The early church was a special time in history. Jesus has just been raised. He has gone up, bodily, into heaven, and has poured out his Spirit upon those who follow him. (Rom. 8:9) In our day discussions about doctrines and divisions about drivel develop daily.
BUT in the EARLY CHURCH, they were passionately pleading for the Pierced. They didn’t argue and debate about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin (to be fair, no-one has ever really debated that question). We can get so distracted from what was the early church’s singular focus : giving everyone and anyone the message of Jesus, and changing their world with the power of Jesus.
In chapter three, a man who had been begging for years is healed. This is the first of many, many miracles recorded in the book of Acts. The disciples were passionately sharing the message and gift of Jesus with everyone! They tell their fellow Israelites that God healed this man because of his servant Jesus. They tell the Sanhedrin and high priest about Jesus. They count it as a joy when they are persecuted and beaten for Jesus. They know their reward in heaven is great, because the righteous are persecuted by the wicked (Matt. 5:12).
In our lives, are we passionate about the message and work of Jesus then and now? If you aren’t don’t try to be passionate!
Instead, remember your sins, your mistakes, your failures. Remember that for even the smallest, you were separated from God. You were condemned to destruction, because that is the fate of those without God. And remember that God loved you enough to give you Jesus to redeem you. Jesus loved you enough to die in your place. They love you SO MUCH they love you just as you are, and they love you TOO MUCH to let you stay there, and want to make your life better, freer, holier, more and more wonderful.
The early church was passionate because they knew the truth of Christ. We will be passionate when we remember it.
Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 17-18 and Acts 3
So far this week, we have been speaking of “the early church”, but that is a bit anachronistic. Because, today, we come to the founding, the start, the inception, of the church. Pentecost is a Jewish high holy day, one of the great feasts through the year, and it is 50 days after passover. Pentecost, of the Feast of Weeks, of Shauvot was to commemorate the giving of the Torah to the people of God. On THIS Pentecost, something new was given.
In verse two of chapter two, we see that there is a great sound, along with fire that came among the people. But verse four is where the new thing God was doing happens. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”. Of course, reading a verse like this, a few questions come to mind. What is the Holy Spirit?What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?How is this new?
The Holy Spirit is the personal, powerful, presence of God. In John 13-17, Jesus teaches his disciples that the Holy Spirit will come, guide, teach, comfort, and council them. In Acts, the Holy Spirit speaks to the apostles and decides on what the church should do. (See Acts 8:29 and 15:28-29) The Holy Spirit is listed alongside the Father and the Son in certain salutations and greetings to the church, and as part of the authority in which we should be baptized as believers. The Spirit, in other places, is like water poured out on people, as fire that burns up the chaff, as wind that moves over the face of the world. It is not easy to pin down. It’s not easy to understand.
However, these followers weren’t getting a strong theological point on the Spirit. They were drenched in it, spoke various languages by it. To be filled with the Spirit in the book of Acts was to display the power of God in signs and miracles (like speaking in tongues or raising the dead, keep reading Acts!). But they were also filled with the Spirit in order to be bold. (Acts 4:31) The power of God was in all these people, changing both their outward actions and their inward personalities, making them into people who could confidently face anything that came their way because they were connected to God by his Power in the authority of Jesus.
And the Holy Spirit had never worked that way until Pentecost. This amazing, moving, shaping, guiding power of God had come upon specific people, leaders like Moses and prophets like Aaron. When it came upon these specific people, they could lose the power of the Spirit, like Samson or Saul. But in Pentecost, anyone who believed that Jesus was the Messiah was given the Spirit to speak the word. That is why Peter quotes Joel in vs. 17-21. It proves that Jesus, in giving his people the Spirit, he was both fulfilling prophecy and giving them the power they would need to be his witnesses.
Monday, we were left with the difficult question : will you follow Jesus?Yesterday, we were left with another doozy : will you be his witness, near, far, and to the ends of the earth?
