This is an edited version of a sermon on the Apostle Paul’s epistle to Titus preached in the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge.
It is understandable that some real Christian people could be beguiled by Bishop Michael Curry’s feel-good sermon at Harry and Meghan’s wedding. But the reality is that this was not an orthodox Christian sermon and the fundamental reason why it wasn’t is because Bishop Curry failed to explain why Jesus Christ died for people. He affirmed that Jesus died but he did not make clear the reason why our Lord Jesus Christ sacrificed himself for humanity.
By contrast with Bishop Curry, the Apostle Paul never made that mistake. Paul made the effort to explain why Jesus Christ died for the human race, and the reason Paul gave for the Lord Jesus’s death on the Cross was that we as human beings needed saving: saving from evil, the evil in ourselves and the evil in the world around us. Paul taught that we are great sinners in need of a great Saviour from the divine judgement to come. Michael Curry failed to explain that.
Here in our passage this morning (Titus 2v11-15) Paul reminded Titus that the ground of the God-pleasing life is the grace of God in salvation. ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men’ (v11 – NIV).
What does Paul mean by the grace of God here? He means the loving-kindness of God in bringing his eternal salvation from the power of evil to people who have not and cannot earn his salvation. This grace of God in salvation appeared in human history in the coming into the world of God’s eternal Son the Lord Jesus Christ and in his death on the Cross for the sins of the world, and this grace of God in salvation has appeared to all people in that the good news message of Jesus Christ, his gospel, is now out in the open and all kinds of people can be saved when they believe it.
And what does this grace of God do to those it reaches? It ‘teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age’ (v12).
So, this grace of God is intentionally about saving us from evil. That’s its purpose.
That did not come across in Michael Curry’s sermon, a crucial difference between his teaching and the Apostle Paul’s. To our great benefit Paul explained why Jesus died. Jesus sacrificed himself in order to save us from evil, something we need to understand if we are really to appreciate the wonderful salvation God has brought us.
The second difference between Michael Curry’s teaching and the Apostle Paul’s is evident from what Paul says in v13: ‘while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ’.
Michael Curry in his sermon seemed to be saying that provided humanity caught the fire of love being celebrated at Windsor, we could abolish poverty and injustice and suffering and in effect bring about utopia, paradise on earth. Spread the fire of love, kindled by the celebration of Harry and Meghan’s romantic love for one another, and the world can be perfected, he seemed to be suggesting. Now, in this utopian vision, his sermon actually owned more to Marxism than to Christianity. His utopian version of an earthly paradise achieved by his optimistic message of the power of love is culturally Marxist rather than Christian.
By contrast, the Apostle Paul, in line with the other New Testament writers, taught very clearly that this present world is not perfectible. We will never rid the world of evil. Only God can do that and he will do it when the Lord Jesus returns at the end of history and not before. That is why we as Christians are waiting for the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. That is why we have to exercise self-control in this present age because evil remains within us and around us. Christians are not utopians.
That has big practical day-to-day implications for us. It means that we expect to suffer in this world because we know that suffering is part and parcel of human existence until the Lord Jesus returns, our blessed hope. And our conviction that our Lord Jesus will come and save us finally from evil actually works to sustain us and to strengthen us through the bad and difficult times we inevitably face. So, it is vitally important to our blessed hope that we understand that this world is not perfectible.