The Fifth Sunday in Lent March 22, 2015
140(1-4), 174, 143(1-5), 143(13-15)
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 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.
Dear fellow-walkers with Christ:
The season of Lent is a special time for the Christian. Familiar Scripture lessons are heard once again such as Jesus’ Last Supper with His disciples, His prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, His arrest and trials, and of course His crucifixion and burial. These are Bible accounts that for many of you have created pictures in your minds since you were young children. During Lent we again sing the hymns that point us to Jesus’ agony and death—hymns which cause us to think about the sacrifice He made and give thanks for it. During Lent we imagine ourselves walking that way to the cross with Jesus. We see the events. We witness His bitter pain, the very life-blood pouring from His sacred veins.
Today, with the words of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians as our backdrop, let’s consider what a privilege it is to walk with Christ to the cross! I. Appreciating that salvation comes by faith, II. Willingly sharing in His suffering, and III. Pressing on toward the goal.
Let’s consider what a blessing it is for us that we have this time during Lent and particularly on this Passion Sunday to consider closely our Savior’s way of sorrows so that, as Paul puts it, we too might “consider everything a loss” compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.
If I were to ask you, “What is the greatest Bible teaching of all?” what would you say? The Apostle Paul would answer, “Salvation by faith.” For Him there was nothing greater than knowing that his entrance into Heaven did not depend on his own effort or righteousness. He was, in fact, willing to give up everything else for the sake of knowing just this one thing. “I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”[vv.8f] Paul rejoiced that he was saved not by what he did, but by trusting what Christ had done for him.
We are privileged to walk with Jesus to the cross during Lent and as we do, doesn’t this important truth keep coming to our attention again and again? Don’t we see again and again how important it is that gaining eternal life in Heaven is not a matter of our doing, but a matter of Jesus’ doing?
Look, for example, at the disciples of Jesus who were close by in those last days of His life. Were they—His closest followers—examples of perfect righteousness and holiness? They most definitely were not. While they were gathered in the upper room celebrating their last Passover meal with Jesus, the Lord announced that one of them was a traitor and would betray Him to the enemy. While Christ struggled and prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, they fell asleep. When Jesus was arrested by His enemies, Peter angrily cut off a man’s ear with a sword and not long afterward claimed he had never known Jesus. In the end, all of the disciples left Jesus and ran away—and these were Jesus’ closest friends and followers behaving like this!
We, Jesus’ disciples today, are no better. We surely are no more righteous than Peter, James, John, and the rest of the twelve. We find ourselves struggling today with the same sorts of sins that they did—sins such as anger and brutality, fear and denial, pride, faithlessness. How can we ever hope to earn Heaven by our own effort? We cannot. None of the twelve could do so. The Apostle Paul could not do so and neither can we.
As we walk with Jesus to the cross during Lent, we are reminded over and over what a blessing it is that we do not have to earn our own way to Heaven, that our salvation is by faith in Christ and not by works. For we could never come up with the holiness required, nor would we ever want to pay the price demanded of us for our sin.
Look at what Jesus endured to win salvation for us: The scorn and the mockery that He absorbed from His enemies, the deception and the deceit of those who put Him on trial, and the pain and suffering of crucifixion—a method of execution so horrible that the Romans refused to subject their own citizens to it. But greatest of all was that God the Father turned His back on His own Son, forsaking Him on the cross and making Him suffer the agony of Hell—a torment beyond imagination, a torment that comes when God withdraws and refuses all help, all communication, all contact.
Would we want to pay this great price for our sin? We would not and we could not. Our sin demands an eternal punishment that we could not pay and at the same time gain Heaven.
But as we walk with Jesus to the cross hearing the Apostle Paul’s words echoing in our minds, we realize that we do not have to pay the price. For this is what our Savior does in our place. Our salvation is gained by Him, on account of His sacrifice. We are saved in trusting that Jesus made that sacrifice for us. What a privilege to walk with Christ to the cross this Lenten season, appreciating that salvation comes by faith!
