It's been a hard emotional week for everyone at Mount Olive, and especially the family of Tim Stephenson, who died in an automobile accident last Friday morning. His funeral was particularly well attended, which provided great comfort to his family. It is always an honor to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to people, and I think yesterday was the largest crowd I had ever preached to. Here are my words:
Text: our Epistle, Paul’s second letter to the man in the New Testament named Timothy
2 Timothy 4:6-8 ESV
6For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Henceforth 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.
There are several places in the New Testament which present the Christian life in the image of a race. This is one. Another is in Paul’s letter to Corinth a city with a history of athletic contests, in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 ESV Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
Tim was a runner from his youth. He raced in Grandmas numerous times. I was amazed how well he did in those races—once not even training specifically for the race. I think he thought running 26 miles was easy compared to the sport of ultimate Frisbee.
These passages highlight the importance of giving all we’ve got, no matter what, and that includes in our faith.
And yet, I have to ask, spiritually, what will that get us? How far will it get us? Is this what God demands of us? To give all we’ve got? Well, in a sense it is, but is God satisfied if we are able to give it all we’ve got? Many people think so. Many people think that’s all God can ask of us. But we look at God’s word and find out that God has firm demands. His law, his demands on us are serious, and high, and we simply can’t meet them on our own efforts, no matter how much we try.
That is why another passage involving a race is helpful. The book of Hebrews tells us not only about our own race, but also the race run by Jesus. It starts with the image of an arena:
Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus was God’s Savior for us, the savior promised to us throughout time. Jesus finished the race of this life, and did so as God demanded, in full. On the cross, he said, “It is finished,” and died for us.
That finishing of the race that Jesus accomplished he then credits to us. He makes us partakers of that accomplishment through our baptism, where we are connected to Jesus’ death on the cross. But there is more than that, when we are connected to Jesus, we are also connected to Jesus’ resurrection.
In our Gospel reading today, we heard Jesus call himself by a special name. He said of himself, “I am the Resurrection and the life.” Now I want to point out that there are two resurrections of which we can speak. Usually, when we talk about resurrection, we think of the resurrection from the dead. We truly believe that this life is NOT all there is, that when Christ returns for us, as He promised, the trumpet shall sound, and all people will be raised from their graves, including Tim. But there is another resurrection we talk about, a resurrection mentioned by the gospel writer John.
John speaks of Two Resurrections. The first resurrection is the resurrection of faith, the resurrection from spiritual death to spiritual life. Those connected with Jesus, those who have been joined to him in their baptism and have shared in the first resurrection have this quality—the second death has no power over them.
Concerning the first death—the physical death in this life—we don’t have any promises that we won’t face that death. And as we have all experienced in Tim’s sudden death, it can come at any time. But in the long haul, in eternity, it is not really all that important. What we really want to avoid is that second death, eternal death, eternal separation from God. And we CAN be certain about that, because of God’s PROMISES that have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Another name Jesus gave to himself is found in the verse given to Tim at his confirmation here at this altar 11 years ago, in John 8:12 ESV where Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Six nights ago was a dark night, dark for many reasons. That night, Tim lost his physical life in this world. But there was never ultimate darkness for Tim, just as there is not for us, because where our Lord Jesus Christ is, who is the light of the world, there is not darkness, there can never be darkness, but only the light of life.
And God is faithful. We can’t make God unfaithful by our own unfaithfulness. He makes promises to us, and he will keep them. Not that we can’t refuse God’s grace, God’s forgiveness. We can deny God, we can refuse to cash the check, as it were. But the check is never bad because of our faithlessness. And even when we are faithless, God stays faithful, he stays faithful to us and faithful to his promises.
Earlier in his second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote:
2 Timothy 2:11-13 ESV The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.
God is faithful. He keeps his promises, to us, he kept his promises to Tim, and even though this day we certainly grieve over Tim’s death, we do not do so as people who have no hope. Because we DO have hope, a sure and certain hope of eternal life and a resurrection, a physical resurrection, in which Tim and every one of us who believe in Christ will see our savior with our own eyes.
God have mercy on us. Lord, forgive our sins, and take us to you, the Resurrection and the Life.In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.