“I’ve Been Down That Road Before.”

God’s Grace Has Appeared to Us, In Jesus Christ

“I’ve been down that road before.” said Hank Williams Sr., under the alias of Luke the Drifter. And so we have all been down that road before. What road is it that I’m talking about? It’s the road of foolishness. It’s the road of disobedience. It’s the road of letting ourselves be deceived by various lusts and pleasures It’s the road of living in malice and envy, and hating one another. But, what happened? The kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, in a little toddler on his mother’s knee, to whom the nations gathered to present gifts: of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were gifts fit for a King: gold, a priest: frankincense, that spice used in the incense of the temple, and myrrh, foreshadowing his sacrificial death that that boy would one day die for the sins of the world. For that boy was no ordinary boy, but the Lord of Glory himself, him who is from the beginning, who was eternally pre-existent with the Father. And how did he make this grace that appeared in Christ the Savior active in our lives? He applied it to us, by the Holy Spirit, who, renewing our will, made us able and willing to embrace Christ the savior by faith, as he was presented to us, in the gospel, that we have heard. Thus, God’s grace was poured out generously upon us, in our hearts and in our lives. We became the righteous ones in God’s sight. Not by works which we had done, but by the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. That same Holy Spirit who made us new, worked in our lives, making us heirs of the promise, true children of our heavenly Father, and is even now making us fit to receive that inheritance by his work in our lives, making us more like our heavenly Father, remolding us in his likeness. So then, knowing what road we’ve been down, and what we’ve been saved from, how ought we to act in the midst of this fallen world towards those who are what we once were, who are like us, except that they have not received the same grace that we have, prior to this point. It is this application that the apostle Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, takes as an opportunity to expound upon the grace of God that appeared to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Titus 3:1 KJV Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,
2 To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.
3 For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.
4 But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared,
5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.

The kindness and love of God appeared to us in the person of Christ our Savior.  The word translated “appeared” here is the Greek, epephane, which is where the word, “Epiphany”, comes from, a traditional feast on January 6th celebrating the appearance of Christ as the Son of God and Savior. While in the East the traditional topic of preaching has been on the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan, in the West it is the wise men bringing gifts to the boy Jesus. We can think of a connection between these two passages of Scripture, in that both reveal Christ to be the Savior of the World, the one who is both God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King, who came to redeem Israel, and the nations.

In Christ, the kindness of the Father has appeared to us. Because of Jesus Christ, it is explained to us. It is set forth. When the Lord Jesus came into this world, and began his ministry in Judea, what was the first thing he began to do? He began to preach. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15 He let us know that the Father loved us, and had sent his only begotten son to save us, not from bondage in Egypt or captivity in Babylon, but from slavery to our own sin, and subjection to death and the devil. If the Lord Jesus had not proclaimed this good news. That was news bout himself, about what he came to do. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”, Jesus said (Luke 4:24). In him the love of our heavenly Father was made known. It appeared. It epephane.

It appeared not only to his disciples, but to the whole world, when he died on the cross. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” John 12:32 In him the kind of loving intention of the Father toward us was made known, in that he did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us, to make u s his sons and daughters. The Lord Jesus appeared to be who he said he was, at his resurrection, and when this message was preached to the whole world, like by Paul in Athens, that Christ is risen from the dead. In this way the kindness and love of God to all men appeared, in that Christ Jesus is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe. And whoever calls upon his name will be saved.

Through Christ, the Holy Spirit has regenerated us.  He has effected a change in our orientation, that manifests itself in our lives. This work of regeneration is the new birth. It is a new beginning, at true change. It translates into faith where there was once skepticism or apathy, and holiness, “set-apart” -ness for God, where there was once only rebellion and indulgence in the sinful flesh. And, although the change is gradual, and holiness is not perfect in an instant, nor, truthfully, at any time in this life for any Christian this side of glory, yet it is a real change, that begins at the moment that the dead sinner is born again of the grace of God, by the powerful act of the Holy Spirit upon the soul, by a miracle of love. It is a washing that makes the dirty clean, and sprinkles the conscience from adherence to dead works of sin or hypocrisy, to serve the living God.  This washing is the reason why the Lord saw fit to give us the sacrament that symbolizes it that uses water, that is, baptism.  Because this regeneration which is signified in baptism is a washing and a cleansing, just like you use water to wash your face.

This work is through Christ, in his redemption accomplished for us, and applied to us. Just as law enforcement officers carry out a court order that the judge makes, so the Holy Spirit applies to the dead sinner the redemption bought for him by Christ on the cross, in the effectual call that produces a new birth in the sinner. This work is in and through Christ from start to finish, so it is all of those for whom Christ gave his precious life, and those only, who receive this grace of regeneration that is explained in this passage. It is not as some have imagined, that there is a disconnect between the father’s electing love from before the foundation of the world, by which he chose some to be saved, and passed by the rest, and the love of God manifest in Christ on the cross. Both are in agreement, in respect to their object, that is, we who are chosen by God. And such that the Father planned, and the Son accomplished, the Spirit applies. So our faith is genuinely a trinitarian faith. Each person of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, works in concert, co-laboring in the blessed divine work of the redemption of sinners.

