This morning I want to look at the life of an old man. This man had almost nothing going for him. He was cold, in prison, literally chained to a guard. He was about to be killed. He had gone from being well-respected and successful to being an outcast. His life had been full of hardship, and, according to tradition, he was about to be beheaded.
Yet you get a sense that this old man was full of confidence and joy, that he could take anything that you could throw his way. He knew that he was about to die, yet you get the sense that he really didn't care. This man had been transformed so that he could handle anything that life threw his way.
He's not the only one either. If he was the only one, you could say that he possessed an unusual strength of character, or was one of these unusual people who are better than the rest of us. But he wasn't the only one. You look around, and you see that there are a whole bunch of people you could only call cowards who were transformed into people who were willing to stare death in the face without flinching. What changed in these people?
Maybe a better question is, how can we get what they got? What did they have, and how can we get it? To find out, I'd like to read the words of this old man, written to a younger man who didn't quite have the same courage. If you have your Bibles with you, please turn them to 2 Timothy 1 as we look what exactly this man had that allowed him to face anything.
2 Timothy 1:6-12 says:
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
You see what this old man, Paul, had? He not only had confidence and joy in the face of death, but he invited his young protege Timothy to join him and to have the same confidence, so he could face whatever came his way. By extension, I think we could say that we are invited to embrace what Paul did, so that we can face whatever comes our way with complete joy and confidence.
What is it, and how can we have the same strength to get through anything that life throws our way?
According to Paul, it's because of something that has been true for a long time, but has been hidden. Verses 9 and 10 say that whatever it is has been present for as long as the world existed, but it's only been revealed in the life of Jesus.
You know, some people were able to figure this out even before and they had the same confidence that Paul did. Hebrews 11 lists a number of people who lived the way that Paul did. A lot of the stories are ones of faith in which everything turns out well. Near the end of the chapter, though, the writer lists some stories where things didn't turn out well:
There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:35-38)
One of the most moving stories actually took place between our Old and New Testaments in the Apocrypha in 2 Maccabees. A mother and her seven sons were arrested and tortured unless they disobeyed God. They replied, "We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors." So one by one the king brought the brothers out, and in front of the mother he cut off their tongues, scalped them, and cut off their hands and their feet while the mother looked on. He then burned them in a pan until they died. It's a horrible chapter to read.
But as each of her sons was tortured, the mother said to them, "The LORD God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us." She encouraged each one of them to stay faithful even as they were being tortured.
When she only had one son left, they tried to get her to talk that son into giving in so his life could be spared. They promised to give him riches and a powerful position if he turned his back on God. His mother instead said this:
My son…I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you…Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God's mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers. (2 Maccabees 7:27-29)
As they were about to torture one of the brothers, he stuck his tongue out and stretched his hands out for them to cut, and he said, "I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again" (2 Maccabees 7:11).
This is gory and hard to read. What gave them such courage? The writer to the Hebrews says that they refused "to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection" (Hebrews 11:35). In other words, they believed that God would raise them from the dead if they put their trust in him.
But then the writer to the Hebrews has the audacity to say that we have something even better than they did. "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect" (Hebrews 11:39-40). In other words, we have even greater reason for courage in our lives, because we have what they only hoped for. What do we have that will give us the strength and the courage to get through anything?
Paul tells us in verses 9-10 of 2 Timothy 1. He says, "This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus." Paul is saying that God has revealed something through Jesus Christ that was there all along, but is now there for everyone to see. The apostle Peter says it's something that the prophets searched for "intently and with the greatest care," and that "even angels long to look into these things" (1 Peter 1:10-12).
So there's something that this old man had that gave him courage and strength to get through anything. It's something that some people caught a glimpse of even before it was fully revealed, but even a glimpse was enough to give them the courage they needed to get through torture and to stay faithful to God. It's something that all the prophets strained to see, and even angels long to look into it. And if we have it, it will give us the grace to get through anything.
What is it? Verses 9 and 10 say, "This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."
In other words, the thing that can give us the strength to stay faithful and true to God, the thing that will give us the strength to get through anything, is the grace that is revealed to us at Easter. If we really get what happened at Easter, we'll have the courage and the strength to get through anything. It's what kept Paul going, it's what Paul told Timothy he needed to remember. It's what we need, because if we really get it we'll have the strength to get through anything.
Paul says that it's been "revealed through the appearing of our Savior." At my house, we have this battle about turning off the lights. Can you relate? I think I'm the worst. I'm always trying to get the kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. The problem is that sometimes they listen, and I'm in one end of the basement and have to make it through to the other with the lights turned off. I end up tripping everything because it's there, even if you can't see it.
Paul says that there is something that has been there all along, but for most of history people couldn't see it. It was still there; it was just hidden. What is it? It is the grace given in Christ Jesus. Throughout all of history, the grace of Jesus Christ has been the only thing that has kept us going. I love what Tozer writes in The Radical Cross:
No one ever was saved, no one is now saved, and no one will ever be saved except by grace. Before Moses nobody was ever saved except by grace. During Moses' time nobody was ever saved except by grace. After Moses…anywhere, any time…nobody was ever saved in any other way than by grace.
"God felt no different toward us after Christ had died for us," he says, "for in the mind of God Christ had already died before the foundation of the world."
So the grace of Jesus Christ has been there all along, and even a glimpse of it was enough to give someone the courage to deal with anything.
