Two men, separated by 2,000 years…both trapped in prison cells.
One a mind imprisoned in a body immobilized by ALS
The other imprisoned in a brutal Roman jail cell.
Both prisoners contemplate larger matters, eternal matters, from their cells…the cosmos, human purpose, human destiny.
Both are best-selling authors:
One of these prisoners was Stephen Hawking, whose book “A brief history of time” sold 10 million copies.
The other was the Apostle Paul, whose letters form a part of the Bible, a book that has sold around 5 billion copies…for which never received any royalties.
He did receive capital punishment for his life’s work…but we will get to that in a minute.
Let’s start with Hawking.
I am no scientist, so I will quote from one…Stephen Myer, in his book “Return of the God hypothesis”
Myers describes how…
Hawking helped prove that there was a beginning to space and time…but he found this disturbing and unsatisfying…because of the implications…Theistic implications.
He began to try and build a model that would eliminate the implications of a beginning of time/space…those being a creator.
Hawking and others in their attempt to get around these obvious implications of a beginning and a universe that looks to be designed… set out to “prove” mathematically that the universe could “pop” into existence on its on.
Myer demonstrates how Hawking used imaginary math and metaphysical (supernatural) ideas to prove there is are no metaphysical origins to the cosmos.
Part of the solution to the “problem” facing scientists with their pre-existing commitment against a creator was to speculate on multiverses.
These scientists say, that we are fortunate enough to live in the one “Goldilocks” universe…in a supposed infinite number of possible universes…we are in the one where everything is just right.
Some leading physicists even told Dr. Myer in person…that they regard the multiverse hypothesis as a speculative metaphysical idea not a scientific one.
One Oxford philosopher wrote that “It is the height of irrationality to postulate an infinite number of universes merely to avoid the hypothesis of theism…it is far simpler to postulate one God than an infinite number of universes.” Swinburne.
Back to Hawking, he wrote in “A brief history of time” and this was echoed in Lawrence Krauss’s book, “A universe from nothing”…that the laws of science created the universe from nothing.
When pressed about the apparent absurdity of this (laws don’t create, they describe)…Kraus, replied “The word ‘nothing’ means a lot of different things to people.”
Both Hawking and Krauss don’t think of nothing like we might.
Nothing is “No-thing”…no matter, no space, no time, no energy.
But they talk of things existing prior to anything existing…all to escape the reality of an eternal God who is the uncaused cause of everything.
Ok, enough of that…but why begin with that?
Because Hawking, impressive and resilient man that he was…was wrong…and the implications for getting origins, purpose, and destiny wrong are huge.
Paul, impressive and resilient man that he was…was right…but he was right not because of his discoveries and intellect but because of God’s revelation to him and his response to God.
Let’s talk about Paul, where he is as he writes the letter we begin today, 2 Tim.
First, where he is physically…these are pictures of what is thought to be his Roman prison cell when he wrote this letter.
It’s basically a ma- made stone cave ground…cold, wet, dark.
Roman prison cells could kill you…no one from the Roman government brought you food or supplies…if family or friends didn’t…you just died there.
Roman prisoners had no rights…if you were a prisoner of Rome, you were an enemy of Rome…and it was dangerous to be the friend of an enemy of Rome.
So, people deserted Paul in his time of need…but some didn’t.
Where is he mentally?…he is at the end of his life, we will see that Paul knows this to be true in this letter.
Everyone knows, in one sense, that they could die at any time…but it is very different when it is an actual, “in your face reality”…like a doctor telling you that you have just weeks or months to live.
His mental state though, is not depression, it’s passion.
He will go to his execution from this cell…but he is passionately handing off the work of the gospel to the next generation…Timothy.
Where is spiritually?…he is at his peak.
He is at the place in his life that Robert Clinton, in his book, “The Making of a Leader” calls convergence…where all his choices and God’s work have come together in a powerful way.
His years of learning the sufficiency of Christ in all things are paying dividends now that he is in the final stretch.
