Jesus Christ

Slaves Set Free-Full Sermon Transcript

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MARK 3:7-35 

DEACON OF BENEVOLENCE: RAYMOND MOREHOUSE 

SCRIPTURE READING

“Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known.

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons. He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Jesus' Mother and Brothers

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” 

—Mark 2:13–3:6 ESV

INTRO

Good morning. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Raymond. I’m a deacon here, and I also do outreach work as a chaplain. It is my pleasure to be able to fill in today, and talk about a pretty interesting and complicated and kind of confusing passage. So, before we get to all of that, let’s pray. 

Father, we thank you that we can gather, that we can worship, that we can rehearse through our worship and our liturgy, the truths that we have been liberated, set free, that our citizenship, our allegiances have been transferred. These are profound ideas, God, that may be new to some, challenging to all. And so, God, as we study this text this morning, I pray that you would give us ears to hear from your spirit, minds to understand deep truths, God, and perhaps more than anything, the courage to have imaginations enriched, and enchanted by the truth that you reveal to us. We pray these things in your name, Jesus, amen. 

So, I want to start us off with a big idea, to sort of hold in our minds as we get into the text, and that’s this:


Jesus is Israel’s long awaited Messiah, God’s anointed one. This means that he came not only take care of the individual’s sin problem, or moral problem, but also to liberate everyone from captivity to the dark powers that enslave the world. That is, the problem to which Jesus is the only solution is not just the wickedness that is found in the hearts of all of us but also the wickedness that drives the kingdoms of this world on their hell-bent course of rebellion against God.

Jesus did not just come to forgive you; he wants to set you free.

There is a lot to unpack in that summary statement. The idea that we are not just sinners apart from Christ but also slaves may be just as confusing and offensive to us now as it was to the first people to encounter Jesus two thousand years ago. We might think something like this: 

Of course on reflection I am imperfect, and of course taking care of my personal issues is of concern to God. I want to be a better person, and it’s reasonable that a good God would share that desire. Fine and good. So a personal savior who forgives and affirms me is somewhat humbling but I can take that in stride. That being said, let’s not get too superstitious or dramatic. We’ve done a pretty good job - I’ve done a pretty good job - of building a society that mitigates the worst in us and gives us some truly basic and wonderful goods: we have our rights, we have our freedoms. Do not insult me by telling me that I am a slave.

This line of thinking is not too far off of how some Jewish people regarded themselves in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Imperfect? Of course. Sinners? Perhaps. Slaves? Never. As some Pharisees responded to Jesus in John’s gospel, “We have never been slaves of anyone!” (John 8.33) So when Jesus begins talking of the arrival of God’s Kingdom, as if it isn’t already present, and starts casting out demons as if they are, he immediately encounters residence. The Children of Abraham, the nation of Israel, are the chosen people of God. They are not subject to the demonic corruption and uncleanness like their pagan neighbors. Right?! But Jesus seems to indicate otherwise and it makes some people extremely, extremely angry. Angry enough to kill.

To give this some teeth, it is as if someone walked up to a proud and patriotic modern citizen and insisted their land was not, in fact, the “Land of the Free” but is actually a kingdom enslaved to the same dark powers that rule the rest of the world. 

It is the tension of a claim like this that - which I won’t go in to more - that has been bubbling and boiling as Mark’s narrative unfolds.

THE GROWING CONTROVERSY

Last week we heard about the growing controversy between Jesus and the reigning social and religious norms of his day. As Mark goes on we find that the tension only increases, the friction intensifies, and the pressure rises. Now, in Mark 3, we find nearly all of the major players of this gospel gathered together:[1]Jesus is of course central. Having declared himself capable of forgiving sins and being Lord of the Sabbath, he then comes into direct conflict with the Pharisees and the representatives of the Herodian dynasty. They are the ruling powers, they think, and they think they have been ruling well.They go from questioning Jesus to seeking his destruction, and will remain his enemies for the rest of the gospel. 

Mark then describes the gathering crowds, and once again Jesus displays his authority to them by healing the sick and subduing demons. In Mark 3.13-19 we also meet the inner circle of 12 disciples. Twelve, the number here is significant: Israel had 12 tribes, though most are now lost in exile, could it be that Israel’s Messiah is reconstituting the nation? But in this reformation Jesus does not represent one of the twelve, but is rather is the authority above them that sends them out to be a blessing. 

In the midst of this, in verse 21, we meet Jesus’ biological family, “his people.” They think he is nuts and make a plan to take him home, by force if necessary. While this plan is unfolding we also finally meet representatives of the Jerusalem elite, the religious scribes that have come down from the holy mountain to see what the fuss is all about. 

We should not underestimate the importance of Jerusalem in the political and spiritual world of first century Judea. Politically, it was the center of what remained of Israel’s power; spiritually, with its Temple to Yahweh, ancient Jews called it the “navel of the world,” the point at which heaven and earth came together. They have divine mandate to think this way: Jerusalem had been the place where the Holy Spirit of God - and that will be critically important as the text unfolds - dwelt in the midst of his people, though at the time of Jesus this presence has been conspicuously absent for a long, long time, and it had never been witnessed in the temple that had been built by Herod the Great.

So, with all these players in mind, now gathered together in Mark 3, we also find again the powers operating under the surface, the dark powers whom Jesus has already been systematically conquering. Thus far Mark has made a point of highlighting Jesus’ authority over these powers, identified as either “unclean spirits” or “demons.” For modern readers like ourselves these beings come across as rather abstract concepts. But in this chapter we find that the Jerusalem scribes get very specific. They do not suggest that Jesus is not actually accomplishing the alleged miracles. Rather, they accuse him of being possessed by “Beelzebul.” He has derived his authority from “The Ruler of Demons.”  

With this accusation the pressure-cooker of Mark’s gospel has come to a boil. But to understand what exactly is happening here, and what exactly Jesus means by his warning about “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” we need to be aware of some important biblical and historical context. That is, we need to know what is going on up to this point in the big story of what God is doing in the world, and how people during this time would have written and thought about what Jesus was doing among them.

There are a number of places to start or themes to focus on but I think the most important is not the geo-political surface but rather the emerging conflict between the “Holy Spirit” and the demonic forces of Beelzebul. Understanding this conflict in light of Israel’s prophetic scriptures is critical for understanding the central warning of this text: “Whatever you do,” Jesus seems to say, “do not blaspheme the Holy Spirit!” 

THE HOLY SPIRIT IN PROPHETIC CONTEXT

So beginning there, this is not the first reference to the Holy Spirit in Mark. From the first verse of the gospel Mark has carefully shaped his narrative around Israel’s prophecies of the coming Messiah, particularly using the Old Testament book of Isaiah who spoke of the day that God’s Messiah would arrive and with the Him the presence of God would once again be found in the midst of his people. 

Isaiah had to look forward to this day because in his present, centuries before Jesus would be born, the people of Israel had turned against their God and turned to idols and falsehoods. They had become enslaved to their own passions, their own depravities, enslaved to the wicked and hostile world around them, the world of malicious intelligences greater than themselves. They have become enslaved to their own self-destruction. 

Isaiah prophetically describes this fall from grace, 

The Lord’s Mercy Remembered 

                7 I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,

the praises of the Lord, 

                according to all that the Lordhas granted us, 

and the great goodness to the house of Israel 

                that he has granted them according to his compassion, 

according to the abundance of his steadfast love. 

                8 For he said, “Surely they are my people, 

childrenwho will not deal falsely.” 

And he became their Savior. 

                9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, 

and the angel of his presence saved them; 

                in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; 

he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. 

                10 But they rebelled 

and grieved his Holy Spirit

                therefore he turned to be their enemy, 

and himself fought against them. 

            —Isaiah 63:7-10 ESV

So the great tragedy of Israel was that when they were God’s covenant family they chose instead to rebel, grieve, insult, and fight against God’s Holy Spirit which was in their midst. They polluted their own land and the Jerusalem Temple itself with idols, physical representations of the dark powers that ruled the pagan nations around them. The result of this self-determined slavery is that God himself, the enemy of any that would destroy his good creation, becomes their enemy as well.

But God did not determine to fight against his rebellious people forever. As Isaiah’s prophecy continues,

         11 Then he remembered the days of old, 

of Moses and his people. 

         Where is he who brought them up out of the sea 

with the shepherds of his flock? 

         Where is he who put in the midst of them 

his Holy Spirit

         12 who caused his glorious arm 

to go at the right hand of Moses, 

         who divided the waters before them 

to make for himself an everlasting name, 

         13 who led them through the depths? 

         Like a horse in the desert, 

they did not stumble. 

         14 Like livestock that go down into the valley, 

the Spirit of the Lordgave them rest. 

         So you led your people, 

to make for yourself a glorious name. 

 —Isaiah 63:11-14 ESV

Isaiah prophesied that a new Exodus would someday be led directly by God’s Spirit itself. The beginning of the New Exodus is exactly what the “Good News,” the “Gospel” is all about: God returning again to dwell with his people. Most importantly for our passage in Mark, the Spirit would be present in the Messiah would do all of this by the power of God. Isaiah describes it this way,

 

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, 

and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 

                2 And the Spiritof the Lordshall rest upon him, 

theSpiritof wisdom and understanding, 

theSpiritof counsel and might, 

theSpiritof knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 

                3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

                He shall not judge by what his eyes see, 

or decide disputes by what his ears hear, 

                4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, 

and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; 

                and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, 

and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 

—Isaiah 11:1-14 ESV

            

This Messiah would forgive the sins of the people, free them from demonic bondage. Isaiah’s prophecy contains echoes of Psalm 2,

2 Why do the nations rage 

and the peoples plot in vain? 

                2 The kings of the earth set themselves, 

and the rulers take counsel together, 

against the Lordand against his Anointed, saying, 

                3 “Let us burst their bonds apart 

and cast away their cords from us.” 

                4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; 

the Lord holds them in derision. 

                5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, 

and terrify them in his fury, saying, 

                6 “As for me, I have set my King 

on Zion, my holy hill.” 

                7 I will tell of the decree: 

                TheLordsaid to me, “You are my Son; 

today I have begotten you. 

                8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, 

and the ends of the earth your possession. 

                9 You shall break them with a rod of iron 

and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 

                10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; 

be warned, O rulers of the earth. 

                11 Serve the Lordwith fear, 

and rejoice with trembling. 

                12 Kiss the Son, 

lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, 

for his wrath is quickly kindled. 

                Blessed are all who take refuge in him. 

 —Psalm 2 ESV

            Returning back to Isaiah, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ speaks again,

61 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, 

because the Lordhas anointed me 

                to bring good news to the poor; 

he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, 

                to proclaim liberty to the captives, 

and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 

                2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, 

  —Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV. 

            Mark does not record Jesus quoting this scripture, but Luke does


THE HOLY SPIRIT IN MARK, JESUS THE ANOINTED ONE, AND THE DARK POWERS

Nevertheless, it is no accident that Mark introduces Jesus as the Christ, the anointed, who announces the good news. It is not accidental that John the Baptist knows that he is the one preparing the way for this, and that the Anointed Messiah would be the one who would baptize God’s wayward people with his Holy Spirit, once again sealing them as his covenant family. In Mark, it is the Holy Spirit that descends upon Jesus and marks him out as God’s beloved Son, just as we read from Psalm 2. It is God’s Holy Spirit who then sends Jesus out into the wilderness to overcome the temptations of the Devil, thus prepared to return to God’s enemies in order to set them free from their slavery. 

Jesus forgives sins and casts out demons, and because all of the people have fallen from the Glory of God even the worst of sinners can be called to follow Him forward in hope, to live in grace and freedom. Jesus does not call tax collectors and sinners to show that there is nothing wrong with them, much less to show the snooty, judgmental Pharisees that collaboration with Pagan slave masters is perfectly acceptable to God. It is not, and this is the point: Jesus calls the worst and vilest enemies of God to follow him because if God’s restorative grace is not for sinners like these then it is for no one. 

What the religious elites, the Pharisees and scribes and Herodians have missed, is that it is not just the paganized rebels and outlaws who must submit to the authority of the Messiah: God will install his king on Zion, and he will rule the Holy Mountain of Jerusalem. The one anointed with the Spirit of God walks with Yahweh’s authority, the authority to smash and cast down allrivals. So when Mark tells us that elites have come down from Jerusalem to face off with Jesus the Christ this is a confrontation of cosmic proportions. 

