Deuteronomy 10: 12-22
Psalm 34 2
Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18
St. Luke 18: 9-14
“On Death Row”
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
With Veterans Day just a couple of days ago, this sermon might feel a little odd because it connects more with Memorial Day. To be more accurate, this sermon connects more with martyrdom. You see, the second lesson is not a letter from Timothy, but rather to Timothy from Paul, and this letter is one of his last letters, if not the last letter, before his execution. During those days most of the disciples and apostles suffered the similar fate of execution. You have Steven in Acts, you have St Peter, and you have St Paul, to name a view. So when you read 2 Timothy, read it from the lens of a man who knows he is about to die.
Paul has come a long way since the day he orchestrated the death of Steven in Acts. The first Christ martyr was killed at the hands of then Saul now Paul. If there was anything Paul should have been ashamed of, it was the life he lived before Christ. He was the chief of sinners and the worst of persecutors at the time. Yet through the glory and mercy of Christ who presented himself to Saul, he was saved and renamed Paul. Since the fateful day when Christ blinded Paul, he had been on a very long journey. After he professed his faith in the one and only true Savior, he went out into the world no longer the worst of persecutors but instead one of the most influential of God’s chosen.
It’s interesting that the fate Paul once dealt before he was saved had gone around and circled back to him as faced a similar fate. Paul in his youth was on a hell bent mission to execute the Jews who had joined the “heretical Jewish cult,” known as Christianity. Paul in his elder years was to be executed for just that. So before he departed this world for the crime of being a Christian, he had a few last words he wished to pass on to his protégé Timothy.
“I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” Paul had been put to the test multiple times on account of his new found faith. Those he once persecuted had trouble accepting him as one of their own, an enemy turned brother. Those he once worked with saw him as a traitor. The governments of the world targeted him multiple times, and continue to do so even today. Even the sins that haunted him from his past test him. Being a Christian is not an easy thing, for some every day brings a new trial. Yet Paul did not give in and was capable of keeping his faith to the end of this treacherous journey called life.
“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.” No matter what life threw at him, his eyes remained on Jesus Christ his Savior; for he knew that Christ had prepared for him a place in Heaven, not on account of his actions, but solely because he had faith in Jesus Christ. Upon his death, Paul was awarded by the Lord a righteous crown. A wreath of 3 salvation was placed upon Paul’s head as he walked through the gates of Heaven. This crown is not for Paul alone, but for all whose faith in Christ remains to the very end. For all who die with faith will be crowned in Jesus’ righteousness, washed forevermore from sin’s demise, and be made kings and queens. Here on earth, as Christians, we have a mighty inheritance promised to us on account of our adoption through baptism into the holy family of God. When we die the inheritance, which is a crown of glory and Heaven itself, it is finally presented to us. Paul knew this, thus he had no fear in his destination as he walked like a quiet lamb to his death.
“At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!” Humans are weak and will fail you, sometimes when you are in the most need for help. If you rely on humanity to meet your needs and to provide a steady hand do not be disappointed when even your brother turns against you. Christians are still sinners, and though we should not sin against each other, we still do. Paul suffered a similar fate where no Christian rose to defend Paul upon his imprisonment. And when he was to be executed, what human help was there? If you trust in humanity, you will be sorely disappointed. Paul did not trust humanity. He who was the chief of sinners knew the wickedness in the human heart.
Thus, instead of getting mad at his fellow Christians who abandoned him, he asked the Lord to be merciful to them. Similar to how Christ said upon the cross, “forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
“But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.” Paul did not trust humanity, but he didn’t need to. He trusted in the most powerful being, our Creator, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God never goes back on His word. He fulfills all His promises. There is no need to doubt the grace and mercy and providence of God. Therefore, why should Paul trust in humanity when all he needed was God? When humanity abandoned Paul, God stood with him. When Christians didn’t provide words of courage, God strengthened Paul so that he might face his death knowing that there is a better reward in Heaven. When many told him to be quiet around the non-Christians lest they might get angry, God guided Paul towards the Gentiles and fearlessly proclaimed the Good News to them at the cost of his own life. For in the end, proclaiming the Gospel is more important and rewarding than living even one day longer. By trusting in God to the point of death, Paul was rescued from the lion’s mouth which holds in its belly eternal death.
“The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” And with a final greeting that proceeds after this verse ends the final message from Paul before he died a martyr for Christ.
Paul was on Death Row for the crime of being a Christian. He preached the Good News, without fear of who he was preaching to and where he was preaching. There was never a time to not preach, there was never a person who shouldn’t receive the Gospel. This cost Paul his life, but rather we obey God and suffer execution than it is to obey Man and suffer eternal damnation. Therefore, on account of his insistence to obey the Great Commission commanded to him by God the Son, he was placed on Death Row.
Yet behind the words of this letter, you can almost feel another message. Paul is unashamed. He is not ashamed of being executed. He is
unashamed of his faith and his insistence to preach the Good News which ultimately is the reason why he is being executed. To be ashamed is to allow the Devil to win. To feel shame would be to Paul an act of extreme selfishness as his own reputation would become more important than God’s. If there is any shame within Paul it would be over his prior life as a persecutor of Christians. However, to feel shame for becoming a Christian Martyr never ends well for that is exactly what the Devil wants. He wants you to choose life over Christ.
Paul was unashamed and was glad that through every trial God protected him and strengthened him spiritually against the fiery darts of the Devil. No matter what Paul faced, God strengthened him so that at the end of each leg of the race Paul ran victorious, still a Christian whose faith was unquestionably sound. Know this, if we hope to finish the race of life with our faith intact then we most certainly need the help of God. The Devil will throw many difficult things at you. Your brother might betray you and try to get you thrown indefinitely in jail for being a Christian. Your friends might abandon you. Execution might become your partner. Without the strength of God on our side, then we will abandon our faith. So you who are close to death knocking on your door, but have remained a Christian through thick and thin, know this, that is on account of God who has stood by your side, has strengthened you, and has rescued you from the lion’s mouth.
Do not be ashamed of the path God has chosen for you. Be like Paul. He knew that the end was coming, so instead of feeling self-pity he turned to those younger than him and passed the torch. Paul may have finished the
race, but that did not mean that the race had ended. It still goes on. Paul looked not at his own demise, but on those who were left behind. Paul is basically telling Timothy it is your turn to carry the torch. Have faith in Jesus Christ your Savior, who already died on the cross for your sake, and so long as you do that we will be reunited. This life is nothing compared to the eternal happiness we will share in Heaven through Jesus Christ.
So what are some of the things you can do? When death comes, gracefully receive it. However, before this happens encourage faith in Jesus Christ to others. Teach about His benevolence. Pray for the Spirit to give generously
courage and divine love. And let it be known that you are not ashamed of your faith.
Let us pray, Dear Heavenly Father, no matter what the Devil throws at us, give us the courage and kindness to overcome all his obstacles and to willingly walk towards death as firm believers in your generous saving grace. In your most heavenly name we pray: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen