesus born?
Why did Jesus come into the world?
If, as Christians believe, the Son of God existed eternally with God the Father and God the Spirit, why did he become a human being and enter the world?
So if we ask these people out in Mount Barker, who by now are getting very sick of us asking them all these questions,
But we press on regardless, “Why was Jesus born?”
And it might take some time, but I’m sure we’d finally find someone to give us the answer that we probably expect. Why was Jesus born? Well, to die?
You might be with us today, and you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, but maybe you’re interested in finding out about Christian things, and maybe that’s what you’ve heard, that Jesus was born, to die for our sins.
Well, because Jesus was born, so he could die for our sins, for our rebellion against God.
That’s probably the answer that many of us would give, isn’t it?
As Christians we know that we have Christmas, so we can have Easter. Jesus dies for our sin and rebellion, to open up the way to the God who we’ve rejected, and so if he’s going to die, he first needs to be born. That makes sense.
And not only does it make sense, but it’s true. It’s what the Bible teaches us;, that Jesus was born so he could die in our place, so there is no longer anything stopping us coming into relationship with God.
But it’s not the whole truth.
You know how if you have to swear an oath in court, you get asked to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
Well there’s more to the truth of “Why Christmas?”, “Why did Jesus came into the world?”, than that bit that perhaps we know quite well. And so over the next couple of weeks, our aim is to fill in some of that picture, of why we have Christmas.
I think it’s good for us to have the whole truth, don’t you?!
But also, I know, for some people,Christmas is hard. And there are all kinds of reasons for that;,
We’re confronted with broken relationships, and reminded of lost loved ones.
I know that at Christmas time, we don’t always feel like celebrating.
And that’s OK. We don’t have to be happy and jolly every minute.
But I do want us, even in those times of hardship and sadness, to be confident that Christmas is still good news,
Is good news for us,
And for the people we know.
And so this morning, we find ourselves in Titus chapter 2, looking especially at verses 11 to 14, of this short letter, written by the Apostle Paul in about 64 AD, to his colleague Titus, who’s leading the church on the Island of Crete.
The grace that offers salvation has appeared (v 11)
We’re obviously jumping in part way through, but Paul’s been outlining Titus’ job description as the pastor of a church. If you want to know what my job description is, just read these couple of pages!
But then he changes direction a bit, and says the reason to do all this, 2 verse 11, is because the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.
It’s not a very smooth sentence in English, in fact, In Paul’s original writing, verse 11 down to verse 14 is one big long run-on sentence. If Mrs Eckermann, my year 12 English teacher had gotten a hold of it, it would have been sent back to Paul with a big red cross on it!
So it’s a bit of a complicated sentence, but it’s meaning is fairly plain, isn’t it? The grace of God that offers salvation to people has appeared.
There was an event, something happened, which made God’s grace known to all people.
So what is this event?
What’s he talking about?
Well, he’s talking about Christmas. He’s talking about the coming of Christ,
Jesus, entering the world that he had made.
We know that he’s talking about Jesus, because the Apostle Peter says in Acts chapter 4, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
So there’s no one else who can offer salvation to all people.
So Paul is obviously talking about Jesus.
the grace of God is God’s kindness towards us,
The favour he shows us even though we don’t deserve it.
It’s God’s action and activity for our benefit, the fact that God is in our corner.
And Jesus so embodies these various aspects of the grace of God, that Paul can say, with his coming, the grace of God has appeared.
But it sounds a bit like there was no grace of God in the past, but then with the arrival of Jesus, suddenly God’s grace has come into existence.
The word “appeared” there, translates Paul’s Greek word “epiphany”, which is a word you might have come across.
And in Acts 27, when Paul and his companions encounter that terrible storm, having just left Crete as it happens, Luke uses the same word, to describe the sun and stars being hidden by the clouds. He says the sun and stars made no, epiphany, no appearance.
He doesn’t mean to say that the sun and stars weren’t there, didn’t exist.