The scribes of Jerusalem, seeing the building evidence of Jesus’ authority make a calculated accusation: his authority comes from Beelzebul. This term is a title as much as a name that can be translated either “Lord of the Flies” or “Lord of the House.” In ancient thought, both of these titles are related to the practices of pagan worship. Zeus the King of the gods, was sometimes titled the “lord of flies” because it was thought that he protected pagan animal sacrifices from the polluting influence of swarms of flies.[2]Alternatively, “Lord of the House” may be a reference to the many temples, houses of the gods, found everywhere in the ancient world. 

According to some 1stcentury Jews, Beelzebul is the ruler and protector of all demonic power. This is what the scribes claim to be true of Jesus. In the Testament of Solomon, a Jewish text not found in the Bible, but which likely dates from the first century, Beelzebul is questioned by King Solomon,

“Beelzeboul, what is thy employment?” And he answered me: 

“I destroy kings. I ally myself with foreign tyrants. And my own demons I set on to men, in order that they may believe in them and be lost. 

And the chosen servants of God, priests and faithful men, I excite unto desires for wicked sins, and evil heresies, and lawless deeds; and they obey me, and I bear them on to destruction. 

And I inspire men with envy, and desire for murder, and for wars and sodomy, and other evil things. And I will destroy the world.”[3]

So when the scribes of Jerusalem make their accusation we should not be confused about the terrible gravity of their claim. Jesus is not Yahweh’s anointed, he is the ruler of demons.

 

Slide 13: Daemons

The Greek word “daemon” is taken over by Jewish writers from Greco-Roman thought. Daemons in this rival worldview are not the Halloween caricatures that we are used to. They are the gods of pagan pantheism. When Hebrew writers worked to translate their scriptures into Greek they used this word to represent a whole host of biblical figures. Biblical scholar Dale Martin observes,

“Ancient Jews thus used [“daemon”] to translate five or six different Hebrew words. In the original Near Eastern context, those words referred to different kinds of beings: goat-man gods; superhuman beings that either are or cause diseases; abstract qualities or goods that may also be seen as gods, such as Fortune or Fate. What they have in common, nonetheless, is that they all were thought of as gods – in fact, as the gods other people falsely worship: the gods of the nations.”[4]

The most straight-forward biblical example of this is the Greek translation of Psalm 96.5 (95.5 LXX), “All the gods of the nations are demons.” 

Far from being the malicious, hateful, frightening beings we are used to seeing in art and fantasy, daemons were for the ancient Greeks much more complicated. There were evil spirits, the cacodaemons, but more important for worship and service were those beings that were overwhelmingly beneficial. “Fortune,” “Peace,” “Happiness” or “Wealth” could be represented as daemons. 

Slide 14: Daemon at Herculaneum Fresco

            Here is a depiction of a daemon from Herculaneum, the town destroyed with Pompeii in 79 AD, not long after Mark would have been written. 

Slide 15: Euphrosyne and Acratus

In this slide we see Euphrosyne, Good Cheer, and Acratus, Ease, depicted as daemons. 

Slide 16: Erotes

And here are depictions of the daemons Erotes who were thought to insight lovers to erotic delights. We should pay careful attention to the fact that these frescos and mosaics were not just found in hidden, secretive, and sacred contexts. They were on full display in the entry ways and living areas of people’s homes. Their appeal is obvious. Further, those devoted to these figures were not what we normally think of as “demon possessed.” Of course we have in scripture descriptions of the demoniac lunatic confined to the outskirts of society. But what would an individual devoted to Good Cheer, Fortune, or Fury look like in society? The jovial socialite, the prosperous businesswoman, or the accomplished soldier? We are so used to thinking about demons in terms of horror movie tropes that we can remain ignorant that in the crucial historical context of the Bible demonic devotion paid rich dividends.

In Roman texts, the Latin term for “daemon” was “genius” and worship of the geni-i of rich, powerful, benevolent figures was common. 

Slide 17: Genius of Augustus

The genius of Caesar Augustus, here depicted in marble, was widely venerated. We should remember that while statues like these would have stood in temples and been worshipped, what was really being worshipped and served was the power and benevolence of the Roman state. Such devotion might seem completely foreign to us, but once we have the eyes to see what the biblical texts actually describes we should realize that even a privileged, modern society can host such idols. 

Slide 18: The Magnanimous Powers

But as beneficial as these daemons were thought to be they were not to be trifled with. In one of Xenophon’s Socratic dialogues, Socrates warns an impertinent student who reasons that if he can’t see demons why should he bother with them. Somewhat sarcastically he says “Really Socrates  I don’t despise daemons, but I believe they too magnanimous to need my service.” Socrates replies, ominously, “The greater the power that benefits you, the greater the service it will demand from you.”[5]

But remembering the lens that Isaiah has given us to view Israel’s current state, it is these gods represented by idols, these daemons, that the Israelites chose over the one true God. It is these gods that stand behind the human slave-masters of Israel.

As another biblical text, Deuteronomy 32:15-18 reads,

                15 “But Israel grew fat, and kicked; 

you grew fat, stout, and sleek; 

                then he forsook God who made him 

and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation. 

                16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; 

with abominations they provoked him to anger. 

                17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, 

to gods they had never known, 

                to new gods that had come recently, 

whom your fathers had never feared. 

                18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, 

and you forgot the God who gave you birth. 

 —Deuteronomy 32:15-18 ESV

 

 When the false gods of wealth, power, happiness, and the state are venerated the cost and consequences are slavery. It is precisely these false gods, these demons, that would be overcome by the coming Anointed one, just as Moses, by the power of God, overcame the gods of the Egyptians during the Exodus. It is for this reason that the many exorcisms described in the Gospels are not just proofs or magic tricks. The people of Israel are seeing their deliverance enacted before their very eyes. 

And the elites of Jerusalem reject it.

JESUS’ REBUTTAL

In Mark 3.23, Jesus begins his rebuttal. Rather than merely a flat denial, Jesus leans into their logic and turns it against them. They are correct: there are indeed two rival Kingdoms. He drops name Beelzebul in favor of another, Satan. This too is a title and can simply mean “the adversary.” Satan can be a single identity, or the Satan may stand for the seething mass of enemies that lie inside of his power and authority.

If Satan casts itself out of the people he rules, Jesus reasons, then one Kingdom has turned on itself. This is not just civil war, but certain destruction. Likewise, a “house,” perhaps an allusion to Beelzebul as the “Lord of the House,” which turns on itself will also fall. The dynasty of the devil would fall to pieces. The assumption underlying this logic is that the Satan has already gained control of the house of Israel. The prophetic indictment is true: long ago Israel turned from the one, true God and is now in bondage. If this is the case then why would the enemy which has already been victorious turn upon itself and undo its victory? Obviously, this would be absurd. 

What is in fact happening, as Jesus goes on to explain, is that the house of the strong man is being plundered. His possessions will become the spoils of another. “The Ruler of the House” is being bound. By using this illustration Jesus once again alludes to the prophecies of Isaiah. 

The emancipation of Israel is described in Isaiah 49.24-26 in graphic terms,

24 Can the prey be taken from the mighty, 

or the captives of a tyrant be rescued? 

25 But thus says the Lord: 

Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, 

and the prey of the tyrant be rescued; 

for I will contend with those who contend with you, 

and I will save your children. 

26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,

and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine. 

Then all flesh shall know 

that I am the Lordyour Savior, 

and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. 

 —Isaiah 49: 24-26 ESV

            God himself will contend with the mighty tyrant, the strong man, and plunder his house of all that he has taken. The tyrant will so completely overcome that “all flesh,” that is, “all humankind” will know that God is the Savior and Redeemer of Israel. He, rather than the Satan, is the “Mighty One.” 

            The many exorcisms are not just morality plays about individual deliverance: these mighty works are evidence of cosmic upheaval. Once again Jesus has identified himself using the language of Isaiah’s prophecies, this time casting himself in the role of Mighty One, the breaker and binder and despoiler of tyrants, God himself. With each confrontation Jesus demonstrates that the Dark Kingdom behind the kingdoms of this world is being overthrown and its tyrant is being cast down and plundered. Liberation from the self-inflicted wounds of idolatry and spiritual adultery is at hand and is unfolding before the watching crowds. That is to say, as Jesus has already declared, the Kingdom of God has come into their midst.

BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT

It is at this point and flowing out of this rich, manifold context of Israel’s prophetic scriptures and Mark’s descriptions of the messianic revolution that we find the famous warning in Mark 3:28-29  … Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin … What does Jesus mean? 

Pulling all of the pieces together, just this: By leveling their horrible insult the Jerusalem scribes have attributed the saving work, power, and mission of God’s chosen Messiah to the one who seeks to “destroy the world.” Jesus is not, according to them, the one foretold by Isaiah as the one anointed with God’s Holy Spirit. He is not the Mighty One plundering the house of their demonic overseers. He is not the one announcing the good news of liberation and forgiveness. By making this claim they are not just speaking against Jesus, but are actually blaspheming the very Spirit of God.

By rejecting the liberation and forgiveness that Jesus offers they are throwing away liberation itself and forgiveness itself, and it is for this reason that such blasphemy cannot be forgiven. Such rejection must resonate into eternity: it will last forever. Those that persistently assert that whatever Kingdom Jesus represents will never be one that they will join must permanently live outside of its bounds. Refusing to submit to the will of God they will, like their forefathers, remain forever enslaved. Rejecting the Kingdom of God, they will forever take up residence in the Kingdom of another. 

All this talk of exorcisms and demonic beings might have made us uncomfortable, but are we so certain that we privileged moderns have discovered how, without God’s help, to resist the enticements of luck, fortune, wealth, national identity, and power. Even if we shrug off the suggestion that there are actual malevolent intelligences behind these temptations it would be hard to argue that they do not come to dominate our lives. 

There is one more Greek word for us to consider, not found in this passage, but one which is of profound importance: apocalypsis, unveiling revelation. When the people of God were beset by their enemies it took a prophetic voice crying out that their eyes would be opened for them to see that they were walking in an enchanted creation. What they saw was horrifying and beautiful, a world haunted by devils but also infused with the presence of God.

The Satan, the seething, many-headed, many-formed adversary would love nothing more than to convince us that none of this revelation is true. He would love nothing more than to convince us that we are truly alone, or at least that God remains in his distant heaven and devils only exist in the fantasies of lunatics or superstitious fools. We must allow the Spirit of God to once again capture our imaginations so that we, with unveiled eyes, might see the horror and beauty of the world-that-truly-is. We must not forget the world that we actually live in.

If your time, talent, and treasure are devoted to these things can you be so sure that you are not in fact possessed by these things? If you are not only willing to live for them but also die and even kill for them what does that tell you? An ancient observer may well be forgiven the judgment that our noble pluralism is just as pagan a system as their own. They might even warn us with Socrates’ words to his skeptical student, “The greater the power that benefits you, the greater the service it will demand from you.”

How then are we to escape?  

            This challenge resonates into our present. It is a call that has come to all of us. We, like the crowds, the sinners, the tax-collectors, the disciples, and the scribes are faced with a decision: what will we do with Jesus? In a passage like Mark 3, He leaves us with few options. 

C.S. Lewis famously describes these options as a trilemma,

“[There is a] the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”[6]

We see two of these approaches in Mark 3. The Jerusalem scribes regarded Jesus as the devil of hell. They are turned away with a terrifying rebuke. In passage we also meet the biological family of Jesus. They, at this point in the narrative, regard him as the lunatic and attempt to take him in hand. They too are rejected. 

But why can’t Jesus just be a great moral teacher? For those that are self-conscious enough to recognize their own sin, and this is nearly everyone, this is an attractive option. It does not take much humility to admit to imperfection and to look for moral instruction from great teachers. The gentle-Jesus-meek-and-mild who forgives sins and teaches us to love each other is therefore basically attractive to basically everyone. What this caricature ignores is what Lewis points towards: the absolute and exclusive loyalty to God that Jesus demands of his followers. Those that follow him must submit themselves to the authority of God, that is, they must repent, and they must join themselves to His Kingdom. 

Nevertheless, it is remarkably common to claim that Jesus, like all good moral teachers, simply taught that the “Golden Rule” is sufficient. But this allegedly “golden rule” is then presented as the command to love others as we love ourselves. It does not seem to occur to those who make this claim that this is not at all what Jesus actually said. He is clear, the first and foremost commandment is to love the LORD your God will all that you have. This is the “great commandment.” 

But this commandment goes far beyond a do-gooding approach to moral life which followed the alleged “golden rule.” Jesus primary call and command is about absolute allegiances. 

