The Great Man’s Last Days (2)

The Great Man’s Last Days (2)
2 Timothy 4 : 9 – 22

V9 Do your best to come to me quickly – Paul was feeling vulnerable, lonely and alone. Here is not the triumphant ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4 : 13). Nor the victorious ‘in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8 : 37 - 39). Paul is defeated. He has lost his case. The cold grey taste of earthly demise has visited his erstwhile indomitable spirit. Think of Christians in prisons and work camps in North Korea and China today. Open Doors estimates that there are between 50,000 and 70,000 of them. Few survive. Paul has our natural human need for contact, company and comfort. He needs Timothy’s presence a.s.a.p. This is the apostle who wrote 1 Corinthians 13 after all; ‘faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love’.

V10 ‘for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia’. On learning of Paul’s sentence, some Christians have chosen to make themselves scarce. They still have work to do. In Philemon 1 : 24 Demas is mentioned as a "fellow worker" and in Colossians he is mentioned along with Luke (the physician and writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts). Demas though seems to have given up his faith, at least in part, perhaps wholly. Yet Paul knows where he has gone, suggesting no bitter fall out. Maybe he just did not want to be a martyr there and then like Jesus’ disciples who abandoned him in Jerusalem. Crescens and Titus were different. They went to Galatia in Turkey and Dalmatia in today’s Croatia respectively to carry on the work of evangelists.

V11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. Luke had remained with Paul to the near bitter end. This was all different from Paul’s two year house arrest in Rome described in Acts 28 : 30 – 31 during which he had hosted many visitors, taught the Gospel and counselled new Christians. Paul also want to be reconciled with Mark with whom he had fallen out according to Acts 15 : 37 – 41. ‘Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches’. Mark had form. The Gospel of that name describes an incident during the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane. ‘A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind’ (Mark 14 : 51 - 52). This is generally thought to have been Mark. Here he is redeemed, useful at last.

V12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. Paul is still the apostle ordering people about here and there. There’s not a lot of kindness in his words. It is more like having to get certain things sorted out - ‘putting his affairs in order’ with time at a premium. So Tychicus is sent to Ephesus. Tychicus was a Christian who accompanied the Apostle Paul along with Trophimus on a part of his journey from Macedonia to Jerusalem. He is mentioned five times in the New Testament. Acts 20 : 4 states that Tychicus was from the Roman province of Asia. In Ephesians 6:21, Paul calls Tychicus a ‘dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord’, and in Colossians 4 : 7 he says he is ‘a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord’. In both Ephesians and Colossians, the author indicates that he is sending Tychicus to the Christians to whom he is writing, in order to encourage them.

V13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. Troas was on the north west coast of what we call Turkey. It was, of course, ancient Troy of wooden horse fame. Today it can be the embarkation point for refugees trying to get to Greece. It is possible that this is where Paul was arrested as a Christian under Nero’s persecution. It is possible that he left his cloak with Carpus rather than have the soldiers arresting him take it. Remember the soldiers at the foot of Jesus’ cross gambling for his robe. Paul was feeling the cold. Maybe it was getting on for winter. Maybe he just wanted his comfort cloak, something familiar, warm and reassuring. More likely he was being held in a cold dark dungeon. He may have been in the Mamertine Prison which still stands to this day. Paul didn’t have many possessions at the end. As a writer and author his books, that is, his scrolls and parchments were precious to him. He wanted to read them again, perhaps edit them, give them to someone for safe keeping. They were his children. Some perhaps were copies of letters that make up part of the New Testament which we are privileged to read. Carpus traditionally became bishop of Beroea in northern Greece.

V 14 & V15 Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. In 1 Timothy 1 : 18 – 20, we read ‘Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme’. What does Paul means by ‘whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme’? In 1 Corinthians 5 : 4 – 5 Paul uses similar language of a man caught in incest. ‘So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord’. Here it may have meant complete excommunication. This man, though a Christian, was at this time given over to sexual sin. He was given a chance to think about his lifestyle and come to repentance from outside the Christian congregation. Perhaps Alexander had been excommunicated to feel the consequences of his blasphemies. Paul counsels Timothy to be wary of the harm that this Alexander could do him. We are so weak in faith today that we cannot comprehend the stresses, difficulties and opposition that the first Christians endured to establish the Gospel. We are bullied into quiescence, blackmailed into conformity. There were awkward customers in early Christian congregations, big heads like bad elders in the Church of Scotland has always had. There were also apostates who had either never been true Christians or had tried and failed and rejected the Gospel and had become at enmity with it. Such was Alexander. In Scotland we have had Richard Holloway who for decades undermined and attacked the Christian Faith of those who paid his salary and pension. Muslims who convert to Christianity are subject to the death penalty for such apostasy. In the contemporary Muslim world, public support for capital punishment varies from 78% in Afghanistan to less than 1% in Kazakhstan among Islamic jurists the majority of whom continue to regard apostasy as a crime whose punishment is death. Alexander may have been even more dangerous. He may have been an informer who betrayed Christians to the Roman authorities. Paul expects the Lord to deal with Alexander. He quoted Deuteronomy 32 : 41. He does not forgive him. But he does not take revenge himself. In Romans 12 : 18 – 20 Paul wrote. ‘Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” No-one today wants to think of God as taking vengeance. We do not accept such a characteristic of God. All is lovey dovey universalism. But is it? Do we not also cry for justice when it pleases us? No-one can read the Bible without accepting that this issue is present from beginning to end. Modern western post-enlightenment society has rejected this possibility and chosen to live without God altogether. It is better to accept God’s terms and to follow Jesus’ example and leave all else to the our Sovereign Lord and Creator.

