March 3, 2010 (Midweek Lent)
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
I. Jesus’ cross—more important than his life
What were the most glorious moments of our Savior’s ministry? Was it when He was preaching to a packed house? Or when He fed the multitudes with only few loaves and some fish? What about when He preached to the awestruck crowd in His hometown? Many people recognize these as big moments in Jesus’ ministry. Yet, not any of those glorious moments bore the fruit we might expect. Once, when Jesus was teaching a house full of listeners, He had to rebuke His mother and brothers for trying to stop Him. Shortly after he fed the 5,000, Jesus sent the very same crowd away because they wanted Him to fill their stomachs, not their souls. Even though He amazed His hometown synagogue with the authority of His preaching, the people there thanked Him by attempting to throw Him off a cliff. By human standards, these glory days just didn’t end all that gloriously.
And let’s include these events among the glorious moments of Jesus’ ministry: Jesus betrayal by a disciple! The Heavenly Father rejecting Jesus prayer to take the cup of suffering from Him! His bloody sweat and wrestling in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane! His unheeded requests that His drowsy disciples to watch and pray and avoid temptation! How about being captured by the temple guard! What about the mock trial and false conviction by His church! What about the glaring miscarriage of justice that led to his innocent death! Could these be counted among Jesus’ moments of glory? They certainly don’t seem very glorious, not by human standards. Though all of Jesus’ acts brought his Father glory, Jesus’ suffering for our eternal debt of sin is indeed His crowning glory. In fact, shortly before Jesus’ suffering began, He said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:23-24). In an astounding public conversation with His heavenly Father, Jesus prayed, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour!’ No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it’” (John 12:27-28). That was the Father’s way of saying that Jesus’ Holy incarnation, His baptism, His fasting and His temptation, His agony and His bloody sweat in all these things, Jesus’ desire for our salvation was stronger than His own life. But the Father didn’t stop with Jesus’ just living a holy life. He continued, “and I will glorify my name again” (John 12:28). The Father would ultimately be glorified when Jesus would love us to the point of His precious death and burial for He (T) continued longing for our salvation more than life itself.
Because of His great love for you, Jesus treasured your life more than His own. When the cross came His way, Jesus embraced it and in so doing, embraced you! If there is one thing we learn from Lententide, it’s that your eternal life with Jesus was more precious to Him than His life on earth.
II. Jesus’ cross—more precious than St. Paul’s life
St. Paul was no stranger to Jesus’ cross. How did he come to consider it to be more precious than life? The hard way—the way of the cross. Saul, as he was called then, was breathing out murderous threats against those followers of Jesus. You can bet he would have been crying, “Crucify him!” at the cross of Christ, had he been there. Since he couldn’t get his hands on our risen Savior, he did what he considered the next best thing: he arrested those who followed Him. How did Saul hope to get to heaven without Jesus? He tells us in his own words: “If anyone else thinks he has 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 legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Philippians 3:4-6). Like many people today, he believed He didn’t need a Savior. He had himself. God would surely deliver him from hell for the good works he had done. Today others don’t give a thought about how they will face the judge on the Last Day. Like credit card bills and large mortgages, they feel that if there are any repercussions to the way they lived their lives, they can somehow finesse it to their advantage when the time comes. And their crowning blasphemy is, “Any god who finds fault with me, simply he isn’t worth following.”
As he was breathing out murderous threats against Jesus’ followers, Saul was struck down on the road to Damascus with a voice uttering the words “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5), Jesus put to death Saul’s notion that he was doing God any favors by arresting Christians. Jesus put to death Saul’s notion that his pedigree and accomplishments would justify him before the judgment seat of God. In fact, God considered Saul’s shining virtues to be the most loathsome vices and the very reason he should burn in hell. The only hope of forgiveness was to trust in this Jesus that he was trying to deny. How humbling it must have been for the confident, strong-willed Saul to walk to Damascus being led by the hand, like a helpless little child. Saul’s sight was restored, but not by his own works. Healing and sight came only from God, and only through a member of Christ’s church—Ananias. A death and resurrection took place in Saul. He died to his old way of thinking and found peace in God’s gift of Jesus, his Savior.
