Sunday, October 14, 2007

Monday Morning Devotions.

IITim. 1:12- "For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day."

Paul wrote these words while in prison; he was arrested during Nero's persecution of the Church.

Paul wanted Timothy to know that he was not ashamed of the gospel nor the life he lived in the proclamation and demonstration of it. Here was the Apostle formerly known as Saul, in a Roman dungeon, perhaps bound hand and foot by chains to the wall. The promising student of Gamaliel, able to expound upon the Law as well as any Pharisee, now was imprisoned for a message he proclaimed without relying on his own oratorical powers or his wide learning. Instead, he relied on the power of the Holy Spirit to persuade men and women while to outside observers, he seemed unpersuasive, unimpressive (I Cor. 2: 1-5). A son of privilege in Tarsus, he was not now wearing the fine clothes he had once worn, but the garb of a man who had no permanent home. Also quite noticeable were the marks of persecution on his body. Particularly on his head and face. You see, when one was stoned in those times, small rocks were not the stones of choice; big stones, big heavy stones were used. To make sure the offender was dead, a massive stone was dropped on the head so it would be crushed, so there would be no doubt that the person was dead. It was a bloody form of execution. Someone was designated to hold the clothes of those who carried out this death sentence. The executioners operated at such close range to the one being stoned that if they wore their clothes during the stoning, their clothes would be saturated with blood. Paul, then Saul, held the clothes of Stephen's executioners. When Paul was stoned in Ephesus, the severity was no less than what Stephen was subjected to. Paul was left for dead. By the grace of God, he lived. But he carried those marks on his body, especially where that big stone was dropped upon his head. And now he was in jail. Here was the man known for his zeal in killing Christians about to suffer the same fate himself.

He knew his time was short. "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand." (IITim 4: 6) He knew his time of execution was near. His last moments on earth would be controlled by men who despised him for his message and his seeming powerlessness before them. His manner of death would be at the whim of others. I can imagine the enemy of his soul trying one last time to bring discouragement to him in his final hours. Reminding Paul what he was, and what he could have been, Satan could have spoken the following words to him: "This is Saul, the man of promise. You had more advantages than any any other man alive. You were a Pharisee of the Pharisees. Now look at you. Is this what you have become!"

But Paul felt no shame. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (IITim 4: 7) Through all that Paul had suffered, he was true to his Lord and the mission his Lord had given him. The Church had many disciples who were nurtured by him and would carry out the Great Commission. None of those things Paul had forsaken had any power to tempt him to return to the world, or to try to mix the world with the gospel. He was so sold out to Jesus that he longed for the day of his appearing more than anything else. (IITim 4: 8) I am sure that as that executioner's axe fell, there might still have been voices from the world and the devil whispering to him, trying in those final seconds to cause him to lose his hope. But as the axe fell, those voices were heard no more. What Paul saw as he entered heaven I am sure no one could describe, but I am sure the first thing he heard was another voice, the voice he had heard on the Damascus road. That voice was saying "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

When reaching heaven, and wanting to talk to Paul, where would I look? Right now I bet he is with those saints who were killed for their faith who are now worshipping before the throne. I wonder if Paul is now worshipping Jesus Christ with the very brothers and sisters he hauled off to jail. I wonder what the scene was like as these martyrs welcomed him home.

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