Keep Your Attention on Jesus
1. 1. As you move ahead look behind.
2. 2. Use and trust the unbound Words
2 Timothy 2:8-15 Keep your attention on Jesus Christ as risen from the dead and descended from David. This is according to my gospel. 9 I suffer for it to the point of being bound like a criminal, but God's message is not bound. 10 This is why I endure all things for the elect: so that they also may obtain salvation, which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11 This saying is trustworthy: For if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us; 13 if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. 14 Remind them of these things, charging them before God not to fight about words; this is in no way profitable and leads to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn't need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.
A few weeks ago I was cleaning out some old boxes and came across a book from childhood. It’s a “Choose your own adventure” book where you, the reader, gets to decide the outcome. This particular book is called “Super Bowl Sunday” and the reader gets to determine the outcome of the game by picking which pages to flip to. For example, p. 38 ends with this choice, “to put the rookie quarterback in, turn to page 27. To put the veteran in charge, turn to page 52. Each scenario has a different outcome and there are several choices throughout the book.
As a child, these books appealed to me because of the excitement of trying to get it right. If one choice was wrong, you were out of luck. This aspect was certainly highlighted to a greater degree in books that involved imminent danger, like a treasure hunter in the jungle or an encounter with bandits in the Wild West. I enjoyed trying to stay alive but also seeing where all the results ended.
As we continue on our journey through Advent today, we see part of God’s Word that sounds like a “Choose your own adventure” book. Verses 11-13 lay out the options we have: For if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us; 13 if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. There’s no jumping to different pages in a book to determine the way we are headed. God tells us plainly where each ends up but people are intrigued nonetheless with the options before them.
But, even in this adventure of life, a book is present. In the context surrounding these scenarios the Holy Spirit lays a foundation about that book. It’s the Bible – God’s Word, and it contains the key to finding heaven at the end of the adventure. We think about these things today because Advent is a season of looking ahead. God’s message to us today is that sometimes the best way to see where you are going is to look at where you’ve been.
Our text has elements to that effect immediately, with the very first word in fact. Some translations say “Remember,” ours says “Keep your attention on…” God is telling us to take notice of something that has already happened; something that is a matter of the past, or even a reality in the present. That reality is Jesus Christ. Two things are highlighted about Jesus. First, that He is risen and second, that He is David’s descendent. Here you have a fact about His divinity and a fact about His humanity. Keeping our attention on both is important.
During Advent we’re mostly confronted with themes of Jesus’ humanity. We’re approaching His birth after all, the moment He took human flesh – the period of history when His humanity became reality. But, His humanity was never the end, the completion. Jesus became human to fulfill a divine goal, something that He planned from eternity. The Son of Man was to be sacrificed so that the Son of God could be raised and forevermore exalted. There could be no resurrection without first a death, but once both are complete the resurrection takes precedence over all.
When you consider the choices before us the resurrection makes the difference between life and death. Whenever we are put in danger or are uncertain about where to turn, God leads us back to the fact of the resurrection. Even death, the definite end of any story, cannot stand against the resurrection. This is brought out in the first scenario, This saying is trustworthy: For if we have died with Him, we will also live with Him.
This is why there is a calling back to the past in our text. Verse 8, “Keep your attention on….” Verse 14, “Remind them…” The resurrection is complete. Just as we point back to the birth of Christ as it pertains to His humanity so also we can point to His triumph over death as it pertains to His divinity. To move forward we must look back.
It might seem like an easy formula to follow, but our lives are filled with dangers that would threaten our eternal outcome. We are tempted to deny God. We have sins that cause us to be found unfaithful before the Lord. These are things that either push or pull us away from the Lord. Many have tried to control these dangers on their own. But, there’s a reason why God says in another book, “Let him who thinks he stands, take heed, lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).” Many have tried to control the dangers on their own, none have succeeded.
So, God tells us, “Remember, keep in mind, Remind one another…” of My Son’s victory for you. If only we had something to keep this truth on our minds. Well, we do, don’t we? The Word of God. Here’s why the Word is present in our verses. As God commands us to remember Him, He also tells us how. We don’t have to walk the adventure on our own. We have a guide. Paul, by inspiration, calls it “my gospel,” “the trustworthy saying,” and the “word of truth.” The Word of God keeps our attention on Jesus and the undeniable truths that He has done for us. In every moment of doubt and peril, we can go back to the Word, and it immediately is “a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.” To move forward, we look back.
But, even at this prospect, it shouldn’t surprise us that Satan is nipping at our heels at every opportunity to throw us off course. In his cunning manner, one way he does this is to take the very method God has given to bless us and use it against us. Paul tells us, Remind them of these things, charging them before God not to fight about words; this is in no way profitable and leads to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn't need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.
Words can be unprofitable too. Words can tear down just as easily as they can build up. This can refer to a person’s own opinions, the thoughts and words that they choose to speak on their own. It can also refer to God’s Word when it is used incorrectly. Think of a pertinent Scriptural illustration as an example. In both the book of Ephesians and Hebrews, God’s Word is pictured as a sword. This sword can pierce through our sinful ways and expose the truth in order that we trust God. This sword can defend us against Satan and his attacks. We can take the offensive against God’s enemies with this Sword, His Word, by preaching it with courage and conviction. But, the sword can be mishandled too, to our own destruction and to the damage of our hearers. This is one reason why Biblical training is so important. The world would have us believe that Biblical training is just a way for our parents to brainwash us into believing what they want us to, that eventually you grow out of God’s Word when you become wise enough to know better.
But training in God’s Word is like learning to wield a sacred and powerful weapon; a weapon that can hurt others if we don’t know what we’re doing. Sadly, many have used God’s Word to this end, as we have all too often. And yet, the power of the gospel has never been overcome. Even in the hands of fallible, mistake-oriented people, the power of the cross and the open tomb is present today. Although we tend to focus on the negatives of the world around us, let us not diminish the amazing miracle that God has preserved His grace for thousands of years by the same Word of truth, used by the same sinful people.
We continue to move forward this Advent with hope and joy in the coming Christ. Let us not forget to look back also, and re-focus on what Jesus has done. In our Gospel reading, we looked back at a stern lesson Jesus taught. He asked the crowds, “What did you come out to see?” This pointed question and the discourse that followed was a stunning indictment of their lack of preparation. When Christ was born, too many were left wondering about what it all meant. Even John the Baptist questioned whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. The people had set up false expectations for the Savior and His Forerunner because they had listened to much to those who “fought about words and led their hearers to ruin.” Jesus pointed them back to the Scriptures for the Word of truth.
We don’t see our Savior today, so perhaps your question should be this, “What did I come out to hear?” As we are involved in our own Advent of preparation, what governs our expectations? Is our path about choosing our own adventure at all costs, instead of heeding God’s call? Have we digested the false opinions of people in the world, about who Jesus really is, what He really taught, and what is all really means; getting past the simple meaning of the Words? Have we been tempted to think the promise of the resurrection, of God’s faithful and unchanging Word, and of the Holy Spirit’s activity through such to just be imaginations and myths that our parents want us to believe?
There are many options to follow – but only two outcomes: Heaven or Hell. God’s Word is not a “choose your own adventure” book even though you are free to make it that if you wish. God’s Word is a call, an invitation to obtain salvation, which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. That’s the path we are walking by faith. That is on our mind in Advent, Christmas, Easter, and always. That is our joy, peace, and hope. Let’s keep walking in it, forward, upward, to heaven. But don’t forget to look back often. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.