One of the things Oklahoma in America is well known for is tornados. An average of 62 tornadoes strike the state per year – one of the highest rates in the world – and they can be incredibly destructive. I'm sure you've all seen pictures of the kind of damage they can cause and can imagine how easily people are killed when a tornado strikes. A few years ago, a property developer in Oklahoma came up with a good idea. He offered an optional tornado-safe room in the new homes he was selling. Out of the first ten buyers, nine decided they would pay the extra $2,500 for the room, which seems a bargain – especially as it could also be used as a cupboard or a toilet when not needed for safety. The tenth couple, however, both aged 75, chose to put in a hot tub instead! Their priorities were clearly different. Given their age, it seems they were not bothered about prolonging their lives all that much longer. They just wanted to live the rest of their lives in comfort.
What about Jesmond Parish Church? What are our priorities? Founded in 1861, we are 155 years old this year. Do we just want to be comfortable in our old age, or does God have something much more important for us to do? In the Bibles which you will find in front of you, please turn with me to 1 Timothy 2 on page 991, where we see God's top priority for any church at any age. 1 Timothy 2.1-4:
"First of all, then, [in other words: above everything else] I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."
God wants us to offer every kind of prayer for every kind of person, including kings and those in authority. And what does God want us to pray for? Verse 4 says, He wants "all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth". That's our number one priority. That's the first thing God wants every church to be about – not working for the comfort of its own members, but praying and working towards the salvation of those outside the church.
A pastor called Chuck Swindoll tells the story of a basic little lifeboat station on a dangerous seacoast, notorious for shipwrecks. Actually, the station was merely a hut with only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the turbulent sea. With little thought for themselves, they would go out day and night, tirelessly searching for those in danger, as well as the lost. Many, many lives were saved by this brave band of men who faithfully worked as a team in and out of the lifeboat station.
After some time, it became a famous place. Some of those who had been saved, as well as others along the coast, wanted to join this little lifeboat station. They were willing to give their time and money to support its efforts. New boats were purchased. New crews were trained. The station that was once unknown and simple began to grow. Some of its members were unhappy about the unattractive and poorly equipped hut, so they tore it down and built a more comfortable place. Emergency cots were replaced with lovely furniture. Rough, hand-made equipment was discarded, and sophisticated, classy systems were installed. By then, the life-saving station had become a popular gathering place. It was now used as a sort of clubhouse where people got together just for the fun of it. Fewer members were now interested in braving the sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired professional lifeboat crews to do the work. Lifesaving motifs still exist in the club's decorations, but beyond that there was not much lifesaving activity in the clubhouse itself.
Then a large ship was wrecked off the coast and the boat crews brought in loads of cold, wet, half-drowned people. They were dirty, terribly sick and very lonely. The beautiful new clubhouse suddenly became messy and uncluttered. A special committee saw to it that a shower house was immediately built outside and away from the club so victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside. At the next meeting, there were strong words and angry feelings, which caused division among the members. Most of them wanted to stop the club's lifesaving activities and all involvement with shipwreck victims. "It's too messy," they said. "And besides, those dirty people ruin the atmosphere of the clubhouse." There were a few, though, who insisted that saving lives was still their primary objective; that their only reason for existence was helping those who were drowning. They were voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of people who were shipwrecked, they could start their own lifeboat station down the coast. They did!
As the years passed, the new station experienced the same old changes. It evolved into another club…and then a third lifeboat station was begun. History continued to repeat itself…and if you visit that coast today, you'll find a large number of exclusive, impressive clubs along the shoreline owned and operated by slick professionals who have lost all involvement with the saving of lives. Shipwrecks still occur in those waters, but now, most of the victims are not saved. Every day they drown at sea, and no one seems to care.
The apostle Paul wrote this letter to Timothy - the leader of a church in Ephesus. His main aim for writing was to urge Timothy to "fight the good fight of the faith" (1 Tim 6:12). He was to hold onto the gospel and protect the church from those who taught a different doctrine. That's what the whole book is about. What then does this specific passage teach us about being a church that is faithful to the gospel? To help answer that question, it might help you to divide it up into two parts – a truth to believe and a part to play. The truth to believe is that everyone can be rescued by Jesus – from verses 5-6. Then, in response to that, we need to play our part in that rescue plan – we'll see that in verses 1-4 and 7.
Let's look first at the truth to believe: Everyone can be rescued by Jesus.
I started with the picture of a tornado and the destruction it can bring. The truth we all need to come to terms with is that ahead of every one of us is something far worse than the possibility of a tornado. A day is coming, and will soon be here, when everyone will meet their maker, our creator. And on that day he will put an end to all that is evil once and for all and restore justice and righteousness. On that day we will have to face up to what we deserve for everything we have thought and said and done. To see why meeting God like that is a terrifying prospect you only have to pause for a moment to ask yourself a question that Jesus asks about your relationship with God and with other people. Have you loved the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and have you loved your neighbour as yourself? The answer of course is no. No one has.
And so the Bible says that we are set to get what we deserve which is death and hell. Our vicar David Holloway has just written about 'The Dark Reality of Hell' in the April Newsletter and if you've not yet picked up a copy or looked that up on our website, then I'd like to encourage you to do so. It's not an easy truth to talk about, but if we don't believe that we will not understand why we need to be saved or rescued, and we won't accept help from Jesus – who is the only one who can free us from the danger that is to come. Look at verses 5-6:
"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time."
