Sermon Transcript October 25, 2020
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ 2 Timothy 4:9-18 ~ Sunday, October 25. 2020
Famous figures from history can take on an almost superhuman aura about them. Do you know what I’m talking about? Take the founding fathers of our country for example. While politics may be polarizing these days, don’t we still stand in awe of the men who almost 250 years ago dreamed up these United States of America? Their wisdom that developed this form of government that never really existed before. Restraint, in the way they didn’t use the opportunity to grab power for themselves, but to develop a government for the people, by the people, and of the people.
Do you ever feel a similar, maybe even greater awe when it comes great people of faith in the history of the Church? On a whim, I did a Google search on “the most important events in world history” this past week and the top search result listed the American Revolution as #1 and the Lutheran Reformation as #2! That’s the historical event in the history of the Christian Church that we’re celebrating today. At the center of the Lutheran Reformation is this man Martin Luther. Luther’s legacy is feels almost other worldly. This man who courageously called the organized church of his day on the carpet on October 31, 1517 with his list of 95 grievances that he nailed to the Castle Church door, the medieval equivalent of putting something up in lights on Times Square today! A few years later, appearing before an official meeting of representatives from the Roman Catholic Church, pressured to disavow his writings regarding the Christian faith under the threat of excommunication from the church as well as the threat of being declared an enemy of the state, Luther remained steadfast. Despite immense pressure he boldly confesses: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures and by clear reason (for I do not trust in the pope or councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” Even as shouts went up in that very room, calling for his execution, he was famously undaunted: “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” That kind of faithfulness feels superhuman!
If you have a sense of awe when you think of Luther, I’m guessing your view of great people of faith mentioned in Holy Scripture rises to an even greater level! Like, the Apostle Paul. When you think of Paul, what thoughts come to mind? The radical change that God brought about in him on the road to Damascus? The tenacity the Holy Spirit worked in this former persecutor turned Gospel preacher? From his conversion on, just think about all Paul suffered for the sake of the truth and purity of the Gospel message. Imprisoned, flogged to within inches of death on at least five different occasions, pelted with stones, shipwrecked, living much of his life out of a suitcase, always moving around starting new missions, always in danger, regularly facing hunger, thirst, and sleeplessness. How could a regular human being endure such things? He must have been something greater, someone of superhuman ability!
We stand in awe of such qualities! It’s why I believe Americans love superhero characters and their superhuman abilities. Now I’m not suggesting in any way that Martin Luther and the Apostle Paul were fictional superheroes. What I’m saying is, we can’t help but be amazed and inspired by their extraordinary faithfulness and their unwavering confession even in the face of intense persecution! And because of that, you might be tempted to think that people like Martin Luther and the Apostle Paul are in a league all their own, that you could never be like them. Do you ever think like that? If so, I’m hoping you find this next tidbit of info about superheroes to be interesting. A man named Stan Lee created many of the most popular superheroes of today. Some have said that one of Stan Lee’s greatest contributions was to create superheroes with flaws and personalities that all of us can relate to. Stan himself said, “I thought it would be great to do superheroes that have the same kind of life problems that any reader—that anybody—could have.”
The section of Scripture we’re going to look at on this Reformation Sunday does something similar with the great Apostle Paul. I’d like to share a section of 2 Timothy 4 with you, a reading that reminds us that the Apostle Paul was a person who faced struggles that we can all relate to. Let’s take a look at the real life Apostle Paul, in 2 Timothy chapter 4.
9 Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. 12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.
14 Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. 15 You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.
16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
As Paul writes these words, he's nearing the end of his life. He is in prison in Rome. He's isolated. He's not in fantasy land about his future. Paul knows he's probably not getting out of this situation alive. What’s he feeling? What’s he longing for? I was studying this section with some fellow pastors, and one of the pastors commented, “I kinda feel sorry for Paul. He’s obviously feeling very lonely.” The Holy Spirit wants to make sure we catch this point. What is it that Paul longs for? What does he ask for under these circumstances? He tells us…well, we get to hear him tell Timothy, “Do your best to come to me quickly” (v. 9).
