Christ

The Wonder of Resurrection-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to blog.

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.”

—Luke 24:1–12 ESV


INTRO
Well, good morning again. My name is Forrest, and I’m one of the pastors, and it is good to be with you on this Easter Sunday. If you’re a guest with us, we want to give you a special welcome this morning. We’re grateful you’ve chosen to be with us, and I believe you’ve landed at a really good place. God is at work in the midst of Emmaus. There are a lot of good churches throughout the Inland Empire and in Redlands. We are by no means the only one. But, you have landed at a good place. God is at work, he’s doing some really good things in the life of this body. And, we just want you to know we don’t want anything from you this morning, we only want something for you, that you would know the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.

So, I recently read a scene from a book that captured my attention. The scene was from a memoir called H is for Hawk, by an author named Helen Macdonald. And, it’s her story, essentially, of loss and grief and a kind of resurrection that comes out of that loss and grief. It details the account of her father’s death, and oddly enough, her attempt to deal with that grief to some degree by purchasing a hawk, and teaching this hawk to fly and hunt. She just thought … this will be a good way to channel my energy in this season of grief.

The scene that caught my attention is of her and a friend in a field in an English countryside, attempting to teach this hawk to fly by command, and to return by command. And, it doesn’t go well. It doesn’t go well at all. I’ve never tried it, by I assume teaching a hawk to fly and return is probably pretty difficult. I just have two really disobedient dogs. So, I’m imagine trying to do that with a hawk would go even worse. So, that’s what happens. It doesn’t go well in the midst of this field, and after much time and effort, they can’t get the hawk to fly at all. So, with much frustration and disappointment, they begin to walk back through the field to the car, and as they’re walking, the weight of her circumstances begin to weigh upon her. She begins to, sort of, inwardly cave under the weight of the loss of her father, the attempt to deal with this grief by putting her energy and her thoughts into this hawk, and that’s not working either. It’s all going terribly, nothing is working, and it seems to her as if death and its effects are winning.

In the midst of this walk back to the car where all of this is happening internally, her friend suddenly stops dead in his tracks and with amazement in his voice, he tells her to look down, and this is what she writes …

“Then I see it. The bare field we’d flown the hawk upon his covered in gossamer, millions of shining threads combed downwind across every inch of soil, lit by the sinking sun, the quivering silk runs like light on the water, all the way to my feet. It is a think of unearthly beauty, the work of a million tiny spiders, searching for new homes, each had spun a charged, silken thread out into the air to pull it from its hatch place, ascending like an intrepid hot air balloonist, to drift and disperse and fall. I stare at the field for a long time.”

See, in that moment, her eyes are opened to a reality that she has been living unaware of. While standing in the field in the midst of grief and the futility of trying to will this hawk to fly, her world felt cold and it felt hostile. But, with a few words, she was reoriented to the beauty of the world around her. How easy it is in the midst of life and a fallen world, and a broken world, to believe that death and disappointment, and frustration will win out in the end. But, this morning, we gather around a word of life. This morning we gather around a word of resurrection, a word that tells us to stop, to look, to see the beauty of the resurrection life. It tells us to look and see death and all its effects may be real, but they are not final. God is at work, bringing life from death, and this life is meant for you, and it’s meant for me. This is the word of resurrection life we have before us this morning.

And so, we’re going to look at our text that I believe the story I just told illustrates well, in three movements. A counterintuitive word we see in verses 1-7, and then we see a contrary belief that comes to the surface in light of this counterintuitive word in verse 11, and then we see this beauty of a concrete hope, the concrete hope of the resurrected life that the empty tomb ensures for all his people. So, before we jump in, let’s pray.

Jesus, we are grateful this morning that you are risen. Lord, that we do not have to seek the living among the dead. You are not there, you are risen. Jesus, we ask this morning that the resurrection life, this word of of resurrection that is an offer to us, your people. Lord, we pray that it would fall upon the good soil of hearts this morning, hearts that are prepared by your Spirit to receive this word of life. Lord, we’re grateful for this truth, and Lord may our eyes be opened to the beauty of resurrection life all around us through the work of Christ. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

  1. A COUNTERINTUITIVE WORD (vv.1-7)

So, first, a counterintuitive word. We saw in the first several verses there, verses 1-7, that the story begins where we expect it to. The story begins with Jesus of Nazareth, who is much beloved by his followers. All their hopes, all their dreams are in the person of Jesus Christ. They have walked with him and followed him for three years, and here he is now, crucified, lying in a tomb, or so they think. The women, then, come to the tomb where they saw the body of Jesus being laid earlier - we are told that in the previous verses - so, they go to this tomb, and naturally they come assuming that he remains dead. They come assuming to find the body. And, as was customary, they bring spices to anoint the body, in that time, they would bring spices to honor the body, and put it around and upon the body.

And, as they come bringing these spices as a sign of honor and respect, they get to the tomb and they find the stone rolled away, and no body of Jesus. He isn’t present. Now, notice, their immediate response is not rejoicing. Jesus, we’re told there, has already told them this is going to happen. But, even at the sight of the empty tomb, their first response is not rejoice, it’s not dance, it’s not look, he’s done what he said he would do … in verse 3, it says that they were perplexed. And, if we’re honest, rightly so, right? We understanding that. Dead people don’t become undead, unless you believe in zombies, which I think some of you guys do. Dead people do not become undead. Dead is a permanent state, or so we think.

The best you can do, in the face of death, then, is honor those who have succumbed to it. So, as we read this account this morning, perhaps we might feel the same thing. Death is death, which means from this point, we can honor the life of Jesus, it means we can honor his great teaching and his compassionate healing, and his moral fiber, but he’s dead. The best we can do is hallow his memory by speaking well of his legacy, just as the women imagined themselves called to honor his dead body. In the face of death, that is the most we can do, perhaps we would say this morning, and that’s enough. But, that belief is arrested by a question.

