The Next Generation

Paul is writing to Timothy and finishes his letter – in fact, his final letter that we know of amongst all of his letters, his epistles – with a charge to Timothy to continue to carry out the work that he has been given to do. Timothy is working in Ephesus amongst the people there and Paul is telling him that he should be continuing in his work.

What is the work that he has charged him to do? First, Paul calls him to preach the word of God. He says that Timothy must be ready to speak the word to both rebuke and encourage, patiently walking through the word so that the people can understand.

Of course, in that time, they had the teachings of Paul, and the words that he had written to the individual churches, but as we think about the word of God, we are really referring to the scriptures of the Torah, the writings of David and Solomon, and the prophets. The scriptures that we would today refer to as the Old Testament, they would refer to as the word of God. The scriptures spoke of the One who would come, the Messiah, and this was the word that Paul is calling Timothy to preach.

Paul explained that people will not want to hear the truth, but Timothy must keep teaching the word correctly. He must not bend to what people want to hear, but what they need to hear. Paul says that people will move from one teacher to the next so that they can hear what they desire. Their ears “itch”, he says, and they look for a teacher that will scratch their itch. But Timothy isn’t to do this. He is to continue steadfastly in the truth, even if it means that he must endure hardship.

And then Paul tells Timothy that, beyond teaching, he must also evangelize and speak to people that haven’t heard of Christ. He must call new disciples into the Kingdom, allowing them to hear the word of God as well so that many more yet would follow Christ.

I think that verse 6 starts the crux of this chapter, and probably of the entirety of Paul’s letter. He says this:

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day —and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8

Paul is telling Timothy that his time is coming to an end, and he is calling Timothy to continue the work that he has start. Because he is being poured out like a drink offering, because he has fought the good fight and finished the race, because he has kept the faith, Paul will now continue on to be with Christ and receive the reward for his faith. And he says that everyone who has done the same will also be rewarded in the same way.

Paul has taught Timothy to live as he lives and now he is charging him to work as he is working. In this chapter, he is “passing the baton” of the work on to Timothy, although this certainly isn’t the first time that Paul has taught and equipped Timothy. It is simply the last letter that we see with these instructions to him. Paul has passed the work from himself to others many times over, encouraging and equipping the next generation many times before, but now he is charging Timothy to continue the work as the next generation who will carry on his commission as a disciple and worker for Christ.


Lovers of themselves

Paul gives a warning to Timothy that the end-times will come, and they will come not with the world continuing to get better and better, but instead with people continuing to become worse and worse in their character.

He said this:

People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy

2 Timothy 3:2

This first phrase of the verse struck me because I think it speaks to the state of our world today. More and more we see this exact situation playing out.

“You can’t love someone else until you love yourself” is a type of refrain that you might hear and would be considered good advice by pop psychologists.

Even the rise of psychology over the last several decades as a “scientific” way to fix problems, even if it seems that the resolution rarely seems to come.

Or one product or service after the next that continues to rise up in an effort to give fuel to an industry the idea that the most important person is me. I am what I need to be concerned about. Bring the glory to me, create a legacy for myself, make my name great. Or my fulfillment, my riches, my desires…these are what are most important.

From this starting place comes all sorts of evil because instead of working for the other, for the good of the other person…instead of loving the other person, I love myself, and now we have a society, an entire world that is looking out for itself instead of the other, and this produces evil of all kinds.

Knowing this, I think it is no wonder that Jesus says that the most important command is to Love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the second one is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself.

Instead of continuing to look to me, Lord, I pray that you help me to look to you. May you receive the glory. May you be the object of my love. May my life be about you and about your fame and not about me nor mine.


Civilian affairs

Paul is writing to Timothy in what will be his final letter that we are aware of amongst Paul’s great writings recorded in the New Testament. Paul has been calling Timothy to imitate him, having received the Holy Spirit and being bold in sharing the Gospel with other people and being prepared to suffer as a result of the work that he has done.

Now in chapter 2, Paul tells Timothy, in essence, that he should “keep his head down” and keep working. He says:

No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.

2 Timothy 2:4

I say “keep his head down”, not in a way to suggest that Paul wants Timothy to ignore people or situations around him. Nor am I suggesting that he tries to stay hidden.

