Paul’s Final Days

Series: Preacher: Date: April 28, 2013 Scripture Reference: Acts 20-23; 27-28, Ephesians 1-6; 2 Timothy 1-4

Part of my calling and privilege as a pastor is to minister to the dying and their families. As I have done this over the years I’ve noticed family members listen very closely to the final words spoken by their loved ones. I mean, several times as I have entered the room where the dying father or mother was laying, I’ve found family members and friends quietly hovering close to the bedside, straining their ears to hear so as not to miss any of those final parting words. People do this because FINAL words are SPECIAL words. If you’ve ever had a parent or sibling die then you know what I mean. In fact, I would guess that you’ve memorized their final words. These last sayings of our loved ones are indeed PRECIOUS to us aren’t they?  They are—because we know that a time will come very soon when we will no longer hear them speak, so we strive to catch every priceless syllable. Suffice it to say that when the dying speak, we all listen.

This is one reason that over the years people have compiled records of the last words of famous individuals. I came across some of these final statements this week and they are very interesting. For example it is said that the final words of Emperor Julian—he was the emperor who attempted unsuccessfully to reverse the Roman Empire’s official endorsement of Christianity—It is said that Julian’s last words were, “You have won, O Galilean.”

I read this week that John F. Kennedy’s last words were a reply to Nellie Connelly, wife of Governor John Connelly. The Connellys were in the limo with the Kennedy’s that horrible November day. Mrs. Connelly had looked at the crowds lining the streets and said to the president, “You certainly can’t say the people of Dallas haven’t given you a nice welcome, Mr. President.” And Kennedy replied, “No, you certainly can’t.”  Shortly after Kennedy said that Oswald fired the shots that ended the beloved President’s life.

Another thing about final words is this. Words uttered by someone who knows they are near the end of their life can be very REVEALING. Like an X-ray, they tend to expose the heart and mind of the dying person and enable us to see their true feelings about life. For example, I was not surprised this week to read that P. T. Barnam, that great circus showman who worked all his life to make money, I was not surprised to read that his last words were these: “What were today’s receipts?” It is said that actress, Joan Crawford’s last words were in response to her housekeeper who began to pray aloud. Crawford angrily said, “EXPLETIVE…Don’t you dare ask God to help me.” It shows her attitude toward our Heavenly Father doesn’t it?

And then for many people, their last words can also be filled with a special depth of WISDOM.  I mean, most people don’t engage in idle prattle when they know they are about to breathe their last. In fact—some people seem to have great INSIGHT as they die—like that which was shown by Alexander the Great in his final words, for he said, “When I die, thrust my hands through my death shroud so the world may see that my hands are empty.”

I bring all this up because this past week in The Story, we have been reading some of the last words of the Apostle Paul. And before we begin our study of the last words of that great missionary, let me give you the SETTING in which they were given. After Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem and transfer to Caesarea Maritima he exercised his rights as a Roman Citizen and appealed to the Emperor. Because of this, he was put on a ship and sent to Rome where he was placed under house arrest. For the next two years, while he was waiting for his case to be heard, Paul lived in a home he was required to rent there. It would not have been something luxurious but rather a middle class kind of home—a home of reasonable size. He was chained to a Roman soldier 24/7 but he was not in prison and could have all the friends he wanted at his side. He could eat what he want when he wanted. He could enjoy walks in the garden.

Eventually his case was heard and Paul was set free. He left Rome and resumed his commitment to preaching the Gospel message. It may be during this period that Paul made his much dreamed of fourth mission trip to Spain. No one knows for sure. But we do know that he met up with Titus in Crete, enjoyed the gracious company of Philemon and his friend Onesimus, and was reunited with Timothy at Ephesus. Paul made the most of that opportunity to pour more of his wisdom and learning into the soul of that young pastor who was like a son to him.

Well, Paul’s freedom lasted only a few years. Sooner than most might have expected, he was arrested at Troas and dragged back to Rome in chains. There would be no apartment in this imprisonment. Now Paul was held in a Roman dungeon…a cold, dank, dark, cramped cell in the Mamertine Prison. And this time Paul knew he would not be freed. He knew there would be no more voyages across the Mediterranean, no more visits to the churches he had founded, but worst of all, there would be no more taking the gospel to places it had not been heard. Paul knew that his death, his time of departure from this world, was at hand.  And he was correct in thinking this because Nero did not free him. In a few short months Paul was taken outside the walls of Rome where he was beheaded.