They were present, but Paul and the others couldn’t see them because they of their circumstances.
At that very first Christmas,
With the coming of Jesus into the world, Paul says that God’s grace has made its appearance, made its epiphany.
Yes, the grace of God existed beforehand, but just like the sun and the moon in Acts 27 were present, but hidden, this grace of God wasn’t obvious for all to see, prior to the coming of Jesus, but now it’s been made plain.
And the grace of God that is personified in Jesus, offers salvation to all people. And this bit kind of fits in with what I was saying before about what we know and expect;,
Jesus was born, to die, to save us from our sins.
If we’re Christians, or even just familiar with Christian things, we’re not at all surprised to see that Jesus was born, to die, to save us. You can learn that much from watching The Simpsons on TV!
But let’s not let the familiarity trip us up.
The offer of salvation that comes as a result of Christmas is, what?, just for a few,
Just for religious people,
Mainly for good people?
No! The grace of God that is personified in Jesus, offers salvation to all people.
The point isn’t that every single person on earth is going to be saved. That’s what’s called universalism, that’s not what the Bible teaches.
It’s not that everyone will be saved, but that anyone, can be saved.
You know in the US, they have that saying, “Anyone can be president”! And now they’re saying, “People have actually started to believe that!”
But our problem is, we’re the opposite to that!
At least this is me, and maybe you’re the same, we know that anyone can be saved,
We know that the grace of God in Christ offers salvation to all people, but we’ve stopped believing that.
Is that ever you?
We know that’s what the Bible says, that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,
That anyone can put their trust in Jesus for forgiveness and relationship with God, but in the reality of day to day life, we often think there are some people too far from God to ever turn back to him,
We imagine that some of the people we love and care about, because they haven’t shown any interest in Christian things up until this point in their life, we imagine they can’t ever be saved.
We conclude that there are some people to whom God’s offer of salvation doesn’t extend.
But here God reminds us again, this offer is to all people,
To all kinds of people,
To all nations of people,
To all classes of people.
Christmas tells us that God hasn’t written anybody off.
God’s grace teaches us how to live while we wait for Christ’s return (v 12 – 13)
Well, we still haven’t found anything surprising or unusual about why Jesus came, but we’re getting closer!
You’ll notice the NIV translators have broken that long run-on sentence into separate sentences for us, It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing, of the glory, of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ
Do you ever think, that God’s grace, teaches you how to live?
Paul understands that followers of Jesus, people who have received this salvation, ought to live in a particular way.
The first half of chapter 2 explains some of that, and he comes back to it here in verse 12, saying “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age
Godly, godliness those are kind of Christian jargon words, aren’t they? If you’ve been around church for a bit you will have picked them up.
For a long time, I imagined that godly meant “God-like.”
If you described someone as godly, you were saying that demonstrated the attributes of God.
And of course, that’s a good thing! God said to his people in Leviticus 20, You are to be holy, because I am holy. You are to reflect that attribute of mine.
And so, when I started learning the Greek language that our New Testament was originally written in, I knew that theos was the word for God, and so I expected the word godly to be theos-ly or something like that!
But actually, godliness is not really about being like God at all.
It’s actually about responding to God. It’s a recognition that we’re not like God, he is utterly other, and so there is an appropriate way that we should relate to him.
Godliness is about reverence, what years ago people used to call piety, before pious became a bad word.
Godliness is about obedience.
There was once a philosopher named Xenophon, not Nick Xenophon, but Xenophon of Athens. He lived around 400 years before the time of Christ, and in one of his books, the Memorabilia, he talks about this idea of godliness, asking, “Can there be any better or more reverent way to honour the gods than by doing what they command?”
And so Paul says that God’s grace that began to be known that first Christmas, teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness,
And teaches us to say “yes” to godliness and upright living.
I think when it comes to living the kind of life that we know God wants us to live, more often than not, we think the solution to godliness, the solution to leaving un-godliness behind us, is:, try harder,
Follow the rules,
Put in more effort,
Get control of yourself.
