Last week, I said that last week’s passage (4:6 – 8) was like the final action scene of a movie where everything finally comes to head and then dissolves. Everything that the apostle Paul has been saying in this letter, about finishing faithfully while guarding the gospel, is finally ending, and his death by execution is right around the corner.
In fact, the full weight of the apostle Paul’s life, thirty years of ministry, planting multiple churches, proclaiming the gospel at home and abroad, and his thirteen written letters have finally come to a really fine point in last week’s text. For many, after last week’s text, the movie feels like it is over, and this week’s passage feels like the credits at the end of a movie where people leave the theater in a rush to get home.
Most of the time, the ending credits of a really good movie, are not life changing at all. It is just a list of names that do not really hold any transformative value or practical implications for the storyline or for our lives. But this list of credits is different. This list of credits is far from worthless.
2 TIMOTHY 4:9 – 22
9Do your best to come to me soon. 10For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. 12Tychicus, I have sent to Ephesus. 13When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 14Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. 16At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 17But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and all the Gentiles might hear it. So, I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 19Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. 21Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers. 22The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.
#1: DROP EVERYTHING AND COME VISIT ME (VSS. 9 – 10)
I am certain that we all know what it feels like to be facing something really scary. None of us have probably faced the fear of execution but we know what it is like to face something scary and in the midst of that moment we know what it is like to want someone to stand with us so that we are not alone. This is why the apostle Paul says to Timothy, “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” (4:9 – 10). Paul wants Timothy to drop everything and come to visit him quickly.2
Demas had deserted Paul because he loved the momentary pleasures or the safety of this world; though he had not necessarily abandoned his faith, he definitely exhibited what we would call a moment of weakness as he left Paul behind.3 Crescens and Titus most likely pursued ministry opportunities in Galatia and Dalmatia.4 The absence of these men in Paul’s final moments, causes him to ask Timothy to drop everything and come to visit very soon.
#2: BRING ANOTHER FRIEND WITH YOU (VSS. 11 – 12)
It is a normal and very human thing to want your friends to be with you during the most difficult seasons of your life; especially when you are on your deathbed. In this moment, Paul is not entirely alone, for he says, “Luke alone is with me” (4:11a) but then he gives a startling request when he says, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry [and] Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus” (4:11b).
Tychicus is probably the one who is delivering this letter to Timothy in Ephesus, and he will most likely be the one who relieves Timothy of his pastoral responsibilities so that he can make the trip to visit Paul, but Mark is the startling request. Even though Mark had abandoned Paul, years earlier after his first missionary trip (Acts 13:5, 13), the two had resolved their differences, extended forgiveness to one another, and had experienced the beauty of a restored relationship.5 In these final moments of the apostle Paul’s life, he wants to be surrounded by his friends and one of those friends, Mark, would be a solid reminder of the kind of eternal relational restoration that only the gospel can produce.
#3: BRING MY TREASURED BELONGINGS (VS. 13)
Oftentimes, when someone is on their deathbed, friends and family will bring some of their treasured belongings to comfort them in their final moments. The apostle Paul asks Timothy to “bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (4:13). These treasured belongings would bring comfort to the apostle Paul in his final days in prison.
But what is the significance of these treasured belongings? The cloak makes sense because winter is coming. Nothing earth shattering about that! But the books and the parchments, now there has to be something about those, right? Paul is not asking for his favorite novels so that he can numb himself to his circumstances. Paul is asking for his biblical commentaries when he asks for the books.
What about the parchments, though? What are those? Most scholars believe that the parchments are a combination of the Old Testament Scriptures as well as Paul’s previous letters, along with other letters from other apostles; it is entirely possible that Paul wants to gift these to Luke, Timothy, and Mark so that they can continue to write the rest of the New Testament.6
Regardless of the nature of these treasured items, Paul is indicating that these items will bring him comfort in his final days, and these items are none other than a comfortable, warm coat, his Bible study materials, and his Bible; the apostle Paul was a man of the Word, right up until the moment he came face to face with the Word who had become flesh as he walked into heaven to the shouts of celebration from those whom he had martyred in his earlier days!
#4: BEWARE OF IMPOSTERS (VV. 14 – 15)
Three treasures are going to be on their way to the apostle Paul: Timothy, Mark, and the written Word, and Paul wants them to arrive safely.7 This is why he says “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message” (4:14 – 15). Alexander is an imposter. The original language implies that he drew close to the apostle Paul so that he could betray him to the authorities.8
Paul’s friends need to be aware of him, they need to avoid him, so that they do not end up on death row too. This is what imposters do, they spread pain and the stench of death in their betrayal; they are like vicious wolves and devouring lions, who will tear your heart to shreds as you seek to serve them. Avoid imposters at all costs, so that the community of the Word may remain unharmed.
There is a judgement day ahead for those who harm the community of the Word with their vicious acts of betrayal. Speaking of vicious acts of betrayal, Paul remembers now, how at one point in his life, he was alone with vicious lions and no one except the Lord came to his side.
