Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Criminal Gospel (part 3 of 3)

Paul was preaching revolutionary, criminal ideas, and the worst thing was that those who opposed him did not know how to stop this revolution because there was no violent uprising associated with it that could be warred against and put down.  This revolutionary war was being waged with the weapons of peace and love and faith and hope, so the best that its opponents could do was put its proponents in prison or simply kill them off by the hundreds.  However, this never seemed to work, as the more they were bound, the more the message spread; and killing them publicly merely gave them a platform to preach the message of the Christ to more people, as they went to death with no fear of death, for they believed that their Lord had conquered death, and in that conquering, because they believed themselves to be in union with Him in death as well as life, they believed that death had no power over them either.  In the face of persecution and death, they truly believed and proclaimed that “If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2:11b-12a).  This had the effect of causing the movement to grow, which was contrary to all expectations, much like the Resurrection itself.

Moving on to the fourth and final chapter of Paul’s second letter to Timothy, who is presented as his son in the faith, Paul writes, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, Who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the Word” (4:1-2a).  Paul’s charge to Timothy was the same that he himself had received when commissioned to the role of Christ’s Apostle.  He was to preach the Word of the living presence of Christ Jesus the Lord and of His reign.  He was to preach that Jesus the Christ was the final authority and the only One Who would ultimately be the Judge of life and death.  In that day, Caesar and empire were looked to as the ones that held that right, but this was not truly the case. 

He was to preach that Jesus had not only appeared to hundreds of eye-witnesses who could offer proof of His physical Resurrection, but that He would one day appear again.  He was to preach that Jesus was the King of a kingdom, and that kingdom was an everlasting kingdom which would not be destroyed, a kingdom that held dominion over all the kings and kingdoms of the earth.  This was largely the Word that Timothy was charged to preach.  This is the Word that we are charged to preach, never forgetting that the preaching is in both word and deed, looking to the New Testament examples offered by Jesus and His church, so that deeds of love would be the hallmark of those living godly in Christ Jesus.

With this charge in mind, Paul writes, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (4:5).  When Paul told Timothy to be sober-minded, was he telling him not to drink too much alcohol?  Let’s not be silly.  The imploring to sober-mindedness was in light of the nature of the message that Timothy had been and would be preaching, as it was fraught with danger.  Remember, Paul is in prison, enduring sufferings and persecutions for the message.  Paul wanted to be sure that Timothy never lost sight of that.  He wanted him to always keep in mind that suffering for the message was always going to be near at hand, and that if and when it was experienced, Timothy need not think that he was somehow outside of the will of God or was somehow not fulfilling his ministry.  In fact, it would be a great indication that he was sending forth the message properly. 

He was to do the work of an evangelist.  What was an evangelist?  An evangelist was one who sounded forth an “evangel.”  That is, somebody who boldly pronounced the “good news,” or “gospel.”  In the day in which Paul wrote, the evangelist was a person, generally a slave, that went out proclaiming that Caesar was coming to visit a town or city, or that a son had been born to Caesar, or that it was Caesar’s birthday, or that Caesar had won another victory, and in that victory Caesar had extended his salvation and his peace, in his self-estimated role as the savior of the world.  That was what was treated as “good news.”  That was “gospel,” and making these things known was the role of an evangelist.  So Paul tells Timothy to think of himself in this role, as did Paul, as a slave, proclaiming the good news of the true King. 

Yes, the King had visited, a truly Divine Son had been born, a King had won a great victory, true salvation and peace had come, and yes, all of this was through and about a Man Whom Caesar had condemned to a cross, but Who rose from a grave.  Declared to be the true Son of God in power, this Jesus was a King unlike the world had ever seen or known.  This was not only a criminal Gospel, but the Gospel of a criminal.  To this King, crucified as nothing more than one more traitor to the glory of Rome, but resurrected as Master and Lord and Savior, was due all glory, all allegiance, and all honor.       

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