Our Risen Lord

 

2 Timothy 2:8-9

I: — “No apostle ever remembered Jesus.” I was startled the first time I read this line. “No apostle ever remembered Jesus.” Then I understood what the author meant: we remember the departed whereas we don’t remember those who are alive and present. There’s no need to remember those who have never left us. The living are here, present, active, assertive, even intrusive. We remember only those who are dead, departed.

Jesus Christ is not among the departed. He is alive, vibrant, vivid. Therefore we don’t remember him. Then why does Paul instruct young Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ!” Certainly Paul knows that Jesus Christ is alive. Paul is an apostle only because the resurrected one arrested him and shook him. Since the living Lord is the most vivid aspect of Paul’s existence, why does Paul tell Timothy to remember Jesus?

It’s because Paul is Jew. He thinks like a Jew. In the Hebrew language the verb “remember” doesn’t mean “recall to conscious”, “become aware of again”. In Hebrew, rather, to remember is to render an event in the past an operative reality in the present. Carved into our communion table are the words of Jesus, “This do in remembrance of me.” Does he mean that we are to observe the Lord’s Supper as a device to keep him from fading from our consciousness? Of course not. Jesus too is a Jew; he too thinks in Hebrew. To remember Jesus — and specifically remember his death — is to render a past event an operative reality in the present. An event from the past is made operative, effective, life-altering — now.

The prophet Habakkuk cries to God, “…in [your] wrath, remember mercy!” Habakkuk isn’t trying to “jog” God’s memory. When he cries to God, “Remember [your] mercy” he means, “That mercy which you have manifested in the past; make it the operative reality of our lives right now.”

Rachel wanted a child more than she wanted anything else. Hannah was desperate for a child too. We are told that God “remembered” both Rachel and Hannah — with the result that both women became pregnant. Then plainly to remember in Hebrew is to render a past event (their wedding) operative in the present and to make this present reality fertile, fruitful.

While we are talking about remembering in the Hebrew sense of the word we might as well talk about forgetting. In Hebrew to forget something isn’t to have it fade from consciousness; to forget something isn’t to become unaware of it. To forget, in Hebrew, is to make a past event non-operative in the present; and in making it non-operative to make it ineffective, insignificant, non-profuse; to neutralize it, cancel it. When God speaks to Jeremiah, and through Jeremiah to the people of Israel; when God says, “I will remember their sins no more”, God he doesn’t mean that he will slowly let the memory of his people’s sins fade away. He means, rather, that his people’s sins from the past will not be the operative reality now. Their sins he will neutralize; he will render them of no effect. When God forgets our sin, our sin is non-operative, out-of-commission, insignificant. When God forgets, what he forgets ceases to be.

We must be sure to note how the Hebrew bible links God’s forgetting and God’s remembering: he remembers his mercy, and just because his mercy is the operative reality now and limitlessly fruitful, he forgets our sin.

When Paul urged Timothy to remember Jesus, he never meant that the memory of Jesus was fading from Timothy’s consciousness and Timothy should recall the memory of Jesus. Paul meant something else. He wanted to make sure that Timothy continued to live in the vivifying, vivid, vibrant reality of the resurrected one. He wanted Timothy’s life to be fertile, profusely fruitful. He wanted Timothy ever to have Jesus Christ remain the heart and soul, the life-blood, the throb of Timothy’s ministry. He wanted Timothy to know that just because Jesus is alive and is “remembered”, Jesus can never become antiquated or obsolete. And Timothy himself need never become fruitless or sterile. “Remember Jesus Christ.”

II: — “Remember Jesus Christ risen from the dead.” Paul knows that Jesus is alive, and is alive not inasmuch as he has not yet died; Jesus is alive, rather, inasmuch as he has died yet has been raised from the dead. To remember Jesus Christ risen from the dead is to appropriate now in faith, to continue to appropriate in faith, the operative benefits of Christ’s death.

