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"Born to Reproduce"

March 3/19 - 2Tim.1:1-14

Way of Jesus Saying #6 - “I am helping someone and someone is helping me to be a reproducing follower of Jesus.”

RUBBING SOMEONE THE RIGHT WAY

Today our sermon title is the intriguing phrase, “Born to Reproduce.” We are looking at Saying 6 in the Way of Jesus, “I am helping someone and someone is helping me to be a reproducing follower of Jesus.” Christianity is not just about getting oneself saved – about earning your way to heaven, or obtaining a “Get out of hell free” card like some mystical game of Monopoly. Christianity (as Jesus pointed out quite bluntly to Nicodemus in John 3) is about getting “born anew”, born again, “born from above” – AND spending your whole life helping others enter into that experience, in such a way that they are captivated with also introducing others into the same new birth, wonderful access to a loving caring all-powerful Heavenly Father.

             February 18 it was my great joy and privilege to witness my son defend his PhD dissertation in the subject of disability and theology at Vrije University in Amsterdam. After the tension and challenge of the actual defence and grilling by a committee of professors on the Monday was over, Keith and his wife Darcie and I spent the balance of the week doing the touristy thing around Amsterdam in the Netherlands and Bruges and Ghent in Belgium. In particular, we spent a lot of time at museums. This year is the 350th anniversary of the death of the Dutch artist Rembrandt, so we saw a good deal of his famous paintings at various museums. We saw a lot of self-portraits of Rembrandt: he created upwards of a hundred self-portraits! (And here you thought “selfies” were a current fad.) Well, what cheaper subject can you get to pose for you for a painting than yourself? And the model is ALWAYS available! Anyway, probably partly because he practised so much on himself, experimenting with different expressions, Rembrandt became renowned and very in-demand as a painter of portraits in the 17th century.

             So, since I’m on an art kick, let’s try doing a portrait today. (You’ll see in a minute this really does relate to our sermon theme!) If you have a blank spot on a piece of paper, a coin, and a pencil, you can join me in this art lesson. Who are we going to get to sit for us as our model? Why not Queen Elizabeth?!

             “G’arn!” you say. No, I’m serious. Put the coin under the piece of paper. Take your pencil or crayon (works better than pen, I’m afraid) and RUB gently and consistently in one direction back and forth all over the coin, say starting from the top and working gradually toward the bottom. Can you see an image of Her Majesty starting to emerge through the paper? There! You’ve produced a portrait of the Queen! (O ye of little faith.)

             Here’s my point: WHO ARE YOU RUBBING OFF ON? The image of the Queen on the coin was REPRODUCED on the paper. It’s a REFLECTION of the original. The coin made a distinct IMPRESSION. Jesus calls us to be REPRODUCING FOLLOWERS of Him. It took contact between the paper and the coin – you had to bring them into close proximity. It took time. It took many iterations or repetitions of shading, moving the pencil back and forth across the paper and coin. It took care and patience. But the end product showed a distinct LIKENESS to the original. You might say Her Majesty “made quite an impression on” the copy.

             Besides paintings in Holland and Belgium, we saw in the museums quite a few etchings or lithographs. One museum exhibit, “Escher in the Palace”, featured the work of MC Escher in the former royal palace in Amsterdam. Escher (famous for his optical illusions and tesselations or repetitive progressive abstract art) created 448 lithographs, woodcuts and wood engravings and over 2000 drawings and sketches. You see, with a painting, when you’re done you have just one painting: but with woodcuts and lithographs, you etch your drawing into the medium and then that makes a “form” you can use with ink again and again to make MANY prints, which all resemble the original. A marketing bonanza!

             Christianity is about REPRODUCING, not just being a Christ-follower yourself, but aiding others to discover the blessing of knowing Jesus – so they in turn can introduce other people into this wonderful daily walk and eternal hope. And unlike an artist’s lithograph or woodcut, NOT ONE is a ‘carbon copy’ of the next!

             One more thing before we leave this analogy of art and reproducing. Here are two versions of a self-portrait of Rembrandt as a young man. For a long time it was thought the lighter one (which I saw at Mauritshuis in Amsterdam) was an original. But a critic in 1991 started to question this, based on style differences noted. In 1998 art specialists used infrared reflectography and discovered “an understudy in the Mauritshuis version, which is known to be wholly uncharacteristic of Rembrandt's mode of working. Consequently most authors now accept the Germanisches Nationalmuseum version to be the original.”