Instead, with diligence, with focus, Paul wants Timothy to doggedly keep working. He wants him to not become entangled in the things of the world. Jesus is both Paul and Timothy’s commanding officer. He is the one that is driving them forward and this commanding officer says that they shouldn’t be concerned about what they will eat, what they will wear, or be concerned about other things of the world. These are civilian affairs that will distract them from the work that the commander has called them.

In fact, Paul says that they are called to suffer. He tells Timothy that he should join him in suffering for Christ. Not “be ready” to suffer, but to join him in suffering, as a soldier for Christ.

This is not only the life that Timothy is called to live, but each of us. We should each live without distraction from these civilian affairs. We have been called to a life that focuses on pleasing our commanding officer, a life that no longer entangles itself in the things of the world, but moves forward for the sake of Christ, doing the work that he has called each of us to do, just as Paul reminds Timothy that he is to do.


The Persistent Lie

Very often, lies can persistent much longer and much more fervently than the truth. For whatever reason, we as people are vulnerable to hearing something and both blindly receiving it and believing it without much additional investigation. We see this in our politics, we see it in our religious and spiritual practice, and we see it in many other areas of our life. Lies tend to abound, and they can be very difficult to unseat, regardless of the truth that is presented or the evidence that is used while presenting it.

This is what happened with the guards who guarded Jesus’s tomb and the chief priests of the Jews in Jerusalem. The priests invented a story, an alternative to Jesus being resurrected. In fact, instead of believing that God was doing something extraordinary in their midst, they invented a lie that Jesus’s disciples had come and stolen his body away from the tomb. The soldiers were paid as a bribe to tell this story and to keep their own selves out of trouble when word reached the local governor.

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.  When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

Matthew 28:11-15

Nevermind the fact that the tomb was also sealed, not just guarded by these soldiers.

Nevermind the fact that the disciples would have needed to be extremely silent to be able to roll away the stone, pick up Jesus’s body, and run away with it to prevent the soldiers from waking up.

Nevermind that the women saw Jesus there in the garden.

Nevermind that the disciples all saw him later in the house.

Nevermind that Jesus also appeared to 500 other people at one time.

The fact that this lie even persists today shows how much we want to believe lies when it is convenient for us, even when the truth is staring us directly in the face. The lie is persistent, primarily because we don’t like the truth and we are looking for another story.

But let us be a people that look for the truth. Even when the truth seems difficult. Even when the truth challenges the way that we look at the world. Let us allow the truth to change us, not us to change the truth. Let us look to the resurrection of Jesus as a fact that makes all of the difference, that Jesus defeated death and that he wants to do the same for us if we will bend our knee and give our lives to him.


Torn in Two

Jesus was crucified, just as God had planned. The Chief Priests of the Jews had given an innocent man to Pilate, and while Pilate tried to have him released through their customary giving away of one of the prisoners, the people called for his death and Pilate accommodated their desires.

As Jesus died, an amazing thing happened. The curtain that was found in the temple setting apart and separating the Holy of Holies was split in two:

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split

Matthew 27:50-51

So what is going on here? Why would the curtain be torn in two?

In the original representation of the temple, the Tabernacle, there was a curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. In that place, the ark of the covenant was placed and the High Priest was the only one that could enter into that room, and only on the Day of Atonement, once per year. God would then appear in a cloud over the ark to appear to the High Priest.

And that was it… That was the only connection that God would make with his people, through the High Priest.

But now Jesus had been sacrificed and made atonement for the sins for all people. Once for all, for all sins past, present, and future because his sacrifice was perfect. He had not sinned. He didn’t deserve to be killed, and yet he was given for all of their sins.

Jesus was, and is now, our High Priest before God and his death gave us direct access to God, and it was for this reason that the curtain was torn in two. No longer would God need to be separated behind a curtain. For those that Christ made holy, God could dwell with them. The curtain is now torn and the Spirit of God has come to dwell amongst His people.

This is an amazing thing to consider: God Himself, through the Holy Spirit, comes to dwell with His people. As believers in Christ, we receive an amazing gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit, who dwells with us. He lives inside of us. Teaching us, counseling us, leading and guiding us. He gives us new life, spiritual life that we didn’t have before. As we walk with Him, we produce the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are what the Holy Spirit helps us to do if we will walk with Him on a daily basis.