#5: THE LORD WILL RESCUE ME (VV. 16 – 18)
The apostle Paul was a man who looked forward to Heaven with the kind of rock-solid assurance that only a man who has been rescued by God, could possess. When he says that “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom” (4:18a) and then follows that with a victorious proclamation that “To [God] be the glory forever and ever… Amen” (4:18b), he is making this statement that “the Lord will rescue me” because that has been his experience in the past.
Oftentimes, when the going gets tough, we look back into the past and all we see is our failures instead of God’s redeeming and rescuing hand at work in our broken lives. Paul never lost sight of his imperfections (Romans 7), but his imperfections and his failures caused him to hold on even tighter to the message of our crucified, risen, and returning Savior who has promised eternity for broken sinners like all of us (Romans 8). Jesus never let go of Paul and Paul never let go of Jesus!
Paul’s full experience of God, rescuing him when he was all alone and on trial in the city of Rome can be found in Acts 21 – 28. But here, in 2 Timothy 4:16 – 17, he gives us a summary of that event when he says, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and all the Gentiles might hear it. So, I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.” Paul knew without a shadow of a doubt that God would strengthen and rescue him despite his failures because that is what God always does; God is our Redeeming and Rescuing God, who will bring us safely into his eternal kingdom! When the ground is shaking beneath our feet, we can be certain of this, God will rescue those who belong to him!
I must say that this portion of Paul’s final words, reminds me of some of the faithful heroes of the Old Testament. The image of being rescued from the lion’s mouth reminds me of Daniel in the lion’s den. The image of Jesus personally standing with the apostle Paul reminds me of the fourth man who looked like a son of the gods in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Acts 23:11; Daniel 3 and 6).
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego told king Nebuchadnezzar that “our God whom we serve is able to deliver [rescue] us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand” (Daniel 3:17). King Darius, upon learning that God had shut the mouths of the lions and that Daniel was unharmed, proclaimed that God “is the living God. Enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions” (Daniel 6:26 – 27).
Just as Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel had experienced the power of God as their rescuer, so to, the apostle Paul had experienced God’s unique and rescuing presence when he was imprisoned and the Lord Jesus showed up in the flesh and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome” (Acts 23:11). Paul knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the same rescuing God who had shown himself to be absolutely faithful, time and time again, in the past, would no doubt show up and welcome him into his presence in heaven, completing his rescue of Paul for the rest of eternity. This is why Paul could confidently proclaim that “God will rescue me!”
#6: THE GRACIOUS PRESENCE OF THE LIVING GOD (VV. 19 – 22)
The last thing the apostle says in this second letter to Timothy is basically a final greeting to and from many of his other friends. He says, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you” (4:19 – 22). Paul simply cannot escape the gracious presence of our living God!
In short, Paul knows that he is about to enter into the gracious presence of his redeeming and rescuing God, and it is as though he wants to remind Timothy and every other friend of his that they must continue living in the gracious presence of the living God until they join him in eternity. It is the gracious presence of the living God who redeems and rescues sinners within a yard of hell who is the most faithful friend until the very end.
In conclusion, I cannot end this sermon without drawing our attention to Psalm 22. Psalm 22 is the passage that was on Jesus’ lips when he hung on that cross and it appears that it was also the passage that was on Paul’s heart and mind as he drew near to the end of his life here on earth.9
Psalm 22 is known as a Messianic Psalm, meaning that it is a Psalm that explicitly points us to Jesus as our Messiah, our Rescuer, and our Savior. The linguistic connections are far too many to list here in our conclusion. But let me just say that the themes of betrayal, loneliness, death, and an unwavering trust in God as the eternal Deliverer and Rescuer and King is all over Psalm 22. I encourage you to read it.
The connection that is most compelling for me today are the final words of Psalm 22:30 – 31 where David says, “it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it!” Those final four words at the end of Psalm 22 seem so appropriate for the end of this sermon on the final words from the apostle Paul because those last four words remind us that God has done it! It is finished!
That is the message that David foresaw being proclaimed long into the future to a generation that was not yet born, as he wrote Psalm 22. And in the final moments of Jesus’ life on that cross, he echoed those words when he said, “It is finished” and here in Paul’s final words we catch the declaration of those final four words in Psalm 22 being Paul’s assurance.
He knew that God’s rescuing work in his life was about to be finished once and for all. He wanted his friends to come visit, but he also knew that “The Friend of Sinners” had never left his side and that he was about to walk into the presence of the best friend any human could ever have; Jesus is the best friend who will remain until the very end.
The reality here, is that Paul was fully confident that Jesus was his friend until the very end and that Jesus was not only his friend until the very end, but Jesus had finished the work of rescuing him at the cross of Calvary, because Jesus had finished the work of destroying the power and the presence and the penalty of Satan, Sin, and Death, at the cross and the empty tomb.
Therefore, Jesus, would be the friend who would greet him in heaven where their friendship would never know any end. I pray that you too would know the unique and abiding friendship of Jesus who will be your friend until the very end of your time here on earth when you too are ushered into his faithful presence for all of eternity. Jesus is the best friend we could have until the very end. Amen.
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 – 2 Timothy and Titus, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2012), 284.
3 Ibid., 285.
4 Ibid., 286.
5 Ibid., 287.
6 Ibid., 288.
9 Ibid., 295.