He knows that time and space had a beginning…he could have quoted the first five books of the Bible from memory…including, “In the beginning God, created the heavens and the earth”
He knows that in time and space, God entered our world, Jesus the incarnate Son of God…was born, lived, died and rose again.
That fact has revealed human purpose and human destiny…it was what he had given his life for…with no regrets here at the end.
Let’s go to 2 Tim. 1
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2 To Timothy, my dear son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul’s qualifications are:
He is an apostle of Christ (personal witness to the Resurrected Christ)
-By the will of God: his authority comes not from his training, his skill, his gifting, his intelligence: But God’s direct intervention in the world and in his life personally.
-According to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus. His life purpose is the gospel. His resiliency in the face of his impending death is centered on his life in Christ.
To Timothy, my dear son in the faith.
Context is so important…we need to get our minds there and keep them there…to hear what Paul is saying.
Paul is not in an office, or coffee shop…he is a cell, he is on death row and he knows it.
Timothy, is a young pastor in a very difficult situation…opposition, pressure, under the threat of prison and death himself.
Think of Paul as he writes these words…think of Timothy as he reads them…in their contexts.
These are not mere ideas to be debated and discussed…while eating a bagel…every word is of practical importance…they are in life and death situations…both in time and eternity.
Paul is doing a final handoff…it is amazing that we get to read this letter.
Because we too, are in temporal and eternal…life and death situations…each of us
3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
Through the people of Israel, God has provided redemption for the world.
-Paul was, before his conversion, misguided in his persecution of the church…he didn’t know that Christ was the Messiah.
-But he has not thrown away his Jewish heritage, which in Christ is now complete.
He is facing death with a clear conscience…which is a remarkable thing for him to say.
There is no way he doesn’t remember the cries of the children as he helped wrench Christian mothers and fathers away to take them to jail or worse before his conversion.
He has remorse, we know that to be true… and yet his conscience is clear…how is this so?
He has sinned and he is forgiven…he has full confidence in the grace of God to cover his sins.
He is not wallowing in guilt and despair.
Psychologist Eric Erikson coined the term “identity crisis” and made popular a theory of lifestyle human development.
He maintained that personality develops in a predetermined order through 8 stages of life.
Each stage has a positive and a negative potential…I won’t elaborate, because his theory is to illustrate a point, it is not the point…so let’s skip to the 8th stage.
This last stage he called, Ego (self) Integrity vs. Despair
“Erikson believed if we see our lives as unproductive, feel guilt about our past, or feel that we did not accomplish our life goals, we become dissatisfied with life and develop despair, often leading to depression and hopelessness. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of wisdom. Wisdom enables a person to look back on their life with a sense of closure and completeness, and also accept death without fear.”
I’m not advocating for Erikson’s model…but he does, I think, describe the two pole positions that people at the end of their lives often find themselves in.
Paul is at the end of his life and he knows it…but he does not experience despair…even though his circumstances are difficult.
His conscience, thanks to the work of Christ…is clear…even though he has done horrible things.
His life’s work, is not going to be in vain…he is confident of that, because his confidence is in Christ.
Imagine the comfort and strength this reality provides for a man who is waiting for his final day.
He remembers Timothy’s tears…either he saw them, or he heard about them.
Either way, these tears were the result of something that happened to cause Timothy deep sorrow and Paul is reflecting on his friends’ life in very personal ways.
*Even as Paul, himself, is in deep trouble and a place of physical suffering…he is other centric.
He prays for him; he longs to see him again.
He contemplates Timothy’s faith heritage…his grandmother and mother taught him the faith.
Timothy’s mom was a Jewish background believer, his dad was a Greek.
The way he communicates in the past tense likely means that Timothy’s grandmother and mom were dead…they had finished their race.
Now, it is on Timothy to endure to the end as well.
Endurance, perseverance in the faith and a persistent commitment to the truth is a large part of Paul’s life and letters.
