By Paul Knudtson
Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
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.
Grace has Appeared
Titus is a letter written by the apostle Paul to an individual, a pastor by the name of Titus. This letter is usually grouped together with Paul’s two letters to Timothy—they are the only letters of Paul in the New Testament addressed to individuals. They are called “Pastoral Epistles,” because they are written to two pastors, Timothy and Titus.
Appearance or Epiphany/ Grace – Gift
Our reading from Titus 2 begins with the phrase, “For the grace of God appeared.”
This “appearance” is a way of referring to the birth and life of Jesus of Nazareth. The birth of Christ can be expressed in Paul’s words, “the grace of God appeared.” Just as a person’s love for someone is revealed through their deeds, so the love or grace of God toward us is shown through what God did in sending his Son to be born in Bethlehem all those years ago.
In another of the pastoral epistles, 1 Timothy, Paul summarizes how this grace was manifested in Jesus Christ:
“He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” (1 Tim 3:16)
Christmas is about what God has done to make his love for this world and for each of us tangible in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Titus 2 reads, “the grace of God appeared. . . .”
In parallel fashion Titus 3 says “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared . . . .” (v.4).
Both texts use the same verb, “appeared.” The word in Greek is the word from which we get “epiphany.” To experience the true meaning of Christmas is to have an epiphany, to gain insight into something wondrous and life changing—the grace of God.
The word “epiphany” refers to something that we would not have known if it had not been revealed to us.
The gospel readings in for Christmas in Luke and Matthew also highlight this idea of “appearance” or “manifestation.”
Luke 1:78-79- “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light (e0pifa~nai) to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Luke 2 describes how some Galilean shepherds see the glory of the Lord at the birth of Christ.
“Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” (v.9).
Accompanying the angelic appearance is this message about the grace of God: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
There is a connection between love and gifts. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).
At Christmas people show their love by giving gifts.
How deep an impression it made on me as a small boy to search for all the presents under our Christmas tree with my name on them printed so neatly by my mother—“To Paul”—and wrapped in such colorful, attractive paper.
I certainly received those gifts as a tangible sign and proof of my parents’ love for me.
God gives us his very best to us in the gift of his Son as a proof of his love toward us.
Love is made tangible through gifts.
The word “grace” in our Titus text—“the grace of God appeared”—highlights the gift quality of love. My Greek dictionary includes these definitions of the word “grace” (xa/rij in Greek):
“favor, grace, gracious care, goodwill . . . gracious deed or gift” (Bauer, p.877).
Titus says it this way: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all . . . .” (2:11)
Christmas is about believing in “the grace of God,” and that this grace is greater than anything in the whole world, that it undergirds and defines our reality, and that we therefore have a firm basis for fundamental joy.
This grace or love of God means that we can affirm what the medieval English mystic Julian of Norwich said: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
So God’s love is not simply a disembodied, invisible idea, but is a reality that became tangible, or visible when he sent his Son into our world. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The “grace of God appeared”, that is, it became visible, something that could be witnessed in a certain place (Bethlehem), in a certain time (“In the days of King Herod of Judea” and of “emperor Augustus”), and to certain people (people like Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Zechariah).
Our childhood delight in receiving gifts bears witness to a more profound gift that we will never tire of as children quickly do of their toys.
This is because God’s gift to us with the coming of Christ is nothing less than God’s gift of himself to us. As Matthew’s gospel tells us, Jesus is “Immanuel, God with us.”
To know the grace of God in Christ is to know salvation.
Titus 2:11 – “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all”
To know God, to know Jesus, is to know one who is Savior. In fact, the name Jesus (Greek; Joshua in Hebrew) means “savior” or “salvation.” There terms are prominent in the pastoral epistles.
Salvation in the Bible includes deliverance from all sin, sickness, death, and evil.
In Matthew we read how Joseph is instructed by an angel to name his child, “Jesus.” “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins,” the angel tells him. (Matt 1:21)
To be saved from sins means to be delivered both from the practice of sin and from its consequences.
Our scriptures from Titus emphasize salvation from the practice of sin, together with the hope of the life to come.
Salvation in Titus, then, means freedom from one’s old life, which is the way of death, so that one can live a new life characterized by good deeds and by the hope of eternal life.
This salvation contrast between the old and the new is illustrated in both Titus 2 and Titus 3.Titus 2:
“He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” The “from” and the “for” speak of the division of the old and the new.
The old life is portrayed in Titus 3:3 – “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.”
The next verse introduces the contrast between our old life and our new life. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us . . . through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:4-5)
“Rebirth” and “renewal.” These words describe how the new replaces the old when one experiences the “grace of God” in Christ.