Today, I want to encourage you : you can’t do it! (That’s not helpful!) No, those questions are too big for me and you. But with God, all things are possible. The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the grave is available to you in grace. You don’t HAVE to follow Jesus on your own, or be a witness in your own wisdom and power. You can join with the early church, and this power will come upon you and empower you. Peter said “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” God’s Holy Spirit, his power and presence, will be in your life, guiding and teaching you. It will fill you to the brim with power, but more importantly with courage, with confidence, with grace, with forgiveness, with hope, and with love.
The more I study the Holy Spirit, the more questions I have. But I have learned one thing : I want more of it in my life.
Join me in asking for God’s Holy Spirit to fill your life, today.
Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Samuel 15-16 and Acts 2
In John 21, Jesus has a number of more appearances to the disciples. After the disciples go fishing, Jesus shows up on a beach, and feeds them. Jesus takes the time to “restore” Peter. After asking him three times if Peter loved him, and hearing Peter’s three replies, he says in 18-19
“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”
Very often, when we first start following Jesus, we may think “Well, now life will be good!” We may hear preachers say “just pray and believe” and then life will go really well. And Scripture itself says that “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) But we need to be careful before thinking this means we won’t have troubles, pains, and even death in spite of, or even CAUSED BY, following Jesus. Jesus himself warned his followers that they would have trouble (See John 16:33; “you will have trouble”). And the early church, especially the lives of the disciples, prove that we will have trouble.
Most of our knowledge of the apostles come from church tradition; we don’t know the following, but it is generally accepted. Simon Peter, Andrew, Philip, Simon the Zealot, and Matthias were all crucified by Rome. James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alpheus were both killed in Jerusalem by the ruling authorities. Matthew, Thomas, Thaddeus/Jude and Bartholomew/Nathanel were all killed while speaking of their faith. Paul, the thirteenth apostle “to the gentiles” was beheaded after a long time in prison. Only John, as Jesus prophesied, died of old age.
I don’t bring this up to scare you or to make you depressed. I want you to know that a bunch of hillbilly fisherman from the backwoods of a small nation oppressed by an Empire changed the world. The truth of Christianity is proved in these men. They gained no power, no prestige, no wealth, no control by dedicating their lives to the gospel message. They truly believed, to the point of death, that a man named Jesus lived, taught, died, and was raised again. They didn’t go out conquering with armies. They gave their lives so others may find life. They lived knowing that God would work everything out for the good of those who love him; because they were called according to his purpose, they would be raised according to his son.
That is the kind of passion and dedication I want to have for Jesus. I am asking myself “if Jesus sent me to speak his name, would I go? Would I be willing to die to make sure that others could find life?” I want my answer to be yes.
How about you? How would you answer that question? Jesus is turning to you and saying “Follow me!”
Today, the scene is set in Martha and Mary’s home. Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem, and this story is propelling his journey to the cross. Mary and Martha, sisters, are arguing, as sisters do. Martha has invited Jesus and his crew of AT LEAST twelve hungry men (possibly more if some of the seventy or seventy-two disciples have come along) over for dinner. She’s got a lot of social pressure placed on her, because to have people in her home and NOT feed them, and feed them well, would look bad on her whole family. It would be shameful.
And Mary is just sitting at his feet.
Martha, rushing, busy, sweating, harried.
Mary, content, lounging, comfortable, relaxed.
I feel for Martha. “LORD, don’t you care that my sister isn’t working as hard as I am” she says in frustration, with slightly gritted teeth. “She isn’t serving you the way that I am, isn’t trying to be as good for you as I am! TELL HER TO GET UP AND HELP ME!” Of course she is troubled, worried, bothered, anxious.
We are all Martha. We are all so worried. So anxious and bothered. So troubled.
But Jesus just calls out to her, to us. “Martha, Martha…” Can you hear the compassion when he says her name? When he says your name? You are so busy, so laden down with cares and concerns, with worries, about how you will succeed, how you will make sure everyone is taken care of, how you will serve. But Jesus isn’t worried about all that. He calls out to you and says something beautiful.
