But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, 5 he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)
We use it every day without thinking much of it. Some use it to generate power. Others use it for recreational purposes—although perhaps not much this time of year. Some use it for manufacturing. Farmers desperately need it, although they might tell you we got too much this year. You use it in your home for cooking, drinking, and yes, washing. Water is necessary for life, but get too much of it in the wrong place, and it can prove to be a destructive force. Water is a powerful substance.
In church, we are beginning the season of Epiphany. Epiphany means “appearing.” It’s the time we remember how Jesus made evident himself evident as God to the world. Yet his appearing also took place in your life. It happened in conjunction with water. Today we celebrate the baptism of our Lord. Just as God was at his baptism, he was at yours. GOD APPEARED in your life AT YOUR BAPTISM. All three persons of the Trinity were behind it.
Our text begins “when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared.” God’s kindness and love for mankind made an “epiphany,” or appeared in the world. His love for mankind, his philanthropy, gives generously. His kindness is not like human kindness. His philanthropy is better than charitable giving. There is a trend among some to perform “random acts of kindness” in our day—to pay for someone’s groceries at the store, to hold the door open for someone, to help an elderly neighbor cross the street. People feel good about such themselves for such kindness, but they provide only a drop of relief in an ocean of trouble.
In contrast, God’s kindness means being good at what he does. He designed people to be kind to one another, yet we don’t. God’s kindness is useful to his people. It shows itself in his philanthropy, his love for mankind. God looked at the wretched state of man and couldn’t help but take pity. He opened up the storehouses of his wealth to give us what we desperately need. God’s love for mankind and kindness had an epiphany in human history.
God also manifested his kindness and love in your life. He appeared in your personal history as “Savior.” He is our Savior who came down to earth because he is kind and loving to the wretched masses he created.
God is Savior, but not because of righteous things we have done. God did not come to you because of how good you are. People do often feel good about the kind things they do. The US gave more than $400 billion in charitable giving the other year. People are kind. People are philanthropists. That’s not bad. But why do people do that? If you’re doing your good works to appease God, you are looking in the wrong place. He didn’t save us because of how good we are. If you do good things because it makes you feel good about yourself, you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons, and this is not a work that pleases God. If you do it to make people like you, God appears to you not as Savior, but as judge. He is not pleased by our best works of righteousness or the greatest human kindness. We aren’t good enough to please God.
Water destroys. Many know from the water damage they received over the summer and fall. Floods kill. We need the water. Without it, we can’t survive; add too much, and you drown. Even the constant flow of a river can, over time, wear away at walls or split sheets of stone.
God’s anger at sin is more destructive than the worst flood, but he appeared to us, not as wrathful avenger, but as Savior. In his kindness and love for mankind, he planned your salvation. His salvation is on the basis of mercy. God does not treat sinful people the way we deserve. Although we don’t perform the function God designed us for, God still takes pity on us and comes to help us.
He came to you in water. It’s the washing of new birth and renewing by the Holy Spirit. GOD APPEARED AT YOUR BAPTISM. Yes, people brought you to the baptismal font. Maybe it was human parents or concerned Christians. But God the Father ensured it would happen. It was part of his plan. He was at your baptism, giving you his Holy Spirit. He “poured him out on us in full measure.” God was not stingy with his mercy. He didn’t hold back. He extended to you new life and renewal in the Holy Spirit.
That means destruction. This new life is a complete change from the old. This washing kills. Baptism kills a sinner, or rather a sinful nature. But God saw to it that this would not only be a threat to your old way of life, but the start of a new one. This is life with God. It is new life, a new heart, a new way of thinking. Life governed by the Holy Spirit. THE HOLY SPIRIT APPEARED AT YOUR BAPTISM, bringing you new life.
This new life means renewal. You are God’s new creation. God created mankind in his image, but we destroyed it—not with a flood of water, but with the flood of sin. God washed our sin away and gives us a new desire to obey his commands, not so that we can feel good about ourselves or appease an angry God or please people. Now we can do what God commands because God himself has given us his own love for mankind, his own kindness. We do what God wants because we love God, and that is what he created is to do. We are only performing the function he created us for.
But then why aren’t we doing a better job? Why don’t I feel God’s love all the time? And where is this love for my neighbor that I really need when they are rude or speak unkindly? God killed our sinful nature at baptism, but that sinful nature still rears its ugly head. This new life that we live is one in which we need constantly to go back to our own baptisms and viciously drown the sinful nature that lurks within us.
And we need to go back to Jesus’ own baptism. God the Father spoke at Jesus’ baptism: “You are my Son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.” The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove at his baptism. The Holy Trinity appeared at Jesus’ baptism, yet Jesus’ baptism was unlike ours. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. He wasn’t “re-created in the image of God,” nor did he lose that image; he is God in the flesh! He didn’t need new life from the Spirit; he was already walking in line with God. He didn’t need forgiveness for wrong attitudes; God was pleased with him. Jesus’ baptism was perfect because Jesus was perfect. But he was baptized with water and the Holy Spirit. He was anointed as the Christ, God’s chosen one. The one God chose to be the Savior. Jesus appeared in human history to save a fallen world because he was without sin. He gave his perfect baptism and his perfect life on the cross to pay for our own sinfulness. And he rose victorious from the dead, joining you to his life by baptism.
So GOD APPEARED AT YOUR BAPTISM, too. He may not have spoken with a voice from heaven, but with the voice of his Word. He put his name on you—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He declared you not guilty—justified you by his grace—that undeserved love that took action to save mankind. God who was pleased with Jesus is now pleased with you because of Jesus. God, who poured out his Spirit on Jesus, has now poured out his Spirit on you through Jesus. The TRINITY APPEARED AT YOUR BAPTISM, forgiving your sins. Baptism’s power, far from a destructive force, is a gracious water of cleansing and life that vindicates you from your sin and guilt. It brings you into God’s love.
