July 26, 1998
As we age, sobering thoughts about life’s brevity and death’s certainty cause us to wonder how we will be remembered. Surprisingly, those who leave the greatest legacy are often not notable or prominent figures but kind and humble servants who lived to God’s glory. Reviewing the legacies of men and women who were either helpful or destructive to Paul’s ministry, Alistair Begg exhorts us to live so that we will be missed and future generations will be blessed.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Two Timothy chapter 4, page 8-4-3, verse 1:
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Now just a brief prayer together:
God our Father, with our Bibles open before us, we pray that you will be our teacher. Such a futile prospect to spend all this time simply listening to a relatively knowledgeable fellow speaking with emphasis. We don’t want that. We don’t have time for that. We do believe that when your Word is truly preached, that your voice is really heard. That’s the voice we’re listening for. So speak, then, in certain cases as if there was no one else in the room but ourselves. Speak to our waiting hearts. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
A week past on Friday evening, I spent part of the evening, as the shadows began to fall—it was still daylight, but the sun was down in the sky—and I went to a seat that has become one of my seats now. When I think of places that I like to go and sit, this is one of them. It’s in the graveyard of St Peter’s Anglican church in Addingham, Yorkshire. It’s a wooden bench that was left as a memorial to somebody, and it’s down at the end of a long pathway that is essentially a corridor in between some ancient tombstones. And I sat there last Friday evening purposefully, listening to the choir trying to get itself organized for Sunday, and also waiting for the bell to toll in the clock tower above me, and seizing the opportunity to move amongst the tombstones in the graveyard and be caused to reflect upon the very transience of life and its frailty—not out of a desire to be morbid, not out of any feelings of melancholy at all, simply as an opportunity to recalibrate things.
I like to listen to the bell ring. I wish we had a bell tower here. I like it when it rings, just one stroke on the quarter of an hour, a little more on the half hour, and then dings out the hours, pealing out over the thoroughfares of life and over the occasions of men and women’s scurryings here and there, and marking the fact that our times are going by, reminding us that our lives are like a morning mist that, as I arrived this morning in the earlier hours, was over the golf course here as we came down Pettibone Road but I can guarantee has long since passed.
That, says James, is what our lives are like. And while we know that the future comes in at the rate of sixty seconds a minute, the fact is that the older we get, the faster time seems to go by. I don’t fully understand that. I’ve been thinking about it this week. I don’t know whether there’s anything in the notion that when you’re five years old, and you have another birthday, and you turn six, a fifth of your life has just gone by—20 percent of everything you’ve known so far. But when you’re fifty years old and a year goes by, only 2 percent of all that you’ve known has hastened past. And there is something about the reality of death and its prospect which brings clarity to the living of life.
Strangely enough, that is one of the reasons that we want to steel ourselves against the prospect of death, because most of us do not want to think seriously about the issues of life. We want to live as if there was no yesterday, and no tomorrow coming, and we can live simply in the moment for the now and squeeze all the juice out of it that we can, and then we’ll deal with tomorrow, should it ever come. But when we think for a moment or two, we realize that that is unrealistic. Because very soon the camping trip of life is going to be over, the tent is going to be folded up—that’s our bodies—and packed away, and we will head for an eternal dwelling, which the Bible says will either be in the presence of Christ, which is heaven, or absent the presence of Christ, which is hell. And in the meantime, as we walk this earthly sod, each one of us is leaving a legacy. Leaving a legacy.
And I want to talk to you this morning about the legacy that you and I are leaving. The Bible is replete with information regarding this—not in this striking way that it is put down, but nevertheless, you turn, for example, to the life of Jacob, in Genesis, and he says to those around him, “I’m about to be gathered to my people. Therefore, come here. I want to bestow my blessing on you, and I want to give you my instructions.” Joseph pulls his feet up on the bed, and he says, “I am about to die. Therefore, listen very carefully to what it is I have to say.” Peter, writing his second letter, says, “The time has come when I will fold up this tent of my life. And that’s why, while I lived, I wanted to refresh your memory, so that when I am now gone, you will be able to bring to mind all the things that I have told you”—in other words, that his legacy will live on in the lives of those who come after him.
And the exact same thing for Paul here in 2 Timothy 4:6: “I am,” he says, in the present tense, “already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.” The word there in analusis. It is the word that is used for unyoking oxen at the end of a hard day’s work in the fields. It is the word used for striking camp and going home to a permanent dwelling. It is the word used for weighing anchor and heading now, finally, to our destination. “That,” says Paul, “is what is about to be my experience.” And in light of that, he is concerned that Timothy will understand his legacy.