True enough, to walk with Christ to the cross is not comfortable or easy for us. But we would gladly give up some personal comfort for the sake of being near Him, wouldn’t we?
Christians know that to follow Christ to His cross means to share in some of His sufferings too. Nobody realized this more than the Apostle Paul who was frequently imprisoned, often beaten, having to flee for his life—all because he preached Christ crucified. Yet he did not mind putting up with this because He knew how much Jesus had suffered for him, and He knew what treasure in heaven the Lord had in store for him. He wrote to the Philippians: “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.” [v. 10 NIV]
Now Paul was not some kind of masochist who enjoyed being persecuted, but he regarded it as a necessary consequence of following Christ. Simply put, those who trusted Jesus would often have it hard—but to remain in Christ was worth the trouble.
Consider those who walked with Him to Calvary, the place where He was crucified. The disciples who were with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane were afraid they would be captured with Him. In the courtyard of the high priest Peter denied He knew Jesus, fearing he would be persecuted for the association. Out at the cross, Jesus’ friends were standing at a distance. These friends included Mary from Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Those friends of His at the cross had to withstand the taunts and jeers directed at Jesus and His followers by the unbelieving crowd and the soldiers. “He saved others, but he cannot save himself!” they said, and they laughed and mocked Him as He died (Matthew 27:42). Jesus’ own mother was standing near the cross and had to suffer the pain of seeing her child nailed to the shameful tree.
Those who walked with Jesus to the cross did not have it easy and neither do we. The world mocks those who follow Christ to His cross. The world says to us, “That helpless Jesus can’t do anything for you, it’s all just a make-believe fairy tale.” The voices of the soldiers and the crowd still linger everywhere today.
So we “become like Jesus in his death.” Not that we suffer for sin the way He did—only He could do that—but as one author wrote: “[Christians share in Christ’s suffering] when they endure the scorn and ridicule and even at times the physical persecution of the hostile world…and uncomplainingly follow their Savior on their path of suffering and trouble in this sinful world to the glory of eternal life with Him.”
It is not fun to suffer for being a Christian, but if this is part of following Him, then “bring it on” and we will not be afraid, for we would gladly suffer along with Him who suffered so much for us. We would gladly give up something of our own comforts in order to stand with Him who gave up the comforts of Heaven to walk upon this sinful, corrupt earth and lay down His life for His friends. What a privilege to walk with Christ to the cross, willingly sharing in His suffering!
When Jesus went to the cross, He went with determination He was intent on reaching His goal. That goal was His resurrection from the dead—the event that would signal to everyone that His sacrificial payment for the sins of every human being had been accepted. The prophet Isaiah had said, “After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11 NIV). Jesus Himself also made references to His return to life (Mk 10:33-34): “We are going up to Jerusalem,” [Jesus told His disciples], “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death…and kill Him. Three days later He will rise” (Mark 10:33-34 NIV). The Lord knew that death would not hold Him, and this comforted Him in those dark hours as He pressed on to His crucifixion.
As we walk along with Jesus in spirit this Lenten season, and as we continue to walk with Him through each year of our lives, we can walk with the same determination as He did because our goal is the same: resurrection from the dead.
Just as Jesus pressed on toward His goal energized by the goal that was set before Him, so we press on through trials and sorrows, suffering and humiliation, because we too know the goal that is in store for us: a crown of life in Heaven that will not fade away, perish, or be destroyed.
Christ took hold of us, offering Himself for our sins, bringing us to trust in that sacrifice. He pressed on for our sakes. Now we press on because of Him because we know that whatever happens here as we walk with Him, it will all be turned to joy when we reach our goal with Him in Heaven. The Apostle Paul said: “…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.” [vv.13b-14] What a privilege to walk with Christ to the cross, pressing on toward the goal.
Let us ever walk with Jesus! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.