There is only one thing necessary. It’s the good thing that Mary chose, to sit at his feet, listen to him, rest in him, love him.
Will you choose the good?
Is that your one thing? Do you want to serve, to prove how strong, and powerful, and mighty, and good, and honorable you are? Or are you willing to sit at the feet of Jesus, to learn from him, grow from him, but most of all love and rest in him? To be sure, there is a time to serve. Jesus is in the room teaching how to live. But, will you listen to his words? We can get so busy “serving him” we don’t actually hear what he says. There are those casting out demons and performing miracles who don’t know the Lord, and whom the Lord doesn’t know (see Matthew 7).
The one that is necessary, listening to the words of Jesus and resting in him, give our service purpose and grounding.
Will you choose the good?
Will you choose to rest in the one whose yoke is easy, whose burden is light, who will give your soul rest?
Will you choose the good?
Jesus, primarily, calls us to himself. There will be a time for service, but the first and foremost command is to be with him, in peace and rest. Are you listening to that call? For some of us, the command to “come and die” is terrifying. But for some of us, “come and rest” is worse. We have to admit that we are not superheroes, no matter what we tell ourselves. We might just be people, like everyone else.
Will you choose the good?
Jesus gives us rest. This is the upside down kingdom we receive when we have a relationship with Christ. We take up his work so we may rest. We serve with him so we may reign with him. We take in his death so that we may live.
I enjoy video games. I could bore you with my digital adventures during quarantine, but I’d like to focus on a much more recent experience. I was playing a game that came out recently, and loving it. At one point a warning came up : “This is your last chance to purchase any gadget or suit upgrades. Do you wish to proceed?” I had an experience in the past when the game didn’t warn me we were in the final stages. So I backed up, upgraded, and went into the end game in full force.
Most people don’t have a moment like that. Very few have been able to determine when the “end” of their life was going to begin.
Jesus isn’t most people.
In Luke 9:51, we read a powerful phrase. “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” The phrase “set his face” is sometimes rendered as “He was determined” or “he set out for”. While both of these translations have merit, I like the “wooden” translation of “set his face.”
“He was determined” feels a little passive. He made a decision to take steps to go to Jerusalem.
“He set out for” however, makes it feel as if he started to power-walk all the way to Judea.
Instead, he set his face. We aren’t even halfway through Luke telling of Jesus’ life, but we begin to see that everything that happens from here on, Jesus is doing with his endgame in mind. Every healing he performs is done with his face looking at Jerusalem. Every teaching he gives ends with him setting his face back to Jerusalem. Every step he takes, north, south, east or west, takes him one step closer to the Place of the Skull. Every healing he performs puts him one step closer to the scars across his back. Every breath of teaching he pours out gets him closer to the last breath of this life.
And it gets him closer to the ascension. To the life beyond death. To the glory after humilation. Every breath he breathes gets him closer to new breath, new Spirit filling his body. Every healing he performs puts him one step closer to a body, unbroken and healed. Every step he takes takes him one step closer to the Mount of Olives, and the ascension to the Throne of God.
That’s a good end game.
So when Jesus teaches anything in the rest of Luke, consider that he thought it was important enough to say as he walked his final days on Earth. Whether he was teaching and loving Mary and Martha in their own home, correcting the Pharisees about their view of sinners and tax collectors and the God who loves them in Luke 15, or teaching about the End Times in Luke 17, every event and teaching of Jesus are the ones that gained his attention after he “set his face” to go to Jerusalem.
Let this devotion urge you to reconsider how we read these words today. Don’t read Luke as another item on your busy checklist. But hear them as the words of Jesus that they are, pouring over you, through you and into you, and let them change you today. As we move ever closer to Easter, may we read Luke and set our own faces toward Jerusalem.
Jesus is not know for being particularly easy with his teaching. It can be just plain difficult.
