"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." In the biblical letter of 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul reflected on his passing life. It was but a vapor. He was a pilgrim, passing through this life and into the next. Moments 'til Midnight creatively peels back the curtain of Paul's final hours. Author Brent Crowe imaginatively retells the last twelve hours of Paul's life, from the perspective of the apostle himself. Along the way, readers will be encouraged to live with purpose, to redeem the time, and to embrace the awesome reality that they too are on a sacred journey. With no more letters to write, no more churches to plant, no more sermons to preach, and no more missionary journeys to embark upon, Paul awaited his death sentence. What were his final reflections on life? How did he view the race he had run? How should you view the race set before you?
|Publisher:||B&H Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||3 Months to 18 Years|
About the Author
Brent Crowe is Vice President of Student Leadership University in Orlando, Florida. He is married to Christina and has three children: Gabriel, Charis, and Mercy. He holds a Doctorate in Philosophy and two Master's degrees—a Master of Divinity in Evangelism and a Master of Arts in Ethics—from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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Noon Come, Let Us Wonder Together
Set the Stage
It wasn't his first trip to Rome, but it would be his last. Paul had become such a threat and a nuisance that the brutal dictator Nero could no longer tolerate the presence of his kind in the empire. Thus, in the most powerful city in the world, one of history's giants would be thrown into jail for the last time.
Nero was too late though, for the life that preceded one last court hearing and one last incarceration had already put into motion all that was necessary to alter the course of history. The message that burned in Paul would not be stopped because the mission of God could not fail. Emperor Nero, who had earned his cruel reputation, was no match for the Creator of all, who makes empires rise and fall without even exerting Himself.
Nero was one bad dude whose ledger was littered with blood as a result of one sadistic decision after another. It is believed that his mother had his stepfather Claudius I murdered so that her teenage son could be crowned emperor. Some years later Nero would in turn have his mother murdered, as well as his wife, so he could marry a woman with whom he was having an affair, whom he would also later have murdered. It was readily understood that to cross Nero in any way was to take one's life into one's own hands. He had the ability, for a short time, to snuff out any plots against him with violent and ruthless revenge.
One of the more historic moments of his rule was the great fire of Rome in AD 64, which destroyed much of the city. The fire would last for more than a week, destroying three, and damaging seven more, of the fourteen districts in Rome. Many historians believe Nero orchestrated the fire so that he could rebuild the city as he saw fit, including a gold palace for himself. Nero, looking for a scapegoat, blamed the fire on Christians and subsequently began a wave of violent persecution against them.
Early Christian theologian and author Tertullian credits Nero for ushering in an age of persecution that would continue for approximately two hundred years. Followers of Jesus would be persecuted across the Roman Empire until AD 313 when Constantine decriminalized Christian worship. Nero would commit suicide in AD 68 during a revolt against his leadership. The martyrdom of the apostle Paul took place sometime after the great fire and before Nero's death.
It's odd when you think about it: Nero began to think of himself as divine in his mid-twenties, which must be the pinnacle of arrogance for someone who has fallen in love with his own fame. And yet, despite this, he felt threatened by a humble people who spent their lives at the feet of Jesus and were known for loving one another. Yes, Christians were Nero's scapegoat for the great fire, but it wasn't just because they were easy prey; rather it was because this movement led by men like Paul and Peter could not be controlled. It stood in direct contradiction to the cancerous paganism that had infiltrated and was destroying the souls of Nero's citizens.
Nero hated Christianity because the existence of this so-called "cult" stood in passive defiance of his leadership and authority. Nero thought himself to be a god, but the good news of this movement and its messengers seemed to say to him, "Yet for us there is one God, the Father. All things are from him, and we exist for him. And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ. All things are through him, and we exist through him" (1 Cor. 8:6).
While Paul could be bound with chains, the message to which he had dedicated his life continued to spread unencumbered. The ten thousand miles this feeble man, now in his sixties, had traveled by land and sea over the previous thirty years could not be erased. He knew all too well what Nero did not, for Paul himself had begun his career — not unlike Nero — by trying to stamp out the fire of Christianity.
He, however, discovered what we in this present day can easily observe: to persecute followers of Jesus only furthers the movement. So, on the road to Damascus, Paul (also called Saul) came face-to-face with the renegade rabbi known as Jesus of Nazareth. It not only brought him to his knees, it brought him to saving faith. In that moment — a moment that would determine all of his future moments — Paul made two discoveries: "Jesus Christ was alive and Saul of Tarsus was dead in sin and a total failure in himself." On a dusty road, in an effort to halt the ever-growing sect of Christ followers, a well-educated Pharisee with a prestigious heritage from a well-to-do family became a follower of the person he thought to be cursed and dead. In that moment everything changed.
Following his conversion, Paul dedicated his life to advancing the movement of Christianity. He would lead three extensive missionary journeys that would take him throughout much of the first-century world. He was an apostle who would plant churches, train pastors, and write thirteen letters under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that are preserved in the New Testament. He was a masterful theologian, strategist, communicator, and preacher. He was a man driven by the grace of Jesus, which had transformed his life. In fact, grace would be referenced more than one hundred times in his writings — more than any other concept — and always appearing in the greeting and benediction of his letters.
