1 Tim 2:1-6
Let me tell you, no one was more surprised that Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ than Paul. This is the calling he never saw coming. It was the calling he could never have fathomed, because it turned his world inside out.
Paul was an obvious a rising star in the Judaism of his day. First of all, he was a Pharisee. He had chosen to be part of a group in Judaism that was deeply committed to living in ways that were holy – ways that kept the Torah in accordance with the interpretation and traditions of the Pharisees.
However, Paul wasn’t just any Pharisee. Many Pharisees were what we would call “lay people.” They had committed to living lives in accordance with the Pharisees’ understanding of the Torah. On the other hand, a small group received advanced training in the Pharisee understanding of Scripture and the Torah. Paul was originally from Tarsus in Asia Minor – what is modern day Turkey. But he had been brought up in Jerusalem itself and educated at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the noted Jewish teachers of his day.
Yet Paul wasn’t just a Pharisee who had received advanced scribal training. He was a man of action. When he saw something that contradicted and blasphemed the teaching of the Pharisees – the tradition of the elders – he felt compelled to do something about it. Paul told the Galatians, “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.”
Paul was so zealous for the Torah as understood by Pharisees, that when he encountered those who were proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, that he felt compelled to take action. Christians were proclaiming that Jesus - who had been crucified - was the Christ, the Messiah promised by God.
Now there were a variety of understandings about the Messiah present in the Judaism of Paul’s day. But the shared feature in all of them was that the Messiah was powerful and victorious. All agreed that anyone who ended up hanging dead on a Roman cross was no Messiah. What was more, the Torah said in Deuteronomy that anyone who was hung on a tree – which in the first century was understood to mean a cross – was cursed by God. For Paul, to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah was to reject what the Scriptures taught about the Messiah. Perhaps even more importantly, it was to reject the Torah of Yahweh which clearly said that anyone hung on a tree was cursed by God.
Paul persecuted the Christians. He took point in the attempt to eradicate this blasphemy against God and his Torah. But as he travelled to Damascus to do so there, the risen and exalted Lord Jesus appeared to him and confronted him. Paul told the Galatians that God, who had set him apart before he was born and called him by grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to Paul in order that he might preach Jesus among the Gentiles.
Just before our text, Paul has been reflecting on this fact as he writes to Timothy. He says, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
God had shown Paul mercy. And for Paul this illustrated an important truth. He added: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” Paul saw in himself a chief example of the fact that Christ came into the world to save sinners.
This thought is still in the background when Paul begins our text by saying, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Paul says that prayer should be offered on behalf of all people. This is actually quite surprising. It was not something that was part of the practice in Judaism. It’s not something that is usually stated in the New Testament, where prayer is offered on behalf of Christians – those who are brothers and sisters in Christ.
But here Paul explicitly states that Christians should offer prayer on behalf of everybody. And then he notes that specifically this should include the leaders in the world whose work provides the setting in which Christians can live a peaceful, godly and dignified life. This instruction, found in a number of the letters of the New Testament, is something we continue to carry out every Sunday in the Prayer of the Church.
Paul has said that prayer is to be offered on behalf of all people. And then he provides a theological reason for why Christians are to do this. He states: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Prayer is to be offered on behalf of all people because God cares about all people – he wants all people to be saved.
The proof for this is found in what God has done. Paul writes: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” There may be many peoples – and Paul dealt with all kinds of regional and ethnic groups as he proclaimed the Gospel in Syria, Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. But there is only one God who is over all of them – who is the Creator of all of them.
Paul says that they all must relate to the one God. But in order for this to happen, the apostle declares that there is one mediator. He tells us that there must be one mediator. That mediator is the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as the ransom for all.
Earlier I mentioned how Paul said “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Paul told the Galatians that in the fullness of time God sent forth his Son who was born of a woman. In the next chapter of this letter he says that the Lord “was manifested in the flesh.”
Here, Paul emphasizes the humanity of Jesus Christ. He says the “man Christ Jesus” is the mediator. The man Christ Jesus is needed as the mediator because of what the man Adam did. Paul told the Romans, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” The man Adam was the means by which sin entered into the world. Paul tells us that as a result, all people are under sin – that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
This is what you see in your own life. You see it when you choose to be selfish – when you choose not to do that thing that you know would help and assist your spouse or parent. You see it when you choose to share that interesting piece of information that makes someone else look bad. You see it when you don’t want to read God’s Word during the week, and so you just don’t – or when it doesn’t even occur to you that you should.
Because you are a sinner, Christ Jesus came into the world. He was manifested in the flesh – the Son of God became man, without ceasing to be God. He came to be the mediator between God and man – the only One who can bring us to God. He did this by offering himself as the ransom on behalf of all. He offered himself on the cross as the price needed to free us from sin. His suffered and died in our place. He bore our sins and received God’s judgment against them – that was the cost that was paid when he offered himself as the ransom.
When Paul wrote these words to Timothy, the death of Jesus Christ on the cross was something that had happened in the past – more than twenty years ago. Yet the apostle says in our text: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” He says two things that were true in the moment he was writing.
In the next chapter he expresses why this was so – and why it is still so today. He writes: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” Jesus was vindicated by the Spirit on Easter when the Spirit raised Christ from the dead. Sin brings death. Jesus Christ died in your place because of your sin. But then, on the third day, the event occurred that has changed everything. God raised Jesus from the dead through the work of the Spirit. Because he has – because Jesus lives – death is no longer the final word caused by sin. Sin has been forgiven, and resurrection life that overcomes death has begun in Jesus Christ.
Jesus our mediator has been taken up in glory in his ascension – which, by the way, we are celebrating with the Divine Service on Thursday night this week. As the risen, ascended and exalted Lord he continues to be the One who gives us fellowship with God. He gives us forgiveness and life now.
And so, like Timothy at the end of this letter, Paul tells us who have received this salvation to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. He tells us to fight the good fight of the faith and to take hold of the eternal life to which we were called. We do so as we look for the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ which he will display on the Last Day.