Who is your God? 

Who will Lord over your life and whose Kingdom will you build? 

To put it another way, whose house will you live in and who will be your Father? 

We must now go back to the idea we started with: Of course Jesus came to forgive our sins, this is fundamental, but Jesus did not come to merely dismiss our minor imperfections or show us a better, more moral way of life. He came to liberate us from spiritual slavery. As the Apostle Paul write’s, God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness into the Kingdom of his beloved son (Col. 1). 

The disciples, in the closing verses of Mark 3, are gathered around their Lord. After dismissing the pleas of his biological mother and brothers who wish to arrest a lunatic Jesus makes an amazing claim. Gesturing to those gathered with him he declares, “Behold my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Just as the ancient prophecies foretold, God’s Messiah would recreate the covenant family. The Children of God are not, as popular civic religion would have it, everyone. It is only those who submit to God’s rule, who join themselves to him in covenant loyalty, who submit to his will, only these are born anew, adopted, into His divine family. They have left the house of the strong tyrant because they have followed the Mighty One into his victory. They were once slaves, now they have now been fellow heirs of a dynasty that will last forever. 

CONCLUSION

With this we return to the big idea we started out with:

 Jesus came not only take care of our individual sin problem but also to liberate us from captivity to the dark powers that enslave us and the whole world. That is, the problem to which Jesus is our only solution is not just the wickedness that is found in each of our hearts but also the wickedness that drives the kingdoms of this world on their hell-bent course of rebellion against God.

Jesus did not just come to forgive you; he wants to set you free.

 

Let’s pray. 

Father, 

We thank you for your word, we thank you for the way you challenge us. Thank you for liberating us, for setting us free. Father, I do pray, again, for a conversion of the imagination, for eyes to see an unveiling revelation of the world as it truly is. Lord, I pray that you would make us a church where that is true, where we live out the reality that we belong to you, are citizens of your kingdom, and have been set free to build and to grow and to thrive, and to bless. We pray these things in your name, amen. 

[1]Watts

[2]Pausanias 5.14.2; 8.26.7.

[3]Test. Sol. 6

[4]Dale Martin JBL 129, no 4. 2010. Pg 662.

[5]Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.4.10.

[6]Mere Christianity


A New Kind of Day-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: FORREST SHORT

SCRIPTURE READING

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.” 

—Mark 1:35–45 ESV

INTRO

Well, good morning. Good to see you all, good to be with you. My name’s Forrest, and I’m one of the pastors here at Emmaus. And, what we want to do this morning is pray right off the bat, and then we’re going to jump into our text and continue in our series in the book of Mark. So, let’s pray. 

Jesus,
We are grateful this morning for your goodness towards us. Lord, we recognize that we are weak, needful people, and that you are an all-sufficient God who meets us in our weakness. Lord, we’re grateful for that truth this morning, we’re grateful for the power and the strength of your word that comes to bear in the hearts of your people by your Spirit. And, I pray this morning that that work would be happening in each of our hearts. Lord, we ask for those this morning that may not know you as savior, Lord, we ask that you would draw them to yourself. For those of that do, Lord, we pray the same prayer. Draw us to yourself again. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Well, again, it’s good to see you this morning. As I was studying this week, I read a modern day parable that I think sets our text up pretty well. It’s pretty short, but here’s what it says … 

There once was a man who cared so much about trees that he traveled constantly on their behalf. But, while he educated everywhere and tended personally to infected arbors far and wide, storms and swarms came through the man’s hometown from time to time. Gusts blew down the pine and oak in his own neighborhood. Their local roots, it turns out, had hollowed and weakened with weakened with rot. While he was busy and respected dispensing wisdom for bark and leaf, trees were falling in the man’s own yard. No one was there to tend them.

I think this sets our text up well. It’s easy for us to live like the arborist, isn’t it? It’s easy for us to live in the midst of the busyness and the pacing of life, to the degree that the roots in our heart and home are weakened with rot. And, what we see in the life of Jesus this morning, is that he gives us another way. And, we are in the midst of a world and culture that - quite honestly - has never been busier, has never been more inundated with requests to serve, with requests to get busy, to get about work. And, with technology today, it’s very hard to get away from those things. So, what we see with Jesus, I think, is very lifegiving. And, I think it actually is foundational to the life of believers in the modern day 21st century in the West. 

So, we’re going to look at three things here in the text. Surprise, surprise. There’s always three things in the text. Isn’t it amazing how God set up scripture so there was three point sermons throughout it? So, first … being before doing. And then, secondly … being before doing … produces word and deed living … and third … which results in holistic healing.

This is a way of life, and the way we want to look at this text this morning, is this is a new kind of day. It’s a new way to go about your day so that our work produces fruit, and not just busyness. If you remember from last week, we talked about the difference between service and busyness. They’re two very different things. And so, this, I think, digs down a little bit more into how we do that in the midst of our lives.

I. BEING BEFORE DOING…(vv35-37)

So first, being before doing. Notice verses 35-37 … And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” … You ever feel like that? Everyone is looking … what are you doing in the desolate place? Everyone is looking for you! They need you! From last week’s text, we learned that because of his authority and the healing that resulted from his authority, everybody, it says, in Capernaum, desired an audience with Jesus. We see that in verse 33 … and the whole city was gathered together at the door … and Jesus, it seems, worked well early into the morning healing people, meeting the physical needs.

Remember last week? We said, matter matters. Jesus created it, and he cares about it, and so the physical world is being redeemed as well. But, we see that this dynamic continues into this week’s text, this dynamic of everyone desiring an audience with him. And, it says that everybody wants you, everyone desires you. Now, what’s interesting here, is Jesus has - in this moment - what many of us long for. Jesus has, in this moment, popularity, opportunity for greatness, opportunity for mass productivity. All of you administrators out there, you’re like, oh, I get to organize this mess into something. Right? All of this opportunity is right there before him. Opportunity that, quite honestly, few of us will ever get the chance to experience. 

But, if we’re honest, isn’t it true that even when we begin to experience this, even in the smallest measure, the first thing that we lay aside is solitude, and prayer, and communion with the Father. Isn’t that often the first thing to go in the midst of busyness? In the midst of everyone desiring us, everyone needing us. But, what we see with Jesus, is that the busier he gets, the more intentional he is about prayer, the more intense he is about communion with the Father. In the midst of what seems like an incredible opportunity to capitalize on, Jesus goes out into a desolate place, into an eremos, is the word there in Greek. It’s the same word used earlier in verse 12, the same word used for wilderness in the book of Mark.

And, he most likely spent hours there, going out very early in the morning, and praying until Simon and the other disciples found him. We don’t know how long that was, but it probably wasn’t a 10 minute jaunt into the desert. He was probably out there for hours, while all of these people sought him, while he knew there were physical needs that he was not meeting. It doesn’t say that everyone was healed, it says that some were healed, so there were things left undone, and he was okay with it. In fact, essentially what he’s saying in his action is, my soul, my life depends on this communion with the Father, not on meeting needs. 

So, we don’t know how long he was out there, but he was out there for a long time, and in the midst of this opportunity even to change history, communion with the Father was too vital for Jesus, for it to be squeezed out. And, listen, if the Son of God, completely and perfectly united with the Father, recognizes in the midst of the hairy pace of life, if he recognizes his need for communion with the Father, how much more do we, as weak and easily distracted people, need that communion with the Father?

Anyone else identify with weak and easily distracted? Alright, sweet, I’m in good company this morning. We are. We are weak and easily distracted people. Now, Mark doesn’t tell us the substance of Jesus’ prayer, but if you zoom out and look at Jesus’ prayer life and look at some specific instances, I think we begin to get ahold of the substance of the prayer life of Jesus. In Mark 14, when Jesus is in Gethsemane, you remember he’s facing the reality of the cross. And, it says … he began to be greatly distressed and troubled at the work that was before him … And, he begins his prayer in Mark 14:36 with … Abba Father … 

Abba Father. When the disciples in Luke 11 ask Jesus to teach them to pray, do you remember how he starts? … Our Father … In studying this week, I read about a German scholar who was doing research in New Testament literature, and he discovered that in the entire history of Judaism, in all of these existing books of the Old Testament, and all the existing, extra-biblical Jewish writings dating from the beginning of Judaism until the 10th century A.D., there is not one single reference of a Jewish person addressing God directly in the first person as Father. Not one. The appropriate forms of address for the Jewish people were terms of respect, which is good. But, Jesus is the first Jewish rabbi to call God Father. The first in history. In fact, every recorded prayer of Jesus - except one - he calls God Father. Every single one. 

What’s going on here? Do we see what this is? Do we see what prayer is, then, for Jesus, and therefore what prayer should be for us? Our prayer life is, then, reorientation around who we are, not what we do. This is everything. When we do not work out of this reality, when we do not work out of being, but we work out of doing, we completely get the cart before the horse, and it’s just a matter of time before things go badly. Our attitude, our relationships, the culture of the very place we’re trying to dig in and do work, our prayer life is reorientation around who we are, not what we do.  

If you remember in the early part of chapter 1, in Jesus’ baptism, the Father spoke in verse 11 … you are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased … You know what prayer is? Prayer is coming back to that again, and again, and again, and reorienting our lives around this foundational truth. This is what Paul says in Galatians 4:6 … and because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of the Son into our hearts, crying “Abba, Father” … But, we cannot know this in our busyness, and hurry, and longing for the fast and for the famous, rather than the faithful and fruitful. 

There’s a quote from Matthew Henry, you may be familiar with him. He’s a Puritan commentator, wrote a commentary set that’s probably one of the most popular out there. He said this … 

We must study to be quiet…The most of men are ambitious of the honor of great business, and power and preferment; they covet it, they court it, they compass sea and land to obtain it; but the ambition of a Christian should be carried towards quietness. 

—Matthew Henry

To the degree that you and I know the unconditional, Fatherly love of God, is the degree that we do not need power, and comfort, and control, and approval. But, if we go to doing first, we will be operating out of one of those four source idols. Right? When we hear Jesus’ opportunity, the power and control in us says, man, what are you doing? The entire city of Capernaum is longing for you! But, we see Jesus operates out of something deeper. To the degree that you know the Fatherly love of God, is the degree that you do not need power, comfort, control, and approval, and we are not enslaved by them. We live out the freedom we have in Christ through prayer, through communion with the Father. 

Let me ask you this … How many times this past week, did you begin your day with Abba, Father? How many times this past week did you and I - before the pressures and the pace of the day hit full force - begin the day with being, not doing? I can’t tell you how many mornings I wake up, and immediately - my wife will call me on this often - why is your hair on fire? Why can’t you take 10 minutes, slow down, eat a biscuit, and drink some coffee? But, I wake up, my eyes open, and I immediately think what I have to do, what I have to get done, and the amount of time in the week I have to get it, and there’s not enough time in the week to do it. And, it doesn’t drive me to the wilderness for communion with the Father, it drives me to doing before being. But, the call of Christ and the rest of Christ, is that we are called to Abba Father every day, before the pace of the day hits.

So, I want to challenge everyone of us here, this week, see if this week everyone of us can begin the day with Abba, Father. However that looks. I know our lives are crazy, I know some of you have 37 children, all under the age of 1 that you’re trying to wrangle in your house. I know how difficult it is. I hear you. I know you don’t even get bathroom time, but lock the door, five minutes, pretend like you have to go to the bathroom, and commune with the Father. Tie the kids, put them in the closet, whatever you have to do. 

We have to fight for that in the midst of the harried pace of our lives. So, I’m going to challenge you this week, to see if you can do that. To, commit to every morning, I’m going to begin the day with Abba Father. Now, it may feel like detox, because we don’t do this, right? I actually listened to a podcast this week about this guy whose business actually goes into the most remote places he can find in the western United States, and he sets up a mic, and he records it. He just records whatever sounds he hears out there. He looks for the most silent place he can find. And, he says it’s actually very hard to find a place that’s far enough away from a highway, and not in the midst of a flight path, so that you don’t get airplane noise. 

It was very telling, in that it’s really, really hard. He actually said there’s only 9 places in the U.S. he can find where he can literally get silence for a long period of time. And so, the reporter - or, the guy who was producing the podcast - went out with him, and they sat in this place for hours in complete silence. They set up a mic, and they recorded it all. And, when the guy came out - the guy that’s producing the podcast - he came out, and he said, I’m really emotional. He’s like, I began to think about a broken relationship I had. And, essentially what he was saying, is I’ve not been silent, so I never deal with those things. See, what silence does, what solitude does, is it forces what’s deeply in there, that we can’t see in the midst of the harried pace of life, it comes to the surface. And, in the midst of that, we can remind ourselves that we are the Father’s, that we belong to him. Right?

