OK, we’re in round 19 of 20 days in 2 Timothy. And let’s jump into it. This is 2 Timothy Chapter four verses 16 through 18, and I got to tell you, this is one of my favorite passages to read. I’ve always wanted to see someone paint a picture of it because I think it’s such a powerful moment. So read it with me. Paul says, at my first defense, no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me, may it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me so that through me, the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever, amen.
Let me give you some background here. It’s widely believed this is Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome. His first one, recorded in Acts 28, was far more comfortable, and he anticipated his release in the Book of Philippians. But this one was different. This was likely around 67 A.D. and Rome was burned in 64 A.D., and the Emperor, Nero, blamed it on the Christians. So times were much more tense, and here in this first verse, Paul talks about his first defense. And your first defense back then was your initial hearing at your imprisonment. They would bring you out and list off your charges. And it was common in that day as you were brought out before the emperor and the charges were read, you could turn to your corner and have character witnesses, supporters come and appeal to mercy on your behalf. And so Paul describes this moment of him standing before the kings and standing in this dynamic moment in the capital city of Rome and he said, at my first defense, I looked over my shoulder and no one came to stand by me. All deserted me.
But notice what Paul says, may it not be charged against them. You see, Paul in this moment of deep pain, what does he do? He forgives. We’re talking about how Paul crossed the finish line of his life and made inspire us as we cross our own. Paul here dies forgiving. He doesn’t hold on to resentment. He’s like Jesus. Jesus, who, while he was being nailed to the cross, said Father forgive them for they know not what they’re doing. He’s like the martyr Steven, who Paul presided over his death. He watched Steven forgive his persecutors, even as they heard him and here Paul at the end of his life is forgiving those who abandoned him. This is the gospel at work in a human heart.
If you believe in a God who’s big enough to guide your story, you’ll have a well of grace deep enough to forgive anybody. And here, Paul trusts his life to the Lord, and he has a well of grace to forgive even those who hurt him.
Let that be a challenge to you and me. I want to die with a forgiving heart. But notice Paul turns the corner in this beautiful verse in verse 17. He says no one stood by me, but in verse 17 but the Lord stood by me and strengthened me. He said, my Lord was with me, even in this dark moment. And he strengthened me in the same way I encourage you to be strengthened by the grace of Jesus, Timothy. He says he strengthened me so that the message may be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear when Paul was called to faith, that’s what the Lord spoke over his life. You will be my mouthpiece to the Ethnos,, the Gentiles, to the nations and to kings.
And Paul was here doing it, Paul realized, wait a minute. God told me I was going to preach the gospel to the nations and to the kings. And here I am, before the emperor and before the nations. I didn’t necessarily anticipate being in chains, but sometimes God works out his will in mysterious ways, and we have no idea. But Paul saw, wait a minute, even though this is a dark day, this is not outside the sovereignty of my king, and he has strengthened me in this moment. And in the midst of that time, Paul dies forgiving and preaching. He said God called me to deliver the ball of his word and I did it. I preached so that all the Gentiles might hear. Paul preached when it was hard all the way to the end.
He is doing the very thing he called Timothy and us to do. Stand out among a growing tide of mediocrity. Be someone who proclaims the word of God in the midst of a confusing and lost world. Timothy, deliver the ball that’s been entrusted to us. And here Paul does it at the end of his life. I’m going to preach even when it’s hard. I’ll preach in season and I’ll preach out of season. And Paul stands before the emperor and declares the true king, the King above all kings, Jesus.
And then Paul adds as a footnote, and I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. Like, I think he probably did the math and was like, Well, this is probably get me killed. Hey king, you need to repent and he starts talking about the grace of God available to all those who will ask for forgiveness. And then the emperor didn’t kill him, didn’t throw him to the lions. Didn’t have him killed. He’s like, isn’t that crazy?
But then Paul pulls the lens back and says, hey, I was rescued at the lion’s mouth. I didn’t die that day, Timothy. And then in verse 18, he says, and the Lord will rescue me from every evil deed. The Lord will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever, amen. What I love about that is you don’t see a chest-thumping Paul at the end of his life. He’s not talking about what he did and what he accomplished and who he is. Notice at the end, he said, the Lord strengthened me so I could speak, and the Lord saved me from the lion’s mouth and the Lord will save me and the Lord will bring me safely home. To him be the glory. Paul dies forgiving. He dies preaching. And he dies praising.
Paul doesn’t see himself as a conquering hero at the end here. He sees himself as a sheep in the hands of the good Shepherd, who will carry me safely home. I’m not a big, tough guy. I’m a kid that’s being carried by his loving father. And at the end, Paul dies pointing to him alone be the glory. It’s said that Bach used to sign off his symphonies “Soli Deo Gloria”, “Glory to God alone be the glory.”
And that’s what Paul does at the end. When I look at my life, I see I drew in the grace of God to forgive me, to strengthen me, and to use me to make a difference in the world. And at the end, when I see the wake of blessing behind me and I see what I was able to do, I don’t thump my chest. I don’t talk about how great I am. I am just amazed at a God who was gracious enough to use even somebody like me.
And boy, I want that to be true of me. I read this passage over and over again in my life because I want to die like Paul did, racing across the finish line into the sunrise of following God all the way to the end and at the end, dying, forgiving those who hurt me. Preaching a message that will save anybody and praising a God who was gracious enough to save even me.
And I hope that’s the same for you. So let’s talk to him. Let’s talk to the same God that ruled over Paul rules over our stories today. And let’s ask him to guide our stories to others the most glorious of possible ends for his glory and the good of those around us. I’m praying along with you. And we got one more. I’ll see you next time.