In the second chapter of Pauls final letter to Timothy, the apostle exhorted his younger colleague to "Remember Jesus Christ raised from among the dead" (2 Tim 2.8, JND). This was a call to keep Christ constantly in view and not forget that the suffering He patiently endured was but the prelude to His glorious resurrection.
Why did Paul introduce the exhortation and mention the resurrection at this point? He had just emphasised the responsibilities of living for Christ by using three word pictures: the soldier who fights in the battle, the athlete who runs in the race, and the husbandman (or farmer) who labours in the field (2 Tim 2.3-6).
Each picture brings before us a different idea, but all of them together suggest intense focus, effort and endurance. Paul was reminding Timothy of the strenuous nature of faithful service for the Lord. But then, to encourage him (and us today), he presented the risen Christ as our great example and indeed our inspiration in all of these three spheres. As we consider them together we look to the Lord to give us the necessary understanding (2 Tim 2.7).
Remember Christ the Conqueror
The good soldier referred to was not one resting in the camp or marching on the parade ground but one actively engaged in the heat of battle. The enemy was fierce and relentless, sometimes launching an all-out frontal attack and at other times employing great guile and deception, the latter tactic being just as lethal as the former. To maintain his focus the soldier had deliberately rejected anything that would hinder him in the fight; he could not be weighed down with non-essentials. His chief motive was to please his commanding officer in all that he did.
The Lord Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the will of the Father who sent Him. This had ever characterised Him, and He always did those things that pleased the Father (Jn 8.29). He steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem and in manhood He could say, "I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how I am straitened till it be accomplished!" (Lk 12.50). He knew that the cross lay ahead.We listen to His prayer to the Father just before going to Calvary: "I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do I have manifested thy name those that thou gavest me I have kept I have given them thy word" (Jn 17.4,6,12,14). Through His death He not only glorified the Father but He also conquered the enemy, Satan, and utterly nullified his power: "Having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Col 2.15). He is now the captain of our salvation who is bringing us unto glory (Heb 2.10,14). What the Father gave to Him He has given to us: "For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me"; "And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them" (Jn 17.8,22).
In our own lives we are often acutely aware of the unrelenting daily struggle we must wage as Christians. And yet we have wonderful divine resources and a full set of armour to protect us and enable us to stand in the evil day (Eph 6.13-17). If we are to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ and please our Lord by fighting the good fight (1 Tim 1.18; 6.12), it will help us to remember that He is the mighty conqueror who has won the battle for us. He fully satisfied His Father who sent Him, and God raised Him from among the dead. The empty tomb attests to a triumphant Saviour.
Remember Christ the Victor
An athlete in the Greek games prepared himself long before the race by adhering to a rigorous training scheme. His goal was to be successful in the race and receive the laurel (or wild olive leaf) crown at the end. There was also a coveted prize for the most outstanding competitor. The Romans would have declared such to be "victor ludorum" (the champion of the games). Of course, every athlete had to keep to the rules of the competition otherwise he risked being disqualified.
Christs walk down here was without blemish and without spot. His character was true and holy in every respect. There were those who tried to tarnish His reputation but they failed. After a shameful mock trial He was handed over to the mob that cried out for His crucifixion. They called for Pilate to release Barabbas, a well-known robber and murderer, instead of the One who was innocent of every charge. The worlds verdict concerning our Lord was this: He deserved only to hang upon an accursed cross and wear a crown of thorns.
Gods verdict was completely different: He deserved to sit upon the throne and wear a crown of glory. The One whom men rejected and hounded to death was the same One who three days later arose from amongst the dead by the very power of God. After a period of forty days in which He appeared to His own, He ascended to the Fathers right hand and the Majesty on high: "God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name" (Phil 2.9). His rightful crown is one of glory, and in a coming day His universal power and dominion will be manifested and acknowledged by all.
As we run the taxing marathon that is the Christian race we can keep before us the example of our Lords impeccable track record upon earth. Our own goal is not a competitive one that we might come first, but rather that we might do our best, strive lawfully and gain the Lords commendation. Paul said that he pressed towards the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3.14) and no doubt he looked forward to receiving the crown of righteousness that the Lord would give to him on that coming day of reward (2 Tim 4.8). When we keep in mind our Lords position of honour now in heaven, the empty tomb reminds us of an exalted Saviour.
Remember Christ the Firstfruits
The husbandman must labour diligently and patiently. The work of clearing the ground, ploughing, sowing, watering, weeding, and reaping will mean long tiring days not a job for the slothful. It is only fitting that he should be the first to have the joy of seeing the fruit of his labours when he brings in the sheaves. We are thereby encouraged to labour faithfully for the Lord in His field and to look forward to the harvest. The Lord observed that "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few" (Mt 9.37). May we not go home empty handed but know the joy of reaping souls for Him.
At the same time we remember that should we die before the Lord returns, we will also be part of that great harvest of resurrected saints. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul confronted the serious error being propagated that there was no such thing as a resurrection of the dead. He showed that if this were so, the result would be a defeated Christ ("then is Christ not risen"), deluded apostles ("then is our preaching vain"), deceived believers ("your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins"), and disappointed hopes ("we are of all men most miserable"). The apostle then turned to declare the truth of the whole matter with resounding confidence: "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Cor 15.13-20). He is the harbinger of the great harvest to come when the dead in Christ shall first be raised and the living transformed. Together they shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air and to be with Him forever in the joy and glory of heaven.
The empty tomb strengthens our hope; as surely as He has risen we shall rise also. In that coming day He shall see the fruit of the travail of His soul and He shall be satisfied. Until then let us continue to remember our risen Lord every day.