We see this started at verse 4-6 … While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel … It’s fitting for Easter, right? Some of you guys in your dazzling apparel this morning … actually, Matt dropped that joke off to me earlier, I stole it … And, as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”  

Do we get how this question arrests them and us? Everything we think we know about death is challenged in this question. All other explanations for the absent body of Jesus that would fit what we believe about death, his body stolen, Jesus swooned on the cross, didn’t actually die … all of those potential beliefs are taken off the table with this question. All other explanations for the absent body of Jesus that would fit what we believe about death are no longer value in light of this question. Everything we think we know about death.

The explanation for the missing body is simply this … Jesus has risen. He has risen. But, they do not see the risen Jesus in front of them, right? What they have is a word of resurrection. Now, this brings the reality of Easter, perhaps, uncomfortably close to us this morning. Because, what do we have in front of us? We have only a word of resurrection. We would think God might work differently here, right? We would think that perhaps it would just be much easier of Jesus would have walked out into the light of the new day right in front of these women, in all of his glory, it would be fixed. And, we might think this morning it would be much easier if Jesus would appear in dazzling glory right before us this Easter morning, all of these questions could just be settled. But, what scripture tells us is that actually, even for some if he were to appear before them, they would not believe.

What I think we’ll see, is that the resurrection isn’t forcefully obvious, but resurrection and resurrection life is clearly visible. And, I believe it’s clearly visible, at work in the midst of his people, in this particular body, which is why I say you’ve arrived at a good place on Easter morning, because the resurrection life is at work in this body in ways that no man can take credit for, only God can. In the second gathering today, we’re baptizing nine people, from death to life in Christ. Nobody can resurrect people, other than the resurrected Christ. And, he is doing that work in the midst of this body.

Our situation is precisely the situation of the women on that Easter morning. We are given a word of resurrection that seems to counter everything we know to be true about death. Nevertheless, we are given the word, which brings us to the next aspect we see in the text, a contrary belief.

  1. A CONTRARY BELIEF (v11)

So, let’s keep reading here, up through verse 11, starting at verse 8 … And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles … Look at verse 11 ... but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them …

A contrary belief … but these words seemed to be an idle tale, and they did not believe them … Now, again, this seems a logical response, right? It seems logical. The Easter message is that Jesus lives, but our experience teaches us that death is final. It’s the end of the story, and when these contradictory truths collide, it is no surprise that they and we respond as thinking people, and regularly respond with unbelief. Now, here’s the thing about unbelief. Contrary to what we might think, unbelief does not mean we believe nothing, it means that we believe something else more fervently. It doesn’t mean that we believe nothing, all of us, we are believing creatures. We all deeply believe in some narrative of life that gets us up in the morning, and brings us from one day to the next. We all believe something deeply.

So, it means that when we are met with this word of resurrection that counters everything we know to be true about death, it’s not that we just don’t believe that he is resurrected, it is that we believe more fervently in the reality of death and all its effects. And, life teaches us that death is so powerful that even the strongest will be overcome by it.

Many years ago, my grandmother - who was a big influence in my life - my grandmother died. And, I was in California, and she was in Louisiana, and we got news that she was coming into the last few days of her life, and we flew out there to be with her, and be with our family. And, we went to visit her at the nursing home that she was in, and we surrounded her for a couple days, and she wasn’t able to speak, but she was able to hear and understand and she could give facial expressions and smiles and blinks to let us know she was listening. And, what we started to do the second day was, we had different family members, and we’d just clear the room and we’d have time with her one on one, just to speak to her.

And, I knew it would be the last time I would see her, and I knew that these were the last moments I had to express what I wanted to express to her. And, what I felt in that moment was a desperation rising up inside of me, a desperation welling up in me to express to her how valuable her life was. And, that’s a good thing, right? I mean, my grandmother was a character. She loved the Cincinnati Reds, she loved driving really fast in this 1969 Nova that she had. I mean, all the way in to her 80’s, she was cruising in that thing. She loved Days of Our Lives, the soap opera, and she loved cheesecake. That was, like, her world … oh, I forgot, the fifth one was beer. She loved Michelob Light. So, I partook, as a kid, in all of that - except for the Michelob Light.

But, she was a huge impact in my life, a strong believer in Christ. And, I began to tell her what a great grandmother she had been, and I began to recount specific instances and memories I had with her, and I began to tell her about how she did a great job with her family, and how greatly she’ll be missed, but what an impact and a legacy she left. And, that’s a good thing, to just let someone know the impact they had in life. What, as I contemplated after I left - and I knew it was the last time I would see her, I knew she would go to be with Christ - what struck me was this desperation that was welling up inside of me to somehow get across to her that her life mattered. And, I realized that there was something that I was believing about death that was not entirely true, that somehow that this death was going to snatch any meaning from her life, that it was the end of it.

What was underneath it, was this welling up of this desire to help her know that her life mattered, was a belief that death was about to win. And, the reality is for those in Christ, we’re going to see here in a bit, that death has lost its sting. And, she was about to be absent from the body, and present with the Lord in the face of her savior and know joy she had never known in her life. But, I wasn’t living in light of that, and I think many of us, we have to ask that question. Do we believe more fervently that death wins than we do that resurrection life has taken the sting out of death? Do we live and operate with that?

Now, this may be helpful as well. It’s important for us to understand that we have to broaden our view death, then, to more than just the physical loss of life. It is that, but what we see, biblically, is that death has a thousand faces. Vandalism, broken relationships, sickness, abuse, stealing, mental illness, the list could go on and on. These are all faces of death, these are all ripple effects and aspects of death coming into the world. And, no one in this room this morning sits untouched by that reality. None of us. And, as life continues, it becomes easy for death and the thousand faces of death to begin to weigh heavily on us, doesn’t it? As life goes on, it is sure that we will experience the reality of death, and the effects of death in myriad ways.

