“Remember Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:1-13)
Do you ever get a little worried or fearful about what you might have to go through in order to live out your calling as a Christian? I mean, that your being a Christian and living for Christ will cause you to suffer in some way? Does that ever weigh on your mind? If so, you’re in good company. Because that seems to have been a problem for St. Timothy in the New Testament. Timothy apparently had a problem with timidity, with fearfulness, over what might happen to him because of his calling to serve the Lord. But in our Epistle for today, Timothy’s mentor, the apostle Paul, writes to him and encourages Timothy to “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” How that strengthening takes place, for Timothy and for you, is the subject for our sermon today, under the theme, “Remember Jesus Christ.”
Now if anyone had a right to be worried and fearful it was Paul himself. He had been beaten and arrested and run out of towns many times over his apostolic career. And now as he writes this letter to Timothy, Paul once again finds himself under arrest and in prison. Only this time, Paul knows he isn’t going to get out. The heat had intensified, the pressure had increased, and now Paul is in prison, in Rome, in the mid-60s, when Nero is the emperor, and Nero is going a little crazy. Paul isn’t going to make it out of this one, and he knows it. This is Paul’s farewell letter in the New Testament. He has run his race, he has fought the good fight, and now he knows he has only a matter of months, if that, before he is executed. Which did happen.
So Paul himself had every right to be fearful and worried. But he wasn’t. God had given him the strength to face what he was facing. And in fact, instead of pouting and moaning and throwing a pity party, Paul the prisoner is reaching out to encourage Timothy, his younger assistant. Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus, to oversee the church there, as his apostolic representative. But Paul knew Timothy; he knew his strengths and weaknesses. Paul had taken him under his wing when Timothy was a young man. Timothy had traveled with Paul on his missionary journeys, and Paul had dispatched Timothy on various tasks over the years. And Timothy had proved faithful. But Paul knew Timothy’s personality and that he could be a little timid and fearful at times. So in this letter Paul sets to strengthening Timothy for what lies ahead, when Paul will no longer be around and the increasing persecution across the Roman Empire could cause Timothy to weaken.
How about you? Are there things in your life that cause you to weaken or grow anxious? Things that pull against you from following Christ as you know you ought? Are you worried about what you might suffer or lose or have to give up to be a faithful Christian? And the truth is, you may have to suffer some things to follow Jesus. This is nothing new. It should come as no surprise. But it can cause us to pull back, to have some misgivings. To become weak and wobbly and worried.
What will you do if following Christ means giving up some activity you know to be wrong? What will you do if the call to follow Christ means you have to forgive someone you really don’t want to forgive? To seek peace and pursue it? To give up on some old grudge? Are you ready to give that up?
What will you do if following Christ means a sacrifice of your time or money? Are you ready to do that? What will you do if being a faithful Christian means your friends and family members will look at you a little different? Will keep you at arm’s length and distance themselves from you? Are you ready to endure that?
What will you do if the persecution starts to mount against us, the church? You know, of course, our society, has become increasingly hostile against Christians. Our own government, the federal government, has become increasingly hostile against Christians. If we don’t toe the line and go along with their approval of evil we may suffer the consequences. The federal government has threatened us if we don’t go along with abortion and homosexual “marriage,” for instance. The rapid loss of religious liberty in our country has been staggering. Christians have suffered huge financial penalties for holding to their religious and moral beliefs. Some have even gone to jail. Are your ready to do that? Are you ready to suffer for your faith?
That’s what Paul was suffering. And that’s what he knew Timothy would be faced with. So Paul writes to Timothy to be fortified for the fight. He says, “You then, my child, be strengthened.” He tells Timothy, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” He tells Timothy to be like a disciplined athlete and a hard-working farmer.
Well, fine. All well and good. But is that it? Buck up, keep a stiff upper lip, be a man? Is just giving Timothy advice and telling him to rely on his own inner resolve going to be enough? No. Not for Timothy and not for you either. You need more than that. And so Paul gives Timothy, and us, more than that. Much more.
“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” That’s where you’ll find your strength. Not by your stoic spirit and resolve. Not in yourself or your own strength. But rather, by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Only there, only in that way, will you be able to endure the suffering that comes from being a Christian. By the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
And so Paul encourages us with this exhortation, with this call to faith: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.” There it is. “Remember Jesus Christ.” This is where we look, this is where we turn, when the suffering looks too daunting. Remember Jesus Christ. This is the remembering of faith, to recall the one in whom you put your trust and your hope.
Remember Jesus Christ. Who is he? He is the very Son of God come in the flesh. God eternal, the Second Person of the Trinity. He who came down from heaven for us men and for our salvation. Became our brother, true man, born of the virgin Mary. Overcame the temptations of the devil in the wilderness as our Champion. Went about doing good, preaching and teaching and healing. Bringing in the kingdom of heaven here on earth. Yes, that Jesus Christ.
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead,” continues Paul. Yes, risen from the dead. This same Jesus died on the cross to win your forgiveness. When the Son of God sheds his blood for you, to cover all your sins, they are covered and cleansed and fully forgiven! Jesus did that for you! Your sins have been wiped out, washed away! You’ve been set free from the devil’s accusations. You have been acquitted in God’s courtroom, because your punishment has already been paid. Jesus did that for you on Calvary’s cross.
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.” Yes, Christ arose on Easter Day. Death has been demolished. The tomb has been laid bare. Christ has arisen, and now he lives forever. And because he lives, you shall live also. Christ shares his resurrection victory with us. You have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. The grave is not the end for you. When you die, you will be with the Lord in paradise. And when he comes again, he will raise up your dead body to be like his glorious body, no longer subject to death and decay. You and I and all those who have trusted in Christ will live forever, no longer encumbered by sin and sadness, living forever in a restored creation that will surpass anything you can imagine.
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.” “The offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,” Paul writes. Here is where the Old Testament and the New Testament come together. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the son of David prophesied from long ago, the fulfillment of the Old Testament. And Jesus is the one preached in the apostolic gospel, the good news of the New Testament, which has spread around the world and is still being shared and declared.
This is the gospel I preach to you today! The good news has not changed! It is still good, and it is the best news you will ever hear! God is at peace with you! The dangers you fear cannot harm you! Christ has overcome them! He is risen from the dead, and you will be too! If God is for us, who can be against us? Can whatever suffering or loss we may endure be greater than the salvation that Christ freely gives? No way! We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, they yet have nothing won. The Kingdom ours remaineth.”
Paul knew the only way to strengthen Timothy for the difficulties he would endure. “Be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” And this is what will strengthen you for whatever you may have to face. The grace that is in Christ Jesus. The means of grace, Word and Sacrament, the means the Holy Spirit uses to deliver Christ and his gifts to you.
Dear friends, when you are faced with trial or affliction for the sake of Christ, remember Jesus Christ. He will carry you through. When you must suffer loss or have to give up something in order to be a faithful Christian, remember Jesus Christ. The life you gain is greater, far greater, than any loss you may suffer. When the government comes to arrest you for being a Christian, remember Jesus Christ. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. When you suffer heartbreak or despair or any kind, the frailties and worries of this life, remember Jesus Christ and the life he gives and will give you, freely, for eternity. Brothers and sisters, there is one thing, one divine reality, that puts everything else in perspective: Remember Jesus Christ.