That’s why we are human beings, not human doings. We are beings, right? It’s about who we are, not about what we do. What we do flows out of that. But, that then sets the trajectory for your day. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have. That, in my life when I don’t start with that, when I don’t start with the communion with the Father, it sets the trajectory of my day, and frustration rises easily, trying to prove myself through my doing rises very easily in me. And, I like the term I heard someone use … gospel chill. He said, the older I get, the more gospel chill I have. He’s just experienced life, and he’s seen that God is good, and sovereign, and providential, and that he works in all these things, and it’s not about what I do at the end of the day, though he uses that. But, when it’s all said and done … deep breathe, Abba Father, I’m yours. Nothing can take that from me. 

So, I would encourage you in that this week. See, this is one of the aspects of the fruitfulness of Jesus’ life. It’s the joy of his sonship, and it’s what gives him joy and purpose in the midst of his ministry, in the midst of doing. And so, we must begin there.

II. …PRODUCES WORD AND DEED LIVING…(vv38-39)

So, if we begin there, being before doing produces word and deed living. It’s not being without doing, it’s being before doing, right? The doing comes afterwards. So, it produces word and deed living.

What Jesus is facing, and the people looking for him, is given a little bit more teeth in the parallel in Luke 4. Luke adds … and they urged him not to leave … So, when he’s decided to leave to go preach, they tell him no, don’t do that. So, the totality of what Jesus is facing, is that he has a large throng of people who want him to stay put, and meet their needs through his miracles. But, notice what he says in verses 38 and 39 … And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons … Preaching. Jesus essentially says, I’m not just going to stay here and meet the physical needs that you know you have through miracles, but I’m going to meet he need underneath the physical needs that you don’t know you have. 

Jesus says, I have to preach. Now, we know what he’s preaching. We’ve been told that in verse 15, if you remember from a couple weeks ago … the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel … this is what he was preaching. The call, here, is to repent, to turn from self, and to turn, ultimately, to God for ultimate healing. See, when we as God’s people meet physical needs, we are responding to the needs people know they have. But, people also have spiritual needs that they don’t see as readily, and Jesus is saying, it would be unloving of me not to also preach so that those spiritual needs are met. What they need is to be reconciled to God. It’s what we all need. It’s our greatest need. 

This is the wholeness of kingdom living. Jesus calls the sinner to repent, to turn to himself, and he calls the righteous to serve. Now, believe it or not, there’s debate in the church about this. I know, it’s hard to believe that there’s debate in the church. But, there’s debate around word and deed. What do we do with that? Some people would say, hey, we just preach the gospel and that’s the most important thing, and that’s all that matters. And, as soon as you go into deeds, you’re going into works that undermine the gospel. And, there are those who would say, hey, the people have heard it, we don’t need to preach. Let’s just do it, let’s just do good things, right?

I think, on one side, you have sort of sectarian, by that we mean, set apart from the culture, sectarian fundamentalism. And, on the other side, you have what would be more syncretist, becoming one with the culture, liberalism. It’s less about doctrine, doesn’t matter that much, it’s more about embodying this reality in the midst of the culture. Fundamentalism, on one hand, is about heavy conversion, right? And, we’re all about conversion and people coming to Christ and being born again. But, fundamentalism says it wants heavy conversion, because they want to go there, but it has little emphasis on meeting people’s needs regardless of what they believe. 

Because legalism does not produce compassion, but pride, that camp or that stream, or that ditch you can fall into, from there we end up saying, I’m good and that’s why God loves me, but those people out there, they’re not. Those people are evil. And, we see, in that, we’re missing the grace that’s been shown us as God’s people.

And then, on the other side, there’s syncretist liberalism. They meet all the needs they can, but there’s no call to repentance. There’s no call to coming to faith. And, I’ve talked with actually pastors that would fall more into that camp, and they’ve told me, yeah, we don’t call people to Jesus, we just let them respond however they see fit.

And so, you’ve got these two sides that we tend to lean towards, but here’s what happens. The true gospel, the fullness of the gospel, the whole gospel, produces people who don’t despise the world or reflect the world, but they are utterly different from the world. We, as God’s people, should be utterly different in that we are word and deed people. You cannot read the epistles and the book of James, and not arrive at that conclusion. We are word and deed people.. And so, we as a church are committed to that. We’re not going to debate that. We are about meeting physical needs in our community, and the surrounding communities, and we are about preaching the good news of the gospel, so that the need underneath the need can be met in Christ. We are about both of those things, and we’re not going to fudge on either one. 

That’s why I’m super thankful for Raymond Moorhouse here. If you guys haven’t met him yet, he’s the outreach chaplain here at Emmaus, and he does a lot of work among the population of Redlands with homelessness, and meeting physical needs. And, he thinks really well about it, too. If you haven’t had a conversation with him, I would encourage you to do it. But also, the helping humans workshops that he does, it fleshes that out for us biblically, because we often don’t know what to do in the physical realm, right? It’s either bleeding heart, give people a sack lunch, or on the other hand, it’s like … it’s too messy, they want to be there, we’re not going to do anything, we’re going to leave them alone. 

I think the gospel calls us to a third way. And so, we at Emmaus church are thinking through, praying through, getting input into how we flesh out for us, how we become a word and deed church, and continue to be a word and deed church. 

So, this being before doing produces word and deed … finally … which results in holistic healing.

III. …WHICH RESULTS IN HOLISTIC HEALING (vv40-45)

 Now, are you seeing the trajectory of your day? You begin with Abba Father, this is who I am, then as you go throughout your day, you’re going throughout it as word and deed people. And, ultimately, what we see, is by God’s grace, we’re joining God in his work, and it results in holistic healing. It results in a comprehensive salvation. 

Look at verses 40-42 … And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. Leprosy had all of life implications. Leprosy was not just a physical issue, it was physical, social, and spiritual. It meant that if you had leprosy, you were an outcast, you were a social pariah. It meant that you had to stay in a desolate place without touch, and it meant that if a leper came near to an inhabited place, what they would hear is cries of people crying out … unclean! Unclean! They couldn’t be touched. 

Imagine you, this afternoon, head over to Citrus Plaza, and as you’re walking through the food court, everyone starts crying out .... unclean! And, they part the way for you, and no one will touch you. Imagine the reality of that in life, everywhere you went. If someone who was not lepers came into contact with a leper, he or she was now unclean. In fact, there’s a rabinical writing of the time that says, if a leper stands under a tree and a clean person passes under the shadow of the tree, the clean is made unclean. And then, the person who passes under the shadow of the tree is now ceremonially unclean, and they have to go through a whole ritualistic ceremony to become clean again, so they can engage their community, and engage in worship. 

And, of course, for the leper, it meant no temple worship. They couldn’t enter the temple as unclean people. See, what’s going on here is not just physical healing, but a comprehensive, holistic salvation. And, you and I are that leper. You and I need comprehensive, holistic salvation, and when we place our faith in Jesus and we find the spirit of sonship that cries Abba, Father in us, from there we join God in his work to proclaim this good news, this holistic salvation in word and in deed. 

What may be lost on us, as well, as we read this text, is that the leper, here, has made a mad dash for life. The leper comes to Jesus in an inhabited place, it seems, and bows to Jesus, throws himself at the feet of Jesus. He breaks all the laws, all the societal norms that lepers were supposed to adhere to, and throws himself completely upon Jesus’ mercy. Notice he says … if you will … make me clean. If you will, make me clean. He doesn’t say, you have to make me clean, I’ve risked everything for you. Don’t you see what I’ve done? Don’t you see what I’ve risked to come into your presence in the midst of this inhabited place? I could be beaten, I could be killed for breaking all of these social taboos and laws. Here I am, at your feet, Jesus. Don’t you see what I’ve done? You have to heal me. 

Notice there’s none of that in the language. He says, if you will. This is not a conditional appeal based upon his own work. He doesn’t say, look what I’ve done, look how I’ve risked for you. He drops all his conditions, and he says, if you are the authority - as we looked at last week, the author of life - if that is you, I give up all my rights, and place my life at your mercy, and I do it gladly, and I do it willingly. 

See, if the leper were Greek or Roman, he would have said, if you will, you can make me well. But he doesn’t. He says, if you will, you can make me clean. Clean physically, clean to my community, clean before God. And, Jesus gives it to him. Verse 41 says he was … moved with pity … some versions say, moved with compassion. Now, this reality doesn’t happen if he is not living out of Abba, Father. Think about how inconvenient this is. And, how do we view people who have needs in our midst? In the midst of our busy days, are people simply an interruption? We can’t meet everyone’s need, that is true. But, we all have people that are right before us, in our spheres of work and our spheres of influence, in our neighborhoods. We have people right in front of us, that God says are placed there by him, Acts 17:26, are placed there by him to move towards God. 

We can’t do everything, but we are called to be moved for compassion for those who are right in front of us, all of us. But, if we’re not living out of Abba, Father it’s simply an interruption to what is fast and famous.  This is our call as God’s people. Our world, our community - and we know this ourselves - desperately needs holistic healing. See, this is why Jesus reaches out, and he touches him. Did you catch that? The untouchable is touched by the author of life. The untouched is touched. Did he have to do that to heal? No, we see that Jesus heals in many different ways. He can heal with a command, or he can heal with a thought at times. Jesus touches him, because his soul is starving for it, because he was made for God and deep community, and what he’s known is isolation and abandonment, and desolate places. Jesus is giving holistic salvation the leper needs, and that you and I need.

Finally, let’s look at the rest of the text, verses 43-45, to see clearly what’s happening … And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.” … Up to this point in history, whenever something unclean came in contact with something clean, what was clean was defiled. What was clean, was made unclean. But, here, Jesus tells the leper to go to the priest, so he can certify your healing and declare publicly what is now true of you, that you are clean. 

For the first time in history, the clean touches the unclean, and the unclean is made clean. The unclean is made well. And, by Jesus not going to the priest for ceremonial washing after touching the leper, he’s declaring, I am cleanliness. I am what cleanses the defiled. I am savior. No matter what you’ve done, or what’s been done to you, if you come to me, and I touch you, you will be made clean. That is the kingdom that Jesus ushered in, in his incarnation, and what we see lived out in his ministry. 

Now, Jesus tells the leper, don’t tell anyone what I did. But, the leper does exactly what Jesus says not to. He does the exact opposite. And, notice the result … the leper and Jesus have exchanged places. The leper who used to have to be in desolate places now goes into the city, and Jesus who was in the city among the inhabited, now goes into the desolate places, and this foreshadows for us how the uncleaner made clean. In Hebrews 13:12, we’re told that Jesus was crucified outside the gate. He was crucified in the desolate places, taken out of the place of the leper, he becomes unclean so that we can become forever clean, taken out to the place of the leper, he becomes unclean, so that we can become clean.

This foreshadows for us the ultimate work of the cross. See, and this is where this sort of transformational cycle happens, that at the foot of the cross, we receive the spirit of sonship that cries out Abba, Father. That reality leads us into word and deed living, where we join in God’s work to see holistic healing come, which brings us back, again, to the foot of the cross. This is kingdom living for the life of the believer.

Do you want this prayer, this communion with the Father, this word and deed life that the kingdom produces? Here, is where it begins, knowing that Jesus has substituted himself for you, and for me. See, when Peter tells Jesus, everyone is looking for you, this was far truer than he knew. One of the realities that we know as God’s people, is that whether people realize it or not, everyone is looking for him. And, this morning, we are invited, and every one of you here is invited to place your faith, whether it’s for the first time, or whether it’s to renew your faith and once again place your faith in the one who went to desolate places for you, so that we could be made clean. It begins there, again, and the Lord invites us to the foot of the cross. Let’s pray.

Jesus, 

We are grateful for this beautiful reality. Lord, we are people who are unclean in and of our own deeds. Lord, we ask this morning that your Spirit would awaken us to our desperate need for you. Lord, that we would once again live into the reality of the sonship we have, and that our spirits would cry out Abba, Father, as we come, once again, to the table and remember and live into, and receive the grace of the cross of Jesus Christ. Lord, would you make Emmaus church, a people who are rooted in Abba, Father, who live out the word and deed reality of the kingdom, so that we can see holistic salvation, complete salvation come to the Inland Empire. Lord, it is far more work than we can do, but at the end of the day it is not our work, it is yours. And Lord, we rest in that truth and all the complexity that is this world, and the work of seeing your kingdom come to bear in this world, Lord, may we never lose sight of the cross of Christ, and our good Father, our Abba, Father, as we go about our work. We ask this, Lord, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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.


