A Dying Man’s Hope
Bible Reading: 2 Timothy 4:6-18
LeRoy and his son and daughter-in-law had moved from the midwest to Seaside, Oregon and started attending our church. Though in his 90s, and of deteriorating health, LeRoy loved the fellowship of believers and attended church services as much as he could. He’d served as a Gideon for much of his life, and in his final years he’d regularly ride his motorized wheelchair to the prom in Seaside, looking for opportunities to pass out Gideon New Testaments and talk to people about Jesus. Not too long before he died (at the age of 97), I got a call from his daughter-in-law. LeRoy had something he wanted to say to me, so she asked if I’d come to visit. LeRoy’s health was failing, he knew he’d soon be leaving us. His message to me was clear and succinct: “When it comes time for my funeral, don’t be talking about anything I might have done, talk about Jesus and share the gospel.” Soon after that meeting LeRoy died, but he departed earth with a heart full of love for Jesus and the hope of heaven!
It’s fitting that we should pay careful attention to the last words of a dying man. As death draws near, one can’t help but reflect on the things in life that matter most. And in those dying words we can discern whether a person has any measure of hope, and if so, where it lies. In our passage we read of the Apostle Paul’s last recorded words. Not surprisingly, they are words that speak of the strong hope he possessed in Jesus.
Paul knew that the “time of (his) departure had come” (2 Timothy 4:6). Though historians debate the exact manner in which he died, it is almost universally accepted that he was martyred, likely during the time of the attack on Christians following the great fire in Rome. We can learn a lot from Paul’s example in what he was focused on in his final days. As a pastor and a hospice chaplain I’ve walked alongside plenty of folks in their final days. It’s a good time to take account of where you stand in relationship to God, and with others, and with respect to what matters most–looking up, looking around, and looking within. Paul spoke to all of these things in his final words.
With respect to his relationship to God (looking up), it is apparent that Paul was fully trusting in God. He had fought the good fight and had kept the faith. He was looking to the heavenly reward that awaited him in heaven. Though others had deserted him, “the Lord stood by (him) and strengthened (him)” (2 Timothy 4:17). His hope was unwavering, for he knew that “The Lord (would) rescue (him) from every evil deed and bring (him) safely into his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18). From a cold, dark jail he praised God, saying, “To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18). His faith was firmly rooted in his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
With respect to his relationship to others (looking around), it is apparent that Paul walked a similar path as did his beloved Savior. Jesus had his Judas, Paul had Demas (who deserted him). Jesus’ disciples abandoned him, at Paul’s first defense “all deserted (him)” (2 Timothy 4:16). Jesus’ prayed for the forgiveness of others from the cross, Paul responded in similar fashion with respect to those who had failed him (2 Timothy 4:16b). Demas had deserted him and Alexander had caused him much harm, but Luke was with him and he asked that Mark be sent, for he was “very useful to (him) for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11; recall that he’d previously deemed Mark to be not useful; Acts 15:37-38). He treasured those he loved, and forgave those who had failed him. In contemplating death, it’s good to take measure of where we stand in relationship to the others God has placed in our lives.
We also get a sense of what mattered most to Paul in this passage (looking within). Paul wasn’t about to waste his remaining days. He asked Timothy to bring his cloak, that he might be kept warm, and the books and “above all the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13). As long as Paul had breath nothing mattered more to him than that “the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Timothy 4:17). His hope was set on God and perfectly aligned with God’s purposes. In living and dying well, Paul set a good example for us all to follow! None of us know when it will be time for our departure, but it’s good for us to be prepared–give some thought today to these matters. How is your walk with Jesus, are you even now trusting Jesus as you fight the good fight of faith? How are you doing in your relationship with others–are they better off in Jesus as a result of knowing you? What matters most to you now? Is it the same thing that will matter most when you breathe your final breath? Because of Jesus there’s always good reason for hope, even when death draws near!
Is What Matters Most to You Now What Will Matter Most When Death Draws Near?
Heavenly Father. Our lives are in Your hands. You’ve numbered our days. We don’t know when it will be time for our departure. During the time of our stay here on earth our hearts are drawn in so many directions. Forgive us for our lack of devotion and propensity to wander. We invest our lives in so many things that cannot matter for eternity. Forgive us for our foolhardy choices. Grant us the grace and wisdom that we might refine our focus and set our hope on those things which truly matter. May we walk closely with You. May we invest our lives in serving You by loving and serving others. May we readily forgive as we have been forgiven. May we take advantage of every opportunity to share the truth of the gospel with others. May you be honored in our lives, and when that time comes, in our death. In Jesus’ name. Amen.