The grace of God teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness
But here a completely different solution is offered to us, isn’t it?
It’s the grace of God that appeared in the life of Jesus, that teaches us to say “no” ungodliness.
Grace isn’t just the means by which we enter into a relationship with God, it’s also the means by which God enables us to live in a way that’s honouring to him.
How does it work?
How does grace teach us to say no to ungodliness?
Well, certainly grace teaches us that God hates sin.
The lengths that God would go, does go to, to free us from sin, sending his own son into the world,
Born as a baby,
Born into poverty,
Living the perfect life that we couldn’t live, and dying the death that we deserved because of how we’ve lived.
All of that says something about how God views sin, doesn’t it?
The grace of God teaches us that God hates sin.
Christmas demonstrates to us, that God is not content for us to remain floundering in our sin. Instead he’s going to break into the world that he made, and deal with the problem of sin and death in the person of Jesus.
I was in the city last weekend, and saw some posters for RUOK, the suicide prevention charity. They’re encouraging us to ask our friends and family, RUOK?
And it’s a good movement. It was good to see the posters up around town.
But see in a different way, Christmas answers that question for us, “RUOK?”
No, you’re not.
The appearance of Jesus tells us that God hates sin and wants to free us from it.
And since we then have God’s perspective on our sin, well, knowing what God loves and what God hates, that can be a powerful motivating factor, for us, can’t it?
If God went to such lengths to free me from sin that he sent his own Son into the world, Well, why would I think that sin doesn’t matter?,
Or that God would overlook my sin?
Or that I can still live as one of God’s children, but indulge in my sinful pleasures over in this part of my life.
No, there’s a real motivation to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, that is, the desires of the world, the things the world seeks after, because the grace of God has made known to us precisely what God thinks of our sin.
The grace of God teaches us to say “yes” to godliness
But as Paul goes on to say, the grace of God also teaches us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age
So it’s 2 sides of the same coin. We’ve had the negative, now we have the positive.
God’s grace teaches us that God hates sin, that we aren’t OK,
But also the grace of God teaches us that the power of sin is broken.
We are no longer powerless against it.
We couldn’t free ourselves from the entanglements of sin, but God has done it for us, meaning we’re now able to choose to be self-controlled, upright, and godly.
Some of the scholars like to point out that self-controlled, upright and godly kind of represent concentric circles working outwards.
Self-controlled is about my person;, my behaviour, my thoughts, my conduct,
Upright has to do with the way we relate to others, about honesty and integrity,
And godly, they say, is about relating to God.
So we have my own life,
My relationships with others,
and my relationship with God, all shaped by the grace of God, as I’m reminded constantly that I’m no longer a slave to sin,
There’s now no condemnation, because I’m in Christ Jesus, united to him.
And that certainly makes sense, and it’s true. I’m not sure that I’d go so far as to say that Paul is deliberately trying to capture that, but it’s not a bad reminder of just how far-reaching the grace of God is in our lives.
And notice the power of God’s grace, to produce in us, self-control, uprightness and godliness. It doesn’t do this for us in a vacuum, but as Paul notes, the power of God’s grace enables you to be self-controlled, upright and godly, in this present age.
This present age, which Paul calls elsewhere “this present evil age”, means this time in which we also live, this time when powers of evil are at work in the world, until they are overthrown at Christ’s return.
To speak of this present age is to say that the priorities of the world are not God’s priorities,
To speak of this present age, is to speak of a world allied against God.
And yet even in this present age, the grace of God made known in Christ is powerful enough to change us and shape our lives.
In a world where God’s priorities ae generally not honoured, the grace of God enables you to live for him,
In a world where self-promotion and advancement are seemingly rewarded, the grace of God enables you to seek God’s will and his kingdom,
In a world where God’s Word is shouted down and excluded, the grace of God will continue to teach you and shape your life.
And lest we think that grace of God only teaches us in a class room kind of instructional way, if you have an ESV Bible, look there and you’ll see the word is translated “training”, which is an equally valid alternative.
