2 Timothy 4:1 “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:”
There is a book with a famous title which is Practicing the Presence of God. I found it rather disappointing when I read it and I’m not commending it to you. Rather I want you to understand something of the presence of God from these words before us. How do we know of the presence of God?
- NOW THE BIBLE’S CHARGE TO US TO BELIEVE AND OBEY THE LORD IS COMING TO US IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD AND CHRIST JESUS HIS SON
God is where his truth is preached and his people gather in the name of Jesus Christ.
i] God and Christ Jesus are here in the verse before us. See how the opening words of this chapter introduce Father and Son to us. Paul can’t go far in his letter to Timothy without his thoughts and words turning to them. Note how often Jesus is here in this chapter! For example, if the apostle is thinking about the future and what lies after death he doesn’t claim that, “Nobody knows,” rather he speaks quite naturally of his great hope that in the future the Lord [Jesus] will be there to welcome him and award him a crown of righteousness (v.8). Or when Paul considers the great harm that a certain person has done to him he plots no revenge – “I’ll get him!” No. He doesn’t want Timothy to send out some vigilantes to harm him, to overcome their evil with his evil. He simply says very soberly, “The Lord [Jesus] will repay him for what he has done” (v.14). Or when he speaks of the times when he has been very, very alone, when everyone seemed to desert him, he says, “But the Lord [Jesus] stood at my side and gave me strength” (v.17). And that is also his abiding hope for the future; “The Lord [Jesus] 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” (v.18). What a mighty Lord is Jesus Christ! And Paul’s closing words to Timothy are found in this longing for Timothy, “The Lord [Jesus] be with your spirit” (v.22). To have the Lord with you is to have everything, but to be without him is to have nothing. What does it profit you to possess the whole world but to reject the Creator and Judge of the whole world? May your spirit and the spirit of Jesus Christ be one!
I am saying that it doesn’t take much for Paul’s mind to gravitate to Jesus Christ. Everything that happens or that will happen is lodged in Christ. Every one of his thoughts is bound captive to him. He looks at the past, present and future with a Christocentric vision. “The Lord’s goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life” – that is how he looks back. Not, “I have been very lucky.” And looking forward, “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” You can understand what he was thinking when he said, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Do we know anything of that? We sing a hymn of William Cowper, “Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings.” In it we sing these words, “In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue the theme of God’s salvation and find it ever new.” Do we know anything of ‘holy contemplation’ or are we too busy watching TV or reading the paper to think about God?
When professing Christians have nothing to do and nothing to think about do they find their minds naturally and spiritually turning to the Lord Jesus? Dr. J.I. Packer is the master of writing forewords to Christian books, ever since his explosive foreword to John Owen’s Death of Death55 years ago. Packer has written another foreword to a new book that everyone would find helpful. The author is Mark Jones and it is calledKnowing Christ. Packer probes the readers. “Do you have the habit of contemplating Jesus, allowing Scripture passage after Scripture passage to show us his many-sided glory? Do we cultivate awe in his presence, the one who took the place of his brethren under the unimaginably horrific reality of divine retribution for our sins? Do we often make a point of telling ourselves, and telling him how lost we would be without him? Do we constantly acknowledge the presence of Christ, who through the Holy Spirit keeps his promise to be with us always.” (Mark Jones, Knowing Christ, Banner of Truth 2015, p.ix). I am just pointing out to you the obvious, that the Lord Jesus is here. He is here in the word, in the first verse of this chapter and then a number of times in the chapter ahead of us.
ii] He is here in our meeting at this moment. He has said those familiar words that where two or three are gathered together in his name he is there. Now that promise is not a statement of his omnipresence, in other words, that there is nowhere in the cosmos, in space or time, where he is not. That is true, but that is not what that promise is stating. Of course it is true what the psalmist said, “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:8-10). God the Creator and Sustainer of everything is unavoidable and inescapable. All mankind lives and moves and has its being in God. But that is not what Jesus was saying when he told them that he would be with them always even to the end of the world, that he would never leave them nor forsake them. He is speaking of his presence with his beloved people in saving and sanctifying and protecting and comforting and assuring grace. He is here like the good Samaritan was there to help the victim in his need. He is here like Jesus was there in Samaria to speak to a woman at the well to tell her all things that ever she did and inform her that he was the Messiah. He is here as the one walking on the road to Emmaus lifting the spirits of two crestfallen Christians by opening Scripture to them and making their hearts burn within them. He is here like the one who rebuked the Pharisees calling them white-washed tombs and a nest of vipers. He is here, the one who made a whip and drove the money-changers out of theTemple; “you have turned my Father’s house into a den of thieves” – the righteous and just one.