Sometimes the teachings are easy enough to understand but hard in their application. We know what Jesus said about enemies. He didn’t mince words or obfuscate. Love them. Full Stop. But, when you have an enemy, you don’t WANT to love them. If you HAVE to love them, then you CAN’T hate them, and in the darkest parts we want to hate some people. But Jesus came to shine a light into even those parts and to change them. So, love (wish and seek the best for) your enemies and pray (bring their needs, cares, and burdens before God) for those who persecute you. That is hard.
Other times Jesus doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense. A lot of the people in John 6 stopped following him because he said, “You have to eat my body and drink my blood.” And today we can say, “Oh yeah, he was talking about communion.” But THEY didn’t know that. There is a rabbi talking about eating a person and drinking his blood, and they are just thinking about the number of Torah laws and cultural traditions they would have to break. But mostly, they would be thinking “WHAT?! WHY?! What is he on about?” Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. But they didn’t seem to get it, because his mission wasn’t complete yet.
And sometimes, the teaching is BOTH hard to understand and seems difficult in the day-to-day living.
Luke 8 is full of them. Why does Jesus, who is so insistent on US spreading the Kingdom message to all corners of the world, teach with hiddenness? Why does he say, “Go into all the world” and tell everyone to keep it quiet? Why does he teach in parables, so that the crowds would be confused? I could give an astute scholarly answer, that references the nature of prophecy and the different purposes for the mission of Jesus and mission of the church, but in the end it is a head scratcher. It feels weird. It feels hard. It weighs on me.
Nothing weighs heavier on me from this chapter than Luke 8:18. As a reminder: “18 So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” That’s a hard one! Why should the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? Is that what Jesus is saying?
Though the questions are important, there are times for answers. And of course that is not what he is saying.
Jesus has just finished saying that a light will not bet covered up but put on a lampstand, and how everything will be disclosed and made known. He has been speaking about the knowledge of the Kingdom, the Gospel, the Word of God, the Knowledge of God, the Logos of God, up to this point. So the question we need to answer is “whoever has what?” Whoever has a desire and thirst to learn the things of God. Whoever has a desire to serve Jesus. Whoever has a desire to follow him where he leads. Whoever, once the lamp is lighted, wants to see it in its fulness. THAT person will be given more. They will actually acquire the knowledge they are looking for. They will be equipped to serve. They will be empowered to follow. They will see the light, and it will fill them up, all the way from the inside out.
But whoever does not have those desires…
Well, what little power, strength, might, authority, ability, talent…
It’ll be taken away.
It’s a hard teaching. But it makes sense. Jesus comes to offer life. If we don’t want life, we don’t get it. It’s not forced upon us.
You may be wondering, “But right now I don’t want it. I am reading because it’s a habit I can’t break. I am reading while crying because I want it to be true but can’t pull out that belief in me.” Welcome to the Christian Faith, where desires like that have existed beside the “most devout” since the dawn of the church! Ancient Christian authors wrote statements like (and forgive the modern paraphrase) “I don’t want God, but I want to want God.” Even a man declared to Jesus “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” Maybe you have believing unbelief, or unbelieving belief. Maybe you want to want God. Or want to want to want him.
Jesus can work with that glimmer.
Because in the end he will work with us on all the hard passages, on the ones that weigh on us, on the things that are hard to understand and hard to live out.
The promise from scripture is that, if you let him work, “He will finish the good work he began in us.”
Jesus will give you understanding and peace when you don’t.
Jesus will give you the skills and ability for service.
You are a powerful man in ancient Israel. You hear about a miracle worker and rabbi. This guy, in just the last couple days reportedly saved a slave of some centurion without even being near him. More than that, he brought the dead back to life! Could such a thing be? Nothing like it has happened in your lifetime. This man reminds you of Moses, Elijah, and the prophets that you have grown up hearing about and spent your life studying. You know that such a man must be holy, must be from God. You invite this man to eat with you, so you can see for yourself how this holy, miraculous man interacts with people.