Some of you, this morning, have experienced it in very deep, and honestly brutal ways, in your life. Some of you have experienced it very recently in the loss of loved ones, and the grief that accompanies that. But, see, when we believe more deeply in death than in resurrection, we begin to inhabit the world differently. We begin to move about and think about and see the world differently when we believe that death wins. See, there begins to be a resistance to anything that feels transcendent or supernatural or resurrection-like. Perhaps when we hear that, it’s just met with cynicism.

Author Charles Taylor had a word for this way of inhabiting the world. He called it disenchantment. And, if you think about it, enchanted is to be filled with delight. And, what Charles Taylor says is, when we begin to inhabit the world in this way, is that we lose the delight of the world. For Taylor, a disenchanted world is a world that has been drained of its awe and wonder, a world where supernatural working and transcendence, and the idea of God are met with skepticism or indifference. And, it’s not in this disenchanted world that there is no room at all for God, or no room at all for the miraculous in this world, it’s just that it ultimately doesn't matter. Believe what you want, but trust what you can see and objectively verify. That is the real world, that is how when we begin to believe that death and its effects are the realest thing in this world, and will ultimately slowly overtake everything, we begin to inhabit the world in this way.

G.K. Chesterton said, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not want of wonders.” This is life in a disenchanted world. It’s a world without wonder, it’s a world without an eye for resurrection life. And, in a world without resurrection, it can feel cold and hostile at times, it can leave us numb and believing that life is a slow surrender to death. We go to work and we’re numb to the reality that God is actually at work in the midst of our doing. We assume it’s for nothing, but this is Easter, so we’re coming out of the grave, right? And, the final point is a concrete hope.

  1. A CONCRETE HOPE (v12)

In verse 12, let’s read 11 and 12 … but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened …

He went home marveling. The Easter message calls us, then, from our old belief, fervent belief in death, to a new belief in resurrection life. It says, open your eyes and see the tomb is empty. And, even though the apostles were convinced that this message was nothing more than an idle tale that death was surely death, for one of the apostles there was a nagging question in the midst of their grief. What if? What if it really is true? What if what he said he was going to do he actually did? What if, in the midst of our grief, in the midst of our loss, in the midst of the reality of death, in all its effects, what if it’s true?

It would be Peter, right? Peter’s always the guy, whether for good or for bad. What if it’s true? If it’s true, it changes everything. That is true for us this morning. If it’s true, it changes everything. See, here we are again, another Easter, grateful for it, again, joining with millions of people around the globe who celebrate the reality of the resurrection. See, we can’t get away from it. With all of the things we talk about with Christianity, with all the things that are thrown at Christianity and its failings, and you can talk about, you know, crusades and Spanish Inquisitions, and you can talk about financial impropriety and scandals in the church, here we are again. I think it’s because we have that same question. What if? What if it’s true?

Those of us who gather here on Easter Sunday follow in the footsteps of Peter. We’ve heard the word that Jesus is alive, and we come to hear and see if it’s really true. And, what if maybe death is real, but not final? What if Jesus is not just past, but present, here in our midst? What if Jesus were to meet us here? So, the question, then, is, how do we experience this resurrection life? If this is true, how do we experience it? How do we step into the reality of the beauty of this resurrection life that this word of resurrection says, stop and look. In the midst of cold, and hostile, broken, fallen world, stop and look and see. There’s an invitation in the gospel. How do we marvel with Peter?

Paul gives us some insight. In 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, which is a long chapter on resurrection, it’s a beautiful, deep, rich chapter on resurrection. Towards the end of it, he says this - and many of us will know this …

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

—1 Corinthians 15:55-57 ESV

See, throughout scripture, sin and death are bed fellows. They’re close. Sin and death, you don’t have one without the other. And, what we see - notice he says specifically - the sting of death is sin, which means, it’s like a bee. When you take the stinger out of a bee, it’s dead. How is this sting taken out? We’re going to see, as one person said, the death of death, in the death of Christ, that takes care, that deals fully with our sin.

See, sin is not a word that we use in everyday language, I get that. But, it is a deeply biblical word. We might, at best, in our normal language, perhaps look at a dessert menu and call one of the decadent desserts sinful. But, other than that, we don’t really use that language in our culture, right? So, it means that often times, if someone uses that word seriously … they’re looked at as sort of a religious fanatic, right? Oh … you’re using sin, not mistake, or whatever word we would want to substitute. But, it’s important that we use this word, because this word has meaning, and it comes with some weight that’s important for us to understand if we’re going to step into and live out resurrection life from day to day.

See, in truth, sin is the oldest and deepest human problem. It’s all of our problems. It’s our deepest problem. So, how are we to understand sin? One theologian says, sin is the vandalism of shalom. Now, I know, you’re going … that does not help, Pastor. I don’t even know what that means. Let’s unpack it really quick.

The English word for shalom is peace, but it’s a deeper, richer, fuller - and the Jewish understanding was this beautiful picture of peace that goes far beyond just sort of the absence of difficulty in life. Cornelius Plantinga Jr. - if your named that, you have to be a theologian, and he is - here’s what he says about shalom …

“In the Bible shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as the creator and savior opens doors and speaks welcome to the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things are supposed to be.”

—Cornelius Plantinga Jr.

