Keep On Keeping On
A sermon based on 2 Timothy 2:8-13
Sunday, October 13, 20123 – Pentecost 21C
"Keep on keeping on." That's what my bishop, or supervising pastor, always told me when I was a vicar, a pastor in training. "Keep on keeping on." That was his way of saying, keep at it. Keep doing what you're doing. Keep preaching Law and Gospel. Keep serving God's people. Keep serving your family. Keep looking for opportunities to share God's love with strangers. Sometimes you won't be thanked for it. So what? Sometimes you'll even be hated for it. So what? Someday you might be hurt or even killed for it? But so what? We don't endure because it's fun. We don't endure because it always get the results we want. We endure out of thanks to Jesus who endured the cross for us. So keep on keeping on.
That's good advice. And it's similar to what Paul told Timothy. "Endure to the very end! Endure even as you see me endure to the point of death." And Paul had a lot to endure. He was now sitting in prison, not house arrest, but in a cold, dark, wet cell. This is where most believe he was put: [Click here for a panoramic view of the Tullianum where Christian tradition says Paul was held.]
Of course, there was no altar when Paul (and later Peter) were held in this small cell in Rome (if they were indeed held here). There were no bright lights when Paul sat in the darkness. See the hole in the ceiling? That was the only way in or out and the only source of light. It must have been cold in this underground cell. (The door here led to an underground sewer. So it was cold, damp, and probably didn't smell to great.) That's probably why Paul asked Timothy to bring him his coat (4:13).
Here's an illustration of the prison he was in. [Click here to see the bulletin and turn to the last page.] See the hole in the floor? This shows you how much room there would have been. And to make it all worse, most of Paul's friends and co-workers had all deserted him. He was chained, cold, all alone, and expecting to die.
But Paul didn't give up. He didn't give up hope. But he endured. He kept on keeping on. And when his friend, Onesiphorus finally found him in that dark, lonely cell, Paul wrote what may well have been his last letter ever written in order to encourage Timothy to keep on keeping on.
So what did he say? "Shoot for the moon, Tim, even if you miss, you'll still be among the stars!"? No. "Trust in yourself. You know more than you think you do."? No. "'Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve."? Ungh-uh. Did he say, "Don't see things, Tim, and ask, 'Why?' Dream things and ask, 'Why not?'" Definitely not.
What would you say? If you knew that whatever you put in a letter today were likely to be your very last words to your loved ones? What parting thoughts would you leave them with?
Paul's were simple: Keep on keeping on. Endure in your faith in spite of the suffering it will bring. Endure in your faith to the very end. Endure by remembering. Endure by remembering the resurrection. Endure by remembering the results. Listen to Paul's encouragement to Timothy and to us preserved for us in 2 Timothy 2:8-13…
8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; 13 if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.
I. By Remembering the Resurrection
"Oh no! Now I'm really in trouble," thought the young man on the way to his wedding. There was no way his fiancé would forgive him for this. There on passenger seat of his car was the form and the deposit that he was supposed to drop off at the reception hall last week. But he forgot. Oops.
But he had a plan! One quick phone call later and the reception hall was no longer full that day. It was suddenly available. You see, he called to tell them that a bomb was about to go off in the hall. Everyone evacuated. And when the wedding party arrived, it was empty. Now, instead of facing the wrath of his new bride, he's facing a judge and a jury. [Read about it here in the Toronto Sun.]
Do you ever forget things? Does your forgetfulness get you into trouble? Maybe you didn't call in a bomb threat to cover up your forgetfulness, but did you ever miss a meeting, ever double-book, ever forget the name of the person you're talking to?
The truth is, we are all forgetful at times. And it does get us into trouble. And nowhere is this more true, than when we're talking about our faith. Do you sometimes think you're all alone and no one understand the pain you're going through? Then you forget that God became man to endure pain far worse than you ever will, that he knows what you're going through, that he is with you.
While Paul was sitting in a cold, dark, prison cell, chained up and all alone, it may have been easy to forget that God was with him, that God was still in control, that God was working all things, even this prison sentence for the good of his people. And when he had a get out jail free card readily at his disposal—all he had to do was deny Christ and go free!—he may have been tempted to give up and give in. But he didn't. He kept on keeping on.
And while we may never be chained up in some underground pit, don't we sometimes get forgetful when we face suffering and pain. Do you sometimes forget God's promises and think you're all alone? Do you ever forget his commands in pursuit of your own selfish goals? Do you ever think that your sin won't be found out? Then you forget that God is everywhere, that he knows all, that he sees all. And for so often forgetting God's commands and God's promises we deserve to have God forget about us.