Sharing our Riches in Christ-Full Sermon Transcript

Link to Blog

PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

“Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

—Philippians 4:14–23 ESV

INTRO

Well, I’m back again. Well, today we get to finish our series in Philippians, and what’s interesting as we hit this last section, it’s easy, sometimes, to read scripture and to go, oh, are these just kind of some historical factoids at the end of a book? Isn’t that nice. But, what we’re going to see, is that Paul actually ends this letter in the same way that he actually began the letter, with the theme of partnership in the gospel, specifically this idea of stewardship. Stewardship. It may be a word you’ve heard before, which means, essentially, how we use our time, talent, and treasure, to bless and glorify God, to bless others.

One of the things that I think will help, a story that I once heard that will help us get, kind of, the thrust of this text, as Paul is ending this letter to the Philippian church. It’s a story I once heard about a boy, and his grandma, and a few other family members. And, the boy and his grandma, they decided to play Monopoly as a family, which - pastorally - I never advise families to play Monopoly together. It always ends up with someone at 1 a.m. calling grandma a cheater, and calling grandpa a liar. But, anyways, as they played the game, the boy was intense. He was intense, and he was lapping everyone around the board, he was gobbling up all the properties that he could get. And, he was kind of haughty about it the entire time, kind of in everyone’s face. And, when he won, he was gloating over his stacks of cash and how well he had done, and the whole family just kind of trickled away. And, when they were done, the grandma leaned in, after the family had trickled away, and she said, now, listen closely, cause I want you to learn the real lesson of the game. The real lesson is this: that now everything goes back in the box. That now, everything goes back in the box.

The point she wanted him to grasp, is that Monopoly, in many ways, is like life in miniature. The game of life, if you want to call it that, is about more than how many times you can pass go. At the end of the day, it’s about more than what you can aquire. It’s about more than the stacks of cash. It’s about more than the property. Life is meant for something more. Life is meant for something that lies beyond the box. Because, one day, it will all go back in the box. We’ll go in a box. Sometimes I feel weird as a pastor, cause I have to, like, talk about these things. Like … by the way, you’re going to die one day. Everyone’s like, why do you have to talk about that? I’m like … facts are stubborn things. We will one day, it will all go back in the box.

And, the question that Paul is surfacing here, which is, did you invest your life in what is most important? Did you invest your life in the things that are beyond that box? What lies beyond it? And, today, we’ll see that the only goal in life that will satisfy you, is a life stewarded for the glory of Jesus Christ. So, let’s pray, and then we’ll jump in.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for this text this morning. Father, we so often think fleeting or small things of your Word, and especially of the endings and beginnings of these letters. But, Father, help us to see, today, that these are more than just historical facts, but these are truths, eternal truths that you have put in the hearts of your people, and that you are using to communicate your Word, your very being, what is true of us as human beings as your creatures, what it means to find life in you. We ask that, for each of us, you would give us wisdom in how to apply this text, and discernment, and where that is needed. And, Father, we ask that you would do this by your Spirit. It is in Jesus’ name that we pray, amen.

  1. WHAT IS STEWARDSHIP? (vv14-16)

What is stewardship? I want to take a little bit more time to get into this before we jump in. What’s interesting, is Paul - as I said - began his letter to the Philippians, calling then partners in the gospel. If you go to chapter 1, verses 3-5, right after the intro, he launches into the main body of his letter with this … I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine, for you all, making my prayer with joy … why? … because of your partnership in the gospel, from the first day until now … They have constantly been partners with Paul in his ministry of the gospel. And, when we get to the end of the letter, Paul comes back to that theme. He says, then, in verse 14 … Yet, it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.

So, Paul now ends with this theme of stewardship, with this theme of partnering. Now, what’s interesting, is that the word that is used there, is a word that, if you’ve been around churches and whatnot, you’ve probably heard this word before. It’s the Greek word koinonia. And, the Greek word koinonia means, like, a rich, by God’s spirit indwelling in his people, kind of fellowship, a fellowship that only happens by God’s spirit bringing people together. And, Paul uses that, both in verse 14 - this is what we can miss in the English translation - in verse 14, when he says … it was kind of you to share my trouble … that word share is a compound word of with, in koinonia. That, you’ve fellowshipped with me in my suffering. Then, he comes back to, you’ve koinonia’d again, in your partnership in the gospel with me.

So, what is Paul saying here? What Paul is saying, is that when you are stewarding your finances - cause Paul is here, largely, talking about them sending him finances as we’ll see throughout his ministry. As you are sending me finances, you are not just sitting on the bench somewhere as a passive observer in my ministry. That is, as you stewards the resources that God has given you - and we’re going to expand this into your time, your talent, your treasure. As you steward those things, you share with me in this ministry. You share in my trouble. You are a partner with me. There is not, kind of, I’m in the game, and you are on the bench, and you’re over there. No, what stewardship means is that God has gifted his entire body with a diversity of giftings, and everyone’s in the game, and everyone has a part to play. Everyone shares in this ministry.

Now, stewardship is the most powerful means that God uses. Cause, the question, I should just say … why does God have us steward our finances? Why does God have us steward our time? Why does God have us steward our talents, our giftings? Why does he have us invest them into these things of this world? You go, well, pastor, you just talked about how everything goes in a box one day, and it’s gone, or whatever. Why do we invest in these things? Why do we spend time? What does this mean?

Well, stewardship of our lives is the most powerful way to align our hearts with God’s eternal kingdom. In other words, stewardship is the way that God trains us to love the things he loves, to value the things he values, to prioritize the things that he prioritizes. He does it through stewardship. Emmaus put out a Lent devotional, and each week we’ve been looking at a discipline. And, of course, this week is stewardship. And, it says this to kind of sum it up …

“Stewardship is the voluntary and generous offering of God’s gifts of time, talents, and treasure for the benefit and love of God and others. In stewarding our possessions we recognize that nothing really belongs to us. Rather, everything we have we’ve received from our Heavenly Father’s hand for His use through us. As we steward our resources our grip on things loosens and our hearts are freed; our mindset is transformed from one of possession to one of participation in God’s work of redemption.”

—The Emmaus Lent Devotional Guide

Stewardship is more than how we merely use our time, our talent, our treasure. Stewardship is how we learn to invest our very lives in what matters, and what is eternal. Cause, if you think about it, what is time, but the way that we measure our days, our every breath, our every moment? What is it for? If you think about it, our talents reflect the image of God stamped on us, to make an eternal dent in the universe. Our treasure, our resources, and money, and possessions, is meant to point us to a greater, a truer, lasting source of riches. In other words, stewardship is how we learn to invest our whole selves in something bigger, more satisfying and longer lasting than that box.

So, what’s interesting, is Paul - as he goes through here - there are many places that you could go in scripture to look at this theme of stewardship. But, as Paul is talking about stewardship here, he lays down, kind of, some principles that are, kind of, assumed, as he’s going through and talking to the Philippians.

And so, the first principle - I almost wanted to call this Kingdom Economics 101. What are the principles of stewardship that Paul lays down here? And, the first one is this. Stewardship is about practicing generosity vs presuming generosity. Look at verse 14 … Yet it was kind of you to share in my trouble … Notice Paul says it was kind of you. Paul doesn’t say, yeah, you were supposed to do that, right? Yeah, it was your duty to do that. Paul said, it was a kindness that you do this. And, why is that? Because, Paul knows that, ultimately, he doesn’t have to beat around the Philippians with these expectations that are sourced in him, but he knows that, ultimately, everything that’s provided, is provided by God. He, Paul, and we … at the end of the day, we don’t deserve anything. But, we receive grace and mercy, and that doesn’t change with stewardship.

So, out of the gate, like Paul, we need to highlight that stewardship is an act of kindness. In other words, it’s not a paying of dues. It’s not as if God’s grace comes with an invoice, and now this is the way that you pay me back, this is the way that you keep yourself in the kingdom, by investing your time, your talent, and your treasure in this way. But, in fact, it is of generosity, it is of grace.

Now, the second principle is that stewardship is about partnering with people vs purchasing of products. If you read verse 15 … And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with in giving and receiving, except you only … Paul says that, what happens, is you partnered with me. There wasn’t this kind of idea that it’s like, when you partner with me, that you’re actually just getting some kind of a service, or a good, or a product. But, what he’s saying here is that God’s kingdom is about partnering with God and his people, not purchasing a product. Why? Because, the kingdom of God is about people, not about products. When we stewards our finances, it reminds us of that as we partner with one another in what God is doing, that God’s kingdom is about people.

The third principle in this first point … stewardship is about long term vs short term commitment. Verse 16, he says this … Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Now, if you go back to Philippi when it was actually planted - this church that Paul is writing to here - if you go back to Acts 16, you can read the account of when Paul actually planted that church. Then, if you continue on to Acts 17, you’ll read about how after he left Philippi, Paul went on to Thessalonica, and there he planted a church, and as he was there, it was actually - it seems to be - slow going. Imagine that, the book of Acts with a slow growing church. We always think that it’s, like, explosive growth in the book of Acts, but Paul was actually there for quite a while. And he says, while I was there, right after you became Christians, you had no working categories or anything, at this point you joined in with me, and for the long term you invested what God was doing there.

Now, why is that important with stewardship? Because, often, this is actually what genuine gospel transformation looks like. It looks like slow, long term growth. One of the things that i think we miss sometimes is how much in scripture, especially if you look at the parables of Jesus, how does he describe growth? How does he describe the expansion of the kingdom? He uses agrarian examples, right? It’s like fruit growing, it’s like the grass growing. And, whoever thought it was exciting to go out and go, I’m going to go out and watch the grass grow today, right? This is going to be really exciting. The fact, is that growth is slow, and it happens many times over long seasons, and of course, just like when we grow and we have these sudden, kind of overnight, like, your four year old suddenly goes through a new size of shoes of whatnot, and you have these explosive points of growth, overall those are kind of blips, and overall it’s just a slow trajectory of steady growth.

But, often, we lose the value in that. But, stewardship and committing stewarding over time, for the long term, helps us to hold on to that. Stewardship makes us think long term versus short term, cultivating in us a healthy patience and a trust that God is at work. So, what is stewardship? It’s the call to invest our whole lives towards something bigger than ourselves. Stewardship is about practicing generosity versus presuming generosity, partnering with people versus purchasing products, and it’s about long term versus short term commitment. So, that is what stewardship is. But what motivates, or why, do we steward?

II. THE MOTIVATION OF STEWARDSHIP (vv17-18)

The motivation of stewardship. Paul is very careful in how he phrases verse 17. Look at verse 17, it’s actually, at first, if you read it and you think about what does he mean here, it’s a little bit confusing on the surface … Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit … So, Paul says, I don’t seek the gift, I don’t seek these finances from you, but I’m seeking fruit that increases to your credit. Why does he say this? Well, in the ancient world, the way that gifts would work … we tend to think of gifts as something that’s more, kind of, altruistic, right? Like, I give you a gift, and there’s no strings attached. If there’s strings attached, it’s not really a gift, right?

Well, in the ancient world, that’s not how gifts worked. And so, what Paul’s saying, is right after saying that when you first became a believer, I gave you the gift of the gospel - in Acts 16 - then, in Acts 17, when I continued on, and you started financially giving to what I was doing, and from that day until now, you’ve been doing that. Paul says, I want you to understand that you’re not doing it because you have some obligation to repay my original gift to you. Because, he saying I give you a gift, you give me a gift, and I’ve got to give you a gift, and then … it just never ends, right? We know how that works. We know Christmas.

And so, here’s something that’s helpful …

“In antiquity it was taken for granted that gifts are accompanied by obligations and should elicit some form of return… they did not share the modern idealization of the unilateral gift, which has such a powerful hold on contemporary notions of ‘altruism’.”

—John Barclay, Paul & the Gift

So, again, today a gift is defined as no strings attached, but in that day, that wasn’t how a gift was defined. And so, if the cultural expectations were different in Paul’s day, he’s saying he doesn’t want their motivation to give financially to be because of an obligation to him. He doesn’t want it to be one of obligation. He doesn’t way to say I gave you a gift, and it’s only proper, you know, that you give me a gift of equal or greater in return, right? But, instead, he wants their financial giving to be a fruit of a life overflowing from their life in Christ. And so, this is the first principle under the motivation of stewardship. Stewardship is about overflowing fruitfulness vs obligatory gifts. Because, we receive righteousness, we don’t achieve it. We can never pay it back.

