The Things We Forget
Sermon for 3/22/15
The other day Betty asked if I would drop a book off at the library on my way to work. My response was a non-committal “I’ll try to remember.” You see I know myself. I know that it’s very easy for me to get caught up in a thought, or a song on Pandora, or a discussion on the radio and forget about the library book until I’m halfway to work. “I’ll try” was the best I could offer because I’ve failed at remembering to drop off a book in the past and because I don’t like to make promises that I may not keep. Betty in an understanding way replied, “never mind I’ll take care of it.”
Remembering things can be a challenge. The old advice used to be to tie a string around your finger to jog your memory. But if you remember Uncle Billy in “It’s a Wonder Life” he had so many strings that he couldn’t remember what they were all for. The more sophisticated among us write things down, perhaps in a notebook or on a calendar or day planner. Then came Post-It notes. Those little yellow squares can be seen just about everywhere. It’s not unusual for me to have to remove a few when I change out someone’s computer monitor. I remember a particular secretary at a law office with a monitor completed ringed with a rainbow of Post-It notes. I don’t use Post-It notes as much as I do e-mail. I’ll often tell folks to email me about some conversation we had and I’ll even e-mail myself to remember to do something.
In our text for this morning, Paul reminds Timothy and us about some basic of Christian truths. In 2 Timothy 2:11-13 we read, “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:11–13, NASB95) Most commentaries agree that Paul is quoting a well-known hymn of that day. Ever notice how setting something to music helps us to remember it? The melody or the sounds provide a hook for the words which are driven into our memory by repetition. Let me give you a short quiz, see if you can fill in the blank. Twist and ??? You’ve got to know when to ??? Jesus loves me ??? I know that my examples display my age but how many of you knew what came next? Or perhaps you’ve also had this experience where you hear a song and it triggers a memory of another time that you heard it. Likewise, Paul encourages Timothy to repeat these words to his congregation so they remember what is important and put aside the things that aren’t.
“It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” These four phrases, these four truths, are central to our walk with Jesus yet easy to forget as we face the day to day challenges of life. So, we’re going to take a few minutes and unfold each one.
Death and Life
There seems to be a part of our culture that is fascinated with zombies. Death reanimated into a mockery of life. Or life so close to death that it is a mockery of itself. Several recent TV shows and movies revolve around this theme of the walking dead. Mindless humans that have been reanimated or are the dying refuse of a post-apocalyptic world seeking to destroy that which is truly alive. The basic messages seem to be that anything that has been reanimated after death is mindless, heartless, and to be feared. This runs counter to the Christian truth that in order to truly live we must die to our self.
The first of the four phrases to remember reads, “if we died with Him, we will also live with Him.” This phrase embodies the foundational belief necessary to follow Jesus. Contained in its few words are the reminder of Christ’s death and resurrection, of baptism, and or our constant state of being in Jesus Christ.
In a few weeks, we remember again the events of Christ’s suffering, His death on the cross, and His resurrection. But this annual remembrance of events long past is not just a historical exercise. It’s much more than celebrating the 4th of July, or Lincoln’s birthday, or remembering the fallen on December 7th, June 6th, or September 11th. Good Friday and Easter Sunday are to be a present reality in our lives and not simply a dusty reminder of events long past.
While Paul summarized this tenet of faith in 2 Timothy he wrote about it in several of his letters. For instance, consider Romans 6 where he expounds on the truth of our death and resurrection in Christ. A part of which reads, “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;” (Romans 6:5–6, NASB95) We don’t just remember or acknowledge Christ’s death we enter into it. We are to consider our old self, our old habits, our old sin-nature to have died so that we are no longer slaves to sin but walk in newness of life.
This truth will be symbolically exercised next week as several folks submit to the waters of baptism. As Paul also says in Romans 6, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3–4, NASB95) Baptism has a double-edged meaning. It is a public demonstration of two spiritual truths; that we have crucified our old life and been raised up into a new life with Jesus Christ.