This is resurrection life. See, this was life in the garden, and then the fall comes, sin enters in, the wages of sin is death, death enters in, and sin and death become bedfellows throughout our lives. But, the resurrection says that through Christ, we are going to restore what has been lost in the fall. Shalom is coming again in this new heaven, in this new earth, in this new Jerusalem. That’s where we’re headed. That is, truly, resurrection life. So, to say that sin is the vandalism of shalom, it means that sin is anything that breaks peace, that violates peace, that interferes with the way things are supposed to be.

See, the reality is, death is foreign to us. There is a reason why Hebrews essentially says, we live life in fear of death. It’s because it’s this thing that was not meant for us. Yet, when the reality comes, it disrupts shalom, death and all of its thousand faces that we death with. See, the sting of death is sin, which means we have to get to sin to enter into resurrection life. So, here’s what scripture says. We are all sinned against. Everyone in this room has been sinned against, some of you in terrible ways that cause you to believe more fervently in death than you do in resurrection life. In light of the way you’ve been sinned against, you cannot imagine there is another way to live, that there is resurrection life for you. And, I’m here to tell you that there is. There is resurrection life for you.

But, the hard truth is that even though we have all been sinned against, we are all, also, sinful. We have all, also, contributed to the vandalism of shalom. None of us are victims only. We have also contributed to the violation of this peace, and this beauty, and this resurrection life, which is ultimately sin against the creator God.

So, here’s what this means. We cannot enter into resurrection life apart from humility. We cannot enter into resurrection life apart from the bold and courageous recognition, and admitting that we are fully sinners. We have contributed to the violation of shalom. See, here’s the truth, resurrection life begins at the end of ourselves. This is good news this morning. Humility is the best thing for God’s people, because it brings us into this reality. Resurrection life begins at the end of ourselves, because it is there that we trust Christ, who took our sin upon himself. Where does our victory come? … But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ …

And, let me tell you why this should bring so much life and peace to us. Aren’t you tired? Aren’t you tired of trying to resurrect yourself? Aren’t you tired of trying to put yourself out there in a way that makes everyone think that you’re living in the midst of resurrection life? Aren’t you tired of that? It’s exhausting. And, resurrection life says, rest. Resurrection life says, you can’t do it. See, resurrection goes through the grave. We cannot live before we die to ourselves. When we die to ourselves, we come alive to Christ. This is resurrection life.

I come from generations of brokenness in my family. You can trace it all the way back, my grandfather did this work, and it’s, like, divorce, divorce, divorce, even divorce, remarry, divorce, remarry the same people … that’s in my family, too. At this point in my life, I’ve been married 26 years, my kids know Christ, I’m in the midst of a body that God is at work in. How does that happen? I’m a numskull. How does that happen? It happens because of grace, because of the resurrection life of Christ. And, I’m telling you from experience that that resurrection life can be yours. So, the question for us this morning, is will we humble ourselves and transfer our trust from ourselves to Christ? Because, it is here that you will experience the marvel and the wonder of resurrection life. It can be yours. Let’s pray.

Jesus, we are grateful, Lord, so grateful for the life we have in you. God, we do not deserve any of it, but Lord you are good, and you are gracious. And, Lord, while death and all of its effects feels so real to us in this world, and they are, Lord, they do not have the final word. Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, He has risen. Jesus, we are grateful for the beauty and the life we find in our Savior, who conquered sin and death so that we can boldly say death is swallowed up in victory, oh death, where is your victory, o death, where is your sting?

This morning, I pray for those who may be laboring under a fervent belief in death. Lord, may you open our eyes to the beauty of the resurrection, may you open our eyes to the need to humble ourselves in light of our own sin, and our own disruption of shalom, our own sin against you. Lord, may we stop striving and earning. This morning on this Easter Sunday, and in light of this good resurrection word, may we transfer trust from ourselves to you, the resurrected savior. We are grateful that you have offered us resurrection life, that whosoever would come to you, would find it. May we find life in you again this morning. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.


Content in Christ-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

Philippians 4:10-13, ESV

(10) I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. (11) Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (12) I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (13) I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

INTRO

Well, that was amazing. With all of those kids, no crying, no runners, no one threw up. They were up there a long time. So, these parents are killing it. They are doing a great job. It’s one of the great joys, and it’s really a joyful responsibility we have as a body, that we have so many little ones in the midst of our body. They bring a lot of life to us, and we also recognize, as we just fleshed out, that we have a responsibility to raise them to know and love the Lord. And, this is part of all of our call, if we are a part of the body of Christ. So, we are grateful for that joyful responsibility that we have.

I don’t know about you, but I remember, as a kid, dreaming about the future with utmost optimism. Any of you guys do that as a little one? All the possibilities that were before you were all amazing. Every career was a win. I had a few careers in mind. I’ve shared with you guys before, garbage man was a big one for me as a little kid. I really wanted to be a garbage man. Yeah, I had none of the smells in mind, it was just all good. I got to ride on the back of the truck, cause that’s the way they did it in the old days, and it was - in my mind - was going to be the best career ever. Later, the garbage man dream gave way to being a professional football player. I knew nothing about CTE, nor did I have the skills or body type for a professional football player. But, forget all that, that was a real possibility for me. Or, becoming the bass guitar player for Ozzy Osbourne. Playing Crazy Train on a stage in a stadium full of people, that was a real possibility for me, when I was a little kid … or so I thought.

All of those possibilities were “can’t lose” options. See, there’s a lot of hope attached to an open future. When we believe our future is open, when we believe our possibilities are limitless, there’s a lot of hope in that. So, as a child, thinking about your future is really an exercise in imagination, isn’t it? We have imaginary vacations, we have imaginary jobs, we have imaginary spouses, and imaginary kids, and imaginary salaries, and imaginary lifestyles. All of these things are dreamed up for us when we are children, and the world seems open to this. And, as long as the possibilities are distant and ambiguous, the options are endless.