Now, I’m using the phrase legacy, or the word legacy, in its figurative sense, not in its literal, legal sense, which, of course, is the bequeathing of money or property via a will or a last will and testament—but rather, in a more figurative fashion, simply using it to designate something that is handed down to those who follow.
Now, how have I arrived at this? Because you say, “Well, I thought we were in a series in Philippians. Presumably, you didn’t just do your preparation.” Well, that’s true. I didn’t do my preparation. But the reason I didn’t do that preparation was because in the events of the last nine days, I determined that it would never be useful for me to do that in relationship to this Sunday morning. Because so many things have come across my path in these last nine days to arrest me in this issue of a legacy that it is incumbent upon me to convey it to you—little things, simple things, the kind of things that have happened to you this last week; nothing that is unique to me, as if somehow or another I would teach from my own experience. Not for a moment!
Things like this: invited for lunch on Wednesday to the Glass House near the home of William Wordsworth of old, there with good friends from the past, who tell me that their son will be joining us. And so he does. And Ronnie arrives in the company of his wife Elsbeth and in the company of a little bundle this size, eight-and-a-half months old, called Fiona: beautiful blue eyes, big cheeks, and her hair scented with Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo—you know, that distinctive baby smell. And so I took this little bundle in my arms, and I held her up close to me, I looked at her fingers, I sniffed her hair, and in doing so, I looked across her tiny frame into the eyes of her father, thinking, “Her father? Ronnie’s a father? Ronnie was this high when Sue and I went to Hamilton. He used to come by after school, in his shorts, with his school cap on, looking for a biscuit or looking for a drink of orange juice. And now he’s a father? And he has Fiona, and he’s supposed to look after his wife. Am I really gettin’ that old? Is the time going through my fingers this fast?”
So by the appearance of some and by the departure of others, this has struck me. When I speak at Keswick—and this is the fourth time I’ve had the privilege of doing so now—I take my J. B. Phillips New Testaments (I have two of them), and I have people sign in them—my colleagues in ministry. My mentors in ministry, perhaps would be better to say. And I have there, for example, “Keswick ’98,” and then they all sign their names on Friday morning. And as I went round the circle, and in some cases at the breakfast table, and said, “Would you please sign this for me?” my eyes looked not only at their signature, but my eyes looked across at the last Keswick I attended, which was ’93. And there are the names of people who are no longer present. Last time I was there, they signed. This time, they’re gone. What have they left? A legacy. Names that are irrelevant to you. Even if I mentioned them, it wouldn’t mean anything. I could spend a long time impressing the people on you, but it really wouldn’t matter that much. But the fragrancy of their legacy stirs my heart.
You see, our lives this morning, loved ones, are like an artist’s canvas on which we are painting every day that we live—sometimes dark strokes, sometimes bold, sometimes thin lines. But all of our lives, as they unfold, are increasingly becoming the canvas of who we are and what we are. And we will eventually create a picture which we will walk away and leave behind. And people will look, as it were, at that, and that will be the legacy that we have left to them. And the striking thing is this: that none of us know when we have put the last brushstroke on the canvas. None of us know when we have made that most familiar journey for the last time. None of us know if there will be opportunity for another hello, or for another hug goodbye, or for another telephone call. Therefore, the issue of a legacy is not something for people with gray hair and who’ve been around for a hundred years. Teenagers in our church have left their legacy to us. Children have left a legacy to us.
Now, we could go to any part of the Bible and illustrate this. But I want to illustrate it from 2 Timothy—the reason being that I had to teach 2 Timothy all the way through the last five days in England. And therefore, it is most upon my heart; it’s most familiar to me. And I want therefore to use the verses there as a means of guiding our thought.
In coming to this, let me say that relationships are seldom neutral. There are those in whose company we are strengthened and encouraged, and there are others who are frankly a drain on our resources, and they tempt us to falter and to quit. And when we look at old photograph albums and we see certain people’s faces, very often we will immediately have a thought that comes to mind. There will in some cases be a phrase that is directly related to that face. You can’t see that face, but you say that. You can’t see that face, but you relate it to this. Because just to look at that is to bring back a whole kaleidoscope of memories which are directly related to the individual who is there.
Now, while there are no pictures in the Bible in terms of photographs, the Bible is full of pictures that are here in literary form. And as we leaf through these pictures, as it were, we see the legacy that these individuals have left—some harmful and some helpful.
So we’re going to look at harmful, then we’ll look at helpful, and then we’ll draw it to a close by saying, “So what is ours going to be?”