Why? Because finishing is everything.
Several years ago, an Oregon track athlete had a commanding lead at the end of a long race…he slowed down and began to pump his arms to rouse the crowd and celebrate his victory and another runner sprinted by him and won the race by a foot.
The same thing happens as football players spike the ball before crossing the goal line.
Even worse…when believers fail to finish well…because they failed to continue to hold to the gospel truth or they become sidelined by superfluous issues.
We will see how much this matters to Paul in the next chapter…it will be a primary focus in this letter.
6 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. 7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
The gift may be the Holy Spirit, or the gifts the Spirit bestows…or both.
Timothy has received something powerful and free from God…this needs to stay front and center in his mind and heart as he is preparing to race opposition and difficulty that is coming his way.
Don’t stare at the challenge, Timothy…focus on the opportunity…focus on what God has done…see him in you all you are going through.
Look at the twin dials of Divine sovereignty and human responsibility in that statement:
- Fan into the flame.
- The Gift of God.
“Are these results in his life the gift of God or his choices?”
Paul knows Timothy…he knows he is going to be tempted to “timidity” but that is not what the Holy Spirit brings into our lives.
So there is the negative:
“God’s Spirit does not make us timid” (fearful)…this is NOT a personality trait “He is just timid”…it is an approach to life…a choice.
Then there is the positive: Which is also a choice.
Fear is replaced with: power, love, self-discipline.
We have to choose to fan into the flame…what God has put is in through his Spirit.
If you are naturally…a timid person or undisciplined person…all the better to see God work through you as you live, supernaturally, a life…of power, love, self-control.
In the next chapter Paul will tell Timothy to “Be strong in the Grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
This balance or tension is all through the letter…why?
Because it is how real-life ministry, endurance, impact actually happens…Paul is giving Timothy the “real stuff” here
I had a professor whose least favorite question was “Will this be on the test”
There will be a test for Timothy, but not on paper…but in his actual life…that’s why this is so important.
God, through his Spirit in Timothy has given him power, love, self-discipline…now Timothy is to fan those things into fuller and fuller flames in his life.
The Spirit’s power, love, self-control…can die down if we do not give them attention…feed them.
Fire needs heat, fuel, oxygen…The Spirit’s fire in our lives…needs us to continually feed the things that keep us Spiritually alive.
*You don’t have to have a QT…read your Bible, pray.
*You don’t have to participate in the work of the ministry in the church.
God loves you period…you can’t earn the gift.
But to say “have to” is, for me, to miss the point.
I get to…when I choose not to…my loss.
I want to know God…I really want to know him.
I want to be used by God…to join him in his purposes…I really want this.
I must continually fan what God has gifted me into full flame…in fact, I get to do this…I can if I will.
8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God,
Timothy needs this power, love, self-control…this boldness minus timidity because:
- He must boldly (without being ashamed) give testimony to the Gospel.
This isn’t, as we commonly think…Timothy telling his own unique personal inner religious experience…as important as that can be.
This is Timothy telling of the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead…Timothy needs to be bold in his declaration of the facts of the gospel.
Why would Timothy be ashamed of Paul as a prisoner for the gospel?
It was not safe to identify with a prisoner of Rome…just like it is unsafe today to personal identify with prisoners of the state in totalitarian governments.
You are guilty by association.
Paul knows this support from Timothy will be risky… “Join with me in suffering”
Those five words in English are one word in the Greek.
It could be translated as “Co-suffer!”
(Yarbrough, Robert W.. The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)) (p. 591). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.)
“Co-suffer” by the power of God.
Again, there is the choice/to engage God’s power…it is not one or the other…God’s power or Timothy’s choice…but both/and.
And from this divine/human collaboration…Paul leans more fully into the power source…God’s grace.
(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, 10 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.
Hawking’s “Brief history of Time” is about 200 pages, but in that single paragraph is Paul’s “brief history of time and eternity.”