But while in his dungeon cell Paul showed he was never one to sit around idly. He worked for the furtherance of the Gospel even in this final imprisonment writing several letters to churches and friends. These letters became part of the New Testament and are known as Paul’s prison epistles. His final written words were the last prison epistle he wrote to young Timothy, who Paul thought of as his successor. I want us to focus in on part of that last letter because in a sense its truth was meant for us as well. You see, like Timothy, we are Paul’s successors. It is our job to finish what he started as we work to complete the Great Commission given to all believers by Jesus. So, take your Bibles and turn to 2 Timothy. I want us to read 2 Timothy 3:10-4:8.  You’ll find this little letter toward the back of your New Testament. Since it’s a little letter it can be hard to find but here’s a tip. As you leaf through those pages if you find any book that starts with the letter “T” you are close. Okay—imagine Paul sitting in his dungeon cell, writing the following words by candle-light. I’m beginning with 2 Timothy 3:10:

10 – You know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance,

11 – persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.

12 – In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,

13 – while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

14 – But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,

15 – and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

16 – All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

17 – so that the servant of Godmay be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

4:1 – In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His kingdom, I give you this charge:

2 – Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

3 – For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

4 – They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

5 – But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

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.

In these final words Paul tells us what we need to do to live as he lived, what we need to do to live abundant lives—lives of eternal significance. I’m indebted to  David Stone, Pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville for my outline this morning.

(1)   First Paul says, keep ENDURING

Look back at verse 10. Paul writes, “You know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.”

Paul says the same thing I reminded you last week. Christians should expect trials and tribulations. Tough times go with the territory when you name Jesus as the Lord of your life. I mean, obeying Jesus in a fallen world is going to mean that you will go against the flow. It means you will automatically be opposed many popular or politically-correct choices. And that can be hard at times. But Paul tells Timothy—and us—to persevere through such persecution, to follow his example of endurance and to depend upon God.  He says that trials will come our way, but in spite of this we must keep enduring, keep obeying our Lord.  So, at work you may be expected to compromise your ethics for the sake of a sale, but keep enduring. Be obedient to God. Don’t compromise! In your friendships you may be ridiculed for your newfound faith, but keep enduring. In your dating relationship you may be pressured to have sex before you are married, but don’t do it. Keep enduring. Keep God’s loving standards. In your marriage you may be tempted to stop submitting yourselves to each other, tempted to stop putting the needs of your spouse above your own. That kind of mutual submission in marriage can be hard and the temptation is to give up on this covenant you made with God but don’t do that!  If you want to show the world how wonderful a marriage can be when lived out according to God’s plan, keep enduring. Keep loving. Keep giving. Keep sacrificing. God will bless that kind of enduring commitment.

Speaking of marriage, maybe you heard about the young newlyweds who had severe marital problems, and they were always at each other’s throat. One day the wife came up with a possible solution. She said to her husband, “You know what? Let’s just both pray that one of us dies…then I’ll go and live with Mom.”

All kidding aside, Paul is saying we must remember that making Jesus Lord—which means obeying Him in every area of life—is going be tough. There are going be challenges. We will face those on a regular basis. And this should not be a surprise to any follower of Christ, because when we chose to follow Him He promised us things would be hard. He promised us a cross. But with Jesus crosses can be amazing blessings because our Lord has the power to turn crosses into crowns. In fact, one thing that keeps us enduring is the promise of Scripture that God can and will use our tough times for our good. If we hang in there, we will come through the fire as gold.