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
More than that, Saul was convinced that he could not help but speak of the Savior’s dying love, even if it put him in harm’s way. With uncharacteristic candor, St. Paul defended his ministry against those who attacked his credibility by mentioning the crosses he had to bear for preaching Christ crucified: “Are they servants of Christ? I am all the more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers” (2 Corinthians 11:23-26). He goes on to speak about the times he was exposed to the elements, without food, and suffering thirst. If all that were not enough, his concern for the welfare of new Christians caused him untold inner turmoil.
Finally, history tells us that Saul, whom we know later as St. Paul, paid the ultimate price for Preaching Christ Crucified: he was executed in a Roman prison. Jesus’ cross was more precious than his own life.
We’re really no stranger to death. Death to self is necessary before we can be raised to life. We may not have seen a light shining from heaven as Saul did. Perhaps on the day of our conversion, the only light we saw was from the church windows. We probably weren’t thrown to the ground, most likely we were held in the peaceful arms of our parents or sponsors. We probably didn’t hear the voice of Jesus. We may have heard was the voice of the pastor as he poured a handful of water on our heads “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” But a death—a drowning—took place there, the drowning of that inborn Pharisee who, up until that moment, was the center of our universe who wanted to save himself by good works. At the same time, there was a resurrection to faith in Jesus. One moment we were blind, the next moment the scales from our eyes were removed. For “we were therefore buried with Christ through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead . . . so we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).
Since we learned to enter life through the cross, death is not a stranger to us. We have learned to die every day - to self, to all the unholy trinity, to sin, death and devil. We continue to experience this death to self every time we repent of our sins and turn to the Cross for both the forgiveness of sin and for the power to our lives for God. Each day we should say with the apostle, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”
Jesus’ cross is more precious than life! Jesus’ death—and our death into Jesus—leads us to be willing to give it all up, even life on earth, rather than be apart from Jesus.
For instance, St. Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians from his two-year house arrest in Rome. He was awaiting trial before Caesar. He thinks he may be set free. But there’s always the possibility that he may be executed for his faith. Think of it! He who had started so many churches by his mission work was now confined to a house where he could no longer serve as a traveling missionary. This was his cross for Christ.
But he never gave up his life, but we might say that he gave us living a bit for Christ. For missionary work was what Paul lived to do! Does he become depressed or despondent? Did Paul question God, “Why did you call me to the ministry and set my heart on fire to serve you, only to confine me to these four walls?” Not at all! Paul sees this as his participation in Christ’s cross. Christ alone had fully paid the price to bring his soul to heaven, but the apostle saw his sufferings as a continuation of Jesus’ suffering for the sake of spreading the gospel.
Theologian Martin Franzmann summed up St. Paul’s suffering the cross this way. Paul sees his house arrest as the pulpit that God in his infinite wisdom and love, chose for him. At this time, hidden behind these four walls and under careful watch of this Roman soldier—and nowhere else—the apostle can be so effective in preaching the gospel. The timeless letter to the Philippian Christians is but one proof of God’s answers the prayers of St. Paul. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
Even so, our life is hidden - hidden with Christ in God. The most effective pulpit has been chosen for us by God as well. It is where we are standing right now. It may be a pulpit of pain or health, gainful employment or no employment at all, retirement or disability. We may be wrenched by struggles within or struggles with those who do not understand us. They may rage against our Savior or our selves. We may be in the prime of life or on the autumn of our age. No matter. Our life is hidden with God in Christ. His blood sanctifies our place in life. We preach Christ Crucified in this place and in all places that we are, because it is His promise of forgiveness that makes it the place where we discover the power of the cross. “The power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” The cross is the power God to those who believe, it’s the power to save. Death is not the end; nor is the process of dying; it’s the glorious beginning of eternal life in Jesus. In Jesus name, Amen and Amen!
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN