Skip Heitzig - The Last Dance: Instructions on How to Die Well
Good morning. Would you turn in your Bibles to the second epistle of Timothy? 2 Timothy, chapter four this morning. 2 Timothy, chapter four. There was a man who got a severe bonk on the head, and he went into a deep coma for a long time. They thought he was dead. They sent him to the funeral home, and there in the mortuary, they did with him what they would normally do with anybody thought dead. They put him in a casket.
Well, at 2:00 in the morning in that dimly lit room all alone, the man sat up in the casket. He looked around, and he said, man, what's going on? If I'm alive, why am I in this casket? And if I'm dead, why do I still have to go to the bathroom? I'm going to venture a guess that this may be the most unusual sermon you have heard in your life. Unusual because it has nothing to do with life. It has everything to do with death. I want to talk to you about how to die. Well, I told you it would be an unusual sermon.
You see, most messages, most teachings, most sermons are all about life. Spiritual life, how to grow spiritually, how to have great relationships, solid marriages, how to help others grow in their faith, how to go through trials, all of the things that deal with life. But what we have before us in 2 Timothy are the last words of a dying man.
Paul the apostle knows he is going to die imminently. He writes this letter, knowing he has days, perhaps weeks, or maybe just hours left to live. And I have discovered that people's final words are the most revealing words. When people die, they get really honest. Hypocrisy is stripped away, and what you may have thought they were may come out differently in their last words.
I've always been interested in the final words of dying men or women. I found it fascinating that when Mahatma Gandhi for all that he did for India and for all that he said he believed in, nobly when he died said, my days are numbered. For the first time in 50 years, I find myself in this slew of despond. All about me is darkness, and I am praying for life.
This fascinates me. Voltaire was one of the most outspoken critics against the Christian faith, thought himself to be intellectually superior, those poor dumb Christians out there. And he often wrote against believers. When he died, however, he said out loud, I am abandoned by God and man. I shall go to hell. And he cried out, oh, Christ. Oh, Jesus Christ. He cried out all night long so much so that the nurse attending him said for all the money in Europe, she never wanted to attend the death of another unbeliever.
When Buddha died, he uttered these words. "I have not yet attained my goal." Now compare those to the words of the apostle in chapter 4 of 2 Timothy, verse 6. "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering. The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not to me only, but also to all who have loved his appearing."
You know that I have discovered that most people do not like to talk about death. It's an uncomfortable subject. It's sometimes even fun to bring it up just to watch people squirm a little bit. Oh, I don't want to talk about that. Well, there's a number of reasons why. I had this discussion with the funeral director this week. But she said, it's amazing how much people do not want to talk about this subject. But for some of us, the road ahead is much shorter than the road behind, so we think about death a little bit differently as we get closer to it.
CS Lewis said as we grow older, we become like old cars, more repairs and replacement parts are necessary. We must just look forward to the fine new machines, the latest resurrection model, waiting for us in the divine garage. I like that. Well, the closer we get to that garage, the more dominant the idea, the reality of death becomes. And so we wonder about it. We wonder what it's going to be like for us.
I had a staff member who left here years ago, planted a church, very successful. His wife grew ill. She's in heaven now. Before she died, I went to visit her in the hospital. I was there with her husband. And she said, honey, I'd like a few moments alone with Skip. I want to talk about death and heaven. And he said, you sure you don't want me here? I mean, he's a pastor. He's good.
She goes, no, I love you, but I just want time alone with my pastor. So she had all sorts of questions about what it would feel like, what she would see, what she would experience, people she would see. Do I have to hang out in heaven with all the Christians I know who are there, but I never like hanging out with on Earth? You know, stuff we all think about.
The name of this message is The Last Dance. Like others, we borrowed it from a TV series, a basketball documentary series, how in 1997 the coach of the Chicago Bulls, Phil Jackson, announced it would be his last season. He called it the final dance, the last dance. And the series depicts how Michael Jordan and other great team members gave it their all and took the championship.
The Last Dance. We are in, as you know, 2 Timothy, chapter 4, where in three verses alone, just three verses, Paul looks at his life presently, his life past, and his life future. Talk about using an economy of words. All of that is wrapped up in these three verses. And I will just say as we start to get into this, this is the way to go. This is the way to die. This is the way to go out. When you know how to go out, you know how to go forward. You know how to live when you know how to die.