So what's the cure? How can we be less forgetful? Get an app on your phone? Take your daily ginkgo biloba? Tie a string around your finger? How did Paul endure, when he went through such suffering? He tells us: "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David." Literally, the Greek says, "Keep on remembering." The cure for our forgetfulness is to remember the resurrection.
First, remember that it's a historical fact. The New Testament is not a legend. It describes historical figures and events that are corroborated by at least thirty non-Christian writers. The New Testament is not a lie. The authors tell brutally honest and embarrassing details about themselves and they were willing to die to maintain that what the said was true. No one knowingly dies for a lie. Make no mistake: the New Testament is a true and accurate account of historical events.
The resurrection account was not the result of a hallucination. Hallucinations aren't group events. No one says, "Remember the dream we had last night?" The resurrection account was not the result of a mistake. Jesus wasn't just passed out. The Roman soldiers were good at making sure the crucified were dead. They had lots of practice. It wasn't a case of mistaken identity. His followers clearly identified the body and grieved their loss. It wasn't a case of deception or misguided zeal. The disciples were surprised by the resurrection. They had to be convinced in spite of themselves. Make no mistake: The bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a true historical event. Remember that.
But what's the big deal? So what? Remember the significance of the resurrection. Paul earlier wrote,
"If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith… If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins… But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!" (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17, 20)
The resurrection is the proof that all that Jesus did for you is real. Descended from David, Jesus was true man who lived under the law in your place, who died for you. Risen from the dead, Jesus proved that he is true God, who kept the law in your place, who's death has paid for your sin.
So the resurrection means that your forgetfulness is forgiven. Your every sin is slain. What was once chained to your soul has been chopped away. That means that you have peace with God even if everyone else deserts you. That means that you are truly free even if chained up and suffering in some cell.
And it is this peace that gives us the strength to endure and keep on keeping on. So remember the resurrection. "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is [our] gospel…"
Put your Baptismal certificate on display in your home, where you'll see it often. Mine is right across from my desk where I see it every day, reminding me that I died with him. Leave a devotion book out in the open where you'll see it and remember to read it. I don't like clutter and horizontal surfaces tend to collect it. But I do leave my Bible and devotion book on the kitchen table. Put time in God's Word on your calendar. And keep that appointment with Jesus.
I have a friend who took a rock and drew a cross on it. He puts it on his pillow when he makes his bed in the morning. That way, when he goes to bed at night, he hits his head on the rock if he forgets to pray. Then, after he prays, he puts the rock on the floor right next to the bed, so he stubs his toe if he forgets to pray in the morning. It helps him to remember.
Remember the resurrection. Remember that it is a historical fact. Remember what it has accomplished. And you will be able to keep on keeping on. And you'll be able to help others remember too, as you remember the result of what God's done…
II. By Remembering the Result
It was a very exciting day for me. Our basketball team had gone to state and we were in the playoffs. Though I was only a sophomore, I got to play on the varsity team in the playoffs. The ball was passed to me and the lane was wide open. So I took the ball and drove the lane. And you who know my awesome skills can guess what happened next. I promptly bounced the ball off my toe and out of bounds. That was my glorious moment playing in the state tournament.
Sure it was embarrassing. But it wasn't that bad. You see, the coach only put me in the game in the few minutes of the last quarter of the game because our team already had a sizeable lead. We were pretty much assured the victory. We already knew the result of the game.
In a similar way, Paul reminded Timothy that he could endure and keep on keeping on because he already knew the outcome of his life, even if he were to suffer for a while. He wrote: "Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him… he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself."
As Paul quoted what most believe to be an early Christian hymn, he told Timothy about the sure and certain outcome of their lives: They died with Jesus through faith in him. So they would live with him in glory. If they endured and would keep on keeping on to the very end, they would reign with him. And they could be certain of these truths, because God who promised them would always remain faithful.
And you know that the same is true of you too! You died with Jesus when he died for you. You died with Jesus when you were baptized. Paul wrote, "all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (Romans 6:3-4) We live with Jesus now and we will live with him forever! We will reign with him forever! We are assured the victory!
Now remember those results of the resurrection. When you're suffering, maybe you too can remember the comforting words of a Christian hymn. Sing, "Surely it is God Who Saves Me," or "What God Ordains is Always Good," or "I'm But a Stranger Here; Heaven is My Home" and again be reminded of the results of the resurrection.
And let that reminder encourage you to keep on keeping on as you share the message of God's grace with others.
For, "God's word is not chained. Therefore… endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory." The Word of God is not chained. It can't be hindered. It can't be stopped. It will keep going and going, long after we're dead and gone. It's been said that, "God buries his workmen, but he always continues his work." And the Word of God will continue to work unchained in you and will keep you going and going. And through you, the elect will be saved. Remember those results.
Remember the resurrection. Remember the results. And by remembering, endure. Keep on keeping on. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.