His arm covered his face as he realized that he had no right to be in his presence. He was afraid to even look; afraid to see, as he recalled the sin of the murder he committed and the exile he now lived in. His whole body trembled in fear at the punishment he knew he deserved. But instead of punishment he was called. Called to deliver God’s people from the oppression of the Egyptians and promised that the great I AM would speak through him. This servant of the Lord was Moses.
The coins at his booth were stacked high. Some of it was honest money, some of it was taken using false numbers and deceit. He was a crook. He took advantage of his fellow countrymen knowing there was little they could do about it and grew wealthy from his misdeeds. Yet, when the Savior came his way he didn’t condemn him, but said instead “Follow me.” This servant was to be one of the 12, Jesus’ disciple, Matthew.
His anger was great. These followers of the false messiah had to be rounded up. They couldn’t be allowed to continue spreading their false message of a Savior who died on the cross. He stood by watching as they stoned some of these wretched believers and actively arrested and persecuted many others. During one such trip, this “false messiah” appeared to him, blinding him only to use him appointing him to his service to be an example to all who believe of God’s grace and mercy. This servant of the Lord was Saul, named Paul.
You look at these three examples Moses, Matthew, and Paul. All three were sinners and by our own levels of comparison pretty bad sinners, don’t you think? We got a murderer, we got a scam artist, and we got a persecutor of God’s people – these were not good people. These were some of the worst people. I look at this list and in our country today all three of them would be in jail. Yet, where did all there end up? Not in jail, they’re in heaven.
I’m reminded of a story I once heard from one of my professors. He spoke of a woman he encountered who said to him, “I don’t believe in God” He responded, “Why don’t you tell me about the God you don’t believe in. Maybe I don’t believe in him either.” The woman proceeded to tell him the God she rejected was one that sis on his hands, does nothing about the pain of the world, watches like one watching a game, invents rules to make people afraid, and delights in passing judgment. And
My professor responded, “You know what? I don’t believe in that God either. He doesn’t exist.” Let me tell you about the God I believe in. He is a God of love, “God so loved the World.” He is a God of forgiveness, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” He is a God of mercy, undeserved love! Love which led him to send his Son for me and for you, to save us, this is the God I believe in. Let me tell you more about him.”
It is this second God, the God of love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy that Paul came to know by faith. And it is this God that he is so thankful for as he writes. “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord”. Paul, in these five verses, is showing Timothy and all his future readers, you and me, just how incredible our God is. “I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” he says. Timothy, the God who should have been revealed to me was that God mentioned by the woman, the God who was cruel and unloving. I deserved his wrath because of my ignorance and unbelief, but thank God, look what I received instead! “I was shown mercy.”
Paul, in ignorance, persecuted God’s people, persecuted God himself. Remember what Jesus said when he revealed himself to Paul on that road to Damascus? “Why are you persecuting me?” “Me!” “Me!” Jesus says. Paul was an open enemy of Jesus Christ. Paul openly denied who Jesus was and sought to round up and imprison all who proclaimed to be his followers. Paul lived in ignorance believing he was the one actually doing God’s work by ridding the world of all these false believers. Did he not deserve punishment from God? Did he not deserve God to strike him down? Did he not deserve hell? Yes, he did! And yet, “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me.” Paul was shown mercy.
Just like Matthew before him and Moses before them both, Paul was a recipient of God’s mercy, his undeserved love. That sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Just like that Paul is innocent? Just like that Paul is a child of God, holy and righteous? It’s too good to be true, right? What does our human nature do as it hears this? It says, there must be a catch. I must be missing something.
Because if we are honest with ourselves, what must we admit? We don’t deserve anything good from God. We don’t deserve a release from sin’s guilt and shame and that curse of death and hell that hangs over us. Sure, we may not have killed someone like Moses, but have we not at times succumb to moments of hate and anger? Maybe as a child when a sibling or friend took a toy from us or said hurtful words or lies about you. Maybe as a teen as a parent or teacher’s rules infuriated you because they were unfair. Or maybe as an adult dealing with a co-worker, a child, or that rage on the road. We’d be lying to ourselves if we claimed we weren’t all murderers by God’s standards. “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer” God says.