So what I want to do in these verses... and we'll look at a few others... is give you four main ingredients to dying well as a Christian. Let's get into it. First of all, face the inevitable. It's going to happen. In verse 6, Paul says, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my"... you could translate the next word death, decease, he calls it "departure is at hand." Paul is so matter of fact. He's in jail, and he goes it's over.
This is it. I'm about to die, and I know it. What I love about Paul is he doesn't avoid the subject. He doesn't say, I don't want to talk about it. He, shockingly, is abrupt about it and very plain about it. And I'll show you what I mean by abrupt, shockingly abrupt. Paul the apostle not only knows that he's going to die. Paul the apostle knows how he is going to die. He was a Roman citizen. Roman citizens didn't get crucified. Roman citizens got decapitated. Paul knew that was his future, and he describes it as being poured out like a drink offering. He knows it's a bloody event. He had seen it before. But he uses Jewish language. He takes us back to the Old Testament. Drink offering, he calls it, comes to us in Exodus 29 and Numbers 15.
Let me describe it for you. In the Old Testament, there was an offering called the burnt offering. The burnt offering was an animal put on an altar wholly consumed. They didn't take parts off and eat him. They barbecued the whole thing, the burnt offering. It was for sin. On top of the burnt offering was poured oil and flour. So can you just imagine what that would smell like? Barbecued lamb or beef with baked bread. Then on top of that was poured the drink offering, which was a libation of sweet wine poured over the sacrifice. So it all became what God described as a sweet smelling sacrifice or savor to the Lord. That was the drink offering.
And Paul is saying, that is my life. That's my life. I've wholly been consumed like the burnt offering from the Damascus road to this day. 30 years, my life has been consumed for his glory, and now to top it off, I'm about to be executed and the spilling of my blood at that event is like the drink offering being poured out to complete the sacrifice.
You see what I mean by shockingly stark and honest about it. That is what he is describing. Now let me take you back, fill in a little gap. Paul had been in a Roman prison before. He'd been in many prisons, but he was in Rome once before. And when he was in Rome the first time in prison, he wrote a letter to the Philippians church. He didn't know if he was going to live or die in that first trial. He ended up living for a considerable amount of time after that, but he didn't know at the time. Am I going to live or die?
But then he writes this to the Philippians, "For if I am being poured out as a drink offering for the strengthening of your faith, I'm glad." Then he said if. Then it was hypothetical. Now it's real. It's actual. He knows this is the end. And he faces it, and he does it plainly and honestly. And he talks about it. He's not afraid of the subject, nor should we ever be afraid of the subject, especially as believers. Especially as believers, I think it's good to talk about it. I think it's good to even plan it. I've planned mine down to the song or songs that will be sung.
Did you know that Solomon in the Old Testament basically said going to a funeral is more beneficial than going on vacation? Listen to what he writes. This is Ecclesiastes. "It's better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting." That's his way of saying a funeral is better than a party. "For that is the end of all men, and the living will take it to heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."
You see, when you live with death in mind, you live differently. First of all because you don't know when it's going to happen. You don't schedule it, right. It's not something you put on your calendar. It's not like 8 o'clock, go to work. 10:30, work out. 12 o'clock, eat lunch. 2 o'clock, die. You don't get that luxury. Even though the Bible says it is appointed for every man once to die, after this, the judgment. God has made an appointment with you for your death, but he hadn't told you when the appointment is. But it will happen. And when you live that way, you live differently. And you live wisely because you realize, I have a certain amount of time. This lifetime is going to cost me my life, and so I want to invest it. I don't want to just waste it.
It's like going to a lawyer. If you go to a lawyer, and the lawyer before he begins... or she... says, before we start, I just want you to know, my rate is $250 an hour. At that point, you get down to business. You don't ask about weather or kids or hobbies. You just want to deal with the business because of the cost. So living with death as an inevitability is a healthy way to live.
Now, notice how he describes his own death. He says, "the time of my departure is at hand." I found that's a great word to describe death, departure. When you think of a departure, you think of going on a trip, right? An adventure, even. When you go to the airport and you look up and you see a sign, it says, arrivals and departures. There are people who are leaving to different parts of the country or the world on their trip.
But let me tell you about the word quickly. The word departure, an interesting word that Paul used, is the Greek word. It means to break up or to unloose. But it was a word that was very descriptive and used a few different ways in antiquity.
First of all, sailors used the word, departure, for the pulling up of the anchor and the loosening of the ropes on the dock so that that ship could set sail. So Paul may be saying, I'm leaving the port of Earth, and I'll be in the harbor of heaven. That word was used by sailors to describe it.
