Summary: Through baptism we receive the fortune of forgiveness that Jesus left us. We also receive the Holy Spirit so that we are empowered to live a new life.
Pop star Prince has died at age 57. It’s now been reported that Prince had no last will and testament. He was apparently paranoid of signing any kind of legal document lest he somehow be swindled out of his fortune. Of course now everyone is wondering who will get his millions. His six siblings? His lawyers? The government? We’ll be hearing about this in the coming months as there will no doubt be a fight over the fortune.
About two thousand years ago another prince left a fortune behind when he died—though no one seemed to realize it at first. It wasn’t until the Prince of Peace came back to life that people came to appreciate the fortune he had left them—a fortune worth more than all the money in the world. As we continue our sermon series on baptism, we’ll learn how through that sacrament God gives us this fortune—the promise of a heavenly inheritance and therefore a better bequest. Listen to our text from Titus 3:3-7. “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. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
I think everyone would be shocked if they find a will for the pop star Prince and discover that he left everything to the music producer who reportedly ripped him off early in his career. People usually don’t leave their fortunes to their enemies. Why, we often hear stories of children being written out of their parents’ will for the slightest of reasons. That’s what should make Paul’s opening words in our text astounding because he doesn’t describe the kind of people who seem deserving of inheriting a fortune. Look again at what Paul wrote: “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” (Titus 3:3).
Paul wasn’t describing a bunch of criminals serving a life sentence. He was writing to Titus, a fellow servant of God who was in charge of organizing the congregations on the island of Crete. Paul said to this Titus, “…we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions…” Paul’s foolishness had been quite obvious, for at one time he actively tried to destroy the religion that he was now working to promote. When Paul thought about his past he must felt like the player in Game 7 of the playoffs who knocks the puck into his own goal in overtime. Of course what Paul did was even worse. He went around having Christians arrested and approved of their executions. This was a man with innocent blood on his hands!
Although I doubt any of you have engaged in the level of violence that Paul once had, perhaps some of you can remember a time when you ridiculed those who went to church. You thought their rejection of evolution proved how simpleminded they were. You thought they were delusional for confessing that no matter what happened in life, they were certain that their God would care for them. On the other hand many of you can never remember a time when you didn’t believe in the God of the Bible. But even we lifelong believers have struggled and still struggle with sins like malice and envy. We’re quick to judge the motives of others, quick to draw conclusions that because they drive a certain kind of car or take certain kind of vacations that they must have a problem with materialism. But what that attitude actually reveals is that we have a problem with the sin of envy! Otherwise we would simply be happy for those who can afford things that we might not be able to afford.
The picture that Paul describes is not a pretty one. And yet it was for sinners like that, sinners like us that God went to work. Paul said, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4a). God’s kindness and mercy blazed forth in the person of Jesus, but it was evident long before then. You could see it in how God didn’t destroy Adam and Eve after the fall into sin. Instead he promised to send them a savior. God’s mercy and love was evident in the life of the Israelites. There were so many times God should have just given up on those stubborn people, but he didn’t. And God’s kindness and mercy is evident in our lives as well. Look at how God continues to provide for us even though we are often thankless when it comes to those gifts and instead think that God owes us much more than he is already giving to us.