But, as life progresses, something happens, and the imagination meets reality. So, we choose a mate, and we realize that two people becoming one isn’t just as miraculous as it sounds. It’s not easy. It meets reality. We have these children that we’ve dreamed of, and, well, they’re real children, with all of the things that come along with real children. We land a job, and we discover our career, and we discover why it’s called work. It’s not easy. You commit to a church, and you find out that all these people really do need Jesus … badly. You move into a home, and you discover that Chip and Joanna Gaines have been hiding some things from you. That, behind all that white shiplap, there are rusted pipes, and old electrical wiring. See, our imagination meets reality. And, as life progresses, contentment is truly tested. Eventually, the possibilities that we dreamt about give way to the realities of a fallen world.

In the face of these realities, then, the question becomes for us - the question for us in light of our text, is really this: In the face of these realities, will we look on our life as gracious blessing, or will we look on it as undeserved privation? As if something is lacking in the lot I have in life. Our text this morning brings this question to the forefront for us all, and it brings something all of us long for. We should perk up when we hear, in our text, that Paul says, I have found the secret to contentment. Anybody want that? I do! He says, I’ve found it. I’ve discovered how to abound in little, and in much. And, this morning, the text is going to illumine that for us. So, we’re going to look first at the universal chase for contentment. And then, we’re going to look at the unusual contours of contentment. Contentment may look a little different than we think. And then, finally, we’re going to look at the secret, our union with Christ.

But, before we jump in, let’s pray. Jesus, we are grateful this morning, Lord, that in the midst of the realities of life, in the midst of the fallenness of this world, where we often go about life with deep discontent, Lord, that we have here in your Word, your life giving Word what Paul says is a secret of contentment. Lord, this morning, would you give us ears to hear. Lord, would you help us to lay aside the weights that so easily entangle us - specifically, the weight of discontentment, that we might live into, this morning, our union with Christ. We are grateful for this truth, Lord, that you have given us all we need in this world, to live blessed and content, regardless of circumstance. Lord, we thank you for that truth, in Jesus’ name, amen.

1. THE UNIVERSAL CHASE FOR CONTENTMENT

So, first the universal chase for contentment. There is no human out of the billions of people on the face of the earth, we are all chasing contentment. It is a universal desire that we all have. I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that every person in this room deeply desires contentment in this world. But, contentment is not the natural default setting for us as humans. Not at all.

In fact, we see this in Genesis. Back in Genesis, if you’re familiar with the story, this is a story of God’s creation, and he brings Adam and Eve, he creates them, brings them into being, and they are walking with God in this garden of delight, in perfect fellowship with God. And, this is a … we don’t know specific details, but we know it as absolutely gorgeous, and it had everything they needed for life. And, they could eat of any tree in the garden, except for one. And, that’s what they did. They looked at the one tree they couldn’t have, and they said, yeah, we’re going to have that one. In a garden full of yes’s, the want the one thing they cannot have. Isn’t this all of us, in our universal chase for contentment, that we want those things that we don’t have. We are no different. In a world full of God’s good gifts and abounding generosity, we want the things that are just out of our reach, believing that contentment is found there.

I think if we were honest with ourselves, and we searched our heart in that, we would find that reality at work in us, that though we live in the midst of a country that is full of blessing, we still long for that which is just outside of our reach. The simple phrase, I think the simple phrase, if only, captures the universal chase for contentment. If only … if only I could get X … I would get content. If only I could find a spouse, if only - once we find the spouse - then if only we could have children. And then, once we have children, we realize we need money, a lot of it. And, if only I could get the better job, with the better pay. If only … if only I had more power, if only my circumstances were a little bit different … if only …

But, how often in life do we get the if only’s? How often do we actually take hold of the, and it’s like cotton candy in our mouths? We get ahold of it, and we go … yes, this is what I thought it would be. It’s gone, like that, right? It melts away as soon as we get ahold of it. There’s a book by a Puritan named Jeremiah Burroughs, called The Rare Jewel of Contentment, and I think he captures the reality of this longing, this chase for contentment, and the reason why the things that we long for … if only we had that, when we get it, it melts away … I think he captures why that is. Let’s look at this quote. The language is a little old, but you’ll get the heart of it here.

“My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them. That is not the reason. But the reason is because they are not things proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God himself. Many men think that when they are troubled and have not got contentment, it is because they have but a little in the world, and if they had more then they would be content. That is just as if a man were hungry, and to satisfy his craving stomach he should gape and hold open his mouth to take in the wind, and then should think that the reason why he is not satisfied is because he has not got enough of the wind. No, the reason is because the thing is not suitable to a craving stomach.”

—Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

See, this chase for contentment, the reason why we lay ahold of the things that are just outside of our reach, and before we know it they’re gone, is because you and I were made for something much more grand. That contentment will only be satisfied in the person and work of Jesus. Now, we’re going to get there in just a moment, but I want to transition, then, to the unusual contours of contentment that we see in our text.

2. THE UNUSUAL CONTOURS OF CONTENTMENT (vv. 10-12)

The unusual contours. I use that word, because this isn’t the way we typically think of contentment, but we see in our text, let’s look at verses 10 and 11, we see in our text four things I want to highlight ...

… (10) I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. (11 ) Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content …

So, four things. First …

Contentment is free from prideful comparison and expectation of others. We cannot be content people, if we are people who go about life with prideful comparison, and prideful expectation of others. Now, reminder here, that Paul is in a Roman prison, writing this letter. He’s in a Roman prison, at the mercy of family and friends, for food. Remember, in the Roman prison, they didn’t provide your needs, you had to depend on those outside to provide your basic needs. So, he’s at the mercy of family and friends, of the church, for clothing and provisions. He’s probably cold and hungry when Epaphroditus shows up.

