This morning earlier for the young people’s talk we heard read Matthew’s account of how the two Mary’s discovered Jesus’ tomb being empty that first Easter Sunday. Something amazing had happened. It had cosmic significance – the Resurrection from death of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the second person of the divine Trinity, and now King of all kings and Lord of all lords. For Matthew later quotes the risen Jesus as saying (Matthew 28.18):
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
So that first Easter witnessed the eternal world breaking into time with a supernatural act of transformation and recreation – a foretaste of what will happen when Jesus returns at the end of history as we know it. Yes, Jesus was raised bodily. But his body was now different. It was numerically the same but qualitatively very different. And this was for real. It was happening in our space and time but not subject to our space and time. His body was physical but more than physical. Our reading recorded how Jesus appeared to (and greeted) the two Mary’s; then (Matthew 27.9):
…they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him
So his body could be touched as Jesus’ words to doubting Thomas make clear in John 20.27:
Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.
However, this morning I don’t want to focus on that Gospel narrative but on our Second Reading and 2 Timothy 2.8 especially:
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead...
But first let us pray:
Heavenly Father, on this wonderful day when we are encouraged to celebrate the Resurrection of your son, Jesus Christ our Lord, will your Holy Spirit speak to us, from your word, for our good and for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And I want to look at the passage we had read, 2 Timothy 2.8-13) under three headings: first, The Context; secondly, The Command; and, thirdly, The Consequence.
1. The Context.
Let me remind you of the first two verses of our passage (2 Timothy 2.8-9):
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal.
But two simple questions; one, who is Paul writing to? Answer - he is writing to his young friend Timothy who is the senior minister in the Church in Ephesus. And, two, from where is he writing? Well, that is so important. For he is not writing this letter looking out over the sea from a veranda of the coastal house of one the rich members of the Church in Rome. No! As we heard he is writing from a prison (2 Timothy 2.9):
…suffering, bound with chains as a criminal…
Paul is facing his second trial which will probably bring a death sentence. But is he depressed? Remarkably, no. Humanly frightened, I expect, but not depressed, for he is focusing on the positives. He knows that, while he is bound with chains as a criminal…the word of God is not bound. He knows the authorities can restrain and destroy the messenger but not the message. And, most importantly of all, he has a wonderful hope of heaven. If you’ve got a Bible turn to 2 Timothy 4.6-8, where Paul writes this:
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.
For many today (in 21st century UK) it’s hard to believe that someone could really look forward to death like that. Yes, they can believe that some wish for death more than life, when facing a painful death. But it’s not a positive welcoming of death. Sadly, we know some atheists just resign themselves to death, thinking that it is a “a night of nothingness” to quote Bertrand Russell (a 20th century atheist). And Stephen Hawking, who died more recently, and likening a dead person (or their brain) to a broken computer, said:
There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark. [The Guardian, 15th May 2011]
But contrast Paul who had met, miraculously, the risen Jesus. He genuinely believes that (Philippians 1.23):
to depart and be with Christ…is far better.
And this is the resurrection hope Christians still have. When I think of Paul and his attitude to death, I’m always reminded of one of the most moving funerals I’ve ever witnessed. I was a curate in Leeds and it was of a young man. He’d been travelling back home on a Friday night to Leeds from the North East down the A1, when a lorry, coming in the opposite direction, burst a tyre. It then somehow came across, and crashed into him and took his car right off the road and he was killed. During the funeral service, his wife, who was only in her twenties, spoke for a few minutes and told us this; before her husband had left home, he’d been preparing his lesson for the Pathfinder bible class he was leading the following Sunday. Of course, he never gave the lesson, but she discovered his notes on his desk and the passage was this very passage 2 Timothy 4.7-8:
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.
That young woman believed that was so true for her husband as well as for Paul. She knew that Christ had abolished death through the gospel of the Resurrection – and the resurrection not only of Christ but also of all believers one day. And that is why:
2. The Command of Paul (in 2 Timothy 2.8) is to:
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.