Also, departure, was used of oxen who would plow a field. So farmers would, at the end of the day, take the heavy yoke on the oxen and unhitch it, unloose, and set that oxen free. So that's a good way to think about death. When I die, I get unhitched. I get unloosed.
The work is over. The toil is over. The labor is over.
Revelation 14 describes death that way. Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on for they will cease from their labors and their reward will follow them. The work's done. The labor's over.
Also the word was used of slaves or slave owners for the setting free of a slave. When the shackles fell off the ankles or off the wrists, he was... right. There was a departure.
And so Paul may have had that in mind. I'll be unchained from this Roman prison. I'll be unchained from temptations. I'll be unchained from my fallen nature. I'll be set free.
But also the word, departure, was used of travelers, soldiers or travelers, when they would break up camp and move their tents somewhere else. They would pull up the stakes, fold the tent up, go somewhere else, set it up again. That was called the... or the departure.
And you know how the Bible talks about our bodies being like a tent. You've heard that before from Paul the apostle. He said in 2 Corinthians, five, "when this earthly tent that we live in is taken down, we have a home in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God, not by human hands."
I'm camping. I'm going to pull the tent stakes up and move to something permanent. You know I love camping. I always have.
And when I married Lenya, I mean, I was a hardcore camper. If you don't put a tent on a backpack and walk out into the wilderness, you ain't camping. That's how I camped. And I still love tent camping, but I got to put it this way.
I like it for like a day. And if you're out in a tent for a couple days and you start smelling ripe and you're feeling a little bit sticky and gnarly, you long for something permanent. And the longer we live in this tent, we long for something more permanent, something to move into that will never fade away.
What is interesting to me and it always has been is that though we know we're just in a tent, it's amazing how preoccupied we become with our tents. We've got to preserve the tent. How did the flaps look today? Boy, there's a few more of them I notice. The tent stakes are wiggling loose a little bit.
We put so much energy into the tent so much so that when people die... I've heard this time and time again at funerals. Casket gets open, people come forward, look down. You know what they say? Boy, he looks good. OK, I hope you told him that before.
A few days before his death, F.B. Meyer wrote to a friend. F.B. Meyer's one of my heroes in the faith. He said, I have just heard, to my great surprise, that I have but a few days to live. It may be that before this letter reaches you, I shall have entered the palace.
Listen to that description. I'm in a tent. I'm going to a palace.
Don't bother to write. We shall meet in the morning. We'll meet in the morning. See you later.
When I met with that pastor's wife in her hospital room before she went to heaven, we were done with our conversation. I was walking out, and she said, Skip. I turned around, and she said, see you around the corner. It's just that quick it will feel like.
Now here's a little FYI. History tells us that the apostle Paul was only 58 years old when he died. He may have been 60, may have even been 62, but most scholars place it right around 60, probably 58 years old. And here's a 58-year-old man in prison who could plant many more churches and do more work.
But he knows this is it. This is it. It's time. The time for my, my departure, my setting sail, my being unshackled has come. So face the inevitable.
Second, decide to be faithful. Decide to be faithful. That's how to die well. Decide right now, even if you haven't been so faithful up to this point, that today will be the reset. Decide to be faithful.
Now look at verse seven. In verse seven, he says, "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I've kept the faith."
Paul sums up his whole life in one verse with these words. When you read those words, is there any sense of regret in them? None. There's no regret. There's no sense of fulfillment.
There's no disappointment. There's no incomplete bucket list. Like man, I wish I could have done that or gone there.
He says, I've done it. I've completed it. So he faces death with satisfaction. Why is that?
It's because he had made a decision years earlier that he was going to be faithful to God, that he was going to follow God's will throughout the course of his life. That would be his singular passion. You remember when he was on the Damascus road still unconverted, he gets knocked off his high horse.
Literally, he's on the ground. He has two questions. Question number one, who are you?
That's good to find out. Who are you, Lord? Answer, I'm Jesus whom you are persecuting.
Second question. And the second question he spent his whole life getting answered. What do you want me to do? What do you want me to do?
This man spent his entire 30 years spiritual ministry career answering the question, what does God want me to do? That's his passion. That's why he can say I'm done because he lived that way. He made the decision to be faithful.
Wouldn't it be great to look back over your life with absolutely no regrets? No disappointments, no misgiving, no sense of unfulfillment, nothing left undone. If you want that, then decide today that faithfulness is going to be your aim.
