By Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
November 4, 2018
TEXT: Acts 20:22-27, II Timothy 4:6-8
One morning in April of 1888, Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, woke up to read his own obituary. His brother, Ludwig, had died. But a newspaper reporter mistakenly thought it was Alfred and carelessly reported the death of the wrong brother! Anyone would be disturbed under those circumstances to read their own obituary. However, the headline was even more troubling to Nobel. It read: The article called him “The Dynamite King” and stated: “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”
Alfred Nobel was horrified and overwhelmed. For the first time, this great inventor and industrialist, who made an immense fortune from explosives, saw himself as the world saw him– “The Dynamite King.” Nobel did not want to be remembered as “the merchant of death,” so he resolved to do something about it. Alfred Nobel said, “Every man ought to have the chance to correct his eulogy in midstream and write a new one.”
When Nobel died on December 10, 1896, it was discovered that according to his will, his vast wealth was to be used for five annual prizes: one for physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. The first prizes were awarded in 1901.
The prize for peace was to be awarded to the person who “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding of peace congresses.” Just before his death, he confided in a friend, “I want to be remembered for peace, not destruction.”
When Alfred Nobel died, he held 355 patents, had built companies and laboratories in over 20 countries and left a $9 million-dollar endowment to award the prizes. Nobel literally changed his legacy. Today we remember him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
While most of us will not leave behind inventions, world-wide success or a $9 million endowment, we are leaving a legacy.
How will you be remembered? What kind of reputation are you building? What legacy are you leaving? How will your eulogy read?1
Today we conclude our sermon series today called “God is Calling” – where we have looked at just a snapshot of the life of the Apostle Paul. Truly we’ve seen how Paul changed his legacy from being a persecutor of the church to being one of the greatest proclaimer of the gospel. All because of his great faith in Jesus.
Last week, we heard about Paul’s third missionary journey – especially his 2 years in Ephesus. After Paul left Ephesus he went to Greece and then on his way back to Jerusalem, he met with the elders from Ephesus to say good-bye to them. Open your Bibles to Acts 20 and let’s read his farewell speech. As we read – listen for the way he wanted to be remembered. Reading Acts 20:22-27:
22 “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, 23 except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. 24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. 25 “And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again. 26 I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, 27 for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.
As we listen to these words of Paul – you can tell that he believes that his future holds time spent in jail and suffering. But that is not what he is concerned about. Rather – what he wants more than anything, is to finish the work that he was given to tell others about Jesus. He wants to be remembered as one who didn’t give up but persevered. He wants to be faithful to his calling.
After leaving the Ephesian elders, Paul goes on to Caesarea. But the believers there begged him not to go to Jerusalem due to the danger that awaited him there. But Paul said, “I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus”. (Acts 21:14)
Sure enough, the Jews did arrest him in Jerusalem. Paul faced at least 5 trials before his adversaries where he boldly shared his faith in Christ. Soon a plot by Jewish leaders to kill Paul was discovered, so Paul was transferred to Caesarea. He was to stay there 2 years and had the opportunity to once again boldly share his faith before Governor Felix and King Agrippa. Both of them agreed that Paul had done nothing to deserve death or imprisonment. But the Jews in Jerusalem continued to make serious accusations against Paul. So, Paul appealed to Caesar – so that he could be tried in a Roman Court in Rome. And so, finally, Paul is taken to Rome by ship.
But it wasn’t an easy journey. He was shipwrecked along the journey, lost at sea and was bitten by a snake. When he finally arrived in Rome, he was put on house arrest for two years. Finally, he was taken to the Mamertine Prison in Rome – as you see here in this slide. On the right, you see a chapel that has been built there at that prison. In the foreground, you see a round manhole in the floor. Paul was literally lowered through that manhole and placed in a dungeon, to await his death. Paul’s cell was a dark, damp dungeon, reached only by a rope or ladder. He had no windows, no lights, no toilet, no furniture and no running water.
Just think for a moment about the 30-year ministry of Paul. Think about all the trials and suffering he had to go through during his long marathon race of faith. It seemed like he was facing danger everywhere he went. He was jailed, flogged and beaten with rods. He was betrayed by people and condemned and oftentimes ridden out of town. And in the midst of all of this, he struggled with some thorn in the flesh that seemed to make him feel very weak. Isn’t it a wonder he didn’t give up and throw in the towel?
You know, you and I haven’t gone through the kind of trials Paul went through – but there are times when we are tempted to give up aren’t there? You’ve been hurt – and you’re filled with pain – you’re disappointed and discouraged and you’re ready to drop out of the race. Maybe you’ve been imprisoned because of some sin in your life. Or maybe you’ve been shipwrecked by all the storms of life crashing over you. How do you get up and keep running this marathon of faith? How can you be faithful and finish well in this race? I think Paul’s life and his words give us some hope and some help on how to finish strong.
