The Fourth Sunday after Easter May 3, 2015
198, 188, 409, 207(1, 4-6)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
In Christ Jesus, our living Savior and Redeemer, dear fellow-redeemed:
“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” This is a fairly familiar statement encouraging good education—to train the mind and educate it well.
“If you set your mind to it, you can do it”—an encouragement to focus on whatever the task might be. We do at times need to wrestle with focus in our minds. Coming into a worship service, going into a classroom, and other times such as those require focused attention because there are so many things that float around in our mind, so many distractions that we need to set those all aside so we can focus and listen—in this case to God’s Word, or in school to the class presentation.
“I’ve lost my mind!” An exasperated expression to describe lack of clear thinking or self-admittedly foolish behavior.
Then there is, of course, the more serious matter of degenerative diseases in which someone’s mind is, quite literally, gradually taken away from him and no longer functions in its full capacity.
All of these examples point not to just the physical brain in our heads, but how our minds and our thinking, form our attitudes; how they direct where we go, what we do, what we make important, what we skip, how we respond to other people, how we speak, and how we conduct ourselves as a whole.
In the Word of God we are considering today, the focal point is that we “seek those things that are above…and set our minds on those things.” So, the question from these words given by inspiration to the Apostle Paul to each of us, “WHERE IS YOUR MIND?”
We pray for the Holy Spirit’s blessing on our study and meditation today so that day by day we will prayerfully grow in setting our minds on things above.
We will come back to the focal point of setting our minds on things above, but first we need to look at what comes around that encouragement in our text. Starting out with the very first question the apostle Paul raises: “If then you were raised with Christ…” [v.1] Paul writes “if” but it is not as if there is any question about it. Paul expects the answer from the Christians who are reading this to be: “Absolutely! We have been raised with Christ.” Paul is, in effect, saying, “Since you have been raised with Christ, here is the result: seeking those things above and setting your minds upon them.”
A little later, Paul says, “You died” and “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” We haven’t died. We’re right here. We’re living. But the unique thing of which the apostle speaks and to where he turns our attention is that by faith in Jesus we are joined to Him and by His being our substitute, everything He did, He did for us. So it is as if we ourselves have done it.
The Apostle Paul speaks about this more fully in his letter to the Romans in chapter 6: “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him…” (Romans 6:3-8). Again, the “if” means, “because this has happened…this is so.”
So when the Apostle Paul speaks of us as being raised with Christ, having died with Christ, our life is hidden with—or so closely connected to Christ that it cannot be separated—all of this points to what we celebrated on Easter. All of it points to the fact that when Jesus, the Son of God, took on flesh and blood and lived in this life, He did it for you and for me. We, by the Holy Spirit’s working, have been brought into faith in that truth so now we are joined to Him.
Go back several weeks when we were celebrating Good Friday. We remembered how Jesus was crucified on the cross, crying out in agony, “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). It is as if you and I were being crucified and forsaken by God. It is to our joy that we don’t have to be. It is to our joy that we have been rescued from that, but Jesus was so closely our substitute that it is as if we have done and experienced all that He did.
If we died with Christ, and He died for sin, the Apostle Paul says, “You died. Put away those sins. Put away the old sinful ways of our flesh.”
There is also good news that Jesus didn’t stay dead. On Easter, throughout the Easter season, and indeed, every day of our lives, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and a living Savior. If we died with Him—if that death is as good as ours and described as ours—then when that same substitute who died rose again to life, that is our life too!
What do we say Jesus’ resurrection and life mean? He conquered death. He conquered sin. He lives never more to die as we sang in our opening hymn. So if our substitute to whom we are so closely connected and joined died for sin, but lives now forever, that means that we share in His victory—we have conquered sin, we will be raised to live forever, nevermore to die.
In our text, Paul goes on to say what the end result is, “when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” [v.4] There is an old saying of hitching your wagon to someone. It means you are tied-in with whatever that person does or says. We have hitched our wagon to Christ, or more specifically, the Holy Spirit has hitched our wagon to Christ by bringing us to faith. So we have life now and eternally in the glories of Heaven.
This is our status: We are children of God, dead to sin, having died with Christ, now alive in Him. Now from that position, from being a child of God: “Seek those things that are above where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” [vv.1-2]
As children of God we do indeed want to avoid all sinful things, but Paul isn’t even talking about the wickedness of the world and its worldliness, but rather the ordinary matters of the earth—the kinds of things we experience and need to engage in every day. These are things like going to work, going to school, the activities we have to do simply to exist. The Apostle Paul isn’t suggesting that we are going to leave this life. He’s not suggesting we should leave the earth and forsake all earthly matters, but rather, “seek those things that are above and set your mind on things above, not on the things of the earth.”
Going back in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus said in His sermon on the mount: “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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-24). We experience the earthly things, we do them, but where’s your mind? Is your mind set on those earthly things for the here and now, or is your heart set in Heaven?