Now we read verse seven. Let me give it to you in the original language. In the original language, the object is placed first for emphasis. The verb is placed second, so it literally reads, "the good fight I have fought. The race I have finished.
The faith I have kept." Why? Because Paul looked at his life on those three tracks. I'm a soldier.
I'm a runner. I'm a steward. And in all three categories, it's good. I'm good. No regrets.
Now, let's just kind of dig through those just a little bit quickly. I have fought the good fight. It's very descriptive language. That's the language of a soldier.
Understand you are in a fight. You were in a fight. That's very strong language even in English to say, I have fought the good fight. In Greek, it's even more emphatic.
Remember the word I told you a few weeks ago? It's used here. And listen to how it's written in the original. I have ... the ...
I have agonized the agony. That's his life. I have fought the good fight. This is war.
The Christian life is not a playground, it's a battleground. You're a soldier, not a sightseer. You gave your life to Christ. Peace, joy, forgiveness, and then you're in the army. You're conscripted.
Now I'm going to read to you a section of scripture. I'm going to read to you 2 Corinthians 11, not the chapter, just a couple of verses. But I'm reading it to you in a different translation called The Message by Eugene Peterson.
This is Paul talking about his past life with a little more detail. He says, "I've worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times then I can count. I've been at death's door time after time. I've been flogged five times with the Jews, 39 lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times." I've never been beaten with rods once.
"Pummeled with rocks once. I've been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I've had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I've been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert, sun, and storm, sea storm, betrayed by those I thought were my brothers.
I've known drudgery and hard labor. Many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather." That sound like a fight to you? Does to me. That's Paul's life.
So you know what he means when he says my whole life has been a burnt offering, and now this is where I get to make it a drink offering to the Lord. I finished the race. I've kept the faith.
Just to note about that first when I fought the good fight. I've seen many Christians give up the fight. I've seen many pastors quit the fight. Just, I don't want to fight, man. I don't want the battle anymore, and so they quit.
Here's what you need to know if you're thinking that way. Notice what it's called. Not just a fight, it's the good fight. It's the good fight.
It means noble. It means distinguished. If you are looking for a cause that is a worthy cause, more worthy than any political agenda, any monetary agenda, it's this cause. It is a good fight. It's a good fight.
You don't come to the end of it and lick your wounds because it's been so hard. It's good. It's a good fight.
Then he says, I finished the race. Now that's Paul's going back to the Olympics. He's the runner in the Olympics.
I've stayed the course. A lot of people start the race, they don't finish it. Paul's aim was always to finish the race.
I've always loved when he came to Ephesus. He was going to Jerusalem. He stops off at Ephesus. He says to the leaders of Ephesus... and I'm going to paraphrase it... you know, everywhere I go, people tell me I'm going to get beat up and maybe even killed when I go to Jerusalem.
And then he said this. But none of these things move me nor do I count my life dear unto myself that I might finish my race with joy. How do you stop a guy like that? You don't. You let them run, and he ran all the way to the end.
Then he said, I've kept the faith. Now he sees himself as a steward, and he's a steward fulfilling the sacred trust from God. Notice it's not called just faith, but the faith. Paul doesn't say, I've kept faith, man. He says, I've kept the faith.
And when you ever see the definite article before faith, it's speaking about a particular doctrinal stand. It is the body of Christian belief, the faith. It's like Jude verse three. The faith once for all delivered to the Saints. That's the faith.
Paul didn't just preach it. He guarded it. And I see that as the role of a pastor. I'm not just a preacher, I also am to guard the faith, guard the truth, defend the faith, put up a good fight for the faith. And when people are ditching Bible inspiration and the source of truth, I want to get in that fight.
And this is why it's always a pet peeve for me when it comes to preaching. Whenever people misinterpret the Bible or use it to serve their own purposes or wrongly teach it, I get upset at that. I don't like it when preachers stand in pulpits and just read a Bible verse, but it seems like the method is read the text, depart from the text, and never return to the text. That's their homiletic method.
Just throw out a Bible verse so people think, oh, this is a church. So I can kind of get away with saying my own opinion. Paul preached the text, taught the text, guarded the text. And I cannot predict what happens in the next generation, but I can say I will faithfully pass down with integrity, hopefully, the truth to the next generation.
I can't think of any better way to live and die than that. That's the way to leave this world. Most people when they think about death, they only think about the physical part of death. Will it hurt?
Yeah, it might. For most people, it's not pleasant. I mean, it's been going on for thousands of years. We can study it pretty easily because it happens all the time. So yeah, it might.