And sure, we may not have a position like Matthew where we could fleece someone through unfair taxes, but I’m sure all of us can think of a time or two where we have taken advantage of someone because we knew we could get away with it – and we did! And sure, none of us have probably rounded up Christians to put them in jail or stood by as they were killed. But can we say in good conscience that we aren’t blasphemers? Can we say we have always showed reverence for God and gladly lived and obeyed his word? Or do we hear that same voice of Jesus calling out to us, “Why are you persecuting me?”
But look! “I was shown mercy…the grace of our Lord was poured out on me.” There is no catch here, only a guarantee. Paul, he puts it like this, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” To save whom? To save sinners! To save whom? To save you and me! To save murderers and thieves. To save persecutors and blasphemers. To pour his grace on all of us – “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick, right?” This is what Paul is proclaiming to Timothy! This is what Paul is marveling at! God’s grace is for me! But not just for me, also for you! What a message! Jesus came to save you.
There is no catch. It is not complicated; there are no variables to take into account or loopholes we have to find. Here it is plain as day, a trustworthy saying from God himself, Christ came to save you. Not to help you save yourself, not to induce you to save yourself, not to enable you to save yourself, but to save you! And he did. He came to this world to save you. Taking every one of our sins upon himself as he hung on that cross, and washing them away forever. Marvel at that, rejoice in that, God’s grace has been poured out on me. God’s grace has been poured out on you!
But now notice what Paul added at the end, of this trustworthy saying, I didn’t read it. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” Have you ever felt like the worst of sinners? Have you ever believed that one of your sins is too great to forgive or that God should just leave you to suffer in your misery because your shame and guilt are so great. Paul has something to say to you, something we’ve heard already, but it is worth repeating, “I was shown mercy.” Why was Paul shown mercy? So that you could know that no sin is too terrible, no guilt and shame too great, for the mercy and love of Christ. “For that reason”, Paul says, “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”
You and I could sit all day and exchange stories of sin and fight for the title of who is the worst of sinners. But as we look at these words here what do we find? That each of those sins from the moment we were conceived and until the moment we die can’t and will never compare with the mercy and patience displayed through Paul. An example for you and me of Christ’s love for us, sinners. But not sinners, no, saints, men, women, and children who are a fulfillment of Paul’s words here. Men, women, and children who have experienced firsthand God’s unlimited patience, basking in a complete, free forgiveness, and inheritors of an eternal life full of joy and perfection without end.
And now guess what? You, like Paul, are now on display. You are an example to the world, to sinners, to unbelievers, and to fellow believers of the unlimited patience of God. You are living proof of it. A sinner, the worst of sinners – if you want the title – and yet a forgiven, bought, child of God. Who better to share with an wavering Christian God’s patience and love than someone who has experienced it. Who better to speak about forgiveness to a downtrodden soul than someone who knows how deep and wide that forgiveness is. Who better to lift someone’s tear filled eyes to the cross than someone who knows of the joy that it can bring? Who better to offer an eternity of peace and joy than someone who already has it?
Remember that woman my professor talked about? The one who didn’t believe in God? She didn’t know who God was, and the God she thought she knew was a God that she either created in her own sinful mind or had heard about from others who were just as confused. It’s people like that that we get to be examples to. Let’s clear the confusion. Let’s proclaim boldly the faith we confess. Let’s show them the mercy we were shown. So that they can join us in marveling that Christ came to save sinners, even sinners like them.
Looking back then at all of this that we just went through. Isn’t it incredible? I was shown mercy. It never has to be in doubt that I’m forgiven. It never has to be a question as to whether or not I’m going to heaven. I simply believe what has been made known to me by faith. That Christ’s payment for my sin was accepted. He was done dying, he rose; it’s done! And now here I stand, living proof of that love and forgiveness, living proof that Christ came to save sinners. So what comes next? Rejoicing in it? Thanking God for it? Spreading it? I leave that to you. Amen.