V16 At my first defence, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. Is this Paul’s first hearing when he arrived in Rome as recorded in Acts 28? Probably not. He had company at that time. Nero’s persecution had not begun. This is more likely a preliminary hearing after Paul’s second arrest and his ensuing imprisonment. No one spoke up for him, vouched for him or even just attended alongside him as moral support. He had no legal representation either. He defended himself. No doubt, Paul did that very well. Acts 24, 25 and 26 shows us his capabilities in this respect when he presented his case to the Governor Felix at Caesarea, then before Porcius Festus two years later and finally before King Agrippa. Felix was discomfited by Paul’s convincing testimony and could see the merit of his arguments. And in Jerusalem he had divided and ruled the mob baying for his blood. Paul requests that those who deserted him might be forgiven. They were not like Alexander. Not that bad. He does not hold a grudge.

V17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. This was promised. Jesus had told his disciples ‘But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say’, (Matthew 10 :19). John’s Gospel speaks of the advocate. ‘But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you’ (16 : 7). In Acts 4 : 8 – 12 we read ‘Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone’”. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved’. When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus’. So Jesus was true to his word and Paul found this out too. Paul no doubt gave a competent account of his Christian Faith but it was that confession that sealed his fate. Jimmy Carter the former President of America used to say that he had been challenged as a young Christian by the question ‘If you are charged with being a Christian, is there enough evidence to convict you’? Is there? The lion’s mouth was real for Paul and for Christians in Rome at the time. Christians were taken to the Circus Maximus and forced out into the arena. Then starving lions were released to devour them – all for the sport and entertainment of the Roman crowds. Paul’s defence was sufficient to spare him this. He would be executed by beheading when the time came.

V 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. We don’t know whether these attacks were spiritual assaults as described in Ephesians 6 : 10 – 20 when he writes about putting on the whole armour of God. ‘In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one’ (V 16). Or whether he is thinking about his malady described in 2 Corinthians 12 : 7. ‘Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me’. Or whether every evil attack was verbal abuse of his Christian Faith by Roman soldiers. As a Roman citizen it is unlikely that Paul was tortured as Jesus was. But under Nero’s terrible persecution, anything was possible. Paul was suffering, that is for sure. Getting to heaven safely is a theme of Christian consciousness. The hymn ‘Just a closer walk with Thee’ has the words ‘When my feeble life is o'er Time for me will be no more Guide me gently, safely o'er To Thy kingdom's shore, to Thy shore’. And of course, the great anthem ‘Guide me O Thou great Jehovah’ sung at rugby matches in Wales especially asks ‘When I tread the verge of Jordan, Bid my anxious fears subside; ‘Death of death and hell’s Destruction, Land me safe on Canaan’s side. Songs of praises, songs of praises, I will ever give to Thee; I will ever give to Thee’. ‘To him be glory forever and forever. Amen’ is Paul’s affirmation of faith. Hope and confidence at the end of his life on earth. It is the prayer of every sincere Christian that the Lord will be present at our passing from this life, that we will know it and feel it and sense it and be comforted as we close our eyes for the last time in death. Paul had nothing and yet he had everything to look forward to. How many Christians have died in these circumstances? How many are doing so in North Korea, China and in African countries today? Christianity’s niche market contribution to human knowledge is of resurrection after physical death. Yet many seem unbothered about this. Funeral services are becoming more person centred, with entertainments, pop music, expressions of lifestyle, jocular and with very little focus on the life everlasting. I remember being interrupted when I was saying the words of committal during a cemetery funeral service by one of the mourners stepping forward, opening a can of Tennent’s lager with a distinct fizz and pouring it down on top of the coffin in the grave.

V 19 Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. We might say ‘Remember me to Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus’. Priscilla and Aquila were significant first generation Christians. They are mentioned five other times in the New Testament. Acts 18:2–3: "There he became acquainted with a Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently arrived from Italy with his wife, Priscilla. They had left Italy when Claudius Caesar deported all Jews from Rome. Paul lived and worked with them, for they were tent makers just as he was." Acts 18:18: "Paul stayed in Corinth for some time after that, then said good-bye to the brothers and sisters and went to nearby Cenchrea. There he shaved his head according to Jewish custom, marking the end of a vow. Then he set sail for Syria, taking Priscilla and Aquila with him." Acts 18:26: "When Priscilla and Aquila heard him (Apollos) preaching in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately." Romans 16:3: "Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus." 1 Corinthians 16:19: "The churches here in the province of Asia send greetings in the Lord, as do Aquila and Priscilla and all the others who gather in their home for church meetings." Paul highlighted Onesiphorus. 2 Timothy 1 : 16 - 18 reads, ‘May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus’. Onesiphorus survived and became Bishop of Colophon in Asia Minor, and later at Corinth. Both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches hold that he died a martyr in the city of Parium (not far from Ephesus) on the shores of the Hellespont. He is contrasted with those who had left Paul in the extreme circumstances of his last days. These Christians were Paul’s family, close and personal to him and he remembered their kindness and support and he wanted them to know that he was thankful to them.