What are the benefits of Christ’s death? There are many. Our Lord’s resurrection crowned and confirmed them all. Time permits us to ponder one only today. During his earthly ministry Jesus had said that he “came to give himself a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) “Ransom” is a word borrowed from the slavetrade. Slaves were said to be “ransomed” when the purchase price was paid for them — and they were then transferred from one slaveowner to another? No! The slave whom another slaveowner bought had merely been bought; he hadn’t been ransomed! A slave was ransomed (rather than merely bought) when his purchase price was paid so as to set him free. To be ransomed was to be released.

Our Lord said that he came to give himself a ransom for us. Plainly he regarded humankind as enslaved. To what? The rabbis who taught Jesus in Sunday School used to speak of the “yetzer ha-ra”, the evil inclination. The church speaks of original sin. Original sin is (among other things) that deepest-seated inclination that keeps us homing in on sin more surely than the homing instinct in a pigeon’s head keeps it returning to the coop. (Everybody knows that a child doesn’t have to be taught to do wrong.)

In casual conversation with his disciples one day Jesus said, “You fellows, evil as you are…”. He said it without qualification, without hesitation, without argument, without proof; “evil as you are…” . Obviously he regarded it as so blatantly self-evident that anyone who denied it would be as stupid-looking as the flat earth society.

We need something set right in us at the innermost core of our life. We need an alteration, an operative “fix” that will put us on a new road and point us to a new destination and grant us a new destiny.

In the wake of the freedom, release, our Lord’s atoning death brings to us we are freed from eversomuch more as well, freed from eversomuch more as the consequence of our foundational release. We are freed from a self-preoccupation that narcissists can’t hide from their psychiatrists as surely as mentally healthy (but spiritually sick) people can’t hide ingrained selfism from God. We are freed from the acquisitiveness that seizes us as tightly as we seize our trinkets and trifles and toys. We are freed from social climbing that thinks we are extraordinarily virtuous or unusually holy just because we don’t eat peas off a knife and can whistle five notes of Beethoven’s fifth. We are freed from having to posture ourselves as the measure of the universe and the judge of everyone in it. Released!

I said a minute ago that when slaves were ransomed they were freed; they weren’t transferred from one slaveowner to another. In this manner he who has paid our ransom inasmuch as he is our ransom now frees us — with this difference: in freeing us he does transfer us to the possession of someone else. He transfers us to himself. He now owns us. Bound to him now, we quickly learn that bondage to Jesus Christ is the only bondage in the world that liberates; in submitting to his authority we quickly learn that his authority is the only authority in the world that will never become authoritarian, tyrannical, demeaning. When Augustine said that serving Christ is our only freedom, Augustine was right. And when Martin Luther insisted that just because the Christian is free from all he is servant to all, Luther was right too.

“Remember Jesus Christ risen from the dead.” “Remember the ransom, now crowned and confirmed by the ransom’s resurrection from the dead. In remembering him, remember your own release, Timothy. Remember your consequent enslavement to Jesus Christ. Make sure that this is the operative reality of your life; make sure that this is fertile, profusely fruitful. Remember Jesus Christ risen from the dead.”

III: — “Remember Jesus Christ…descended from David.”

(i) To say that Jesus is descended from David means many things. At the very least it means that Jesus was genuinely human. (No one ever doubted the humanity of David.) Is the humanity of Jesus a point that has to be made? It always has to be made. The first heresy to afflict the young church was the notion that Jesus was only apparently human; he was unquestionably the Son of God, but he was only apparently human, only seemingly human. This heresy was named “docetism” after the Greek verb DOKEO, “to seem”. We must always insist with the apostles that Jesus was really human, fully human, authentically human.

You see, if Jesus isn’t genuinely human, how can he be my saviour, since I know that I am human? If Jesus isn’t genuinely human, how can he offer himself as ransom, representing all of humankind? How can he be representatively human if he is only apparently human and therefore not human at all?