So this is why the curtain in the temple was torn in two. God has come to live with His people.



In a famous scene, Peter tells Jesus that he will never disown him. Even if he has to die, he would never do it.

Jesus tells him that, in fact, he won’t even last the night. In fact, he will disown him three times before the night is over. It won’t be that he will just disown him once, but instead three times.

Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Matthew 26:31-35

And that is exactly what happens. Things begin to fall apart. Jesus is arrested and Peter comes out swinging with his sword, only to have Jesus tell him to put it away.

They take Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane to the High Priest’s house and start to question Jesus.

And then it comes down to a couple of servant girls and some people standing around a fire. They accuse Peter of being with Jesus, and with only this little bit of social pressure and fear of being arrested, Peter does exactly what he said he wouldn’t do. He denies knowing Jesus or ever having been part of his group of disciples.

And when he hears the rooster crow, he weeps bitterly.

The scene is fairly familiar. Peter says that he won’t commit this grievous sin, but Jesus says that he will. He knows he will, and yet interestingly, Jesus doesn’t disown him immediately, but instead actually even takes Peter with him to be one of the three who will pray and watch with him in the garden.

But why is the scene familiar? Because we have a tendency to do the same thing. Jesus tells us through his Word and through the Spirit not to do something, and yet we do it. We sin just as Peter did. We betray Christ. Maybe not necessarily just as Peter did by saying that we don’t know him, but we act as if we don’t know him. We do what he has said not to do, and in this way we deny him.

And we can find ourselves in a situation where we then weep bitterly over our sin, just as Peter did.

And yet, then, we can do it again. And again.

And we know that we have to remove ourselves from the cycle of the sin that we are in. Whatever the sin is. We have to leave that cycle of sin. But how is it possible?

The first step is repentance. We must admit what we have done, and admit that we have sinned. This is difficult because it is embarrassing and is an assault upon our pride. Our pride says that we are important. We do it right. We are correct.

But repentance says that we are wrong. We have been wrong, we are wrong, and we’ll keep doing wrong if we are left to our own devices. And we know that this is correct. In the midst of our sin, and in the midst of repentance, we know that this is the only correct answer.

From there, we have to find joy in the midst of what is correct. Our sin can be pleasurable…for a time. But instead of finding joy in the pleasure of our sin, we must learn to listen to the Spirit of God and find joy in living in the way that God has called us to live. We are creatures that seek out happiness. We are creatures that look for ways to avoid pain. Yet we need to find joy in the ways of God.

The only way to do this is to allow God to change our hearts. We must abide in Christ. We must read his Word. We must speak to him and listen to him in prayer. We must draw our strength from him. Whether in more pleasurable times or in times of difficulty or times of pain. We must find our joy in him. He will change our hearts. He will change what we desire as we desire what he wants instead of what we want. Instead of the desires of the flesh, we will desire the things of the Spirit. In this way, and only in this way – through the changing of our hearts by the Spirit of God – can we remove ourselves from saying Never, only to deny Christ in that very night.


In anticipation

Jesus spoke of what would happen in the end and spoke of his return, but he knew that there would be many who would fall away or who would become dismayed because it seemed to them to be a long time until he returned.

But Jesus knew that this is how it must be, and so he began to warn the disciples of some specific things that they must be aware of within the waiting time.

First, Jesus told the parable of the 10 virgins who were waiting for the bridegroom. Five of them were prepared with oil in their lamps so that they could light their lamps and directly go to meet the bridegroom at a moment’s notice while the other five needed to go and buy oil so that they could go to meet the bridgegroom.

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

Matthew 25:7-9

So the lesson is clear: We need to have prepared and be in a position of readiness for Christ’s return. We need to have not only repented and believed in Christ, but we should be living a life by the Spirit, producing fruit for him. We shouldn’t imagine that we can live our lives in any way that we want, and then at the last moment we try to “get right with God” in some way. Christ will return unexpectedly for those who are not expecting him, but for those who are prepared, watching and waiting, they will be able to enter.

Next, Jesus told a parable of the master who left his servants in charge of his property, giving them each a certain amount of gold that they should utilize on behalf of the master. To one he gave five bags, to another two bags, and to the third, one bag. Jesus said that the master had given these according to their abilities.