Historian John Pollock wrote of Paul's motivation in his work The Apostle: A Life of Paul: "Paul could not restrict himself to one city. No man in previous history had traveled so far or suffered so much to bring men truth; he could not stay still or silent while others remained ignorant of the Word of Truth, and the Life. Every day he told all about Jesus and His resurrection."
In our time Paul is known as the great leader, apostle to the Gentiles, and the individual who is responsible for the gigantic advancement of our faith. Theologians agree, "By the time the New Testament period comes to an end, Christianity is a worldwide, Gentile-dominated religion. Paul is in no small measure responsible for that transformation." But during his day he was known as a fugitive, a man who ultimately had been brought up on charges for propagating an illegal religion in a culture that esteemed emperor worship. And, of course, this was a capital crime. And so it is that, for the purposes of this book, we meet up with Paul at the end of his life, wasting away in a Roman dungeon called the Mamertine Prison.
Paul was no stranger to suffering, having endured long hardships and:
far worse beatings, many times near death. Five times I received forty lashes minus one from Jews. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, and dangers among false brothers; toil and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and without clothing. (2 Cor. 11:23–27)
And certainly Paul was no stranger to imprisonment, having probably spent five to six years of his ministry and adult life incarcerated. Yet every brush with death, beating, and prison stay somehow seemed mild compared to the cold dark stone of this Roman dungeon.
Here Paul wrote and finished his final instructions — the last letter he would ever write — to a young man he loved like a son. Knowing these were his final words, it was a tear-filled and sobering task that probably caused him more than once to pause and collect himself. And once the letter was completed, one gets the sense from reading 2 Timothy, Paul knew his death was near.
As the streets of Rome bustled with a whirlwind of activity, the apostle Paul sat beneath, chained in a dungeon. While the exact details surrounding the execution and timing of his death are unknown and lost in the annals of history, in the manner of his execution we can have more confidence. He was in all likelihood taken and beheaded outside of Rome in a common place for execution along the Ostian Road in June of AD 67.
What if sometime after the completion of his second letter to Timothy, Paul learned one late morning that his execution would be carried out at midnight? Paul had the miraculous habit of turning the most unlikely of enemies into friends and co-laborers in the faith. Therefore, would it be that much of a stretch to think that he had endeared himself to one of the Roman guards assigned to watch over him? One could even imagine that this guard had heard of the apostle who enjoyed Roman citizenship and was once a Pharisee employed by the Sanhedrin. And if one ponders long enough, it is certainly imaginable that a Roman soldier assigned to Paul might have converted to Christianity. He could have gone about his daily routine keeping watch over the dungeon, and at night gathered with other believers for church in the vast underground network referred to as the catacombs. There, in the subterranean passageways beneath the city, he may have borne witness of Paul to fellow believers.
The dungeon was growing warmer and seemingly soggier by the day, making the stench unbearable. Late spring was settling in and offering faint previews of the coming attraction that would be a hot summer. In the minutes close to the noon hour, a whisper comes down through the opening in the ceiling, which was the only way in or out of the dungeon prototype of hell. The whisper of the converted Roman solider was so faint at first that neither Paul nor the other inmates noticed. Then, in a more desperate effort to be heard, the man's voice became louder and more coarse. You know the kind of whisper that rises to the volume of a normal conversation — in an attempt to keep the whisper going, the speaker mutters out words that sound like sandpaper being muffled. This got Paul's attention and he looked up.
The soldier was lowering a bucket, and his words seemed to imply that it contained an important message. In an effort to conceal this illegal activity, the guard had smuggled a message into the bucket of food that was for the prisoners that day. When the bucket reached the dungeon floor, sure enough, right on top of the slop, was a torn piece of parchment folded in half. Paul delicately picked up the note, retreated to a wall where he had been propping himself up that morning, and opened the correspondence. It simply read: EXECUTION TO BE CARRIED OUT AT MIDNIGHT. Signed: Your brother on the journey.
Sitting alone in that dark and damp place where it seemed that every stone had been infected by blood or some other bodily fluid, Paul now knew the exact time his pilgrimage would come to an end. The walls of the dungeon seemed to cry out with a history of pain and hopelessness. And yet, even though the immediate environment was less than ideal, the next step of the journey had been a lighthouse of hope guiding Paul homeward for years. He may have been in a dungeon, but he was soon to be raised up and seated in the heavenly places with Jesus.
Just feet beneath the streets of the most powerful city in the world, Paul now sits alone with his thoughts. He had no more letters to write, no more churches to plant, no more sermons to preach, and no more missionary journeys to go on. He will never watch another sunrise, only observe the distant sunset. He will never again feel the comforting embrace of a colaborer or lose time around a warm fire talking the evening away. He will never feel the sea breeze on his face pulling out of a harbor to pioneer new territory for the gospel. No, on this last day, the best Paul could hope for was the Roman guards to allow Luke, his friend and doctor, to visit him — if only for a few minutes.