On the other hand, the Philippians, though they’re not without difficulty, they are in a very different place. They have access to the resources, and some of the luxuries of the Roman Empire, which was expanding at that time. And, we saw a couple of weeks ago that Philippi was a Roman colony. So, they had a lot of what would have been the conveniences and comforts of the day. See, by comparison, those that Paul is writing to, the Philippian church, are living in the lap of luxury, while he is most likely cold and hungry in a prison. And, Paul says of that … I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at length you have revived your concern for me … Rejoiced.

There is a celebration. It could be translated, I’m having a great celebration in the Lord. So, get the contrast here … Paul has planted this church at Philippi. He is now, because of his proclamation of the gospel - which has undermined the rule of Caesar, he finds himself in a prison suffering, and he finds those who have formed this community of faith in Philippi, in a very different place. But, if you notice, he’s not saying, why didn’t you come sooner? You failed me. Why did it take you so long to get here? You hear none of that. No pointing out there failure, but celebrating, not one hint of prideful comparison or expectation.

Now, I use prideful, specifically, because comparison is not an inherently bad thing, right? Paul says, follow me as I follow Christ, or imitate me as I imitate Christ. And, that takes some level of comparison to do that, right? If we’re walking with one another and growing and learning from one another, there is a place where we go, oh, they’re doing that really well, and I don’t seem to be, so I’m going to grow in that. That’s humble comparison. But, prideful comparison is very different. If we’re not careful, pride hijacks comparison. And, rather than seeing others as crucial members of the body with unique callings to live out, they become threats to self glory, or they become failures because they do not contribute more to our glory.

James 3:16 tells us that this type of prideful comparison leads to jealousy and selfish ambition. And, we know this is happening in us when we look at others and we don’t see the grace of God at work in and through them, but we see reflections of ourselves. So, as we look at others, and we look at their place in life, we look at their lot in life, we look at their place in the midst of the body, we immediately don’t see how God is at work in and through them, but we see ourselves in comparison to them. We see our inferiority, our superiority, what we deserve, what they don’t deserve, that they’re getting. So, I think the question in here is … are people mirrors that we see ourselves in, or windows into which we see God’s grace? Because, This is not one of the contours of contentment that Paul highlights here.

So, first, contentment is free from prideful comparison and expectation of others. Secondly, contentment is not dependent on circumstance. Again, we see this in Paul’s letter …

… (11) Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (12) I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance …

Nothing about Paul’s circumstances tell us that he should be content. Nothing about Paul’s particular season of life tells us that he should be content. He’s poor, he’s infamous, he’s probably not healthy, he’s definitely not looking his best. He’s sitting in a prison. Nothing about him says contentment. Yet, he says … not that I am speaking of being in need … and you go, what? Not … if you’re not in need, who is? But, Paul says, I have no need, even in this situation. This is a guy I want to learn contentment from, right? This is a guy who has something to teach us.

See, the reality of our culture, is the American dream is a carrot on a stick. It’s held out in front of us, and we chase it with everything we have, believing that if somehow we can lay hold of it, that we will finally be content. But, in the words of Ecclesiastes, it’s chasing after the wind.

See, the truth is, the hard truth is, if we are not content now, we never will be. If we’re not content single, we will not be content married. If we’re not content in school, we won’t be content in our career. Now, why? Because, all of our hopes and dreams are placed in something that is fleeting, that ultimately cannot handle the weight. It is some aspect of creation that cannot live up to the expectations.

See, here’s the truth that I think we get to with Paul. Contentment is not a destination. Contentment is a mode of travel. It is a way of moving throughout the world. It is a way of moving from one season of life to the next, from one circumstance to the next. This is an unusual contour of contentment, that it is not a destination. And, we tend to treat contentment in the West as if it is a place that we arrive, and it is not. It is an attitude of the heart, it is a mode of travel in the midst of a fallen world, a fallen world that God is redeeming.

Third, contentment is a battle in both the highs and lows of life, in both of those, facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. One paraphrase says, I have learned now to cope with having too much. We don’t tend to associate being discontent with having too much, right? We associate a discontent with having too little. But, here, Paul is saying … I’ve learned how to be content, even when I have too much. The truth is, the basic truth is, the more we have, you can probably finish this sentence … the more we want. The more we have, the more we want. That’s what the discontented heart says. This is a basic truth of economics, right? That, employers know that when you give pay raises, the requests are coming for more time off, because as we get more, we want more. This is a discontent heart.

John D. Rockefeller, the oil tycoon, widely regarded as the richest man in American history … people don’t know how much he was worth. I read anywhere from 200 billion in today’s standards, to 24 billion. It doesn’t matter. Once you get into the B-billions, you’re just in another world, right? Anyway, the man had a lot of money, a lot of money. And, he was asked the question, famously, how much money is enough? And, his answer was, just a little bit more.

See, this is the lie of the discontent heart. It’s always just a little bit more. I need just a little bit more. There’s a prayer in Proverbs that I think captures the contented heart. Proverbs 30:8-9 …

… Remove far from me falsehood and lying;

   give me neither poverty nor riches;

   feed me with the food that is needful for me,

(9) lest I be full and deny you

   and say, “Who is the Lord?”

or lest I be poor and steal

   and profane the name of my God …

How many of us have prayed that prayer? See, that’s a prayer of contentment. That’s a prayer that only could be prayed with a contented heart. So, we need to remember, as people who live, perhaps, in the wealthiest country the world has ever known, people who have, if we’re just absolutely honest on a worldwide scale, the very top percent of wealth in the world. If we’re sitting in this room, most likely, that is true of us. Can we pray that prayer? Lord, give me neither poverty nor riches. That’s the prayer of a contented heart. So, another contour of contentment is, it’s a battle in both the highs and lows of life.