When the master returned, the servants who had given the master a return for the five bags and the two bags were the ones whom the master rewarded while the one with one bag did nothing with it except bury it in the ground. His gold was taken from him and given to the first servant who had earned the most and is then put outside.

For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 25:29-30

Again, the lesson is clear. Jesus expects us to be at work for him, to be doing what he has called us to do. What is the work that he expects of us? What is it that he has called us to do? Jesus said that we should produce fruit in keeping with repentance and we should make disciples. In other words, we become disciples of Christ, and we make other disciples of Christ. This is the work that he has called us to do.

And finally, Jesus says that when he comes, there will be a separation, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Specifically, he speaks about the mercy that people have had upon others:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Matthew 25:34-36

The King – Jesus – is calling those who have been blessed by his Father. God is the Father and he has blessed the people with grace and mercy, blessed them to be able to know Jesus, blessed them to be able to enter into the Kingdom of God. They have provided for those who thirsted, or needed clothes, or were sick, or were in prison. In other words, they helped those who were in need, and so they were rewarded by the King because they did these things for others and Jesus counted it as the same as doing it for him.

Jesus started his teaching by saying that this is what will happpen in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is how it will be. And these are the same things that we see even today. Jesus hasn’t returned yet, but God could decide at any moment that now is the time, so we should ask ourselves:

Are we prepared with “oil in our lamps”? Are we living for Christ now?

Are we bringing a return for our master? Have we invested what we have been given and giving Him a return?

Are we showing mercy and helping to provide for others who are in need?

Jesus is speaking specifically about the time that we find ourselves in now. May we learn from the lessons that he taught so that we may be found ready to enter into the Kingdom!


Looking backward

Jesus had just been pronouncing the woes upon the Pharisees for their toxic religiosity and then arose to walk away. His time was done at the temple. The temple’s time was over. He was leaving and he wouldn’t return.

But just at the most inopportune moment, the disciples came up to Jesus to point him to the beauty of the temple. It had been, in fact, built beautifully. After the original temple that Solomon had built was destroyed, Nehemiah had returned to rebuild the temple and the initial rebuilding seems to have been finished during the reign of the Medes and Persians. Ezra says that it was finished in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the Great.

So this second temple became the center of religious life for the Jews, and as a demonstration of his greatness, Herod came and built it out even further, expanding the temple and layering it with gold and marble. This was likely intended to be just as much of a testament and a building project in memory of Herod as it was a place to worship and offer sacrifices.

So as Jesus was leaving, what do the disciples do? They look to the beauty of what man has made.

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.

Matthew 24:1

They loved the beauty of the building. They loved its splendor and grandeur. I’m imagining that maybe they said:

What do you think, Jesus? Isn’t this great?

Aren’t the Jews truly an amazing people?

The kingdom of God as represented by this temple is wonderful, isn’t it?

But of course Jesus then turns and looks at them directly and says:

“Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Matthew 24:2

Any more questions?

Do we need to wonder any longer where Jesus places his priority?

His thoughts and priorities have nothing to do with the buildings. They have nothing to do with the religious trappings of Judaism. They have nothing to do with anything except the full and complete love and devotion to him with a changed heart created by the change initiated by the Holy Spirit. That’s it. Nothing else.

So he essentially tells the disciples: You like this? It is useless. It is all going away and not a single stone will be left standing on another.

And that is exactly what happens. Less than 40 years later, the Romans come through and destroy the temple. Gone. Nothing left.

And yet the Jews still go to the western foundational wall today to mourn and pray. They still march around the temple mount desiring to take back the religiosity. Take back and rebuild something that will only be torn down and destroyed yet again.

Of course, we can point our fingers at the Jews, but this is a universal perspective and desire, that we build these temples, these monuments so that we can show our “devotion”. It happens in Christianity as well, doesn’t it? We justify it saying that we are devoting ourselves to building something great for God, to worship Him, to help more people come to know Him. But if we are being truthful, it ends up being itself the thing that we serve because it lifts us up. It is, itself, what takes up the majority of our time and energy.

So we must watch out for these things. Don’t say I would never… because yes you would. We all would. We are drawn to build so that we will become known, but Jesus told his disciples that it would all be torn down. The only thing that will last will be his Kingdom. Everything else will be destroyed. Everything else will go away. Let us live today in that future reality!


