My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Amen.
2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5
In the name of Jesus dear persistent people of God,
Keep on keeping on. That is a saying that summarizes today’s Scripture lessons. Jacob wrestles with God and holds him to his promise. A persistent widow is a picture of the prayer life of God’s people. But where does this persistence come from? How do we get it? How can we remain faithful to our Lord and his Word of Truth? For the answers to those important and pointed questions we turn to Paul’s second letter to Timothy. In this farewell letter to his faithful co-worker in the gospel, Paul urges Timothy to keep on sharing the gospel. He urges his son in the faith to pick up the gospel ministry where he left off. He urges his dear friend never to become discouraged or give up, but to keep on keeping on. Paul shares with Timothy and with us the secret to remaining in the faith and remaining persistent in the faith. Paul sends Timothy and us back to the Word of God. So the encouragement for us today is Persistently take God at his Word!
Taking God at his Word is exactly what Jacob was doing when he pinned the Lord down and said to him, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” God does not want us to be timid with him. Jacob clung in faith to God and to God’s promise, and he received the blessing he desired. Ultimately prayer is a response of faith to the promises of God. God invites us to call on him in our day of trouble and he promises that he will deliver us. That is precisely what happened in this case with Jacob. Jacob held God to his promise. Jacob took God at his Word. One thing that this underscores for us is the importance of God’s Word. It makes you wise for salvation. The Word of promise is the Gospel. As Jacob held God to his promise of preserving the line of the promised seed of Abraham, we hold God to his promise that our sins are forgiven in Christ. This Word is our life-line that keeps us connected to our God and his promise in Christ.
The Word is indispensible. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it…” Here Paul pours out his heart to Timothy. He shows us what is in his heart. He loves Timothy dearly and wants what is best for him for eternity. So Paul urges him to remain true to what he had learned from the Word of Christ. Paul says if I have taught you anything may it be this important point – stay true to the Word, it is the only thing that connects you to Christ and his salvation. It is the very same thing that weighs heavy on the heart of any faithful pastor on Confirmation Sunday. He wants more than anything that these young men and women will stay true to the Word of Christ. What Paul wanted for Timothy, God wants for each one of us, that we persist in his Word.
The Word is so important because it brings us salvation. “…and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Faith in the biblical sense of the Word cannot exist without the gospel. That is what Paul shares with Timothy here. The Word is vital to us because it keeps us connected to Christ. Without Christ there is no eternal salvation. So pay close attention. Stop your napping. Don’t be lulled to sleep and boredom because you keep hearing the same message of forgiveness of sins, eternal life and such. Stop taking for granted the fact that on any given Sunday of the year, ten Wednesdays, a Friday, a couple of Thursdays, and a few other times a year you can come to this sanctuary and hear the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Stop taking for granted the Sunday school, the school, Catechism instructions, Teens, and Adult Bible study – for here too you hear the gospel! Don’t let the cares, concerns, schedules, and activities of life crowd the holy Scriptures and salvation right out of your life. So often we are spiritually sleepy or worse yet spiritually lazy. We don’t want to listen and learn. We don’t want to work and grow. We don’t want to take the time to really contemplate what our gracious God says to us in his Word. Please, oh, please appreciate the eternally great gift this Word is too you and treat it as such! Make it your priority over everything else. This is your eternal life – nothing to take for granted, something to take to heart! For here is the announcement that your sins are forgiven in Christ!
The Word is not only something that “makes you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” it is more. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Did you catch what Paul wrote? Yes, that’s right – God’s Word is useful. God doesn’t waste his breath. He doesn’t reveal anything to us that is insignificant. All Scripture comes from God. It doesn’t just contain God’s Word – it is God’s Word. It is the indisputable truth. It is living and active as stated in Hebrews 4:12, “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to diving soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” That last part is what makes us resent the Word of God at times. We don’t want anyone, not even God judging our thoughts and attitudes. Yet, that is precisely what our God does through his Word. He teaches us what is right and wrong. He teaches us we are sinners. He teaches us that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. He also rebukes us – gives us a good scolding from time to time, makes us feel guilty (that really can be good for us at times). He corrects us – again not easy to take but necessary for us. He trains us in righteousness and equips us for each of the good works he has prepared in advance for us to do.
God’s Word is more than adequate for the task, for through it the Holy Spirit works on our hearts and works in us a desire to do things God’s way. Oh, how vital for all of God’s people to hear this precious word on a regular basis! It is the only way we can remain faithful to our God. What a great gift the Word is for it motivates us to serve Christ and our neighbor! What a great gift the Word is for it keeps us connected to Christ!
The Word itself calls for persistent proclamation. For there will be those who will oppose the Word of God. So Paul prepares Timothy for the struggle that he will face until he was called home to heaven. “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; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when 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. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” The reality is that as the Church – God’s dearly loved children, we are very different from the world around us. This is become more and more clear as time passes. The world and some confused people in the church demand that the church teach according to their every whim and fancy. So we are faced with debates regarding homosexuality – which God calls sin and so do faithful preachers of the gospel. Of course, as we confess the truth we are called homophobic and hate-mongers. These are truly words of the ill informed. For they don’t understand how we deal with sin – we point it out to lead people to repentance. Our goal is always to have the grand privilege of announcing forgiveness. There will always be a desire fueled by the world and the sinful nature to change the Word of God, to vilify doctrine, to deny the truth, and to undermine God’s grace to us in Christ. Friends, we live in a hostile world. At the same time we live in a world that yearns and thirsts for the truth of the gospel. So let us keep on keeping on. Let us know the Word, appreciate the treasure of the gospel, and proclaim the good news to the world!
When the pastor poured that water on your head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, you were not only made a dear child of your heavenly Father – you were also fitted with armor to do battle with the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh. This is the cross that Jesus speaks of when he says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” So pick up the cross. Pick up the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. And go to battle. When the battle grows long and you grow weary – come back to Jesus for rest, refreshment for your soul in his Word. Then go back strengthened for the continued battle. Yes, friends persistently take God at his Word. As you do he will bless you, he will hear your prayers, he will strengthen you, and he will keep you faithful! You have his Word on it! Amen.