THE GOSPEL: BRINGING LIFE TO LIGHT
April 1, 2007
2 Timothy 1
“There are few passages in the New Testament which have in them and behind them such a sense of a sheer grandeur of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” So wrote William Barclay of 2 Timothy 1:8-11. That statement is so not only because this passage provides for us an amazing panoramic view of what God has done, but also because it deals with that one thing which is undoubtedly the most dreaded of all human experiences. The apostle writes to Timothy, “Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher.”
The heart of this great passage is the claim that Jesus Christ has abolished death and brought light and immorality to life through the gospel. That statement in itself is the fact which thrills us and gives us confidence as Christians -- and makes us believe that we have something which needs to be passed on to the world.
The Implications of the Gospel
In order for us to see the point that we need to see from this text today, I need to take a moment to contrast it with the passage we studied last. Two weeks ago we studied from Titus 3 what that wonderful passage had to say about the gospel of Christ. There Paul said, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”
Now notice the similarities and the differences between that passage about the gospel and this passage about the gospel in 1 Timothy 2. They are alike in that they both say these things. They both say “he saved us” - in 1 Timothy 1:9 and in Titus 3:5. That is the central fact, the key statement in both passages. They both say that he saved us not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace – in 1 Timothy 2:10 and Titus3:5, 7. And they both say that he saved us by his own purpose and grace through the appearing of Christ Jesus. Notice 1 Timothy 1:10 and Titus 3:4. Both passages are alike in those crucial ways because they are about the gospel.
But now notice also that the two passages are different in some very important ways. They are different in that the problem being addressed in Titus is the moral hopelessness of the society in which he lived. But here in 1 Timothy the problem being addressed is the possibility of suffering, and the deep human problem of death.
Notice that over there the issue was justification – how God could save sinful people. But here in 2 Timothy, the issue is life. How can God make alive people who are dying? And then, over there it was different because God’s grace had to originate toward people who were already here and were already sinful. But here God’s grace has to be the source of our salvation because it was given to us before times eternal, before we ever could have done anything that could have deserved it, God purposed it and gave it to us in Christ.
Over there the application to the gospel was that the Lord’s people need to be devoted to good works, but here in 2 Timothy, it is that the Lord’s people need to make sure they are not ashamed of the gospel. The gospel is in both passages, but the needs addressed and the results of the gospel are different. The same gospel which has the power to deliver us from guilt and wrongdoing also has the power to set us free from bondage to the fear of death.
Salvation in Christ involves much more than forgiveness. Forgiveness in itself is a wonderful treasure. It is unimaginable what would happen in our lives were it not for the mercy of God which is capable of forgiving. But we cheat ourselves if we just say to ourselves, “Thank you for sending Jesus to die on the cross” and leave it there, not realizing that salvation also includes holiness in our lives and immortality in our future, and all the blessings that God gives us in both of those ways.
What Christ Has Done
Notice now in 1 Timothy 2 three key facts about the work of Christ. First, Paul says here that the work that God has done through the appearing of his Son explains the meaning of all human history. In our day we, if we are not careful, fall into the trap of thinking we can just exist in a vacuum where the moment is all that matters. However, Paul goes all the way back before times eternal and says that God purposed something and gave something in his mind then. The form of the term the apostle uses suggests something that has already been done once and for all. “God gave his purpose and grace before the ages began,” this passage says, “but now it has been manifested (manifested means to have appeared/to be made apparent/through the appearing) of our Savior Christ Jesus.” The appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus does not mean merely his birth, but it covers everything from his conception to his coronation at the right hand of God in heaven. It includes his life in flesh and blood so that he can understand and sympathize with us. It includes his teaching, his going about doing good. It includes his offering himself on the cross for our sins, his being raised up and his ascension into heaven and exultation at God’s right hand. All of that we mean by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus. And notice that Paul says, “This then makes God’s purpose and his gift apparent.” It has appeared. It has been manifested before us.
Next, our text says that in his being manifested, Christ abolished death. That is the second key fact of this passage – “who abolished death.” What does he mean by that statement? Death is used in scripture in three senses. Death may be the physical fact of the separation of the spirit from the body. Death may be in the spiritual sense the separation of the soul from God. And death may be used in the eternal sense of separation of both body and soul from God.
Clearly Paul can’t mean that Jesus has eliminated death as a fact of life. He was himself facing death at the time. In an earlier statement in 1 Corinthians 15:26, he has written that death is the last enemy which will be destroyed. So in some sense it continues to exist. We can but look around us and know that is true. The one appointment that we all keep as human beings, unless the Lord comes first, is that we all die physically (Heb. 9:27). We know that spiritual death in the sense of separation from God still exists as people either have not heard or refuse to accept the promise of life through Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:1-2). And the Bible teaches in Revelation 21:8 that, however much God does not want it to happen, some will still experience the second death, the eternal separation from God.