In Christ a new, spring breeze begins to blow in our lives and transforms us. “Spirit” in Greek can even be translated as “breeze.” “rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
It is unbelievable to witness each year how spring transforms a landscape and brings new life to the earth. The crocuses bloom, the snow melts, green grass sprouts from the earth, Robins return and sing from the treetops, fresh, green leaves appear on the branches of the trees, and flowers bloom in our gardens and bees buzz about.
So God’s breeze, the Holy Spirit, like a zepher, a warm, gentle breeze, causes a “rebirth” and “renewal” within us. What seemed dead, springs to life.
Christmas, the coming of Christ, means that our lives need not be like a perpetual winter. In Christ there is springtime of rebirth and renewal.
The new springtime of God’s salvation produces fruit in people, fruit that Titus describes with the phrase, “good works.”
And while God does not save us “because of our good works” he clearly saves us “for good works.”
Titus 2:14 speaks how God saves us from our old lives such that we become people who are “zealous for good works.” (2:14)
The Greek words for “good works” here–“kalon ergon”—can also be translated as “beautiful works.” When people behold the beauty of God (the grace, goodness, and lovingkindness of God) they in turn become beautiful people, performing beautiful deeds.
The English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge once travelled to Calcutta in India to meet Mother Teresa and to witness her work among the poorest of the poor. He wrote a book about this entitled, “Something Beautiful for God.” Mother Teresa and her sisters of charity are known by their “good deeds,” their “beautiful works.” In Greek, their kala\ e2rga. Today there are about 4,500 such Missionaries of Charity.
I wonder what sorts for “beautiful deeds” God wishes to work in each of us. Christmas means that we are saved so that we may do “something beautiful for God.”
Titus speaks of two epiphanies (or appearances) in our passage. The first epiphany is that having to do with the birth of Jesus the Messiah. This coming is indicated in the phrases, “The grace of God appeared. . . . “ and “the goodness and loving-kindness of God appeared.”
The second epiphany or appearance has to do with our hope of Christ’s return and of the life to come.
Titus 2 describes the second (future) epiphany this way: “while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation (“epiphany” – e0pifaneia) of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (2:13)
Titus 3 describes the second (future) epiphany this way: “having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (3:7)
The time between these two epiphanies—between the epiphany of Christ’s birth and the epiphany of his second coming—is described in Titus as “the present age.” “The grace of God appeared . . . training us . . . in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly . . .” (Titus 2:12-13).
This is our time to live out the drama of our faith as we put away our old life and become “zealous for good deeds” as we await “the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13).
The words “blessed hope” can be translated “happy hope.”
If there is grace (xa/rij)—“the grace of God has appeared”—then there is also hope (e2lpij), “a blessed or happy hope.”
Hope means having something good to look forward to.
For our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Elaine and I booked our very first vacation to Europe: 17 days in England and France. We booked our tickets and hotel reservations at Co-op Travel. We had a folder that included all our tickets and reservations.
And then after that, all we could do was to wait with anticipation for the day when our trip was to begin. Like the verse in Titus, we “waited for our happy hope.” We counted the days.
We couldn’t wait. We spent our time dreaming about and reading about and talking about our European vacation. Our only fear was that something would prevent us from getting on that airplane. But we did get on the airplane and go on our vacation. It was so worth the wait! It was so good—like a second honeymoon!
I remember one moment as we climbed the stone steps of a medieval monastery on the coast of France, and as I looked at the green moss on the outside walls of that monastery and then looked out over the English channel, I felt that I was in another world, and had to almost pinch myself so that I would know that it was real. It felt almost too good to be true.Our expectations for our trip did not disappoint—and so it will surely be with “the blessed hope and the manifestation of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
- Without Christmas, without the coming of Christ, there is no gift with our name on it promising unending joy.
- Without Christmas, there is no springtime for us, only winter. Without the coming of Christ, our lives and our world are like Narnia without the coming of Aslan the lion in C. S. Lewis’s book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Without his coming, it is always winter in Narnia.
- Without Christmas, there is insufficient motivation for people to do truly good works that create hope in an often bleak world.
- Without Christmas, we have nothing ultimately to look forward to, only death, darkness, and despair.
Christmas is about a wondrous gift for us to receive and open and enjoy, a gift with our name on it, a gift of God and his love for us. This gift brings us salvation, which produces a new springtime in our lives that brings an end to winter. Part of this new life includes good or beautiful works that God inspires us to do. And ultimately this gift brings us hope for the future.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all.” (Titus 2:11)
“But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us . . . though the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:4-5)