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June 25, 2017

Sermon Titus 1:1-4 . . . “People to meet in heaven:  Titus”

“People to meet in heaven:  Titus”

Titus 1:1-4

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

It was 1967, and Stu Webber was in the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia.  Our nation was at war, and young men had to learn how to survive the heat and humidity of Vietnam.

Webber, now an author and pastor, wrote of the day his drill sergeant, with a raspy voice, barked out his first speech.  

“We’re here to save your lives,” he said to the troops standing before him.  “First, we’re going to see to it that you overcome all your fears.  And second, we’re going to show you just how much stress the human mind and body can endure.  And when we’re finished with you, you will be the U.S. Army’s best!  America’s best!  You will be confident.  You will survive, even in combat.  And you will accomplish your mission!”

And before he dismissed them, he gave them their first assignment.  

But what would it be?  Would they run ten miles in full battle gear or rappel down a sheer cliff?  What would be their sergeant’s first order?

Then he growled:  “Find yourself a Ranger buddy.  You will stick together.  You will never leave each other.  You will encourage each other and, as necessary, you will carry each other.”

In the words of Stu Webber, “It was the army’s way of saying difficult assignments require a friend.”

The apostle Paul needed friends.  And he had friends.  Think of his fellow tentmakers, Priscilla and Aquila, or fellow evangelists, Barnabas and Timothy, Christian sisters Tryphaena and Tryphosa, or even a man named Rufus, “chosen in the Lord.”  He couldn’t have done what he did without them.  

So it was for a man, a pastor, named Titus, a man we want to meet in heaven.

If you would, please turn in your Bible to page 1271 as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start at chapter 1, verse 1:  “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in His Word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; to Titus, my true child in a common faith:  grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”

The story begins when Paul was on his very first missionary journey, and a young man named Titus heard him preach about Jesus.  And, as the Bible says, he was Greek.

And that’s important.  You see, if Titus had been Jewish, he would have grown up knowing that, someday, the Messiah would come to fulfill all that God had spoken and to set God’s people free.

But since he was Greek, he didn’t know anything about Jesus.  He knew about the gods--Zeus and Apollo, Artemis and Demeter, Athena and Aphrodite.  But he didn’t know anything about Jesus.

But when he heard Paul speak, something stirred inside of him, some deep longing that only God could fill.  And he believed.

So he went with Paul first to Jerusalem, then to Ephesus and Corinth.  Finally, Paul sent him to serve as pastor of the people of Crete.

And through that time, Titus must have been a very dear, trusted friend, for Paul spoke of him throughout his epistles some eleven different times.  And as you see before you, he even wrote a letter that bears his name, the letter of Paul to Titus.

So what do we know about him?  

Let me mention just two things—first, we know he delivered a letter to the Corinthians, a letter that carried words like these:  “We do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”  And he wrote:  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”  

But he didn’t just deliver the letter to the Corinthians.  He also encouraged them in their walk with the Lord.

You see, the church in Corinth was notorious.  If anything could go wrong in a church, it did go wrong.  That’s why Paul also wrote:  “Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

And since Titus was such a trusted worker and beloved friend, Paul asked him to pastor the people of Crete.

But apparently it was one of the hardest things anyone could ever do!  Look at chapter 1, verse 10:  “For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.  They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.  One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’  This testimony is true.  Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”

But also in this letter, we find wonderful words of grace.  Turn a page to chapter 3, verse 4:  “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 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, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

All this makes me wonder, if that’s what Paul wrote in his letter to Titus, I wonder what he would write in a letter to you?

Maybe he would say something like this:  “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.  Grace to you and peace from God our Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

“For years now, I have longed to see you.  And I thank God for the faithfulness He has shown and for the grace He has poured out on your heart.  Your love for Him and for your fellow saints is clearly known.

“But as I once wrote to the Romans, your heart is sometimes far from God.  You’ve hurt others.  You’ve hurt yourself.  You’ve sinned against God.

“And you’ve forgotten the responsibility you carry in this world, to live as a Christian in an unChristian world.  Dare to be what God has called you to be.  Dare to be different.  Don’t be conformed to this world.  Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

“And know that no matter what grief you carry or sorrows you bear, God is for you, not against you.  Trust that all things will work together for your good.  Whatever you need, look to Him, and He will provide it.  Nothing can separate you from His love.  

“Fight the good fight.  Stand firm in your faith.  Bear the Spirit’s fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  When you’re tempted to sin, look for the way out God provides.  And when you fail, remember that He is waiting with open arms, ready to heal and forgive.  Like a sheep in the arms of a shepherd, you are safe in His hands.

“All the saints greet you.  The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.”

Back in the fifteenth century, in a tiny village near Nuremberg, Germany, there lived a family of eighteen children.  The father, a goldsmith by trade, worked nearly eighteen hours a day, just to provide food for his family.

But in spite of their seemingly hopeless situation, two of the brothers, Albrecht and Albert, had a dream.  Both wanted to pursue their talent for art, but they knew that their father could never afford to send both of them to the academy.

Until one day, they had an idea.  They agreed to toss a coin.  The loser would work in the mines and, with his earnings, support his brother while he studied at the academy.  Then, when the brother who won the toss completed his studies, he would support the other while he attended school.

When they flipped the coin, Albrecht won the toss, so he went off to study in Nuremberg.  His brother Albert went down to the mines.

As Albrecht attended school, he was almost an immediate success.  By the time he graduated, he was beginning to earn a considerable income for his commissioned works.

When he returned home to his village, his family held a dinner to celebrate.  And as they joined in their meal, Albrecht raised a toast to his beloved brother for his years of sacrifice.  He said, “And now, Albert, dear brother of mine, it’s your turn.  Now you can go to Nuremberg to pursue your dream, and I will care for you.”

But Albert rose and softly said, “No, brother, I cannot go to Nuremberg.  Four years in the mines have ruined my hands!  The bones in every finger have been smashed at least once, and now I suffer from arthritis so badly in my right hand, I cannot even hold a glass to return your toast, much less make delicate lines with a pen or a brush.  No, brother, it is too late for me.”

Five hundred years later, Albrecht Durer’s hundreds of masterful portraits hang in every great museum in the world, but odds are that you, like most people, are familiar with only one of them.

You see, to pay homage to Albert for his great sacrifice, his brother, Albrecht Durer, drew a picture of his hands—palms and fingers pressed together in prayer.  Though he called his drawing simply, “Hands,” the world has renamed it, “The Praying Hands.”

It’s a tribute to friendship, a sign of love.

We have a friend, an eternal, heavenly Friend, whose name is Jesus.  And He’s given us more than His hands.  He’s given Himself--freely, wholly and completely.

As He said in the book of John:  “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

 

Dear Father, You have called us, just as You once called Titus, to follow You.  Help us to know and to share the good news of our Savior Jesus.  We pray in His name.  Amen

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