What did this pilgrim wandering his way home think about in those final hours before his execution? It's amazing how much the brain can remember or recall in a short amount of time. I guess our minds are more like picture galleries than data banks with spreadsheets of information. Paul's first thoughts would have been drawn to the theme he wrote most about — grace — and how his life was transformed from one of potential to one of purpose. He tells Timothy in their final correspondence: "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and descended from David, according to my gospel" (2 Tim. 2:8).
Throughout each passing hour, Paul's mind's eye could have focused on a variety of other factors: friends and community, loneliness, a heavenly mind-set, godly living, unity of the church, his belief that with God all things are possible, the countless people he influenced through the art of letter writing, how grace demands more and how God works in our failures, his journey as a story well told and a life worth imitating.
While books upon books could be filled with potential thoughts and indepth analysis of Paul's life, these topics have been chosen for the purposes of modern-day pilgrims. In the following pages we are going to allow one pilgrim's journey to echo through the ages into a lot of other pilgrim's journeys. So that we can wander well, as temporary sojourners, because we inherited the wisdom of a pilgrim that finished well. So come and
Let us wonder together.
Only the Sinner
"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners"— and I am the worst of them. (1 Tim. 1:15) Every story has a dominant theme, an undeniable idea that rises to the surface above all others. The best of stories have redemption as the centralized idea, made possible by a hero or team of heroes — a redeemer of sorts. Paul's was that kind of story.
His story had redemption as its theme and the Redeemer as the central character. And when one lives this kind of story, when one embarks on this kind of pilgrimage, one word stands out among them all: grace.
I have this friend who is an Anglican priest by day and a songwriter and performer by night. I first met Josh in college and have been listening to his music for the better part of fifteen years. I've always felt he is one of those artists that, at some point, we'll all be listening to. One of my favorite songs he has written is entitled "Only the Sinner." Here are some of the lyrics:
Only the sinner, only the weak Only the man who lies and steals and cheats Only the woman who runs around Only the child with a selfish mouth Only prostitutes and murderers And crooked businessmen Only those who have no alibi Only those who cannot hide their sin Only the dirty Never the clean Only the beggar men Never the king Only the messed up Never the made, the made Only the sinner Jesus saves (written by Josh Bales)
I think Paul would have liked the lyrics to my friend's song. I think he would have found its message familiar and comforting. At one point in Jesus' ministry, the religious leaders criticized him for eating and keeping company with sinners. Our Savior's reply was at the heart of Paul's journey: "It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn't come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17). Jesus came to be a friend to the sinner, only those who have no alibi, only those who cannot hide their sin ... only the messed up, never the made ... only the sinner, Jesus saves.
After his conversion in Acts 9, Paul lived a life full of purpose and mission. And while he was not held hostage by the guilt of his past sin, he never seemed to forget from what he had been forgiven. This is probably why Paul mentions grace more than any other word. Paul's soul had been made well, but he never forgot what it was like to be sin sick.
I like to read books — all kinds of books. Some of the more insightful things I've learned over the years have come from reading children's books to my kids or books like All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. A friend gave me a copy in college, and I've read it from cover to cover a hundred times. It's basically a bunch of essays and quirky thoughts on life that use ordinary events to make you think about important ideas. During one such essay Fulghum writes about the age-old neighborhood game of hide-and-seek that is happening just outside his window. Observing the game, he writes,
Did you have a kid in your neighborhood who always hid so good, nobody could find him? We did. After a while we would give up on him and go off, leaving him to rot wherever he was. Sooner or later he would show up, all mad because we didn't keep looking for him. And we would get mad back because he wasn't playing the game the way it was supposed to be played. There's hiding and there's finding, we'd say. And he'd say it was hide-and-seek, not hide-and-give-UP, and we'd yell about who made the rules and who cared about who, anyway, and how we wouldn't play with him anymore if he didn't get it straight and who needed him anyhow, and things like that. Hide-and-seek-and-yell. No matter what, though, the next time he would hide too good again. He's probably still hidden somewhere, for all I know.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Moment 'til Midnight"
Copyright © 2018 Brent Crowe.
Excerpted by permission of B&H Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Noon: Come, Let Us Wonder Together 9
One O'clock: Only the Sinner 19
Two O'clock: From Potential to Purpose 37
Three O'clock: Luke Alone Is with Me 51
Four O'clock: Head in the Clouds 65
Five O'clock: Getting Dressed with Grace 79
Six O'clock: From Tolerance to Togetherness 97
Seven O'clock: The Spirit of Alice … and of Paul 113
Eight O'clock: The Art of Conversation 139
Nine O'clock: Grace Demands More 159
Ten O'clock: Sanctifying Failure and Redeemed Regret 175
Eleven O'clock: Life Imitates Story 193
Midnight: Finished … Begin 205
About the Author 223