Monday, January 29, 2007

Stating the obvious!

Sometimes when you're reading something, you think to yourself - what's the author doing? They're stating the obvious... why say it at all? I had one of those instances recently in my Bible reading.

Do you remember the way I talked about the co-incidence of studying the text twice at the same time in different contexts? It happened with Jeremiah, in both my private study, as well as the Explore notes from The Good Book Company. Well, it's happening again. In our tutor group in college, we're working our way through the Pastoral Epistles, reading a chunk and discussing it. And in my own study, I'm reading 2 Timothy (in conjunction with John Stott's commentary on it in the Bible Speaks Today series from IVP).

And I came across Paul's instruction to Timothy in 2 Tim 2:8. 'Remember Jesus Christ'. Imagine. Paul's telling Timothy how to keep the church's witness going after the generation of the apostles dies, and he includes 'remember Jesus Christ.' Isn't Paul just stating the obvious? Surely Timothy would know to remember Jesus... after all, it's what the gospel is all about.

Is it like the time when Jesus told the disciples to 'Remember Lot's wife' (Luke 17:32)? But Lot's wife was a negative example, so it mustn't mean that. What can Paul mean when he says 'remember Jesus Christ'?

Once again, we fall into the trap of failing to see the context. Look at your Bible, and you'll see that the punctuation means that it isn't a bald statement on its own, but is carried on to explain it a bit better. So then, Paul says: 'Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!' (2 Tim 2:8-9).

So who is the Jesus Paul is calling Timothy to remember? Not the figment of imagination, or the made up story-teller, or cleverly devised fables. No, we find here both positive and negative affirmations of Jesus, the Jesus of history who is the Christ of faith.

Jesus Christ, risen from the dead: God's not dead, no, he is alive! Implicit in the conviction that Jesus is risen from the dead, we find the assertion that he died before he could be raised. So the Jesus Timothy is to remember (and therefore we should be remembering too) is not dead, gone and forgotten. Rather, Jesus is alive, risen from the dead, and seated in glory with the Father. More than this, the rising from the dead was seen as the proof that Jesus was divine, the Son of God (see Romans 1:4 - 'was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord')

Jesus Christ... the offspring of David: Jesus was not only fully divine, but he was also fully human, descended from the line of David. But not only this, the echoes of David's name should alert us to the other descent from David - that of the kingly line. Jesus is therefore 'Great David's Greater Son', the Christ (the anointed one).

Jesus Christ... as preached in my gospel: Not only do we need to be right about the person of Christ, but we also need to be right about the work of Christ, his sin-bearing work on the cross, as contained in Paul's gospel. Not that this necessarily means that Paul made it up, or invented it. Rather, it is Paul's gospel by way of him being entrusted with its message, which he is now passing on to Timothy. It's a similar idea to the translation of 2 Tim 1:12 'I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me' (italics added, footnote reports the Greek as saying 'my deposit').

This is the Jesus Christ Paul charges Timothy to remember, follow and preach. But it won't be easy. It will be hard to do this. It landed Paul in prison. Paul is chained up because of the gospel. And yet, that just confirms what Paul has been arguing - that the gospel minister is called to hard work and endurance. It's what the word pictures of soldier, athlete and farmer in the bit just before our verse point to. It's what Paul's experience points to. And it's even what remembering Jesus will point to. Because he had to endure the hardship and suffering before he could enter glory again, and bring us with him.

Yes, gospel work will be tough. It's no doddle. There's hardship and suffering. As someone once said, when Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die. And as a slogan goes - no cross, no crown. But there is encouragement. Paul might be chained up in Rome, awaiting execution. The future might be bleak for him in terms of this world. 'But the word of God is not bound!' (2 Tim 2:9) It is still being spread and bearing fruit.

Remember Jesus Christ!

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