Incidentally, another thing that triggered me in this direction was a gentleman who came up to me and said he had something for me, and he had a large frame that was wrapped in more of that bubble stuff than was ever necessary. But he wanted to protect it, and I understood why. Because when I unveiled what he had given me, I discovered that what he had given me was a picture taken probably around 1958 or 1959 in the church in Glasgow where I was brought up as a small boy. And it was a picture of an evening attendance with 2,200 people in this auditorium. And apparently, I am somewhere in that picture. But it’s like Where’s Waldo? And I took it back to my room, and my arms are not long enough to find myself in the picture. I need a magnifying glass. But I looked through it, and I could see, “Oh, there’s Mr. Clark! He was the leader of the junior choir. He was a nice man,” I found myself saying. “Oh, there’s John Moore, who wrote Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary! He was a kind man,” I found myself saying. “Oh, look at her!” I said. “I’d forgotten about her.” And so I went through as many as I could. And in every case, every picture tells a story. Your picture is telling a story.
Now, let’s just look at those who left a harmful legacy here in 2 Timothy. I don’t want to belabor the point. I just want to draw your attention to them, and you can follow this up with your own homework. This is a sort of thumbnail sketch; it’s not an in-depth study.
Verse 15 of chapter 1, we have these two characters, Phygelus and Hermogenes. Imagine having only one mention in the whole of the Bible, and this is it. You only get one line in the Bible, and you’re in there as a deserter. That’s your legacy!
“Hey, good news, Phygelus! You’re in Paul’s second letter to Timothy.”
“Yes! Bad news: you’re in as a deserter.”
See? Because you can only write, if you’re going to be true, what is true. And if Paul had written about Phygelus and Hermogenes and said, “I’m so thankful for Phygelus and Hermogenes,” and he made up a bunch of baloney about them, the people who read the letter said, “That’s bogus! Why would he even say that about these characters? These characters were worthless! They bailed on Paul. Why would he do that?” He couldn’t do it. It was his legacy: “Phygelus and Hermogenes, they deserted me.” They were one of a larger group, but maybe they were the ringleaders.
Go to 2:17, and you have Hymenaeus and Philetus—not described in the most glowing terms, I think you will admit: “Their teaching will spread like gangrene,” like sepsis from a wound—ugly, disgusting thought—and “among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth.” When you’re around these people, they give you blood poisoning, he says. That’s their legacy. Anybody that comes in contact with them has to have pieces of themselves chopped off.
Demas, 4:10: “Do your best to come to me quickly,” he says to Timothy, “for Demas … has deserted me.” Legacy. You write “Demas,” you write “desertion.” “Demas has bailed out on me as well.” Now, had he bailed out on Christ? Well, I think probably so. But the inference here is not that so much as it is the sense of personal pain that Paul feels in relationship to the fact that this individual who was his friend, who was his coworker in the gospel, just left him. And now when the word Demas comes to mind, the very next word that comes with it, the verb that goes along with the noun, is desertion. Demas deserted!
What about Alexander in verse 14? “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm.” So when he, as it were, brings up the picture of Alexander in his mind, it’s not a helpful picture; it’s a harmful picture. We don’t know what he did to him, except we know that it was somehow related to the cause of the gospel. It’s not a personality issue. It’s not that Paul is concerned that, you know, Alexander didn’t like his preaching, or didn’t think he was that good of a pastor, or didn’t like him for some personality venture. Who cares about that stuff! “No, no,” he says, “Alexander … did me a great deal of harm. [And] you … should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed [the] message.”
That’s the issue, you see. Paul’s great concern is that the legacy of the gospel will be passed like the passing of a baton in a relay race in those… What is it? What do you have, twenty meters there, or fifteen meters, in that box? I don’t know what you have. It’s a short distance. And you’ve got to get it out of your hands and into their hands, and if you don’t do it then, it doesn’t go! Or if you drop it then, it doesn’t go! And there’s little time to drop it and pick it up, as many of us have found to our great disappointment. And when he thought in terms of that, and he brought Alexander’s picture up to mind, he said, “He harmed me.”
And what about the crowd in verse 16? “At my first defense, no one came to my support.” “No one came to my support.” Isn’t that a dreadful thing to have in your recollection? You go back through your journal, as it were… Do you keep a journal? Don’t let anyone else read it. No one’ll be interested, first of all, and probably you got stuff in there they shouldn’t read in any case—at least not till you’ve been dead for long enough for them to sort of revere your memory. But if you go back through your journal—and I’ve kept a journal over many years now—you go back in there, and you bring pictures to mind, and you say, “You know, just when I needed the encouragement, no one came to support me.”