Think about that. If God said, here’s the gift of salvation. Now, when you get around to it, we’ll take out a 30 year mortgage and you can pay be back. That’s not how it works. There’s no way we could ever pay God back for the gift of salvation. And so, we are not under an obligation to pay it back. This is why, by the way, you may have wondered this. When we do our - it’s called a liturgy - the order of our service, when we get to our offering every week, we say something along the lines of … we give as an expression of our thankfulness for grace, rather than to purchase grace. You guys heard us say that a lot, and you probably hear some kind of a theme consistent with that, or similar to that, repeated every single week. And, you might be going, why do we say that every single week? And, we say it every single week because we want to, by the repetition, work that truth down into our hearts. Because, it is so hard when we live in a world of everything is … you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours … and obligations to return things. We have a free gift of grace from God.

And, God says, you are under no obligation to return that, to repay that. And so, we have to again, and again, say that to ourselves so that it works down from our heads into our hearts. And, we have a free and a great salvation. That inner motivation takes a lifetime of repeated training, until eventually our hearts say … I don’t have to give, but I get to give. I don’t have to, but I get to. And, Paul continues in verse 18. What’s interesting in here, is he says, describing their offering, he describes it then, using language from Leviticus. So, read verse 18 … I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God … Did you catch that? A fragrant offering? A sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God?

Paul says he uses this Levitical language, language from the Old Testament law, when they would have to offer a sacrifice for their sins, and Paul says that, now though, instead of offering because you are under an obligation to deal and pay for your sins, instead, now, you are under the banner of grace, cause Jesus Christ has fulfilled that offering system, and that sacrificial system. And so, now you are offering to express the grace that you have received. And so, now you are offering to God. And so, the next principle. Stewardship is about pleasing God vs placating God. The Spirit of God has given us a desire to preach the gospel with our wallets, our schedule, our energy, our skills, and our talents. And, when we stewards our resources, we fan that into flame. And so, we spend our life offering the beautiful and unique offering that only we, with our giftings, can present to the God of the universe, and that preaches the gospel to our souls of how beautiful the grace is we’ve been given in Jesus. And, stewardship is a way to channel that light to God, and express that delight to God.

God has not rejected us, but has accepted us through the perfect offering of Jesus Christ. Seeing us in our sin and brokenness, God overflows with grace and love towards us, because that is who he is. And so, stewardship isn’t motivated by an overwhelming sense of guilt, but an overflow of grace. So, why steward? Because, it is an expression of the gospel, that God has fully paid the price of our redemption, and therefore we give not to placate God, but to please God.

So, we’ve covered what stewardship is and why we steward, but what happens when we stewards? What happens when we invest our lives in the things that God values?

III. THE RICHES OF STEWARDSHIP (vv19-23)

Lastly, the riches of stewardship. So, here’s the question for us. If we’re honest, I know that sometimes when we heard these things like stewardship, investing our finances, offering our finances, offering our time, offering our talents for the uses that God has called them to … I know that in church we’re just supposed to nod our heads and say amen, right? We’re supposed to go … yeah, yeah Pastor. But, why is it so hard to do it? Why is it so hard to actually begin doing it?

Well, it’s interesting because Paul goes right there. In verse 19, he says … And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus … See, Paul rushes right in and says, I need to address something that I know you’re assuming. If I give of my supply, then what supply will I have left? If I give of my money, what money will I have left? If I give of my time, what time will I have left? If I give of my talents, what talent, what time for my talents and investment will I have left?

One of the main reasons that we don’t steward, is that we fear that we are losing our riches. We fear that in stewarding our resources, that we are losing our riches. But, do you see what Paul says here? He says that it’s in stewarding that we actually gain and discover true riches, that we actually discover true riches. It’s like playing Monopoly, when everything is focused on the board. It’s easy to forget that everything will actually, at the end of the day, go back in the box. So, we go around and around, year after year, pursuing riches that will not last. Things that will not last. But stewardship, Paul says, frees us from false riches to discover true riches, to what lasts beyond the box.

Now, what are these true riches? I had to think about this for a while, because I could obviously say, well, and my God will supply you every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. There you go, your riches are in glory, in Christ Jesus. You go, yeah, that sounds good, okay. But, tangibly, what does that mean? What does that tangibly look like? And, I had to think about this for actually quite a while, because I was looking at it going, what is Paul really talking about here?

And, I realized it goes back to how Paul began this section in chapter 4, this last section. And, it’s a them we see again, and again, in Paul’s letters. He says this in 4:1 … Therefore my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved … So, Paul comes back and he says, the way that you know true riches … See, Paul, again and again, when he says I’m investing, I’m laying down my life, I’m pouring myself out as a sacrifice, all these different ways he explains it and describes it in all of his different letters. He never says I’ve done this so that then you’ll pay me. He never says I do this so that then maybe you will supply me with a nice little carriage or a car, you know, or that you will supply me with a house. He always says, again and again, my riches are you. My riches are that I get to be on the front lines of seeing you know Christ. You are my joy, you are my crown. Again and again, Paul highlights that. True riches, in other words, tangibly, is most found when we see others see Jesus. When we see others grow and know Christ.

Now, why is that? In some ways, it’s so simple it’s obvious. Because, the one thing that won’t perish is people. Eternal souls. Now, Jesus didn’t come for things, he came for people. Now i know theologically, you know, things are redeemed and the physical world is, like, you know, refined and everything. But, what I mean is, that, like, today at lunch I’m not concerned about the redemption of my sandwich, right? Like, Jesus didn’t come to save my sandwich. Jesus came to save eternal souls, he came to save people. True riches, then, are discovered when we invest our lives in the eternal life of others, in others seeing Christ for the first time. And, I think one of the things that I realized while doing this, is sometimes we forget how beautiful that is. Sometimes we forget how beautiful it is when we’re in someone’s life. You remember that first time when you first saw Christ for who he is. When you first realized the grace that you had been given. Have you ever been in someone’s life where you had a front row seat to see their eyes opened for the first time to seeing the beauty of Christ? It’s riches.

This hit me recently. I was actually at a presentation, and Larry Thomas - Larry’s here - he was doing a presentation on a ministry that they do internationally. It’s a medical mission, and one of the things that they do, is they do these cataract surgeries. And, what they have, is they go into these villages, and there are many individuals who have never really been able to see a day in their life. And, there’s a video that they showed of this one gal named Lalise. And, it starts the video where Lalise’s eyes are bandaged, and her whole life she’s been blind. And, it was a simple cataract surgery that actually allowed her to see, but she couldn’t get it. And, they captured it on video. At that time, she had a baby. She had never seen the baby. And, this captures the moment when she opened her eyes, and for the first time, she saw her child. The first time that she saw this child that she had never seen. And, in that moment, when I saw that, I said … that’s a picture. We forget so often how beautiful it is when we open our eyes for the first time, and we can see Christ for who he is. That look, that freedom, that removal of guilt that comes with that.

And, here’s the thing … when you see that, just like when I saw that, I wanted to be like, Larry … here’s my wallet. Take whatever you need, right? More of that. More of that. In the same way, that when we see others see Christ for the first time, we don’t anymore hoard, we aren’t sitting there with our stacks of cash on the board, and we’re not thinking about how many times we can go around the board. We just push it all to the center, and we say … take it. Take it, because I want to see more of this. I want to see eyes opened. And, what Paul is saying, is this is true riches. These are the faces that will be on the streets of the new Jerusalem. The grace cannot hold it. And, Paul says, your life can be given to this. The effect of living as a people, as a church, as people who steward everything, who say there is something beyond this world that is worth my all, verses in this world. It’s something that stands out.

In fact, you see it here in verse 22. Paul closes by saying … All the saints greet you, especially … Paul wants to highlight this. Paul is in a Roman prison, in the palace of Caesar, at the most decadent, established, powerful city in the world, and he says, by the way … especially those … who are in … Caesar’s household. He’s seeing people come to Christ while he’s starving in prison, while he’s in chains, he’s in tatters … but, what they see, is they see this partnership going back and forth, and they see that him and the people who he’s speaking to, they have something that’s worth more than anything in this world can provide. And, their eyes are opened.

If you read, there’s a letter about 70 years after this letter that Paul wrote to the Philippians. Another letter is written to the church at Philippi. It’s by an early church father about 120 AD named Polycarp. And, Polycarp writes them a letter, and in the letter he goes on and on in the first chapter, where he says … again, this is 70 years later, where he says, you’ve been known for your sacrificial giving, since the beginning, since Acts 16, what Paul’s talking about here. He says, you’re known for overflowing with this joy in Christ, and that’s still here, today. Do you see what happened? Their children in the church in Philippi saw this in their parent’s lives. The community saw this in their lives, and they saw that this isn’t just a game. Jesus isn’t just for Sundays. He’s more than a weekend thing. His kingdom is coming, and it’s worth everything we have, and we are all in.

And so, they saw that one generation after another generation after another generation, and their legacy was not whatever went in the box. Their legacy was something that could not be extinguished by the grave. But, by eyes that were opened. Can you imagine, Emmaus, if it’s 70 years from now? Imagine this, 70 years from now, if you were able to come here, maybe some of you who are in this room who right now are babbling, will still be alive and be in this room. But, most of us will be gone. Can you imagine coming in here and you see that all that has happened is that there is still just a love for Jesus? A love for Jesus, because they say, what I learned here is that the most valuable thing I can give my time, my talent, and my treasure to, is something that lies beyond this world. It preaches the gospel.

It says that Jesus is everything. And, it starts with how we steward our time, our talent, and our treasure today. One of the things, obviously as I’m talking about this, I always feel weird talking about stewardship, because obviously at some point it’s like … okay, as the pastor, when is he going to ask me to volunteer for something, right? And, I want you to be able to invest your time, talent, and treasure here confidently, I do. I want you to be able to invest your time, talent, and treasure here as well as everywhere else where the Lord has placed you with influence. One of the things, though, is when we do it in the local church, is that we learn to do it. And, what happens is we actually take steps that commit us to doing it, and then as we commit to it, we start to do it in all other areas of our life as well. It’s almost like if you don’t do it at home, you probably aren’t actually doing it elsewhere. There’s probably a lot of talking, not a lot of doing.

And so, one of the things that I want to say, is that Emmaus, this is why again, and again, we come back to that Emmaus is about more than just building some kind of a platform. Emmaus is about more than just one person, or persona. If there’s one persona, it’s Jesus. One of the things we ask ourselves again, and again, and again as elders, as the three of us pastors, we’re asking ourselves this. If 100 years from now Emmaus is still here, who gets the applause? Is it Jesus, or one of us? Who gets the applaus? Who’s this really for, what is this really about? And, we constantly challenge ourselves.

In fact, one of the mottos I’ve tried to grab onto, lately, is from a guy named Count Zinzendorf. I don’t know if I want to steal more his motto, or his name. But, it’s this … he says …

“Preach Christ. Die. Be forgotten.”

—Count Nikolaus Ludwig, Reichsgraf von Zinzendorf (1700-1760)

Preach Christ. Die. Be forgotten. Don’t you love that name? Count Nikolaus Ludwig, Reichsgraf von Zinzendorf. It can be my new title. But, think of it … preach Christ. Steward Christ. Give yourself to Christ. I know I used to think … and then be forgotten? Like, die and be forgotten? What does that mean? Well, it’s all going to be lost anyways. In fact, if you want to have a legacy and something that lasts, I mean, I think about, like, when baseball’s gone, the legacy of Babe Ruth is gone. There are countless rulers who were mighty, who had a legacy and a country, and when that country was gone, their legacy was gone. Your legacy can only be as big as what it is in, and if your legacy is in Jesus Christ, it never diminishes. And so, invest your life in Jesus. Invest your life in what he is doing. Invest your life in souls.

But, for that to happen, for Emmaus to remain a church that is about Jesus and Jesus alone, one of the things that we have to all put our arms around and understand, is it means everyone has to lean in with their giftings. Everyone has to lean in with their time, everyone has to lean in with their resources. We all have to lean in. One of the things in 1 Peter, I should have had it here … but, 1 Peter that we come to again and again with the volunteers on Sunday mornings, is that it says that some of you are gifted with hospitality, some of you serve in other ways, some of you speak, some of you pray, some of you heal, some of you … all of these giftings, Peter says, and he says if that’s happening, if that’s happening in the local church, what will happen is it will bring glory to Jesus Christ.

