5th Sunday in Lent
March 13, 2016
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us is the Second Lesson read earlier from Philippians chapter 3.
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Let’s begin today with a little quiz. True or false: Jesus Christ went to the cross to destroy death and to give you the gift of eternal life. “True,” you say. True or false: Because of what Jesus did for you on the cross, your sins are forgiven, you are covered in the righteousness of Christ, made holy by His blood. “True,” you say. 2 for 2. True or false: On the day of resurrection you will experience never-ending joy and peace as you stand face-to-face with your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who rose from the dead on Easter. “True,” you say.
Okay…so why then does criticism bother you so much? Why do you sometimes worry about the future? Why are you sometimes so unhappy with how your life has turned out? Why – if you know all about what God in Christ has done for you – are you so often dissatisfied and discontent with your life? You just scored 100 percent on the pop quiz—you got an A. Yet you seem to be failing when it comes to feeling like you’re actually living out the Christian life.
Our text for today is from the Book of Philippians. One of the major themes of that book is the power of the Gospel to make a substantial difference in your life, to give you joy and peace, no matter what. Paul also writes the well-known words: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (4:4).
Now, some of you might be thinking, “Come on, Pastor. Rejoice in the Lord always? No. You don’t actually expect us to take that literally, do you? You don’t actually expect us to believe that it’s possible for us to rejoice during the tough times, to rejoice during the hard times, do you? Can’t you see what my life is like?”
Okay…well, let me answer that question with a question. What was going on in Paul’s life when he wrote this specific letter to the Church at Philippi? What might have caused him to write such a remarkable thing? Was he on some sort of dream vacation? Had he just won the lottery? Not quite. As he says in the very first chapter of Philippians, Paul wrote this letter while he was a prisoner in Rome (v 13). Paul understood too well how painful life could be: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Cor. 11:24–27). Sound like a fun-filled life to you? Not so much!
Paul, you see, knew how painful life could be. And yet despite all of this, as he sat there in prison about to be put on trial for his life, he was somehow able to write these astonishing words: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
Folks, I don’t know about you, but it really doesn’t take all that much for me not to rejoice in the Lord. I do not rejoice in the Lord when I pay $100 for 4 bags of food. I don’t rejoice when the bills are long and the money is short. I do not rejoice in the Lord when I go to put a load of clothes in the washer and there are still clothes in there. I find that I do not rejoice in the Lord doing the tedious and mundane things in life. These are times when I do not rejoice in the Lord! But Paul (unlike me) was able to rejoice in the Lord always. Paul was able to rejoice in the Lord despite being repeatedly beaten and tortured and tried. How?
How was he able to write these amazing words while under constant supervision in house arrest? Here is what I want you to take home with you today: knowing that he would one day be with Jesus – knowing for certain what his future would be – changed him in the present. This is what he means by those well-known words found in vv 13–14: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul knew that the prize was certain. Paul knew that the prize would one day be his. That is what gave him the confidence to keep straining forward – that is what gave him the confidence to keep pressing on—no matter what. You see, what we know our future to be can actually change our present.
Let me give you an example: There were two men who were both going to be working the same job. It was a terrible, awful job that nobody wanted to do. Eighty hours a week. Backbreaking, disgusting, menial work, and they wouldn’t get paid until the end of the year. One of the men knew that at the end of the year he was going to be paid $15,000; the other knew he was going to be paid $15 million. Now, how do you think knowing that might affect the way they viewed their work? The one who knew he was going to be paid only $15,000 would probably end up quitting before the year was over. The one who knew he was going to be paid $15 million would be happy and joyful and would come to work every day whistling a happy tune! You see, what you know your future to be actually changes you in the present.
My friends, Jesus Christ went to the cross to destroy death and to give you the gift of eternal life. Because of what Jesus did for you on the cross, your sins are forgiven, you are covered in the righteousness of Christ, you are declared holy and just before the throne of God. Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, you can be certain that you, too, will rise. And on that day of resurrection, you will experience never-ending joy and peace as you stand face-to-face with your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is what your future will be! That is the prize you’ve already won! Yes, down the road some hard turns are going to shake us, but with Christ we hang on and rejoice throughout!
What does this mean for your life? How will knowing this change your life today? I leave you with the words of Paul found in Phil 4:4–7: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Those are not just words to end a sermon with, but they are words to live by each and every day.