Just when this guy needed help, no one was there. Why was that? Because they all united against him? They said, “Now, don’t anybody go and help Paul,” and they sent word around? Probably not. I think it’s more likely that it happened like this: everybody sitting there said, “Someone else’ll support him. Someone else’ll do it. Someone else’ll be there. It’s not important that I’m there. Someone else will carry it out.” And the result of thinking like that was that no one supported him. “Oh, someone else will go to the service. They don’t really need me.” Do you realize that every single one of you thinks, “Someone else will go to the evening service tonight,” they’ll be nobody at the evening service? So the legacy of this crowd was harm.
Let’s move to the helpful side of the picture, because there is that which is helpful as well.
Incidentally and in passing, another thing that drove this home for me was that last Sunday evening, against my better judgment and allowing my heart to rule my head, I agreed to go and speak in a church on the other side of the country in Stockton-on-Tees, which is actually in Cleveland, England, and it’s near Newcastle and Middlesbrough. And I had a man pick me up and drive me to the place. And I got in the car, and there was also a lady with him—they were at a youth camp—and we drove away from the hotel, and they started to say, “And what about your wife? And what about your children?” And I had only just come from this side, which is much worse, and I could feel myself just going off, and then coming around and not knowing if they’d asked me a question, and just sitting in the silence, hoping that somebody would give me an idea of what was going on. And so eventually I said, “You know, I think I’m going to fall asleep.” So I fell asleep and wakened up when I got there. And then I was there, and then I got back in the car and fell asleep and woke up when I got back. And the man, when he shook my hand, he said, “It was nice having fellowship with you.”
But the reason for my journey was to speak in a church where I hadn’t been for twenty-nine years. Twenty-nine years! Can you imagine that I can even go somewhere that I had been twenty-nine years ago? This is impossible! There’s nowhere that I was twenty-nine years ago that I can go back to—especially… I can’t possibly have been seventeen twenty-nine years ago!
Yes you were! Do you hear the bell ring? Do you hear the minutes pass?
And I went back out of deference to the pastor who had been there, a gentleman by the name of Neville Atkinson, who had been such an encouragement to me as a young man. I used to go there on Saturday night with two of my friends. We had a singing group. The other two guys could sing—before anyone mentions it—and we used to do some things in a youth coffee bar and so on. We used to go there in time for the football results on a Saturday night—soccer results to you philistines—and we used to… I will not forgive you for not watching the World Cup. I’m sorry. I am sorry.
And so this church called me, and they said, “Would you come back and speak for us on Sunday night?”
I said, “It would be a great privilege,” and I went.
And I was in the vestry, and the fellow said to me, “Now, you don’t need to go up into the pulpit.”
“Oh,” I said, “fine.” I said, “That’s okay. What do you want me to do?”
He said, “Well, why don’t you just speak from down at the Communion table.”
I said, “I can do that.”
And I walked out, and there was no one there. They had a huge wraparound balcony, totally deserted. They had seats all in three sections down below. And when I say no one, that is hyperbole. There was a smattering of people there. “Oh,” I said to myself, “what has happened here? This is not Neville’s legacy. Because when we were there twenty-nine years ago, the place was vibrant.” And then I found out that after thirty-one years of ministry, he passed it into the hands of another young man, who in the last two and a half years has singularly decimated the congregation to the point that it is split and divided and disintegrated, and what I was speaking to was simply a remnant. I don’t know his name, and if I knew it, I wouldn’t tell you it. But I do know this: that his legacy is harmful.
What about yours? What about mine? What if they wrote our epitaph tonight? What if we were in tomorrow morning’s Plain Dealer, in the obits? And you’re not gonna waste a lot of money on those things. I told my wife that: “Don’t get my photograph and stuff in there. Just get a line and a half, just something,” you know. Like the lady whose husband died, and she phoned up the newspaper. She didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it. I think she was Scottish. She said, “My husband died. I need to put it in the newspaper.” So the fellow says, “Well, what do you want to put?” She said, “Put ‘Hamish died.’” So the guys says, “Well, you know, there’s a minimum number of words. I mean, you don’t want to put more than that?” She thought about it for a moment, she said, “Well, put ‘Hamish died. Volvo for sale.’”
So when they put our sentence and a half in there, or whatever else it is—try and sell the lawnmower at the same time, whatever they do—if there’s one summary statement, what will it be? And will it be harmful? Or will it be helpful?
