Getting the message right
Throughout the pandemic, the UK government, like all governments, has been under enormous pressure to get the message right and the messaging clear. First, we were told, ‘Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’. Then with easing of the first lockdown, the message became ‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives’. Then came, ‘Hands. Face. Space.’ followed by ‘Every Action Counts’, two messages urging people to adopt the behaviour patterns that would slow the spread of the virus. With infection rates continuing to surge in spite of these messages, the third lockdown was imposed and the slogan became ‘Act like you’ve got it’. The message of the latest media campaign is ‘Look into my eyes’. Pictures of dedicated NHS staff and of patients being kept alive by oxygen masks are accompanied by the words, ‘Look them in the eyes and tell them that you are doing all you can to stop the spread of COVID-19.’
These varying messages were all well-intentioned and arguably necessary. They have been directed at modifying our collective behaviour and so slowing the spread of the virus, preventing the health service from being overwhelmed and reducing deaths from COVID-19. Insofar as they have helped achieve these goals, we should welcome them.
No real answer to death
But we all recognise their limitations. It is not just that they have not stopped us from reaching the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 across the UK. It is that there is no real answer to death in any of these messages. In any normal year, there are around 600,000 deaths in the UK. And every death hurts. It represents the end of a life, a tragic loss, a painful separation that brings sorrow to bereaved family and friends. But death awaits us all. No amount of government messaging can change the death rate from 100%.
The message that saves lives
But as Christians we have the one message that truly saves lives. The one message that truly saves us from death and gives us a life we can never lose. In 2 Timothy 1:10, the Apostle Paul reminds his young co-worker, Timothy, that ‘our Saviour, Christ Jesus has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.’
The gospel is the one message that truly saves from death and gives life. It is the good news of a Saviour. A Saviour who has done the impossible. By his own sin-bearing death and resurrection, he has destroyed death. He has nullified it. Rendered it powerless. As Paul declares in 1 Cor 15:55, ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ Death is a vanquished enemy. A scorpion whose sting has been drawn.
That’s the glorious news of victory, death has been conquered for us. And the fruit of that victory is life and immortality. Deliverance from the tyranny of death. A gift of life that is imperishable and incorruptible. Life that cannot be taken from us; that cannot end with the grave; that carries with it a guarantee of bodily resurrection.
But this life and immortality is brought to light only in the gospel. Only the gospel message reveals this life – brings it to light. Only by hearing and believing this gospel message can a person receive the life and immortality that our Saviour, Christ Jesus, has won for us. And so, it is imperative for people to hear this message. There is nothing more vital in all the world than the communication of this message.
Paul does not remind Timothy of the life-containing gospel message merely so that Timothy will feel secure in his own salvation. In the context, Paul is urging Timothy not to be ashamed of bearing witness to the Lord Jesus and calling Timothy to join him suffering for the gospel (2 Tim 1:8). Paul had travelled great distances, been cold and hungry, suffered shipwreck, endured derision and ridicule, imprisonment, whippings, beatings and being pelted with stones. As he writes to Timothy, he is once more a prisoner and this time he fully expects to face the executioner’s sword. Why had Paul endured such suffering? It was to get this one message out – to proclaim this one message – to preach it, teach it, explain it, reasoning with those who raise objections, persuading men and women of its truth and validity, appealing to his hearers to save their lives by heeding the message.
Worth giving our lives for
Paul knew that it was the one message that could save people. It was the one message for which it was worth giving his life; the one message the world needed to hear – the message of life and immortality through the Saviour, Christ Jesus. And so, he called Timothy to the same life of witness to Christ and gospel proclamation, whatever it cost him, for the sake of a dying world.
Getting the gospel message out in our 21st century western-world context is not easy. It is true that we are unlikely to suffer physical violence or imprisonment for the gospel. But it is not easy to get a hearing and when we do there is often a pain line to cross – a point when we risk rebuff, rebuttal or ridicule; when we risk a hostile response, the fracturing of a friendship, the disdain of colleagues or reputational loss. The Bible is spot on when it addresses our fear of being put to shame.
But the point of 2 Timothy 1:10 is that this one message is worth it. There is no other message that brings life and immortality to light. When it comes to getting this message out, every action counts. Can I look in the eyes of those around me and tell them that I am doing everything I can to spread the message of life?
To my shame, I am not sure I can. I pray that the Lord will use A Passion for Life to help me do more.