But now, Paul says, the lights have been turned on, and what was hidden all along is now revealed for everyone to see. What is it that has revealed the grace that we need to get through anything?
Paul says in verse 10 that it's "been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus." In other words, Jesus coming to earth flipped the lights on so that we could all see the grace that was there all along. And if you want to look where the light shines brightest, you have to look at Easter weekend. Easter reveals the grace that gives us the strength to get through anything.
If you get just a glimpse of what Jesus did for us at Easter, it will change your life. You won't have to fear anything anymore. Take a look at the cross and all that it did:
- Relationally, at the cross, Jesus changed us from being enemies of God. He reconciled us so we could enjoy a relationship with him.
- Legally, at the cross, Jesus paid the penalty of our sin so that the verdict of condemnation no longer applies to us.
- Cosmically, at the cross, Jesus freed us from our bondage to the powers of evil – from principalities and powers, sin, the devil, and death.
- Ethically, at the cross, Jesus gave us an example of how to stand up under injustice. "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" (1 Peter 2:21).
If you get just a glimpse of the cross, just a glimpse of what he did for us relationally, legally, cosmically, and ethically, it will give you the strength to get through anything.
But it doesn't end at the cross. There's more. Tozer said, "It should be remembered that He could not save us by the cross alone…A dead Christ would be as helpless as the ones He tried to save." You see, there's not just the cross. There's also Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose from the dead. And if you really get a glimpse of what Jesus did on Easter Sunday, it will give us the strength to get through anything.
What did Jesus do on Easter Sunday? Verse 10 says, "who has destroyed death…" Would you agree that death is a problem? Of course it is! Hebrews 2 says that the devil holds the power of death, and that all of humanity is "held in slavery by their fear of death" (Hebrews 2:14-15). Death is number seven on the top list of things Americans are afraid of. The only reason it's not higher is because we all think it's a problem we won't have to deal with today.
Epicurus, the great Greek philosopher, said that he could die happy if he was absolutely sure that death was the end. We could die happy if we were sure that death is just peaceful oblivion. But because nobody is sure that death is the end, nobody can die happy.
People sometimes say that it's better to die if you're suffering. It's better to pull the plug so people can be at peace. Epicurus says, "What are you talking about? How do you know what happens after death?" We could die happy if death was the end, but what if we don't know what happens after we die? So death is a big problem for all of us.
But Hebrews 2 tells us that Jesus "shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14). Paul says in verse 10 that Jesus has destroyed death. Let me tell you what happened on Easter weekend. Jesus and death went toe to toe, and Jesus won. He defeated death. As a result, the Christian can face death, because we know that death isn't the end. Jesus has defeated death, and we no longer have anything to fear.
Now listen. Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about this – about how Christ has overcome death as "the last enemy" (1 Corinthians 15:26), and he said, "If a few people really believed that and acted on it in their daily lives, a great deal would be changed. To live in the light of the resurrection – that is what Easter means." If you and I really got a glimpse of the victory over death that took place at Easter, it would change us. We'd no longer have to fear anything. Paul was in prison and was about to be beheaded, but he didn't care. Desmond Tutu was under scrutiny by the South African apartheid government, but he said, "There is nothing the government can do to me that will stop me…what is it that they can ultimately do? The most awful thing that they can do is to kill me, and death is not the worst thing that could happen to a Christian." When you see the grace that is revealed to us at Easter, you don't have to be afraid of death anymore. Easter reveals the grace that can give you the strength to get through anything – even through death.
But that's not all. Verse 10 says, "who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." In Paul's day, the Greeks believed that only the gods like Zeus, and a few extraordinary heroes, were immortal. Everyone else is mortal. Paul says that Jesus has turned the lights on to life and immortality. We have eternal life through his resurrection, and that life begins now. The resurrection life now belongs to everyone who has trusted in Christ, because "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20). Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we will be raised from the dead as well.
So Paul could sit in that dungeon in Rome and be full of courage and strength. He could face his own death. He could face anything, because Easter reveals the grace that gives us the strength to get through anything.
And Paul could say in verse 12, "I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day." It's not that Paul had a great faith. It's that he had a great Savior. His confidence wasn't in himself. Because of the grace revealed to us at Easter, he knew that God would never let us down.
At Easter, God revealed to us the nature of the resurrection life which can now be ours. If we really understand what Christ did for us at the cross and in rising from the dead – if we really get a glimpse of the grace that was revealed for us at Easter – we'll have the strength to get through anything. Remember what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: "If a few people really believed that and acted on it in their daily lives, a great deal would be changed. To live in the light of the resurrection – that is what Easter means."
And so this old, dying man wrote to a younger guy who lacked courage and said, "Timothy, if you want to have courage in your life, look to Easter. It's given me courage and it can give you courage too. Because Easter reveals the grace that will give you the strength you need to get through anything."
Father, thank you for the example of these seven sons, who only got a glimpse of grace, but it was enough for them to get through torture, because they wanted to gain a better resurrection.
Thank you that what they only got a glimpse of has now been illuminated and revealed to us, so that it's plain for us to see. Now may we not only believe it – believe that Christ has conquered death and given us eternal life – but may we also act on it in our daily life, so we'll have the strength to get through anything. Give us the confidence that comes from knowing whom we have believed, and being convinced that he is able to guard what we have entrusted to him until that day. Help us to live in light of the resurrection. In the name of the risen Christ we pray. Amen.