             Admittedly, that would have been quite a disappointment if you’d been the owner of the lighter one and figured you had an original authentic Rembrandt! But think about how remarkable this is. Somebody - we figure one of the artists in Rembrandt’s school - mastered his technique SO WELL as to be mistaken for the Master himself! One web article on the School of Rembrandt notes it “was one of the busiest art enterprises of the 17th century.As a talented and popular teacher with more than 50 documented students, Rembrandt created not only a name for himself but for his school as well.His name lives on through his own vast artistic oeuvre AND through the works that his students created that greatly resemble his artistic style.From paintings to drawings to etchings, his students explored a variety of artistic mediums, creating works of great artistic merit.Drawing, in particular, played a crucial role in Rembrandt's teaching methods.Rembrandt would create drawings for his students to imitate, and he and his pupils would sketch the same models and landscapes side by [the] side.As a result of these immersive training methods, Rembrandt's drawings and those of his students retain many stylistic similarities.”

             Remember, we’re trying to learn from this as it applies to discipleship. Rembrandt essentially “reproduced” not just his drawings but HIMSELF in his dozens of students. Note some of those words: resemble - imitate - immersive - side by side - similarities.

             I will ask it again: Who are YOU “rubbing off” on? Who is your STUDENT (as it were) in the Christian walk? Who is your TEACHER? Who is giving you pointers, ‘side by side’?

             All right - enough with the artsy metaphors. Let’s switch gears and talk about CARS instead. One other treat while I was away was renting with Keith an Audi A3 in which we drifted along at 130 km/hr (LEGALLY!) from the Netherlands to Belgium and back. (And we were barely halfway up the speedometer at that!) As we dive into Paul’s second letter to his protege Timothy, we find aspects of discipling that can be pictured as parts of a vehicle: ENGINE, STEERING, TRANSMISSION, and HITCH.

ENGINE: GOD’S POWERFUL WORD

Our sermon title is, BORN to reproduce. Christ didn’t come to make bad people good; He came to make DEAD people LIVE. Spiritually speaking, we were ROAD KILL. Eph.2:1-3 “As for you, YOU WERE DEAD in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”

             ‘Dead’ in sin – we didn’t need moral reform or just the right self-help book: we needed to be MADE ALIVE. Jesus declared in John 3:3,5 “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is BORN AGAIN...I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is BORN of water AND the Spirit.” We needed fresh birth, a start over again, new life. Jesus came and was lifted up “that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:15) Peter echoes the theme in 1Pet 1:3B, “In [God’s] great mercy he has given us NEW BIRTH into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...” And later in the chapter he reveals the agent of this new birth: 1Peter 1:23 “For you have been BORN AGAIN, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, THROUGH the living and enduring WORD OF GOD.”

             When Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, he might have been very discouraged – he had every reason to be: Paul would soon be condemned under Nero and executed for his faith (2Tim 4:6). Paul was reconciled to the fact that he would soon die, chained like a criminal on death row. But he wasn’t downcast. Something larger than him was already in motion. He had seen the gospel message already spread to Caesar’s household (Php 4:22). He shows us what the new “engine” for this fantastic vehicle of faith is in v9: “[This is my gospel,] for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal.But GOD’S WORD is not chained.” Just a simple phrase – almost a throw-away – but MASSIVE implications.

             God is not like us flesh-bound beings: God is Spirit – and when He speaks, that emission is POWERFUL, forceful, dynamic. Paul wrote in 1Thess 2:13, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, THE WORD OF GOD, WHICH IS AT WORK in you who believe.” God’s word is powerful, energetic, taking effect: what He says, happens – that’s part of His nature as Yahweh, the One who speaks the universe into being. Hebrews 1:3 “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things BY HIS POWERFUL WORD.” What’s sustaining all things? God’s powerful word. When He says it’s over, the sky will be rolled up like a scroll – the time-space continuum is His invention, anyway. God Almighty can create a new set of dimensions just as easily. Heb 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow...” Our new ENGINE as believers is God’s word, enlivening, animating, empowering us along the tracks of His will.

             How’s it going with reading the Bible through in a year? Saying 4, “I am learning the teachings of Jesus.” Being ‘in the word’ is one of the Daily Rhythms of living for Him.

