2 Timothy 4:6-8
6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.
There comes a time in a person’s life when you hear that clock ticking. Really it’s been winding down ever since they were born, but it stayed off in the distance like a storm that’s not even on the radar yet. So it goes mostly ignored. This clock ticks in the far off hypothetical, but the time comes when it creeps with every tick and tock up to the probable.
Paul is in that probable phase, hearing every tick and tock of life’s clock getting closer to the last stroke. We aren’t sure when it started getting louder. Was it when they had him chained up and lowered him into the dungeon? Was it during his first defense, when he was left alone? Whenever it happened, Paul writes these words of his second letter to Timothy knowing that his end is near.
So, what would you expect him to say? As we have seen from the past few weeks, Paul is so passionate and encouraging. I think we would expect that. If Paul hears that clock ticking loudly, then of course now would be the time to share inspiring messages and words of wisdom. Of course, he would share personal advice with his colleague and friend, Timothy. But these calm, confident words take it to another level, don’t they? And it makes a guy wonder, how could Paul be so sure?
Doesn’t Paul remember what he did? Everyone who hears life’s clock ticking to its conclusion looks back on their life. And when Paul looks back, he’s got quite the rap sheet. He spent his youth enrolled in Pharisee school. We know what that means: he grew up learning that laws and traditions were the focus of salvation and he grew up thinking that his ancestor Abraham is what connected him to God’s promise. After his schooling, Paul’s interests got him involved with the same things Pharisees loved – hating Jesus and his followers. But Paul was such a great student and so zealous that he took it up a notch. He watched happily, as a Christian named Stephen was stoned to death. He got permission to find more Jewish Christians outside of Palestine and arrest them for trial or death back in Jerusalem. In fact, there are other places where Paul writes clearly about his past, admitting that he was zealous for persecuting Christians, that he was violent and filled with hate, that he was the worst. And in another letter, he even admits that he always struggled with sin in various ways.
As the ticking clock gets louder for Paul, isn’t that the type of stuff we’d expect to hear about? “Wow, I made such a mess back then. Timothy, please forgive me for my horrible past! Please don’t count my persecutions, the pain I have caused others, against me. Timothy, please focus on the positives and follow that example.” You and I could relate to that. Even if your clock is still ticking in the faded distance of the hypothetical, you could fill pages and pages with embracing mistakes, dumb decisions, and rebellion. And no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to shake all the things that haunt our past.
To make matters worse, you and I also must realize that God sees it all, a holy God, who says, “I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands,” and “the wages of sin is death.” Our best efforts to avoid punishment or atone for our past sins cannot appease the Almighty God, who demands perfection. Instead, we find ourselves in utter terror. Past mistakes and haunting sins are a plague with the prognosis of death, because we know what God thinks of it. Any infraction at any point, even just once, means that we cannot spend eternity with a holy God because we aren’t holy.
How can we deal with these facts? How did Paul handle it? Well, he didn’t mention any of it, not one word about how he approved of Stephen’s death or hunted down Christians as if they were terrorists. He didn’t even say anything about his struggles with doing too much against God and not enough for God. Instead, he says, for I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Paul looks at his life as if it’s an offering to the Lord, something pleasing and acceptable in his eyes. He looks forward to his departure. If a Greek heard that word, they would think of loosening their boat’s towline from a dock and casting off. Paul says, “I’m tied down here in this world with my sinful flesh, with pain and affliction, but the time is coming soon when I’ll be leaving here to go somewhere else.” There’s no, “I’ll be dead and gone soon.” This is a guy who does not care one bit about burial plans, because he’s leaving this vail of tears. He looks back and says it was a good fight, that he finished strong.
How could a man with such a sinful past – yes, he was such a selfless servant of the Lord in ministry, but he had some serious skeletons too – ever be so confident? It’s only because of Jesus. That’s it! Jesus is the only possibility. Jesus is the only way a person can look back on their life like it was an offering to God, like it was a good fight, a victorious finish.
Because only Jesus was perfect. Paul knew that Jesus had never failed. Jesus didn’t make mistakes or dumb decisions. He was never openly rebellious. He never had zeal in the wrong place. Paul met Jesus face to face on that road when he used to be a persecutor, and Jesus changed him. Paul didn’t have to look back on a life of sin and guilt because Jesus paid for every last one. Paul had the righteousness of Christ as his robe because the Holy Spirit had washed him clean at his baptism. Paul knew that he was free from sin and it’s awful curse.
You have the same faith, because you were washed the same way through water and the Word. The power of the Spirit gave you the same robe of righteousness. You are connected to Christ, who paid for every last one of your sins. You don’t have to look back with guilt over all the mistakes and rebellious ways. You can sound like Paul, saying your life is an offering to the Lord because the Lord Jesus made your life pleasing and acceptable. Through Christ, you can look at it like a good fight and a victory lap.
With that kind of life, you don’t have to talk about death the way most people do. No, your past mistakes are gone from your record. There is no fear. There is no doubt. Instead, we have bold faith just like Paul, “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness.” Paul knew there’s only one way to get such a prize. It’s Jesus. With Jesus Paul was free from death. Jesus not only won forgiveness on Calvary’s cross, but he crushed the power of death on Easter. Every day Paul knew that. Every day he lived with certainty that his Lord and Savior was alive and watching over him with forgiveness and love. Every day he knew that heaven was his home because Jesus made the payment and opened the gates for him. Every day of his ministry Paul proclaimed that good news to a dying world. So, when the clock started ticking loudly in Paul’s ears, he was ready for his departure. When the time came, he was content and thankful for the crown of righteousness that the Lord had promised him.
But it wasn’t just for Paul, was it? “Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.” The crown isn’t just for people like the Apostle Paul, people who can look back on years of ministry and countless hours of serving people. This crown is for you and for all who trust in Jesus Christ.
You go ahead and let the unbeliever stare off in disbelief. Let them mumble those words uncertain words at a funeral, “Sorry for your loss.” Not us! Not us! Because we have the same confidence to sound just like Paul. We can be bold in the face of death. We can be happy and thankful when that clock starts ticking loudly. Because the Lord has that same crown waiting for you. It was paid for by the perfect blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. It was promised to you when the Holy Spirit cleansed your heart and life in baptism. It is kept for you through the power of God’s Word. Nothing can change that. The Lord will always keep you in his hands. He opened the door to heaven when he rose and he left it open for you.
Christians view death in such a great way, don’t we? We sound just like Paul, with calm unshakable confidence, because we have a Savior who died for our sins and then destroyed the power of death. We talk about the crown of righteousness. We talk about life as an offering and a good fight of faith. We can only do that through Christ.
And so that’s how we take care of our church, with our eyes on the right prize. Our ministry is not based on numbers. Our ministry is not about having the coolest and best events or groups. It isn’t about the friendly faces and popping personalities. Our ministry is not based in gimmicks or traditions. Our ministry is founded on the facts of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Our ministry is based on the facts of law and gospel. Our ministry is based on the transformational love of God, that he would change dead sinners into eternally living saints. That’s how we sound like Paul.
So, keep it up, brothers and sisters. Keep sounding crazy to the rest of the world. Keep having this calm confidence that God has a crown in your future. Keep that good news as the basis of everything we do and I promise, I promise, this ministry we share will be so powerful that not even the gates of hell will be able to withstand it. God grant it. Amen.