There’s more to be said. If Jesus isn’t fully human then God has never become fully incarnate. If God has never become fully incarnate, then God’s love hasn’t condescended all the way down to me, since I am certainly human. If Jesus is only seemingly human, then God merely seems to love us without limit. If Jesus is only seemingly human, then God’s love hasn’t “gone all the way”; God’s love doesn’t reach all the way down to earth where we humans grope and stumble; God’s love never moves him to identify fully with our shame; God’s love doesn’t penetrate all the way in to our innermost depravity. Then God’s love simply isn’t quite loving enough. If Jesus is only seemingly human then God’s love almost condescends to us, almost reaches us, almost identifies with us, almost penetrates us, almost saves us.

Almost? A miss is as good as a mile. What good is a lawyer whose clients are almost acquitted? A surgeon whose patients almost survive? A teacher whose pupils almost learn to read? An engineer whose bridges almost stand up? What good is a saviour who almost saves? A father whose love is almost effective? “Remember Jesus Christ…descended from David.” In the full humanity, authentic humanity of Jesus God’s love has reached us, identified with us, penetrated us, and therefore saves us.

(ii) To speak of Jesus as son of David means even more. It means that Jesus is the Messiah, the Messiah promised to David. David had been Israel’s greatest king. Like no other king before him or after him David had upheld justice, protected the vulnerable, assisted the poor, defended the defenceless, helped the afflicted, suppressed enemies, vindicated his people, and exulted in the God whose name he sought to adorn. The years of David’s reign were glorious.

But David’s reign was geographically local and temporally short-lived. At best all that he did — wonderful as it was — remained shot through with the evil that infiltrates everything; more to the point, all that David did was marred by the sin of David himself.

As a result all Israel longed to see the day of the King; that king whose reign would know no end, that king whose reign would preside over a kingdom which was nothing less than the entire creation healed. The promise of such a king, the Messiah, is mentioned in several places in the older testament; Psalm 89:16, for instance — “You [God] have said, `I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David that I will establish his descendants for ever, and build David’s throne for all generations’.”

“Remember Jesus Christ…descended from David.” Jesus Christ, king of that kingdom which cannot be shaken, is the operative truth of the world’s life, even if the world doesn’t know it. Jesus Christ is the operative truth of the creation-restored, even though the creation (for now) persists in contradicting it. Paul is telling Timothy that he, Timothy must ever be sure that he, Timothy lives for and lives from a new creation, the kingdom of God, made new at the hand of him through whom and for whom all things have been made.

IV: — “Remember Jesus Christ…as preached in my gospel.” My gospel? Did Paul think that the gospel was his possession, like his coat or his chariot. Did Paul think that the gospel was his and nobody else’s? Or was it “his” gospel in the sense that he invented it? He thought no such thing. When the congregation in Galatia decided to invent its own gospel Paul told them most vehemently that they were accursed. And even if another “gospel” were invented by an angel from heaven, he fumed, it would still be accursed. There can be only one gospel: the message of Jesus Christ charged with the power of Jesus Christ.

Then what does the apostle mean when he speaks of “my gospel”? He means that he has appropriated the gospel personally; he means that he has claimed the gospel for himself; he has drunk it down and now perspires it; he has inhaled it and now breathes it out; he has clothed himself in it and now displays it. He has tasted the gospel, owned it, identified himself with it; he lives by the gospel, commends it, is unashamed of it, stands by it, is wedded to it — and will even die for it. When I speak of Maureen as “my wife” I don’t mean that I possess her, and I don’t mean that I invented her. I mean that she has won my heart, that she is fused to me and I to her, that we are now inseparable, that we know and cherish an intimacy with each other that words can only approximate. Maureen is “my” wife in the sense Paul has in mind when he says, “Jesus Christ is `my’ gospel.”

When the older apostle says to the younger Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ…as preached in my gospel”, he means, “Timothy, be sure that Jesus Christ is the same operative reality, profusely fruitful, for you that he has been for me. See to it that “your” gospel is nothing less than the message of Christ charged with the power of Christ so that everyone knows you are acquainted with the person of Christ.”

“Remember Jesus Christ

risen from the dead

descended from David

as preached in my gospel.”