“Silent witnesses: a coat, some books and parchments”
II Timothy 4:13
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Just a few years ago, back in August of 2018, ABC television produced a show called, Castaways. The idea was simple--over a series of ten episodes, six men and six women, ranging in age from twenty years old to sixty-two, would try to survive on the islands of Indonesia--no rules, no game, no challenges and no prize. And the only way they could get off that island was to either wait long enough for a rescue team to show up, or to just give up and quit (which, by the way, most of them did!)
Now as you can imagine, living all by yourself on some deserted island for no one really knows how long could be rather depressing. So the one thing they did to make life a little easier for them was to hide a suitcase somewhere on that island, containing a journal to write down their experiences and some basics like food, matches, clothes and tools--things they might need to get along.
Which begs the question--if you knew you were about to be stranded on a deserted island, what would you pack? What would you bring along?
Or to put it another way, what are some things you can’t possibly live without?
In the book of II Timothy chapter 4, we meet a man who was very much like that, a man named the apostle Paul.
Listen to the words of chapter 4, beginning at verse 9. Paul writes: “Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (II Timothy 4:9-11).
Let me give you a little context, so you can know what’s going on.
As you might know, the book of II Timothy is the very last book Paul wrote. And he didn’t send it to a church like so many of his other letters, like the Galatians or the Ephesians or the Colossians. Instead, he wrote this one to a young pastor named Timothy.
And in this letter, he encouraged him, as he wrote in chapter one, to never “be ashamed to testify about our Lord,” but to “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” (II Timothy 1:8-9).
This second epistle to Timothy is one of Paul’s most important and most beautiful letters of all.
Now for the past ten years, Emperor Nero had slowly been descending into madness. Then in July of A.D. 64, when a fire burned half the city of Rome, any Christians still living there suddenly became an easy target. And since Paul appeared to be one of their very best and greatest teachers, Nero locked him up in his deepest and darkest prison of all, what was nicknamed the “House of Darkness”--the Mamertine prison. In Paul’s day, it’s name was spoken in whispers. The air was foul and beds were nothing more than clumps of stale straw. And he would stay there for the next two years.
If you were to visit there today, there’s really not that much to see. It’s little more than a stone cold room, a literal hole in the ground, that’s six feet high, twenty-two feet wide, and thirty feet long. And the only way in, back in the day, was through a hole, a trapdoor in the ceiling.
It was so bad that an ancient historian named Sallust described it as “disgusting and vile by reason of the filth, the darkness and the stench.” It was a place of torture and punishment, and detention and execution reserved only for Rome’s most notorious condemned criminals. The apostle Peter was one of them, and so was the apostle Paul.
Yet even though it was so deep and so dark, it’s where Paul prayed and gave thanks to God for His grace and countless blessings. And it’s here that he wrote this second letter to Pastor Timothy.
Listen to what he said in chapter 4: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching” (II Timothy 4:1-3). And he wrote: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved His appearing” (II Timothy 4:6-8).
And now as he nears the end of his epistle, he has just a few more things to say. Verse 9: “Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas...has deserted me...Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me.”
Do you see what’s going on? Though more than a hundred men and women were once part of his ministry, part of his circle of friends, there was only one, a physician named Luke, who was with him to the very end.
Then in verse 13, he wrote this: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (II Timothy 4:13).
“A cloak, books and parchments,” he wrote.
Let’s start with the cloak--what’s that? Simply enough, it was a large, sleeveless, heavy piece of fabric, with a hole cut out of the middle, much like a Mexican poncho today. And since it was so big and so heavy, often made out of camel’s hair or wool, it could serve as a coat or a blanket in cold and windy weather.
What does that tell us? It tells us quite a lot. I’ll mention just this--to preach the gospel, Paul had given up absolutely everything for his Savior Jesus.
Think about it--once upon a time, when he was just a boy, he sat at the feet of one of the most renowned teachers of his day, a rabbi named Gamaliel, and was one of the best and brightest students around. He was the love of his parents, and the pride of his city of Tarsus.
And as he grew up, so very zealous for the Lord, he must have commanded everyone’s respect. That’s what he wrote to the Philippians: “Of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6).
But when the Lord stopped him cold on that road to Damascus, everything changed. And so he wrote: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7).
And though he had once been so gifted, so accomplished, and so feared, what does he ask for now? Winter was coming and his prison cell was cold and dark. And so he wrote, “Please, Timothy, when you come, bring my cloak, bring my coat to protect me from the cold.”
And what else? He wrote: “...also the books…”
What are the books? It’s anybody’s guess. Were they copies of ancient Greek or Hebrew manuscripts? Were they books from fellow Christian authors or were they pages from the Old Testament? We’ll probably never know.
Still, Paul said, “When you come, bring...the books.”
It’s funny if you think about it. Though he was inspired by the Spirit, he wanted books. Though he had been preaching at one synagogue after another and at one church after another for more than thirty years, he wanted books. Though he had been caught up to heaven and heard things no one can put into words, he wanted books. Though he had written nearly half of the New Testament, he wanted books.
Is it any surprise? It shouldn’t be, for as he once stood on trial before a king and a governor, they couldn’t help but say, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you insane!” (Acts 26:24).
But along with his cloak and books, there was one more thing--”parchments.” And not just “parchments.” He wrote, “Above all the parchments.” “Especially the parchments.”
So what were those? That’s where it gets a little more interesting. In fact, the word he used for “parchments,” is a word used only once in all of the Bible. It’s a word that means, “the skin of sheep and goats.” It’s a material that was used only for the most important and the most valuable writings of all.
So what were they? Once again, it’s anybody’s guess. Were they letters from the churches of Corinth or Ephesus, or were they copies of the gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Or were they the very originals that he himself once wrote to the Romans and the Corinthians? Once again, we’ll probably never know.
Whatever they were, he could hardly live without them, for as he wrote to Timothy: “Bring my cloak...and the books, and especially the parchments” (II Timothy 4:13).
Some thirty-five years ago, back in 1986, pastor and author Robert Fulghum published a book he called, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. And in that book, he hoped to show that if everyone would just follow the rules they once learned in Kindergarten, the world would be a much better place. Somewhat to his surprise, it quickly became a #1 Bestseller.
Maybe you’ve heard how it goes: “Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.” And he wrote, “Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup--they all die. So do we.”
But you know, there’s another version of that. We’ll call it, All I Needed to Know I Learned in Sunday School. It goes like this: “Everything we have is a gift, and whatever we have has been given on loan to us from our Creator. Life isn’t always fair, but God is good. We all sin, so practice saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ He’s got the whole world in His hands. Running from Him usually means you’ll wind up in the belly of a fish. And even if you find yourself in a fiery furnace or in a lion’s den, God will be there too. When our friends are sick, we should take them to Jesus, even if we have to lower them through the roof. Jesus can do a whole lot with very little--He fed thousands with a little boy’s sack lunch. And God created us to sing, or at least to make a joyful noise. So, ‘Praise Him, praise Him, all you little children. God is love. God is love.’ And ‘Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.’ And most importantly, ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me.’”
Does Jesus really love us? Look at the cross, and you’ll see all the proof you could ever need.
Dear Father, when we sin, forgive us. When we sorrow, comfort us. When we’re weak, strengthen us. Hold us in the palm of Your hand, for Jesus’ sake. Amen