'Today's Little Lift' with Jim Bullington
Originally posted on 09/14/2017
The Hartsfield-Jackson airport that serves Atlanta is a busy place; in fact, it is by some statistics the world's busiest airport. Approximately one million aircraft arrivals and departures per year are only a part of the staggering statistics that go to make it such a busy, busy place. Like many other airports, when travelers enter the terminal, there are a number of displays that predict the arrival and departure times of scheduled flights. Our focus today will be on a departure of an entirely different sort.
Paul wrote, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and 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.” (2 Timothy 4.6-8). The departure which Paul anticipated was not from Atlanta; it was from this earth life. His destination was not a distant earthly city; it was rather a “...city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Hebrews 11.10). The city for which Paul's departure was destined was not here where “...we have no continuing city.” Rather, Paul sought the abiding and eternal city which was yet to come. (Hebrews 13.14).
Paul's departure time was at hand. Although this phrase has various meanings in the New Testament, the meaning here can hardly be misunderstood. Paul simply meant the the time of his death was approaching and was not in the distant future. Given that Paul was a man past middle age when he wrote the epistle containing these words, it would have been unreasonable to think that he was talking decades before his departure. Perhaps he spoke of years, but the time was fast approaching. He had made great preparations for this departure even as his own words portray. In the metaphors which he chose, he had “fought the good fight,” he had “finished the race,” and he had “kept the faith.” Hundreds or perhaps thousands of roadblocks had been cast into his way, but none of them deterred him!
There had been times previously when Paul had narrowly missed being killed. In fact there had been times when those who hated him fully intended to kill him. On at least one occasion, they thought that they had. However, by the grace of God, he had escaped death up to the point in time when he penned his final letter to Timothy, his son in the spirit. Even though Paul's departure had been delayed several times, it had not been canceled. As the Hebrews writer explained, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” (Hebrews 9.27-28). Death was a sure appointment which Paul knew that he would keep, even as He knew that all men must keep that appointment.
Paul eagerly waited the time of his departure, just as the Hebrews writer spoke of in the previous text. On one occasion Paul wrote the believers in Philippi and said, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” (Philippians 1.21-23).
Death is not the end of the journey; we depart this life so that we may arrive at our final destination. Whether we, like Paul, anxiously wait, or whether we dread its coming, the departure is sure. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5.10). Prepare for the trip!
1. If the continuing city is not here, where is it? Who built it?
2. What attitude did Paul have toward the time of his departure? Why could he be so upbeat about it?
3. What did Paul mean when he told the Philippians that he was “hard pressed between the two”?
4. Who must appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive “the things done in the body”? Are there any who will opt out of that journey? Why or why not?