In his book, God’s Story, Your Story, Max Lucado writes about Robben Island, a small land mass that consists of only three square miles of windswept land off the southern tip of Africa. Over the centuries it has served as the home for a prison, a leper colony, a mental asylum, and a naval base. But Robben Island’s most famous use was as the home of one of the most well-known political prisoners in history, a man named Nelson Mandela. As I’m sure you know, Mandela opposed the South African apartheid, a system designed to extend the rule and privileges of the white minority and diminish those of the blacks. In short it ensured that the 14 percent minority would control the rest of the population. Under apartheid, blacks were excluded from the “whites only” buses, “whites only” beaches, and “whites only” hospitals. Blacks could not run for office or live in a white neighborhood. Lucado writes, Apartheid legalized racism…and Mandela was the perfect man to challenge it. As a descendant of royalty, he was educated in the finest schools. As the son of a Christian mother, he embraced her love for God and people. Under the tutelage of a tribal chief, he learned the art of compromise and consensus. And as a young black lawyer in Cape Town, he said he experienced a ‘thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments,’ which produce an inward fire to fight the system that imprisoned his people. By the mid-1950’s Mandela was a force to be reckoned with. He was passionate, bitter, and given to retaliation. With his enviable pedigree and impressive stature (six feet two inches, 245 pounds), he was, for many, the hope of the black culture. But then on August 5, 1962 government officials arrested Mandela, convicted him of treason, and sent him to prison. For the next twenty-seven years, he stared through wired windows. And he wondered—surely he wondered—how a season in prison could play a part in God’s plan.”

We all go through tough times and wonder the same thing. This wondering can make it hard for us to hang in there…hard for us to endure. We wonder if it’s worth it. But Paul says it is. He says we can endure because we can know that “…in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28) Now, there are many things we do not know. We do not know if the economy will get better. We do not know when and where terrorists will explode their bombs. We do not know when factories will destroy towns or when earthquakes will hit. We do not know how furloughs will impact our income. We do not know when doctors will give us sober diagnoses, but Paul says we can endure anyway because of what we CAN know. We can know that God works in our struggles whatever they may be, works in them for our good. And Nelson Mandela learned the same lesson during those 27 years. I mean, he endured decades of hard prison life. He was confined to six-by-six foot concrete room. It had one small window that overlooked the courtyard.  All his meals came from corn: breakfast was a porridge of corn scraped from the cop; lunch and supper consisted of corn on the cob; coffee was roasted corn mixed with water. Mandela and the other prisoners were awakened every morning at 5:30AM. They crushed rocks into gravel until noon, ate lunch, then worked until 4PM.  They were back in the cell at 5:00PM and asleep by 8PM. Yet God used it all this hardship to shape Mandela. Over the years he read widely: Tolstoy, Steinbeck, and others. He also exercised daily; a hundred fingertip push-ups, two hundred sit-ups, fifty deep knee bends. Most of all, with the help of God’s Spirit Mandela honed his capacity to compromise and forgive. He developed an attitude of courtesy in all situations which disarmed even the guards who had been assigned to give him trouble. He became particularly close to one jailer who, over two decades read the Bible and discussed Scripture with Mandela. Mandela reflected later that, “All men have a core of decency and, if their heart is touched, are capable of changing.”

Finally at the age of seventy-two Mandela was released. Those who knew him well described the pre-prison Mandela as “cocky and pugnacious.”  But after his imprisonment he was different. Mandella himself said, “I came out mature…devoted to rationality, logic and compromise.” Journalists noted his lack of bitterness. Others observed that he was “unmarred by rancor.” Within four years Mandela was elected president and set out to lead South Africa out of apartheid and into a new era of equality. We can look back and see that God needed an educated, sophisticated leader who’d mastered the art of patience and compromise, and he was at work in Mandela’s cruel imprisonment…preparing him for that good work. Mandela came forth as gold refined in the fire because he endured.

Listen. Before time began, God looked into the future and foresaw the needs and demands of your generation. He knew the challenges you would face. And so He instilled and is still instilling within you everything you need to fulfill His plan for your life. As Paul puts it in Ephesians 2:10, “God made us to do good works, which He planned in advance for us to live our lives doing.” With this knowledge we can do as Paul says—we can keep ENDURING.

(2)   A second thing Paul says in his final words to us is, keep READING.