Come to the helpful side with me, and I’ll go through this quickly. Helpful. Look at 1:5. What a helpful legacy was left by Lois and Eunice—the grandmother and the mother, Eunice. I can’t tell you what a wonderful thing it is to have a godly heritage. We shouldn’t think for a moment that Lois and Eunice were self-aware in relationship to this. The “sincere faith, which … lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice”—I can’t imagine that the grandmother would come over to the house and say, “Timothy, now here I am. Your godly granny’s here. Come along, Timothy, and I will expound to you the great wonders of things. Because, after all, I’m your godly granny.” No, I think she was just granny. And his mother? Do you think his mother used to get up in the morning, say, “Now, come along, Timothy. I’m your godly mother, and I’m here to bestow my heritage upon you”? No, she just did the laundry. She just sent him off to school. She just clipped him round the ear. She just did mother things. But down through the corridor of time, as people reflect on it and bring their photograph to recollection, says, “You know what? This was tremendously helpful, having this grandmother and having this mom.”
And some of us haven’t had that. But we may have had it a Sunday school teacher, or in a Bible class leader, or in someone who was influential like that. And that is our heritage. And their legacy is wonderful.
Another thing that happened to me this past week that all fed like tributaries into the stream in which we are now swimming or drowning, depending on your perspective, was that a lady came to me at the end of one of the talks, and she said to me, “You won’t know who I am, but I was your Sunday school teacher when you were a wee boy, Primary 1”—first grade.
“Oh,” I said, “I don’t remember you, and I don’t remember your name, but I have known all of my life that there were two ladies who taught me in the room that was, like, underneath the platform,” because the platform was extremely high.
And I said, “You know, I only remember two things about that Sunday school. One is when the big man sat on the children’s chairs.” And he had no right sitting on these little collapsible chairs, because he collapsed them in a way that they weren’t supposed to collapse. He went down like a ton of bricks. And that’s one of my vivid memories. I remember dashing over to help him. No, I don’t! I remember just killing myself laughing that this guy just went butt down on the floor. I thought it was one of the best things that had happened in the Sunday school for many a week. ‘Cause I was really into that Sunday school. Whoa, yes!
And I said, “I remember that,” and she smiled benignly. And I said, “And the other thing I remember is that somehow or another, you two ladies made clear to me one Sunday—and I don’t know what day or what date it was—but you made clear to me the issues of the gospel. Because,” I said, “it was after your Sunday school class—forty years ago—that I went home to my dad and I asked him, ‘How old do you have to be to trust Christ?’” And I said, “The reason I asked my father that question is because of your instruction in that class.”
She never knew that. And here she was, came to listen to the Bible readings at Keswick, given by some boy that never paid attention in her Sunday school class. How she must have marveled! And under God, I think she went away with a wee bit of a spring in her step, realizing that again, on another Sunday morning, just like so many of you, with these kids looking here, looking there, poking, pulling pigtails, doing everything, scribbling on the sheets, flicking coins, doing everything at all, she must have gone home, said, “Oh God, don’t send me back under the platform again. Just take all those kids away from me. I can’t stand it!” And who’s to say how many other men in their midforties and girls in their midforties are walking the path of faith as a result of the legacy?
Be encouraged, grandmothers. Be encouraged, moms. Be encouraged, Sunday school teachers, kindergarten workers, junior choir teachers. Somewhere behind those vacant stares, God does his work.
What about this chap Onesiphorus in verse 16? “May the Lord show mercy to the [house] of Onesiphorus.” Or maybe it’s “One-Sip Horace”? I don’t know. Maybe it was a guy called Horace, and they said, “Would you like a drink?” and he said, “Just one sip,” and ever after he was known as “One-Sip Horace.” Now, please, don’t send me letters about this. Cut me a bit of slack. All the wires are not joined up this morning. Say, “They weren’t joined up the last time we heard you either. What was your excuse then?”
But look at this guy Onesiphorus: “He often refreshed me, wasn’t ashamed of me, searched hard for me, and helped me in all kinds of ways.” What a legacy! “Often refreshed me, wasn’t ashamed of me, searched hard for me, and helped me in all kinds of ways.” I like that, don’t you?
What about Timothy himself, to whom the letter is written? When Paul writes to the Philippians, in 2:20, he says of Timothy, “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare.” “He’s my main man,” he says. “That’s him. When I think of him, that’s his legacy.”
Go back into chapter 4 and look at what we’re told of Luke. In contrast to the desertion of Demas, we have the loyalty of Luke in verse 11. There’s no indication here that Luke was a great evangelist or a wonderful Bible teacher. Indeed, the whole inference is that he was none of that, but that he was marked by fidelity, by loyalty, by integrity, by humility, and he had lived his life over the long haul.
