Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 13, 2009

Sermon on 2 Timothy 1:8-12

A DIFFERENT VIEW OF DEATH

Text: 2 Timothy 1:8-12

I.

Before I entered the pastoral ministry, I heard many veteran pastors say that one of their favorite tasks in the ministry was ministering to the dying.  I used to wonder if those observations were just polite, pious pastoral platitudes.  Eight years of pastoral ministry changed my perspective.  Now I couldn’t agree more.  Yes, there is something very sobering about ministering to the dying, and yet it is also one of the greatest joys in ministry to be the instrument the Holy Spirit uses to bolster someone else’s faith just before faith becomes reality in heaven.

Believe it or not, dealing with death can be one of the great joys in ministry.  But dealing with death takes on a very different feeling if you are the family and friends of the dying person.  Look at the anguish King David felt in the First Lesson (2 Samuel 12:15-25) when his infant son was struck with a deadly disease.  Even though that son was born as a result of David’s adultery, and even though David knew that he deserved the grief that came to him, that didn’t make his son’s death any easier.  And then look today’s Gospel (Mark 5:21-24,35-43).  Jairus comes to Jesus and pleads that he heal his 12-year-old daughter.  There is nothing quite like the bond between a father and his little girl; surely Jarius was beside himself with emotion.  And unlike David’s situation, there is nothing Jarius had done from our human perspective to merit this tragedy in his life.  If you are a mother or father, an aunt or uncle, a sister or brother – if you have a pulse, you cannot help but feel sympathy for these people who are forced to deal with untimely deaths.

II.

But the great wake-up call and perspective-changer is when the death you’re dealing with is your own.  That is the perspective the apostle Paul faced in the Second Lesson for today.  Paul wrote 2 Timothy during his second imprisonment.  Paul had been imprisoned two different times in his life for preaching the gospel about Jesus Christ.  The first time he was eventually released.  The second time he was ultimately killed.  If you read 2 Timothy, it is quite obvious that Paul believed his death was impending.  And if you read today’s lesson, it is also quite obvious that Paul believed his suffering and imprisonment was directly connected to his confession of faith in Jesus Christ.  “Of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.  That is why I am suffering as I am.”

Paul believed he suffered because he was a herald, apostle, and teacher of the gospel.  Before we assume that all three titles are synonyms, we should take a look at the particular flavor of each word.  A herald is someone who relates a king’s message, and he does so with authority and conviction.  Apostle emphasizes someone who is sent out by another.  And the task of a teacher implies a need for ongoing instruction, in this case instruction about Jesus Christ.  This spiritual trifecta of tasks caused Paul the earthly suffering he endured.

Under normal circumstances, if something causes you suffering and has the potential to bring about your death, you quit the activity, right?  That’s not how Paul thought.  In fact, he encouraged Timothy, the fellow pastor who received this letter, to be ready to suffer the same kinds of troubles that he was.  “Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.”

III.

Why did Paul have such a different view of death?  Why would Paul be so willing to put his life on the line and to encourage others to do the same?  Doesn’t that seem a little strange?  Leaders in the church are to set examples for the Christians under their care, but one can hardly set a living example if one is dead!

Did Paul think his martyr’s death could get him some brownie points with God?  Many others might think that way, and other world religions may even teach that way, but Paul didn’t buy into that thinking.  He explicitly states in our reading that we are called into God’s family not because of anything we have done.”

Did Paul think he could get some special, honored status as a man who was willing to put his life on the line for God?  Once again, others might think a little pain and suffering is worth the honor that comes afterward, but Paul was clearly not in it for some sort of honor or recognition.  His concern was just the opposite – that Timothy or others might “be ashamed of” him, perhaps because they may not see that God’s hand could be at work even in something like Paul’s imprisonment.

IV.