Look at 2nd Timothy 3:15. Paul writes: “From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Look again at that word “useful” in verse 16. If all Scripture is useful, then the Christian life without Scripture is useless. You see, the Bible equips the Christian for every good work. And the importance of Scripture to Paul was huge so he passed that wisdom onto Timothy and to us. The fact is if we’re going to follow Jesus—if we are going to live in ways that please Him in this fallen world we need to be equipped. We need to be taught, rebuked at times, corrected, trained in righteousness. So we need to keep reading, we need to keep studying. When we’re confused and depressed or frustrated and disappointed, we turn to this Book. This is our source of authority. This is our guideline for life—not Hollywood stars that our culture has elevated to the level of experts on morality—not our ever-changing feelings—not experience—not tradition…no, the BIBLE is our sole source of authority. It is the “rock” — the foundation on which we build our lives. It tells us how to work, how to spend our money, how to be a husband or wife, how to parent so we have to keep on reading.

This entire year our reading and teaching and preaching through The Story it has been designed to better acquaint us with the Bible but when we finish next week, we aren’t finished. We have to keep reading this book, keep studying it, keep acknowledging it. A 2012 research study commissioned by the American Bible Society and conducted by Barna Research revealed some good news and bad news about Bible reading and biblical literacy in America. First, here’s the encouraging news:

  • 85 percent of households own at least one Bible, with a household average of 4.3 Bibles and
  • 69 percent of Americans believe the Bible provides answers on how to live a meaningful life.

But here’s the bad news:

  • 36 percent of Americans read the Bible less than once a year.
  • 79 percent of those surveyed believe they are knowledgeable about the Bible, but 54 percent were unable to identify the first five books of the Bible.
  • 46 percent believe the Bible, the Koran, and the Book of Mormon are different expressions of the same spiritual truths.

Survey participants also indicated their biggest frustration about reading the Bible was that they “…never had enough time to read it…” Well, we have to MAKE time. We have to read this book if we are going to be equipped to obey Jesus. Since we live in a fallen world—we need it’s teaching to keep us on track.

In Preaching Today, Matt Woodley writes: “A few summers ago I watched our 18-year-old son participate in a real X-ball paintball tournament. With sophisticated paintball guns that shoot 13 paintballs per second, the matches are quick and exciting. They’re also chaotic. The X-ball concept depends on five players from each team shooting at their opponents and working their way up a large outdoor field. The goal is to “kill…” (that is, hit with a paintball) the other team’s players so you can capture their flag. But it’s not an easy task. The main problem is that in the midst of thousands of flying paintballs it’s tough to spot your opponents. The other team can crouch and dive behind bunkers and barriers. To make matters even worse, as your team’s coach shouts the right information about your opponents’ locations, the other team’s fans start yelling false information. When I heard the other fans intentionally confusing my son’s teammates, I was shocked. It sounded like cheating to me—or at least incivility. But after the match my son calmly informed me, ‘O, yeah, that’s called “counter-coaching.” They’re trying to distract our players with false information. It’s part of the game, Dad. We have to deal with it all the time. It just means that we have to focus on our coach and block out all the other distractions.’ The Bible clearly warns us that it’s not easy to listen for God’s voice. There will be plenty of ‘counter coaching’ from the culture, the devil, and from our own distracted hearts. As my son said, ‘That’s part of the game. We have to deal with it all the time.’ And there’s only one way to combat spiritual counter-coaching: know the voice of Jesus, hanging on every Word of His written Word as we trust and obey him—even when the crowd tells us to do something else.”

Paul would agree—we must keep reading!

(3)   Third, Paul says, keep PREACHING

Look at 2nd Timothy 4:1 where he says, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season.” And please understand, preaching is not only the delivery of sermons in a worship service—although that’s part of it. It is also about every Christian being prepared to tell good news. We’ve all been charged with that duty. Jesus was talking to all of us when He said, “You shall be My witnesses.” So, as 1st Peter 3:15 says we must, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but with gentleness and respect.” Let me just stop and ask, are you ready and willing to share of the difference Jesus has made in your life? Are you ready to “preach” when the opportunity comes? Do you have any good news to share? Of course you do! Think about it. What has Jesus done in you and through you and even to you? How has He blessed you? We have so much good news to share—and it should keep us wanting to share it with others rather than keep it to ourselves. We should want to preach it and tell it to everyone we can.

(4)   Finally, Paul says, keep POURING!

Look at verse 6. He says, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.”

