About Jesus - Steve Sweetman

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Paul's Final Written Words


Whether religious or secular, historians view Augustine of Hippo (Christian theologian 354 to 430 AD) as being one of the most influential men in shaping western civilization.  Augustine derived much of his thinking from the writings of the Apostle Paul.  For this reason many historians view Paul as one of the most fundamental influences on western culture as we have known it.  In today's world, Post Modern thinkers often fail to acknowledge Paul's historical importance.  Despite the present ignorance, Paul was ahead of his time on many social issues, and that includes women's issues that we uphold today.    

 

Paul was one significant man of God and of history.  You might think that the final days of such a man would be held in high esteem, spent in relative comfort because of the respect due to him.  That was not the case with Paul.  He spent his last days in prison, and, although his death was celebrated in Heaven, it certainly wasn't celebrated on earth.       

 

The book of Acts ends with Paul being held in house arrest in Rome.  I hold to the position that he was released from prison after Caesar Nero acquitted him of the charges brought to the Roman court by the Jews.  Clement, Bishop of Rome from 88 AD to his death in 99 AD, wrote that Paul had traveled to the far west of the empire.  That would mean Paul preached Jesus in Spain as he hoped to do (Romans 15:24 and 28). 

 

Upon returning from Spain Paul was arrested again in Rome as Nero's persecution, imprisonment, and execution of Christians intensified.  Prisoners on death row back then were locked away and left to rot in dark, damp, rat infested hell holes called jail cells.  They were never washed, shaven, or cared for.  They were escorted to a bathroom once, maybe twice a day.  Beyond that, their toilet was the floor in one corner of their tiny windowless cell.  Sickness and disease emaciated these prisoners prior to them being eaten by lions, burned on poles, or beheaded.  The sickening stench that would have saturated these prisons would cause most of us to vomit our dinner.  The agonizing cries and screams of mentally tormented, sick, and dying men, would drive many of us insane.  This was the environment where one of the most influential men in western civilization spent his final days, weeks, or months.  This was a pathetic end to a wonderful life, but that was the life to which God had called Paul (Acts 9:15 - 16).   

 

It is commonly understood that Paul's last recorded words that we presently possess were penned in his second letter to Timothy.  The last words of any person are important.  They tell us what he holds dear to life.  One doesn't waste words on his death bed.  Let some of Paul's final words sink into your heart and mind.  They were written as he stood at the doorway to death.  They demonstrate a life of gracious thankfulness in the midst of misery, affliction, and suffering.    

   

"Paul according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus (1:1) I thank God, whom I serve (1:3) night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers (1:3) Join with me in suffering for the gospel (1:8) Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light (1:10) I am not ashamed I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted with him (1:12) I am suffering, even to the point of being chained as a criminal But God's Word is not chained I endure everything for the sake of the elect (2:9 - 11) If we died with Him we will also live with Him (2:11) ... Anyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (3:12) For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.  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 (4:6 - 8) ... At my first defense (before Nero) the Lord rescued me from the lion's mouths (literal lions).  The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom.  To Him be glory for ever and ever (4:16 - 18)." 

 

Paul knew that he wasn't about to die quietly in his sleep and slip into his heavenly home.  Jesus did rescue him from evil as he predicted, but not in the way one might think.  Like Stephen whose entrance into Heaven was due to rocks being buried into his skull, Paul entered Heaven when his head was sliced from his shoulders.  Knowing that the head of one of the most significant men in western world history fell from a Roman chopping block into a bloody mess on the ground is painfully disturbing.    

 

Paul's life, right up to the final bitter second, serves as an example for us all.  I believe Paul viewed his excruciating execution as his ultimate witness for his Lord.   Compared to Paul's afflictions, that he called "light and momentary" in 2 Corinthians 4:17, our western world trials pale in comparison.  We have no valid reason to complain about anything.  Rather, we should adopt Paul's gracious life of thanksgiving for ourselves.  If we don't, we certainly won't possess it when our day of suffering comes.  Paul's love for Jesus outweighed his life of suffering.  May the same be true for us.

 

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