A strange king

In Matthew 21, we see this strange scene where Jesus is entering Jerusalem as a king. The people are spreading out their cloaks, placing palm branches on the road, and treating him as someone would treat a king entering into Jerusalem. In fact, they are even declaring him to be the king, saying:

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Matthew 21:9

But what is he riding on? He is riding on a donkey! What kind of king rides on a donkey? This is weird…

And what is the first thing that he does? He goes to the temple courts to overthrow the money changers and drive out the vendors saying that his house is to be a house of prayer.

Wouldn’t it make more sense if he were to go to the seat of governmental power to overthrow the government? Isn’t this Messiah supposed to come to kick out the Romans and end the oppression of the Jewish people?

What kind of king is this Jesus supposed to be? A strange one, to say the least.

Just from these actions, Jesus is making it clear that Yes, he is a king, and the people have recognized him as such. But he isn’t the king that the people want him to be. He isn’t a king that has come to overthrow the Roman government. That isn’t the mission. That isn’t his plan.

There is an oppression that is much greater that the people have simply become used to. It is the oppression of rampant sin. It is the corruption of the heart that Jesus has come to overthrow. To call people out of darkness and into the light. To make those who are dead in their sins to come alive again.

But the people who are looking at this king with human eyes, not spiritual eyes, will not see what this king has come to do. That is the problem that they had when, upon entering Jerusalem, the people simply asked:

Who is this?

Matthew 21:10

They don’t get it. They don’t get him. They don’t understand, because they don’t see him in the way that he intends for them to see him.

Last night, a friend of mine told me that he sees the same thing in the stories of the Bible that we see today. For example, we read the story of the rich young ruler and talked about how Jesus calls us to come to him, that he wants the entirety of our lives, but instead we want to give him a part and retain the rest for ourselves. Jesus told him that he needed to sell everything, give the money to the poor, and follow him. But the man went away sad because he wanted to keep his riches.

My friend said that he sees the same thing today, and I think that he is right. Despite all our knowledge, all of our technological advancement… Despite all of our perceived achievement, in our hearts, little has changed from what we see from the stories in the Bible. Our hearts have, in many ways, continued on just as they always have.

But we have an opportunity. We have an opportunity to see Jesus for who he intends to show himself to truly be. He desires to be both Lord and Savior. He not only saves us from our sins, but he commands our lives and draws us forward toward true obedience as a result of our love for him. Our obedience comes because we desire to please him and we find joy in being with him.

So we can have true joy in Christ if we see him and respond to him for whom he truly is. Let us make that choice and not continue to look at Jesus with human, fleshly eyes, but instead understand him with the depth of our hearts.


A ransom mission

In Matthew 20, Jesus is telling a story of his ransom mission. At the beginning of the chapter, he is speaking to his disciples when he tells them a parable of a landowner who hires day laborers to work in his vineyard. Those that are brought in last are given the same wages as those who came in first, so Jesus shows the Jews that the Gentiles will also, despite coming into the Kingdom later than the Jews, will also be able to inherit entry into Jesus’s Kingdom.

Jesus then, yet again for the second time recorded in Matthew, tells his disciples that he is going to be condemned and crucified, but that he will be raised to life again.

And finally, just before leaving from Jericho to head up to Jerusalem, he tells his disciples that they must be a servant if they want to be great within the Kingdom of God. The justification that he gives for this is that, just as he is giving his life as a ransom for many, they must also give their lives away in service to others.

So Jesus is trying to be very clear with his disciples about his mission and what he is doing. Of course, they continue to be blinded by their ambition and desire to see Jesus for whom they want him to be, not necessarily who Jesus says he is and what he is planning to do.

Very often, we also can become confused and misunderstand the fundamental mission of what Jesus came to do and has called us to do. We can be hung up in many different concerns, but miss Jesus’s basic calling to bring people into his Kingdom, thus missing also our basic calling to bring people into his Kingdom!

Instead, let us stay focused on what Jesus has called us to do – to usher people into his Kingdom. He has called us abide and grow in his, bringing others also to know him. Let us make sure that the main objective remains the main objective. Help us Lord to stay focused on your plan!