So you see him. And he’s shorter than you expected. Actually, he’s quite unremarkable in appearance. He is not wealthy, he does not come from money or make much when out teaching. He is lean from walking and fasting. He has an entourage of men with thick accents, no training, and a certain lack of decorum. They look and act like fishermen. To your surprise, you learn they ARE fishermen. One is even a tax collector. It’s only natural to begin to doubt. But when he opens his mouth to teach, it intrigues you. The passion with which he speaks. The intensity in his eyes. The compassion in his touch, to all people, draws you in, and you invite him over for dinner. Doubts gnaw at your mind, but surely in a personal setting those will fall away.
However, at dinner, things get really out of hand. As per usual, you have your home open to use by the people of the city, because God has blessed you for your devote life and upright character. Everyone, all thirteen (and more) of this teacher’s usual crew start to relax, kick back their feet, and eat. But, in the middle of dinner, she comes in. The years of hard life, of acting in such impolite, anti-social, uncouth, wicked and sinful ways, of trying and failing to do better, showed in every movement in the presence of this teacher. But instead of running like she should have, she bends down, weeping, and cries on his feet, wipes his feet clean with her tears. She takes his barely washed feet and anoints them with the sweetest perfume, the smell wafting over you all. She is making a scene, at YOUR dinner. And you know what kind of person she is. She doesn’t deserve this attention, she only wants to ruin your hospitality, because that’s the kind of person she is.
No, no this man must be a phony. How could a man who raises the dead not know what this woman does every day? How could such a “holy man” allow so much uncleanness to caress his feet? Why let someone like her defile someone like him?
Then he says your name and breaks you out of your reverie. He calls your name. He tells you about two debtors, both forgiven – one much and one little. He asks “Who will love the forgiver more?”
“The one who was forgiven much,” you answer wisely.
He turns to the woman and takes her worried, nervous, anxious trembling hands in his own. He turns his soft but piercing eyes to her own, red from weeping. He says to you, “Do you see this woman?” He lets the words hang in silence for a moment. She rubs her nose. For the first time you notice that some of her hair is starting to turn gray. You notice that she is not old, but the lines come from stress. You notice that she must have washed to come, as she looks cleaner than you have seen her in a long time… You see yourself seeing this woman, who you see everyday, in a new way. She is a whole person. She is more than the sum of her mistakes. She is loving this teacher. She is showing him honors “She has done for me what you have not,” he says. “She has much to be forgiven for, and so she loves, knowing now that she is forgiven. In your own eyes, your sins are so much smaller, and so your love is so much less.”
The rest of the table murmurs about the teacher forgiving sins, but as they talk he says to the woman “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” She smiles at him with gratitude and joy…
Do you see this woman?
Or do you see the sins? The immorality? The wickedness? The hardness of life? The addictions? The abuse?
Jesus opened the eyes of the blind, and more importantly, causes the spiritually blind to see the world. May this imaging open your eyes. This man who raised up the dead, more importantly, raised up the living to new life. May this story cause you to raise the living to new life.
And may this question reverberate in your head all day :
Do you see this woman?
(Optional note for those confused about the devotion : spiritual imagining, putting ourselves in the story, is an ancient spiritual tradition. One great example that is often used is in Luke 15, the parable of the “Lost/Prodigal Son”, or better “The Lost Sons” or best “The Searching/Prodigal Father”. You may see yourself as the son who runs off, the servants rejoicing, the son who is angry for forgiveness, or the father looking for his boys. It says much about ourselves and our relationship with God and others to see who we identify with, and to put ourselves in strange places in the story. Today we looked through Simon’s eyes in Luke 7, not because it is the best, but because of course he would doubt Jesus. Of course he would question him. Of course he would be offended at the woman. And of course, all of that is undue, because Jesus overcomes our doubts through miracles, our questions through answers and better questions, and our offense by unending grace. May this story take a new meaning to you as you ask yourself: Do you see this woman?)
You can read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway – Numbers 33-34 and Luke 7
On Christmas, it’s appropriate that we read 1 John. It may seem better that we read Matthew or Luke, but 1 John distills the life and teaching of Jesus from the perspective of an old man. If we want to hear an old, inspired teacher dispensing his wisdom, John (and the books attributed to that name) are books to which to turn.