You see, long after people have forgotten eloquence, and long after they have ceased to read whatever cleverness any of us may have been able to commit to the printed page—long after cleverness and eloquence are gone, human kindness will live on in the lives of people. People remember kindness.
My sister will bear this out, but when our mother died, and all the people sent the notes, you know, with Isaiah 40 on it, and Isaiah 26:3, and Philippians 4, and John 14:1–6—all of which was very, very helpful—I don’t think any of us remember any of the notes or anything about them. I’ll tell you what we do remember: we do remember the lady from round the corner, who kept coming back with another pile of freshly completed laundry. And when I think of her, what a legacy!
Don’t fall into this trap of thinking, you know, the key to success in the Christian life is being a teacher, is being a front person, is being a notorious person. Just think about your body. Think about your renal function. Think about your neurological function. Think about the double circulatory system of the heart. How much of that is out for public display? None! How vital is it? Crucial! And all the stuff we fiddled with this morning before we came here is irrelevant in comparison to those hidden functions. Oh, thank God for the hidden heroes of the church—the Lukes!
We walked down the street in Keswick, Steve Brady and I, another speaker and a friend over the last—since 1972. And a man stopped us in the street, a small man, and he said he wanted to thank us for the things that we’d shared from the Scriptures. And we thanked him, and we were humbled by his interest, and we asked him what he was doing and why he was there. And he said, “You know, I’ve been a Baptist minister for the last thirty years.” Who knows him? God knows him. Who knows his work? Well, his congregation—and God.
And when we walked away, I said to Steve, “Doesn’t that give you a bit of a chill?”
He said, “What do you mean?”
I said, “Simply this: you know when it says in the Bible the first will be last and the last will be first?” I said, “I get a distinct feeling that those of us who have been given positions of notoriety, limited though they may be—when the final reckoning is squared away in heaven, it’s going to be guys like that who’ll be up the front of the line, and guys like you and me, Brady, who’ll be hanging on the back of the bus.”
Steve said, “You know, I think you’re right.”
Now, our time is gone. I need to come just to the final thought. But you’ll notice that Mark is there, and he’s helpful. And Tychicus is there, and he’s helpful. And the crowd is there at the end, between verse 19 and 21: Priscilla and Aquila, and Onesiphorus, and Erastus, and Trophimus, and Eubulus, and Pudens. Love the name Pudens, don’t you? Whether that was a guy that was really fond of dessert or not, I do not know, but nevertheless, he’s there. Might have been a lady called Pudens. It’s a great name, Pudens. You can tell I’ve really done a lot of in-depth study on this, can’t you? Yeah. So I’m really digging deep into the material.
Well, there we have some with a harmful legacy, some with a helpful legacy. The question is, what about you and me? And with this I draw it to a close. How are we going to establish this?
Number one, determine to live so as to be missed. Determine to live so as to be missed—but to be missed for the right things. To be missed for the right things. Don’t let’s be missed at meetings because the meetings go so well without us. People are going, “That was a great meeting tonight! Seemed to go very smoothly! I don’t know what the difference was. Oh, yes, I do! He wasn’t here. She wasn’t here.” You don’t want to have people look up cantankerous in the dictionary and your face comes up beside it.
Be missed! Live as to be missed. Be missed for kind words, for good deeds, for short notes, for quick telephone calls, for good laughs. Be remembered for humor. Happiness “doeth good like a medicine.” Fill your portfolio with this stuff. Who the world cares about the size of the house, the cubic capacity of the engine of the car, the stock options, glory all knows whatnot? All of that’s going in a garage sale. But what will live on in the minds of our kids and our grandkids? The kind words, good deeds, short notes, quick calls, good laughs. Don’t be seduced into putting all of your treasure in the wrong place and pass to your children a treasure trove which is harmful, not helpful.
Secondly, do not underestimate the impact of a solitary life lived to God’s glory. A solitary life lived to God’s glory. Don’t let the Evil One come and say to you, “Well, nobody really knows you, and you’re not really significant, and what you’re doing and where you’re going is largely irrelevant, and nobody really cares,” and so on. Hey, tell Old Smutty-Face to go back where he belongs, and say, with the words of the Anglican bishop, as I do regularly, “Well Lord, I may not be very much, but I am one. And I can’t do everything, but I can do something. And what I can do, I ought to do. And what I ought to do, I will do.”