Why is this important for us on Reformation? Lutheran Christians are often quick to sound the Reformation's clarion call, "’Sola Scriptura’ Scripture Alone! With Luther and Paul we take our stand on Scripture alone. God’s Word is all we need!” In one sense that is true. When it comes to what God would have us believe and teach, profess and confess, the Bible is the infallible source of saving truth. But another great blessing that the Scriptures proclaim is that it is the will and blessing of God that we live and grow in the saving truth of Scripture by connecting with fellow Christians who share in the battle cry of , “Scripture alone!” together with us! While we draw our belief and teaching from Scripture alone, we do not stand in the faith all by ourselves. We need one another, which is why God has given us one another, to help us live out and grow up in the Christian faith.
God didn’t design Christian faith and life and ministry to be a Lone Ranger kind of life. Paul understood that. Appreciated that. You hear his yearning for Christian connection in his soulful appeal to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me quickly!” Why was Paul so urgently pleading for Timothy to make the trek to Rome to come see him? Because Paul is feeling an emptiness left by a former colleague, Demas, who “deserted” him. This is deeper than absence. When Paul writes that Demas, “loved this world,” he’s insinuating that Demas deserted the Christian faith in pursuit of the pleasures and passions of this life. And it broke Paul’s heart! To lose a dear brother in Christ, not to death, but to living for someone other than the Lord! And though Demas is still very much alive, Paul’s heart aches at the reality that Demas is no longer a member of the family of God. Demas’ desertion is taking such a deep toll on Paul emotionally that he begs Timothy to get to Rome as quick as he can. Paul needs Timothy’s brotherly encouragement to help him stay focused on God’s promises as he battles feelings of loss, even despair.
Going through these months since COVID started, I’m guessing we can all relate to what Paul is feeling at some level. It’s been hard not to be able to connect weekly with fellow Christians in the ways we had grown accustomed to doing. For a few months not able to gather in person at all. But even now, even though we’re able to get together again, we’re not all together again. This past week, a couple different people asked me, “How many members make up the Christ the King church family?” Officially, approximately 300 people. But my heart hurts as I start to think about the individuals and families that I haven’t heard from or seen in weeks, even months. They are still very much alive, but I wonder, I worry what is happening in their souls? When people stop making the effort to connect with those whom they’ve called their spiritual family, what does that mean for them spiritually? I’ve heard some noted national church leaders predict that in the aftermath of COVID as many as 25-30% of church members will never return to church. That hurts. Not just because of the size of the number, but because of what it suggests about the state of the souls of so many! When people have energy and can make the effort to do other things, but won’t make the effort to connect to Word of God things together with the people of God, isn’t that a sign of loving the things of this world and this age more than spiritual things and the age that is to come?
It's painful to see what looks like spiritual death creeping up on those whom you love. So what do you do? What can we do? We can reach out. We can encourage. We can exhort. We can even warn them, urging them to come back. But what if they won’t listen? What if they resist, refuse your efforts? What if they turn on you, and tell you that their relationship with God is none of your business, that, if there is a problem, it’s that you’re being judgmental? Some have said it’s best just to stop caring. Why expose yourself to rejection and the hurtful reactions that come from guilty consciences? Is it better to turn off your heart than allow it to be hurt by those who once were your spiritual brothers and sisters? While that has a logical appeal to it, it doesn’t mesh with the spirit of Paul’s words or the desire of God’s heart.