John is old and he is concerned with the most important things in life. He testifies about Jesus, the light who comes into the world, to fulfill the joy of himself and his readers. Joy is a chief concern of the old man. Jesus doesn’t turn us into a curmudgeon. That’s because Jesus brings us to a God who is greater. A God who is light. A God who is love. That’s a God of Joy.
If we want to be in Christ, to have this God who fulfills joy, to be counted among the children of light and love, we must keep the commands of Christ. We must walk as Jesus walked. But what is the command. When John says the old command they have heard from the beginning, he is not referring to the law. He is referring to the command from the beginning of the teaching of Jesus. The message which we have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.(3:11) Just as Christ laid down his life for us, we should be willing to lay down our life for our brothers and sisters in love (3:16). We believe in the name of Jesus and love one another, just as Christ commanded us (3:23). More verses that tell us to love one another because of the love of God : 4:7-8, 4:10-12, 4:19-21.
The command is to love our brothers and sisters.
But we are also commanded to NOT love the world. Of course, this doesn’t mean to not love people. The “world” according to John, are all the things that are not of God: sin, power, money, control, hate. We so easily love sin, which gives us momentary pleasure, usually at another’s pain. We love power and money and control, so that we can continue to sin without consequence in this world. And hate allows us to have superiority to others even as we hurt them, because we think we are better.
AVOID THAT. Avoid those idols!
Know that if you keep the command to love, if you believe in the name of Jesus, and allow him to guide you in light and love, the God of joy is going to give you a joy that lasts forever. We are promised eternal life.
May you, my brothers and sisters, experience the JOY that God gives.
May you LOVE one another, as is the command of Christ.
May you avoid sin and the love of the world, and have PEACE in yourself.
May you experience eternal life, both now and forevermore, and have HOPE.
And with that HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE, may you have a very, very…
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 John.
Today, I would encourage you to read the material (Jude, 2 Peter) BEFORE the devotion, if you don’t already do that. Go do that. This can wait. You may be saying to yourself, did I just read the same thing twice? They are very similar.*
I’ve written this before, but in scripture, when something is repeated, IT IS IMPORTANT. In Ancient Cultures, reading wasn’t the norm. The people in the time of Jesus and before were oral cultures, and repeating oneself in written form was a way to emphasize important points. What’s happening in Jude and 2 Peter is God “repeating himself” for our benefit.
Jude and 2 Peter are both focused on false teachers bringing in destructive teachings among the people of God. Jude tells us that these people “creep” in “secretly”. They are teaching two general ideas : they are denying Jesus as Messiah and Master and they are turning grace into immorality and sensuality. These are twin ideas. These people were declaring that Jesus was not the only one who could save us from our sins (Messiah) and had no place in telling us what was right and wrong (Master). The false teachers seemed to have held the view that sin was not “real”; there was not one thing that was right and another that was wrong, but all were saved by the grace of God, and all would be permitted to spend eternity with him. All action was permitted.
We are still talking about the ancient world, though I know how similar it sounds to our own. Jude and Peter are warning us to not be seduced by these ideas. Instead, FIGHT for the faith. Don’t let those who would water down the gospel win. In love, speak truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You contend because those who are teaching these false things are bound for destruction. THEY should have known better, but YOU DO know better. Don’t let others go down this same path, but watch out for yourself. Peter says to live with all godliness and righteousness. Jude says to build yourself up in faith and keep yourselves in the love of God.
My brothers and sisters, may you see in Jude and 2 Peter faithful authors speaking to the same truth : there will always be someone trying to convince you that Jesus is not the Messiah, and their way to live is the best (either by adding commandments or removing standards). May you turn away from these false teachers. May you see two testimonies about the dangers of these heresies and sins, and may you make sure to be doubly cautious before following an unknown teacher.
