On the museum wall of the concentration camp at Dachau is a large and moving photograph of a mother and her little girl standing in line for the gas chamber. The child, who is walking in front of her mother, does not know where she’s going. The mother, following behind, looks knowingly but is helpless to stop the tragedy.
In her helplessness, she performs the only act of love left to her. She places her hands over the child’s eyes so she will at least not see the horror to come. When people come to the museum, most don’t whisk by this photo hurriedly. Instead, they pause and almost feel the pain. Deep inside, they say to themselves, “O God, don’t let that be all there is.”
Hopelessness and helplessness are all that remain in the world today. I’m delivering this message to you on Sept. 10, 2019. It’s fitting that we remember this today, because 18 years ago tomorrow the world realized if only for a short time that it is full of hopelessness and helplessness. Eighteen years ago tomorrow the world witnessed the most horrible terrorist attacks in history. Tomorrow is the 18th anniversary of 9/11. If there was ever an example of the hopelessness and helplessness that exists in the world today, it is the events that happened on September 11th, 2001.
God provided a way out by sending His Son to earth as a child so that He could one day save the sins of mankind through Christ’s shed blood on the cross. The apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” This statement is something all of us hear regularly. It is part of the comfortable words that we hear in the Holy Eucharist liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer.
Paul relates his past to highlight God’s mercy and forgiveness. No sin lies beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness. God forgave a persecutor like Paul and enabled him for ministry. This should give everyone hope. God’s forgiveness also provides the basis for people to forgive themselves. This does not mean that God will redeem everyone from the consequences of every evil — but it does imply that none of us is in a position to make flat claims about whom God will or will not forgive.
Paul’s previous persecution of Christians made him the foremost sinner because he hindered others from coming to faith. At the same time, it allowed God to save Paul as an example of grace. If God could save Paul, he can save and change anyone and everyone.
No one expected that Saul of Tarsus-the earliest, greatest enemy of 1st century Christianity- would turn to Christ and become Christianity’s greatest missionary. Paul even referred to himself as the chief of sinners, but his salvation demonstrates three things:
- God is merciful and long-suffering.
- His grace can reach even his worst enemies.
- The Good News of Christ has the power to change lives and hearts.
False teaching tells us none of these things. Paul’s conversion is an example of God’s saving grace, which is in contrast to the uselessness of false teachings. When Paul opposed Christ, he did not have faith. False teachers profess to follow Christ, but they still live sin-filled lives. Some may say that TV evangelists such as Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker were false teachers, and some may say that modern TV evangelists such as Benny Hinn are also false teachers. Only God knows for certain.
When Paul wrote to Timothy, he was being honest. He knew who he was. He did not need to be perfect. He admitted that like many biblical characters he had many problems. Moses killed a man, Jonah ran away from God, and Paul persecuted Christians. Because of their encounters with God, they were changed. When we encounter God, we are pushed to change as well.
Paul mentions his past, but he does not dwell on it. There is a difference between testifying to God’s power to change a person’s life and glorifying sin. Paul was more interested in talking about the grace and salvation of Christ. Christianity is Jesus himself. Any reference to Christianity that is not tied to Jesus is not Christian. The gospel is grounded in the mystery of Emmanuel-God with us, among us, for us and in us. God’s purpose for us comes through personal faith.
God’s purpose is for us to spread the Good News. God can use us regardless of our past. IF he can use an evil persecutor like Paul, he can definitely use us. He can use us wherever we are. It doesn’t matter if we are a doctor, accountant, lawyer or labourer. The needs of people are everywhere.
Sometimes we feel that we are not equipped for the task. God does not call the equipped. He equips the called. He will give us the wisdom, strength and ability to do what he has called us to do. We need God’s strength to do his work. We are weak, human vessels. We might stumble at times, but we have God’s strength and power. God enables us, but he is also watching us, and he expects us to be faithful. He opens doors for us when we are faithful, and no man can shut these doors. Paul was not ashamed of Christ, and we must not be ashamed of Christ either. Paul urges both Timothy and us to be bold. We need that boldness if we are to spread the Good News.
God did come to earth to teach and to set the highest moral example as to how we should live our lives, but first and foremost His number one reason for becoming human was to save sinners! Until we trust Jesus for our salvation, we can’t even begin to follow in His footsteps. If Jesus had only come to show us how to live, we would have been frustrated and doomed, wallowing in our own constant failure! God loves us and welcomes us with open arms when we ask for forgiveness and surrender our lives to Him. He knew our greatest need is for forgiveness, so he sent us a Saviour.
There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. The only thing we have to do is accept that we are accepted. God welcomes us just as we are and right where we are, as it says in the hymn, “Just as I Am:”
Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Paul was so overwhelmed by God’s grace that he broke into a doxology, or a short expression or outburst of praise and worship to God based on who He is and what He has done for his people. Paul gives God all honour and glory. No one deserves or earns salvation. It is all about God and His grace. Jesus did everything right so we could be made right. In spite of our sins, he continues to reach out to us. He continually promises to heal and help those who come to him.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1704)
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
- Rev. David Mainse, “Chief Sinner.” Retrieved from www.100words.ca
- A.K.M. Adam, “Commentary on 1 Timothy 1:12-17.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=687
- Demarest, G.W. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 32: 1,2 Thessalonians/ 1,2 Timothy/Titus (Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Inc., 1984)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Pastor David McGee, “Equipping the Called.” Retrieved from www.crossthebridge.com
- Pastor David McGee, “True Power.” Retrieved from www.crossthebridge.com
- Bayless Conley, “Fruitfulness and Open Doors.” Retrieved from www.answersrbc.org.
- Dr. David Jeremiah, “The king Eternal.” Retrieved from www.davidjeremiah.org
- Doug Fields, “Moving Past Your Past.” Retrieved from www.homeword.com
- Neil Anderson, “Showing Yourself Faithful.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Randy Kilgore, “The Day My Dad Met Jesus.” Retrieved from www.rbc.org
- Pastor Ken Klaus, “Jesus Came for Me.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
- Pastor Ken Klaus, “Saving Sinners.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org
- Gathering, Pentecost 2, 2016, Year C. (Toronto, ON: The United Church of Canada, p. 8)
- “Just as I Am, Without One Plea.” Retrieved from http://www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh357.sht
- Dan Clendenin, Ph.D., “A Trustworthy Saying.” Retrieved from http://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=1051