Hawking’s book offers no advice on life purpose…it cannot.
It offers no insight into human destiny…it cannot.
God, Paul wrote…has saved us and called us to a holy life (a life set apart by God for his great purposes)
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of Time…there was a beginning to space and time and in eternity past…God knew all that would be…including how he would save us.
Then in space and time, Jesus, the eternal son of God appeared…he destroyed death and brought eternal life to light (into our lives, into our world) through the good news of the gospel.
That is a lot…but again it is the story of time and eternity…so it’s pretty concise.
Paul now sees very little with his physical eyes from his prison hole…but he has seen a lot in his years of faith.
Both things you can see with your physical eyes and things that only God can reveal.
Hawking tried to “see” into the distant past with math and imagination…he was brilliant but he couldn’t see clearly, because ultimate reality cannot be discovered it can only be revealed.
Quantum mechanics is the physics of the unimaginably small.
Think about this…it is thought that the Universe began at the quantum level(smallest possible level).
But don’t try to imagine some speck of energy and matter…infinitely dense hanging in empty space…empty space doesn’t exist…there is only this infinitely small and dense universe.
Good luck getting your mind around that.
Then it began to expand and now is this thing of imaginable size…it is 90 billion light years to the supposed “edge” of the universe.
That is light, traveling 186K miles per second, for 90 billion years.
Then on the other side of the edge…is what?
So from the unimaginable small…to the mind-blowing large.
What is my point?
Just this…when people hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.
God the eternal son, took on human flesh, died and rose again to bring us salvation…they sometimes think…
“Come on really? You expect me to believe that?”
Then they climb in their car, drive a few miles across town…to their home, and their fridge and their TV…as if they have a mental handle on reality at all.
Really…are you kidding…reality is way, way beyond the scope of human discovery or imagination.
The Gospel is no fairy tale…it is the best, by far, description of what we see and experience in the world as it is.
And it is beyond our ability to get our minds fully around it…but God has told us what we need to know but could not, on our own, discover.
Hawking’s brilliant mind could not reach out and find the mind of God…how could it?
God reached out and revealed himself to Paul, to us.
I was talking with Christy last week and she asked me about Job, and suffering and mystery…asked about my own faith struggles.
I told her I had plenty of questions and limitations…more than I even know I have…and I know I have a lot.
But, it is not surprising to me that God’s will and ways are mysterious at times…it is not surprising or even disturbing that I cannot hope to understand all or even a small part of what he is up to.
I can only know what he tells he, I can only understand what he allows me to understand.
I do understand Job’s response… “My ears had heard of you, my eyes have seen you.”
Even though God did not explain himself to Job…Job was satisfied with his experience of God…that makes sense to me.
Hawking asked this question in his book, “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”
Besides the obvious problem with “equations making a universe”…it is a good question.
What’s the answer?
He never gives one…because he doesn’t have one…his math and great Imagination cannot discover that.
Paul, tells us what has been revealed to him by the creator of the cosmos…the gospel, the good news.
11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.
Paul’s life purpose is given in three words that describes different aspects of calling…all orbiting the gospel.
He is suffering, in prison, on death row…because the gospel is true and he has been called to live and speak the truth.
His life has been difficult but not complicated by failing to pre-submitting to the truth:
-He has not lived with a “failure of nerve”
-A failure of nerve is when we move through life asking “What might happen if I do the right thing” rather than “What is the right thing to do.”
-Asking what is the right thing to do and doing it is difficult and costly…but not complicated.
-Asking what might happen if I do the right thing is complicated…and in the end, leads to regret…and often shame, and depression.
He is not ashamed…though he has been publicly shamed…he living in a hole.
Because…he knows where he has placed his final confidence.
It is in God.
Everyone has a final authority…everyone is banking everything on something.
Hawking did…you are, I am…everywhere you go, everyone you meet…is believing something and someone.
Paul is convinced that God, the one in whom he has placed all his trust…will guard what has been entrusted to him.