-Jake Ballard —————————————————————————————————*If you would like to see a pretty decent analysis of why they are similar, you can read this article here : http://exegeticaltools.com/2020/05/15/the-literary-relationship-between-2-peter-and-jude/ The author of this devotion does not necessarily endorse everything said on the site (of course) or even the implicit conclusion of the article. (I think Jude wrote first, and Peter copied and riffed on his writing.) ** To the Tune of Last Christmas by WHAM! (Merry Christmas Eve)
Today’s Bible passages can be read on BibleGateway here – 2 Peter & Jude
I wish I could tell you that after you are faithful, after you have lived a life dedicated to loving God and loving people, that everything is smooth sailing. I wish I could make and keep a promise that you will never get sick, never be poor, never be mocked, never be persecuted, for the faith that you have. But, the truth is that we live in a world full of sinful people, a world full of broken people. We may even be the cause of some of our pain. When the world gets tough, when life is hard, what are we supposed to do?
Paul addresses these questions in his second letter to Timothy that we have in scripture. We need to recognize that, when Paul is writing this letter, he is currently under arrest for his faith. He had spoken the name of Jesus and the Jews arrested him. Because he was a Roman citizen, he appealed to Caesar for his trial. Instead of walking free, he was bound, shipped around the Mediterranean, shipwrecked, and transported to Rome, where he was kept under house arrest. (Before, I thought house arrest didn’t sound bad, but 2020 lockdowns have drastically changed my mind.) In the midst of all this, everything that Paul is going through, his message to Timothy, a young pastor, is “Keep being faithful to the Gospel message.” Even though that message is the very thing that has Paul in chains, as he follows God’s will to be in Rome, Paul knows that the Gospel is the only source of life. The Gospel message of Jesus tells us about God’s Kingdom, both later over the whole world and in our hearts now, how to live as a citizen of that kingdom today, and how to be given eternal life in the future. No amount of suffering now can compare to the hope, peace, love and joy that come through the Kingdom Message.
Paul notes to Timothy that this doesn’t make life easier. In 2 Timothy, we can almost hear the sadness in Paul’s words as he notes that his friends have left him. He’s not angrily ranting, but sadly noting that his entourage has turned into only the smallest, die-hard band. Moreover, Paul seems to know that his death is near (4:6-8). He is getting his affairs in order, even in case he dies before Timothy’s coming (4:9-15). He knows things are at the end. This is his farewell note before going to sleep.
So what does he say?
Teach others, Timothy! (2:2, 4:1-2) Paul wants the things that Timothy heard to be passed on to others, who will know the faith so well that they can pass it on to others. For the pastors reading this, this is CLEARLY meant for you (and me). If we are not teaching in order to create teachers, we are not doing the job he has called us to do. if you are not a pastor, there is still a calling for you in this. For our more mature readers, this is calling you to share your faith with others in such a way that it sinks down deep and molds people so that they will share their faith. And for those who are new to the faith, share your faith, but also seek out mature and faithful believers to see what they have to teach and offer you. Paul spoke to Timothy, AND TIMOTHY LISTENED TO, TRUSTED AND OBEYED PAUL.
This is not giving everyone you meet a complex theological treatise. There is nothing wrong with complex theology; I’m a big fan myself. But Paul tells Timothy to keep the message simple to not wrangle over words or about things that don’t matter. (2:14, 16) Be FOCUSED on the things that matter because the days will get worse. You, Timothy, and you, reader, must be strong, because all those who desire to live holy lives, the best lives we can live, will be persecuted by those who don’t want to live that way. (3:12)
Finally, Paul lets Timothy know that there should not be despair at his “departure” (death). Paul knows who he is … and more importantly whose he is. Paul knows what awaits him at the coming of Christ. A Kingdom
A Heavenly Kingdom
A Kingdom that will come down from God on high and will last forever.
Paul’s farewell letter is an ode to this Kingdom. He wants his Son in the Faith Timothy there. He wants those who have not yet heard the message there. His singular focus is glory to God through Jesus Christ.
May you my brothers and sisters, be strong in the midst of difficult times.
May you proclaim the faith boldly.
May you trust God, obey him, and serve him in his kingdom, now and forevermore.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Timothy 1-4.