We had memorial services this past week for two of our sisters in Christ. Having only been here for a few months, I did not have the pleasure of knowing either of these two dear ladies. But I know that many of you counted them as close friends and mourn their loss. I have enjoyed the opportunity to know more about them through the reminiscences some of you have shared with me. And, most of all, I appreciate the fact that both were valued members of this church family.
The text for Sister Caballero’s service, in particular, struck me. It is a familiar one, from Paul’s second letter to Timothy. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved his appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
This is the last of Paul’s letters that has been preserved for us. It was written during his final imprisonment in Rome. The aged soldier of the cross is facing imminent death. He writes this letter to the young preacher Timothy, his son in the gospel, knowing the rigorous work and hardships he will face. So Paul does his best to counsel him on meeting those challenges. He writes that he has been called to be a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why he suffers so much. Then he says, But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me (2 Timothy 1:12). Paul says he knows whom he has believed. The same faith that sustained Paul should inspire Timothy – and it will see us to victory, too.
Notice the imagery in this passage. Paul indicates that he possesses something of great value, something that is in danger of being lost and that he is unable to protect by himself. But in Jesus Christ, Paul has found a protector. He will safeguard what has been given to Paul.
I know whom I have believed. Paul never met Jesus in the flesh as far as we know. Perhaps he encountered him during Jesus’ earthly ministry, but, if he did, he was not convinced. No, Paul only truly met Jesus when his name was Saul, and he was making havoc of the church. He was on his way to Damascus, under the authority of the High Priest, to bring Christians back to Jerusalem to face charges. But on the road, he was knocked to his knees by a blinding light and the voice of Jesus asking, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? He went into the city, where a preacher by the name of Ananias came to him and asked Why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name. Standing before King Agrippa many years later, Paul said he was not disobedient to that heavenly vision. He not only believed in Jesus, he went and proclaimed him in Damascus, Jerusalem, Judea, and even to the Gentiles.
Since meeting Jesus on the Damascus road, Paul had come to know him through years of prayer and providence. Because of his total commitment, Paul was confident that Jesus would do what he had promised to do. His commitment included full compliance in living the kind of life that Jesus wanted him to live.
This Jesus that Paul had such confidence in was the same Jesus who had protected Peter on the water in Matthew 14. He was the same Lord who delivered the apostles from jail in Acts 5. He was the one Paul would write about in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have the same opportunity to know Jesus that Paul did. We may not literally encounter him on the highway. But we can know Him through the experience of Scripture. We may know Him through our own time of prayer. And when we come to know Him, the same assurance that Paul had is available to us. For all those who know him, who love His appearing, who live His kind of life, there is that crown of righteousness waiting. The victory has been won! But that confidence Paul had requires an unconditional surrender of our human will to the will of Jesus Christ. Have we done that?