We have been justified by grace, and made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  This faith is a gift of God to us. “This [faith] is not of ourselves. It is the gift of God,” says the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:8. It is by faith that we receive Christ as our Savior. And based on this union that we have with him, the Father has declared us righteous in him. Just as Israel, according to the language of Scripture, was declared to be the “Son” of God in power (Exodus 2:22), in the day that God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and drown all of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, just as Christ was declared to be the Son of God in power to all the universe, on the day that he rose again from the dead, having left his grave clothes lying there in the stone cold sepulcher, so God has declared us righteous in Christ. Though we are sinners, yet when God sees us, he does not see our sins. No, he sees the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with which he kept the law his entire life, before laying down his life for our sins. He is the One who is called, “the LORD our righteousness.” Jeremiah 23:6 This righteousness of his becomes ours, by means of faith, that is our believing in him, which God has enabled us to do. And this state of being declared righteous the Scriptures refer to as the act of “justification.” It is something that all true believers in Christ have already experienced. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” declares the Holy Spirit in Romans 5:1.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.

Becoming an heir is not something that one earns. It is bequeathed by a will and testament. If you are blessed enough to inherit property or some other right, you didn’t do any work for it. You get it regardless of your personal character or worthiness. So it is with the hope of eternal life, that we have received through Jesus Christ, who died for us, the Testator of the eternal Testament and covenant that he made with us and for us. This gives us a blessed and indefatigable hope, that we who were his enemies have been made heirs of God, and will receive this blessing one day, and be happy with him forever.

However, just as an heir received something he didn’t earn, he may require some preparation to get ready to receive it. He’s got to get his thoughts and plans in order, and maybe even learn a thing or two about property management, personal finance, real estate, business, even agriculture, how to manage a rental property, or simply individual responsibility, so that he can make good use of the property that he is going to inherit. So it is with the heirs of eternal life. It would not do for someone who is to be made an heir of eternal life, who will enjoy God for eternity, to find his pleasure here on earth in the filthy pursuits of this world. If your heart is in the sins of the flesh, and of the eyes, what makes you think that you will enjoy God forever in heaven? Those whom God has justified by grace alone in Christ, he makes ready to receive the kingdom. He does this by progressively altering their desires and pleasures, so that they take delight in him and not in greed, malice, hatred, envy, lust, or those other things with which the world sullies itself, like a pig in the mud who just can’t get dirty enough.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.  

Therefore, let us be submissive to the authorities that God has established over us in this world.  It is simply a part of being winsome. Some champions of various causes in the modern world have not learned this lesson, becoming activists to the extreme. This is not a way to win people over to your message. We who have the most gracious message of all, that is reconciliation with the Creator, offered to all people without distinction, through Christ whom he has given to be the Savior of the World, ought to be the most submissive of all to the authorities that God has established in this world: to local governments, and the laws of the land, and law enforcement, and tax officials. For we have a hope that the world does not know. How could we let the petty concerns of this world, because the justice of this world is far less than perfect, to override our concern of the souls of dead sinners, so that we will waste our time fighting the powers that be in this world? Let us practice living peaceful lives, respecting all authorities, knowing that God is working everything for his good pleasure.

Therefore, let us be kind and gracious to all men. If we know the grace of God in Christ to us, which passes understanding, how can we not be gracious to others? It’s logical, but how quickly to we begin acting like somehow we deserve God’s grace? If the Scriptures teach us anything, it’s that we in no way deserve to be God’s chosen people. We didn’t earn it, and so how can we look down upon others who have no received the same grace as we have, when we were once just like they are, and when it is only God’s intervening grace that has made the difference in our lives? Let us not be haughty, walking around with our noses in the air, as if somehow our status of as heirs of eternal life is something that we have earned. For we did not. Even the faith that we have in Christ is a gift of God. So let us be loving and gracious to all people, not matter how annoying and unreasonable they might be. Because we were once exactly the same. Let us show love to them in the way that we act around them, and speak to them, and pray that God would give them the same gift of faith that he has given you. Otherwise, you’re acting as if you’ve never experienced God’s grace in Christ at all. Let us be loving and kind to all people.

The grace of God has appeared to us in our Savior Jesus Christ, through whom the Holy Spirit has regenerated us, so that we have been justified and made heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.  Amen.

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Astrologers from the East Bring Him Gifts

Their camels worn and beat, a small cohort of astrology-experts from Persia following a shining light that sparkled, hovering in the clear night sky over the province of Judea finally reached their destination, an a common house.  Gaining entry to the house, they brought gifts fit for a king, of gold that sparkled in the light of the oil lamp, of aromatic frankincense, and spicy myrrh.  A mother watched in wonder as these three men of the East presented their gifts to the toddler on her knee, bowing in admiration.  In this even, the young Hebrew boy, just barely weened from his mother’s milk, Yeshua of Nazareth, was manifested to his mother and stepfather to be the One who would save not only Israel, but the nations beyond, from captivity, not in distant Babylon as their ancestors experienced, but from the even greater bondage to death, sin, and the devil that has enveloped the entire world ever since the fall of Adam in the garden.  He was given gold for a king, frankincense for a priestly anointing, and myrrh to signify the death that he would die for the sin of the world.  This was no ordinary toddler, but the Son of God who is from before the beginning.  He appeared to the nations on that day as their King and Savior, represented by those wise men from the east.  This same Lord Yeshua has appeared to us, saving us from our former state of sin and subjection to death itself.  Come and join us this Lord’s Day, January 4th, at the Reformed Fellowship of Bellevue, as we hear God speak to us from the third chapter of Titus about Christ’s appearance to us that has brought us peace and forgiveness, and given us a hope of eternal life, as we who are saved have all experienced.