And the reason I point that out, is because, well, you might be able to tell that I’m not really someone who’s very experienced in training! At least not physical training!
But the thing I do know about training, Physical training,
Training to play an instrument,
Training in ministry skills,
The thing that all those kinds of training have in common is that you have to do it, over and over again.
You learn it, and you keep learning it.
You do it, and you do it again.
You get it wrong, and so you give it another go.
In that kind of training, no one ever expects to get it right first go!
And no one ever thinks, “Well, I got it wrong once, so obviously that means I’ll never be able to do it right.”
But sometimes that’s how we think about living godly lives, isn’t it?
We don’t exercise self-control, we fall into temptation to some sin, and we resign ourselves to the fact that we’ll never be free of it.
But the grace of God trains us, in how to live.
We speak harshly to a spouse, a child, a colleague, and we have this sense of complete and utter failure, “I’ve let God down,
I’ve failed in my witness, ”
But the grace of God trains us, in how to live.
Remind yourself again of the gospel of grace, that Jesus breaking into the world that first Christmas means you are no longer powerless against sin,
That you can choose to say yes to a godly life,
And thank God for the new opportunities he gives you to make those choices.
The grace of God teaches us to wait for Jesus’ return
Notice also, Paul doesn’t make a very big point about it, but the grace of God teaches us to wait for Christ’s return, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ
And this is worth pausing on for a moment, as we, like Christians all around the world, are currently observing advent.
Advent is the time between the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas. Numbers here I know are celebrating at home, we’ve been distributing Wendy Lin’s booklet of readings and activities especially for families,
But it’s important to remember that advent isn’t just about the lead up to Christmas, and that’s what Paul reminds us of here.
“Advent” is a Latin word that means coming, and it certainly refers to Christ’s coming at the first Christmas, but it’s just as much about Christ’s second coming. And so Christians use the time of Advent as an opportunity to prepare to celebrate Christmas, but perhaps even more importantly, to prepare for the second Advent, Christ’s return.
Apparently, Paul thinks it’s important how we wait for Christ’s return.
And so maybe this season of Advent, it’s a good opportunity for us to let the grace of God teach us how to wait,
To cultivate in us a patient expectation of the return of the Lord.
We live self-controlled lives because Jesus came to purify us (v 14).
And so finally we come to the part of the answer to our question, “Why Christmas?”, that is maybe surprising, or unfamiliar.
Jesus Christ, verse 14, gave himself for us,
to redeem us from all wickedness,
and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Why did Jesus come into the world?
Why did God think it necessary to break into the world that he made as a baby?
to redeem us from all wickedness,
and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
A lot of people think that Christianity is about rules, rules that you just follow unquestioningly.
There was an article in the news this week about learner drivers cheating on their log books.
The idea of the log book is that you have to get signed off on certain accomplishments to get your licence, and equally, you probably have to avoid certain other activities, like smashing into parked cars and causing accidents!
And lots of people think a relationship with God works like that.
There’s a list of “Do’s”, and a list of “Don’ts”, and as long as you do one and avoid the other, you don’t have to understand any rhyme or reason behind it, then God will welcome you in to his kingdom.
And lots of Christian teaching goes down this path.
Especially what gets taught to kids.
Let God’s light shine through you.”
They’re all absolutely great things that we want our kids to be doing,
But in lots of Christian teaching, these commands are totally separated from any reasoning or motivation.
But we know simply being given a list of rules to follow doesn’t actually change our hearts.
But here at the end of this long run-on sentence, that Mrs Eckermann would have disapproved of so strongly, we’re given, well, it’s a pretty good motivation for wanting to change our behaviour, or, allowing the grace of God to change our behaviour, isn’t it?
Jesus came into the world,
The Son of God was born as a human baby,
Jesus went to his death, gave himself for us, why?, in order to redeem us from all wickedness.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “redeem” like this: To gain or regain possession of (something) in exchange for payment, which is exactly the sense in which the Bible uses the word.