I’m reading at the moment the book that the children gave me for Father’s Day, the biography of Jack Nicklaus. I’m on page—just for your interest, you know—339. And there’s a wonderful statement in here concerning Barbara Nicklaus, whom I met just once at St Andrew’s golf course, and she seemed a nice lady that day too. But this is what a chap, a journalist, says of this girl, Barbara Nicklaus:
Lee Neil had surgery once in Miami. Who drove her down and back twice? Barbara Nicklaus. Lee Neil once broke her arm in four places. Who drove her to the hospital? Barbara Nicklaus. When young Jackie was four, he cut off half his finger in an ice crusher. Who saved the finger by not panicking and getting him to the doctor so it could be sown back on? Barbara Nicklaus. When Bruce Fleischer’s wife was in the hospital recovering from surgery, Barbara Nicklaus drove down to Miami regularly with home-cooked meals. When her great friend from Columbus, Janice […], was dying of cancer, she entrusted Barbara Nicklaus to give everyone their marching orders before passing on. When Lora Norman needed someone to lean on when her husband, Greg, was getting ripped in the press, she sought the advice of Barbara Nicklaus.
And speaking of her help and her influence within the home and her support of Jack Nicklaus, it’s a wonderful, tremendous illustration: she says, “If I can’t fix it, we call a repairman. Right after we got married, I asked Jack to put up a cup rack for me. Mind you, it was three screws. Forty-five minutes and a few choice words later his shirt was wringing wet, and he still didn’t have the screws in.” And it goes on to talk about the influence of her solitary life.
Now, I don’t know where she is in relationship to faith. I’m not using it in that respect. I’m just talking about the impact of unseen people.
In the same way, Bobby Jones—nobody knows the name of Bobby Jones, unless you’re into golf—Bobby Jones dies, and Nicklaus, reflecting on the death of Bobby Jones, with whom he had sat ever since he had won as an amateur in the early days of his career, he says, “I wondered how my own life might have differed without Bobby Jones’s inspiration and friendship during my early years and decided I would surely have been a lesser golfer and probably a lesser man.” Why? Because of the legacy left by a solitary life.
Determine to live so as to be missed. Don’t underestimate the impact of a solitary life. Live to God’s glory, particularly.
Penultimately, if you’re going to be remembered as one of the crowd, make sure it’s the right crowd. Say, “Well, you know, I don’t think my name will be isolated from the group.” That’s okay! But make sure it’s in the right group. Make sure it’s not in verse 16: “No one came to my support.” Make sure it’s in verses 19–21 with Linus, and Claudia, and Pudens, and the rest.
And finally, in prospect of leaving a legacy, determine that with God’s help you will seize the day, because we never know when we’ve just made our final deposit into the legacy that we’re leaving behind.
Can I tell you just one final story? Because it’s all, again, in this confluence of these past few days.
Twenty-three years ago, I spoke at a conference for missionary candidates and missionaries with the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. It took place in Pitlochry, in Scotland. And the folks who were there were a fairly high-level group of individuals, in the sense that they were well-educated; many of them were medics, and quite a number of them were theological students. And they asked me to speak on mission in the last days.
And I, in my foolhardiness and youthfulness, determined that what I would do is I would expound 2 Peter, which has three chapters. And there were three talks, so I figured, “I’ll do one chapter at a time”—the first of which was to begin around nine thirty on the Friday evening, after everyone had worked or studied for a full day, dragged themselves to Pitlochry, had a meal, and then sat down in rows and waited for this fellow to stand up behind the box.
I was totally overawed by the prospect of it. I was in my room in the center, by myself, and I felt very much then the way I used to feel before physics and chemistry exams—along the lines of “God, if I was going to die young, this would be a very good time to exercise your providential overruling. Because if I go into this thing, the Lord only knows what’s going to happen to me.” So, that’s exactly how I was feeling. I don’t say that for effect. That is truly how I was feeling. But I had to go. There was no option. The bell tolled, and the tale had to be told.
And so I stood up, and I started at the beginning of 2 Peter 1. And I wasn’t into it before three or four minutes, I couldn’t get any saliva in my mouth. I didn’t know what I was on about. I kept saying, like, “I’m sure you know more about this than I do. And what Peter is trying to say is this… And we’ll find…”
And there was a man sitting on the front row with graying temples, navy blazer, gray flannels, black shoes—you know, the kind of standard package. And he just never took his eyes off me, just looked at me the whole time. And when I dribbled to a conclusion, I said a brief prayer, and then I shot off. And as I shot off, he shot beside me. I’d never seen him before in my life. And as I went away, I was conscious of an arm around my waist. This man put an arm around my waist, and he started to walk with me. And he didn’t let me go my own direction. He spun be around, and he took me behind the bookstall. And he trapped me in the corner of a cabinet that opened up and made into a bookstall. And I didn’t know what he was going to do. I hadn’t a clue what was about to happen to me—but I didn’t think it was going to be very good!
