Friday, November 09, 2012

Sermon: 2 Timothy 3:10 - 4:8 Bible and Crown

I’m sure, like me, you saw some of the Olympics during the summer. It was fantastic to see the British athletes do so well in the cycling and the rowing and the long distance track. However, when it came to one particular event, the British men’s team did it all wrong, and were disqualified. The women didn’t even make it to the Olympics. Now, at the risk of turning into A Question of Sport, which event was it?

The relay race. The 4x100 metres. The final changeover was disastrous, it didn’t happen correctly, and despite finishing second in their heat, the men were disqualified. Many a cold, wet afternoon during PE being taught how it was meant to be done, as the baton is passed to the next runner. It’s so important for the baton to be passed, for the next person to take over and have a chance at a medal.

The apostle Paul is writing his young friend Timothy, giving him instructions as he passes the baton on. Paul has been giving his life to the work of the gospel, travelling around the known world telling people about Jesus, planting churches, and declaring the good news. But now he is in prison. Execution is not too far away. Paul’s race is almost over: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.’ (4:7). It’s up to Timothy now to take up the baton and run his race, to continue on Paul’s work of teaching and encouraging.

Yet as Timothy looks to the future, as he sees what lies ahead, it seems that the relay race isn’t being run on the nice new athletics track in the Olympic stadium. What lies before him is more like an army assault course, with obstacles and dangers to face. Paul even spells them out for him. He reminds him of the persecutions and sufferings in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, These were places where Paul had been driven out of town, opposed, and stoned (that is, attacked with stones, not drugged).

More than that, it’s not just Paul who will face problems and difficulties for being a Christian: ‘Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.’ (3:12). Now you might think that it’s silly to mention this at all, especially if you’re here considering the good news and thinking about becoming a Christian, but we have to present the whole truth. The Lord Jesus warns us to count the cost before we decide to follow him.

So the future looks bleak. Is it all just doom and gloom? Why would anyone want to be a Christian faced with such opposition and problems? Wouldn’t it be easier to just continue on in your sinful life and live the way you want?

Paul gives Timothy a glimpse of reality - what his life will look like as he follows Jesus. But it’s not all negative. Rather, he also gives two great big encouragements, as he looks to the future in faith. Two things that we are given by God as we love and serve him.

The first comes at the end of chapter three. Paul has said that evil people and impostors will go from bad to worse. That may be the direction they’re going, ‘But as for you...’ Timothy, don’t follow the crowd. Don’t go the way of the world. As for you, continue in what you have learned... What is it he has learned? What is it that he has firmly believed? It’s the ‘sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.’

The Bible is able to make us wise - to give us the information we need in order to find salvation - salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Despite there being 66 different books from around 40 different authors, written over a period of a couple of thousand years, there is one uniting subject. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is all about Jesus, sharing the good news, showing us his glory.

Now how can this be so, if there are all those different authors? Behind them, and through them, Paul tells us, there is one author: ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God...’ (3:16) Just as my words are coming out of my mouth as I breathe, so the Scriptures are God-breathed. Scripture says what God is saying. When we read the Bible, it’s not just ancient words on a page, but God speaking to us here and now.

I suspect that I’m a typical man, and perhaps wives you’ll recognise this trait in your husbands too. I get a new piece of equipment, some new technology, and straight away, I want to turn it on and get stuck in. I’ll footer about with it, trying to make it work. It’s only when I get stuck that I’ll go back to the box to find the instruction manual. We think: I can sort this out myself. We don’t need any help. Until we realise we do.

Life can be like that. We have some freedom and off we go, making our own mistakes, trying to sort things out ourselves. We live the way we want to, and then wonder why we end up getting things so very wrong. We need the instruction manual. We need to hear from the Maker, who knows how life is meant to work. Paul tells us: ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.’ (3:16-17)

Perhaps this evening you’re wandering, you’re lost. You recognise yourself among the evil people and impostors going from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. The remedy is to be rescued. To turn from error and self-deception, to turn to the living God who has spoken. To become wise in the way of salvation, through faith in Christ Jesus. To learn about the saviour and to trust in him. To be taught and corrected from his word so that we can love and serve him.

The other night (or was it morning by then), the world waited to hear the acceptance speech of the President of the United States, as he was elected for his second term. Journalists and political commentators hung on his every word, listening and reporting and analysing. Or think for a moment of Twitter. Lady Gaga has over 31 million followers, Justin Bieber 29 million - all eager to hear from their heroes (even if it’s just what they ate for breakfast!). Yet we have the words of the living God in our homes, often in a box, out of the way on a shelf, gathering dust.

Our banner tonight show the open Bible; another banner design depicts the secret of England’s greatness as the Bible is presented by Queen Victoria to foreign princes. Will you take up your Bible and read and learn, and hear God’s voice to you? It is in this way that we hear and are saved, as we trust in the Lord.

The first thing we’re given is the Bible, the scriptures. This is what Timothy is to give himself to learn and teach and proclaim, in and through the dark days that lay ahead of him. At the end of our passage, Paul tells us about the second thing we’re given, which encourages us to keep going as we love and serve the Lord Jesus. Here’s what he says: ‘For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.’ (4:6-8).

You see, as Paul comes towards the end of his life, as he completes his race, he looks towards the finish line, towards the podium. The reward isn’t a gold medal and a wee posy of flowers. Instead, what awaits is the crown of righteousness.

This crown of righteousness is the sign of being accepted by God, of being in the right with God. It is awarded by the Lord, the righteous judge, who judges with absolute fairness and justice. Remember where Paul is: He’s on remand, sitting in prison, awaiting the death sentence, which the unjust judge, Nero, will pass on him. His earthly life will cease, condemned as a prisoner; but Nero’s judgement doesn’t concern him. Rather, he is looking forward to the only opinion that finally matters - the Lord, the righteous judge, who will award that crown of righteousness.

Now you might be thinking to yourself that of course Paul deserves such a crown - he’s in the Bible, after all, he wrote books of the Bible, he was so very good. You could not be further from the truth. Paul doesn’t deserve this crown of righteousness. Earlier we spoke of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. That is, salvation from our sins - Paul needed rescue, just as we do too. Our rescue is in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross, in the great exchange taking away our sins, and giving us his perfect righteousness. It’s by faith that we receive God’s grace. Indeed, as Paul says, ‘I have kept the faith.’

Paul can face the future with confidence. His heavenly reward is certain. His crown is laid up ready for him. Friends, tonight, your future can also be certain. You see, Paul wasn’t boasting, as if to say, well I’m all right, I’ve got a crown waiting for me. He goes on to say that it is ‘not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.’

Jesus is returning, the righteous judge, who died to save us. We too can be sure of receiving the crown of righteousness as we hear God’s word of grace and respond in faith. Jesus has died to win your salvation. Will you hear and heed him tonight? Will you trust in the Lord for your salvation? Will you welcome him on that great Day when he appears as judge? The Bible, God’s breathed out word, points us to the crown, God’s gracious gift, offered freely.

This sermon was preached at the Banner Mission in Enniskillen District Orange Hall, organised by County Fermanagh Grand Lodge, on Thursday 8th November 2012. Each preacher through the week was given a picture from a banner to work with and present the gospel message. My banner was from Garrison district, depicting the Bible and the crown.

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