Monday, 11 August 2014

Rejoice by looking to Jesus

A long post, basically just posting up my first talk I gave to my youth group last Friday. It was on Philippians 3:1-14. I hope it encourages you as much as it encouraged me to write!

Imagine if the Apostle Paul visited you today. What would he say? To be honest, I am pretty scared of Paul, he would be so angry at all the sin, all the cliques, all the selfishness. I mean, he called the Galations fools! He was pretty full on. But Paul in this passage we’ll see makes it clear that we are to rejoice! To rejoice!

It is essentially his last topic sentence of this letter. And like a good essay, it is building on what was already said before. Chapter 1 we see Paul is in prison for the gospel, and he is in partnership in the gospel with the Philippian church. In the gospel, Paul is also taking a courageous stand, that may end in death, but is all for the glory of God. Then in Chapter 2 we see Paul encouraging an attitude of Christ-like humility - which is putting others above yourself - in response to the gospel that Jesus did the exact same. These all culminate in his appeal that the Philippians “rejoice in the Lord”. But, aren’t all the things Paul just said previously pretty tough things to do? They require effort, sacrifice and oh, maybe even death. Brilliant. Where does the rejoicing come from then?

We’ll see that Paul is basically saying “Rejoice, by looking to Jesus” Keep that in your head. Rejoice, by looking to Jesus, as we see how Paul looks backwards, looks upwards and finally looks forward to explain his appeal to the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord.

Paul Looks Backwards
The immediate context of his urging for the Philippians to rejoice is actually in response to a danger in the church. We see Paul’s warning in v2. “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.” The danger was that people in the church were reverting back to Jewish customs. They were looking backward to their life pre-Jesus, and actually going back to it.
Paul makes it clear in the next few verses the differences pre-Jesus and in-Jesus. (We don’t really ever get post-Jesus, we never go beyond Jesus). It’s there in your outline. Pre-Jesus – Boast in Self, as opposed to in-Jesus – Boast in Jesus. Some of the Philippians were boasting in their own good works to be right with God.

What does Paul do? Well, he looks back himself to where he was pre-Jesus. This is like his CV, a list of all his achievements.
v5 “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”

Paul is totally boasting here. And if you were a Jew, you’d be super impressed. Paul is saying he is the closest anyone could be to being a good person. In modern day terms, he is like the Minister’s kid, who can recite the whole of John, who never complains about doing the dishes, who is in our eyes, perfect, especially compared to us. But Paul knows that we shouldn’t be comparing our good works with each other, we actually need to compare them with Jesus.

And so we get to our 2nd Point – Paul looks upwards.
Paul says we need to put Jesus into the picture, and that changes everything! v7 “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Straight after his immaculate CV, Paul says compared to Christ, everything on Paul’s achievement list is rubbish. His CV has turned out to actually be a criminal record, a loss to his personal standing. The almost perfect Paul says it’s all for nothing. Three things arise from that. Well, firstly, it gives hope to all of us who feel like we were never up to God’s standards in the first place, who have nothing on our CV, who know how far we are from God. Paul says none of that matters, every good work he has done to make him feel more confident in his goodness is just more rubbish on the heap.

Secondly, it humbles us who think we have our goodness all sorted. Oh, we’re from a good Christian family, a good school Christian group, a good church. But that is all pointless if you don’t have faith in Jesus. Those are good things, but they become bad if you rely on them, instead of Jesus. They become rubbish.

And finally, that gets us questioning, what is it about Jesus that changes the playing field so much? Why does looking to Jesus make Paul rejoice, even though it basically meant all he had worked for in the early part of his life was meaningless.

Well, that is answered in Verse 10 “To know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” Ok, everyone, you need to put on your seatbelts because this verse needs some serious unpacking.

First, to “Know Christ” That’s not to know about Christ or to know of Christ, it is to know him. Like you would know your parents or a friend. Paul knows Jesus, meaning he has a personal relationship with him. That might not seem so special, yeah, Paul knows this dude called Christ, but then.