It is amazing how Christians can forget or (more likely) neglect the Resurrection. I was in a library of a distinguished Theological Seminary in the United States once. Out of 123,000 volumes only a few hundred were on the Resurrection. And notice what Paul doesn’t say here. He doesn’t say, “Remember Jesus Christ, a great teacher or example to follow.” But Paul says:
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David [so the promised Messiah], as preached in my gospel.
And what was the gospel that he preached? Paul tells us so clearly in 1 Corinthians 15.1-5:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospelI preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved…For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve…[and, of course, to others including Paul himself].
So Timothy must preach about sin and the fall and the forgiveness of sins through Christ dying in our place for us. For, 2 Timothy 2.3 says:
…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures
But that is only half the good news. The other half which Timothy is warned against forgetting is that, once Jesus had atoned for our sins, Paul then says (2 Timothy 2.4):
…that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared [to certain followers].
And that is so essential, for as you believe in Jesus Christ risen from the dead, new life is possible as we saw recently in Romans 8. 11 which says:
if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you [as you open your heart, will and mind to him], he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
That is to echo the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost just after Christ’s Ascension. For Peter had preached that Jesus had been crucified for our sins. But then he was raised to God’s right hand and poured out his Holy Spirt for all who repented (the original word means “changed their thinking”). And they were then baptized – they took action publicly to commit themselves to Christ. Who watching this service needs to take action this Easter, perhaps for the first time? Lockdown has made you re-think. Perhaps you have been looking at the Bible and thinking about Jesus’ Resurrection. And you’ve learnt that the Jews in Jesus’ day had courts of law and knew how to weigh evidence. And they had a rule that (2 Corinthians 13.1):
every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses
And you’ve learnt that there are not three but four accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection – all slightly different but remarkably similar. Also you may have learnt that in AD56 (20 years after the Resurrection), when Paul was writing 1 Corinthians, he tells us that the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15.6):
appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive
And you’ve come to realize that so many of the 500 who were still alive would back up that Gospel tradition of the Resurrection of Jesus and, therefore, it can’t be all fiction. So why not for the first time, if you can, as Paul writes in Romans 10.9:
Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, [and] you will be saved.
Or if you want to ask more questions, why not try our new session of Christianity Explored Groups Online, beginning on Tuesday 13 April. But for all of us, wherever we are on our Christian pilgrimage, Paul is emphatic in his command (2 Timothy 2.8):
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.
And that brings us to:
3. The Consequence of obeying that command.
Paul tells us that his commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, resulted in suffering. We saw that in 2 Timothy 2.9, where he says:
for which [my gospel] I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal.
All believers will find, at some point, opposition, if not positive suffering. In 2020 World Watch reckoned that 340 million Christians world-wide experienced high levels of persecution with 309 million experiencing ‘very high’ or ‘extreme’ levels of persecution. And last year 4,761 were killed for their faith. And we should note the figure for 2019 was not 340 but 260 million. So last year saw an increase of 30% in Christian persecution World-wide!
But, as we noted already, Paul was positive. While he could say, I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. [He could also say] but the word of God is not bound. He had earlier written to the Philippians (Philippians 1.12-14):
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel…most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
And so Paul now writes positively to Timothy (and to us) at the end of his life like this in the last verses of our passage (2 Timothy 2.10-14):
Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 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;
[however] if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful’—
for he cannot deny himself.
Notice those two words in 2 Timothy 2.11-12 - with him. Paul is saying, if we are united by faith with him (Jesus Christ) and so share in his death, we shall share in his Resurrection life both for now and for eternity:
we will also live with him [and with the power of his Resurrection].
And if we remain firm, and endure in this life, we shall reign with him. But then there is a challenge, for in this life there is a choice. We can ignore, completely forget and even deny Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, and reject him. But, if we deny him, he also will deny us with fearful consequences. And if we are faithless, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself. So God is always true not only to his promises but to his warnings. But Easter is so full of hope and great promises.
Therefore, to conclude, may we all ourselves remain faithful this Easter, by trusting in and, as Paul would say, by remembering (2 Timothy 2.8):
Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, we thank you that Jesus who died to forgive us is now alive and reigning over all. May your Holy Spirit enable us to live in the light of, and to remember, that glorious fact, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.