2 Timothy 2:8 “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead…”
The Christian faith is more than learning a set of facts. It is more than passing some academic tests. I have often told my confirmation classes that I am not concerned they will ever forget the central teaching of Christianity: “Jesus died on the cross to pay for all your sins.” I am more concerned about the place that truth will hold in their hearts, and the impact that truth will have on their lives.
In the last letter he ever wrote, so far as we know, the Apostle Paul urges his faithful friend Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ.” Paul was not afraid that Timothy would forget who Jesus was. He is saying, “Here is something worth thinking about all the time. Here is a teaching, a story, a person who will change your life, and change it for the better. Here is the key to keeping your faith alive.”
What do you like to think about? There are many ideas competing for our attention, If someone cuts you off in traffic or you catch someone lying to you at work, your mind may be occupied with anger. If you have bad news from the doctor, or threatening news from the weatherman, your head and heart may fill with worries. If you turn on the TV to numb your mind after a long day at work, there is a ton of garbage available to be dumped into it: lust, violence, and disrespect to name a few.
None of this is good. None of this is compatible with “Love God,” and “Love your neighbor.” But they can be appealing in their own twisted way. This should not surprise us. “The sinful mind” (that is, the kind of fleshly mind we are all born with) “is hostile to God,” Paul writes in Romans. “It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” Eventually, this kind of thinking can land us outside of faith altogether.
Paul and Timothy had to wrestle with their own ungodly thoughts. This letter was Paul’s last. He was in a Roman prison for the second time, and this time he was not going to get out alive. He seemed to sense that. And he knew that his situation wasn’t encouraging for a younger pastor like Timothy. When pastors and missionaries are getting their heads chopped off for preaching the the gospel, it doesn’t make recruiting others for ministry easier. The apostle encouraged Timothy: “Endure hardship like a good soldier.” That’s easy to say, but where were they supposed to find the strength to do it?
“Remember Jesus Christ.” “Focus on our Savior,” Paul urges. “Think about him.” This more than a diversion. Years ago, when my wife and I were getting ready to have our first child, we went to childbirth classes. One way to help mom through the pain of labor is to pick a focal point–any object or place in the room–and concentrate. It’s a diversion, a distraction, to keep you from thinking about the pain.
Jesus is not just a distraction. There is real help for heart and head here. Remember that Jesus Christ is “raised from the dead.” There are two things to think about in those words. First, in order to be raised, Jesus had to die. He knew what it was like to suffer as we do. He even suffered one thing no one reading this has suffered yet: death. His death was not an unfortunate accident or the natural result of celebrating too many birthdays. Again, Paul reminds the Romans: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He died to save us. He died to forgive us. He died to reconcile and restore us to God.
That itself is reason to be brave, patient, and optimistic. But there’s more. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. More than that, he reigns. After he rose from the grave, he rose to heaven where he rules the universe. From there he promises to pull what’s left of our own decayed bodies out of their graves, renew and restore them, and fill them with the same kind of glory that oozes from every pore of his body now.
If that is so, what is the worst that people who persecute you can do to you–kill you? What is the worst that can come from your health problems or life’s storms, whether literal or figurative–an early death? What’s the worst thing God’s forgiven children will ever get from the sins that trouble their consciences–a casket with their name on it, a funeral in their honor? What of that? Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, and so will we!
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead. This still gives us strength to endure.