We saw it a few weeks ago when we were looking at the story of Ruth, and Boaz, her kinsman redeemer, who, redeemed Ruth, even at significant cost to himself.
So Jesus redeems us from wickedness, buys us back from wickedness, and his goal is to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Notice that it’s Jesus who does the purifying?
This isn’t a command to you;, “sort your life out!
Make yourself perfect!
Enjoy doing good. Or else!”
Think of the antique collector, who spies some valuable piece in a second-hand shop. It’s dirty, and worn, and not well cared-for, it doesn’t look like much, which is why it’s sat at the back of the shop for so many years, but the collector knows its value.
He buys, redeems it, gains possession of it in exchange for payment, and takes it home.
And once it’s home, he begins the pain-staking work of, cleaning it, purifying it,
Repairing the damage,
Removing the grime,
Undoing years of neglect,
Taking away all the impurities, and wiping off the blemishes,
Until it looks like it’s supposed to look, how he knows it can look.
Well Christmas tells us that on our own, we’re not.
We need to be redeemed,
We need someone to purchase us, and to purify us,
To make us long to do what is good.
“Good” is a word that comes up multiple times in Titus. If you want to know the “good” that Jesus was born and died for us to do, just read the rest of the letter this afternoon.
Friends, next time you see a Christmas card, with that little stable scene on it,
Or if you come to our house, and you see our Fisher Price Nativity set sitting under the Christmas tree, with little rosy faced Mary and Joseph, and rosy faced wise men,
Cute sheep, and gentle, innocent looking shepherds,
When you see the Baby Jesus, lying in the manger, remember, that he came into the world, to redeem you from all wickedness, and to purify you,
To make you eager to do what is good.
That’s not a theme that tends to come out in the Christmas cards, much is it? But Jesus came to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
When you know someone’s motivation for asking something, we’re much more motivated ourselves to do what they ask, aren’t we?
I know I am.
I see a sign, “Please keep off the grass”, and what’s the first thing you want to do? Walk on the grass!
I’m pleased to see that it’s not just me!
I see the sign and I think, “Why are you telling me to keep off the grass? If grass is not there to be walked, what’s the point of it?!”
But if the sign said, “Please keep off the grass, we’ve just re-seeded it and we’re trying to look after the new shoots”, Well, I realise the sign would be enormous, but I know your motivation now!
I don’t want to make your life difficult!
I don’t want to ruin your hard work,
I’m not going to walk on your grass!
Friends the Christian faith is not about following a list of commands, or do’s and don’ts that must be followed without ever really understanding why.
Here in Titus 2, we’re told the kind of life that God wants for us to live, and the earlier verses give, really quite some specifics.
But please notice that not only are we told why we ought to flee wickedness,
To be pure,
To do good;, it’s for those very reasons that Jesus came into the world,
But also, remember that we’re not left on our own to do these things.
(1 2 3)
God calls us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives,
He gives us a reason and motivation to want to live like this;, it’s for this reason that Jesus came,
And the grace of God teaches us, trains us, how to live like this.
Those learner drivers who were forging their log books, ticking off things they hadn’t actually accomplished, the article I read gave 2 reasons why;
They never thought they’d be able to accomplish what they had to.
And it would cost them too much, to do what had to be done.
Do you see how both of those are the opposite in our case?
It’s the grace of God himself who teaches us what we need to know, trains us to be who we need to be.
And the cost is great, horrifically great. But it’s already been paid.
The cost for you and me to be free from sin,
To be purified, and eager to do what is good, the cost was Jesus’ life.
Friends, that’s how much God longs for us to be his own purified people.
God isn’t standing far off, barking orders at us, demanding we accomplish certain tasks, or reach a particular standard.
Christmas teaches us that God has skin in the game.
I find that quite remarkable, and, a pretty good reason for celebrating Christmas, even if, there’s moments, when I don’t necessarily feel like celebrating.