Changed by His Presence (II Timothy 4:16-18)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: 2 Timothy 4:16–4:18
Christmas Can Change Your Life
Changed by His Presence
II Timothy 4:16-18
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
December 24th, 2017
I. Immanuel's Bookends
The opening chapter of Matthew's Gospel represents one of the many opening sequences of the Christmas Story. When Joseph finds out that Mary, his fiancee, is pregnant, he is plans to end things with her, but in a way that will save her from public condemnation or humiliation. But as we go on to read, an angel intervenes. Remember what he tells Joseph? 1:20-23...
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
So we discover here one of the many titles of Jesus Christ: he is “Immanuel”, Hebrew for “God is with us”. But when you read the rest of the NT, what's interesting is that this name is never mentioned again. Or is it?
From the opening chapter of Matthew's Gospel, listen to a couple verses from the closing chapter of this same book; in fact, listen to the final words of the book...
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20)
Did you see it there? Immanuel! No, the name is not given, but the assurance is: “And behold, I am with you always...”. The presence of God in the person of Jesus serves to bracket or bookend the Gospel of Matthew. And as we'll see, it is a reality that continues to show up throughout the NT, even if the name “Immanuel” does not.
As many of you know, we've spent most of this month talking about this idea that Christmas can change you life. We know that's true, first, because Christ can change your life. But it's also true because that's what happened during the first Christmas. And when you read all of the accounts, all of those stories, you realize that one of the clearest ways in which the lives of these very real people were changed, was because of this reality of “Immanuel”, that God was in fact with them.
The presence of Jesus in Mary's womb changed her life...and Joseph's. The presence of Jesus caused Elizabeth's baby, John, to leap in her womb. The presence of the newly born Jesus, of the Messiah in a manger, caused the shepherds to praise and glorify God. The presence of Jesus caused the Magi to fall down and worship Him.
The presence of Jesus changed Simeon and Anna too, when the only weeks old baby was brought to the temple in accordance with the Law of Moses.
Chapter one of John's Gospel, yet another opening sequence for the Christmas story, tells us “the Word (who was both with God and was God in the beginning...this Word) became flesh and made his dwelling among us”. Immanuel, God with us!
Christmas can change your life because the presence of Jesus can change your life. Let's explore this more by looking together at one more no-so-Christmasy passage, II Timothy 4, verses 16-18.
II. The Passage: "But the Lord Stood by Me" (4:16-18)
Before I read those three verses, let's talk briefly about the context here. What's happening? Where is Paul? Why is he writing to Timothy?
From clues inside and outside this letter, it seems Paul is in Rome awaiting his execution. He has been imprisoned before for His preaching, but this time, he know things are different. As he states in verses 6 and 7 of this chapter:
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.
The date is sometime between 64 and 68AD. Paul has apparently had a first hearing before Caesar, and is now awaiting a second. But listen to what he tells us in verse 16...
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.  The 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.
Now in light of what we've been talking about in regard to Christmas, I hope the first half of verse 17 jumped out at you. There's Immanuel! Now, some might say, “Well, Paul is just talking about 'the Lord'. He doesn't say “Jesus”. But did you know the vast majority of the time Paul uses that title, “the Lord”, he is talking about Jesus? And this wasn't the first time the risen Jesus did this. Listen to what Luke tells us about Paul in Acts 23:11. This is after he has been taken by Roman soldiers, after a small riot broke out in Jerusalem. We read...
The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
This is clearly Jesus. But there's yet another appearance of Jesus, even earlier, in Corinth..
And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent,  for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”  And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. (Acts 18:9–11)
So what we have here in II Timothy 4 lines up nicely with what we read in Acts, that the Lord Jesus would often appear to Paul in a unique way, in order to support the Apostle through especially difficult times of trial and temptation.
Let's go verse by verse through this passage and consider what it tells us about being changed by Christ's presence. Because remember, Jesus gave his followers, all His followers, that very reassurance: “behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”. So if we look back at verse 16, we find a truth there about...
1. His Presence and Our Predicament (v. 16)
Paul makes it clear in verse 16 that at his first hearing, no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. The implication here is that, though there were many in Rome who could have come and supported Paul in that difficult, difficult time, no one did. If you look at verse 10, for example, Paul mentions several individuals who had left him.
And the word used here in verse 16, the word translated “deserted”, that's the same word Jesus used on the cross when he cried, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” It's a very strong word. Every who could have and should have stood with Paul forsook him, probably because they had given in to fear, fear of associating with a man who was on trial before Caesar himself.
But even when Paul was alone, as we see in verse 17, he wasn't alone. Even when no one stood by him in that circumstance, One always stood by him...the One who knew what it was like to be abandoned in a time of condemnation by human rulers.
The human predicament is regularly marked by fear and failure; by betrayal; by human beings choosing self-preservation over doing the right thing. All of us have experienced this. All of us having been on the receiving end of this predicament, and all of us have been on the forsaking end of this predicament. We have let down, and we have been let down by others.
But the transforming truth we are reminded of here is that there is One who will never, ever, ever leave us. It reminds me of those comforting words from Hebrews 13:5 and 6...
