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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

October 13, 2013

 Remember Jesus Christ!

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; 2 Timothy 2:8-15

             Twenty-first century people easily forget that the Apostle Paul, as well as the other writers of what Christians call the New Testament, never sat down and said, “I think I’ll write me the Bible today!”  I suspect that Paul especially had no idea that we would be reading two thousand years later the letters he wrote to small struggling churches and to certain individuals he deemed important to the future of the church.  Take this morning’s letter to young Timothy, someone he elsewhere referred to as “his beloved son in the faith.”  Paul was a prisoner in Rome very close to the end of his life.  Some scholars date this letter as the last we have or know of that Paul wrote.  Timothy was a missionary partner of Paul that he met in Lystra.  In Acts 16, Luke tells us that his mother Eunice was a Jew and a believer, “but his father was a Greek.”  Luke also adds that “Timothy was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium.”  Today we might say that Paul was Timothy’s mentor, and Timothy was Paul’s hope for the ongoing mission of the church.

             But Paul is now in chains.  He knows he is not going to be freed.  At the end of the letter he will say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  He writes this letter because he wants Timothy to be able to say the same thing.  Humanly speaking, Timothy is the greatest hope that Paul clings to for the whole Christian enterprise.  What Paul is doing is offering advice, wisdom born of his experience, to Timothy in the hopes that Timothy will carry on the ministry and continue to build up the church.  And the heart of this advice is a word we all can hear this day: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David – that is my gospel,” Paul says.  It is mine as well!  And I hope and pray that it is yours.  “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David.”  Jesus Christ is good news or gospel for Paul because of the resurrection, because of Easter.  The resurrection of Jesus means everything to Paul.  It means that God has triumphed over sin and death.  And specifically for Paul, it means that even though he is in chains, “The word of God is not chained.”  But to “remember Jesus Christ” also means for Paul that Jesus is “a descendant of David.”  That is, Jesus is a part of Israel’s story, for Paul Jesus’ death and resurrection are the most decisive part of it.  Jesus for Paul was a man who lived and died faithful to the God who gave Him life.

             Paul bids Timothy, as well as us, to remember this, and never, ever to forget it.  This is what Paul clings to in prison, and what he believes Timothy must cling to as well if he is to “finish the race and keep the faith.”  Perhaps Paul’s words come from a well-known line from a creed or a hymn.  We cannot be sure.  But what we are sure of is that Paul looked upon these few words as his gospel, his touchstone, his core conviction, his lifeline.  Paul did not pretend to have all the answers.  Yet he is telling young Timothy, “If you get this one thing right, the rest will follow.”

             No doubt Timothy’s ministry and life were growing more complex as the Gentile mission and the church grew.  In the church, as in life, we get busy with so many seemingly important things – balancing budgets, raising the resources to accomplish our mission, refining and implementing our strategic plan, nurturing children, ministering to youth, attracting young adults, welcoming new members and caring for the sick.  Yesterday at three I conducted a funeral for a lovely eighty-nine-year-old man who served in the Navy on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, and at four I married a couple in their early thirties.  This is life, and for most of us life is way busier, more complicated, than we would like.  But in the midst of it all, we cannot afford to forget what is central.  “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David – that is my gospel.”  I love the word “remember.”  It means first off that we recall or bring something to mind.  But it also means to re-member, to give ourselves to something all over again.

             Two other places in the Bible bid us to remember.  “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).  “Holy” means “set-apart.”  Make the Sabbath different from all the other days, a day of worship and rest and renewal.  How mundane and frenetic life becomes when we fail to keep a Sabbath, to find refreshment by changing the pace of our too-busy lives!  And at the Last Supper, Jesus took the bread and broke it.  He took the cup and poured it out.  And He said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).  It is the only direct command Jesus gives us about worship, and “remembering Him” is the heart of His advice.

             To fail to “remember Jesus Christ” is to forget Jesus when and where you most need Him – in the living of your days.  Connie and I went this weekend to see the blockbuster hit movie, Gravity.  Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, an academic who finds herself in a perilous place in space, orbiting the earth when a satellite is blown up and “space junk” hits their craft and destroys it, killing all but Stone and her colleague, experienced astronaut Matt Kowalski.  Matt helps her as long as he can, and then helps her some more, but Stone is eventually all alone, and at one point, she sees her death as something looming imminently.  She gives up at one point after a series of disasters, and turns off the oxygen in the re-entry capsule where she sits.  It is out of fuel, and she falls apart.  “I’m going to die, not someday, but right here.”  She says, “No one will pray for my soul.  I’ve never prayed.  Nobody ever taught me how.  Nobody taught me how,” she says.  Ryan Stone is an all too typical twenty-first century American.  All her life Stone has forgotten God, not even considered God.  And now she is facing death, and she cannot help but to talk to the God she has failed to remember.

             Matt Kowalski asks at one point as they are making their way to the International Space Station, “Is there someone down there looking up at you?”  The theological question is just the opposite: “Is there someone up there looking down at you?”

             Paul believed there was.  Paul believed that God, in the fullness of time, came down to earth in a man named Jesus – a descendant of King David – and that sometime before the dawn on that first Easter God raised that crucified Nazarene from death to glorious life.  “Remember Jesus Christ.”  “That is the heart of my gospel,” Paul is saying, “Make it the heart of yours.”  Don’t wrangle over words, Paul tells Timothy.  You will never win such an argument anyway.  And don’t be surprised if you find yourself suffering, because Jesus suffered too.  It is the inevitable shape of life.

             But through it all, and in it all, keep this central: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David.”  Jesus Christ reminds us that God is love, and as Paul could write to the Romans, “nothing can separate us from the love of God found in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  “Neither life nor death, nor things present, nor things to come….”  Jesus said that when everything else has passed away, His word will not pass away.  Jesus has the last word, and it is the best word of all.

             “Remember Jesus Christ.”  Everything else is window dressing.

                                                                                     Amen.

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