So, if these things still exist, how has Christ Jesus abolished death? The word that is translated “abolished” here needs to be thought about just a little bit. It means “to make ineffective, or powerless, or idol.” Some believe that the word would be better translated “nullified.” “It means that he made death of non-effect,” said Kenneth Wuest in his word studies book. One paraphrase says “to put out of commission.” The idea is that Jesus has released death’s hold on humanity.
The great theme of scripture begins to emerge here with this idea. In Hebrews 2:14-15, the Lord’s appearance in the flesh is attached to this purpose. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” He will make ineffective the one who has this hold, the power of death, and he will deliver those who are enslaved by the fear of death.
In the gospel records, when Jesus begins to challenge the realm of the evil one through the miracles that he did, people criticized him for it. But he taught in Mark 3:27 that if one is going to enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, he first has to bind the strong man. If Jesus is going to set us free from death and make death ineffective, he must deal with the one who has the power of death.
This he does by living life, by overcoming the challenge of temptation to sin and by coming out pure without any guilt. Since sin is that which causes death in scripture (I Cor. 15:56), if the evil one comes to Jesus and has no sin in him, then he has no hold on him. If the sting of death is sin, death cannot hold one where there is no sin. In John 14:30, that last night, among the things Jesus said to his disciples was this, “I will no longer talk much with you for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me.” He has nothing in me. The one who has the power of death and would hold man in bondage to it was coming, but he had nothing in Jesus, he had no claim in Jesus because Jesus did as the Father had commanded.
Jesus faced death, was raised up from it, and then in Acts 2:24, as the apostles of Christ began to preach Christ to the world, they said “God raised him up loosing the pangs of death because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” That is the crucial statement. It was not possible for him to be held by it. God did not take somebody who was forever in the clutches of this awful thing called death and have to pry him out of it. God took someone over whom it had no hold and raised him up. And that is the sense in which Jesus nullified death or made it ineffective.
Through him now we can face what goes on in the world of reality, but we do it believing death is not the final word. What he has done impacts all of us. He is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” I Cor. 15:20b-22).
So, Paul continues with the third factor in 2 Timothy 1, “that having abolished death, he brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” How do we take that? Well, to bring something to light means something that exists is brought out into the open where it can be seen and where it can be examined and understood. There has always been within man a longing for life beyond this, along with an innate realization that there must be (cf. Job 14:14). Even in the Old Testament, however, there were only hints of it. But, Christ has now brought it out in the open.
That is the idea here. The gospel, being what Jesus has accomplished for us, brings life and immortality to light. “Life” means that instead of having to continue being dead in our trespasses and sins, living on the level of hopeless brutes who are only passing the time until they die, we pass out of death into life, and we begin to love instead of hate (I Jn. 3:14). We begin to live in holiness and purity instead of uncleanness and impurity. We begin to have a purpose worth living for. We begin to be able to bear fruit to the honor of the Lord.
“Immortality,” on the other hand, has to do not only with the quality of life that exists in this world, but with the fact that we are given something that is a part of God’s nature. He only has immortality, Paul says in these letters, and now through the work of Christ, Christ gives us immortality. Our bodies will be raised imperishable. The idea that I am getting at here I think is best stated in the New Testament in Philippians 3:20-21. Here we read, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Be made like his glorious body!
In I Corinthians 15:54-55, there is this proclamation of victory, “When the perishable (the word for immortality in 1 Timothy 2 is the word for imperishable or incorruptible here) puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? (There, death is compared to a military commander whose army has been defeated) O death, where is your sting?’ (There death is compared to a scorpion whose stinger has been removed. It exists but it exists ineffectively). The victory has been won over it by Christ Jesus. Those who are in him have an imperishable inheritance reserved in heaven (I Pet. 1:4).
Three great truths of the gospel! Jesus’ work is a fulfillment of God’s purpose for history. He came to abolish death, and he has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And against that background, Paul says to Timothy, “Don’t be ashamed of the gospel.” Build your place in its service. Answer its call to live a holy life, and accept willingly whatever consequences may come from your being on the Lord’s side. The temptation to listen to popular opinion is a strong temptation, and if it were not, Paul wouldn’t have taken the time to remind Timothy to not be ashamed. Paul wouldn’t have said himself in Romans 1, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God to salvation.” Jesus wouldn’t have warned in Mark 8:38 that if we are ashamed of him and his words in this generation, then he will be ashamed of us then when we are before him in judgment. The gospel is worth living for. It is even worth suffering for. It deserves our commitment and our confidence and our lives.
Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25, 26). How one answers that question makes all the difference.