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.