And the, finally - and this will lead us into the final point - contentment is learned over time. For those of us that are impatient, that’s hard, right? I want contentment now. I think we can have a measure of it now. I think, though, what Paul is saying, cause he specifically uses that language, in verse 11 …

not that I am speaking of being need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, I know how to abound in any and every circumstance. I’ve learned the secret of facing plenty, and hunger …

Learned, there, in the original Greek, is a word that tells us that it was not an epiphany. It wasn’t a moment, but it was a growth over time. It was something Paul learned over a long period. Now, this is going to bring us to our final point. So, how do we learn contentment? Paul said, I learned the secret to contentment.

3. OUR UNION WITH CHRIST (v13)

And, our final point is this, and we’ll unpack what it means to learn about this contentment. The secret is union with Christ. Verse 13 is the secret, so … I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need … and, here comes the secret … I can do all things through him who strengthens me …

Now, you may hear this as one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, right? We hear it with professional players after they won the game … I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me … we hear it in positive thinking land, when we’re going after … whatever we’re going after. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And, in some sense, when the, you know, Christian football player says … yeah, I just did it because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, he’s not wrong in that. I don’t want to just bash that. There’s some dependency there. But, it’s not the context, right? The context of … I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me … is contentment. It’s all about contentment. The all things points back to any and every season. So, in any and every season, I can be content through Christ.

Sam Storms, a theologian, unpacks this, I think, in a helpful way. He says …

“When he says it is ’through’ Christ he doesn’t mean merely that Christ is the instrumental cause. Paul is referring to his life ‘in’ Christ, his daily existence in loving and trusting intimacy with Jesus who enables him.”

—Sam Storms

So, he’s speaking of this beautiful doctrine of union with Christ, that brings much life to the believer. So, Paul’s language here, though, it’s written over against near eastern philosophy, and, particularly, stoicism. There is a very strong stream of stoic thought in Philippi at this time. See, to the ancient Greeks, Greeks’ contentment was the ultimate virtue. It’s what they sought. It’s what they desired. Socrates was asked, who is the wealthiest? And, he said, “He is richest, who is content with the least. For, content is the wealth of nature.” For content is the wealth of nature.

Seneca, a stoic philosopher right around the time of Paul, writes probably about a decade before the Philippians, but this thought carried into Paul’s time. He writes, “The happy man is content with his present lot, no matter what it is, and is reconciled to his circumstances.” So, the point, is that this language that Paul is using of contentment is well known to all the Philippians. It is on the front lines of philosophical thought in his time. And, part of that, it was bolstered because there was a movement by the stoics in reaction against, sort of, the opulence of the Roman empire, which many people would say America would be the modern day Roman empire. It said that contentment is found in self sufficiency. In other words, they said, contentment is found in and of myself.

So, Paul picks up on this language, but he turns it on his head. He says, I can do all things - not in and of myself - but I can do all things through him. He says, contentment, this contentment, this universal chase for contentment, is found not through self sufficiency, but through dependency, right?

If we take ourselves back to the garden, that we talked about in the beginning. If you remember, there was a warning that came along with being disobedient to God, in the garden. And, what was that warning? That death would come. Right? So, it might be said of humanity, in light of this overarching biblical truth, that we, all humans, are deserving of death. I know that’s hard, in our culture, but this is the reality of what scripture teaches. But, listen to the good news of it … what do we then deserve? Nothing. In light of what scripture teaches about anthropology, about who humans are, and how we’re wired, and how we function, we don’t deserve anything. Therefore, everything we have is mercy. It’s grace.

So, Paul gets this. Paul, who calls himself the chief of sinners. We were joking about that this morning. We all could rival Paul in that, right? We all could take that title. Paul, who saw himself as the chief of sinners. How is he so content as he sits in prison? Because, he realizes that anything he has, his next breath is a gift. It’s mercy. It’s grace. It’s not deserved, it’s not merited, it is God’s goodness.

Then, we begin to dig into the reality of how we arrive at contentment. See, stoicism … I should say this, before I go on. Perhaps the key to contentment, one of the keys to contentment, is having a right view of self. A view of self that says … though we are created in the image of God, and therefore have worth and value and dignity, we have all of that … everyone in this room has that … that, though we have those things, we are not deserving of anything we have in this life. See, that foundational understanding gives us a posture of moving about in the world that we talked about earlier, that understands contentment is not a destination, but it’s a way of living. It’s a way of moving about, because we understand that all that we encounter, every smile, every handshake you had this morning in the passing of the peace, was a gift of grace. Underserved. The lunch you’re going to have when you leave here, gift of grace, undeserved.

When we begin to move through life in that way, we can’t help but for the reality of contentment to take ahold of us. See, stoicism said, let go of your desires - kind of similar to Buddhism today. Just, the way you kind of reach that place you’re longing for, is to get rid of all desires. But, here’s what we see. Paul says, no, you were created with desires to reshape the world, and those desires are good. Right? That’s joining with God, and making all things new. These desire to reshape the world, to bring justice, to see people come to this place of contentment in Christ, those a good desires. Don’t lay those aside. But, use them in service to Christ. Put them in King Jesus.

So, it might be said, that I can do, or translated … I can do all things in him who strengthens me. That would be a valid translation, as well. In him who gives me strength … a living union with the creator of all things. Paul says, this is the secret to contentment, that when we live into that union, into that reality, you will be a contented person.

So, speaking of this truth of being united to Christ … but what is that? What does it mean to be united with Christ? Now, there have been hundreds of thousands, millions of pages written about this. So, there’s no way we’re going to be able to fully unpack it. But, I want to kind of, maybe get to the crux of it. So, I’m going to give us four quick things. What does it mean to be united with Christ? There are scriptures there next to them, I’d encourage you to write them down, look them up. They’re also in the app, in the notes on the app.