These truths are to become evident as the new life of Christ unfolds in our lives. The choices we make, how we interact with those in our homes, workplaces, schools, marketplaces, and fields of play should demonstrate the basic truth that we have died in Christ and our lives, our loves, our wills are not our own. The adventure and challenge of our new life in Christ are walking out that truth not just once, but every moment of every day. Which brings us to Paul’s next truth, the need to endure.
Enduring and Reigning
It is often said that walking with Jesus is like a race, specifically a marathon. My son-in-law Joel recently ran in the Peoria Marathon. Now, he didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “I think I’ll run a marathon this morning”. Instead, he set a goal, followed a training regiment, and purchased the proper equipment for the day of the race. By the way, he completes the 26.2-mile course in 3 hours and 21 minutes.
While there are some similarities between running a marathon and walking with Jesus there are a few major difference. For instance, we don’t spend a couple months training for the race, our race begins immediately and we train along the way. While everyone in the Chicago Marathon ran the same course, the same streets, the same hills, and across the same bridges. My marathon experience with Jesus, the smoothness or roughness of the course, the hills and valleys and bridges it crosses, even the length of my race will be different than yours. Another difference between a 26.2-mile marathon and our race with Jesus is why we run. While some run a marathon to compete, to finish first or to beat their own time, many are happy to simply finish the race, to endure to the end. We often fall into the trap of comparing our journey and spiritual growth against that of others. However, the goal is not to win or beat a time; the goal is to endure to the end.
Paul’s second truth to remember is, If we endure, we will also reign with Him. It is again a summary of a larger discourse only this time it is found in the Mark. Jesus’ disciples asked Him about the last days, “And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many. “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. “For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. “But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. “The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. “When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. “You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Mark 13:5–13, NASB95) We are to endure through the false proclamations of false messiahs, fear, war, natural disasters, poverty, physical and pressure persecution by the world and so-called people of faith, family persecution and strife, hatred and misrepresentation.
Enduring reminds me of Angry Birds. Think about it for a moment. When you first play the game it’s relatively easy, pull back on the slingshot and let it go. But as the game progresses, as you level up, the game gets harder and harder, even frustratingly impossible at times. Basically the more you play, the better you get, but the more challenging things become. Enduring in Christ is a lot like that. You would think that as we grew in the grace and knowledge of our Lord that things would get easier. That the challenges would grow less and less but the opposite is true, as we grow the challenges increase. As we become bolder and brighter in our faith the darkness becomes deeper and pushes back all the more. As we walk victoriously in one area of life the Lord is gracious to reveal yet more areas where we have not yet fully surrendered. Sometimes we hit a challenge that we fail time and time again; just like that one level in Angry Birds that we played over and over again until we finally got it. That’s what enduring in Christ looks like.
The promise is that if we endure we will reign with Christ. I don’t know what that is going to look like and exactly what that will mean in the age to come. But, I do know what it means for today. The formula is actually very simple, we only reign in life to the degree that Jesus reigns in our lives. It doesn’t mean that things don’t happen, that troubles, conflicts, and challenges do not come our way. Reigning in life means that those circumstances, troubles, conflicts, and challenges do not control our lives. Instead, we bring the reign and rule of Christ into those circumstances, troubles, conflicts, and challenges. But if we deny Christ, if we fail to trust Him, if we take back the reigns and control we have placed in His hands, then it’s time to consider the rest of Paul’s reminders.
Deny and Denied
The third thing to remember, If we deny Him, He also will deny us, echoes Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 10, “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32–33, NASB95) Denial is not only a matter of faith but also of credibility. Our primary occupation in this world is to witness, to testify to the Gospel, God’s faithfulness and unfailing love, and how He has changed our hearts. Truth and integrity are vital towards this occupation. Think of denial as being the opposite of repentance. In repentance, we turn away from our sin and towards God. In denial, we turn away from God and towards satisfying our appetites or choose to protect ourselves instead of trusting God in all things. Even though Paul’s phrase in Timothy and Jesus’ teaching in Matthew seem to be final there is a striking example of denial, forgiveness, and restoration in the Gospels.