But will it be a lingering disease? It might. Will it be COVID? Will I die from COVID? You might.
But God will take you out whatever way God wants to take you out. You don't have to be afraid of it.
I think it's better that we start looking at death not in terms of will it hurt or any physicality, but in terms of opportunity. Because when you die, the opportunity is over. Right now, you can witness to people. Right now, you can teach Bible lessons and preach sermons. Right now, you can share with your family how to get to heaven.
In heaven, you won't do that. That opportunity is gone forever. So this is the time of opportunity. So get busy. Get active. Get in the fight. Get on the track. Run the race.
I've told you before... it's been a while... but about a woman who lived in the Midwest named Nancy. Nancy Jones was her name. She was a spinster widow. She didn't do much. She didn't get out much.
She just sort of stayed at home. People knew she lived, but they didn't know anything about her because she just didn't do anything. She didn't involve herself in the community at all. Well, she died.
And the newspaper was tasked with writing not just an obituary, but something they could put on her gravestone. So nobody knew Nancy Jones, so they gave it to the sports editor to write something for her. So I hear that there's a tombstone somewhere back there that says this.
Here lies the bones of Nancy Jones. Her life had held no terrors. She lived an old maid. She died an old maid. No hits, no runs, no errors.
I don't mind making errors as long as I can make a few hits and runs. Amen? So you only do that by deciding, I'm not going to stay back, locked down. I'm going to get busy for his glory, and live my life a life well lived.
So face the inevitable. Decide to be faithful. Number three and four... we'll make this quick... aim at the eventual. Look down the road.
Paul does that in verse eight. He pivots from the present, then the past, now the future. Verse eight. All in one verse.
Finally, there's laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day. And not to me only, but to all who have loved his appearing. If you want to fight well, if you want to run well, if you want to be a good steward of what God has put within your life, then think of the end. Go all the way there to that day.
Now, Paul knows he's not going to get an earthly reward. He knows what's going to happen in a few days, weeks, months. He knows that nobody is going to put a crown on his head or a laurel wreath on his head. He knows that his head will be severed from his body soon.
But he also knows he's going to get a resurrection body. He also knows that besides a resurrection body that his Lord is going to reward him. And he is aiming for one sentence that he wants to hear. Well done, good and faithful servant. Aim for the well done.
Aim for the well done. For a soldier to fight well in a battle, the soldier needs to think about the victory parade at the end of the battle. When they would go through Rome to the temple of Jupiter, all the troops would be honored. If you're going to win the battle, that's what the Roman soldier thought of. If you're in the Olympics, you think of the gold, standing on that platform, walking away with the prize.
Years ago, Woody Allen had a statement. And every time he made it, people laughed nervously because they understood the truth. He said, I'm not afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens.
Sorry, doesn't work that way. You will be there. That appointment, if you're late for every other appointment, you'll keep that one. You'll be on time. You'll be there when it happens.
But for the Christian, it is vastly different because our Savior said this. Here's the promise. I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will never die, and whoever lives and believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live.
So what does that mean exactly? It means that when you die, you won't be dead long enough to know you died. It'll be instantaneous glory in the presence of God on that day. On that day.
And I love how he writes it. Finally, there is laid out for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day. Imagine this. Us in heaven.
He's going to reward us? He's going to give us some crown, some reward? Wait a minute. I mean, just being there is reward. No, but there's more.
But wait, there's more. He'll reward you. The Bible talks about those crowns in so many places.
When Martin Lloyd-Jones... another one of my heroes of the faith... when he was ill and he was on his deathbed and his family was around him, he said to them, don't pray for healing. Don't try to hold me back from the glory. Years ago when I was single and living in a house in Huntington Beach, I had a roommate who had a girlfriend named Barbara. They were talking about marriage, and they were then planning their marriage.
They were just so much in love. And I'll never forget one day, Barb said to me because she was really looking forward to marriage, but she heard at church people talking about Jesus is coming. Jesus is coming soon. And so she turned to me, and even gritting her teeth, she goes, I hope Jesus doesn't come back before I can get married.
And I remember turning to her and go, did I just hear you say that? Did you really just say what I think you just said? Because obviously you do not understand the reward that is awaiting for you.
I mean, marriage is great, but come on. Rewards in heaven? Hello, different level.
And it's this view of death that sustains us in life. And I've discovered something... I believe this to be true. Whenever you see a Christian fail morally, run out of steam, they fall. It's not that they just fell in that moment.
