A couple of years ago, I was talking with an older gentleman who was sharing with me his life’s story. He lived by himself and had no relationship with his children, ever since his wife left him decades ago. But there’s one thing he loved talking about. What used to be his career back when he worked. In fact, if you talked with this man for even five minutes, I guarantee you it would have come up in the conversation. It dominated every conversation I ever had with this man. But that which he spent his life focused on is all he had.
And since he couldn’t do that anymore, what did he have left? Do you ever think or wonder what you want your legacy to be? Because that’s something that we have complete control over. I want my legacy to be… Matt Tison was a man who loved God more than anything. He was a good husband, one who loved his wife, and treated her well. He was a man who loved his children, provided for their needs, and spent his life striving to be their spiritual leader and a father they could count on. Matt Tison was honest. He was friendly. He was hard-working. Matt Tison spent his life trying to spread the seed to bring lost souls to the Lord. I don’t mean any of that in vanity, those are just things I try to make as my goals in life. What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered?
It was January, 2003, & the Ohio State Buckeyes were playing the #1 ranked Miami Hurricanes for the NCAA National College football championship. The Buckeyes were considered "underdogs" because Miami had a 34-game winning streak - meaning that they had defeated every team they had played in nearly 3 full years! Just before they left the locker room, Jim Tressel, head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, gathered his team for one final talk. And he closed his pep talk by asking them just one question, “How do you want to be remembered?” That pep talk must have worked, because when the game was over, the Buckeyes had pulled off one of the greatest upsets in recent memory, defeating Miami, ending their 34-game winning streak, & winning a national championship!
My wife Ashley and I, along with our two little girls used to go walking through Evergreen Cemetery when we used to live in Vinton, Iowa. We would see phrases like, “Loving father,” “Beloved mother,” “Darling son…” One time, someone saw a tombstone that had under the man’s name, “A man of unquestioned integrity.” Five words, nothing more. Think of your tombstone. What words would your family use? How will you be remembered? Will you be remembered as one who fought to keep the church pure? Or will you be remembered as being apathetic and disengaged? Will you be remembered as one who encouraged others? Or will you be remembered as one who tore others down?
Paul gives us his answer to that question. He’s writing from a Roman jail, probably knowing he was going to be killed soon. He looks back as his journey with Christ and looked forward to what would happen when he died. Here’s what he wrote in 2 Timothy 4:6-8. "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” If you want to die well, you have to live well. Finishing well doesn’t happen by accident. There’s a man named John Bingham, known as “The Penguin.” He’s a marathon runner. He wrote, “As I stand at the starting line, I know somewhere out there is a finish line.” Sooner or later, that finish line will be here. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It’s appointed for man once to die, and after this the judgement.” Friends, this is an appointment with death. It’s an appointment you can’t miss and you can’t postpone. When it comes, what will your legacy be? When Paul approached death, he made some conclusions about his life and what would happen next. Based on his words, I want us to think about two questions.
What kind of departure will you have? In our scripture that we read earlier, Paul looks death in the face and says, “I’m ready.” In fact, he says he’s ready to be offered. Some translations say, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering.” A drink offering was a type of sacrifice. Both Old Testament Jews and their pagan counterparts were familiar with drink offerings. A worshiper would approach the alter of hot coals with a goblet of wine. As a prayer or special vow was spoken, the wine would be poured on the coals. The wine instantly evaporated giving off a cloud of spoke and sweet, rich fragrance. The romans ended a meal or banquet with this very offering. It marked the time to move on. Pouring out that last goblet symbolized giving all you have to God. That’s exactly how Paul viewed his coming death. It’s almost like Paul was saying, “The day is over and it’s time to go.” “My life must be poured out as a sacrifice to God.” His executioners may have thought they were taking Paul’s life. But Paul viewed his death as an offering he was giving to God. Paul knew his death was close. It was coming. He was on death row in Rome, and rarely were people set free. But think about Paul and his words to Timothy. “Don’t cry for me, Timothy. When I die, I will die smiling.” Paul had already given everything to Jesus. The only thing left to give was his life, and that, he was gladly giving. Paul then wrote, “the time has come for my departure.” This word here, departure, has four word pictures behind it. It was a term sailers used for casting off the lines that tied a ship to the dock and setting sail. It was also a military term. When soldiers broke camp and moved on, this was the word that was used to describe the taking down and folding up of their tents. It was also used in the court systems. When a prisoner was set free, this word was the one used to describe that release. It was also used to describe the action involved at the end of the day when a farmer removed the plow and took the heavy yoke off the neck of his ox so that it can enter its shelter and rest. Was Paul afraid to die? Not one bit. He saw his coming death as simply being set free and going home to be with his Lord. How about you? Do you have that same confidence about your own death? Do you fear the end? If you do, something isn’t right. Take care of it today. If you fear death, I encourage you to fix it today. What kind of legacy will you leave? One person said they visited the home of Elvis Presley in Graceland, Tennessee. After so many years since his death, it’s amazing how many people still take the tour and listen to his story. That story will never change. He’s lived his life and achieved what he achieved. That story, no matter how good or bad, will be told over and over again for ages. What will your legacy be? How will you be remembered? Will you be remembered as a loving father or mother? A dedicated Christian brother or sister? A Christian leader and a good example? What will be told of your life after you’re dead? If you’re unsure or unhappy with that answer, you still have time to change that. Look at 2 Timothy 4:7. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith…” Paul’s basically saying, “My life hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it.” He says, “I’ve fought a good fight.” Life can be a battle. Think of the words used to describe some of the events in Paul’s life. Trouble, distress, tribulation, trials, and hardship. But the struggle is almost over. Soon Paul’s commander-in-chief will grant him an Honorable Discharge from the battles of life. By God’s grace, Paul had fought well and his battle would soon be over. He also says, “I’ve finished the race.” Some people say that life is a marathon, not a sprint. That is very true for the Christian life. Winning, in the life of the Christian, means not necessarily finishing first, but not giving up. Finishing is victory. It’s not about how fast we go or how many we pass on the way. But do we finish well. Paul could look back and say, “It wasn’t easy, it was often times hard, and sometimes I wondered if I would even make it, but now I can see that Jesus led me all along the way.” But Paul also said, “I have kept the faith.” This means he refused to compromise the truth. When other people fell away (like Demas) Paul still preached the gospel and held fast to his faith. When the world was against him, Paul didn’t pay any attention. When it would have been super easy to change his message to save his life, Paul taught the whole counsel of God. He didn’t back down. He didn’t compromise. He didn’t preach just what people wanted to hear. He had courage. He wasn’t a coward. Many in the church today are cowards. They sacrifice the purity of the church to keep people happy. Paul wouldn’t have done such a thing. Paul taught the whole counsel of God, no matter how it made people feel. Don’t be a coward in the church today — be like the apostle Paul. He kept the faith. He was ready to meet God. He basically said, “I can’t wait.” There was a man with terminal cancer asking his doctor, who was a Christian, to tell him about heaven. The doctor was thinking about how to respond, but heard a scratching at the door. He said, “Do you hear that? It’s my dog. I left him downstairs, but now he’s impatient and hears my voice.” The doctor said, “He has no idea what’s behind that door, but he knows I’m here, and that’s enough.” The thought of your death and your legacy can be intimidating and scary. But as long as you live a true Christian life and are prepared to meet God, why are you scared? We’re not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We’re in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living.
There’s a finish line out there, and it’s closer than it’s ever been before.