Guard the Words that Kill Death (click to view/download originally published pdf file)
8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.
13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
This entire world is hurtling toward death. Every minute of every hour of every day, it is one step closer to complete destruction.
And, oh, how the people of this world work to hide it, ignore it, distract themselves from it! How hard the world works to forget that we will all one day have to give an answer to the author of life for how we have used the time we were given, whether for God’s glory or for our own indulgence.
Ironically (or, perhaps, inevitably), we even strive to ignore our fate at funerals. Nowadays every effort is made to evoke a laugh, a fond memory. The question of judgment dare not be raised. People put on a pious front saying that no one should be so arrogant as to think that they know how others will be judged— never mind that this so-called “humility” sets its own opinion above God’s clear Word on the matter!
Fellow redeemed gathered in God’s house this morning, I want you to see very clearly what it is that you have been given in the Bible that we hold so dear. More than being a message of simple truth, it is a message of great power. It nullifies any reason we might have for ignoring death and judgment. Why? Because these words are a message of forgiveness and salvation. God has given you his Word that your eternal debts have been paid in full.
Or, to put it another way, God’s Word doesn’t ignore death. It kills death. That’s right. God’s Word kills death. Paul said, “This grace [that is, being called to salvation through the gospel] was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
You probably hear the message that Jesus killed death, which he did. But listen carefully: The Words God gives us to hear, they kill death in us. You see, if all you hear me say is that Jesus kills death, you hear a profound statement, but it’s one that people tend to view as just one religious opinion among many religious opinions. It sets such opinions up on a sacred bookshelf where all the other religious opinions sit.
But Paul is talking about something our wishy-washy culture can’t shelve. He’s talking about an encounter you’ve had with the living God. He’s talking about a faith that lives in all of us who have heard and believe the gospel. Those who believe do not view it as simply one religious opinion among many. They say with Paul in this text, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” We’re talking about words that refuse to just sit up on some high, gilded shelf. These are words that shake the soul and convict the conscience. These are words that, when they are believed, fill a natural-born sinner with life and joy and peace and conviction.
Do you know what I’m talking about? I’m asking you to see it in your life, because when Paul talks in 2 Timothy 1 about the power of God, he talks about “the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy life.” Do you see it? This goes beyond an act of love and salvation that Jesus offered up on the world’s behalf two thousand years ago. We’re talking about special favors, favors that God planned for each and every one of us individually before time even began. We’re talking about special favors that he carried out in our lives by reaching down into history right here and now with the power of his gospel, calling us to be part of his holy people.
Baptism is such an amazing example of it. In baptism, Jesus’ suffering and death, as well as his resurrection to a glorious new life, were identified as belonging to you, as being counted toward your life, as being your salvation. “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3-4).
So, you see, death doesn’t apply to you anymore, not only because Jesus paid the price for all of us, but also because God specifically named you from eternity to receive it. And in time, God made sure that you heard it, so that you could believe it. He even gave us baptism to physically show you this!
Now, how life-changing is that? Well, for Paul it was so life-changing that we find these words about God’s powerful call to new life right at the beginning of what seems to be the last New Testament epistle he wrote. When he calls himself the Lord’s prisoner, he’s referring to the fact that he was literally a prisoner in a Roman jail cell. Soon, if the ancient traditions about his death are true, he would be beheaded. His celebrated life as the missionary to the gentiles would be over.
Yet what does he say to young Pastor Timothy? “Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me, his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” Join with him in suffering? That is the “power” of God?
Yes! Later, as he spoke about how Jesus destroyed death and “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” he also said, “And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” Yes! The words of the gospel had killed death for Paul. Death was nothing for him to fear. He knew he didn’t owe God a death. The worst thing that could happen was that his enemies would behead him and he would be delivered to life in heaven. The gospel had convinced him. His sins were paid for. For him, death was dead. It was just a gateway to eternal joy!
What about you now? Is the gospel that life-changing for you? Most Christians, in my experience, would happily answer, “Absolutely! Faith makes all the difference in the world!” But then again, it’s also my experience that the actions of the majority of Christians call that into question.
Paul said to Timothy, “What you have heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.” Yet now more than ever the big push in Christian churches seems to be putting “doctrine” and “teaching” aside so that we can do more joint projects together. I am regularly asked by mail or phone to join in some joint ministry with churches in our area, despite the fact that many of them deny the power of the sacraments to forgive sins—and some of them even deny that the Bible is the absolutely inspired and inerrant Word of God! Most recently it was a flier to advertise all the Vacation Bible Schools in the area, as if it didn’t matter to God whether or not I sent my children to a VBS given by false teachers. My explanations as to why I’m not interested in such things tend not to be met with a lot of sympathy.
But that’s not you guys, right? You guys send your children here, because you know the command of Jesus to avoid false prophets. Or do you avoid false teaching churches just because you don’t want to get in trouble at Emanuel or something? Do you believe in the end that it really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference? Do you believe that just because all true Christians will go to heaven despite their differences on earth that we can then ignore our Lord’s warning to stay away from false prophets (Matthew 7:15ff), or that we can ignore Paul’s inspired warning to stay away from false teachers (Romans 16:17-19)?
When I set out to study this text, I realized very quickly that I would not be very faithful to it if I did not stress God’s Word alone has the power to destroy the threat of death in our lives. Paul was leaving Timothy with a special command to “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” In this is deeper insight into why we need to correct brothers and sisters who are tripped up by false doctrine and to avoid those teachers who refuse to be turned from false doctrine! It is because Jesus’ Words and Jesus’ Words alone kill death.
When Paul told Timothy in his final letter to guard the good deposit entrusted to him, he was telling him to guard the new life that he had received through the gospel. When he said to “guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us,” he was telling him to remain in that gospel, through which the Spirit comes to us. Through the gospel alone we are both forgiven and preserved. When Paul told Timothy to guard his faith, he was really telling him to keep the preaching of the Word pure. “What you have heard from me,” he said, “keep as the pattern of good teaching.”
Jesus’ Words alone kill death, just as Jesus himself is the only Savior from death. To drive out error and cling tenaciously to the Word of Life is not just an idiosyncrasy of the WELS. It is what one does who realizes that God “has saved us and called us to a holy life.” It is what one does who realizes that this holy call is “not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” Clinging tenaciously to the pure Word of God and calling others to do so is what you do when you realize that you can’t guard your faith without the Spirit’s help. So you guard the Word, through which he comes. You guard the Word that kills death and grants you eternal life. No error can do this. Only God’s truth can.
Tomorrow we have a funeral here at Emanuel for our sister, Patricia Anschuetz. We will not try to avoid the truth in any way at this funeral. We will instead cling to the Word of God. We will cling to his promises. We will remember that Jesus’ words found Pat in the preaching of the gospel, in partaking of the Supper, in the waters of baptism. Rather than avoid the truth, we will guard it and keep it, hold onto it for unassailable comfort and strength.
And I call you, brothers and sisters, to do the same. God’s true Word alone is the only power to kill death, nullify death, render death meaningless. Guard those words tenaciously. In them alone we have been delivered from our failures of the past. In them alone we are forgiven and called back to a holy life with him—life that death cannot stop, blessed life without end. Amen.