The story I stole earlier from Chuck Swindoll is helpful, I hope, in challenging us about how well we are doing what we should be doing and I'll say more about that later. One weakness with it of course – and no picture is ever perfect – is that you might misunderstand it to be saying it is up to us to save others. These verses make it very clear who it is who saves us. Jesus – and only Jesus - can save us and he has done everything that is needed for us to be saved. Look at two of the precious words used to describe Jesus and what he has done for us here. The first is mediator in verse 5. The second is ransom in verse 6.
Mediator. What does it mean? There is one God. He is holy in all his ways, and he is just in all his judgments. And then there is us: men and women, sinful in all our ways, deserving his judgment and separated from God. There is no way for you and me on our own to be reconciled to God. We need someone to bridge this gap, to be a mediator and this is where Jesus comes in. Only he could do this because only he is able to identify with both parties. He is fully able to identify with God, because he is fully God. At the same time, he is fully able to identify with man. He is "the man Christ Jesus" (v5). He is like us in every way, yet without sin. He is uniquely able to bring both sides together. How did he do that?
The second word explains that. He gave himself as a ransom. Unlike human mediators, Jesus didn't fix the problem by reaching an acceptable compromise between the two sides. And unlike human mediators, he did not maintain a professional distance. He personally dealt with all that separated us from God and paid the price to restore us to God. He had never done anything wrong, but he took what all people deserved for their sin and died on their behalf. He became our substitute. By this, he made peace and is now able to bring people to God. He paid what we cannot pay so that we may go free. That's what we will be remembering together in a few minutes when we eat bread and drink wine to remember his death on the cross for us. 1 Tim 2.5-6 again:
"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…"
Everyone can be rescued by Jesus. However, not everyone will accept this offer of salvation through Jesus and so not everyone will be safe on the final day of reckoning. What about you? I told you earlier about the property developer in Oklahoma and his offer to build a tornado-safe room to protect you. What Jesus offers you is much better and far more important than that! For a start you don't even need $2,500 – this is free! Will you accept his offer to deal with your sin? All you need to do is to ask God to forgive you for all the things you have done wrong, believing that only Jesus can make that possible by his death for you on the cross. This booklet 'Why Jesus' says more about this than I am able to. Please take a free copy from around the church.
If you don't think you are in danger, you won't see the need for this. And I may have raised more questions in your mind than answered your questions. You may appreciate a chance to read what Jesus said, ask questions about it and think more about all this. If so, our Christianity explored courses might be just the thing. You can pick up one of these leaflets with more details from the racks around the church.
So this passage tells us that to remain faithful to the gospel there is a truth to believe, which is that everyone can be rescued by Jesus.
To end with I want to point out the two practical and pretty obvious implications that flow out from that truth. God has done all that is needed for us to be saved, but God has chosen to use us in his work. We must not confuse his role and ours but these verses talk about two ways we play our part in his saving work. We've already seen the first of those in verses 1-4. God wants us to pray that everyone would be saved and come to the knowledge of that truth. Have a look at those verses again:
"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."
Paul uses a different word for prayer here. It's best not to get caught up trying to define the different words too precisely – there is not a great deal of difference between them and I don't think that is the point. He's just saying that once we believe the truth of Jesus as our mediator and ransom, what is of most importance for us to do - when you meet together and on your own – is to pray all kinds of prayer for all kinds of people.
Paul is not saying we should pray for every person in the world by name! He means that we should pray for all kinds of people. We should pray for people near us and people far away, for enemies as well as friends, for those you know as well as those you just know about. The reason prayers are to be made for all people (v1) is because Christ died for all people (v4). No one is outside of God's reach. It doesn't matter whether they are kings or outcasts – Christ died for everyone, so we pray for everyone to be saved.
We are also encouraged to pray specifically for all who lead in our society. At that time, it would have been for the emperor Nero in Rome who was a very cruel man. Christians should pray for all those who govern them, whether they are good or bad, just or unjust. Why? Because what the rulers do and say will affect the lives of all the people. That is why we pray for peace and freedom. The aim is not an easy life. Ultimately the prayer is to be able to share the good news of Jesus with everyone, which ultimately meets their deepest needs.
Prayers like that might seem too big to pray. Will our prayers make any difference? The point is: God can! Just before this, in 1 Tim 1.17, we were reminded of how powerful our God is: "The King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God". So we should pray for our rulers, confident that our powerful father in heaven can answer our prayers and change whatever is needed to make it possible for us to share the good news of Jesus with other people. And we must plead with God to continue using us to rescue men & women from shipwrecked lives. We must persistently ask the Lord to keep on using our church to bring many to faith in His Son, who alone can save them from their sins. Our role includes praying and if we turn now to verse 7 we will see, briefly, the second way God uses us in his saving work.
"For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth."
Paul used three words here to describe his role. He is a preacher and an apostle and a teacher of the gentiles.
- Preachers - heralds of the King
- Apostles - sent with a special commission
- Teachers - of the gentiles
Clearly Paul was in some ways unique. God called Paul to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus. We are not apostles in the same way he was. However, by sharing with us his example, his aim is that we copy him. He is instructing Timothy here to pray and as he prays to preach the word. He's not at this point emphasising his unique role and so I take it that we too are to pray, and as we pray we are to preach the word. That is what we are to be about. That should be our priority and our focus.
So as you go through your week, remember: God has put me here – in this office, this school, this home, whatever it is – he has put me here and he wants me first and foremost to be praying, and as I pray to look for opportunities to speak about him. And as a church we need to regularly watch for the inevitable drift towards comfortable living over playing our part in seeking the lost. Paul's sole purpose in life was to see men and women set free from their sin. It was his number one priority, and it should be ours as well.