Water can destroy, but it can also provide life. Plants and animals need water to live. Go too long without water, and you too will die. Without water, the world would not last long.
God’s kindness and love appeared to you at your baptism. It brings you life. It adopts you into his family, making you an “heir.” God has adopted you, not just as a family member, but as an heir of every one of his promises. Baptism is God’s own guarantee to you that you will not be excluded from his kindness and love. Baptism connects you to Jesus and gives you everything Jesus earned. We have the “confident expectation of eternal life.” Among the many things we will inherit, baptism guarantees your place in heaven because baptism connects us to Jesus.
Without water, you would die. Without watering your soul, you will also die. Keep yourself in these promises of God. Remember your baptism daily. GOD CAME TO YOU AT YOUR BAPTISM. He brought you his love. He made you an heir. He gave you new life. Guided by the Spirit, aim to do what God commands. Show God’s kindness and love for all mankind in your words, and actions. Water yourselves with the Word of God. Also provide this life-giving water in a world that is flooded with all kinds of false ideas about why we are here and what we are doing.
And take comfort. Water is used for many purposes. God used it to save you when he spoke his Word to you at your baptism. God appeared in human history as the Savior who loves us and lived for us. GOD APPEARED in your life AT YOUR BAPTISM. He promises to remain with you until he brings you to himself in heaven. Amen.
Surely God is with you always, to the very end of the age. Amen.
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Count your blessings. It’s a Thanksgiving tradition. Given the holiday’s history, it makes sense that people of our nation would count their blessings every year. That’s because Thanksgiving is a holiday about giving back to the God who gives us everything. As Paul reminds us, GOD MEETS ALL OUR NEEDS.
Paul was writing to the Philippians from prison. Hardly a place most people would thank God to be. Yet Paul continually expresses his joy in this letter. He finds joy in every situation. To put it in our terms, whether he spent Thanksgiving warm and well-fed or hungry and helpless, he knew how to find something to thank God for.
That might not be too different from the first Thanksgiving. The settlers had survived a long voyage to the New World and an even harsher winter. Between sickness and starvation, many of their number lost their lives. With help from the natives, the following year they stored up enough food to survive the coming winter. It wasn’t just the plenty that caused them to celebrate, but the lack they had experienced before.
What about you? Are you experiencing more than you need this Thanksgiving? Or are you just scraping by? What blessings will you count tomorrow? I expect most of us would include common blessings like family and friends, work and rest, would you give thanks for hardship? We might not thank the LORD so much with a burned turkey, a busted refrigerator, or a power outage. Can you, like Paul, thank God from prison for all his goodness to you?
But was Paul really thankful for prison, or was he thankful from prison? After all, what led Paul to give thanks in the text was a gift he received from the Philippians. That’s something we could all give thanks for, isn’t it? But Paul was also thankful for prison. Why? He had learned the secret to being content with whatever he had. He was enduring it all for Christ, who promised to meet all his needs.
On Thanksgiving we often count our blessings. We remember the God who gives far beyond what we have earned our deserved. He puts people in our lives. Many thank God for family and friends. But be honest: if you tried to count all your blessings, you wouldn’t be able to get past the blessings God has given you today. Did you wake up in a bed? With a pillow? And a roof over your head? Four walls to protect you from the cold? If you’re like me, an alarm clock woke you up. Another blessing. And the list goes on from there. God has given us tremendous blessings--far more than we deserve. We often fail to thank him for it. Instead, we complain about the things that go wrong.
The first Thanksgiving set a precedent for the ones that followed. The surviving settlers came together with the natives to enjoy the fruit of the earth. The harvest they had and the game they hunted, while not wealth like we have in the 21st century, were more than they needed. The settlers wanted to celebrate the goodness of the God who provides.
On Thanksgiving, we thank God for everything he has given us. We are all still here. He has met all our needs so far. God meets all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ. Jesus suffered want to supply our need. Jesus gave thanks to God in every situation, even death on a cross. He endured the cross for our sake. In Jesus, we see just how much God is willing to give to us. He gave us his Son. He gives us all good things with him. If we ever need anything else, we can be confident he will give it to us. He promises to. If it seems like he isn’t, pray! Because of Jesus, God looks on you in love! Demand that he does what he promised. God will not fail you.
Paul was joyful because of what God had given him and the Philippians. He was joyful, too, to see that the Philippians wanted to give to Paul. He gave thanks, not because they gave something so great, but because this fruit of their faith showed Christ’s love was active in them.
Thanksgiving is a day to return our thanks to God who gives us so much. Confident of his promise to provide for you, give back to the God who gives you everything. Make God’s love complete by living the love he has shown you. Use every gift God has given you--your work, your hobbies, your passions, your resources--to live a lifetime of thanksgiving. It’s only right, after all God has given us, to give all we have back to him. He is the one who gave it to us in the first place. Thanks to his love for us in Jesus, we will give thanks to him forever in heaven. But don’t just thank him there. Let your whole life give thanks to the God who supplies all our needs.
Some people count their blessings at Thanksgiving time. It’s a good tradition. But if you count all your blessings, you’d never finish. God has given us that much. He has blessed us, even when it doesn’t seem like blessing to us. He gives us many things to thank him for. Most of all, he has given us Jesus. May your lives bring thanks and glory to the God who supplies all our needs forever. Amen.