This example of forgiveness after denial occurs during the Holy Week. I’m sure you know who and what I’m talking about. Matthew records it this way, “Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.” Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Matthew 26:69–75, NASB95) Peter in his grief no doubt recounted Jesus words we have previously read. Christ’s earlier personal warning to Peter and his own arrogant declaration of steadfastness must have rung in his ears. But that’s not the end of the story.
The next time we see Peter he, along with John, are running to the tomb in response to the report of the women about Christ’s resurrection. Peter may have been in the upper room when Jesus appeared. More significantly is another after resurrection appearance of Jesus which occurred along the shores of Galilee. After repeating an earlier miracle of a gigantic, break the nets, catch of fish Peter runs to Jesus and falls at his feet. After breakfast had been shared Jesus challenged Peter three times about his love and charged him to care for God’s people. “So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” (John 21:15–17, NASB95) Three times Peter denied, three times Jesus questioned his love, three times Peter is charged to care for God’s sheep.
I don’t want to leave the impression that denial is not a big deal since Jesus will forgive us. It is a big deal, what we say and how we act when our faith is challenged matters. Only God can say when one denial is one denial too many.
Faithless and Faithful
The final thing to remember in Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” To be faithless does not necessarily mean to be without a faith, a creed, or a set of beliefs. Faithless in this sense means to not put our trust into what God has called trustworthy which harkens back to the beginning of our text, “It is a trustworthy statement”.
Trust is not a foreign concept to us. We trust things, we trust people, we trust businesses and government agencies in some way every day. We trust that our car will start. We trust that most folks generally keep their word. We trust our banks to keep our money safe and our employers to pay us for our labor. Granted in some instances there are degrees of trust based on past experience or future expectations. We trust agencies of the government to keep us safe, to inspect our food and medicine, even to protect our rights. Most of all we trust ourselves. We trust our decisions, our feelings, our abilities, our own strength, our luck, and our perspective. We trust a lot of things but the question is do we trust God.
That’s really what it means to be faithless, to put our trust in anything else other than Jesus Christ. As the prophet, Jeremiah wrote, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord And whose trust is the Lord. “For he will be like a tree planted by the water, That extends its roots by a stream And will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, And it will not be anxious in a year of drought Nor cease to yield fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7–8, NASB95) Trust is required to fulfill the things we have been unfolding. Can we trust God with our lives and our loves? Can we trust the new life He has laid out before us? Can we trust His word and His promises? Can we trust Him for the long haul and His reign in our lives? Can we trust his forgiveness? But here’s the larger truth, even if we fail, even if we don’t trust God, even if the whole world turns its back on God He remains faithful.
All of those things I mentioned earlier, all of those people, places, and things that we trust so easily will all fail at one time or another. We can’t even trust ourselves, not always. But we can trust God, He never fails. “Your lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; Your judgments are like a great deep. O Lord, You preserve man and beast. How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; And You give them to drink of the river of Your delights. For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light.” (Psalm 36:5–9, NASB95)
As Paul explains, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. It is written in the book of Numbers, ““God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19, NASB95) Jesus is faithful to accomplish in you all that He has promised. The question remains however if we are growing in our trust and faith of Christ.
Invitations and Challenges
“It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” Is this a trustworthy statement in your life?
Perhaps you have never placed your trust in Jesus for the first time. You’ve heard the message of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, the promise of an abundant fulfilling life but you haven’t yet take the first step of accepting Jesus as your savior and lord. I invite you this morning to take that step.
Perhaps the Holy Spirit has shown you a habit or a sin to turn away from, to die from so that you might more fully live for Christ.
Perhaps you’re tired and exhausted and feel that your endurance is shot. You’ve hit the proverbial wall in your race with Christ.
Perhaps you’ve denied Christ in some way and now that need to turn back again to Christ. Just like Jesus’ forgiveness of Peter, Jesus is ready to forgive you.
Perhaps you have trusted God but you have failed in some area. Or perhaps you have doubted God’s faithfulness.
The challenge before you is to honestly take these to the throne of God. Fall at the feet of Jesus like Peter did. Let Jesus speak into your heart what needs to change, receive His forgiveness for your failures, and be strengthened and encouraged to endure the race before you.
Remember: “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”