What does that mean? I mean, what is he saying when he writes about “being poured out?” Well, you have to understand that in ancient Rome, whenever there was a banquet, the banquet commonly concluded with a particular ritual and the symbolic act of pouring out onto the ground a cup of wine in honor of the Roman gods. So Paul is borrowing that pagan tradition that everyone was acquainted with. Paul took that familiar image and described his life as an offering being poured out—not for some pagan god but for the Lord Jesus Christ.  In effect he is saying, “The Roman authorities will not take my life. Just like Jesus I will die living my life and giving my life. I will be a living sacrifice. I will complete that sacrifice by laying down my life for the One Who gave His life for me. Like a drink offering I am pouring my life out for Christ.”  Basically Paul is saying, “Keep pouring. Don’t give up. Keep on keeping on. That’s how to find abundance in life. That’s how to make an eternal difference in this world. Make your everyday life a living sacrifice to God. Keep doing that and you will END WELL.”

Let me ask you something: Do you want your life to count for something? I mean, when you leave this earth, do you want to leave an impact that will last long after you are gone? As a Christ follower of course you do! We are each called to be “world-changers.” So follow the example of the Apostle Paul. I mean, this guy faced all sorts of adversity, and yet he did not cower. He did not compromise. He kept pouring out his life for Jesus.

I find it interesting that at the time of Paul’s final imprisonment Nero was very popular. He would’ve been on the cover of every magazine. He would’ve had an astronomical following on Twitter. In contrast Paul would’ve been seen by many as an old, odd, eccentric religious fanatic, who continually talked about Jesus of Nazareth, asserting that He was the Son of the one, true, living God. And while Paul’s departure was at hand, Nero was on this rocket to stardom. Nero was hot; Paul was not. Nero was a hero; Paul was a zero. But that’s not how things turned out.  Four years after the death of Paul, at 29 years of age Nero took his own life.  Today Nero is known for his extreme cruelty. He is famous as being an incredibly evil man. He did NOT end well. And because of this you will never find a cathedral dedicated to Nero, but you don’t have to look very far in any city to find an edifice that is dedicated to St. Paul.  I have never read anything written by Nero, but on countless occasions I have meditated on Paul’s writings. And you probably don’t know a single person named Nero, but I have met plenty of Paul’s and Pauline’s. Let me put it this way: people name their children after Paul and they name their dogs after Nero. Nero was on a path to greatness; Paul was on a path to defeat. But Paul ended up great and Nero ended up defeated. This is because Paul kept enduring; kept reading; kept preaching; and kept pouring his day to day life out in sacrifice to Jesus. It’s because Paul lived right and ended well. Listen friends, the Christian life is more of a marathon than it is a sprint, and the celebration comes at the end. The celebration comes when you hit the tape and you cross the finish line. So—don’t stop running until you cross that line! END WELL!  Keep pouring!!!

In the 1984 Summer Olympic games in Los Angeles they held the first ever women’s Olympic marathon. One of the runners was Gabriela Andersen-Schiess.  As you can see in this picture, by the time she entered the stadium to complete the final 400 meters of that 26.2 mile run, her body had shut down. She was fatigued, dehydrated, and nearly paralyzed from heat exhaustion. She twisted and gimped her way around the track, waving off doctors. A single touch from any one of them would have disqualified her. It took her nearly six minutes to complete that last turn but she finished. Here’s a shot of her crossing the finish line. When she staggered those final anguished steps and collapsed into the arms of physicians, people stood to their feed and applauded—applauded the fact that she ended well!

Listen, almost anyone can start strong. But finishing well, pouring your life out for Christ to the very end, is hard. As Paul neared the finish line of life, he urged his apprentice to continue running as he had begun because he knew the toughest part of the race was yet to come. And of course Paul didn’t write these words to Timothy only. As I have said, Paul was prompted and guided by the Holy Spirit to write them to all who would run in his footsteps and not just full-time vocational ministers like me but all believers. We must all train well, run well, and by every means finish well. In fact, I think the finish might just be the most important part of the race…and the adversary knows this. A bad finish can ruin a good race—and I have known too many friends who forgot this. They messed up at the end—and all the victories that went before are forgotten. So finish well…and the way to do that is to keep pouring.


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