“Entrusted to him” could refer to the final outcome of his life and his eternal destiny.
But elsewhere he uses this phrase to describe the “gospel message”
It is likely he means both…they are all linked together.
His life outcome, his eternal destiny…all that he has entrusted to God is wrapped up in the gospel message.
“If” he wrote elsewhere, “Christ has not risen, pity me above all men.”
Meaning…my life is a waste and my hope is in vain.
But he didn’t mean there that he actually had doubts…he was referring to the vital importance of the reality of the resurrection.
Here in is death row hole…his confidence is unshakable.
But if he is so confident…why is he making such a big deal of his confidence?
For Timothy’s sake.
13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
Don’t let this go, Timothy…no matter what.
Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you…the gospel.
Again, Timothy is not “telling his story”…not that this is unimportant…we need to do so to related honestly to one another.
But this is about Timothy “keeping THE faith”…the pattern of sound teaching, the good deposit…is the truth of the Gospel.
Jesus died, Jesus rose, Jesus will return…now…repent, believe, and live.
Guard this good deposit with the help of the Holy Spirit (two dials).
The early church is a lot like the contemporary church…in fact, it was just like it.
It was continually threatened with cultural threats from without…and intramural threats from within.
We glamorize the “early church” as if we haven’t actually read Paul’s letters.
Timothy was going to have to guard the truth with his very life, and that would not be enough…he would have live in vital union with the Holy Spirit.
Paul then describes folks in the church who had gone both paths…some who had not guarded the good deposit…and then one who has…verses 15-18
“Everyone” in this passage is a figure of speech…meaning “most” or a “lot”
Paul is being honest with Timothy…and don’t miss the pain of this.
Maybe he was angry…but surely he was hurt.
Now, after all his sacrifices…he was in desperate need…and some, who evidently surprised Paul in their betrayal…turned from him in his need.
But there is one who, at personal risk…searched for Paul, found him and helped him…a guy name Onesiphorus. (ahnesiphorus)
This last section reminds us of the real and personal nature of this letter and the situation Paul and Timothy are in when it was written.
“Timothy…don’t be timid, have courage…fan the flame of the Spirit into full blaze…guard with your full strength what God has entrusted to you…endure faithfully…”
Here are some who have not endured, here is one who has…
So you Timothy…
2:1 “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
I’ll confess something to you (that most of you already know)…I have just a few main points that I make over and over week by week, year by year.
I’m not looking for something gee whiz and brand new.
I’m looking to have new passion and an ever new commitment to old truth.
Love God. Love People.
I have some favorite hooks that go with them…TWT, what matters most at the end, etc.
I don’t get tired of them…the more I think of them, watch them lived out, pursue them…the more powerful and important they become to me.
Christy and I listened some recordings of a renowned Romanian pianist, Radu Lupu, who died last week.
I listened with interest and was impressed by his skill…skill way beyond me, but something Christy could understand and appreciate far more than I could.
He first performed publicly at age 12 and died at age 76.
But what that man did on the piano at 70…was not fundamentally different than what he did at 12.
More beautiful, more skillful, more powerful…but it was still…playing the piano.
Don’t chase the new, the exciting, the emotional, the powerful…experience them when you can but don’t chase them.
To chase them is to experience the great emptiness.
Chase Christ. Chase faith and faithfulness.
Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus…persevere…flame God’s gift into flame…power, love, self-control.
Paul sat in a cell and was free…so many walk around in terrible chains of guilt, and purposelessness, and controlling passions and emotions.
To chase experience and emotion…is to chase the wind.
To chase the new because you are bored with the old…is to be perpetually discontent.
God’s ancient mercies…are new every day.
To chase God…heart, soul, mind…is to find him…but you must not measure in the moment but in the long movements of your life.
What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
These are commands of vigilance, endurance, careful attention…let’s be careful to pay attention to the reality of God…the truth of the gospel.