And I can’t go into all of it now, for our time is gone, but essentially, this is what he said to me. He said, “I felt that I had to do what I’m about to do. I don’t make a habit of doing this,” he said. “You should know that.” And he said, “There was one thing you said in your sermon tonight that really lifted my spirits and was a great encouragement to me. When you mentioned the idea of making an abundant entrance into heaven,” he said, “that was good.” He said, “But that was about all that was good. Let me tell you this.” He said, “Peter wasn’t ‘trying’ to say anything; he was saying it. You’re trying to say it. And don’t be so deferential to the people out there. Who cares if they know more than you? They probably do! But you don’t have to say that. And you don’t have to defer to these folks.” He said, “Don’t you understand that whether you have sirloin steak or filet mignon or a pound of mince”—and mince is Scottish or English for chopped hamburger, you know? And the fatty kind, you know, not the kind of beautiful stuff. He says, “Whether you’ve got a pound of mince or a sirloin steak, get up and deliver it. Because you’re not there by accident. You are there by God’s appointment. So don’t let me ever hear you doing this again, young man. And by the way,” he said, “I believe that one day you will speak before thousands. And I believe that God has asked me to say what I have now said to you. Now, let us pray.” And we prayed.
And I went back to my room, and I wept. I wept for the hash that I made of the talk. I wept for the fact that this man said what he said to me, and my pride was wounded. I wept more for the fact that he must care about me somehow, although he didn’t know me from a hole in the ground; otherwise, he would never have done this and be so faithful, ’cause the wounds of a friend are faithful. And there’s hardly a time when I move into a new context, and many times on a Sunday, when I can see Davy Patterson’s face saying, “Go on, son. You’re not up there by accident; you’re up there by appointment. Mince or steak? Mince or steak? What is it?”
Thursday morning, Keswick Convention, thousands of people sitting out there—from a human perspective, hanging on your every word. Trying your best to get through the material, feeling again all kinds of feelings, not most of which stir your ego. Coming to the end of it and saying to myself, “Now, I’m gonna go through that door, and before they open their eyes, I’ll be gone, because I don’t ever want to see anybody after this.” Incidentally, for those of you who think that I finish my sermons and I’m going out going “Whoa-ho-ho-ho!”—that doesn’t happen. I don’t remember one in a thousand that I feel like that. I’m more… I feel like I merge with the pavement.
So I said, “I’m gonna make a dive out of that door, grab the umbrella, grab the galoshes,” which I needed—swans were swimming through people’s tents—“and I’m going to make a beeline for my car.” And I came through the door, down the thing, down the two steps, and into the arms of a gray-haired man with a weather-beaten face wearing a royal blue cagoule, shorts, and tennis shoes. And this big bear hug grabbed me, and as he pulled me to himself, I heard the voice say, “Was it steak, or was it mince?” And I said, as I was looked over his shoulder, I said, “Davy, I don’t know.” And he—still not looking at me, his head’s over here—he says, “Son, I told you, it doesn’t matter.”
Until the day I die, I will revere his legacy.
You have people like that. We all do.
You are leaving a legacy. Make sure it’s helpful, not harmful.
Let us bow in a moment of prayer:
God, out of all of the abundance of these words, we pray that we might hear your voice, that your Word might fill us, that your love might constrain us. Forgive us for the times when, by our attitudes and our actions, we’ve painted real ugly stuff on the canvas of our lives. And thank you that you, the master artist, are able to take the brush in your hand and not only do touchup that is superficial but transform the portrait.
O God, we need this. Help us, then, so to live that the legacy may linger; that the fragrance may be sweet; that our lives, whether short or long, will count for you rather than against you; and that our children and our children’s children might arise and call you blessed. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
 See James 4:14.
 See 2 Corinthians 5:1.
 Genesis 49:29–32 (paraphrased).
 Genesis 50:24 (paraphrased).
 2 Peter 1:12–15 (paraphrased).
 2 Timothy 1:15 (paraphrased).
 2 Timothy 4:9–10 (NIV 1984).
 2 Timothy 4:14–15 (NIV 1984).
 2 Timothy 1:16–18 (paraphrased).
 See Matthew 20:16.
 See 2 Timothy 4:11.
 See 2 Timothy 4:12.
 Proverbs 17:22 (KJV).
 Attributed to Edward Everett Hale in A Year of Beautiful Thoughts, ed. Jeanie A. B. Greenough (New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell and Co., 1902), 172. Paraphrased.
 See Proverbs 27:6.
 See Proverbs 31:28.
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.