The First Sunday after Epiphany
The Baptism of Our Lord
January 13, 2019
The Philanthropy of Our Savior God!
But 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. 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, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As you and I watch the evening news or read the news on the Internet it is very easy for us to see that there are many horrible negative things taking place both in our society as well as in our world. Reports about things such as young children getting shot, police officers getting ambushed, young girls getting kidnapped and elderly women being assaulted are certainly not in short supply. If that were all we heard, my friends, if that were all we read about we might think that there is nothing good happening in this world, nothing positive taking place. Thankfully, that is not true. Thankfully, there are also any number of people and any number of organizations which are doing any number of very good and very positive things to help others and not hurt others. It is called: philanthropy.
In preparation for this sermon I did a little Google research on foundations that are heavily involved in philanthropy. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (which I read is the world’s largest philanthropy) donates billions of dollars to help many organizations all across the world. According to their website, “The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people— especially those with the fewest resources— have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.” A little closer to home Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have set up the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative which again gives billions of dollars to help other people. This foundation has the goal of “helping to eradicate disease, improve education and reform the criminal justice system.” Even closer to home there is the Community Foundation Sonoma County. On their website they say, “We are the hub of philanthropy for the county, connecting people, ideas and resources to benefit all who live here. We work with philanthropists to create plans that will make an impact in our community and become part of their family’s legacy.” And so yes, my friends, even with all the negative things we see and hear about on the news we are to be extremely grateful for the philanthropists in this world!
I couldn’t help but think of the kindness and generosity of individuals and foundations such as this as I was studying our sermon text for today. The reason for that is because the English word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek word “philanthropia” which when used in Scripture refers to “God’s love of mankind.” Now consider the fact that the opening words of our text for today very literally read, “But when the mercy and philanthropy of our Savior God appeared…” and you will understand our sermon theme for this morning. Today, my friends, as we look at The Philanthropy of Our Savior God let’s first of all look at the why, the cause of God’s philanthropy. Then let’s look at the how, the means by which our Savior God’s love for mankind— that is, His love for you and for me— becomes our personal possession.
Look at the opening sentence of our text. Paul writes, “But when the kindness/mercy and love philanthropia of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” What do you think Paul is referring to when he says, “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared…”? These words automatically make me think of Christmas! The birth of the long-awaited Promised Messiah, the “appearance” of this world’s only Savior from sin is the epitome of God’s “philanthropy”! And what does Paul say is the goal, the reason, the purpose of the appearance of our Savior God’s “kindness and love”? Paul summarizes the purpose of God’s philanthropy quite succinctly when he writes, “He (God) saved us.” The Greek word that is translated here as “saved” could just as legitimately be translated as “rescued” or “delivered.” Think about that truth: God saved us! God rescued us! God delivered us! From what? From what did God save you? From what did God deliver you? From what did God rescue you? Our Savior God rescued us from our three most deadly and most powerful enemies— sin, death and the power of the devil. While we could easily talk about all the different facets of this glorious truth, today let’s focus in on the cause of God’s philanthropy, that is, why God saved us.
Why did God rescue us? Was it because we are such “good” people? Was it because we have such great “potential”? Not in the least! Paul very clearly emphasizes here in our text that God saved us “not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” “Mercy,” “compassion,” philanthropia”— that is why God saved us, my friends. You and I confess this truth on a regular basis when we stand up here in this church and publicly confess before everyone— including God: “I am by nature sinful and I have disobeyed God in my thoughts, words and actions. I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good. For this I deserve God’s punishment both now and in eternity.” We couldn’t even begin to do enough “righteous things” to earn or deserve our salvation. Our salvation is 100% due to the “mercy” and the “compassion” of our God. If it were not for the “philanthropy” of our Savior God we would be lost forever— condemned to an eternity of suffering in the fires of hell.
Once we have a proper Scriptural understanding of the cause of God’s philanthropy, why God saved us then we are able to turn to the means of our salvation, how God’s love for us becomes our own personal possession. Look at what Paul writes in our text, “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, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
Through the cross of Jesus Christ (Pointing to the cross) we have been “justified.” Through the cross of Jesus Christ we have been declared “Not Guilty!” by the God of heaven— not because of anything we have done or could do, but only because of everything that Jesus has done for us! The glorious truth, the “Good News” proclaimed by the cross of Jesus Christ is an objective reality that nothing will ever be able to alter or change. No matter what anyone says this cross (Pointing to the cross) is God’s personal guarantee that all the sins of the entire human race— and that includes all of your sins, my friends— all the sins of the entire human race are paid for in full! The means by which that glorious unchangeable objective truth becomes your personal prized possession is by faith— the gift of faith which God Himself created and now strengthens in your heart through His holy Word and His holy Sacraments. Since our text for today focuses our attention on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism that is where we will concentrate this morning.
Paul describes the Sacrament of Holy Baptism for us by using two very beautiful and very simple pictures. Paul first of all describes baptism as the “washing of rebirth.” Anyone who has seen a child being born into this world knows how much that child needs to be “washed” or “cleansed.” On a far more serious level the Scriptures reveal that we are all born “stained” by sin. In God’s sight we are born spiritually “filthy” (see Isaiah 64:6). Through the power of the Holy Spirit the water of baptism “washes” away our sin and “cleanses” us in the eyes of our holy, just and perfect God! Paul used this very same picture in his letter to the Ephesians. He writes, “…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:26-27).
This glorious “cleansing” is why we want to have our children baptized as soon as possible after they are born. Through the irreplaceable Sacrament of Baptism we have God’s own guarantee that even the youngest child is “born again”— this time “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” before God Himself!
The second way in which Paul pictures Baptism is found in the words: “renewal by the Holy Spirit.” This is again a frequent and favorite picture that Paul uses to comfort and to strengthen those who have been baptized in the name of the Triune God. In Romans chapter six Paul writes, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3-4). In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Through the Sacrament of Baptism we have been “renewed” my friends! Through the power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts we are a “new creation” in God’s eyes. Through the power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts we are now able to live a “new life”— a life that is holy, pleasing and acceptable to our Savior God! When we understand the power of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, when we understand what God does for everyone who is baptized with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost not only will we want to make sure that our children are baptized, but we will also want to remember our own baptism and what it means for our daily life!
I am not sure what our world would be like without the philanthropy of individuals such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan or organizations such as the Community Foundation Sonoma County. I am sure that the lives of countless people would be a little less bright and a lot more difficult. At the same time, I am absolutely sure what our world would be like without the philanthropy of our Savior God. So praise God, my friends! Praise God that His “resources” far surpass the “needs” of this world! Praise God that we have been given the simple yet irreplaceable Sacrament of Baptism so that whether we are looking in the mirror or whether we are looking at the face of our child or our grandchild we always have the comfort contained here in our text, “But when the kindness/mercy and love/philanthropy of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, (Why?) not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us (How?) through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
With the light of that glorious truth shining on us we always have a reason to lift up our eyes to heaven and say:
To God be the glory!