Why could Paul have such a different view of death?  Why would Paul involve himself in missionary activity that put his life on the line?  To understand Paul’s thinking, we have to go on a bit of a tangent.  We have to follow Paul’s tangent in our reading.  In Paul’s writings, just about every time he mentions God or Jesus, he goes off on a tangent about what God has done for us through Jesus.  And that’s what he does in this reading.  Although our translation presents the following in two sentences, what I’m about to read is a part of one long sentence in Paul’s original Greek words—a run-on sentence that runs on about the gospel!  “But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

Paul is not afraid of death because he knows that he has been saved from death.  But his saved status had nothing to do with something Paul had done.  Sure, he could have claimed some sort of special status as a devout follower and missionary of Jesus Christ.  But his life’s total history revealed a very different story.  Paul was a former persecutor of Christians—a murderer!  In other New Testament books, he called himself “less than the least of all God’s people” and the “chief of sinners.”

If you want the same confidence that Paul had in the face of death, then remember Paul’s statement that we are saved “not because of anything we have done.”  You cannot simply claim to be a good church-going, civic-minded citizen.  I am certainly not discouraging regular church attendance or being a good employee and citizen.  But open up your life’s history to this point.  Let the law of God examine your life.  How easily we are bold to speak about politics and sports and finances, but shy to speak up about Christ or to speak out against sin in the world or in a personal circumstance close to us.  How quickly we point to the fact that we are here today, on this nice summer day, rather than on the beach or at the ball game.  But how slow we are to crack open God’s Word or a daily devotional book so that our faith is fed on the six days we are not in God’s house.  No, it doesn’t take much to see that we could never be saved “because of anything we have done,” for everything we have done is marred and stained and tainted with the sinful condition we were born with.

Paul’s record of sin was really no different.  He certainly based no confidence in himself when it came to facing death.  But the confidence he held—and the confidence you can hold—came long before Paul was even born.  In fact, the Christian’s confidence in the face of death came before this world was even created.  Listen to the end of Paul’s gospel-tangent again.  “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

These words not only contain Paul’s message, but also his confidence.  Paul’s confidence in the face of death came because of the appearance of Christ Jesus into this world.  Even that name should grab our attention.  “Christ” reminds us that we are talking about the long-promised Messiah and the divine Son of God.  “Jesus” reminds us of the human Son of Mary who was at the very same time “Christ,” the Son of God.  Christ Jesus is God and man in one, who came on a divine rescue mission for all mankind.  He “has destroyed death”—our biggest fear and greatest problem is annihilated!  If there is ever cause to have a new, confident perspective on death, here it is!  The wages of sin is death, and Jesus paid that price and died our death on the cross so that our guilt is gone and our death is defeated.  He has personally brought you life now through your baptism and forever in heaven.  He has brought you immortality, an indestructible existence forever in heaven that will not and cannot be tainted with sin.  He promises you eternal life that will be adorned with holiness and perfection and purity like you could never imagine on earth.

V.

Thoughts about death are probably not on everybody’s radar screen.  We have a relatively young congregation, and it’s wonderful to see all the generations of our church family worshipping together each week.  One consequence of our relative youthfulness is that death just isn’t on our radar screen.  Let me assure you that if it isn’t now, someday it will be.  The lessons for today’s service and eight years of pastoral experience make me quite certain when I say that dealing with death will be on your radar at some point.  And much like life insurance and retirement planning, this is something you do not want to put off.

 Look into your life.  Do you know someone foolishly flirting with sin, or dealing with a terminal disease, or confused and lost about life and faith?  Has God given you an opportunity, like Paul, to confess your Christian confidence to another soul and to share with them a different perspective on death and eternity?

Just as important as proclaiming that message to others is believing it yourself.  After all, Jesus didn’t only die for the rest of the world.  He died for you, too, dear Christian friend.  Christ Jesus faced the cross for you.  Christ Jesus destroyed death and sin for you.  Christ Jesus brought life and immortality to light by his resurrection for you.  Believe those gospel truths in life!  Cling to them in death!  And then see your immortality brought to life for all eternity.  Amen.

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