As I grow older and find myself thinking more about my own mortality, and because so many friends my age have already preceded me in death, I am becoming more and more aware of the fact that we so often forget what needs to be remembered and remember what needs to be forgotten. Because of this tendency, we are haunted by guilt trips for calling to remembrance faults and failures of the past, and find ourselves fearing what tomorrow may bring, and forgetting our Lord’s admonition to live in the present (Matthew 6:25-34).
We all know that death is inevitable. Some day all of us will be dead, as far as this world knows, but spiritually speaking believers will be more alive after death than they ever were on earth. For we know something good has happened to death. During the Easter Season this message has been proclaimed around the world, “He is risen! Jesus Christ has abolished death.” At least for a day, on the Day of Resurrection, believers celebrated our Lord’s victory over sin, suffering, and death. However, following Easter Sunday, we may find ourselves forgetting what this message brings, especially when death intrudes. I have often said that the worse thing about growing old is the fact that so many friends and loved ones are dying, and regardless of their age death often seems premature, (from our limited perspective). Of course, we all know that death is sometimes a welcome guest, after someone has suffered, perhaps for a long time. In fact, death often brings a sense of relief and release. I have had friends and loved ones who prayed to die. My own precious mother, who suffered for two years from the ravages of ovarian cancer, and then lost her ability to speak following a stroke, finally wrote me a note asking, “Why are they keeping me alive, when they know I am going to die anyway?” For me, her death was the greatest loss I have personally experienced, but for her it was gai(Philippians 1:23), “…no more pain…no more suffering…no more darkness…no more sorrow…no more tears,” and “God will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, mourning and crying will be no more, for the first things will have passed away” (Revelation 21). Furthermore, I am comforted by the promise that in our resurrection life we “…will know, even as we are known” and “we will see face to face” (I Corinthians 13:12-13).
No one is immune to suffering and sorrow, and it is not wrong to ask such questions when faced with life and death issues, not when we remember that even Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, why?” If it was not wrong for the Son of God to ask “Why?,” then it surely is not wrong for us to sometimes question God, I am comforted by the fact that one-third of the psalms are “psalms of lament,” sometimes called “psalms of complaint,” when the psalmist is open and honest about his feelings, questioning God (read Psalm 77). I will never forget sitting at the bedside of so many friends who were dying, holding their hand, reading scripture, praying, and committing their spirit to God in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. I have always been interested in hearing their last words. I was often blessed by the faith and courage with which so many died, but I sometimes found myself wondering if he or she really had the assurance of their salvation. Regardless, I always offered the hope of the Gospel, and many times recalled the last words of the Apostle Paul, when he wrote “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. there is now reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord will give to me on that day” (the day of his martyrdom may have been the very next day – II Timothy 4:7-8).
Second Timothy was written by Paul from his prison cell in Rome. His thoughts were for his spiritual son. His words were words of encouragement to his favored disciple. He wanted to share with him the most important thing. Paul loved Timothy and had a faith vision of him at his highest and best. He saw him as one who would continue his own ministry, doing the work of an evangelist, sharing the good news of the Gospel, telling the story of Jesus and His love “in season and out of season” (4: 2), He also saw Timothy as one who would “…set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (vs. 12). At the same time, Paul knew it was not going to be easy for his young colleague in Christ, just as it had not been easy for him. Paul did not say, “I have enjoyed the ride,” He said, “I have fought a god fight,” No one had suffered more for Jesus than Paul. He had been stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, smuggled out of one city after another, and was facing a sure and terrible death by beheading (he was a Roman citizen, and Rome would not crucify its own citizens). Everywhere Paul had gone during his missionary journeys he had either caused a revival or a riot! He always had his enemies, just as Jesus did, and he always had to remember how courageously his Lord had faced the cross, knowing that his atoning death was necessary, but also knowing that he would be raised from the dead.
So Paul wanted Timothy to remember, and he wrote these last words of encouragement: “Be a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 2:3), admonishing him to always be willing to share in “…suffering for the gospel in the power of God” (1:8). He knew Timothy would need to “..be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2:1), if he was going to be able to fulfill the ministry to which he had been called. What else could Paul say? He knew he must write something even more significant, more helpful, more hopeful – something that would give Timothy the confidence and courage he needed, something that would also strengthen him and enable him to endure, to not lose heart, to face the future without fear. What final thought could he share? What was the very best advice he could give, the wisest counsel he could offer? Here it is (2:8): “REMEMBER JESUS CHRIST….REMEMBER HIM DESCENDED FROM DAVID, AND RISEN FROM THE DEAD, as preached in my gospel.” Notice that Paul said “my gospel.” He had appropriated the Gospel of Jesus Christ for himself! It had become his gospel! It was the only gospel, the only “good news,” he had to share with others. It is as if Paul was putting his arm around Timothy, and lovingly reminding him to keep his mind and heart set on Jesus as victor, not as victim, as the conquering Christ, the One who had defeated sin and abolished death, and the One who was reigning as the Lord of heaven and earth. “Remember his lineage, as the Son of David, but most of all remember His Lordship, Timothy. Remember Jesus as the strong and mighty “Son of God” – remember His humanity, descended from the line of David as the Messiah, but even more remember His majesty, as the unique and solitary Son of God, the Risen and glorified Christ, now ascended and seated on the throne in the kingdom of heaven!
This is the very best counsel I can offer to each of you reading this post-Easter blog. In the upper room with His disciples for the last time, when He instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion, Jesus asked to be remembered. Remember His body broken for you. Remember His blood poured out for you. But most of all, remember Him risen, ascended, and glorified – and remember Him with us always, for He has made our hearts His home!