When we get to our text today in II Timothy - we find that Paul is now very close to the finish line in his race of faith. In fact, II Timothy is the last letter Paul ever wrote. He has been arrested and is in a dungeon near Rome. He says that everyone had abandoned him – except for his friend Luke. And here he waits, knowing that soon he will be beheaded by Emperor Nero. He is literally at the end…the finish line is in sight. And so, he writes one last letter to his son in the faith, Timothy. It is really like he is passing the baton of ministry on to Timothy.
Notice, Paul’s words are not those of a discouraged, broken man. There is no sound of defeat or worry or fear. Rather, he has a calm assurance and a hope.
Paul encourages Timothy to not give up – but to stay strong in the grace that God gives in Christ. There will be very difficult days ahead. He will have to endure and persevere and remain faithful to the things he has been taught.
And then Paul shares his own epitaph really – words that sum up how he ran the race of faith. Turn to our text in the 4th chapter of II Timothy and we are going to read just verses 6-8. II Timothy 4:6-8:
6 As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. 8 And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.
Paul knew the time of his death was very near—he was literally on death row! But he didn’t see his death as a cruel injustice by Nero – nor was he angry at God, feeling like God had abandoned him. No – he saw it as being an offering, poured out to God – giving his life for Jesus, who had died for him. In Romans 12:1, Paul said, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice - the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him.” Paul had lived his life for Jesus – and now, as he faced death, he was giving that to Jesus as a final act of worship.
For us – as we run this race of faith – we too need to give all of our lives as an act of “sacrificial worship” to God. Because God has done so much for us – in dying for us and giving us victory – we respond by giving all ourselves to Him…every bit of our lives devoted to Him – loving God with ALL our hearts and minds and souls. That means day in and day out, our focus needs to be on Him. How we spend our time, how we spend our money – how we relate with others – everything needs to be done as an act of giving glory to God.
Not only did Paul live his life and anticipate his death as an offering to God – he says that he also fought the good fight. Now what does that mean? Well remember, he is using an athletic imagery again – like boxing – as an image for living this life – fighting the battle for our souls. The Christian life is not an easy life – we struggle with the forces of evil and sin in our lives. Paul tells us we need to wear the “whole armor of God” – to be able to stand firm against all the strategies of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11) We do this by keeping our faith strong – through Bible Study and prayer – by worship and fellowship with other believers. It really takes discipline - day in and day out to stand firm and not fall to all the forces in our life that are trying to pull us down and away from God. And most importantly, it takes trusting in the Holy Spirit to give you the power to stand firm – and fight that good fight for faith in Christ.
Paul also said that he had finished the race and remained faithful. Paul didn’t give up in the middle of the race because he was tired – or because it got too hard. He persevered and remained faithful to God. He didn’t go off and do things “his way” – rather he followed the course that God has planned for him. Whether in good times or bad times, happy circumstances or painful trials, he remained faithful to God and didn’t give up. He endured all the way to the end.
That’s just how Paul lived his life – he just kept moving no matter what the day held. One step at a time – one foot in front of the other – moving by the strength and power of God. He wasn’t detoured or overwhelmed by opposition or trouble because he knew that God would carry Him through and give Him the strength He needed, right when he needed it. Because he knew that at those times when he felt weak in his faith – God’s grace was sufficient for Him and would always be there to give him power to keep going.
God’s grace and strength was there for Paul, all the way and even to the day of his death. And Paul was not fearful of his death but had his eye on the crown of righteousness he would receive in heaven. What enabled Paul to keep going and finish strong in his race of faith was that his mind was on the future. Yes – he was about to stand before an earthly judge who would convict him and have him beheaded. If his mind just stayed focused on that – he could have just been swallowed up in fear and despair. But instead, he focused his mind on the righteous judge he was getting ready to see - and the wonderful reward he would receive in hearing Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant – enter into the joy of your Lord.” Paul had that hope of heaven that kept him going! He truly believed in the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ and knew that God gives us victory over death through Jesus! He wasn’t afraid to die but was excited to meet His Savior face to face.
You know when it comes to our own race of faith, we have to ask ourselves, where is our focus? And who are we trusting in? It really comes down to keeping our eye on Jesus, doesn’t it – and persevering through each and every trial, depending on God’s strength to get you through. It means in every situation I find myself in – I want to be found faithful in my attitudes, my words and my actions. And living by the hope we have that one day we will cross over into our heavenly home. As it says in Hebrews 3:14 – “For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.”
Faithful to the end…that was the legacy the Apostle Paul left us. He fought the good fight of faith – he stayed the course and kept the faith. He was true to the call of God. And the world was changed forever!
God is calling you! He has a plan and purpose for your life. He wants to use you to show the world His love and His light. You can make a difference in this world by your faithfulness to that call.
Adam Hamilton, at the end of his book, “The Call” tells about his friend Paul Rasmussen, who is the pastor of Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas. He routinely asks his congregation “What won’t happen if you don’t do what God has called you to do?”
Think about it. What wouldn’t have happened if Paul hadn’t answered that call?
What won’t happen if you don’t do what God has called you to do?2
1The Preachers Word. “What will your obituary say about you?”
2Adam Hamilton, The Call. Page 222. Abingdon Press, 2015.