The Apostle Paul reminds us that Christ is seated at the right hand of God. This is encouragement to set our minds on those things and focus on those things and seek those things above because Jesus is in the position of authority and might ruling all things for us—guiding all things, blessing all things in this life for our eternal benefit. If we know that the eternal Son of God, living for us, is sitting at the right hand of God with all things in His power and authority—that is where we will want to set our focus. Those are the kinds of things in which we want to find our greatest delight. Those are the kinds of things upon which we want to set our minds.
Throughout the Scriptures, there are a number of examples to help us understand what it means to “set our minds” on something. Going back again to Matthew, Peter had his mind set on earthly things and Jesus rebuked him. We read, “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!’ But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men’” (Matthew 16:21-23).
Peter was approaching these words of Jesus from an earthly standpoint. He was mindful about the things of the earth. Jesus was telling Peter and the other disciples how it was necessary for Him to go and suffer and die. Peter focused on the earthly: “No, I don’t want You to do that. I don’t want You to die. You are our leader. You are our teacher. It will be a great sorrow if You die. No, far be it from You, Lord; You shall not die.” Peter totally set his mind on the earth and how he felt about that. Jesus rebuked Peter, even calling him, “Satan” and said, “You set your mind on things above. Look beyond the earthly—the sorrow and trouble—and see the heavenly, what is going to be accomplished, namely, your salvation.”
In a similar way, in Philippians chapter 2, the apostle Paul says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” What did Jesus do? “He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even the death on the cross” (Philippians 2:5,8).
Paul encourages us to have that same kind of sacrificial mind. Having our mind set on things of the earth is to think about “me.” Having our minds on the things of the earth is to think about, “How is that going to impact me? What is that going to do to me? It’s all about me.” Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus—a mind that looks at others with love, looks out for the interest and blessing of others, looks for ways that I can show that I love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my mind, and that I love my neighbor as myself.
The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 says, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Setting his mind on things above, Paul’s understanding matured and went beyond childish things to things above.
When Jesus told the parable of the Sower and the Seed, some seed fell on the path, some in rocky ground, some in thorny ground, and some in good ground. Jesus explained that the seed growing in the thorny ground grew up, but then the weeds choked it out. The weeds, Jesus said, are the cares and concerns of the world. Thus, Jesus warned against being caught up in the affairs of the earth. Setting our mind on earthly things means we become distracted by all the things of the earth. Again, these things don’t even need to be sinful of themselves, but distracting from the one thing needful.
You will recall the story of Jesus visiting Mary and Martha. Martha became distracted with much serving and preparing of a meal. Preparing a meal for Jesus was not wrong or sinful, but so intent was Martha on the earthly matters, that she was upset when Mary chose to listen to Jesus’ Word and set her mind on things above.
Where’s your mind? We can all at times become so caught up in what we’re doing, so distracted by all the things in the earth that we lose focus from seeking those things above and setting our minds on those same things.
Consider a couple of examples to help illustrate how we can engage in the earthly things, but keep our minds on things above. Some have said we put our feet squarely on the earth, but our mind and heart are in Heaven. In this way we look at the earthly matters as our pilgrimage, but keep our mind set on things above—Heaven is our home.
Think of a glass of water in which a drop of coloring has been dropped. Almost instantly, that color spreads through the water and colors it all. We are like that glass of water. When we have our minds set on things above it is similar to the color going all the way though the water—setting our mind on things above colors everything we do or say. So when I make decisions I do it from the perspective of having my mind on heavenly things, seeking those things that are pleasing to God—seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and trusting that God will add all other needful things to me. (cf. Matthew 6:33).
Or think of how we at times manage a busy schedule. If someone says, “Can you do this?” We might respond, “Let me check the calendar.” That calendar and schedule is the thing that informs everything we do. Will it work with everything else I have going? Is it something I can do? Is it something I can fit in? Like the schedule that informs and guides what we do day-by-day, set your mind on things above…seek those things that are above, always have God and His Truth informing all that you do.
We recently hosted an Arts Camp. Throughout a weekend the participants explored all kinds of events and activities, learned new things, practiced things they already knew. They were using their talents. What a gift! What a blessing to know that God gives each one of us different abilities, different interests, different talents, and different ways to use them. Perhaps we will use them in our calling—in our work and career. Perhaps we will use them in our family life for recreation, enjoyment, and entertainment. Perhaps we use them for others in things we might do, or make, or playing music to cheer up others as David did for King Saul. The potential is almost limitless for all the things we can do with all the things God has given us.
Ultimately, when we set our minds on things above, when we seek those things above, we can do all those things, but it’s not to our glory. It is not about “Hey, look at me!” It’s not for pride or arrogance. We’re setting our mind on things above to glorify God, and as we glorify Him we are looking for opportunities to share His life-giving Word with others.
As you consider and nurture your own gifts, seek those things that are above. Set your mind on those things, let that permeate throughout every decision, everything you do, because you have been raised with Christ and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Where’s your mind? Everyone of us does well to ask that question on a daily basis. It might be a question that exposes sin and is useful to rebuke our flesh. It is also precious Gospel because by the grace of God, the redeeming work of Christ and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, our minds have been won for the Lord and joined to Him.
You have been raised with Christ. Set your minds on things above. 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.