V20 Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus. Erastus was a civil servant in Corinth, and a believer in Jesus Christ. He is described in Romans 16 : 23 as ‘the city’s director of public works’. As such Erastus would have been an influential man. His duties likely included the upkeep of civic buildings and city streets and the collection of public revenue. Erastus was heavily involved in practical ministry and missionary work. Paul wanted to let him know that he was thinking of him and was thankful for his faithfulness and missionary endeavour. These were substantial people that Paul was talking about. Throughout Christian history there have been many such who have witnessed for Jesus Christ and kept the Faith. A brief look at the Church of Scotland Year Book shows too that so many of the Church’s ministers are very well qualified men and women. Paul was too, of course. These people were his peers.

I left Trophimus in Miletus sick. Miletus was a port city south of Ephesus. It is mentioned as the site where Paul in 57 CE had met the elders of the church of Ephesus near the close of his Third Missionary Journey, as recorded in Acts 20 :15 – 38. Verses 36 and 37 describe a particular poignancy. ‘When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship’. Trophimus was one of eight friends mentioned in Acts 20 : 4 who accompanied Paul at the close of his third missionary journey and travelled with him from Greece, through Macedonia, into Asia, and onward by sea until Jerusalem was reached. He was the innocent cause of Paul being assaulted in the courts of the temple by the Jewish mob. Acts 20 : 29 reads ‘They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple’ beyond which no Gentile was allowed to penetrate, on pain of death. He is mentioned again in Paul’s farewell greetings several years after the date indicated in the previous passages — travelling with Paul on one of the missionary journeys which the apostle undertook after being liberated from his first imprisonment in Rome. But he had become ill and Paul had been unable to heal him in Jesus’ Name. Why? Paul had exercised gifts of healing. Acts 19 : 11 – 12 reads ‘God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them’. Acts 28 : 3 : 10 tells us that while on Malta after being shipwrecked ‘Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured’. Even Jesus apparently did not always heal. Matthew 13 : 58 reads that when he was rejected in Nazareth, his home town ‘he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith’. Charles Spurgeon (1843 – 92) the Great Baptist minister in London preached on this text ‘but Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick’. He said ‘It is the will of God that some good people should be in ill health...Good people may be laid aside when they seem to be most needed’. Those who have exercised the Christian ministry of healing in modern times such as Padre Pio, George Bennett, Cameron Peddie and George Fox all testified that their ministries did not always result in full physical healing. Partial healing may have occurred. Delayed healing may have come later. Sometimes nothing at all seemed to have happened. Alan Boyd Robson offered healing ministry services in his Glasgow church in the nineteen sixties and seventies. A week after laying on hands one attendant loudly protested ‘Absolutely no improvement’. Other blessings accompanied their ministries however, they said. All was not lost. Nothing was in vain. Paul, however, had it on his conscience that he had left his companion unwell, his prayers seemingly unanswered. Had the power of the Holy Spirit left Paul in his later years? We do not know.

V21 Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers and sisters. If Paul had been left on his own at his trial he was no longer alone. Members of the Christian congregation in Rome were visiting him. Eubulus’ name means ‘of good counsel’. Pudens is held by the Orthodox Church to have been the son of Quintus Cornelius Pudens, a Roman Senator, and his wife Priscilla and was baptised by Peter. He suffered martyrdom around the same time as Paul. Linus was also with Paul near the end of his life. Irenaeus stated that this is the same Linus who became Bishop of Rome. He survived Nero’s persecution and died in 76 AD at the age of 66 or 67 years. Little is known about Claudia other than that she was a Christian woman helpful to Paul. The words ‘all the brothers and sisters’ suggest a substantial congregation in Rome at this most difficult time. These were great people. Paul’s letter to the Romans is evidence of their capabilities. Early Christianity was not always or only for the poor. It never has been. Tom Allan, sometime minister of St George’s Tron Church in Glasgow used to talk about the ‘up and outs’ as well as ‘the down and outs’.

V22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all. Paul always concluded his communications with gracious words of faith. The book of Romans for example ends with the most substantial Benediction. ‘Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen’ (16 : 25 - 27). Ephesians has a lovely closing blessing. ‘Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love’ (6 : 23 - 24).

The Great Man’s Last Days! His Christian character and devotion shine through his last words. Little did he know that he would become the second most influential human being ever to have lived. Only Jesus His Lord has been greater in influence on earth. Paul’s intellectual explanations of Christianity became the foundation of European society and of many nations and peoples throughout the world ever since. If we ever despair of our own faith we should be encouraged by Paul’s commitment at the end of his days. It is all worth it.

Robert Anderson 2017

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