That is Paul’s insistence here that the Christ of the gospels, Jesus of Nazareth, is not simply present with us in particular Scriptures, but he is present with us now because we have gathered together not for some political or cultural or sporting purpose but particularly we are meeting together in his name. That is our only motive in being here this Sunday morning – it’s because of our relationship with this name, because we love the Saviour’s name, because we want all the world to know this name, because we gather to hail the power of Jesus’ name, because in our ears how sweet the name of Jesus sounds. That name of Jesus is the magnet that has attracted us here; it is the focus of our faith and hope and the motive for us to love one another purely. We gather in his name, and he reminds us of the consequences of this, that though we might have had a bad week, and we are doubting whether we are Christians, and we are feeling far from religious but cold and distant, that he is here – in spite of a sense of our deadness because he has made a promise to that effect, and he is here to do us good, to meet with us, to bless us by encouraging us, to teach us, to rebuke us, to save us. He is here as our teacher, and also as the Lamb of God he is here to take away our guilt, and as our Sovereign Protector he is here still leading us on and surrounding us and clothing us with the armour of God. He is the one that is present now, though the good and the great of our town are absent. And we behave in our relationships here, and we speak to one another, and we think as those conscious of Jehovah Jesus present with us.
What a privilege to know his presence! Think of it! The awesome Son of God is here now; the one who loves us and knows what we need. The majestic and infinitely lovely and mighty Christ! He is here to become our friend! Let me take and adapt the words that James Allen Francis famously wrote describing him, “He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never traveled more than 200 miles from the place where he was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself. He was only 33 when the tide of public opinion turned again him. His friends ran away. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. When he was dead he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. He rose from the dead on the third day and appeared to his apostles often. He did this for 40 days and he met hundreds of his disciples. Women were the first people to see him resurrected. Men and women, young and old, listened to what the risen Christ said. They had meals with him. They touched him. He wasn’t a ghost. Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he stands as the central figure of the human race. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the bombs that ever exploded, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings and tyrants that ever reigned, all the composers and authors who completed works of art, put together, have not affected the life of man on earth as has this one solitary life.” And this morning he is the one here with us as we have gathered in his name. He is not here because of the tingle factor, not because you have more goose bumps than before, but simply because he loves his people and he is preparing a place for them, and he keeps his word to be with us, and sometimes he may surprise us with the intensity and closeness of his presence.
Why do people find their burdens lifted when they come here? Because the Wonderful Counselor, the Lord Christ is here. Why are favoured people saved in this little chapel? Because Jesus is here. Why do favoured people grow in hunger for truth and in understanding the Bible when they come here? Because of the presence of Jesus. But why are so few here, and thousands refuse to come here, in fact would be sooner dead than come here? Because Jesus is here and they’re thinking, “We’ll not have this man rule over us.” They live in enmity against God and will not come to the place where his name is loved and exalted and he is worshipped. They’d give a hundred excuses for their not being here before they’d realise or admit the real reason. Someone mentioned to the late Kingsley Amis the novelist that he didn’t believe in God. Amis erupted; “It is not that I don’t believe in him, I hate him,” he said.
Now you see the consequence of the Lord Jesus being present wherever people gather in his name? It means that he is God. If today in Sydney, Australia, in Hong Kong, in Siberia, in Cairo, in Salt Lake City, in St. Petersburg, in Mecca, inMexico City, in Blaenau Ffestiniog – at this very moment are people who gather in his name, and so at this moment our Christ Jesus is with them as he is with us now. So then he is God. A personal and loving and forgiving God of grace, who knows all about us, who is not ashamed to meet with us. It is not below his dignity for the God, whom an innumerable company of angels adore, who humbles himself to consider the things of the heaven of heavens, should enter this building today and sit alongside us and nudge us, and open our understanding and help us to grasp what is being said, saving and sanctifying his own elect.