STEERING: NEW FOCUS ON JESUS

We’ve got an engine; but you need to direct that power, you need STEERING. You need to be headed in the right direction. When we were going to our AirBNB in Belgium, there were 3 turn-offs at the interchange and Google Maps wasn’t clear enough, so we took the wrong one and ended up having to go off course about 5 miles before we found another exit and could get turned around! No point travelling at 130 kph if you’re headed the wrong way.

             The Apostle Paul employs several metaphors or word-pictures in this passage to describe the new FOCUS or direction that characterizes a real Christian life. V4 “No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs— he wants to please his commanding officer.” What’s the goal of a soldier? Not getting entangled in civilian pleasures, but pleasing his or her captain.

             V5 “Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.” What’s the focus of the athlete? Getting across that finish line first in order to win the crown, the victor’s garland as was practised in the games back them. Stay on track, don’t get wooed off course by the pretty fans. Guard your focus, practice mental discipline.

             One more analogy or comparison, v6 “The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.” What’s the focus of the farmer? Not to have the tallest silo, or the biggest manure pile – but to maximize his or her output of crops.

             Don’t get distracted. Stay on target. Keep the main thing the main thing. If Satan wants to weaken the Church, he doesn’t necessarily have to kill us off – he can just make us ineffective, wimpy in faith, preoccupied with our amusements and enterprises so we have no time or energy to help others come to know the Lord. Whom do YOU most want to please? Are you even IN the race or turned aside at an ice cream stand? (Boy, those Belgian waffles were good with chocolate sauce and fresh whipped cream...But I digress!) What “harvest” do you hope to achieve? If you want some crop, what seed have you sown lately, how are you preparing the ground to be receptive and ready?

             V7 is a sort of “step back and get some perspective” verse, prompting us to check our focus, get our bearings. (Isn’t it annoying when you try to set your GPS in the rental car and the parking garage blocks the satellite signal?!) V7 “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.” Don’t have your nose so stuck to the grindstone you can’t prayerfully evaluate what you’re doing in the big picture. That’s another of the Daily Rhythms in the Way of Jesus, Rhythm 4 - Praying His Prayer. How are your plans going to relate to His Kingdom Focus? “YOUR Kingdom come, YOUR will be done...”

             Then in v8 Paul highlights what’s most important, what’s “true north” for the believer: 2Tim 2:8 “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel...” There, he’s boiled down his FOCUS in a nutshell. “Remember” - keep in mind; v14 “Keep reminding them of these things.” Remember Jesus Christ, “raised from the dead” – that’s His divine supernatural component, God Almighty in-the-flesh, working miracles, healing sickness, feeding multitudes, calming storms. But what’s the next phrase? “Descended from David.” This points to the human side of the God-Man. A biological lineage to fallen humans – David was a king but also an acknowledged sinner. Jesus is not just divine and thus unable to relate to us mortals: He was born of a human mother with a real bloodline, descended from Old Testament kings according to the prediction of prophets many centuries before, with astonishing fulfilment of detail. He took on flesh and was made like us in order to become a substitute in the place of us sinners. In this one short verse we see a prefiguring of the Apostle’s Creed: Jesus is God’s only begotten Son but was also born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He is God, but He can also relate to whatever you’re going through, He “gets it” because He too suffered and was treated shoddily by other people. He is the only person ever in whom those two dimensions of God-ness and human-ness perfectly met and coincided. He’s one-of-a-kind. Are you living for Him?

             “This is my gospel,” Paul says, his ‘good news’ or proclamation. How would you sum up YOUR main message in a couple of phrases? “Well, I try to live a good life...” – that just won’t cut it. By whose standards? Compared to God’s measuring stick, our best deeds come up looking like filthy rags. Is it about YOU – or about HIM?

             Elsewhere Paul similarly sums up his focus, what directs his steering in where he’s bound in life. 1Cor 15:3f “For what I received I passed on to you as of FIRST IMPORTANCE: that CHRIST DIED for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that HE WAS RAISED on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” (1Co 15:3ff) Christian living isn’t based on a philosophy, no “12 rules for better living”, but on historical FACT.

             For this gospel Paul admits he is suffering “even to the point of being chained like a criminal” (v9). He realizes his execution is coming up soon. When you know you’re going to die very soon, that prompts some sober thinking – has your life really been worth it? Should you have spent it any other way? But to Paul, even though it’s going to cost him his life, he feels he’s been right on target. His STEERING has been in the right direction.

