The Third Sunday of Easter April 30, 2006

INI

Keep Moving Toward the Goal

Philippians 3:13-16

Scripture Readings

1 Peter 2:11-20
John 16:16-23

Hymns

733 [TLH alt.188], 757 [TLH alt.339], 409, 410

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.

Dear fellow-redeemed in Jesus our Lord:

Satchel Paige was quite possibly the best pitcher ever, but the majority of his career he pitched in obscurity in the Negro Leagues before integration. His real age was never exactly determined, but it was estimated that he was over 40 years old when he was allowed into the major leagues and even pitched three shutout innings at the age of 59!

Paige was asked about his secret to remaining so effective at an age when others were retiring. He could sum up his advice in just a couple of phrases. He said that one of the keys was not to eat a lot of fried foods because they “anger up the blood.” His most famous line was, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” I don’t know whether or not Satchel Paige was paraphrasing the apostle Paul, but we find similar advice in our text today.

There are many times in the Bible that life is compared to a walk or a journey. One of the most familiar is the Children of Israel on their sojourn from Egypt to the Promised Land. Oftentimes in the epistles of the New Testament we are encouraged to walk as Christians or to “walk in Christ.” Today we have before us the specific comparison of life to a race. The Greek and Roman cultures were very sports-minded—as is our own, so it is a picture that we can easily understand. The special emphasis that we have today is to keep moving ahead, to finish the race of life as a believer in Christ. KEEP MOVING TOWARD THE GOAL I. Don’t become lost—Look ahead, not behind and II. Don’t become confused—The goal is heavenly, not earthly

I.

One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.[v.13] What are those things that the apostle Paul would like to forget? The same things that we need to forget: the missteps, the rebellion against our God, the distractions that would lead us away from our heavenly goal, and the wrong thinking that we can have a heavenly finish without the work of our Savior Jesus.

Looking behind leads us to look at ourselves. When we do look at ourselves one of two things will happen. We will either be led to take pride in our accomplishments, or we will be led to despair because of the enormous weight of our sin and guilt. If we look behind in this race of faith, we will be led to put an artificially high value on the things of this earth. If we look behind we do not see the glorious future of the Christian, rather we see a past that either makes us ashamed or covetous. Whatever the case, looking behind can only produce problems for the Christian.

It is key to remember that in conversion we have been turned around. In Catechism class the students memorize the definition of conversion as “to turn 180 degrees.” Conversion is going completely in the opposite direction that we were once going without Christ. In that way we are to “reach forward to those things which are ahead.” We need to “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

A classic mistake of the Christian is to take one’s faith for granted and to believe that since you are saved there is no need to put effort forth into one’s faith-life and walk with God. We know what happens when spouses take their marriage for granted, or if you take your fitness for granted, or your business, or your garden. If any of these is left to itself, it will fade away. It is no less true for your faith. Satan loves it when our energy is not devoted to God and His Word. Satan rejoices when we are not communicating to God in prayer, and we are not receiving communication from Him in His Word.

Being in the race of faith does not mean that you’ll have a life on Easy Street. In fact, your life may become tougher because you have a bull’s-eye on you. That is why encouragement and focus are needed. That is why your energy needs to be devoted to getting rid of what is weighing you down, and you need to struggle ahead, not looking back with longing at what your life would be without God.

This becomes easier to do when you see the blessings of the goal ahead. God Himself has placed this goal in front of you. Make no mistake. The Lord Himself has entered you in this race. He has provided the prize, and He will see you through to the end. In fact, Christ has already run the race to perfection. It was the very reason that He came to this earth. He came to blaze a trail to heaven for us with His righteousness. He wants us to look ahead in Him, viewing His forgiveness and His righteousness. When you do this there is no cause for despair because there is complete remission of sins in the shed blood of Christ. There is nothing lacking in what you have done because Christ came to fulfill all righteousness. The Lord has done all the work, and He does not want us to become distracted and lose out on what Christ has won for us.

II.

Notice in verse 14 the inclusion of the word “upward.” In that one word we are directed away from everything on this earth. We need that directive because we very easily have mixed-up goals that get in the way of the upward call.

When earthly goals are pursued, we end up discovering that they lead to great dissatisfaction. Some give into the lusts of the flesh: drinking, drugs, fornication. Yet, even fleshly indulgence can grow tiresome. Others may aspire to a certain level of income or comfort but only find temporary satisfaction. These may actually find emptiness in a life that is spent pursuing earthly goods. Some feel that being able to retire and not have to take part in the daily grind would be the world’s greatest thing! But not many retirees find fulfillment in not working. Many times earthly goals are simply to possess what we do not have whether it is time, money, or even an occupation.

The upward call in Christ does provide satisfaction both here in time and especially in eternity. Consider peace with God. What more could you ask than that? What is greater than to have the knowledge that your sins are truly paid for and that your Lord has removed them from you as far as the east is from the west? What greater goal could you have than to know that Christ did for you what you could not? The upward call in Christ is about permanence and true satisfaction. We should never become disillusioned about the kingdom of God because there is nothing lacking.

Here, however, we do need spiritual maturity. “Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.[v.15] If you do not realize the danger of distraction, then you are in need of spiritual maturity. If you do not see the need to put an effort into your faith-life and think that you can put the things of God “on hold” while you have other pursuits, then you have growing up to do in a spiritual sense.

This is one of the reasons that God has brought us together as Christians. We read in verse 16: “Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.” The Lord desires for us to be unified in the truth so that we know what the goal is and who is leading us there. The Lord desires that if one is getting distracted by looking back or has set different goals, another may step in to help get him back on track.

Opportunities abound for you to be of service to one another. When young people are confirmed they state the confession of their faith and their desire to serve God for the rest of their lives. Even if you are not their parents you are their brothers and sisters in Christ. So, if you see them wandering aimlessly five years from now, you need to say something to them.

Perhaps a senior citizen is homebound or in the nursing home, near the finish line but bombarded with temptations of the Devil. It is your responsibility and opportunity to visit your brother or sister in Christ and offer encouragement and reminders of the promises of God.

The list is nearly endless of those who want to experiment in their faith, that are searching for an alternate truth, or who are questioning whether or not what they are believing is right. Pray for them. Talk to them. Get to know them so you can do this effectively. Find those outside of these walls who are struggling. There is no need for anyone to walk (or race) alone because God has given us each other.

While God has presented us with all that we need, the inclination is there to wander, to take our eyes off of the prize. We need to make an effort to maintain the truth that God has given to us in His Word. But that truth does not do us much good unless we put it into practice. It is only through that truth that we are saved by grace through faith, that the heavenly goal is reached.

Look ahead! Look up! Always keep moving forward to that heavenly goal. It takes a while to get there, but the Lord guarantees the prize with the blood of His Son. You may have mere days left, you may have many years left, but whatever the case there is not enough time to be distracted by looking back or to get mixed up in your goal. Reach forward to those things which are ahead. It is a goal which will not disappoint. Amen.

—Pastor Michael M. Schierenbeck


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