...For he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
Isn't that amazing!? If we haven't already, we have to come to grips with the fact that people will fail us, they will let us down, they will hurt us, they will be indifferent and unkind and insensitive. We cant change that. And it doesn't mean I isolate myself behind 100 foot emotional walls on every side.
What it means is that my ultimate confidence and assurance must always be anchored in the One who always stands with me. In fact, I believe it is that confidence and assurance that enables Paul to forgive his forsakers. It is the grace Jesus has shown him that empowers him to show grace to those who deserted him. Did you see that at the end of verse 16: May it not be charged against them! But just as verse 17 affirms that presence of Jesus with Paul in that hard, hard circumstance, it also reveals a wonderful truth about...
2. His Presence and Our Purpose (v. 17)
Did you notice that verse 17 is not simply about the comforting presence of Christ? It is also concerned with the empowering presence of Christ. Listen to verse 17 again:
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.
When Jesus is with you, His strength is with you. Yes, in times where you feel lost and lonely, the presence of Jesus means supernatural reassurance. But even when you feel relationally spoiled, even when you do have others supporting you, the presence of Christ should embolden us in light of his work in this world.
Isn't that the context of our final 'bookend' from Matthew? In Matthew 28, Jesus has commissioned, he has charged his disciples to go into the world and make more disciples by proclaiming the gospel. He knows, in light of the opposition they will face, that mission will require divine reassurance.
Paul spoke as he spoke, even in the presence of Caesar, because the presence of Jesus Christ dominated his heart and mind.
When Christmas, when Christ changes your life, you have a new purpose in this world. And a huge part of that purpose is sharing Christ with others. But that can be scary at times, can't it. Well, let me encourage you. In those times, remember Paul's example. Remember how the Lord Jesus is standing with you to strengthen you.
When you were a kid, do you remember having to talk with a worker at a store or restaurant? If you wanted to order something else, or if you wanted to ask about a toy, sometimes mom or dad would tell you to go do it yourself. But the younger you are, the more intimidating it is. My kids would ask of me the same thing I would ask of my mom or dad, “Can you come with me?” It made all the difference to have a parent standing with you, right?
The same is true of Jesus. Having him with you makes all the difference. So this Christmas, when you are changed by God's voice, then by his wisdom, then by his leading, do it all with the reassurance of His presence. He is with us not only to comfort us, but to conform us to His image by strengthening for His work. But in v. 18 we are also reminded of the truth of...
3. His Presence and Our Preservation (v. 18)
In fact, this truth begins in the last part of verse 17:
So I was rescued from the lion's mouth.  The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.
So what I believe Paul is telling us here is that after his first hearing, he was not immediately executed. Apparently, Caesar, or Caesar's officials, wanted to hear more. This is why Paul exclaims, “I was rescued from the lion's mouth.” Of course, it also might mean that Paul was rescued from the jaws of compromise, and was able to take a stand for the gospel.
I say that because look where Paul goes in v.18. That statement is not about deliverance from every circumstantial evil in this life. God doesn't promise us that. Paul dealt with all sorts of hardships. Remember, he just described the sting of being deserted by his friends in Rome.
No, when Paul says, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed”, he means that no evil deed in this world, even a wicked decree from Caesar himself, could undo Christ's promise of preservation. John 6:37–39...
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
This is why Paul is sure that Jesus will bring him “safely into his heavenly kingdom”. So the abiding presence of Christ not only gives us comfort and strength, it also gives us hope; hope that an eternity perfectly experiencing perfect rest and perfect refreshment and perfect safety and perfect love and perfect provision will be ours in the presence of God
Did you know that the promise of unrivaled rest tomorrow can help you get through even the hardest things today? Jesus Christ has made that kind of tomorrow possible. Is Paul's hope your hope this morning?
III. Practicing His Presence
When Paul writes “the Lord stood by me” in verse 17, we can't be sure if that experience was like those experiences in the book of Acts; those times when Jesus actually appeared to Paul in some way. That might have been the case here. OR...it might be that Paul experienced the presence of Christ in the same way we can: by faith. I love the way another Apostle, the Apostle Peter, described how his readers were practicing the presence of Jesus...
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory... (I Peter 1:8)
Brothers and sisters, friends, if you want to know the comforting, empowering, hope-inspiring presence of Jesus, then you first have to know Jesus. You must turn from sin and self and embrace Christ as your only hope; believing that what He did on the cross, that his resurrection from the dead is what you need most, but could never do yourself. It means trusting that God's grace is offering you the opposite of what you deserve as a rebel.
And when you embrace that Good News, things change. Through the gift of God's Holy Spirit, you can enjoy the promise of Christ's presence. But that reality is something we must practice. It means remembering, reminding myself regularly, rehearsing His promise, and reflecting on His presence with me at all times.
Will you do that this Christmas? Will Jesus simply be a nativity figurine or the infant mentioned in a song? Or will He be your constant companion today, tomorrow, and every day after that? When you know Him, and the reality of his presence with you, it changes you. And through you, it changes others. His gift to you. His gift through you.