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July 16, 2017

Sermon II Timothy 1:12-18 . . . “People to meet in heaven:  Onesiphorus”

“People to meet in heaven:  Onesiphorus”

II Timothy 1:12-18

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Tucked away deep in a vault in the rare book room of the Library of Congress, there’s a small black box.  The label reads:  “Contents of the president’s pockets on the night of April 14, 1865.”  It’s the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

So what did Lincoln carry the night he died?  There was a pocket knife, a watch fob, an Irish linen handkerchief embroidered with the letters, “A. Lincoln,” a brown leather wallet, a crisp new Confederate five-dollar bill, and two pairs of gold-rimmed eyeglasses, (one pair held together with a string).

But of all the things he carried in his pockets that fateful night, the most interesting of all were eight newspaper clippings.  Some recorded words from one of his speeches, that a country divided against itself cannot stand.  Two spoke of low morale among the Confederate soldiers.  And another told of a speech by John Bright, a British statesman, who said that Abraham Lincoln was one of the greatest men of all time.

One hundred and fifty years later, this really isn’t news.  Today, we know Lincoln was a great man.

But in 1865, the nation was divided and Lincoln was fiercely criticized on both sides.  The Civil War had just ended, and union was not yet restored.

As one author wrote:  “It was a very tough re-election for Lincoln.  The war had worn him down.  The articles would have been very affirming to him.”  And another wrote:  “There is something poignantly pathetic about picturing this lonely figure in the Oval Office, reaching into his pocket and spreading out these newspaper clippings as he re-read the encouraging words of a man who believed Lincoln was a great man.  It gave him the courage and strength to go on.”

So it was for another man, bound in chains, in a dungeon in Rome.  His name was the apostle Paul.

At the time, he probably didn’t know that, someday, he would change the world.  All he knew was that his end was near, and that many of those he once loved and taught had abandoned him like rats fleeing a sinking ship.

Yet there he sat in his lonely prison cell.  Light filtered in through a small opening on top.  Cold, damp air chilled his weary bones.

That’s when, all of a sudden, he heard a sound high above as a guard opened the hatch to his cell.  He squinted into the light, but couldn’t see who was climbing down the ladder to visit him.  Till finally, a warm, friendly voice said, “Paul, I found you at last!”

Turn with me to page 1267 as I read the words of our text.  I’ll start at II Timothy chapter 1, verse 8:  “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do.  But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.  Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”

Then he wrote:  “You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.  May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome, he searched for me earnestly and found me—may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.”

The Bible is full of characters of all kinds.  Some are the worst of the worst, like a king named Ahab and his queen Jezebel, Judas and Herod the great.  Others like Abraham, Moses, and Joshua were faithful and kind.  We want to be like them and to, someday, meet them in heaven.

And here in the words of II Timothy, there’s one more—a man named Onesiphorus.

Now we don’t know a lot about him.  His name appears only twice in the Bible, and only five verses speak of him.  But what we do know speaks volumes.

The year, as far as we know, was 67 A.D., some thirty years after Jesus died and rose again.  Nero was the emperor, and Paul was in prison in Rome.  

And not just any prison—this was the Mamertine prison.  It was a deep, dark dungeon, like a cistern, cut out of solid rock.  There was no escape.  Those imprisoned there waited to die.  

Even worse, by this time, there were many who had left him and would have nothing more to do with him.  In verse 15, you heard of Phygelus and Hermogenes.  Demas was another, who, Paul wrote, loved the world more than he loved God, deserted him and went to Thessalonica.

But there were others who loved him and supported him, men like Eubulus, Pudens, and Linus, and a woman named Claudia.

Now here, there’s one more—a man named Onesiphorus.

Imagine how hard it must have been.  He knew Paul was held captive somewhere in the city of Rome.  But where?  And for how long?  And how do you visit a convict, a “criminal,” an “enemy of the state”?  To see him would be to risk life itself.

But that’s exactly what Onesiphorus did.

Can you see him making his way up to the city officials?  He asked, “Can you tell me where Paul, the prisoner, is?”  “We don’t know him.  Never heard of him,” they said.

So he went to the Praetorian Guard.  “Where is Paul, the prisoner?”

“We don’t know him.  Never heard of him.”

He asked his fellow merchants, his business associates, “Where is Paul, the preacher of Christ?”

Finally, someone took him aside and whispered in his ear.  He said, “Hush!  Keep your mouth shut!  If you know what’s good for you, forget you ever knew the apostle Paul!”

Still he said, “If he is anywhere in the city of Rome, I will find him, life or death!”

So off he went from one prison to another, till finally he found him, in the deepest, darkest and dungiest prison of all.

And as he slipped a few coins into the hands of a guard, the guard opened the grate and lowered him, deep and deeper, into the cold, damp darkness.  And there before him, beaten, weary, yet with a smile on his face, was the apostle Paul.

And what did they talk about together in the dim darkness?  We can only guess.  

Maybe they talked about the progress of the gospel and the strength of the churches.  Maybe Paul asked about Corinth and Ephesus, Antioch and Jerusalem, about Peter, Barnabas, Thomas and John.  Were they well?  In what ways was God blessing them?

And Paul would have thanked him and encouraged him in his Christian walk.  He would have reminded him of the words he once wrote to the Romans:  “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  And, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  Or the words he wrote to the Corinthians:  “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”  Or the words he wrote to the Philippians:  “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

That’s why he could later write, in this his very last letter, to a pastor named Timothy:  “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me—may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!”

Just like Onesiphorus, we too have a ministry of compassion.  That is, after all, what Christ has called us to do.  That’s what He said in the book of Matthew:  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me…I was in prison and you visited Me.’”

And that same ministry of compassion calls each of us today—to visit the sick and the  shut in, to sends cards and letters to the hurting, to counsel, to serve, to pray.

As Jesus said:  “As you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to Me.”

Peter Marshall was a Scottish-American preacher and pastor in the mid-1900s.  He served churches in Atlanta, Georgia and Washington, D.C.  He’s best known for a book his wife, Catherine, wrote, a biography called, A Man Called Peter.

And on Friday, June 4, 1948, while he was serving as chaplain for the United States Senate, he prayed a prayer to open the Senate.  This is what he said:

“Lord, we are ashamed that money and position speak to us more loudly than does the simple compassion of the human heart.  Help us to care, as Thou dost care, for the little people who have no lobbyists, for the minority groups who sorely need justice.  May it be the glory of our government that not only the strong are heard, but also the weak; not only the powerful, but the helpless; not only those with influence, but also those who have nothing but a case and an appeal.

“May we put our hearts into our work, that our work may get into our hearts.”

 

Dear Father, grant us the grace, the strength, and the courage of Onesiphorus to seek out the lost and the hurting, that we may make our Savior Jesus known.  This we ask in His name.  Amen

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