Why is that? Because we know to … we’re alive in 2019, just watch a couple TED talks and you can figure out how to put something together and make it work. But, it is a supernatural grace and a movement of God when his people, with all these diverse gifts, all these different people who have no reason to be together, come together with all the parts working in unison, and you say, there must be something else there that motivates it. Something beyond the box, something beyond this world. Or else, it just has to be done in the flesh, and then continued in the flesh.

One day everything will go back in the box. What riches will remain? What will remain? Each of us is called and equipped for this time. Don’t miss out on true riches. What gifts has God given you by his spirit? What time has God given you to invest in others? What resources has he given you to be invested? So that we would see eyes opened to what lies beyond the box.

I have to read the words of Jesus. He says …

““Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

—Matthew 6:19–20 ESV

Emmaus, don’t live for the box. Steward the riches you have in Jesus Christ, sharing them with others, and find a richer life in him. Let’s pray.

Lord God, we thank you for the riches we have in Christ. Father, open our eyes to where we are living not just for the box. Spirit, grant us wisdom, each individually, for what this means for us, and motivate our hearts to action, not through an oppressive guilt, but through an overflow of gospel grace. We ask this 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.


The Importance of Confession-Full Sermon Transcript

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PASTOR: MATT DENNINGS

SCRIPTURE READING

Philippians 3:12-16

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

INTRO

Well, good morning. My name is Matt, I’m the Pastor for Equipping here at Emmaus, and this morning we are continuing our series in Philippians. And, last week, if you didn’t catch it, we turned a corner, kind of heading into the final part of Philippians. And, we saw that in this final part of Philippians, Paul is turning his attention to how we experience and know life in Jesus Christ.

And, so, last week in verses 1-11 of chapter 3, we saw Paul’s desire to what he says, he describes as gaining Christ, to be found in Christ, to know Christ. It’s Paul’s way of saying, I want to tangibly experience life in Christ. And, of course, as good church people, last week, we should say amen when we hear that, right? Yet, today, in verses 12-16, Paul says, before I go any further, let me clarify something. He says in verse 12, and I’m paraphrasing here, he says, listen, I haven’t obtained this life fully. The it, in verse 12, is pointing back to verses 8-11, when Paul describes as being found in Christ, in knowing Christ, in living in Christ, and Paul is saying, before I go any further, listen, I haven’t obtained this life fully. I’m not a finished product, I am not perfect.

In other words, Paul says, left to myself, even though I desire to live in Christ, I find over and over again, I fall short of that. And yet, Paul says, the reason why he keeps fighting, pressing, training, is because Jesus Christ has made him his own. And so, therefore, he has this hope that as he presses forward, he will find this life.

Now, as I’ve meditated on this text, I’ve thought, often, why does Paul say this? Why does he go here? Because, this is a bit of an aside from his main argument here. And, part of why I wonder this, is because it’s somewhat repetitive in the language of what he’s just said, one, and two, as I think of that, I think, why do I need to hear this? Why do I need to hear these words from Paul? And, I realize, because even though Paul says that he lives and fights past this reality that day to day, he falls short of the glory of God, that day to day he sins, day to day he fails, the hope that he has in the midst of that is the fact that he belongs to Jesus Christ.

And, I realize when thinking through that phrase, that practically I often live, not as if I belong to Christ, but as if I belong to my failure, as if I belong to my sin, as if I belong to my shortcoming. Like Paul, I desire to live out verses 1-11, to be found in Christ, to have this life in Christ, to know Christ. Yet, like Paul, I also know what it’s like to fall short of that desire. And so, instead of living with this sense that I belong to Christ, I feel more and more like I belong to my sin. Anyone else know what that’s like?  I’m not sure if I’m just alone here, doing a monologue.

Today, we’ll call this tension, the human tension, the human tension that we live with. The universally experienced tension between who we long to be, and we really are, if we’re honest. Like Paul, if we are to know Christ, we have to deal with this tension that we all have deep down. Because, often, it seems like, as Christians, the only way that we can grow, the only way that we can progress, the only way that we can kind of ascend, however you want to describe it, that we can go on deeper into our faith when we live with this nagging reality that, do I really belong to Christ, or do I really belong to my sin?

It seems that the only options on the table, are to either live hypocritically and to pretend that I have it all together, or on the other hand to live hopelessly, and to just give up altogether. But, what Paul says in these five verses unlocks a third way, a better way, a gospel way, a way of hope found in Jesus Christ, that we can live with confidence that we belong not to our sin, but belong to Jesus Christ, wholly.

So, what we’ll look at first is the human tension, we’ll unpack it a little bit further, then the mistaken ways of resolving that tension that we often turn to, and then, lastly, the gospel key to resolving that tension, between who we desire to be, and who we find ourselves to be. But first, let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the truths found in this text. We thank you that here, we see Paul saying things like us, when we’re honest with ourselves, that we have not obtained, fully, this life that we desire. That, we cannot, in and of ourselves, perfect ourselves, but underneath all of this, we belong to Jesus. Lord, we thank you for this truth. Help us to grasp this and the importance of it, and to bring it home to our hearts, so this isn’t just a mere intellectual exercise, but that we would walk away from here knowing that we are your beloved children, if we are in Christ Jesus. And, it is in his name that we pray, amen.

THE HUMAN TENSION

Well, the human tension. Paul puts his finger, again on a tension that is at the center of the Christian life, and human experience. But, there is a gap between who we long to be, and who we are. And, I think in some ways, we know this already. If I just bring up, hey, January 1st until now, how are you doing on that new diet, right? How are you doing on that new exercise routine, how are you doing on your finances? Right? We could go on and on, we know that this is a human reality. That, there are all these areas that, who we long to be, we desire to be, and honestly, we know we should be. But, then, we keep falling short of it. It could be ways that we parent, it could be ways that we interact with others. But, how often do we slow down to think about that dynamic in relation to our spiritual life and our growth?

We sense we should want to know God and live accordingly, and yet, while I feel I want it, I fail to obtain it, Paul says. I’m not already perfect, Paul says. It probably sounds like your journal entry, doesn’t it? God, I want to be patient with others, but they keep … being people. Right? God, I want to stop giving into temptation, but I give in. Here I go again. I’ve given in again. God, I want to start investing my time and energy into blank, whatever initiative, whatever good thing. But, but, but … And, there it is.

While we have these desires, then there is this, I desire this, but … And, if you go long enough in trying to live out this tension, what seems more true of us, is what comes after the but. But, I failed again, I’m a failure. But, I’ve fallen short again, I fall short. But, I blow up again. Yet, Paul says, the way we address the tension, is not by looking to something within ourselves. Rather, to the work of Jesus Christ. He says, Jesus has made me his own. Right after saying, I’ve not lived up to this, I have not perfected myself. And, remember, this is after verses 1-11, where he says, isn’t this great? We have this salvation in Jesus, and we can grab onto this, and we can live this way. And then, he comes to verse 12, and says, let’s just be honest for a moment. And, I want to clarify, this is not something that you are going to, in this life, 100% perfectly attain.

It reminds me of an old story of, there’s a Victorian age preacher in London named Charles Spurgeon, many of you may have heard of him, he’s called the Prince of Preachers. Isn’t that an amazing title? What, me? But, Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, and he was at this conference, and this man came up to him, and he said, Charles Spurgeon was preaching on this fact that, of what it means to grow in holiness. And, this man said, no, no, no, we should reach perfection. And, it was this thing called the perfectionist movement. And, Spurgeon kind of debated with him for a minute, and he saw it wasn’t going anywhere.

And so, it was at this conference, and so, the next day, all the individuals are in this conference center, and they’re eating their breakfast. And, Spurgeon sneaks up behind the man, and he takes a cup of milk and just pours it over his head. And, the man jumps out of his seat, and all these expletives come out, and he starts yelling at Spurgeon. And, Spurgeon goes, there’s the old man! Right? And, what he’s drawing out there, is he’s saying, we have this reality that Christ has made us his own. And, we are not going to reach perfection this side of being fully perfected in Christ, and the new kingdom.

It’s God’s grace, given to us by Jesus Christ, that we receive by faith, and trust in that grace, that allows us to grow in holiness, that allows us to grow in Christ’s likeness. We relate to God as sinners who have been made holy, not by our work, but by his.

You know, it looks something like this. I like visuals, and so this is a chart we’ve used before in sermons, but it looks something like this, that the gospel tells us that no matter the depth of our sin, and the gap it creates between us and God, Jesus has bridged the gap in his life, death, and resurrection. And so, after we come to Christ at this time of conversion, what begins to happen, is God’s spirit works within us, he’s made us a new man, he’s made us a new creation. And so, now he’s doing this work. And, as we grow in our awareness of God’s holiness, and we grow in our awareness of our flesh and our sinfulness, our dependency on the cross enlarges, and Jesus gets bigger, Jesus gets better, Jesus gets more and more beautiful. We depend on the grace of God more and more, and we breathe it in, and we breathe it out like oxygen.

So, yes, we sin, we fail, we fall short of the glory of God. But, the gospel says something else about me comes after the but now. What is most true of us in Jesus Christ. Yes, I have done shameful things, yes, I have sinned. But, because of Jesus Christ, I am now a beloved child of God. What comes after the but now? I am a beloved child of God. The gospel gives us hope to press on, because there’s no sin we might commit, or become aware of, that God’s grace cannot cover. Neither height nor depth, Paul says. No matter how far down that arrow goes, the cross goes, and bridges us right back up to God’s holiness. By God’s grace, Christ makes us his own. We belong to him.

Now, this all sounds good, right? The question is, how do we live this? Okay, this sounds great theoretically. Pastor, how do I begin to enter into this, take hold of it, to live it? We’re going to go there. What I want to do first is – cause I think we know this better – which is, the mistaken ways that we attempt to resolve this very tension, this very gap between us and God. This very tension between who we desire to be, and who we find ourselves to be. So, the second point is looking at the mistaken ways of resolving the tension.

THE MISTAKEN WAYS OF RESOLVING THE TENSION

Paul ends this section, verses 12-16, with a very revealing statement. He says this, after saying all these things, he says …

Only let us hold true to what we have attained ...

So, he says all these things, that we are going to grow into Christ’s likeness, and after, he says, but only let us hold onto what we have attained. Hold those things true. Now, why does he have to say this? Well, I think if we’ve lived a little, we know exactly why he has to say this. He has to say it because we’re constantly trying to claim that we are where we are not yet. We’re constantly trying to claim that something is true of us, that frankly is not true of us yet. Rather than resolving the tension of our sin, that process of seeing the cross get bigger day by day in our life, we try to microwave it. Instead of God’s transformative grace, we try to do it quickly, and we resolve the tension of our sin by what comes naturally to us.

Let me illustrate this, because I think this will be helpful, before unpacking this further. In college, I made the regrettable decision of living in one house with 10 guys. And, one night … I’m a little bit of a neat freak, and 10 guys in a house is not a healthy place for a neat freak to live. And so, one night, though, I come down in the middle of the night, and I turn on the lights to the kitchen as I go in to get something, and there are cockroaches everywhere, everywhere. They’re having a little fiesta, right on my kitchen floors. The counter, everything, they’re everywhere.

So, I turn on the light, and what do they do? They … you know, they go and hide. So, I did what any sensible person does when they see that kind of infestation. I turned off the lights, and I tried to forget I ever saw it, right? And, I tried to go back to bed and had nightmares. In fact, even though I knew there was a hidden infestation, when people came over, I would actually … Because, I was actually insecure about it, when I cleaned the house, I would actually be standing in the kitchen talking, and I would actually bring up, like, isn’t it crazy how clean this house is with 10 guys? And they’d be like, yeah, this is amazing. Look at these countertops, right? And, this went on for about a year, until one morning somebody poured out a bowl of cereal and they got, you know, like, a special little prize in their cereal. And, I said, yeah, that’s been going on for a while.

Now, this illustrates more than probably why the CDC should not allow 10 20-year-old men to live together in one place, without supervision. But, it illustrates what we tend to do with our sin. At some point, you see, the light’s going to be turned on. And, I don’t know if you know that moment, but you see the infestation for what it is. And, of course, as soon as the light goes on, everything in you just kind of recoils and hides, right?

