One of the terms used to describe the coming of Jesus into the world at the first Christmas was the term “appearing”. St Paul used it in Titus 3 to give the significance of that appearance for humankind. He wrote, Tit 3:4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. It’s interesting to see the significance of the word “but” in this context.
Earlier in chapter 3 Paul had been warning his readers about the dangers of lawlessness and encouraging them to be submissive to authority, Tit 3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. It’s not that he took a “holier than thou” attitude in his writing. Instead he admits that he and all other humans were guilty of wrong attitudes and behaviour, 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. (Sounds like our 20-21st century failures to live as we should).
But Jesus’ “appearance” brought a change
The word “but” here in Titus 3:4 is highly significant. It introduces a contrast. The contrast between two entirely different ways of living. What caused the difference? Paul tells us. God did something. There was an appearance. The appearance of His Son at that first Christmas. An entry into the world that would change individuals in the world. Changed individuals would help to change the world. Paul describes this entry into the world as an “appearing”, Tit 3:4 “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared.” The word Paul used was the verb (επιφαίνω) epiphaínō. It has the meanings to shine, to come forth, to become manifest. At that first Christmas, God’s goodness and love were revealed to the world in human form in His Son.
It was a change that could affect humans
Those inner qualities of goodness and loving kindness mentioned in verse 4 had always characterised God. But they were manifest, they appeared in the coming of Jesus. It’s interesting to note also that though these qualities of “goodness” (χρηστότης = chrēstótēs) and loving kindness (φιλανθρωπία = philanthrōpía) were existent in God, they could also characterise the lives of those who would become His followers. That would happen through the ministry of His Holy Spirit within them. (See for example, “kindness” is used of God in Rom 2:4, 11:22, Eph 2:7 and used of humans in 2 Cor 6:6, Gal 5:22 as part of the fruit of the Spirit and in Col 3:12). As Peter reminds us in 2 Pet 1:4 believers are “partakers of the divine nature”. God’s Holy Spirit imparts His characteristics to the people of God. If they remain open to His grace, love and power!
How could that change in humans take place? Through being “saved”
It was through the salvation Jesus came to bring as the Saviour of the world. As Paul wrote in our passage in Titus 3, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (6) whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Here is the gospel message in a nutshell. It contains these elements. a. The author of salvation is God Himself. It was His initiative. b. His motivation for saving us was His merciful nature. It had nothing to do with our works. We could never deserve or earn His acceptance. c. He saved us by working in us to cleanse us of our sins as we were born again (regeneration) and experienced an inner transformation (as His Spirit renewed us). In His love He poured out His Spirit upon us “richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.”
At that first Christmas God put in place the final stage of His plan for the salvation of the world. He sent His Son to live as a human so that He might eventually die as a human, for humans. Not only that but He could renew humans as they later responded to the gospel message by giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit. He could also enable them to love with His love. As Paul wrote in Romans 5:5, … God’s love (agape) has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. He enables us to more readily fulfil the two great commands He gave us. Mar 12:30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” We can love people with God’s agape love because His Spirit indwells us as His people and releases His love through us.
Jesus is to “appear” again. At His Second Coming
There are two references to “appearing” in the same passage in Titus. The first (a verb) refers to His coming at that first Christmas. The second is the noun two verses later which refers to His second coming, Tit 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared (the verb επιφαίνω = epiphaínō) bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing (the noun επιφάνεια = epipháneia) of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
At His first Coming at that first Christmas Jesus appeared in weakness as a human babe. When He appears next time He will appear in power, might and glory. That is the sure Christian hope. Paul urges His readers to prepare for that coming by renouncing everything in their lives that was not pleasing to God. He reminds them that the Jesus who is to appear at His second coming was the One who had previously come into the world and who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:14
As we celebrate another Christmas our minds naturally return to the Christ-child. We praise God that He, as the eternal Son Of God, Creator of the world, came so humbly to live in His creation and eventually die for us. But our minds and hearts also need to focus on Him who is the Kings of Kings, the Lord of glory. And we need to prepare for His appearing by asking Him to fill us with His Holy Spirit so that we might be motivated and empowered to live for Him for every remaining moment of our lives. For His sake. For our sakes. For the sake of the world which so urgently needs His transforming love and power.
Blog No.134. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Monday 9th December 2013