So, what does it mean to be united with Christ? First, it means that everything we need and lack is found in Christ. You can see Ephesians 1:3-14, where it says … we have every spiritual blessing in Christ … Secondly, it means that Christ is always with us, and he will never forsake us. Hebrews 13:5-6 tells us, specifically, connects that. It says … Be content with what you have, for [or because] he will never leave you, and he will never forsake you … There’s a direct connection between union with Christ and our contentment. And, specifically, this aspect, that Christ will never leave us or forsake us. Third, we are in Christ, who is all sufficient. Colossians 2:9-10 says that … we have been filled in him … We are filled, satisfied, completed in him, content in him. And then, finally, the all sufficient Christ is in us. Galatians 2:20, where it says … it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

This is the crux of union with Christ. There are many more aspects to it. But, how, then, do we move from mental ascent, to these truths, to having these truths work down into our bones so that we can be content people? How do we do that? Because, here’s what I find we do with this truth. We tend to intellectually stiff arm it. So, in other words, we hear these truths, and some of you are very theologically minded. You’re already kind of picking it apart, like, are these really the four aspects of union with Christ? Right? You’re already trying to break it down.

But, here’s the reality … when we’re theologically driven, we’re really comfortable with stiff arming the experience away from us intellectually, right? Where we just go, oh, this is what I understand, I get it, I know this .. Berkhof’s systematic says this about it .. And, again, that’s great. I’m being a little cynical, I apologize. But, this is why we don’t experience the reality of union with Christ as a way of being in the world.

So, how do we work this down into our bones? Well, we know that it’s through Word and through prayer, right? We immediately, like … well, pray and read the Bible. But, how do we - absolutely, I amen that - but, how do we really work it down into us? This week, in our Lent guide, the spiritual discipline is contemplation. It’s to think upon these beautiful truths that scripture illuminates to us. See, for us to work these truths down into our bones so that we are people who go about life contented, we have to be people who contemplate these truths.

Here’s what the Lent guide says this week about contemplation. “Contemplation is about waking up and becoming fully present in the now, inviting ourselves into the moment, with hearts alive to what is happening. It is not just thinking about or analyzing a person or event, but rather to see life with the gospel lens of faith, hope, and love. Contemplation slows us down, so that we seek God and the meaning he’s woven into our days and years, so that our experience of his sovereign hand in our lives deepens and grows until we awaken to his presence in every moment.”

Does that describe you? Does it describe me? Are we people who go about life in this world, in that way, deeply believing, contemplating, considering, praying these beautiful truths of scripture that root us and ground us in contentment in every season of life? I’ve shared with you guys, recently, probably more than I should - or more than you want to hear - about our house flooding, my son’s place flooding outside, about a month ago. He lives in a refinished garage, and we went in during that crazy rain we had on Valentines day, and everything was soaked. The carpets, we had to rip it all out, rip out all the sheetrock. And, when we were outside during the day, it was leaking really badly, and we couldn’t get it to stop. We literally tried everything. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you everything we tried. But, we were afraid it was just going to flood the entire thing, and we were going to have to rip it all apart. We were trying to keep it contained to one specific room.

So, we go outside in the midst of the rain, and we start digging up the foundation, digging around the foundation, excavating the foundation by hand. It’s raining, it’s cold, I’m in a bad mood, and in the midst of it - and let me tell you, I’m not doing this to set myself up as the hero, because this is, unfortunately, not enough of the norm in my life. But, in the midst of it, I found myself - we found the issue, or one of the issues. This root had grown into the foundation, cracked the foundation, we found where the water was coming through, we ripped up the root, we started to fix it, and I found myself in the midst of it saying, Lord, thank you that we have abled bodies to do this. Lord, thank you that we needed some concrete - and I didn’t have any concrete - and I went to my neighbor and he had concrete, and he gladly gave it to us. And, I found myself saying, Lord, thank you that we have a generous neighbor. Thank you that you’ve given us the wisdom and resources to deal with this problem, now. We don’t deserve any of it.

Now, that’s mundane - and I’m purposefully using something that feels mundane - but, in the midst of a moment where I wanted to do everything opposite that a pastor should do, I had to dig in and remind myself of what I have in Christ. Lord, thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for the grace that is the ability to grab these shovels and do this work, and still be able to move tomorrow … thank you, for that - though, not very well, the next day … we didn't move very well. But, thank you, we don’t deserve any of it.

See, this is the secret to contentment. I can do all things through Christ, in Christ, who strengthens me. I began the sermon by saying that, as children, early in life we experience the blissful hope of an open future that often gives way to discontentment in the face of reality. The greater truth, in light of Paul’s words here, the greater truth is that those who belong to Christ, we experience a sure hope, both now and in the future, that leads to deep contentment in every season. See, contentment is yours this morning, if you desire it, because you are in Christ, and he is in you. Let’s pray.

Jesus, we are thankful for this truth, that we are united to Christ, that we are in you, and you are in us. Lord, our minds cannot fully even fathom it. But, Lord, would you make us people - not just who analyze these truths intellectually - to keep them at a distance. But, Lord, would you make us people of contemplation. Lord, would you make us people who lean in, in every season, to the truth that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Lord, I pray for those, this morning, in particularly difficult circumstances. Lord, we are grateful that contentment is not based upon circumstances alone. It’s not an arrival, but it’s a way of being. Lord, would you give all of those, this morning, who need that grace, would you point them to the finished work of Jesus on their behalf, again. Lord, because, it is in you, the very thing that we desire, Lord, is contentment, and it is in you that we are found fully at peace, and fully content. Lord, as we come to the table this morning as your people, bring us to this truth again, we ask in Jesus’ name, amen.