The Lord Jesus is God and not a distant, remote, unknowable God but one present with us. Now do you see this, how in our text we are told of God as someone who is separate from Christ Jesus? “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus.” What does it remind you of? Of the opening words of John’s gospel, that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. There is withness in God. God is Father and God is Son. If Jesus Christ is everywhere present where his people gather then he is God, but he is also God with God. God alongside God. God towards God, God in God. Where Christ is, God is. Where God is then Christ is there also, in heaven, and on earth, and in the pit too. There is never the presence of God without the presence of Christ Jesus. As he said, “I and my Father are one.” They are of course one, and one only one in their being – the early church coined the phrase homo-ousios – the same being. But they are different persons. The Son alone is the Son, and the Father alone is the Father, and the Spirit alone is sent by the Father and the Son. They are not three beings, but certainly they are three different persons.
So here we have a letter from an apostle of Jesus Christ, which he writes in the presence of God, and it is the breath of the Spirit. And here he is charging Timothy and also every one of us throughout this letter, to believe certain truths and to live in a certain way, and entertain certain hopes and views of God. Paul is quite conscious that his words have all the authority of God behind them. You grasp something of what the impact of that should be, when there is high authority behind some words we are careful to take the appropriate action. When there is no authority behind the same words we choose to ignore them. For example you are driving along in your car, you go round a bend and see the gestures of a hitch-hiker, and he is saying, “Stop and give me a ride.” But you choose not to stop. Maybe you don’t like the look of that man. Then a half an hour later you drive round a bend and there is a policeman with his hand raised signaling for you to stop. This time you stop because he has all the authority of the law behind him. It is the same request in both cases, “Stop!” but the difference is that in one instance there is the power of authority behind the words, which is absent in the hitch-hiker.
Paul is addressing these words to Timothy and he is charging Timothy concerning what to believe and how he should behave, and he reminds Timothy that he has but one option in his response, and that is to obey this word not because Paul is a bully or older than him or very smart, but because Paul’s words come from the presence of God and of Christ Jesus. That is the authority that lies behind our text. Heaven is in everything that we read in the Scriptures. Jesus Christ is in all that we read in the Scriptures. Do you understand that that is the reason Jesus calls the two on the road to Emmaus “fools and slow of heart” because they had heard the word of God about the Messiah dying and rising and they did not believe them. God had spoken of this to them in the Old Testament, “I know that my Redeemer liveth and he shall stand on the latter day upon the earth.” And Christ Jesus had spoken those same words to them, “On the third day I will rise again from the dead.” God had spoken. Christ had spoken. How foolish of them, when given such privileges by the one who made his promises so transparently clear, not to believe those words which came crashing into their lives on a wave of divine, heavenly authority! But now let’s move on; you see how Paul elaborates this?
- THE BIBLE’S CHARGE TO US TO BELIEVE AND OBEY COMES FROM THE ONE WHO ONE DAY WILL BE OUR JUDGE.
You see it in this first verse? “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead.” Isn’t there a longing in the hearts and minds of all the world for justice? A child is abducted, raped and murdered and the culprit is never discovered, and there is a longing in its grieving parents for justice, for the murderer and rapist to be discovered and condemned for what he did. Who knows what other children will be spared if he is arrested and judged? Why should other parents needlessly go through what they have gone through? An old person thinks that her bank is talking to her on the phone and so she transfers all her savings to another account and later discovers that it is a thief who has taken all the money she has in the world. She longs for justice and for the perpetrator to be caught and shamed for this wickedness. A bomb is planted on a plane and hundreds of people are killed and the families want to find out who did this so that he might be arrested and judged for the iniquity of his action. There is a natural longing for justice because we are made in the image of God and God is not indifferent to cruelty, torture, abuse, theft and murder. He doesn’t look the other way and say, “There, there . . . it’s OK. Some people are like that.” He is sin-hating, just and holy and righteous, and he sustains the world in righteousness. He has put a conscience in the mind of the cannibal and the serial killer and the extortionist and the rapacious banker and the M.P. who puts in his exaggerated expenses claims. They know they are doing wrong, and will answer, that what a man reaps that he must also sow. This is a moral universe.
Let me tell you what the Bible says. The verse before us today says that God and Jesus Christ “will judge the living and the dead.” You would expect the Old Testament to be speaking up about a day of evaluation and examination of our lives, and you are right; it is there. For example Ecclesiastes 12:14 “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” The psalmist rejoices in a day of reckoning, Psalm 96 and verse 13, “For he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth.” But Jesus is a loving man isn’t he? The Lord Christ is incarnate wisdom and incarnate love. What did the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount say about judgment? He said many things; he claimed that the Father has committed all judgment to the Son (John 5:22). Now that is the relationship that the members of the Godhead have to our judgment, God the Father has committed all the task of evaluating and ascertaining right and wrong to his Son. So the throne of judgment is his throne. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. So there will be no miscarriage of justice there. All the facts will be known. All factors will be brought into consideration. All the pressures you were under will be understood. No one will go from that heavenly courtroom to cry that it was a mistrial, that the sentence was too severe, that they want a retrial and appeal to a higher court. His judgments are righteous and fair. And every judgment Jesus makes of every individual will have the full approval of his Father.
