Pentecost 23c

Preached: October 27, 2013

Live Ready for Your Lord
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word of God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus is 2 Timothy 4

For I have already been poured out like a drink offering, and the proper time for my departure has come. I have been competing in the good contest, finishing the race, guarding the faith. As for the rest, the crown of righteousness is laid away for me, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day — and not only to me but to all who have loved his appearing.

At my first defense, no one was alongside me, but everyone abandoned me. May it not be reckoned against them. But the Lord stood by me and empowered me, so that through me the preaching fulfilled its purpose and all the Gentiles heard it. And I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every wicked work and bring safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

In 2007 a movie staring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman gave us a new term: “bucket list,” a list of things to do before you “kick the bucket,” die. Through a mixture of humor and pathos, it showed one way the world views living and dying.

The word of God before us today gives us the Christian's view of life and death. The Apostle Paul would soon die, not from cancer but from the executioner's blade. He was on trial for preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, part of the persecution carried out under Emperor Nero in the mid 60's. From his prison cell he wrote this letter to Timothy, the last of Paul's letters that we have. How does he face his impending death? In the same way he had lived his life. Ready for his Lord.

So this word from God through Paul prepares you and me, dear Christian friends, not only for death but also for life. No matter how old or young you are, live ready for your Lord. That's the theme today. Live ready for your Lord by striving in your service and by resting in his rescue.

A. By striving in your service

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6, 7 NIV84). Paul had served his Lord faithfully. There's no bucket list of regrets. Out of context, that can sound arrogant. But remember, this is the sane Paul who a few years earlier had written to Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience” (1 Timothy 2:15, 16 NIV84).

Paul had no regrets not because he had done everything right or had lived out his dreams but rather because God's mercy in Christ had forgiven him all his wrongs and there was no greater dream than being with Christ in heaven. God's mercy in Christ not only changed Paul's view of death but also changed the way he lived his life each day. How differently do you live your life because of Jesus?

In view of Christ's mercy, Paul lived each day as a thank offering to his God and Savior. So even as the wine was poured out as a drink offering with the whole burnt sacrifice that was dedicated to the Lord each morning and evening, so soon Paul's blood would be poured out after a life of daily service dedicated to his Lord.

Was it a premature end? Paul was still healthy and capable. He hadn't retired from his mission work. The world might say he died too young. But Paul knew that the timing of his departure was in God's hands. It wasn't controlled by a Roman court but by his merciful God and Savior. He could pray just as David did in Psalm 31, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15).

And since every moment of life was in God's hands, Paul strove to serve his Lord. Paul uses a sports picture when he writes, “I have fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7 NIV84). The Greek words don't refer to a military battle but an athletic contest whether wrestling or running. Just as an athlete strives and strains, so Paul strove to serve his Lord.

He did so like a runner with his eyes on the finishing line. Notice how he describes that finish line: “Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8 NIV84).

Who gains this victor's crown? Only the righteous, for it's the crown of righteousness. But who can stand before the holy Judge? Who has the righteousness that measures up to God's right standard of perfection? Only Jesus. You see, our striving does not win the victor's crown. Rather we strive because our Champion, Jesus Christ, has won the crown for us. His righteous life counts as your record. His white, wedding gown covers your filthy rags. He has won the victory rising from the dead. And he's the one that's coming to judge. No wonder Paul with deep love longed for Christ to make his final appearance at his Second Coming. No wonder Paul guarded his faith as a dear treasure to keep, clinging to Christ and his righteousness alone.

And so do we, dear Christians. Live ready for your Lord, whether death near or far. Strive to serve him. Strive like an athlete pouring out every ounce of strength. Strive to serve him in all that you do. Use the time he's given you, whether the finish line is near or far. Use the time striving in your service your Lord.

Paul served as the apostle to the Gentiles. How can you serve? What is your service? Consider two things. First into what roles has the Lord placed you in life? Second, how can you carry out those responsibilities in Christian love? What's your role? Are you a parent, grandparent, or child; a husband or wife; a student, worker, employer, or retiree? Remember that you are a citizen and a church member as well. How do you serve your Lord? By diligently carrying out those responsibilities according to God's priorities, out of faith in Jesus, and in love fore others. This is your service to your Lord. Even the most mundane chore becomes a thank offering to God when you do it to glorify your Savior.

And don't forget that carry out your roles involves not only your actions but your prayers as well. Serve by praying for others. Even when our physical strength has failed, the Christian's prayer is powerful and effective. Through faith in Jesus, you have the ear of your heavenly Father, God Almighty. Pray for others. Pray for Christ's love to fill them.

And since Paul and Timothy served in the full-time ministry, some can also serve as pastors. If you are young, think about that. As a parent or grandparent maybe you have a child or grand for you to encourage. We need pastors. The November issue of Forward in Christ reports seven pastors retiring. Although the last few years we've had enough new pastors graduating, we're near that point were for the foreseeable future more pastors will be retiring than graduating.

But whether as pastor or parishioner, we live ready for our Lord as we strive to serve him in whatever ways he gives us. We strive but not under compulsion or driven by worry or fear. Rather we live ready for our Lord resting in his rescue.

B. By resting in his rescue

Paul rested in the Lord's rescue. That's the way he lived his life and the way he faced death. Do you remember some of the challenges Paul faced in life? Rejected by his own people, continually on the road, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked. But he lived ready for the Lord, resting in the rescue the Lord worked for him no matter how difficult the day or what storm was blowing in. And he lived his last days like that as well.

Even though he made it through that first hearings, he knew his imprisonment would end with execution. The Lord was at his side even when alone and had given him the words to say. The preaching of Jesus Christ rang out in that heathen courtroom. But that was not going to bring Paul's release. Rather Paul confesses, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18 NIV84).

And that, dear friends, is the ultimate way the Lord rescues each of his dear children. Through death he brings us into the eternal safety of heaven. That's the ultimate answer for our prayer: “But deliver us from evil.” Live ready for your Lord by resting in his rescue.

But we fret and worry instead of resting. We strain and struggle but not in the right way as we talked about in the first part. We worry about not having enough. We worry about pain and sickness. We worry about lingering on in a nursing home. We worry about our job, our grades. We worry about family. And how do we combat those worries? We try harder, thinking: “If I have enough saved up, if I work longer hours, if I follow the doctor's orders, if I do this or that, then things might get better.” We strain and struggle, but it's not the striving to serve our Lord we talked about before. Rather we strain and struggle trying to allay our worries by improving our earthly lot.

What sin! Worry doubts the Lord's care. That's the opposite of faith. Straining and struggling as if all depended on us is faith in ourselves or in humanity. That's the opposite of faith in Christ. What sinners we are! How much we need God's rescue! From the darkness deeper than any Roman dungeon we call, “Out of the depths I cry to you O LORD; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy” (Psalm 130: 1, 2 NIV84).

Before you uttered one of those word, before you were even born, the Lord answered. He rescued you, dear sinner, he rescued you. God the Son entered the depths of darkness and by the cross he rescued you and me. He nailed your sins to that tree. He has set you free.

That same Jesus who died for you now watches over you. He will rescue you no matter how troublesome life becomes, no matter how painful or even horrid. Trust him. He will rescue all who long for his coming and bring us safely to the heavenly home where he wipes away every tear. So live ready for your Lord resting in his rescue as you joyfully strive in your service to him.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313