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Tony's Reflections from St Paul's: 3
What superhero special powers would you most like to have? Back in 1967, one of my favourite childhood superheroes was Captain Scarlet. His superpower was that he was totally indestructible… In every episode, the baddies would kill him off and it would look like they had won, but Captain Scarlet always came back to life again, to save the day.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could be indestructible? That would certainly put paid to any worries about the virus, wouldn't it?
I'm afraid Christians aren't indestructible, but we have something that comes pretty close. Paul shows us what that is in
(I've attached the passage, if you'd like to read it.)
The key is in verse 21, which says,
"For me to live is Christ, to die is gain."
Paul is saying that if I carry on living, then Jesus will use me for his purposes and bring me close to him (this is the "fruitful labour" he refers to in verse 22) and if I die … well, that will be good as well. He doesn't actually spell out why dying is such a good deal, but we know that he looked forward to leaving this life as being the time when he would meet Jesus face to face and live for ever.
What is really extraordinary is that he wrote this not at a time when everything was going splendidly well for him, but when he was left to rot in prison. In those days, when you were put in prison, not only was it seriously uncomfortable, but there was no such thing as "fair sentencing policy" and you could never be sure when or if you would ever get out again!
Being stuck in prison in those days might have led a lesser spirit to give up and think life wasn't worth living. Paul has nothing to do with this way of thinking. He can see that God is using this spell "behind bars" (which he describes as being "in chains" in verse 12) to give him opportunity to talk to his guards about why Jesus is such good news (verse 12-13). Rather than being downcast because he is locked up, he sees the opportunity God is giving him in this time of being imprisoned.
Every moment we have in life is an opportunity for God to use us. He might use it to draw us close to him, he might use us to show something of his love to others. That applies to each and every one of us, even during this time of lockdown. It applies especially during this time of lockdown. Paul found the new opportunity from being in prison, to talk to the guards. What new opportunities is God giving, at this time, either to draw you close to him or for you to show his love to others?
Stuck there in jail, Paul was thinking of his own death. There was every chance he would be executed and there was also the possibility that he would simply be left to rot in jail. We can see why the thought of dying was on his mind.
Even if this were to happen, though, it would still be a "gain". How can it be a “gain” to us, if we die? It all comes down to what happened on that very first Easter Sunday. When Jesus came back to life again, he was showing, for all to see, that death could not hold him, that there was life for all who trust in God, on the other side. He now makes that promise to you and to me, that as we trust ourselves and our lives into his hands, he will lead us through death and into the triumph of Heaven.
We have the ultimate win-win situation. While we are alive, God will use us and our time. When we die, we go to glory. Living or dying, both are “wins” for us who trust Jesus. Our bodies may not be indestructible, but the hope we have most certainly is!
Happy Easter – after all, he is risen!
Love and best wishes