The light could come through a relationship. This is why it’s so tough that first year of marriage, right? Cause, you’ve been able to just kind of avoid it, and all of a sudden, now someone’s right there with you, and they’re like … did you know you have a massive infestation? Right? The light could come on through a circumstance that stirs up ungodly attitudes, just kind of, like, speak that comes out of you, that you’re like, where did that come from?

An illustration that we’ve use before, is that it’s like you have water that’s kind of all dirty. Like you have all this stuff polluting you, clouding you, this sin that’s in you. And, when life is kind of nice and stable, the water, if it sits there long enough, and it’s not disruptive, just kind of settles to the bottom. And, if you look at that water from the side, you go, wow … look how pure that person is, right? But, what happen when something comes along and bumps that table? All of a sudden, it stirs it all up. Something stirs your life, and it just makes a mess, and you go, where did this all come from?

Relationships, situations, or it could just be, simply, that God’s spirit turns the lights on in your heart, and you see for the first time. And, when that happens, we feel the tension of our sin. We feel this human tension. We feel this tension between, this is not who I want to be, but yet, this is coming out of me, this is who I am. And, it’s a tension we want to escape, it’s a tension we want to avoid, it’s a tension that we desperately want to silence. Because, we are seeing what we are really like. And, frankly, we’re seeing what the Bible has already told us we are, that we’re sinners in need of grace.

But, seeing our sin, we tend to resolve the tension the way I solved my infestation problem. And, these are the two mistaken ways we tend to resolve sin. The first is pretending, and the other is by performing. And, they both cut us off from experiencing the power of God’s grace. And these, by the way, this is another chart – like the last one. These charts, by the way, come from a book called The Gospel Centered Life, it’s linked in the sermon notes. I’d highly recommend it, if you’d like, about an 8-week study, kind of going deeper into the gospel, again, the gospel centered life.

But, by pretending, here’s what I mean. When I turned off the lights and pretended my sin wasn’t there, and I pretended like it would go away, we also tend to hide our sin from God and others, by pretending everything is okay, by just pretending it’s all okay. It may look like lying, it probably means that there are habits of, kind of, avoiding and withdrawing, especially from other people who might hold you accountable, or who know you best … isolating yourself. Honestly, a sign, often, of pretending, is actually exhaustion. And, the reason for that is because, if you’re pretending, what we tend to have, is we tend to start living, almost, two lives.

There’s kind of, like, your good church life, I’m around Christian life. And then, there’s this other life, which you may actually, in your heart of hearts, feel like, here’s my real life. Here’s when I really am who I am. And, we tend to split those, because we’re pretending, and we’re dealing with that tension by separating them, and it’s exhausting. Because, what happens, is after a while, you’re constantly trying to remember, was I there, or was there … I’m trying to tell this story, where was I, what was I doing? And, it’s exhausting because you can never really remember, how was I acting, how should I act now, where was I, what was I doing? What was the story? Do I have it straight?

There’s a line that captures this by Mark Twain, that’s really well said. He says, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Man, there’s no exhaustion in that. It just comes out. If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. But, when we pretend, the result is that we think by pressing on, and catch this, we often think that by pressing on, what Paul actually means here, is to pretend. Functionally, what we think, is Paul means to pretend. We could call this fake it until you make it spirituality. And, it leads to burnout. It leads to hopelessness, as if life in Christ is only available to the spiritual elite.

But, pretending we do not have sin will not solve our tension. It will not clear out the infestation, but rather it makes us feel more hopelessly like we belong to our sin. Now, the second way, we have pretending, and we also have performing.

And, by performing, I mean, like when I cleaned the counters, without cleaning the infestation. It’s performing for everyone. Everyone expects a clean house, and no bugs, and no filth, and so I’m trying to perform to live up to that expectation. And so, I constantly scrub the house, and do everything but deal with the actual cockroaches, because that was just nasty.

But, we tend to bury our sin in busyness, to impress God and others, as if by pressing on, again, Paul means to perform, to put on our best moral performance. If perform well enough, and busy enough, and if we meet everyone’s expectations, then we expect that that tension that we feel deep down, will go away. But, it doesn’t. And, often, we end up living as hypocrites and perpetuating a culture of hypocrisy. It starts a cycle. What happens, is, we feel like a hypocrite because we’re living one way, when we, in fact, know that we don’t actually measure up to this.

And, as we feel like a hypocrite, then we feel like we belong to our sin. And, because we feel like we belong to our sin, and we don’t belong to Christ, then that just furthers us into this constant habit of performing, because that’s all we know. And then, as we perform, we feel further like a hypocrite. And, on and on, the cycle goes. Dietrich Bonhoeffer captured this dynamic well, when happens in a community. He says, “Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So, we remain alone in our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone.”

Some of you this morning are in this place of just performing. Some of you, also, may be in the place of pretending. And, either way, what you sense right now is that there’s a me that feels like it needs to be acting in some certain way. And then, there’s the real me. And, you’re on the cusp of burn out, you’re on the cusp of hopelessness. If you’re performing as if everything’s okay, it will not solve the tension. It will not make the infestation go away. Rather, it will lead you deeper into hypocrisy, and deepen that sense that you belong to your sin.

Both pretending and performing fail to deal with the tension of our sin, and both, in the end, only make us feel like we belong to our sin. Because, both cut us off from the work of the cross. So, how do we resolve this tension? We’ve seen what it is, we’ve looked at the mistaken ways that we deal with it. So, what is the way that we deal with this tension? So, the third point, the gospel key to resolving the tension.

THE GOSPEL KEY TO RESOLVING THE TENSION

How do we resolve it? Honestly, sincerely. We see right under our noses, in verses 13-14, Paul says, brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. 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 Jesus Christ. Paul says, I’m not going to pretend, I’m not going to perform, and act like I’ve perfected myself in some way.

And, think about that. This is a guy who’s an apostle. If anyone had the weight on his shoulders to try to live up to expectations, and to try to perform for other people, or try to just go through the motions and pretend, it would be Paul. People were constantly slandering him, saying, look, he’s not really an apostle, he’s just an imposter. Can you imagine if Paul had any little bit of a sense in himself that he was leaning into being an imposter, and not really living out the things that he was proclaiming?

Paul says, I’m not going there, and I’m not going back to the old ways of relating to God. For Paul, that was actually going back to the old system, the old covenant, the old way of relating to God. For us, that may be saying, I’m not going back to the old way of pretending and performing anymore. Instead, in verse 14, I’m going to press on toward the goal. What does that look like? Well, that first chart again. Pressing on, Paul is saying, saying, I’m going to do whatever it takes, in Jesus Christ, to know Christ.

Back in verse 11, he actually says, by any means, I will use anything that will help me, any means in any way, so that I may know Christ, and I may grow in this reality. And, that happens by doing whatever it takes to see the cross get bigger. Now, that, for Paul – and here’s the thing, don’t miss this – when he says, in verse 14, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ, doesn’t that almost, at first, seem a little vague? That’s kind of a weird English sentence, first, and second, what does this goal mean?

And, what he’s talking about, is like that first chart, that as he progresses in the Christian faith, if you mature, you are going to realize more and more and more the depth of your sin. You’re going to, then, as you realize the depth of your sin, realize how much holier than you ever knew before, God is. And so, what Paul is saying, when I’m pressing on, is I’m going to truly mature, which is, I’m going to see more and more and more how big and wide and deep is the cross, and how good God’s grace is. This is God’s will for you. This is the goal of Paul, that he would more and more and more see the beauty of what Christ as accomplished on his behalf, and live into that.

See, the ironic thing about being a mature Christian, is that it’s not about perfection. The ironic thing about becoming a mature Christian, that is coupled with an increased awareness that you are not fully mature, that there’s always more growth. For Paul, that straining forward to what lies ahead, is more and more of a sense that he belongs to Christ by grace. That, as he becomes more and more aware of how sinful he is, he simultaneously becomes more and more aware of how much love and grace he’s been given in the cross.

This is summed up well by a pastor in New York City named Tim Keller. He says, “The gospel is this, we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dare believe. Yet, at the very same time, we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Do you believe that? That’s what pressing on looks like. Putting aside pretending and performing, and looking straight at our sin, and then straight to Christ. So, how do we do that? We talked about what it is, how do we do that?

Well, the key that gospel provides for doing this, for pressing forward, is the discipline of confession, or the habit of confession. It’s something that we went over this morning in our liturgy. And, when we got the point of confession. If some of this is sounding familiar, it’s because it was right there in a nugget form during confession. Notice Paul confesses two things in this passage. First, Paul confesses that he is unable to save himself, or perfect himself. The gospel frees him to be honest. The second thing that he confesses, though, is Christ has made me his own. The gospel provides a way forward, a hope.

See, the discipline, the habit of confession, is simply going before God and confessing both of these truths. And, when I say a discipline or a habit, I mean, for me, this looks like early in the morning, I’m an early riser. For you, it might not be beginning of the day. Although, I think there is something about the beginning of the day that’s helpful. But, rising early and opening up God’s word, but taking out a piece of paper and writing down, and thinking before God, of what are … literally, I get specific … and, write down the specific things, the sins that, over the last day, have come out of me. And, I go before God and bring these before him, and I ask for his forgiveness. And, as I do so, I confess two things. I confess that I have sinned, and I also confess that I belong to Jesus Christ, that God has closed that gap.

Now, I should say this. You may think that such a habit, one, is maybe unhelpful or weird, I’ll just say it. Or, that it’s legalistic. And, one thing that I want to say in response to that, is I would like us to consider for a moment how often, throughout our day, we tell ourselves, or we confess to ourselves, things about ourselves, and things about God, without training ourselves to do that in a healthy way.

And so, when we sin, what do we do? Man, I remember, so often I would be like like, oh, stupid, stupid, when I did something. And, this comes out. And, the thing is, when I go [to confess], it’s like, yes, I can look at this. This is what I’ve done. But then, simultaneously, this is not who I’m called to be in Jesus Christ. And, there’s grace here, and I can begin to grow out of this sin, versus just beating ourselves up. And so, what I would ask you, is if you don’t have any kind of a habit of training your heart, and training your mind to point yourself to Jesus Christ in the midst of your sin, then plan some kind of a habit, plan some kind of a habit.

Let me ask you, though, do you slow down regularly, to specifically confess both your sin, and who you are in Christ, before God? Do you have a habit of simply doing those two things together? I guarantee it will transform your life. It will transform your walk with Christ. It’s an important question, because I think we live our lives so on the go, go, go, go, to the next thing, constantly downloading information in a digital world, that we forget what is actually true of us. That, we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared hope, Keller says. Yet, at the very same time, we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.

I encourage you, this week, to pick up the Lent devotional or download it, if you have not already. In it, you will find, for this week, instructions for how to begin a habit of confession. There are scriptural passages you can go to there, Psalm 51, Psalm 139, that will help guide you in forming a habit of confession. And, I guarantee, knowing Christ has made you his own, despite knowing – and think of this, Christ made you his own full well knowing, Christ knows from age 34 right now, on March 17th, 2019, until whenever my life ends – Jesus is well aware of the sin that I will accrue to my account, put it that way. And yet, even in the midst of knowing those thing, he makes me his own. Knowing that truth will lead to a life that increasingly looks like Christ, because you will grow in your appreciation, your love, your longing, your dependence upon Jesus.

CONCLUSION

Let me recap. Every human being first lives with a tension, that because of sin, there’s a gap between who we long to be, and who we really are. Second, don’t fall into the trap of trying to resolve that tension by pretending and performing. It will only lead to hopelessness or hypocrisy. And then, finally, instead, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, press on by developing a discipline of confession, confessing your needs before God for his grace in Jesus Christ.

Emmaus, bring your sin into the light, and don’t pretend like it isn’t there, or try, by performance, to fix it. But, let the cross do its work. Let the cross, and the resurrection, and the indwelling power of God’s spirit, do its work. Something I haven’t unpacked, and I probably should have, is the power that God’s Spirit works in when we go before God’s Word. We acknowledge our sin and humility before the very presence of a holy God, especially when we’re going through scriptures, seeing these descriptions of a holy God. And, we’re just realizing, this is not me when I’m honest with myself, God’s spirit uses that to radically change us, to break free from living as if we belong to sin. We can begin living with confidence that mind, body, and soul, we belong wholly to Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the life that we have in Christ. Father, reveal to us where we are missing out on all we have in Jesus. Show us what we have gained in him, that we might belong to him as your beloved. Spirit of Christ, help us, help us, Spirit, to turn from ourselves through confession, to die to ourselves so we might turn to Christ, and live in light of the hope we have in him. It is in Christ’s name we pray, amen.