Here, too, I think God has given us a pretty powerful example in the Apostle Paul’s life and ministry. In writing to Timothy, one of the other people that Paul longs to see is a man named Mark. To understand why this is so remarkable, you need to know the backstory to Paul’s and Mark’s relationship. At an earlier time, Paul was rather down on Mark. You see, Mark had been one of Paul’s ministry partners when he set out on his first missionary journey. But when they left the island of Cyprus and reached Asia Minor, Mark deserted Paul and his companions and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). We’re not sure why. Was it cold feet for mission work? Was he homesick? Regardless, without warning he left Paul hanging. So when Paul and Barnabas were ready to begin their second missionary journey, Paul didn’t want to bring Mark along, even though Barnabas did. Working together in ministry is more than a relationship of convenience. It is a partnership that calls for commitment, for a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of the team. But at the time Mark wasn’t in it for the team, he was in it for himself. And when the going got tough, Mark up and told Paul, “I’m going to go do what I want!” and he left. So when Mark wanted to join back up with the ministry team later on, Paul wasn’t convinced that Mark’s heart had changed, though Barnabas believed Mark had learned his lesson. Paul and Barnabas had such a sharp disagreement over whether or not to bring Mark on the missionary expedition that they actually split up and went their separate ways because of Mark.
To be clear: Paul had forgiven Mark, he just wasn’t sure that he could trust him. Realizing that, Mark figured out what he had to do. He proved himself to be reliable, he showed himself to be a man whose commitment Paul could depend upon. When Paul saw the change in Mark, he was ready and eager to accept Mark as a member of his ministry team once again. By the time of Paul’s first captivity in Rome, he had Mark working at his side. In this letter Paul commends Mark highly, saying, “He is useful to me for the ministry.” What a powerful lesson for us and our life together in Christian faith and ministry!
Paul is personal and powerful illustration of this in reconciling with Mark. The healing gospel of God’s grace is the central truth that Luther rediscovered in the Reformation. As people who have personally experienced the transformational power of this precious truth in our relationship to God, we want to apply this precious truth to our relationships with one another too! The power of the Gospel not only absolves our sins before God, it also moves us to confess and forgive the sins between one another and productively work through the hurt such sins inflict! You see this powerful Gospel message isn’t just what we stand for, it is what enables us to stand together, even though we are sinners, even though we don’t always help each other the way we could and should, even though we disappoint each other and let each other down. The message of the Reformation, that through Jesus sinners take on a new identity as forgiven saints is the message that helps us keep on making our relationships work within this family of faith! People can change. When we hurt one another, we forgive each other unconditionally. If I do something that breaks your trust, genuine repentance moves me to patiently make the effort to rebuild and regain it. Likewise, a fruit of being forgiving is an openness to the trust rebuilding efforts of our fellow Christians even after they have disappointed us and hurt us.
Once again, Paul provides a powerful example in the way he handles the reality that no one came to his trial in Rome to serve as a character witness for him. While Paul could have stewed in bitterness, instead he lives in the healing power of forgiveness. He shares the secret to his strength: “May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength” (2 Timothy 4:16-17).
There is a great power in this for us and the unique challenges of the times in which we find ourselves. This past week, I received word that Daniel Deutschlander, a professor I had studied under in college, was placed into hospice care. He has an inflammatory lung disease (COPD) that has been further complicated by COVID, and it appears his time on earth is quickly coming to a close. At a time like this, family and friends are motivated to come and provide comfort, but due to COVID, personal visits aren’t allowed. It hurts to think of a dear brother in Christ spending his final days isolated and alone. It was amazing and comforting to receive this note from his pastor, “Professor Deutschlander asked me to pass along his appreciation to those who have inquired. He will remain unable to receive visitors or phone calls. He is content in his dear Savior, looking forward to being with Him. He asks all to join in prayer to Christ, asking Him for a blessed departure.”
Isn’t that amazing? Superheroes know their strength. Christians know the source of their strength. It’s not themselves. It is supernatural strength that the Lord himself provides us. It is the strength that gives us the power to stand firm in the faith even in these end times. It is the strength that gives us the power, the desire, and the will to encourage one another in the faith as we walk together through these difficult days! God grant it for his glory and to give us the strength we need to remain faithful in these Last Days! Amen