So then the Lord Jesus speaks of what Paul is writing of in our text about judging the living and the dead, and he says this, “Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt. 7:22&23). Again Jesus says this, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (Matt.25:31-33). There is the bifurcation of humanity, a division that Jesus makes, two destinies of mankind, two only, the eternal parting of the ways, the days of testing and probation in our earthly pilgrimage having come to an end. And Jesus after his resurrection charged his apostles “to preach unto the people and to testify that this is he who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). So I must tell you everything that my Lord and Saviour has said. I am not smarter or wiser or more loving than him. For me he can say no wrong.
Don’t you see how mighty glad we are that the Judge of mankind is the Saviour who on the cross took the condemnation of every one of his people. That is why he came into the world. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved. Children sing this chorus
He did not come to judge the world, he did not come to blame;
He did not only come to seek, it was to save he came,
And when we call him ‘Saviour’ we call him by his name.
What will you need when you are facing divine judgment? You will need an advocate, a mediator, someone who will speak up on your behalf. He will say that he had loved you – though he knew of all your sins – and he had become the Lamb of God to die under your condemnation for your sins because he loved you so much. The Judge on that day will be the Saviour who gave himself to obtain your pardon. His righteousness will cover your unrighteousness. He who tells us to forgive 70 times 7 will forgive us 7 billion times 7 billion and will cover all our sins. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive justice for what’s been done or vindication for wrong condemnation. Those burnt at the stake will be owned by God as having done right. All the living and all the dead will be judged. We can’t avoid it. But we can go there with the Saviour whom God is offering to us; the great compassionate High Priest who will pardon all these who humbly fell before him bringing nothing but their great sin and need. He will give us a full, free, eternal justification. None can lay anything to charge us of our guilt because Jehovah Jesus has taken all our blame. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Don’t you see how you need him? Who would think of facing a mighty adversary who wants your life in a court of law and your not getting a wise and sympathetic advocate to speak up on your behalf and point out all the flaws and lies in your opponents’ accusations? You may have Christ himself as your advocate!
- THE BIBLE’S CHARGE TO US TO BELIEVE AND OBEY COMES FROM THE ONE WHO WILL APPEAR AND ESTABLISH HIS KINGDOM.
This is what our text says, “In view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge” (v.1). That was Paul’s hope facing the future. Christ will appear again one day! How different from Bertrand Russell’s view of the future. He said this, “man’s origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system,
and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins – all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” That’s what Bertran Russel said.
We came from an accidental collocation of atoms, says the atheist, and we are heading for extinction in the vast death of the solar system, says the atheist, seeing a universe in ruins, says the atheist, and confronted with unyielding despair. How different is Paul, living in hope, and what a hope, that the greatest man who ever lived is not today a bundle of bones under the Syrian sky. He lives at the right hand of God and he has said, “I will come again and take you unto myself, that where I am there you will be also.” We will see him again; we will be with him; we will be like him, glorified together with him if we are joined to him by faith. We shall gaze on him! We will not have to go looking for him on that day. He will be seeking for us and finding us, for he has loved us ever since the Father gave us to him for him to save and keep for ever. “I will save them Father. I will make them like me in righteousness and true holiness.”
And our eyes at last shall see him through his own redeeming love
For that child so weak and helpless is our Lord in heaven above.
We shall see him!
Not in that poor lowly stable with the oxen standing by
We shall see him but in heaven set at God’s right hand on high.
The head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now and he is going to appear and set up his kingdom. And that is where the world will end, not where Bertrand Russell says it is going to end but according to the words of him who said, “I am the truth” it will end in Jesus’ visible presence in might and majesty and glory, the Judge of mankind who is also the Saviour of that vast company who have entrusted themselves to him. It will end with the kingdom ofGod.
I then give you this charge, today, in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, Turn from your unbelief and entrust yourself to God in Christ. Confess to him your sin and cry mightily to him that he will become your Saviour. And keep speaking to him until you know that he has heard and answered you. I charge you to do this in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus.
29th May 2016 GEOFF THOMAS