24 January 2017
Text: Matt 24:42-47 (Acts 16:1-5, 1 Tim 6:11-16)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Dear friends, today we thank God for the life of St. Timothy of Ephesus, bishop and confessor. Two books of the New Testament bear his name, though he didn’t write them nor was he an apostle. He was a disciple of St. Paul, who ordained him into the holy ministry, and who considered Timothy to be like an adopted son. He was raised in the faith by his Jewish-Christian grandmother and mother, but his father was Greek. “He was well spoken of by the brothers.” He preached the gospel in season and out of season, and died while carrying out his calling.
St. Paul’s two letters to Timothy are beloved books of Scripture that provide not only doctrinal statements, but also practical advice for the young Servant of the Word in carrying out his ministry, as well as general guidance in his life as a Christian.
In that sense, we are all Timothy – pastors who stand in the train of the apostles, and laypeople who hear the Gospel and are transformed by the preaching of the Word even unto eternal life. We are all Timothy, the old, the young, men, women, Jews, and Greeks.
For in Christ, we all look upon St. Paul and the other apostles of our Lord as our fathers in the holy faith, receiving with joy what was first penned to our forebears by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul tells all of us Timothys to be prepared, for our Lord is coming soon. We are to be ready, “O man of God,” to flee evil things, and instead, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.”
St. Paul, who wrote to Timothy from prison, starkly reminds him, and he reminds us, that we are at war. The Christian faith is not a hobby or a job, not an interesting bit of western history or liturgical pageantry or something that makes us feel good. The faith is a fight, a ruthless fight, and we are to serve in the church militant, in whatever rank or vocation that God has placed us, understanding that this is a life and death matter. The stakes are eternal. There is no room for slack, no place for complacency, no luxury of slovenliness. For as with any war, lives depend upon our readiness for battle, our diligence, and our ability to carry out our callings under fire.
How sad when pastors provide entertainment instead of fortification, and how horrific when lay people demand to be pampered instead of hardened for battle. How tragic when we forget that the enemy is lurking about the perimeter and may pounce on us, our families, our brothers and sisters in our congregations, and on anyone, without warning, and without mercy.
Our blessed Lord tells us plainly: “Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” There is a finite time to carry out the work that the Lord has given us to do – works that He prepared for us before the foundation of the world, works that glorify Him and serve our neighbor, and may even save our neighbor from eternal death and damnation, all according to how our Lord uses us in the glorious kingdom.
“Therefore,” says our blessed Lord, “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Meanwhile, the war rages, Satan attacks, we are sometimes wounded, we take casualties, we suffer setbacks, and, sometimes we gain ground, miracles happen that beat back the crafts and assaults of the evil one, and at all times, we fight the good fight of faith, knowing that He works through us, even as He has forgiven us, and continues to fortify us in Word and Sacrament.
This is what it means to confess, to be what we call “confessional” Lutherans, to join this battle – not a war of swords and arrows and bullets and bombs, but the war of the spirit that pits good against evil, life against death, our merciful God against the miserable devil. “I charge you in the presence of God,” says St. Paul, “who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in His testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.”
Our Lord Jesus is a confessor of the truth, even as Paul and Timothy are confessors of Christ. We too, dear friends, are confessors. We confess the Gospel, the good news that in Christ Jesus, God took human flesh, to die upon the cross, to save us from sin, death, and the devil, and to give us eternal life in His name as a free gift, which we receive by faith.
This faith is our confession, our reason for living, through which we have eternal life.
So when we make the good confession, we make war on Satan, and we link arms with St. Timothy, St. Paul, the holy apostles, the martyrs, and all the saints, known and unknown, ancient and modern, living and dead, making this confession of the cross, standing under the cross, living by the cross, confessing through the cross, and with our eyes fixed firmly on Him who died upon the cross.
This is the good fight, dear brothers and sisters. This is the good confession. This is Paul’s exhortation to Timothy, and it is the gift of the Lord Jesus to Timothy: to receive grace upon grace by which to fight this fight and confess this confession. And we do so until we are called home or our Lord returns.
For in the end, this is what it means to confess, to be confessional, to fight the good fight as the church militant: to be eagerly prepared and joyfully ready to meet Jesus – at the end of the day, at the end of the life, at the end of the world – to be a servant of Christ, a faithful servant, and “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.” This is our Lord’s promise – to all of us Timothys of every time and place, confessors, fighters, believers, and recipients of Christ’s boundless mercy.
“To Him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.