“Know the power of his resurrection”. Woah, this isn’t some ordinary guy, he rose from the dead! And again, this is Paul “knowing” the power of his resurrection, and this isn’t the objective textbook “ I know the answer” kind of know. When Paul says know the power of his resurrection, he is basically saying “To personally experience the power of his resurrection”. How can he do that? Well this is where we have to answer the question, what is the “power” of his resurrection. What was achieved at the resurrection?

The answer? The defeat of sin and death. We as humans were under a curse for rebelling against God, and enslaved in the reality that because of our sin we would die. What Jesus achieved when he died and rose again was that we were free from sin and death, and could actually truly be right with God. None of this, us ourselves trying to be right with God nonsense, which never worked anyway. The power of Jesus’ resurrection is that it is the power to forgive our sins and make us right with God again. Paul is experiencing the amazing truth that his sins are forgiven and he is now right with God!

The “sharing in his sufferings” is the same idea, even though it might sound a bit weird, actually it’s another reason for great rejoicing. Basically, when Jesus dies, we also died. He represented us on the cross, so his sufferings, his punishment that he experiences, we also experienced, (although not physically). That’s the basis of the statement, Jesus dying on the cross for us. Here it is talking about it in the representative sense. If you don’t get the mechanics, don’t worry, the basic thing is that the punishment for sin is gone away because the death that it required to be paid has been paid by us, through Jesus who was our representative. And therefore we can now “Attain the resurrection from the dead!”

Maybe an analogy will help. Jesus on the cross can be described as the captain of the soccer team. The soccer team is all the Christians in the world. As the captain Jesus represents us. Say, our team did something really stupid, like score 20 own goals. The captain is the one who represents the whole team and resigns. Because the captain has taken that punishment, that team gets to play on normally, because the debt has been paid.

Obviously, with Jesus it is a little different. But basically, the point is that Jesus has the power to save. Look upwards because we are now seated in heaven with Jesus, because of the amazing power of the resurrection that we also personally experience if we trust in Jesus.

But not only are we looking at Jesus up in heaven, we are looking forward to the future here on earth, where we are working to be more like Jesus.

Which is our final point – Paul looks forward.

Paul knows that currently, he isn’t in heaven. Sadly, we aren’t in heaven either. Yes, we know Christ, we know we are saved by trusting in Jesus’ resurrection, but God hasn’t fully completed his work in us yet.
And that gets Paul excited. He looks forward to the future, even when he’s here on earth, where he knows with God’s help he will be moving towards completion in Christ, even though he knows it will only be finished in heaven.
I want to stress that THIS IS NOT A “JESUS SAVES YOU, SO NOW DO GOOD WORKS” message. I’ve got that capitalised in my notes. It is not! That is made clear as Paul says he is “forgetting what is behind”. He has left behind all his rules and regulations that make him right with God.
It comes back to “knowing Christ”. Paul has his eyes on the prize “in Christ Jesus” which means by knowing Christ Jesus, by being in a personal relationship with Jesus.
Paul knows we are not perfect now, but we still do know Christ Jesus. We are still looking at him. And as we look at him we will change. God will change us. With grace driven effort, we can change to be more like Jesus, whom we know. And as we change we rejoice, and we stumble and fall but God continues to mould us to be more like the final product which we will be in heaven, and which continues to spur us on.
To go back to the soccer team analogy, before, we were kicking own goals. Don’t continue to kick own goals! That’s just pointless. You can see your future, in heaven, knowing Jesus, so be transformed to be more like that final day, and rejoice!

So, Paul’s final point, to “rejoice in the Lord” well, it comes from looking to Jesus. Where you see how fruitless it is to rely on your never good enough good works, especially compared to the 100% certainty of salvation found in Jesus’ resurrection. Looking to Jesus, knowing him as your saviour and Lord means we will change. God will change us. But we look to Jesus and see how good he is and we rejoice in that change.

So , I urge you to Rejoice in the Lord, by looking upwards and onwards to Christ. Let’s pray. 

Heavenly Father,
Thank you that we can rejoice. Thank you that we can know Jesus, and know the power of his resurrection, that has saved us from sin and death. Pray that you would change us as we look to Jesus. Help us to rejoice, by looking upwards and onwards to Jesus. In his name we pray, Amen.

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