TRANSMISSION: TEACHING OTHERS

How’s our car doing? We’ve got power in the engine, we’ve got control of direction through the steering – but the rubber hasn’t met the road yet. We need a TRANSMISSION to carry the engine’s power to where it’s going to get applied. In v2 Paul reveals a chain of conveyances that channel truth into others’ lives. And here we get to the nub of what it means to be “born to reproduce”. 2Tim 2:2 “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”

             How many links in the chain do we find here? There’s Timothy and Paul – “the things YOU have heard ME say” – there’s others Paul was addressing: “in the presence of many witnesses”; then there’s two other generations or layers of recipients Timothy will impact in turn – “entrust to reliable men” (gen[eration] 3) “who will also be qualified to teach others” (gen[eration] 4).

             The marvelous Good News of Christian truth is not meant just for your own personal edification: it’s meant to be shared, passed on, to lift many other lives out of despair, meaninglessness, shame, guilt, and darkness. Because humans are wired in such a way to seek for God – they have that innate “God-shaped vacuum” deep inside in their spirit – and they remain unsatisfied with this world’s counterfeit knock-offs that can only please superficially for a short time.

             What’s to be our main focus? For a Christian, what’s “Job 1"? Well, what did Christ command? Saying 4, The Greatest Commandment, “I am learning to love God and love others.” (cf Mt.22:37-40) And the Great Commission, Mt 28:19f “Therefore go and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and TEACHING THEM TO OBEY everything I have commanded you.”

             Jesus’ “Job 1" for us is to MAKE DISCIPLES, help others be born again (spiritual ‘midwives’ as it were) and learn to live out His ways and rhythms. While in Europe I saw a number of impressive cathedrals – mighty pillars and high tiled ceilings, magnificent stained glass windows, organs that reached several stories high. But Jesus did not commission us to “Make Cathedrals!” Instead, to Make Disciples. Sadly and increasingly, those magnificent cathedrals are little more than monuments to dead people that lie entombed beneath their floors. Tourist attractions, artifacts gathering dust from a bygone era, turned now into fancy antique display cases where artwork is shown.

             Faith is to be lived and impressed upon others. Psalm 78:5f reflects this pass-it-on pattern with one’s own kin: “He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.” It’s all about the TRANSMISSION. “Who ya gonna tell?”

HITCH: NEW LINEAGE AND CONNECTION

Which brings us to the last part of our vehicle, the HITCH. There’s got to be a connection, a hook-up, life-on-life. Really the Christian life is about Making DiscipleRS, a person trusting Jesus who is also themselves reproducing and leading someone else on the journey.

             Pop back up to V1, “You then, MY SON, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Catch that? How’s Paul addressing Timothy? “My son” – yet we know that Paul wasn’t Timothy’s dad – his father was actually a Greek (Acts 16:1). So why’s Paul calling Timothy “my son”? Because he’s so close to Timothy, they’ve spent so much time together, Paul’s made such an impression on Timothy that he considers him his son spiritually speaking: 1Tim.1:2 “my true SON IN THE FAITH”. Paul and Timothy have been hitched together in the traces so long and so far that Timothy is considered faithfully able to transmit Paul’s ways and teachings to others.

             At Bruges, Belgium, in the Church of Our Lady, I was able to stand in front of Michelangelo’s marble statue of “Madonna and Child”, the only statue by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime. Back when Bruges was one of Europe’s leading commercial centres it had been bought by wealthy cloth merchants. When German soldiers retreated in 1944 they smuggled it to Germany between mattresses in a Red Cross truck, and hid it in a salt mine until it was discovered and returned a year later. Quite a valuable carving!

             But Michelangelo had his own ‘hitch’, just as Rembrandt had his own school of students. Few people know of Bertoldo, Michelangelo’s teacher. There’s a debate in art circles about who was the greater – Michelangelo, the pupil, or Bertoldo, the teacher who produced him.

             Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship;” NLT “For we are God’s MASTERPIECE.He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” One of those “good things” is to be help crafting OTHER ‘masterpieces’, other believers in Jesus, who in turn will go on to honour the Lord and beautify Christ’s Kingdom by nurturing other believers in The Way. You are BORN TO REPRODUCE – spiritually. So I ask one last time: Whose life are YOU ‘rubbing off on’? Let’s pray. (-> communion)