They lost sight of the end. That's what happened. They lost sight of the end. They lost sight of this. On that day.
So face the inevitable. Decide to be faithful. Aim at the eventual. Fourth ingredient to dying well, become more relational. Become more relational.
Die with friends around you. Be connected to people. Restore relationships that are broken. Swallow your pride. Reach out ask for forgiveness.
Make peace before it's too late. Verse nine, he writes to Timothy because he's alone. Be diligent to come to me quickly. He longed for his fellowship. He wanted somebody around.
Be diligent to come to me quickly, for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica, Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. His friend, the doctor. Get Mark, and bring him with you for he is useful to me for ministry.
Do you remember Mark? He had a falling out with Mark. First missionary journey, Mark left, went back home, too scared. Got to go find mama. He went back home to mama.
That never sat well with Paul. There was a riff from that day forward between Mark and Paul, and even between Paul and Mark's uncle Barnabas. They had to split company, and they did for years, but eventually the text would indicate there was a reconciliation.
He's useful to me. Bring him. We've made peace. Become more relational.
I've discovered that as people get older, it's harder for them to make friends. Sounds odd, but it's true. When we're kids, we're friends with everybody. We pour our hearts out to everybody. We become more guarded.
We want to be safe. We've been hurt before. We put up the walls. We put up the guards, and it's harder.
Somebody once said, everybody's talking about the miracles of Jesus. No one talks about Jesus' miracle of having 12 friends in his 30s. Something to be said for that.
The early Puritans talked about dying well. They said everybody should make it an aim in life to die well. And before you say, well, I've already blown it. There's too much water under the bridge. I've gone so far down the road, and I'm much older now.
Again, today's the reset button. After today, things can be different. Remember his mercies are new every morning, so from now on, you fight.
From now on, you run. From now on, you are faithful to the truth. From now on, you reach out to people and forgive and make friends or keep them. From now on.
Now, that's really the end of this message. But I want to take you to the end of Paul's life. Paul was in the Mamertine prison. I told you about that. He's in his second imprisonment.
The prison he was in in his second imprisonment was vastly different from his first. His first imprisonment, he was in a house, basically. In his second imprisonment, this letter was written from the Mamertine prison. Solitary confinement. Mamertine prison was a hole in the ground in the rock.
There was no windows. The only light was above him. There was a hole above him, and they could lower food through a rope. And it was in that setting that the apostle wrote these words with this kind of hope.
Soon, they would lift him up out of the Mamertine prison. Soon, he would stand in the Basilica Julia, a building built by Julius Caesar. There, he would be read his final sentence, a death sentence. I'll let A.T. Robertson, the New Testament scholar, take it from here.
The crowds flowed into town. Some were going out. Paul was only a criminal going to be beheaded. Few if any of the crowds would know or care anything about him.
At a good place on the road, some miles out, the executioners stopped. The block was laid down. The executioner stood ready, axe in hand. The men stripped Paul, tied him kneeling upright to the low pillar, which exposed his back and neck.
The lectors beat him with rods for the last time. He groaned and bled from his nose and mouth. And then, without a hint of hesitation, the executioner frowned as he swung the blade down swiftly, hitting its mark with a dull thud, and the head of the greatest preacher of the ages rolled upon the ground.
In that moment, the soul of Paul was instantly taken from the imperial city of Rome to the eternal celestial city of heaven. At that moment, he was unshackled. He was unloosed. He was free. He was like, yes, that's the way to die.
Father, thank you for the life and the death of a man we have come to know and greatly admire in our Christian heritage, Paul the apostle. A man who knew how to die, thus he knew how to live. He had the end in mind, and because he knew how to go out he knew how to go forward, whether by life or death, he said to glorify God in my body. He was just a man, but he was a man filled with your spirit. We are just men and women, but we can be men and women filled with your spirit. Paul was no god. He was not deity. He was a human, and so he leaves for us a tangible example of how to do it right. I pray that decisions would be made today. First and foremost, the decision to make Jesus the king of our life. And if we're not secure in that aspect, I pray we would make peace with you today, now.
Friend, if you're here and you've never surrendered your life to Jesus, right now, right where you're at, say:
Lord, take me. Take my life. I'm yours. Forgive me. I believe in Jesus. I believe he died. I believe he rose. I believe he lives. I give you my life. I turn from my sin. I turn to Jesus as Savior. Help me to live for him as Lord. In Jesus' name, amen.